Tomatoes!

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The Garden Detroit (the nonprofit where I volunteer) had a stellar tomato season. Most of Michigan, I imagine, had a great tomato season, as it was a hot, hot summer.

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Planting seedlings at the Newport garden.

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Young plants at The Garden.

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Mature plants (though not at full height).

We did get some wonky fruit due to the drought and over-watering (some done by us but also mother nature, the few times that it did pour), but overall, our plants were happy and lush.

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We grow only heirloom tomatoes at The Garden and we had thirty (? I can’t remember, but it sounds right) different varieties. Red, orange, yellow, striped. All so lovely.

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Tomatoes are fun to pick, as they are relatively easy to find and when ripe and the girls enjoyed helping me harvest them on a couple of occasions.

Once while they were with me, I spotted a humongous tomato, which I ate (no one else in the family likes raw tomatoes) over the course of several days. Best BLT ever.

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I have tons of tomato sauce and soup in the freezer. Of all my batches, only one tomato soup batch was thrown out, mainly due to my frustration. I probably could have saved it, but it would have taken some effort (too watery and flavor lacking).

I also made several jars of tomato compote, which is my favorite way to eat them. Slow roasted with garlic and swimming in olive oil.

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My own tomato plants (which were gifted to me by The Garden and planted as seedlings) didn’t do as well as those at the Garden, I’m guessing due to lack of sun.

Also, the squirrel population in our yard is ridiculous and most of the time, if I waited until the tomatoes were ripe, they would disappear. I found many a tomato in random parts of the backyard, half eaten (if you’re going to steal them, could you at least eat the whole thing!?).

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Using green tomatoes was a first for me. I have yet to try them fried, which I may do as I still have a handful of green tomatoes on the counter. I did make a green tomato sauce with bacon and onions and garlic, which turned out surprisingly good.

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Tomatillos are also something I have never cooked with before. Their husks look like lace when they are dried out – so beautiful. I asked around and went online and meshed two separate salsa verde / chicken enchilada recipes.

I roasted the tomatillos with onion, garlic and jalapenos and then blended. Baked with chicken, onions and cheese. They were divine. My husband and I both were wowed by the simplicity and goodness of this dish. So glad I have a jar in the freezer! Yum!

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We began taking the plants down last week. I went through and pulled off any salvageable tomato – the above photo is our very last harvest at our Newport location.

I am already excited to start planting for next year!

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Food From the Garden

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We’ve been getting a CSA vegetable box (which sometimes includes fruit) every Wednesday, as part of my work with The Garden Detroit. In addition to those goodies, whenever I work at the Garden, I usually end up taking something home – zucchini, tomatoes, kale, chard, carrots, parsley.

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We try really hard not to waste food in our house and now that a bulk of the veggies have been nurtured by yours truly, we’ve been trying especially hard.

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These were sooooo good! Ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, chives, parsley, shallots (which I omitted the second time – too strong), dipped in egg and panko breadcrumbs.

So naturally I’ve been on a cooking kick lately. Which, except for the times when the kids are driving me “flipping bananas” (a term I once used with them out of exasperation that they now think it’s some kind of funny trick one does with a banana), has been enjoyable.

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I’ve made three quiches (two with chard as the main ingredient, one with cabbage), roasted corn and beet salad, peach cobbler, garlic scape pesto, gazpacho, stuffed squash blossoms, grilled patty pan squash with chimichurri sauce and a multitude of tossed salads.

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Many of these were first-time dishes for me, so it’s been fun figuring out how to tweak the recipes to my liking.

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Also, oh my gosh if you’ve ever tried to photograph food, you know what a pain it is. Most of the time my photos make the food look unappetizing, lacking color and texture. I’ve been experimenting with the best ways (time of day, lighting, backgrounds) to photograph food, which has been a nice different way to get my creative juices flowing – always a good thing. Happy summer eating, everyone!

Korean Cooking Class

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Over the last few weeks I went to my dry cleaning lady’s (Grace) house to learn how to make some of my favorite Korean dishes. When I got to her condo, I could tell right away they were old school. House slippers for guests, white carpeting, photos of grand kids, minimal decor which included a Bible on the coffee table.

Also on display was a shallow bowl of garlic in water, with little green shoots coming out of it. I didn’t know you could do this (to promote garlic shoots to grow), so I’m going to try it!

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Joining us the first night was Grace’s postal courier, who had no idea what Korean food was all about, so I give her props for trying it out. We donned aprons and got to work making bul go gi and bean cake, called nokdujeon (I believe there are several names for it). Grace has her recipes written in a notebook. Some measurments were in grams, because that’s how the rest of the world rolls.

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For the bul go gi, she took out some meat from the freezer, which made it easier to cut into thin slices. She couldn’t describe what cut of beef to get but Google says sirloin or rib eye. Then we cut up mushrooms, green onion and other veggies and spices and put them all in a bowl. The “secret” ingredients to this dish are pear and kiwi pulp (just made in a blender). I knew about the pear, but hadn’t heard of the kiwi twist before.

I also noticed that for all the recipes, she doubled the garlic! Yowza. She did say she loved garlic and there was a lot of it. She crushes it herself to make a paste and keeps it in a large container in the fridge.

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For the bean cakes, we cut up similar veggies and added them to a paste that she made from putting soy beans (previously soaked) and water in a blender. Mix it up and then plop them in a pan of oil like little pancakes.

The bul go gi can be made on the grill instead of over the stove. I had a hard time understanding exactly how to do this – foil? A grill-safe pan? – but for sure the meat takes on an extra layer of goodness when grilled.

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For our meal, she also made roasted garlic, homemade kimchi and homemade bean sprout namul, both mainstay side dishes at Korean restaurants and of course rice. I asked Grace if she plates all the food when it’s just her and her husband eating and she said yes.

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The next time I went over it was just me and we made chop chae, a traditional noodle dish. To save time, she pre-chopped the veggies before I came over. I am impressed with how neat and pretty everything looks. If it were me, I’d just throw everything in a bowl and not worry about the pieces being so uniform.

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I didn’t realize that the noodles used in this dish were made from sweet potato. This is what they look like before being cooked. Like rice noodles, but more brown.

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You cook the noodles in water for several minutes while the veggies are sauteing. When the noodles have been drained and cooled, you add them together with the sesame oil, spices and…wait for it….a CUP of corn syrup. Waaaaah! No wonder I loved this dish as a kid so much. Grace started pouring something out of a container and asked what it was.

Grace:  See-dup? You know, like sugar.
Me turning white:  Syrup!? As in corn syrup?

Gulp. Of course I just smiled and nodded as I read “high fructose corn syrup” on the label. She said I could use sugar if I wanted, which is what I’m going to have to do if I replicate the recipe. I’m actually wondering if sugar is needed at all. The dish is not a sweet dish, so I’m wondering if the corn syrup just gives it that silkiness, which more sesame oil would do. Will need to experiment.

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We also made Korean-style sushi with egg, imitation crab, carrots, cooked spinach and what was supposed to be ham, but when I looked at the English translation on the package it was some type of fish cake. She said she usually uses Spam but tried something different this time. Spam would actually taste delicious. In Hawaii we ate loads of Spam, especially in the form of Spam musubi (rolled up in seaweed and rice).

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I used to make sushi sometimes with my Auntie Melinda, but it has been years and years. I think my technique was pretty good!

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Here are the completed dishes and we had kimchi again as well. Korean food is less intimidating to make than I thought it would be. And it was so super sweet of Grace to invite me into her home and show me how to make all these dishes, not to mention all the work involved.

She still wants to show me how to make mandu, Korean dumplings kind of like pot stickers, which I loved so much as a kid and I’m hoping they are as good as I remember. Yummers.

Kitchen Remodel – Week Six: Blower, Countertops, Backsplash and Our First Meal

IMG_9093 (1280x1043) Here’s the kitchen at the end of week six! We are sooooo close.

On Monday, the blower and hood got installed over the range…

IMG_9059 (960x1280)On Tuesday, some dry wall touch-ups…

IMG_9064 (942x1280)And the countertops arrived. I selected a light gray quartz, which is actually somewhat lighter than I remember in the showroom, but I think they compliment the white kitchen and stainless steel appliances beautifully (whew. Was nervous about that one).

IMG_9067 (1280x960)Quartz was also put down for the fireplace hearth (and will frame the fireplace as well, but pieces were cut a fraction too small) and the mantel was built.

IMG_9088 (1280x960)On Wednesday, the backsplash was installed…

IMG_9087 (960x1280)I chose 3 x 6 ice white subway tiles. Grout will be done this coming week.

IMG_9089 (960x1280)Baseboards were put down…

IMG_9068 (960x1280)And the painters came to take the hallway doors away (to sand and spray at their warehouse).IMG_9065 (980x1280)

There’s always some sort of small issue to be dealt with and this week for me it was the case of the two red knobs. If you’re anything like me, this photo makes you want to shield your eyes and run the other way. I’ve been promised new knobs. I’m hoping for the maroon red vs the cherry red, but I’ll be happy with either, as long as they’re the same shade.

IMG_9122 (1155x1280)The best part of the week was being told that our kitchen was ready to use! Even though this was such good news, we haven’t really utilized it yet. Knowing that painters are still sanding, grout hasn’t been done and the floor people will be kicking up more dust this Friday….I don’t want to have to clean the whole room and then do it all again next week.

We have started doing dishes in the sink and I did move the espresso machine and coffee grinder out of the dining room to the kitchen counter, because clean-up in the tiny bathroom we’ve been using is such a pain. And I did break in the Wolf range. I have been fantasizing about the first meal I would make in our new kitchen. Sometimes it’s carnitas tacos, sometimes lasagna, sometimes turkey chili.

IMG_9144 (1280x1181)It’s never once been boxed macaroni and cheese. But it was yummy.

Hawaii: the Food

For my family (as is the case with most, I imagine),  a carefully planned and prepared meal equals love. The first night of our stay, my Auntie Melinda steamed a large uhu (aka parrot fish, and you can see why) that she got for $39 at Tamashiro Market on an outdoor gas wok as part of our huge dinner spread. After steaming, the fish was topped with oil, green onions and cilantro. My sister and her family came over and also her husband’s parents, who were in town for their annual visit.

Haupia Pie

Haupia Pie. Yum.

In addition to the usual sides of salad, rice and veggies, there was Korean meat jun (the only dish bought vs. made), thin strips of beef coated with egg and flour, fried and served with dipping sauce. AND miso butterfish (black cod), a white, flaky fish marinated with miso, mirin, sake and sugar and then baked or broiled. AND rainbow jello and a haupia “pie,” a layered dessert starting with a macadamia nut crust, then Japanese sweet potato (purple), then haupia (a coconut milk and sugar concoction with a custard-like texture).

Halo Halo + Coffee Mug

Halo-Halo + Coffee = Breakfast of Champions

Waiting for me in the fridge the next morning was a Filipino specialty, halo-halo (“hodge-podge” in Tagalog). There are so many different versions of this dessert. Basically, it’s a concoction of condensed milk plus a bunch of wacky ingredients (kidney beans, rice, gelatin, yams). Auntie’s not-too-sweet version is filled with tons of grated cantaloupe, papaya, avocado and coconut. There are also tapioca beads, palm fruit and some strange pink Japanese gelatin that I always pick out. I put an ice cube on the bottom (if I’m lucky, as I was this time, Mom will have frozen fresh coconut water cubes), dump a bunch of halo-halo on top and eat it with my coffee. Super YUM.

Ramen noodles

The perfect bite.

I love, love, love noodles. Italian pasta and Japanese ramen are at the top of my list. I can make Italian food all day long, but don’t know how to make ramen broth. Whenever I go to Hawaii, I always ask my sister to come with me to Goma Tei, a small noodle shop in Ward Center. We usually sit at the counter and I always get the same thing – Tan Tan Ramen, a basic spicy broth with char siu (Chinese-style bbq pork), green onions and greens (broccoli rabe or spinach or some Asian green that is very similar). SO good. Salty, with a hint of sesame and just enough heat.

Menu at Goma Tei

Menu at Goma Tei

That meal may very well have been my last taste of homemade ramen for 2014. (And dare I say 2015? No way. Surely not). And who knows? Maybe there is a hidden noodle shop in some Detroit alley that makes the best ramen noodles East of the Mississippi. Maybe. But… probably not.

If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, I urge you to try some of the local flavors. They might be weird, they might taste icky, they might taste awesome, but they will most assuredly be made with love.

It’s Electric! (aka: GAH!)

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The stove.

Oh my gosh. I just found out that the stove in our rental apartment (where we’ll stay when we first move to Grosse Pointe) has an electric stove. I’m kind of freaking out. I don’t know what it is, but I have a huge aversion to the electric stove. I see one and I make a funny noise and start backing away with my hands covering my face.

I need to preface this rant by saying that I am first of all grateful beyond words to friends who are renting us the apartment dirt cheap, not to mention having to fix the place up for us and move a houseful of furniture elsewhere, just so we can move in all of OUR crap.

But back to the stove. Cooking is one of the things that makes me happy. And I am going to need to go to my happy place a lot in this apartment, I just know.

Does anyone out there have any tips on how to cook electric?!

How not to burn popcorn, for example? Really, how not to burn anything. Or how to bring a delicate sauce to a slow simmer?  Or how to remember not to put my hand on a hot burner that wouldn’t still be hot if it were a gas stove!