Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomatoes - A round of applause for the outfielders please!

Blushing red and tasting marvelous. No matter how you say it, slice it, or spell it, the tomatoe is enjoying a show-stopping Broadway starring role this month as the season’s “vegetable of choice”. So adaptable, delicious and nutritious, who could turn away from its enchanting garden performance as the saucy, juicy, and succulent leading lady. Check your programme and you’ll quickly see, served freshly sliced (sliced with a sharp bread knife from stem to stem, of course) or acting as the base player for a hearty bruschetta , there really is no other nominee that comes close to this annual winner in the tasty edibles category.

Originating in South America in pre-Columbian times, Mexican cooks quickly ladled up this vegetable-mryiad of sensational talents and auditioned its riches in many of their dishes, from salsa to quesidillas. On the rest of the world circuit though, the tomato blushed timidly backstage, lingering with stage fright behind the big curtain, only known as a lowly ornamental plant and distasteful to eat. By the 1800’s, the tomatoe began appearing in more supportive roles in soups and sauces. Full glory status shone on the tomatoe in the 1900’s when, internationally it gained its rightful place, playing the leading role in a cornucopia of popular Mediterranean, Asian and North American dishes.

As a healthy, robust stage hand , the tomatoe continues to light up the show being high in Vitamin A and C, Folacin, Calcium, Potassium and best of all, Lypocene. Scientists now believe Lypocene inhibits prostrate, breast, uterine and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. It is also believed to be a key antioxidant guarding against Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a condition that may cause blindness. [Visit Tomatofest.com for more details]

Best of all ladies and gentlemen, in true Hollywood fashion, there’s a tomatoe named after the handsome, soft-spoken and lanky Dirty Harry and Bridges of Madison County star actor and director, Clint Eastwood. Yep, “Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red” tomatoe plant apparently produces robust, “not for sissies”, bold, tomatoey flavours, that invite “snacking in the garden, cooking, canning and seed-saving”. A portion of the tomatoe’s seed sales go toward his children’s educational charity. Now I wonder, since a trip to California isn’t in the cards for me, would I be “forgiven” for asking Mr. Million-Dollar Baby himself to deliver some of his Rowdy Red seeds to me personally?

Bon Appetit until next week. Try these easy tomatoe recipes the next time you’re entertaining!

No-Brainer Bruschetta
Place French loaf slices on a cookie sheet. Slather 1 tbsp of *Pesto on each slice. Top with 2-3 chopped tomatoes, 3-4 green onions. Broil until tomatoes are soft. Top with ½ cup crumbled Feta or Parmesan cheese and ¼ c chopped black olives. Broil again until cheese bubbles but don’t burn the bread!
*Try the Pesto recipe I posted earlier in August.

Simple-hearted Tomatoe and Asiago Salad
3-4 ripe firm Round or Beefsteak tomatoes sliced into ¼ “ rounds
8 thin slices of Asiago cheese (Use a vegetable peeler to slice)
3 sun-dried tomatoes cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ med-sized Vidalia or mild onion sliced into thin rounds
1/3 cup each fresh chopped basil leaves, parsley and oregano (reserving one whole basil leaf and one sprig of parsley to garnish)

¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar

Drizzle 1-2 tbsp olive in the bottom of a rimmed glass or ceramic dish (not metal). Stir in balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle 1/3 of garlic on top. Layer one layer of tomatoe rounds and Layer one round of onions on top. Drizzle with 1-2 tbsp oil. Sprinkle with garlic. Repeat this pattern until no tomatoes, onions and garlic are left. Top with chopped basil, parsley and oregano and sun dried tomatoes. Drizzle with a more oil. Top with sliced cheese in a pinwheel design and place 2-3 whole basil leaves and a sprig of parsley to garnish the center. Cover with wrap. Refrigerate if making ahead but allow flavours to blend at room temperature for one hour before serving. Serves 6.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blueberries Galore - Recipes and stuff about these sweet little numbers

The Sweet Little Blueberry Marches On!

August has arrived. Time to reinforce your brainpower for back-to-school, fight free radicals, and boost your antioxidant intake and rekindle your mid-summer relationship with the fresh darling of sweet delight, the blueberry. Who knew this tiny but delicious, wild but virtuous, berry of blue had also been performing a tour of duty on your body, playing a double role of peacekeeper and governor—neutralizing those nasty free radicals and quietly up keeping your Vitamin C and E and dietary fibre. Oh so Canadian, eh? Just like our Canadian motto says, “peace, order and good government.” Free radicals by the way, if not countered by antioxidants, can cause damage to cell membranes and DNA through “oxidative stress”. Scientists now believe several life-threatening aging diseases like heart disease, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s are directly associated with free radicals. Fortunately, the word is spreading about the healthy powers of our cherished diminutive berry and our little peacekeeper is now gracing dinner tables around the world in Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe. It seems, everyone is hankering for a piece of the pie!

No worries, there’s lots to go around. Growing wild, and cultivated, across Canada, the blueberry will be waltzing into Canadian kitchens this month, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, popping up in all sorts of delightful concoctions for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Since blueberries top the antioxidant list in the fruit and vegetable category all you need to fulfill your daily antioxidant intake of these fresh little power kegs of nutrients is one cup per day—fresh or frozen. A handful at every meal and you’ve fought the good fight, everyday. On top of this, scientists also think blueberries may reduce LDL cholesterol build-up and improve your fine motor, memory and explorative skills.

There’s no need to Mapquest these nutritious little beauties because they’re readily available frozen (year round) or fresh at roadside stands and grocery stores, right now. Better still, use those antioxidant explorative powers and make a day of discovering “you pick it” places all on your own. Here’s the scoop though, the blueberry season is short and the blueberry’s storage life is even shorter! Choose firm berries and store them in the refrigerator or freezer but be sure to remove any soft or moldy berries from the batch first.

Try these recipes to sharpen your wits:
Breakfast Blueberry Smoothie
1 banana
½ c blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ c plain low fat yogurt or frozen low-fat flavoured yogurt
¼ c milk (optional)
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for a few hours.

Blueberry Pie with Ginger Crust

Cooking time: 8 min Chilling time: 3 hours
1-1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (in a food processor grind up about 35 cookies or 1/2 a bag of PC English Gingersnaps)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

2-1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water

1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 cups (1 L) blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice

Crust: In small bowl, combine cookie crumbs with sugar; stir in butter until moistened. Press evenly onto bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven for 8 minutes. Cool on rack

Filling:In medium saucepan, mix cornstarch with water. Add sugar and 1-1/2 cups blueberries; bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until very thick and clear. Remove from heat; stir in remaining blueberries and lemon juice. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Refrigerate until set (about 3 hours). Serve with Maple Whipped Cream.

Maple Whipped Cream: Beat 1/2 cup whipping cream or Cool Whip with 2 tbsp Ontario Maple Syrup until stiff. Store in refrigerator.

Wholesome Blueberry Muffins
1 cup oats
1 cup buttermilk (substitute with: 1 cup milk+1 tbsp vinegar)
½ c canola oil
½ cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blueberries
Mix oats, buttermilk, oil, brown sugar and beaten egg in a bowl. Mix the remaining ingredients in another bowl and then stir in blueberries. Add the wet first mixture to the dry mixture. Do not over mix. Stir 17 times, just enough to moisten dry ingredients.-mixture will be lumpy. Spray grease or line a 12-size muffin tin with large muffin paper cups and drop mixture into cups. Bake at 400F for 15-18 minutes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Backyard-Barrhaven-Grown Pesto

If your basil and mint crops are overflowing, as mine in are in my Barrhaven Backyard, try these easy to assemble pesto recipes to alleviate your herbish woes:
Basil Pesto
3 cups packed frsh basil leaves (no stems)
3-4 healthy garlic cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted, chopped pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil

I also add:
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/4 cup melted (cooled) butter
pinch of ground black pepper
Purée everything in a food processor until well blended. Place in small, clean glass jars. Place a piece of saran over top and screw on the jar lid. Serve with hard crackers or on bruschetta. Enjoy!!!

Mint Pesto:
This recipe is terrific with lamb chunks (barbequed on skewars--metal ones) or a roast leg of lamb. I also like it with cantaloupe but that's just me...taste it for yourself!
1/3 cup walnuts
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup oilive oil
1/8 -1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until well combined and smooth. Place in small glass jars, place plastic wrap over top and screw on jar lid. Serve with lamb, chicken, couscous or whatever your minty heart desires!

If you have a great garden-grown recipe to share...do tell. Food is the peaceful unity-builder for all mankind. And of course....TEA!