A Platter of Tomatoes

19 Sep

A perfect way to slide from summer to fall… with an additional secret recipe.

I realize the subject of tomatoes is late given some of you are probably past tomato season. Summer in Southern California, however, starts and ends late (mid-July thru sometimes mid-October) and we remain in the midst of a glorious tomato bounty.

Tomatoes are like my other favorite food, the egg: the uses and recipes for each are endless. Even so, if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of fresh, best of season tomatoes, nothing satisfies like a simple platter of tomatoes.

Platter of Tomatoes

a platter of tomatoes

I realize there are a few sad souls who don’t like tomatoes raw. One of my best friends is such a person… I’m looking at you, Tanja! (We’ve somehow managed to remain close friends.) In my house growing up, we ate tomatoes off the vine like you would a fresh apple. Just pick and bite right in. If it squirts all over your face and runs down your forearm, you know you have the perfect tomato.

Like any good southerner, l don’t serve a meal during tomato season without a platter of tomatoes. This is as ubiquitous on the dinner table in the South as salt and pepper or bread and butter. I’ve easily made over a hundred of these platters and while the prep is fast and easy, there’s an art to the prep as well, a perfect combination of seasoning and herbs to maximize your tomatoes. I’ve tried many variations and have landed on the best.

So scroll down to find out to prepare your perfect platter of tomatoes. Then keep scrolling for the other perfect use for a perfect tomato… 

A PLATTER OF TOMATOES

INGREDIENTS

NOTE: Good quality ingredients are a must to make this work.

tomatoes

sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper

1 shallot

thyme

chives

olive oil

red wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

–  Start with a bunch of fresh tomatoes. I like a mixture, different sizes and shapes, but the base for me is always larger tomatoes, sliced, and spread out decoratively around the platter. You can just do the larger ones or, if you have a variety, then halve or quarter the rest and sprinkle around the top.

–  Liberally scatter sea salt on top.  Follow with freshly cracked black pepper.

–  Finely dice a shallot, and sprinkle on top. Follow with a bunch of thyme leaves. And a scattering of a few fresh chives, diced.

–  Drizzle over the top a really good olive oil. I like to have one bottle of top quality olive oil, not for cooking, but for drizzling. An excellent example you can get at Amazon is Rustico. My cousin Brenda (wonderful person and cook!) recommended it and she knows of what she speaks: Rustico Olive Oil

– Lightly sprinkle with red wine vinegar. 

That’s it! As much as I love garlic, I don’t use garlic here. It takes too much away from the tomatoes themselves. I never anymore use balsamic for the same reason. This is about highlighting the tomatoes to the max, not burying them under other flavors. Both garlic and balsamic become the predominant taste if you use them. I find rosemary also overwhelms here, which is why thyme and chives are perfect, they compliment.

Give it a try, you will love it.

** And now another special Southern delicacy I cannot live without:

A TOMATO AND MAYONNAISE SANDWICH

If there’s a heaven on earth, it may be a Tomato and Mayonnaise Sandwich.

Tomato and Mayo sandwich

a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich

Alice O’Ferrall makes the best I’ve ever had. Sitting in her kitchen atop Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama, having her Tomato and Mayonnaise sandwich, often followed up by coffee and a Moon Pie, is close to that heaven on earth. Whenever I have one of these sandwiches in my own kitchen (during tomato season this is more than often) I think of Alice and her husband Dick, two of my favorite people in the world. 

I’m so glad Alice taught me Tomato and Mayonnaise Sandwiches… when I was eight years old! It’s yet another terrific example of how simplicity yields genius.

–  Get two slices of your favorite bread.

NOTE: The classic, white trash version of this is plain old white sandwich bread. Think something like Wonder Bread. I confess I’ve moved on and love me some La Brea Bakery Bread. But you still want some form of white bread… a really nutty, grain-filled bread, which I love with other sandwiches, doesn’t work at all here. 

–  Slather both pieces with mayonnaise. A lot.

NOTE: I highly recommend Duke’s Mayonnaise. I never thought I would abandon Hellman’s/Best Foods but Duke’s is even better. Wow, is it good. If you can’t find it in a store, as it is still largely regional, you can get Duke’s at Amazon here.

–  Douse each side with salt and pepper. Go crazy. Seriously. 

–  Add a few thick slices of tomato. If they stick out the sides a little bit, great.

–  Eat! You may need to stand over the sink or have paper towels ready. It should drip down your arm. Yum.

SERIOUS NOTE: There is only one addition you can make, and it is also heaven. If you are so inclined, put a layer of Lay’s Original Potato Chips on top of the tomatoes before you put the sandwich together. You must use Lay’s. Any pother chip tends to be too thick and messes with the sandwich itself. The gentle added salt and crunch from Lay’s is truly Heaven On Earth.

Cauliflower Steak

13 Sep

A different kind of steak, but just as wonderful.

Cauli steak dinner

pan roasted cauliflower steak

Last week, we had steak and pasta. This week, a different kind of steak… Cauliflower Steak!

Before you run screaming, these are terrific. Even the staunchest carnivore alive might be surprised to find out how much they like these steaks. And yes I’m calling them steaks because, if you slice them thick and cook them properly (easy) they are steak-y satisfying and quite hearty.

I guess in some ways this has been my year of the cauliflower on the blog. I do love cauliflower — so much — and love many preparations, from a simple oven roast to wonderful soups to, of course, my cauliflower pizza crust, my cauliflower mash (updated, btw, with an additional, killer, preparation) and even my breakfast fried rice, which you can make with cauliflower rice. 

These steaks, however, are different from the other recipes and so satisfying. They make a wonderful fall dinner.

I prepare them with the pan sauce I’ve been pushing on you as of late (here, and here). I hope third time’s the charm and some of you start to make this sauce, whatever you might be roasting in your pan… pork chops, chicken thighs, steaks, cauliflower steak, even a good thick cut piece of fish.  My pan sauce is easy and terrific. People go nuts for it and once you master it, you’ll make it all the time. 

As for the cauliflower, I’m enjoying these steaks so much I make them once or twice a week lately. I think you may enjoy them as well.

QUICK VERSION: the preparation is almost identical to the prep I detailed last week with a NY Strip:  sear them on each side with a lot of salt and pepper, remove, then make your pan sauce and let the cauliflower cook a little more in the pan sauce, to soften a bit. That’s it! More specific details below.

CAULIFLOWER STEAK with pan sauce (serves two)

Ingredients

1 large head of cauliflower

salt & pepper

1 large shallot, sliced (or 1/2 a small sweet or red onion, chopped)

1 fresno chili, halved vertically, then sliced into half rings

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

white wine or dry vermouth

2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 T mustard

thyme

butter, salt and pepper

Directions:

–  Trim the green leaves from the bottom of the cauliflower. You can start this process by cutting off much of the stem, although you want to leave a little of the stem to keep the whole head together.

–  Stand the cauliflower upright and slice it vertically right down the middle. Then, with each half, make another vertical cut top to bottom about an inch thick to create two large steaks of cauliflower. Yes, this will look a little like a brain you’re slicing in AP Biology. 

– Salt and pepper both sides of the cauliflower steaks, saving the remaining pieces of cauliflower for another use (you could even roast them in the oven tonight for a double hit of cauliflower.) 

–  Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat for 3-5 minutes, get it really hot.

–  Add a glug or two of olive oil and let heat up for a couple of minutes.

–  Add your cauliflower steaks to the cast iron skillet. It should really sizzle and pop! If it doesn’t, take it out and let the oil get hotter then try again. (You’ll probably need to use your vent when cooking the steak.) Let sear, without moving, 3-5 minutes until the side is starting to get really charred. You don’t want to totally blacken it out but I like a good deal of black char on it.

Caulipan

cauliflower steaks searing in a cast iron skillet

–  Then flip and do the same on the other side. Once the other side has the same great char, remove the steaks from the pan. (They are not done.)

–  Turn the heat down to medium low. Add your shallot and Fresno chili and sauté over low heat, scraping up brown bits from the bottom.

– When the shallot and Fresno chili are soft, add the garlic and sauté only a minute more so it doesn’t brown.

– Add 2 or 3 glugs of dry vermouth (or white wine) and turn up the heat to medium high, stirring well. Let the alcohol mostly cook off, which takes a few minutes.

– Add the broth, a few shakes of salt and pepper, 1 T mustard and the thyme. (I just throw in about 5-10 sprigs of thyme. The small leaves will fall off on their own and you can extract the stems when you serve.)

–  Let the sauce simmer on medium low, it will bubble and cook down, stirring it occasionally to incorporate the mustard.  After a few minutes, add the steaks back into the sauce. (Whichever side is charred the most, keep that side up, above the sauce.)

–  Now the steaks will cook more and begin to soften. I like a bite in mine so I don’t let them soften all the way through. You may like them softer but don’t let them turn to mush! You are going for a steak-type experience. Depending on the thickness and the temp of your pan, this could take 5-10 minutes. As you taste and adjust the sauce, use a knife to test the firmness of the steaks. 

–  When the steaks are at your desired doneness, remove the steaks, plate and ladle over the sauce, making sure to get shallots and chilis on top. 

Serving:

I like cauliflower so much I’ve even eaten these on top of my mashed cauliflower! If that is too much for you, you can serve them over polenta or rice, or also just by themselves. You can also vary the sauce. I’ve made these adding sautéed mushrooms to the sauce prep (see below) and they were still divine. Just throw in the sliced mushrooms right after the garlic, let them cook a few minutes to release their liquid, then keep going in the same way.

With another vegetable or two as a side, and a salad, this is a wonderful, surprisingly hearty meal. 

Give it a try!

CauliDone

Cauliflower Steaks topped with a mushroom pan sauce and a side of sautéed veg

 

A Favorite Dinner Vol. I

6 Sep

Back from Summer Hiatus with a quick easy dinner I love, steak and pasta.

SteakandPasta

NY Strip with a side of Cacio e Pepe

If I’ve learned anything over the years from favorite chefs like Patricia Wells, Suzanne Goin, Nigel Slater and more, often times when cooking simplicity is best. I may love to make cassoulet over seven days, but I love just as much a simple dinner.

One simple dinner I’ve come to enjoy over the last few years is the combination of steak and pasta. It’s not something I ate growing up; we had a cattle farm so we ate a lot of steak, but we always had steak with a baked potato. Whether loaded with everything or dressed only with butter, salt and pepper, a baked potato is a perfect food, particularly when the inside is moist and tender and the outside crispy as hell. Oh my.  After discovering the wonderful combo of steak and pasta, however, I don’t serve a baked potato with a steak nearly as often.

I believe I was turned onto this combo on my first visit to the LA institution Dan Tana’s. Located next to the equally famous Troubador on Santa Monica Blvd, Dan Tana’s has been open well over fifty years and I dare say will be open well over fifty more. An Italian steakhouse with wonderful cocktails, Dan Tana’s serves up terrific versions of Italian classics (the veal parmigiana, for instance, is to die for) but they also serve the Dabney Coleman, a 20 oz New York Strip that might be the best steak I’ve ever tasted. It comes with a side of pasta and the first time I tried this pairing, I knew I’d be having a lot of steak and pasta from then on. 

While grilling a steak is good, I prefer cooking my steaks on the stove in my cast iron skillet. You get a marvelous sear and, if you so desire, you can make a terrific pan sauce while the steak rests. You can also boil your pasta while the sauce cooks so that steak and pasta finish at the same time. Add a side of my garlic salad and a glass of red wine and you have a quick, simple, killer dinner that comes together fast even on a weeknight. 

My go to steak as of late is a New York strip. It may not be as tender as a filet or ribeye, but the flavor is by far my favorite of the three. If your preference is a filet or ribeye, each works just as well.

I love to make a lot of different pasta dishes but with a steak, I have two go-tos:  Giada’s lemon spaghetti, which is lovely and accompanies a steak beautifully, or even better, the classic and devastatingly good Cacio e Pepe. (I could eat Cacio e Pepe every night of my life and never tire of it, ever.) Both of these pastas are simple, with just a few ingredients involving very little prep. In fact, you can prep your pasta sauce while the pasta is boiling and the pan sauce cooking!

Fast, easy, delicious. 

Oh and Gluten Free friends! Both of these pasta recipes are perfect for Spaghetti Squash! I use spaghetti squash with these two preparations as much as I do regular pasta.

Below, then, I will give you my method of cooking a strip (as well as my favorite pan sauce for the strip) and the recipes for both pastas.  Try them all and enjoy!

STEAK AND PASTA

NY STRIP with pan sauce (serves 2… double for 4)

NOTES: While I usually like to serve a steak whole, I find, with a NY strip and pasta, slicing the strip makes a lovely presentation particularly if you make a pan sauce, which I highly recommend.  I also find when eating steak with pasta, one large steak will easily serve two, another good reason to slice the steak.

Also, these instructions are detailed in order to make sure everyone knows exactly what to do but you will see, reading through them, that this is a fast, easy prep.

Ingredients:

1 12 – 16 oz NY strip

1 large shallot, sliced (or 1/2 a small sweet or red onion, chopped)

1 fresno chili, halved then sliced into half rings

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

white wine or dry vermouth

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 T mustard

thyme

butter, salt and pepper

Directions:

–  An hour before you want to cook, remove steak(s) from the fridge and salt and pepper on both sides. DO NOT BE SHY. Let the steaks sit, covered, to bring the meat to room temperature.

–  Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat for 3-5 minutes, get it really hot.

–  Add a glug or two of olive oil and let heat up for a couple of minutes.

–  Add your steak to the cast iron skillet. It should really sizzle and pop! If it doesn’t, take it out and let the oil get hotter. You’ll probably need to use your vent when cooking the steak. Let sear, without moving, for 4-5 minutes, then flip and do the same.  (This is for a pretty thick NY Strip… if you have a thinner slice of strip, it is only going to take a minute or two on each side.)

–  After the steak has cooked on both sides, turn the heat down to medium low and remove the steak from the pan, remembering the steak will continue to cook when resting out of the pan! Pull it off before it is done. You can always cook it more.

NOTE: every steak is a different thickness and we all like our steaks cooked different temps. I like medium rare, leaning towards rare, for instance. It’s impossible for me to give exact times. Get a really good sear on both sides and let the steak rest.. then cut into it. If it is too rare, let the steak cook a few minutes IN the pan sauce. You’ll still have a great sear on the top side and the pan sauce will add flavor to the steak anyway.

–  As the steak rests, add your shallot and Fresno chili and sauté over low heat, scraping up brown bits from the bottom. 

– When the shallot and Fresno chili are soft, add the garlic and sauté only a minute more so it doesn’t brown.

– Add 2 or 3 glugs of dry vermouth or white wine and turn up the heat to medium high, stirring well. Let the alcohol mostly cook off, which takes a few minutes.

– Add the broth, a few shakes of salt and pepper, 1 T mustard and the thyme. (I just throw in about 5-10 sprigs of thyme. The small leaves will fall off on their own and you can extract the stems when you serve.)

–  Let the sauce simmer and bubble and cook down, stirring occasionally to incorporate the mustard.  After 5 or so minutes, the sauce is ready though if you have time you can keep cooking it down to make it thicker. A couple of minutes before you are ready to finish, add a pad of butter and let it melt and incorporate into your sauce. Yum.

–  Slice your steak into thick strips and spoon the sauce, with the shallots and chili, on top. Serve with a side of Giada’s Lemon Spaghetti or Cacio e Pepe.

CACIO E PEPE

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 lb dried spaghetti

2 T butter at room temperature

4-6 oz of finely grated pecorino cheese

1.5 T freshly ground black pepper

Pasta water

Directions

–  Cook the spaghetti in well salted water according to the package directions.

–  While the spaghetti cooks, mix the pecorino cheese with 2 T water and the butter. Mix well to make a paste. (While you can skip this step, it helps the cheese not to clump when mixed into the spaghetti later.)

– When the pasta is al dente, scoop out 2 cups of pasta water then drain your spaghetti.

– If using the same pot, dry it out and heat the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the spaghetti and a cup of the pasta water. This will splatter! Have fun but be careful! Toss a couple of times, then:

–  Add the ‘pecorino sauce’ and the black pepper. Continue to toss, mixing well, adding a little more pasta water if need be so the sauce thickens and clings to the pasta. Taste! If you need more pepper or cheese, go for it! Remove from the stove and it’s ready to serve.

NOTE: I get my water boiling as I cook the steaks and then throw in the pasta when I start the pan sauce. It usually times out so that I can toss the pasta while the sauce finishes its last few minutes, then everything comes together at the same time.

FINALLY: This Cacio e Pepe is perfect as is. But it is also terrific with a little fried pancetta added in!

Steak and pasta

Filet Mignon with a side of Giada’s lemon spaghetti, and buttered peas.

 

Breakfast Fried Rice

30 May

(Your next favorite killer comfort breakfast is good for you and has various tweaks for various diets…)

Breakfast Fried Rice

Breakfast Fried Rice, sans necessary extras

After a few years of On Food and Film (time sure flies!), it must now be obvious how much I love breakfast. Savory breakfast at least. Sure, I’ll eat a pancake or french toast if you shove it in front of me but otherwise, savory breakfast rules.

Well, then. Let me give you a savory comfort breakfast that will satisfy you completely. It’s also fairly healthy and can adapt to a variety of diets.

You see, along with loving breakfast, and chicken, and pasta, and salad, and… I love rice. I’ve mentioned that growing up Cajun the starch that was our staple was white rice not potatoes. Rice is a wonderful vessel for so many things… Gravy! Au jus! Red beans! Butter! Gumbo! Etouffee! When I was in grade school, I loved white rice topped with French’s Yellow Mustard (long story). Oh hell, I still do. But I even love rice all by its lonesome.

I also love fried rice. Once a week growing up in my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, Mom, Dad, my brother David and I went to The Dragon Inn, a restaurant in downtown Port Arthur run by a wonderful man named Johnny. If you’ve seen the final scene of A Christmas Story, you know what Johnny and the restaurant were like, although The Dragon Inn was a long rectangle shooting in perpendicular fashion back from the street. It had a bar on one side and booths all along the other. Painted on the booth side wall, winding the length of the restaurant, was a single, very long Chinese dragon that enthralled me for years. Johnny is who hooked me on Mu Shu Pork, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Snow Peas and amazing fried rice. 

Back to breakfast: I’ve been working out early mornings as of late, with a terrific trainer named Ryan, who suggested the best time to eat carbs was after a hard workout. When he said, ‘You can even use white rice’ I lit up, given I’ve been avoiding rice lately trying to slim down. His suggestion was the only encouragement I needed and voila! Breakfast Fried Rice was born.

Click here for the recipe: Continue reading

Homemade Crème Fraîche??!!

19 May

(how to make homemade crème fraîche you will eat with a spoon, plus suggested uses and recipes)

CremeFraiche

homemade crème fraîche

I can’t believe I’ve been cooking for years and didn’t know I could make crème fraîche at home with 90 seconds of prep. Well. Now I’m making it at least once a week, if not more, using this incredibly delicious and decadent ‘soured cream’ on everything. 

Less tart and much creamier than sour cream, I’ve used store bought crème fraîche for years. It’s terrific in soup and stews, wonderful on eggs, a better way to make creamy salad dressings, and is the perfect foil for both sweet and spicy dishes: it brings a slight tartness to a sweet dessert, adding depth and balance (how ‘chef’ does that sound!) and tempers a spicy dish, such as my skillet chilaquiles. 

Trust me… give this a try and you will ever after always have a jar of homemade crème fraîche in your fridge. The uses are near innumerable. 

Click here for the recipe: Continue reading

Fresno Chilis Will Change Your Life

12 May

(including recipes for a killer hot sauce, a mini tutorial on delicious pan sauces, pickled chilis, and more…)

Fresno Chili and jar

Fresno chilis and hot sauce

Fresno chilis, which look like a red Jalapeño, have become my favorite chili by far. Milder than a Jalapeño, they still have a nice bite along with a slight, lovely sweetness that makes them more versatile than a Jalapeño or Serrano. Because they can be enjoyed even by people who ‘don’t like spicy’, Fresnos are often called a ‘gateway chili’, as you can see in this excellent history of the Fresno:

Fresno Chilis

I stumbled onto Fresnos a couple of years ago because a favorite chef of mine, Nancy Silverton, throws them in just about everything. I made a marvelous chicken recipe of hers, that uses pickled Fresnos, and loved them so much I started throwing them in and on everything: the pickled Fresnos are terrific on pizzas and in sandwiches, I love raw slices in salads, and a gentle sauté of a sliced or diced Fresno transforms most any main dish or side vegetable. They are also wonderful in my baked omelette.

When I started making my own hot sauce (ridiculously easy, as you will see in the recipe below) I really fell in love. This hot sauce is The. Best.

Fresnos are perfect for pan sauces (see recipe below) as well as in an upcoming recipe that will also change your life, Breakfast Fried Rice. 

If there’s a problem with Fresnos, it’s that unlike the Jalapeño or Serrano, they’re not always available year round. Subsequently, when I see them, I buy out the store, make a few jars of hot sauce, pickle some more, then freeze the remainder. 

So look for the Fresno! Buy a bunch and try these recipes… and be on the lookout for Breakfast Fried Rice!

Click here for the recipes: Continue reading

Best Mashed Cauliflower Ever

23 Mar
CAULI MASHED INGREDIENTS

Ingredients for Mashed Cauliflower

In our current Keto/Paleo/Crossfit/Whole 30 obsessed world, with bread and grains and potatoes thrown into the dustbin, cauliflower has become a favorite food. Makes sense to me! I’ve always been a huge fan. Whether it be roasted simply (my favorite) or covered in cheese sauce or somehow otherwise plated, I love me some cauliflower. 

Perhaps because I’m Cajun and our main starch was white rice, I’ve never been a huge mashed potato fan. Roast or baked potatoes? Oh my. I’ll knock an old lady over for stellar roast potatoes or a loaded baked. But somehow mashed potatoes have only been useful as a reason to enjoy an amazing gravy. (Do you really need the mashed, though? How about a bowl of gravy and a spoon? Or, really, just a bowl of gravy and a biscuit? There you are!)

Yet I’ve fallen in love with mashed cauliflower, though it took me a few tries to get right. I loved the taste from the beginning. But I could never get the consistency quite right… it was always just a touch runny. Sure, butter and cream had something to do with that but, hey, you can’t have mashed anything without butter and cream.

Finally, I had an idea and gave it a try… a little cream cheese added to the mix. Wow. Perfect consistency and same great taste, you’ll never know it’s there.

So.. below… honestly, the best mashed cauliflower you’ve ever had. With a little garlic and thyme added in, even you die hard mashed potato fans might be surprised how much you like it. Even without gravy! But whether on their own (I love these mashed all alone) or with a wonderful pan sauce… upcoming in a soon to be posted post… this mashed cauliflower recipe will become a staple. 

Mashed Cauliflower

A bowl of just made mashed cauliflower… I love it all by its lonesome.

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading