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Tomato Breakfast

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tomatoes2011.jpgOnce, in Spain, we were having breakfast and the guy next to us started rubbing big, hunking tomato quarters all over his toast, rubbing them until the skin came off in his hand. Then, he dumped salt, pepper and olive oil on the mash and ate it.

Later, we went out for tapas, and the whole table next to us started smearing tomatoes onto bread. We'll have one of those we said, of course, and soon my entire family was squeezing the meat out of the tomatoes with the help of the nap of the crusty bread.

If the skins won't come off -- meaning the tomatoes are old and not very good -- this isn't the method. But with my summer crop of tomatoes hanging so alluringly on the vine, they and great olive oil are the perfect candidates to go on my Seeduction bread, toasted.

This year we grew six different types of tomatoes. Eating one type per piece of bread really helps clarify the taste memory of each of these. Pictured are the small SubArtic Plenty, a small breed that does alright in cool temperatures and flourished through our cold July. They have never gotten very big for me, and aren't true early tomatoes so they are not my favorites for practical reasons, but their taste is clean, clear and sweet with just a hint of tart.

Thumbnail image for FiorentinoTomato.jpgThe heavy ribbed tomato on the left is a Costoluto Fiorentino, with a very sweet and very tart taste. Very meaty and the skin comes off nicely even when tucked in crevices. I didn't give these plants enough of a sunny home, so the ones that are ripe now are smaller than I hoped. Some more promising fruit is still on the vine.

To the right is the Black Russian that has produced so well for me this year. They riped with a purplish top on the green fruit then turn a deep violet red. The meat is equally saturated with color. The taste is sweet, only slightly tart, with a meatiness that hits the top back arch of the mouth like a steak does.  

Oatmeal, Cheap and Tasty

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oatmeal-banner.jpgRolled or Steel Cut - Organic oats from Whole Foods are $1.69 per pound. The rolled style are cut, then steamed before being rolled. These cook slightly quicker and have a creamier texture than the ones on the right that are just cut. Neither one of these has any resemblance to the  cardboard and sugar taste in a package of instant oatmeal. Both are far cheaper than any convenience food.

oatmeal-measured.jpgOrganic oats from Whole Foods are everyday priced at less than 9 cents per ounce. A package of oatmeal on sale and in 30-package quantities can be as little as 30 cents per packet, which contains less than an ounce of oats, sugar and manufactured flavorings - 4 to 5 times the price of bulk organic any day of the week.

Read my toasted oatmeal recipe if you want some tips about how to make oatmeal, where I've added some ways to save time or fit the breakfast making into your schedule, so that you can see that making oatmeal from 'scratch' takes little more time than boiling water and ripping open the bag.  And much less time than making an extra stop at Target, after searching flyers and weekly specials, to nail the the best price.

I serve my warm cereal with the absolute finest Bulgarian Pro-biotic Yogurt, (White Mountain Bulgarian), the sweetest blueberries available in winter - Whole Foods 365 brand, frozen wild blueberries and organic milk. And my breakfast is still CHEAPER than packaged instant oats. Look at the breakdown, below: Cost of Packaged (Instant) vs. Home-made (Mine).

Ingredients in roughly equivalent quantities Instant (cents) Mine (cents)

Oats: 2 packets, 8/10th of an ounce at best (46 grams)

          Organic steel cut oats: 8.7 cent per oz. (46 grams)

ORGANIC WINS: everyday price nearly 4x cheaper



White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt: 2 Tbs   11.53
Frozen Wild blueberries:   1/2 oz.   21.5

sugar and additives: .85 oz. in flavored packets; guar gum, salt, calcium carbonate, caramel coloring, Vitamin A palmate, reduced iron .4 oz. in traditional oats.

non-dollar costs?

none added; no total cost

Milk, 1/2 cup (reg for instant; organic for mine) 5.86 11.29
My breakfast with ORGANIC MILK is still CHEAPER

oatmeal-blueberries-yogurt.jpgThe argument for organic food is that it's better for the environment. Everyone agrees. Everyone can also agree that organic is not worse for our bodies. The usual argument against organic food is that it is SO DARNED EXPENSIVE, but look PACKAGED OATMEAL is the bloated one. Shall we calculate this out for a family of 4, 6 or 8? The savings over a year's time? Or a lifetime?

Someone is selling Americans, particularly the poor, the idea that they can't afford good food. What they really can't afford is processed food, the extra cost of which goes not to farmers but big companies. 
Instead of just voting once every four years for the candidates I think might help improve the food supply in this county, I vote every time I go to the store. I vote for organics.

Just imagine how the price of organic food would come down if that was how everyone grew food.

The power of making do

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Someone French once told me French cooking's power comes from making the best of what you have. It's the middle of November and I've already exceeded my credit card budget for the month, and so I'm going to put my cooking style up against the French.

Lunch today, November 18thpumpkin.jpg
Spinach is still growing in the garden although there's been snow and we hit it pretty hard before we suspected frost. The chard can give up a few small leaves to add to our salad, and there's still parsley and the ever-vigorous sorrel. I found a radish in the flower pot where I made a late August stab at growing another crop. The carrots were dwarfed by everything else this summer, but now that the basil and beans are withered away, I can't believe they've been ignored.

A little good white wine vinegar, a little Dijon mustard, and a flattened clove of garlic mixed, then joined by a good olive oil in my little cruet and we've got a free salad.

Oh, and we added a few of the tomatoes that have been ripening in the dark. We gathered them in October leaving the smaller ones still on their vines. The yellow ones were sweet Sungold's and the others look like cherry tomatoes but were our tigerela variety. Sweet when they are this small.

We did add a piece of lasagna -- last night's dinner -- to our lunch. The lasagna was made with dry noodles that have been decorating a glass container for a long time. They are more pleasurable to look at, for me, than to cook with, but Steuart has been inspired. Last night's sauce was made completely from our 'late-harvest' tomatoes, fresh and dried herbs from the yard and the cheeses that are never missing from our frig -- great Parmasean and inexpensive mozzarella.

Now, we're trying to figure out what to do with this vivid canned pumpkin that we've just received from Steuart's brother's garden. Any ideas?

Start with the Best Chicken

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Chicken exists outside of plastic wrap

chicken-prep.jpgIt appeared at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. From Socorro, New Mexico with Tom from Pollo Real, the first certified organic poultry farm in the United States. It was a French Red Label chicken, and I've never had a chicken so good. Yeah, sure, I've had the free-range chicken from Whole Foods and yes, it's much better than anything else in the big grocers that calls itself chicken, and it's pictured above. We can't get a local chicken in Denver.

In June we bought our first Pollo Real chicken, roasted it, made stock, chicken enchiladas and an amazing chicken salad. Imagine how good this chicken is roasted, as I remember how great it was cold. Like breathing fresh mountain air with all the warm memories of the best Christmas meal.

roast-chicken.jpgI spent more than $20 on that chicken, but made at least 5 meals from it and at the very next opportunity I had, I bought a second chicken. And we roasted it with friends. It's a simple way to have an extraordinary dinner party.

Start the oven at 425 degrees F. Remove the gizzard and neck from the interior of the chicken, wash it, inside and out, dry it and stuff with herbs. Cut a lemon in half and rub over the bird, and put it in the cavity of the bird that you've put in a heavy casserole like a Le Creuset. Add a cup of white wine to the casserole and roast breast up, covered. Turn the oven down to 350 after 15 minutes. In less than 1/2 hour the chicken breast should be done -- reached a mere 150-155 degrees. Use an instant read thermometer, or better yet, one that calls you when it gets to temperature.

I cut the chicken at this point. Find the natural division between the leg and the body, the wing and the body and cut with a study knife. Just rock the knife firmly in that spot until the pieces separate. Then, you'll find an equally natural place to cut the breast from the back, left and right. The top near the wing is the toughest spot, but just press the knife, rocking until it separates. Put all the parts except the breast back in the oven for another 10 ten minutes or until the leg reaches 165 degrees.

This give you time to cut the chicken breast in pieces, two, or like you would for a turkey if there are several guests. And you'll have time to make a sauce with what juice was on the cutting  board. Thicken those juices by making a roux of flour and butter, or adding one egg yolk, on low heat. Cooking makes the thing hold together and not taste like flour or egg.

Then you can remove the leg from oven. Cut it in serving pieces, if you want, and add more of the cooking juices to make the quantity of sauce you'd like.

Remove the pieces you've cut and aren't serving, put gizzards and skin you may have removed back into the casserole and turn the oven down to 250. Let cook several hours, and strain. You've now got a wonderful chicken stock (soups, sauces, risotto) and perfectly cooked chicken for another meal or two.

Starter Plants Tomatoes

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tomato-Marmand.jpgSteuart and I spent the day at Denver Urban Homesteading, selling the plant that we aren't going to have room for in our urban garden.
He grew more than 200 plants from the seeds we bought this year. We'll have about 12 in our two raised beds and 8 in pots.

We decided in February that we like the taste of produce grown from this year's seeds and -- because so many seeds come in one package from the quality producer that we love -- we split the lot with Steuart's brother, Andrew & wife Lisa.

Steuart's green thumb was particularly green this spring and we had so many healthy plants we didn't know what we were going to do with them, until we went to Denver Urban Homesteading, which does a year round farmer's market at 200 Santa Fe, on Saturdays from 9-2.

For 2010, we are choosing to grow the Super Marmande, which is a big tomato popular in southern France. It's the first one pictured above.

We're expecting the heirloom, Tigerella -- here pictured with orange stripes -- is going to be slightly smaller but just as good to eat right out of the garden.

Instead of a cherry tomato, we're growing something that can become slightly larger -- the size of a golf ball. I'm going to try this in a hanging basket -- it's a beautiful plant.

The fourth type of tomato is one that will mature later and we'll preserve. We will either make sauce or concentrate down to a paste or just freeze as crushed tomatoes for use throughout the winter.

I found myself realizing while I was handing out plants that since we've been in Denver, and able to grow our own tomatoes, we are having a hard time going back to canned ones -- even good ones.

If you want more information about any of these tomatoes, or the eggplant, cucumbers or sage plants Steuart grew, you can download this document about our Starter Plants.doc.

Check back here for ideas of what to do with all the fruits of our garden labors this summer.

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baguette.pngsandwich-hummus-goat-cheese.pngbaguette-goat-cheese-hummus-sandwich.pngI'm on a budget, okay. Who's not these days?

I'm not letting that get in the way of eating well. Sure, I'm going for beans as a low priced source of protein, but I've put it on a beautiful hunk of bread with nice goat cheese. And voila, it epitomizes what the French know about food. Care, not money, makes food taste good.

So, as a lot of study (Julia Child, Mark Bittman's story about no-knead bread in New York) I make a great baguette. And forget it, you'll have to do the work yourself. My recipe's a secret.

And the beans I'm using are chick peas (garbanzo beans). After buying a pound of them for $1.65 and using about 1/8 of a pound in this recipe, I can't believe anyone hands over $4.5 for a tiny plastic tub of hummus.
Here's a recipe that I'm happy not to keep secret because it's so easy and inexpensive. Now if I only own a goat ...

Garlic Hummus
1 1/2 cup chick peas dried
3 cloves of garlic, warmed in the oven
2 tablespoons of tahini
3 pinches of salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
olive oil, enough to make it smooth about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
Soak chickpeas over night in warm water with a big pinch of salt.
Next day, make sure they are covered by at least an inch water, bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 8 minute (that's all!). You might want to give them a little more time if you're mashing them by hand.

First, mash or blend together the tahini, salt, vinegar and warmed garlic, it should be soft and easy to mash. Slowly add in chick peas, water and oil in equal parts in order to keep everything mixing, more oil than water if possible.

The Hummus Goat-cheese Sandwich
Split a chunk of baguette and pan toast the halves in olive-oil in a pan.
Spread hummus and goat cheese each on it's own half.  Cover and turn off the heat, let the cheese melt and put it together. 
Serve with your favorite spinach salad or chips and salsa, if you're not into the whole low-carb thing.

Spinach Calzone

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FoccaciaPizza.jpgI wanted to make a spanikopita but did not have any phyllo pastry. I had the ingredients to make a pizza crust and decided to make a spinach pie -- part Italian part Greek. Serve as a light main course for dinner or as a party dish cut into slices.


Spinach Calzone


2 tsp. dry yeast

1 c. warm water

2 T. sugar

3.5 C flour

1 T salt

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil


Fresh spinach about 1 lb

2 heads of roasted garlic

cottage cheese

Parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 pinch nutmeg, to taste

salt and pepper

Make the dough: dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar.

Using a food processor, add the flour, salt and water and extra virgin olive oil. Mix it up and knead to the desired consistency by hand. Put the dough in a plastic bag and let it rise in the fridge. Let the dough come to room temp before trying to knead.


Make the filling: put the clean spinach in a sauce pan with a cover and cook on low heat until wilted. Pinch into a colander and let it sit and drain.

After garlic has roasted for about 40 minutes in foil and cooled, squeeze roasted garlic cloves from their skin into a mixing bowl. Chop cooked spinach and add to roasted garlic. Stir in cottage cheese and parmesan, stir in raw beaten egg. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.


Take dough out of fridge and let come to room temp. Preheat oven to 375 f. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to about ½ inch thick.


Put  one half of dough on a cooking sheet. Put filling onto dough and smooth out to about 1 inch in depth. Place second half of dough on top of spinach mixture. Roll the bottom selvage up around the top and crimp to seal edges. Brush with egg wash, salt and pepper.


Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, rotating for even baking. Let it rest before cutting.

Serve with a tomato salad.


A full freezer

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freezer.pngWe picked up an entire cow from the processor in Pierce, Colorado yesterday. We are 1/8th owners of this cow and most of it is right here. A very red freezer.

The cow was raised on John and Jane Francis' ranch near Cheyenne Wyoming. At Pure Wyoming Beef, they sell 1/4, 1/2 or whole cows, it's best to go in with friends. Our beef, now no longer on the hoof, is an average price of less than $3/lb. after the processing. So for natural beef it's a very good deal even for hamburger. The standing rib roast is beyond Smoking Deal.