Friday, August 28, 2009

Tomato Season

Tomato season in my kitchen began this week. It's a bit late, but we've had a cool summer here in Wisconsin and tomatoes are slow to ripen. Local farmers markets have been selling 'maters since July, but they're expensive. (I paid $1.75 for one large tomato a few weeks ago.)

I prefer to buy tomatoes from pick-your-own farms in the Milwaukee suburbs of Mequon and Cedarburg. Last weekend I picked a few pounds of disappointingly green tomatoes at "R" Apples in Mequon for about 60 cents a pound.

The cashier reassured me that my pickings would ripen if I kept them for a few days in a brown paper bag. He was right. The tomatoes never quite developed that bright, farmers-market red, but they were still pretty tasty. I snapped the above photo a day after picking.

Later in the season, when tomatoes are more plentiful, I might make ratatouille or tomatoes stuffed with lamb and rice. For now, I'm satisfied with thinly sliced tomatoes generously topped with red onion rounds and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

"R" Apples
12246 N. Farmdale Rd., Mequon
Phone: (262) 242-0669

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fast Food: Pelmeni

You might think that pelmeni--Russian dumplings with meat filling--are a special-occasion food. They're time-consuming to make--you have to mess around with pasta dough, for one. Plus you’ve got to make the stuffing, roll out the dough, fill the dumplings and in all likelihood freeze them, as pelmeni are usually made by the hundreds.

Despite all this effort, pelmeni are considered a quick and low-maintenance meal in many Russian households. Boil a pot of water, toss in some dumplings, and in about seven minutes dinner's ready. Of course, many Russians in the U.S. (and probably nowadays in Russia) simply buy ready-made pelmeni and keep them in the freezer for emergency meals.

Above is a shot of my recent pelmeni dinner (our pelmeni came by way of an aunt who buys them from some lady in what I call Milwaukee's "Little Brooklyn," i.e. Shorewood). I prettied up my pelmeni with some sautéed mushrooms and a handful of chopped dill, but that's optional. Sour cream, I feel, is not, but some like to top pelmeni with butter or a bit of white vinegar.

I think nearly every Russian grocery in the U.S. carries pelmeni in its freezer case. In the Milwaukee area, I recommend Spartak in Whitefish Bay. If you want to tackle homemade pelmeni, see this promising-looking recipe from the blog Tea and Cookies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From the Archives: Pickle Season

Last weekend I bought a big bag of pickling cucumbers for about $4 at the West Allis Farmer's Market. Above is a shot of pickle-making in progress (I used this recipe from my archives). Cucumber season is short--I recommend you make this in the next couple of weeks. Pickles make a great side to boiled fingerling potatoes.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Two Summer Recipes

The first summer I had a blog I liked making complicated recipes. Stuffed zucchini, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed this and that. These days I’m far more likely to toss zucchini slices on a grill or slice up tomatoes for a salad. I’m not really inspired to make multi-step dishes that have you chop, dice and sauté. My tastes have changed, for whatever reason. Every once in a while, though, I miss hands-on cooking and make something other than grilled veggies. Last week, I cooked up these two dishes:

Sauteed zucchini with onions and corn (grilled Polish sausage on the side). Dice and sauté an onion in butter in a skillet. When the onion’s golden and soft, add two thinly sliced zucchini, and keep sautéing until they’re soft. Add some crushed garlic; sauté 30 more seconds.

Add the kernels from one cob of corn—parboiled, grilled or even raw if your corn’s really good. Sauté a few more minutes. Take off the heat and let cool 5 minutes. Top with feta cheese and chopped scallions. Serve with protein of choice (also great with pasta).
Braised cabbage with Middle-Eastern spices: I have pretty standard cravings—chocolate, good bread and so on—but every once in a while I’ll crave cabbage. That’s right. In particular, I’ve been in the mood for braised cabbage like the kind served at the lunch buffet at Casablanca, a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Milwaukee. This was my attempt to recreate their recipe:

Clean a small head of cabbage and cut it up into chunks--about a dozen. Heat up some olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook the cabbage slices, flipping them over once in a while, for about 15 minutes. It's okay if they fall apart. You might have to cook them in batches. Put the browned cabbage in a foil-lined pan.

Finely dice two fat garlic cloves, and sauté them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle in a healthy shake of cumin, cinnamon and turmeric; sauté for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the garlic and spices over the cabbage chunks. Evenly add 1.5 cups crushed tomatoes to the cabbage (or 1.5 cup tomato sauce). Top cabbage with 1 cup crumbled Feta cheese. Bake at 425 until the cabbage is soft and the Feta is melted and golden brown; about 25-30 minutes.

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