Sunday, August 29, 2010

My life in tomatoes

Laura McIntosh yellows

It's summer and that means tomatoes in all their variety, shapes and colors.  I started tomato 'farming' on my deck a couple years ago and was so amazed at the taste and output with so little input.  Just some good soil, water and lots of sunlight.

Anna's tomatoes

And sunlight is the key word.  Now I know why we are hearing of 'climate change' rather than global warming.  There was not much warm about most of the summer here in Marin.  Where there would usually be a bounty of ripe sweet tomatoes from my containers beginning in July, the above photo is what my container tomatoes looked like mid-August!

Anna's cherry tomatoes

And it wasn't a fluke.  My cherry tomatoes looked the same.What! August and no juicy sweet tomatoes?  Yes, the tomatoes from my CSA, organic red and ripe were starting to trickle in, but they still didn't come close to those homegrown ones.

Laura McIntosh

Then I fell into some luck.  I was invited to the set of "Bringing it Home with Laura McIntosh".  She and Tyler Florence were going to shoot together about some great ways to include healthy fresh food in your ballpark snacks.  Naturally we were at the AT&T Park, home of the Giants.

Hot Dogs w/Grape Relish

Unfortuntately, Tyler fell ill and couldn't make it, but his ball park dogs with his tangy grape relish did.  I was impressed with Laura's ability to improvise and tape it all solo.  I met some friendly people from the California Grape Commission who gave me some freshly picked California black and white table grapes and the recipe (Google Tyler Florence and Grape Relish for the recipe, it's all over the net), and I tried it at home with tofu dogs.  It goes well with those too.  I was a little skeptical combining garlic, onions, mustard seed and fresh grapes but I liked the result.  I used the black ones in another way too, which you'll see later in this post.  You can get fresh California grapes in many ball parks now, including AT&T Park.  The good people of the Table Grape Commission also gave me a Susan Volland cookbook, "Green Black Red", naturally a book full of grape recipes.  You may see some made up and pictured here in the future.

Laura McIntosh heirloom tomatoes

Back to Laura McIntosh and tomatoes. Laura grew up on a farm in Northern California, and knows a lot about healthy farm grown produce.  In her show, she brings us to the farms that grow our bounty of top quality food that we bring home to our families.  I applaud her concept.  I eat mostly organic and local and a good part of the reason is I like knowing who grew the things I put in my mouth.  Laura and I talked about peach farming a bit taking me back to summers on my Aunt and Uncles peach and grape farm.  I had forgotten all about the fuzzies that rubbed off on all our clothes from the old fashioned Alberta peaches, and Laura took me off into sweet memories about that.  She talked to me between takes about her new line of heirloom tomatoes, tomatoes good enough to put her name on.

Laura McIntosh mixed tomatoes

Laura told me that heirloom tomatoes have to be at least 50 years old and not hybridized to be called heirlooms.  The bees do the matchmaking for heirlooms.  Laura's organic heirloom tomatoes are from Golden Bear Ranches Joaquin Valley.  And she's not the only one that's discovered these beauties, Chefs Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Bouchon, and Michael Chiarello of Bottega also source their heirloom tomatoes from the same place. All the photos of tomatoes in this post (other than my green tomato photos) are her brand from the Golden Bear.  She gave me some large cartons of many sizes and colors to try myself, as well as her cookbook "Entertaining at Home with America's Top Chefs".  These tomatoes had just been picked that morning. These were indeed sweet, the sweetest I can ever remember tasting.  If you want some, they are available at Lucky Supermarkets.  I wrote a small bit in Bread and Butter, and have been so grateful that some place in California has some sun and can produce such beauties since my garden certainly has not been producing.  Take a look at just some of the ways I've been preparing and enjoying these at home.

Heirloom, black grape, pumpkin seed and feta salad

The first thing I made was a salad that included the cherry sized Laura McIntosh heirloom tomatoes, and it also had romaine lettuce, black grapes, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese.  All topped with EVOO and balsamic vinegar.  My Dad asked for seconds on this salad.  He never asks for seconds on salad!

Heirloom and pastured egg breakfast sandwich

And how about waking up to this for breakfast?  Pastured fried egg, half a yellow organic heirloom tomato slice all on an organic whole wheat bun.  Yellow juice dribbled out the corners of our mouths, but we were in heaven.

Mushroom, heirloom tomato and basil pizza

I made a simple pizza of a premade crust brushed with EVOO and covered with fresh mushrooms and Laura's heirloom tomatoes then smothered with jack cheese.  I put torn fresh basil leaves on the top after the cooking.  Simple and satisfying.

Gravlax with Heirlooms

I picked up some cognac and dill steeped gravlax at the Mill Valley Farmer's Market.  I think the gentleman that sold it to me always has the first stall on the right when you enter the market. At least every time I've been there.  His brother catches salmon wild in Alaska and air ships them down here for hand curing and then selling to we lucky ones who find him.  I toasted a wheat bagel and spread some of Three Stone Hearth's tangy yogurt cream on these before draping the gravlax, covering with capers and brightening up with Laura's yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes.  The dish was enhanced with a burst of sunshine when biting into these sweet yellow rounds balancing over the top of the usual capers and gravlax creation.

Yellow heirloom with mozzarella and basil

Then there's the classic tomato stacked with buffalo mozzarella and topped with basil leaf.  I just poured a little EVOO and balsalmic over these bright yellow, white and green layers and what a perfect start to a meal.

Heirloom, buffalo mozzarella and basil

And that was not the end.  I gave some to my neighbor who remarked on their sweetness too, more importantly that she could actually eat them as she usually even has to pass on the organic tomatoes in our shared CSA box by because of the acidity.  When I heard that, I shared some more.  After all I can happily get some more of Laura McIntosh organic heirloom tomatoes at my neighborhood Lucky's.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Taste is finally here!

Taste of the Himalayas

Taste of the Himalayas in Sausalito opened just last Friday for dinner after much anticipation. I've been watching the build out closely and looking forward to having food from the Himalayas so close and available!  I had some correspondence with one of the owners, Pemba, wanting to know the moment the new place would be open!  Some of the correspondence happened on their convenient Facebook page where they showed the progress towards completing the build out and opening.  I've also been following the progress on Twitter. And I wrote about the opening in last week's Bread and Butter.

I was happy to finally meet Pemba and his sister Dawa in person this evening when I stopped by for my first dinner at Taste of the Himalayas.

And how is the food?  Well see what I had!

Pani Puri

This appetizer is called Pani Puri ($6). I was so excited to find a new taste treat!  I had never heard of this Nepali street food which is described as semolina puffs stuffed with fork crushed spiced chick peas and potatoes, and chilled masala infused pani.  The small white decanter in the photo above holds what looks like water, but it is a watery topping which contains black salt, which I was told is very good for your body.  All this and a delicious light bite too.

Alu Bhanta

For my main course I tried the Alu Bhanta ($10), which is potato and eggplant curry which comes with a side of the lightest saffron basmati rice.  I had it spiced medium and the spicing was just perfect for my taste. Usually I eat the items in the curry with the sauce on the items, but do not eat much of the curry sauce itself with these type of curry dishes.  I scraped every drop of this curry sauce out of the bowl, it was just too luscious to leave any.

Ju ju Dabi

I asked which of the desserts was the most Himalayan as the restaurant draws its offerings from Nepali, Tibetian and Indian foods, and I was told the Ju ju Dabi ($5) would be it.  Pemba sent me out one as a treat, and it wowed me.  It is described on the menu as saffron infused sweet creamy yogurt in a raw clay pot.  Dawa told me that she had brought back the authentic clay pots from Nepal.  The pot was so cute!  She said that the raw clay pot was used because it is absorbent and that it drew out the watery liquid of the yogurt, making the texture creamier and thicker.  There were pistachios scattered on the top, and the wax paper covering was artfully scrolled part way back.  It has a satisfying sweet yet tart taste, and reminded me of a bit thicker Greek yogurt.

The space is also simple yet elegant and I understand that they are starting with a simple menu and will be expanding and exploring new menu items as they ramp up over the next few weeks, including adding a vegetarian Momo (dumpling) next week. Other Himalayan genre restaurants I have been to tend to be a little more family style with less emphasis on presentation.  Sausalito's new Taste of the Himalayas chef shows much more attention to beautiful presentation which only enhances the experience.

Restaurant Inspection Results

The Taste of the Himalayas is too new to be listed and inspected at the time of post publication.

Find address/phone number/directions on Anna's Map.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More than worrisome

My friend Daniel alerted me to a tragedy about to happen. In Russia, the Pavlovsk Experiment Station—part of the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry is about to have some parcels auctioned off for housing developments. Biodiversity experts are naturally concerned because "More than 90% of the station's 5000 plants—including almost 1000 varieties of strawberries and hundreds of strains of fruit and berries that are extinct in the wild—are thought to be unavailable elsewhere." The full story is here. Where is Superman?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tyler Florence in Bolinas