Movin’ on up…

I decided to go for it and secure my very own domain name:

figswithbri.com 

Please join me there.  I have a bit more freedom while still enjoying the ease of a wordpress based blog.  Very cool.  See ya round!

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Cento Makes THE Best Canned Tomatoes

My husband and I make tomato sauce from scratch A LOT. Several times a month, I’d say. We’ve tried many brands, but some were a bit bland and some were just awful.

Then we heard someone sing the praises of San Marzano roma tomatoes from Italy. We searched high and low, and found several companies that sell San Marzanos. We tried all of those…and Cento was, by far, the best.

Cento Canned Tomatoes

I bought the peeled tomatoes and pureed them with my stick blender right in the can, but I recently found that Cento has canned tomatoes already pureed, so it saved me a step. When I would made tomato sauce in the past, I’d add wine, a bunch of dried herbs, a little sugar, cream, butter…anything to make it taste good. With the Cento tomatoes, all I do is sautee some diced onion in a little olive oil, add the can of tomatoes, a little salt and pepper, and simmer about 20 minutes. That’s it!

The tomatoes are already so delicious, with the perfect balance of acidity and sweet, they don’t need anything else. Sometimes I chop some fresh oregano from the garden and add it in after I turn off the heat. It really is tomato heaven. That is the tomato sauce I use for pizza, my Polenta Medallions, gnocchi, spaghetti…you name it. It is rather unfortunate that Cento’s tomatoes aren’t organic. Organic really is my preference. But, I tried all the other brands of organic ones and they just weren’t right. Oh well.

Maybe some year I’ll have a huge garden and grow my own organic San Marzano roma tomatoes and can a bunch myself. Who knows?

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Polenta Medallions with Tomato Sauce

Polenta Medallions

One of my new favorite dishes is vegetarian polenta topped with melty fresh mozzarella. The quick (and delicious way), is to buy a tube of pre made organic polenta (I get mine from Trader Joe’s or a local health food store) and slice it into ½ inch rounds.

Store Bought Polenta

Then I pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan (important because it is prone to sticking) and fry them up for about 10 minutes per side. Then, when they are nice and golden with a crisp layer, I put them on a large cookie sheet, top them with a little fresh mozzarella ball and broil them about 2 minutes. The cheese caramelizes as it melts. As long as you keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, they ALWAYS come out absolutely delicious. I make a tomato sauce to serve on the side. In the summer, I make a fresh sauce with local organic heirloom tomatoes. Otherwise, I use canned Cento San Marzano tomatoes.

For a party, it would be great to fry up a bunch of slices, top them with the cheese, set them aside, and then put them under the broiler right as your guests arrive. As a main dish, one tube of polenta cuts into about 13 slices and feeds two people. Served with a salad and broiled zucchini or eggplant, it makes a stellar summer vegetarian meal, worthy of all members of the family and the most discerning guests.

“Recipe” Serves 4

2 tubes of polenta cut into 1/2 inch slices

1-2 Tbs. good olive oil for frying

1-8 oz. container of fresh mozzarella

A couple cups of your favorite tomato sauce

Bon Apetit!


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Red Velvet Okra Summer Meal

At our Wednesday and Saturday morning Santa Rosa farmers market we have great local organic produce. Some farms aren’t certified organic, but don’t spray, since certification can be a long costly process for a little farm. One of the local farms I love is Crescent Moon Farm. They aren’t certified organic, but follow those principles. I love their Armenian Striped cucumbers, yellow and green zephyr squash and sweet red lipstick bell peppers.

Crescent Moon Farm

But this week, I found something even more gorgeous…Red Okra. I really like okra, but I generally wouldn’t use “gorgeous” and “okra” in the same sentence. The stand’s overflowing basket was other worldly though. I bought about 1 ½ pounds and mixed in a little of the green okra.

Red Okra

When I got it home, I trimmed off the stem ends and sliced them into about ½ inch rounds.

Sliced Okra

Then I sautéed diced onion until caramelized and added a diced heirloom tomato and the okra. The okra cooked about 8 minutes until they were tender but still a little al dente. The finished dish lost some of the vibrant red color, so I didn’t take pictures of it, but boy was it delicious! It was enough for the four of us, but I think we all could have eaten twice as much. It was so succulent, tender, sweet and savory. I just seasoned the dish with some salt and pepper and a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro for brightness.

To go with the okra, I made some quinoa and a lentil dish with onions, carrots, and celery, seasoned with turmeric, black mustard seeds and sweet curry powder. I like to use red lentils since they only take about 15 minutes to cook up, and are just so delicious. I highly recommend this simple but fabulous summer recipe. Start to finish, the whole meal took about an hour to prepare.

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Mexican Style Cucumbers

Mexican Style Sliced Cucumbers

My favorite snack on a hot late summer day is cool cucumbers served Mexican style. Mexicans love to toss fruits or veggies with lime juice and chili. You name it: cucumbers, mango, carrots, jicama or fresh coconut chunks…all can be amped up with chili and lime.

My favorite combo is Armenian Striped cucumbers with lime and Tajin Salsa en Polvo. Tajin is a chili powder with crystallized lime and salt. I have tasted many other perfectly good varieties of Mexican chili powders, but Tajin stands out as the best. I first tasted it when my step mom brought some back from central Mexico, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. Then on a brief stopover in Puerto Vallarta, we found it in a grocery store and bought 3 containers to hold us over a while. I just discovered it in our local market in Santa Rosa. Which is a good thing, because flying all the way to Mexico once we run out may be a little excessive.

“Recipe”

1 big cucumber

1 juicy lime

Tajin (or your favorite chili powder or hot sauce) to taste

Just slice the cucumbers, juice the lime over them and sprinkle on copious Tajin. Serves one, or if you are willing to share…two.

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Armenian Striped and Lemon Cucumbers

 

Mid to late summer is my absolute favorite time for fresh produce. Nature’s bounty is almost overwhelming. How can I even keep up with preparing everything I want to buy at the farmer’s market? Some of my favorite veggies are Armenian Striped Cucumbers and Lemon Cucumbers.
armenian-striped-cukes.jpg
Armenian striped cukes are incredibly sweet and fragrant. If you think cucumbers are bland, you haven’t tasted these beauties. They are striped lengthwise with darker and lighter tender green skin and usually come in these funny curly cue shapes. They are hard to transport since they refuse to conform to uniform shapes and sizes, but that’s part of their charm. Striped Armenians have very small or no seeds at all, so they are a burpless variety (a plus for those concerned with proper dinner etiquette, neither here nor there to me). I always keep my eye out for them come July and August, since they are such a great treat.

The other wondrous cuke I lust after are Lemon Cucumbers. As a child, going to the Santa Barbara farmer’s market in late summer with my mom always meant abundant lemon cukes. They are small yellowish orbs that look like lemons, but taste of cool summer cucumber. Their skin is a little thicker and tougher, and can sometimes be prone to bitterness, but when they are perfect, they are well worth it.

Lemon Cukes

Of course both varieties of cucumber can be prepared in as many dishes as you can dream up, but this traditional Mexican snack is my favorite.

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Vik’s Chaat Corner

Recently we rediscovered Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley. What a great place to find authentic chaat (small plates of savory Indian snacks) in the Bay Area. A friend took Marc and me there 10 or 12 years ago, and just this weekend (on a great culinary adventure) my aunt took us again. They have delicious puris (flat breads often topped with spiced veggies or legumes and tamarind or mint chutney) and my husband’s all time favorite…dosas.

Dosas are South Indian crepes usually made with lentil flour. They come rolled up like a giant burrito with savory fillings. Vik’s has several dosas including the typical (but oh so good) Masala Dosa filled with potatoes, onions and chilis and spiced with turmeric and cumin. I could eat dosa every week, given the chance, but not every restaurant features them, so they can be hard to find. The batter comes out crispy, a little sour, and totally fun to eat. It’s a great meal for all senses.

Vik’s also has a giant glass case of colorful Indian sweets. Milk, coconut, ghee (clarified butter), sugar and flour are the main ingredients, but some of them are golden with saffron or even bright pink. We bought four delicious pieces of different sweets, but it was so hard to choose among the dozens of varieties. We shared them with my in-laws to rave reviews. The hot chai (spiced milky black tea) was incredibly delicious and fragrant. The cardamom almost seemed to reach out and grab you from the cup.

Indian food is some of the most complex cuisines in the world. Sometimes I find it too heavy, but the people at Vik’s Chaat Corner create wonderful light fare, great for sharing with friends. They recently extended their hours on weekends and evenings, so now there are even more chances to get my dosa fix.

 

Vik's Business Card

Vik’s Chaat Corner is located at:

726 Allston Way

Berkeley, CA 94710

510-644-4432

http://www.vikschaatcorner.com/index.htm

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