Monday, February 11, 2008

Sweet Roasted Tomatoes

I like condiments the way I liked jewelry as a tightly-braided calico-printed bookish Mennonite girl: big, gaudy, and swinging from lobes of lettuce, studded or satiny, maybe splayed on velvety cuts of duck or strung in little droplets over beets, swizzled in amber strands over tender rolls and when in hell was the last time I had DUCK, or amber strands of anything? It's high time I got out the dress-ups again.

For starters, we can always hide our dry toast and sprouting potatoes under some clever sauce or pickly thing. Darkly caramelized roasted tomatoes do the trick nicely.

Preheat the oven to 450, oil a baking sheet, and quarter a dozen roma tomatoes* lengthwise, crowding them cut-side up on the baking sheet. Mix two parts sugar to one part salt and sprinkle it lightly over the tomatoes, taking care to keep it off the baking sheet. Slide them in the oven and roast till quite shrunk and dark (put those sugars to work making complicated caramel flavor), but not entirely burnt. Straight-up carbon doesn't taste very complicated. Pull the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool till you can peel them up off the tray without burning yourself. You can store them in a jar in the fridge for a while -- they're lovely in sandwiches, tossed with roasted potatoes and basil, or rolled around a chunk of feta. 

Note that eating too many will give you canker sores in your mouth. It's the trait of a good condiment to bite back when we treat it like a staple -- much like our companions when we don nothing but jewelry.

*What? Tomatoes in February? Here I run into a moral snag. If they are quite a thrifty deal, practically free -- and I fix the long-distance insipidity by roasting as I describe -- is it wrong for me to support the multinational-petroleum-gross food industry? Is it downright heinous if Michael Pollan happens to be in Portland tomorrow, touring with his new book, In Defense of Food?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Laptop Supper

It was almost sunny this morning, and I brazenly went out without my burly Carhartt jacket. I'm so over this business of defending myself against the rain. I want to acquiesce, to submit my tenderness to the gentle inspection of the sunshine. But it's a cruel, wet world, a rebuffing buffeting place where the 5 o'clock traffic rushes over crosswalks like the drops on your southwest windowpanes, splashing up viscous puddles of an entire winter's worth of Powell Boulevard strip-club dregs and congealed pho noodles. I stand my ground and shiver and shake and by the power (di)vested in me as a coatless pedestrian in the rain, I demand the WALK signal appear.

Megalomania never works the way you wish it would. Thank heavens there is a balm for sin-sick souls like mine. Called supper.  Something even lighter and more soothing than "dinner," something at-hand and intimate, something to nibble in nubbly sweaters after we have doffed our weighty nobility. 

Back on the farm, noontime dinner was the largest meal of the day, with supper following the evening chores. Then folks started working outside the home. "In cities the members of the family usually eat the noon meal 'in town.' This meal is light and often hurried," notes Everyday Foods, my favorite 1950's home economics text. "Dinner," on the other hand, "is a more leisurely and dignified meal than luncheon, and likely to be heavier."

I think we all know which members of the family were and were not encouraged to be out eating luncheon "in town" with their attache-toting associates. In any case, nowadays we're getting back to the farm scene in our dining habits. We not only lunch but live in the city, too; family is over on the other coast and our colleagues are our housemates (our "urban tribe," in Ethan Watters' words). Now we can work late from home, after which we'll share potluck suppers at 9 or 10. Supper because it's informal and food isn't the greatest part of the whole affair -- which, of course, is good company and guitars by the fire after the laptops get shut for the evening.

Tonight's supper: creamy little nuggets of yukon gold, parboiled till tender, then roasted at 500 with just oil, salt and pepper (an idea I got from Roast Chicken & Other Stories). While they turned brown, I tossed together a mixed green salad, sprinkled it with soaked sunflower seeds (put raw ones to soak last night), and a few shreds of slow-smoked salmon (with apologies to my budget). For the dressing, I whisked equal parts olive oil and maple syrup, dashes of salt & pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Even the salad-eschewers like greens under a good wholesome sweet-rich-tangy dressing -- and, quite frankly, the time it takes to make a delectable salad dressing is significantly less than the time it takes to pick out your favorite flavor from the hundred different Lite, Lo-Sodium and Charitable varieties on the supermarket shelf.

Enough ranting for today. Tomorrow I will go throw bottles of Newman's Own at splashing cars. For now it's suppertime.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Generic Asian Stir-Fry

If you're careful about this one you can pass it off to your friends as one of those pre-medleyed frozen vegetable packages that come with a squeeze tube of General Tamari's Sweet 'n' Sour Sauce Concentrate.

It behooved me to run two blocks to the A. Dong market for chopsticks.

Chop howevermuch tempeh you want to eat into bite-size chunks.  Note: I'm not so much a fan of soy-based meat substitutes. They are difficult to digest and full of phytates, which strip your body of minerals. Furthermore, a creative vegan/vegetarian ought not subsist on a reactionary, defensive diet of styrofoamy meat-shaped substitutions. Highly fermented soy products are altogether different critters, however, which is why I like tempeh and miso and soy sauce (the salt helps, too). They have a little more identity to them, not to mention a long & glorious history -- quite unlike modern-day soy inventions, which exist only to make the meat-free path a wide and easy one for the casually abstemious.  

Actually, there's a soft spot in my heart for tofu still warm from the factory, like I used to get it in Seattle. Warm and fleshly-tender, I'd tuck it under my jacket for the walk back up to the shiny towers of First Hill.

Like I was saying, marinate the tempeh in soy sauce and maybe some extra-strong long-fermented kombucha (or apple cider vinegar), several dabs of miso, three cloves minced crushed garlic, and two tablespoons minced crushed ginger. If you have baby bok choy that looks a little too adolescent for frying whole, peel it apart and rinse. Similarly divide a head or two of broccoli. Maybe you have snow peas, or bean sprouts, or bamboo shoots -- even mushrooms or miniature ears of corn. I don't. Mince a shallot or two and let it sit in some soy sauce.

Heat some oil in two large skillets and fry the tempeh in one till golden (on a medium-low flame). Save the marinade. In the other skillet (or wok), throw in your vegetables in the inverse order of cooking time. Splash with the marinade while they cook, (or wine or water or kombucha), so the veggies steam-fry till a bit wilted but still bright. Splash with the shallot & soy sauce. Splash with toasted sesame oil. Remove the cooked vegetables to the same bowl as the tempeh, put all the marinade in the hot skillet and add several tablespoons brown sugar. Reduce a bit, and add cornstarch paste if you'd like a thicker sauce. Taste for acid/sweet salt/herb balance. Pour over the veggies & tempeh. Eat with rice or by itself, in a pleasingly round little bowl with chopsticks.

Follow-up: My tummy hates tempeh, too. Next: miso.