Sliced Tomatoes

You are going to say that Chris has run out of ideas. But wait, I have a half dozen ripe tomatoes in my garden right now and it’s all I can think about (The wife is in Germany). There are 6 beautiful, orange bulbs of super sweet acidity just waiting for me not to screw them up. Sure, I could make a pasta with an amazing sauce, or combine them with other fresh vegetables and maybe some feta and enjoy a huge salad. But the simple, straight forward sliced tomato is a meal in itself. Or, I could have sliced tomatoes with my eggs in the morning, or with soup at lunch or even with fried chicken at dinner. If you have fresh, ripe, just picked tomatoes there is nothing better.

So you can say that I flaked today by offering up a sliced tomato, or you can thank me for a gentle reminder about one of the best fruits on God’s green earth.

Ingredients

  • Fresh Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil (Optional)
  • Balsamic Vinegar (Optional)
  • Basil (Optional)
  • Salt (Optional)
  • Pepper (Optional)

Tools

  • Sharp Knife
  1. Slice the tomatoes to whatever thickness you enjoy.
  2. You can: sprinkle with salt, grind some pepper, drizzle with olive oil, splash with balsamic, garnish with basil or not.
Enjoy your tomatoes and take the rest of the day off. That’s what I am doing.

Tomato and Bread Salad

I often talk about my family and their influences on my cooking. Most likely it’s because I like to reminisce and keep their memories alive. Comfort food is exactly that, a remembrance of a time past, carried forward in food. Our olfactory memory is much longer and more accurate than the rest of our memory, probably because we don’t often reinvent the stories of smells and tastes like we might about people and events.

Recipes are our history. They aren’t intellectual property as much as aural history, passed down and around from generation to generation; friend to friend; and now blog to blog (oh how I dislike that word). Julia Child did not invent Beurre Blanc, she just passed it along to the 50’s American housewife. Fortunately for us all, Julia’s fine work was so good that it has lasted generations in it’s original form (more or less).

Folk music is akin to the recipe. Tunes were taught to younger players and passed around. The performance was like cooking – you took the tune and made it your own. These tunes traveled the globe (before that was easy) so variations of Irish folk songs turned up in the hills of West Virginia and the front porches of Alabama. Maybe the bridge was different or the key had changed, but the essence of the tune was still there, seasoned by the local influence and passed on to another generation. Recipes are no different. The ingredients vary slightly and the methods get updated – a spice is left out or added – but the essence and memory remain.

I think that’s why I love to cook. I find an idea, make it my own, then perform it in the kitchen. And like writing a song, I also compose new ideas from time to time. I base those ideas on my taste memory, knowledge and experience and I come up with something that I think is original.

Somebody must have been Italian in my lineage. I wake up craving garlic and I could eat pasta everyday. I love Italians: their cars, their food, their music and their passion. Here is an Italian favorite that I am channelling. I don’t even know where I have had this in the past, but my wife and I have been making it for a few years with tomatoes from our garden.

Ingredients

  • 4 Slices of Stale Bread, torn into chunks
  • 3-4 Ripe Tomatoes, rough chopped
  • 1/2 Red Onion, chopped
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon of Fresh Basil, rough chopped
  • 6 Tablespoons Olive Oil (As good as you got)
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Mixing Bowl
  1. Tear the bread into bit sized chunks into a bowl. You will need to use homemade or semi-homemade bread that actually gets stale. The stuff with a shelf life of 10 years will never work.
  2. Salt and pepper the bread.
  3. Peal and slice the tomatoes over the bread so the juice of the tomatoes cover and coat the bread.
  4. Let that mixture sit for an hour of so. You want the bread to be thoroughly soaked.
  5. Toss the onion, garlic, basil, olive oil and vinegar into the mixture. Careful with the red onion. Add less if it seems strong.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

Cream Cheese and Olive Sandwich

I missed Father’s Day. Not that my father noticed. He has been gone since 1979. He never got to meet my son or the love of my life. He never knew that I eventually did get a job, moved to California, raised a family and broke 100 on the golf course.  When you lose a parent, either by death or just at the mall, you never really get over it. The pain fades, but your memories and influences never do. I quote my father nearly every day. I hear his words coming out of my mouth when I speak to my son and I now see his receding hairline and wrinkles when I look in the mirror. Fortunately, I also enjoy his same rye sense of humor and some have said his wit. He was a man of few words, and that I am not. Mother needed some contribution.

One of the ways that I remember my father is through his sometimes peculiar tastes. Most of the food that he concocted did not require any heat. I think that was the line that his 1950s sensibility made him draw. Although a feminist and an equal rights advocate all of his adult life, he didn’t “cook”. He did “make” things in the kitchen from time to time; usually on Saturday as a snack with a beer. Did I mention that I like an occasional beer. That is also thanks to William Aber Brooks. Here is one of those snacks. It’s not much of a recipe, but I bet you didn’t think of it. I also get to write about my dad, so who cares if it ain’t Julia Child.

Serves one father and his son

Ingredients

  • 4 Pieces of Ciabatta
  • Cream Cheese
  • Handful of Green, Pitted Olives (Stuffed with pimentos or anchovy)

Tools

  • Butter Knife
  1. Spread the cheese liberally on the bread. My father would have used white, so the ciabatta is as close as I will come. Toast it if you like.
  2. Cut the olives in half or thirds if they are really big and arrange on the sandwich.
  3. Cut in half.
  4. Serve on the front porch with a cold PBR.

Grilled Red Peppers with Parmesan

Several months ago, I set out to discover vegetarian dishes that would be considered a “main course”. This may be obvious to you, but I have slowly been discovering that I was being foolish in my endeavors. The very concept of  a main course is contributing to our weight gain. The idea that you need a big piece or blob of anything in the middle of your meal is preposterous. We certainly like to be satiated, but stuffed is well past the full feeling. Simply put, we eat too much. Certainly what we eat is important but how much is maybe even more important. Ask any qualified dietitian and they will tell you if you want to lose pounds cutback caloric intake. Eat less!

One of the reasons that we eat too much is the size of our plates, both figuratively and literally. Last weekend’s “small plates” party was a great eye opener for me. Small servings with very concentrated flavor were really satisfying. I was worried about everyone getting enough to eat, even though I have been to many tapas bars and never had that problem. The difference is that if one was still hungry in a tapas bar you just ordered another plate. I don’t think I ever counted or knew that three or four plates was usually plenty, or twice that if you were sharing. If you take your time, three or four small plates of delicious food is a complete and really enjoyable meal, and your calorie intake will generally be less than a “main course” meal.

So I am no longer struggling for the main course. I am back to struggling with how to make vegetables flavorful and interesting. One of my discoveries – you may be thinking, “duh” – is that the best thing to do with really fresh, in season vegetables is to let them be themselves. Like a piece of fish, the less adulteration the better. The reason that people put so much crap on their burgers is that the burger itself is usually like a piece of cardboard, but that is another topic. Here is a treatment of the sweet, beautiful red pepper – a few subtle, well balanced flavors as dressing and what a wonderful “little” experience.

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Red Bell Pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Walnut Oil

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Grill
  1. Clean and slice the pepper lengthwise in 6 pieces. You want the pieces to be big (so you can eat them with a knife and fork) but still able to lie flat on the grill and your plate.
  2. Lightly coat with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Grill on both sides until they begin to soften and caramelize, about 20 minutes total.
  4. Place three pieces each on a small plate.
  5. Shave a little parmesan into the middle of each plate. This is not a cheese dish. What you want is a very thin sheath to add a little salty/nuttiness.
  6. Drizzle with a few drops of walnut oil. Again, not too much.
  7. Liberally grind black pepper over.

Greek Salad

It is surprising to me that any European country is having economic problems given that most people I know are there spending their hard (in some cases) earned dollars. My wife will be leaving behind many a euro along her trails through Spain and Germany, my good friend’s daughter is in Italy and Greece on a school tour for two weeks,  I have several friends in Spain for the film music festival there – all of whom are well compensated for their musical contributions to pop culture and will no doubt be investing in many a tapa and rioja  – and I have made three separate hotel and restaurant recommendations for Paris in the last week. Look out Europe, the Americans are coming.

I am very happy for all of my friends and family abroad this summer. Europe is a fascinating and delicious place to visit. The food is unadulterated, with some countries having strict laws about the use of preservatives, antibiotics and even the way the beer is brewed (You gotta love the Germans). As a side note, there is a wonderful new short on the use of antibiotics in meat that you should see. It’s made by the same director as Food, Inc. and the music is by my friend Mark Adler.

One of the greatest aspects of Europe is slowly disappearing. The individual cultures, food, wine, etc. are slowly starting to give way to international interests. The McDonalds syndrome, if you will. I remember crying when I saw a Starbucks on the Portobello Road in London. Fortunately, many Eastern European countries and rural areas of the rest of Europe are not so quick to give up their heritage and therefore the food and other cultural stalwarts are still largely in tact. And these differences are what make the “Mediterranean Diet” a joke. Have you had a look at the Med on a map lately. There are at least 20 countries on the Med from the middle east to the south of France. With the possible exception of some similar fish, their diets, cultures and habits are as different as Alabama and Oregon.

There are really vague similarities in countries around the Med. One is that they all have some culinary way of dealing with the heat. Some foods are hot and spicy; the Croatians (actually on the Adriatic, but close) eat hot soup in the middle of a hot, summer day; and many eat refreshing, raw vegetables. And that makes a beautiful segue into our recipe for the day.

Salad for Two

Ingredients

  • 1 Head of Romaine, cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 oz. Feta Cheese
  • 1 Red Pepper, thinly sliced and halved
  • 1 Small Red Onion, thinly sliced and halved
  • Small Bunch Radishes, sliced
  • 1 Cup Kalamata Olives, pitted and halved
  • 3-4 Ripe Tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 Cucumber, cut into bite size pieces
  • Handful Italian Parsley, rough chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Salad Bowl
  1. Toss the lettuce in the bowl and salt it.
  2. Add all the rest of the vegetables.
  3. Crumble the cheese over top. You may want more or less.
  4. Dress with a good amount of olive oil, a light drizzle of red wine vinegar and a squeeze of lemon.
  5. Add some freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Toss with hands and serve immediately. 
You can also add some pepperoncini, also known as greek peppers or tuscan peppers. I usually don’t bother.

Bratwurst with Homemade Honey Mustard

I love wine. I drink all kinds of wine, I make wine and I am making a film about wine. But sometimes a man just wants a cold beer. In the summer – gardening or working up a sweat at the computer – there is nothing more refreshing than an ice cold beer. The challenge is that, unlike wine which is perfect with food, beer not so much. I know that there are beer advocates that would disagree and point to books and blogs and restaurants devoted to the  culinary delights that can be beer-centric. Personally, I think that is stretching it.

Consider one of the most famous beer cultures: Germany. I have been to Germany many times and can tell you how many great meals I have had there: three. That doesn’t mean that some of the best food to serve with beer doesn’t originate in said same land. Take soft pretzels, for instance. Hold on. I need to digress about soft pretzels for a second. I worked once at a place in Munich that brought in soft pretzels in the morning that were sliced in half and served with butter. Oh my goodness, that was heaven and there was no beer in sight. Just a strong, hot coffee and people who still smoked indoors.

Salty, chippy things are also good with beer, mainly because they keep you thirsty and wanting more beer. Same with nuts and the above pretzel. I have never been brave or drunk enough to dive into one of those hard boiled eggs or sausages served at the dive bars of my hometown which seem to float in liquid akin to formaldehyde. Those might be good with beer.

I think it’s not the beverage’s fault that we do not normally have food that accompanies it. I believe that it is the method and use that has been culturally developed over the centuries. In earlier, less sterile times beer was drunk instead of water – the mild alcoholic content making it safer to drink than the dung filled rivers and streams. Everyone drank it, including small children and the elderly (30-somethings). I imagine that the whole of Europe were mildly but constantly inebriated at one time. Now it’s just England that is constantly inebriated. Great Britain is another culture of beer (ney, lager or bitter) where food is not the strong-suit. We also tend to swig, guzzle and shoot beer to refresh ourselves and our buzz. A sipping beverage it is not.

Having said all of those disparaging things about my brethren in England and Germany as well as the beverage that I truly love, I must admit that there are a handful of foods that go perfectly well with a light lager or a hefty porter. Here is one that is a perfect bite after a swig of the nectar of barley and hops.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 Bratwurst
  • 4 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard Powder
  • 4 Tablespoons cold Water
  • 1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Container with lid
  • Grill
  1. Make the mustard the night or morning before. Add bracingly cold water to the mustard powder and stir. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the vinegar, salt and honey. If you are in a hurry you can serve it after about 2 hours.
  3. Grill the bratwurst until thoroughly cooked, about 15-20 minutes. I usually don’t recommend stores but Gelson’s in Los Angeles seems to make their own and they are wonderful. Esponito’s in New York is the best if you are in Manhattan. If you live in Milwaukee and don’t already have a source for brats, you need to move.
  4. Serve cut on an angle, to make long pieces with a dollop of mustard and a pint of your favorite.

Almond Milk

There are two articles today about Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial proposal to ban sugary drinks over 16 oz. The CEO of Weight Watchers Blogs about it and Tara Parker-Pope writes an interesting article in the NY Times about people’s geometric judgements. Both pieces are worth the read and continue to bring up the point that, for better or for worse, Michael Bloomberg has shined a light on an important subject.

I am personally grateful for a potentially unintended consequence of the new law. I do (vary rarely) like to buy a small soda. I will not drink the poison that is diet anything, but I do like 12 oz (or less) of sugary cola. The option of anything that small is next to impossible to attain at any restaurant and forget about movie theaters. The smallest size at the movies is at least 16oz and sometimes 20oz. That is nearly two servings. So, thank you Mayor, for now I can have my yearly soda while enjoying a film at the 42nd street Gogiggaplex.

I hate milk. I have hated it since I was a little kid. Fortunately, my mom rarely made me drink it. She hated it too. I was 25 before I found out why I hated it so much. I was and still am lactose intolerant. This meant ice cream was also a no no and explained why I was sick every Sunday night in the summer – the night that the family went out for ice cream. So, for all of my friends who suffer with me but still like milk in your coffee or in dishes like pancakes, here is a decent VEGAN delight.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Almonds
  • 4 1/2 Cups Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Blender
  • Fine Strainer
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Container with Lid (for refrigeration)
  1. Soak the almonds in enough water to cover. Soak overnight, uncovered.
  2. In blender, add half the almonds and half the water and blend. Repeat.
  3. Strain blended liquid into a mixing bowl with spout, using the spatula to work the liquid through.
  4. Stir in sugar and vanilla.
  5. Refrigerate.