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August’s Pleasure: Tomatoes on Toast


The closing weeks of August generally find me living on a steady diet of tomato sandwiches, and this year is no exception. Sometimes I pair thick slices of bright red fruit with a generous schmear of kale pesto, sometimes I go classic with some mayo and salt. I almost always toast the bread, except for when it’s the first slice off a fresh loaf and I just can’t wait that long.

Tomatoes of August

I know more and more people are giving up gluten products. I’ve cut back a bit from my carb-rich diet, but I’m still committed to bread. I do try and make my own as often as I can, however, favoring whole wheat flour and add-ins such as sunflower or caraway seeds. What I usually don’t have is a lot of time and patience for super-involved recipes (aside from the times that I do). For an everyday bread, I don’t want to heat milk or make extra dishes. I want to measure it all into the bowl of my stand mixer and just let the dough hook do the work. I want it to finish five minutes later with the bowl neat enough to just pull out the dough, spray in a touch of olive oil, and it’s set for reuse as the rising bucket.

That said, I was bored with my standard recipe, and so I went cruising on the internet, as people do, for something new and exciting. I stumbled across Manly Housekeeper’s adaptation of a King Arthur recipe that sounded exactly like my kind of action. And indeed it was. On my second go, I decided to have some fun and braid it rather than rolling it into a loaf; it takes about a minute more to do but I think really adds something fun to the presentation. On the second rise, the dough expands into the edges and corners of the loaf pan, so it’s still completely suitable for sandwiches, just with a fancier top. This is definitely optional, but highly recommended. One caution I will give with this recipe is that my rising times were rapid. That may just be because of the muggy August heat of Maryland, but keep a close eye on your progress.

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread

Harvest Grains Whole Wheat Bread
only slightly adapted from Manly Housekeeper’s recipe due to pantry stock

3 1/2 cups (17.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 T vital wheat gluten
3/4 cup seed mix such as King Arthur’s harvest grains blend
1/4 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 cups water
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

Measure all the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients in a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together, and add in with the dry. Mix until just combined and then let sit for 20 minutes.

When the time has passed, continue kneading by hand or by hook about five minutes, until satiny and elastic. Lightly grease your bowl with olive oil, place dough at bottom and turn several times to coat surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise one hour.

Turn dough out onto the counter and gently deflate. Divide dough into three equal portions and roll each into a 16-inch log. Braid together and place in a lightly greased 9 1/4 x 5 1/4 inch loaf pan. Reuse plastic wrap to loosely cover pan and let rise again until dough crowns over pan top about an inch (mine took 45 minutes, but it could require double that).

About 15 minutes before final rise is complete, heat over to 350°F with rack in the center. When dough is ready, bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Then tent bread with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes more.

Turn loaf out of pan immediately and cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy, topped with whatever you like best (which would be tomatoes). And keep a careful eye on any suspiciously lurking pets.

Tomatoes and Toast

Summer Simple: Tomato and Cottage Cheese


Admittedly, this is not actually a recipe, but I had completely forgotten about how much I love eating this simple summer dish. Growing up in Ohio, we had a garden overflowing with beautiful tomatoes each August, and burying them under cottage cheese often made for an easy lunch. Still, somehow the image most deeply seared onto my mind is of the ones I ate with my grandparents in the cafeteria at the Canfield Fair, line upon line of these bright red fruits stuffed and served on small paper plates, ready for the claiming. (Can you even find a fresh vegetable to eat at the fair anymore?)

Tomato with Cottage Cheese: The Cut

Tomato and Cottage Cheese

1 ripe tomato
1/2 cup cottage cheese
salt and black pepper

Core tomato and slice into wedges top to bottom without fully cutting through the fruit (leave about 1/2 inch at the bottom). Plate and nudge open wedges, sprinkling a bit of salt over top, if desired. Stuff center of tomato with cottage cheese and top with ground black pepper. A chiffonade of fresh basil or a few snips of chive would certainly not be amiss sprinkled over top of these beauties, but my family was never so fancy.

Tomato and Cottage Cheese

A Feast of Vegetables, or How Not To Waste Your CSA


Here in Wonderland Kitchen, some weekends are all about the big projects–sourdough bread baking or cheese making or pickled vegetable canning. Other weekends consist of 105-degree-shellacked days in which the majority of the “cooking” is devoted to sitting in the direct blast of the window air conditioner and contemplating the meal plan that requires the least amount of time out of its cool company. As you have probably already guessed, today I’m going to tell you about the latter.

I wasn’t going to post about any of these “recipes.” In fact, I was thinking of taking a couple weeks off–a little summer vacation–during which I would consider what this blog might best become as it cruises into its one-year anniversary. But then I started reading. The publication of The Locavore’s Dilemma seems to have sparked an entire series of forehead-slapping columns mirroring the same basic argument: namely, that people like me–a woman who finds a weekly trip to the farmers market both gratifying and the best way to feed myself and my family–well, we’re all just deluded, bougie romantics.

Now, that may be so, but it might also be that my compatriots are reading labels and health reports and making some decisions about what goes in their mouth. I’m not sure what big box grocery store the authors of The Locavore’s Dilemma shop at, but it must not be the ones I have access to in which the “real food” section is but a small slice of the proceedings and much of what’s on view is so waxed it’s sticky or so wilted that it’s yellow before I even get it home. I’ll take some grit and bugs and seasonal selection over all that, thanks. I don’t deny that I buy citrus year round, and I don’t feel the need to hide my avocados under my toilet paper, either, but I do directly trace the high percentage of plant consumption in my diet to the fresh and varied and delicious produce provided by the local farmers who sell to me here in Maryland.

The even stranger criticism I’ve read in these anti-CSA articles this week (I have not read the book itself) is that the system is “wasteful” because homemakers can’t manage the volume of food received, either when they travel and need less, or when they have guests and need more. This leads me to believe that the authors neither cook efficiently nor share with their friends and neighbors.

CSA Feast

Still, I’ll admit that I was feeling kind of down about the whole thing when I read this inspiring article about cooking to eat rather than following a recipe in order to cook. It both encouraged me (this is how I’m trying to teach myself to work more creatively off-script in the kitchen, even without any formal training) and reminded me why the CSA system works for me. It challenges me to use what I have while allowing me to keep it simple, because fresh quality produce usually doesn’t need much help.

Anyway, at the end of last season, I ran my own numbers and found that the CSA and farmers market supply chain worked for my health (mental and physical), my social life, and my pocket book, so we’re still committed. The measures of good economics and fair trade may vary, I suppose. Yesterday, I pulled our “harvest” out onto the counter and came up with a Saturday night feast that proceeded from planned to plated in well under an hour. I don’t claim any of these are actual recipes as much as they represent one set of solution-instructions to the problem that was dinner. How are you solving these equations lately?

Cold Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Cold Tomato and Cucumber Salad

1 small tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
1 small cucumber, from a friend’s garden, must be eaten already
1/2 cup leftover chick peas
4 basil leaves from the garden, shredded
Several generous drizzles of that fancy herbed olive oil we got for Christmas last year
salt to taste

Place all in a bowl, toss.

Creamed Kohlrabi

1 large bulb kohlrabi, peeled and cubed
1 large garlic clove
2 T buttermilk
1 tsp pesto from our friends a few blocks over

Boil kohlrabi until fork tender. Drain and place vegetable and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until broken down. Add remaining ingredients and pulse a few more times to combine. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve hot.

Beets in a Thyme Balsamic Glaze

Beets in a Sweet Thyme Balsamic Glaze

5 small beets, various colors, boiled, peeled, and cubed
4 T balsamic vinegar
4 thyme springs from the garden
1 tsp. honey

Place vinegar, thyme, and honey in a small sauce pan. Simmer until honey is dissolved, thyme is fragrant, and vinegar is somewhat reduced. Remove thyme sprigs and drizzle sauce over beets. Sprinkle dish with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Five-Minute Broccoli

1 bunch broccoli, rinsed and cut into florets
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T vegetable broth
Drizzle of tamari

Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute garlic and broccoli just until vegetable is bright green. Add broth and cover pan, steaming until vegetable reaches desired level of crispness. Drizzle with tamari to finish.

Backyard Garden String Beans

Backyard Garden String Beans + Party

12 green beans that are worth cooking because you grew them yourself, cleaned
sprinkle of lime juice from that lime you zested yesterday
Last of the sliced almonds still hanging out in the pantry

In the pan you just cooked the broccoli in, still coated with broth and oil and garlic bits, saute the beans. Wash remaining dishes and wipe counter off while they cook. When ready, sprinkle beans with almonds and lime juice.

Open some wine. Invite the neighbors over. Enjoy your feast.

How Does Your Garden Grow? (2012 Edition)


Things have been a little quiet in the kitchen, but there’s been a lot of action in the yard. For one, the Clematis Etoile Violette that I have been coaxing to grow in honor of my dear Aunt Helen has finally bloomed!!

Elsewhere, I have stuffed the beds with miniature hostas and even a couple white Bleeding Hearts. All of the above came from White Flower Farm, a mail-order greenhouse that has always exceeded my expectations. Each and every plant they have delivered has hit the ground growing.

Miniature Hostas and White Bleeding Heart

Miniature Hostas and White Bleeding Heart

Our vegetable patch was already bursting with the garlic I’d planted in the fall, and the strawberries in the yard were taking care of themselves. I pushed quite a few seeds into the remaining dirt: bush beans, swiss chard, broccoli, radishes, basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley. The tomato plants looked too good to pass by when we stopped to buy flowers for the porch, so room was made for them as well. Now it’s just a matter of sun, water, and time. Plus plastic chicken wire to keep the rats, squirrels, and birds at bay. Such is the plight of the urban farmer.

Strawberries and Flamingoes

The promise of strawberries, the threat of flamingoes.

Tomatoes: Five Kinds!

Tomatoes: Five Kinds!

Thyme and Radishes

Thyme and Radishes

Porch Planters: Persian Shield, Creeping Jenny, and Silver Stream Alyssum.

Porch Planters: Persian Shield, Creeping Jenny, and Silver Stream Alyssum.

Disco Marietta Marigolds

Disco Marietta Marigolds

Front Flowers

Falling Back Into Soup


Crisp temperatures required that I actually dig proper shoes out of the closet before hitting the farmer’s market this weekend. Suddenly sweet potatoes and squash sounded appetizing. Weird how nature works like that. Summer, it seems, is saying her farewells.

When I got my weekly produce haul home and out on the counter, I spent fifteen minutes dreaming up multiple, complex culinary projects that would suit a blog post here before I stumbled on Yotam Ottlenghi’s recipe for Broiled Vegetable Soup and realized I had the exact combination of veggies needed for this single, elegantly simple dish. It was irresistible. Some people play sudoku; I get a little jolt of dopamine when I read through an ingredient list and realize I have just enough of this and that and that other thing to make it work out perfectly.

Aside: the eggplant is a vegetable that I want to love unreservedly, but that I frequently despise because I have cooked it poorly. No more! When prepping it for soups and spreads, the “hour under the broiler” method Ottlenghi suggests will be my new go-to. Doing so chars the outside to a crisp so that you then literally crack it open to scoop out the beautifully cooked meat inside.

Okay, back to the soup. While I said I had just enough of everything, my available ratio of nightshades definitely favored the tomato, so unsurprisingly my soup led with that on the palate. Still, the rich and smokey eggplant on the base and the fresh basil on the top notes make this soup a stand out. My real coup here, however, was that I had scored a bag of fresh lima beans, so no canned mush in my ladle. The resulting bowl was a perfect match to the season.

You cannot (or at least I certainly will not) have soup without bread, however, and I had just seen a recipe I wanted to try out that used left over dill pickle juice as part of the liquid. You might have noticed that I’ve been making a few pickles here and there this summer, so I have spare dill-spiked brine all over the place. It seemed a similar-enough thing when I started, but I began to change my mind as I worked. I think the sweet, less vinegar-y commercial dill pickle juice that was suggested in the recipe would have suited this project fantastically, but my homemade pickling leftovers were a little too pungent. Still, it got me out of my rye bread rut, so all was not lost. And it makes great toast!

Broiled Vegetable Soup

From Plenty by Yotam Ottlenghi

3 medium eggplants
2 red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed (I used 2 roasted red peppers out of jar on hand)
3 medium tomatoes
2 red onions, diced
2 T olive oil
3/4 basil leaves, torn
2 oregano springs, leaves only
10 garlic cloves
1 qt vegetable stock (I had less eggplant and only ended up needing 3 cups to get a good consistency soup)
salt and pepper
4 cups cooked lima beans (fresh, if you have them)
yogurt or lemon to garnish

The best part of this recipe is the taste that the broiling of the vegetables gets out of them (or at least that’s what Ottlenghi writes and, after sampling, I would have to agree). Set the broiler on high. Prick the eggplant a few times with a fork and place in a foil-lined pan. Broil for 30 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark, turn the eggplant over with tongs and add the 2 peppers to the pan. Broil for 15 more minutes, turning the peppers half way through.

Place the tomatoes in a second foil-lined pan and at the 45 minute mark, add them to the oven on a rack beneath the already broiling vegetables. Broil for an additional 15 minutes, and then remove all vegetables from the oven, wrapping the peppers in foil. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and roughly chop. Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, leaving the charred skin behind.

In a stock pot , saute the onion in the olive oil on low for 20 minutes, until soft and golden (I started this when I put my tomatoes in the oven and the timing worked out well). To this pot then add the scooped eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, stock, oregano, half the basil, salt and peppers and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend until smooth and add cooked lima beans, reheating as needed. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve topped with yogurt or lemon and the remaining basil leaves. A slice of freshly baked bread on the side won’t do you wrong, either.

That Kind of Weekend


Yesterday, I bought a single tomato for $2.50.

“Where did they come from?” I asked the vendor, the small box of red fruit clearly hypnotizing me. Thankfully, he didn’t look at me like I was  completely crazy and just assured me they were fresh picked out of the farm’s greenhouse, not snuck in on a truck from Mexico. Glancing at the $5/lb price tag, I counted my dollar bills and said I’d take one.

Now, as a child of Ohio’s yearly tomato abundance, the insanity of this purchasing decision did not escape me, but the tease of what would be coming in the weeks ahead, produce-wise, was too tempting to resist.

I also needed some reward for having walked the 2 miles to the market in a grey mist of rain that promises not to give up on our fair neighborhood until Thursday. Once I returned home with my goods, however, I found I didn’t really want to cook anything too much, the taste of what it was already seeming like more than enough. So I roasted the asparagus with just a bit of olive oil and salt, sauteed garlic and the hot pink radishes just long enough to kill off some of their bitter bite, and made up a pan pizza smothered in spinach, mushrooms, spring onions, and my favorite dill cheddar.

Once the oven is hot, I find it nearly impossible to not just keep going, so I baked off a loaf of whole wheat bread for Brian and some muffins for myself. I’ve been eating poorly while the husband has been away, so a quick baked good stuffed with what I could find leftover in the fridge and pantry (in this case, carrots, pecans, cranberries, and a fist full of unsweetened coconut) seemed like a pleasant way to get back on track after weeks of only buttered toast for breakfast. Fresh yogurt and a batch of cold brewed coffee are setting up now, so the house is stocked full of welcoming treats and this week’s bounty has thoroughly been put to use.

Except for that tomato. It’s so damn pretty I’m kind of afraid to eat it.