Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's a Hit! -- Tomato Devil's Food Cake

It's the Sweet Side of Tomatoes!  Aren't they beautiful?

The Wichita Organic Garden Club featured "The Sweet Side of Tomato: Tomato as Fruit" last Saturday at the Kansas Grown Farmers' Market Tomato Day celebration.  Desserts made with tomatoes displayed the variety of sweetness the fruit can add to life.

Paula's (dietitian) Evaluation:  A little something sweet can fit into every diet!  And this cake is great - the day after you make it.  Seriously, it had to sit a bit to let the tomato flavor dissipate, especially in the frosting.  I started to lick a beater, but it was too tomatoey, however, the following day, SO good!  Plus, this is a great way to sneak in some phytochemicals and antioxidants if you don't like straight tomato!

Chris's (chef) Evaluation:  This seemed to be a French genoise style recipe.  I think genoise means sponge in French.  So a fancy French sponge cake.  The recipe is excellent and the flavor of the cake was pretty good as far as chocolate cake goes.  But I've never been able to duplicate Betty Crocker.  The whole technique is getting everything to room temperature so that nothing is too hot and nothing is too cold, the presence of either condition will deflate the foams you have created and thus your cake when it is baking.  So I added the tomato puree and vanilla to the chocolate mixture to bring it down to room temperature before adding it to the butter.  And I was fortunate enough not to have my cake fall.  This was a fun and challenging recipe and the frosting was a snap.

Tomato Devil’s Food with Tomato Butter Cream Frosting
From Greene on Greens and Grains by Bert Greene (Tess Press)

Make this recipe only when tomatoes are in season. Winter varieties will not do.

2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound)
4 ounces sweet chocolate
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup milk
3 egg yolks
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Peel and seed the tomatoes. Place them in a blender container; blend until smooth. Measure off 1¼ cups tomato puree; reserve.

3. Place the chocolate, brown sugar, milk, and 1 of the egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Cook, stirring occasionally, over hot water until smooth and slightly thickened. Set aside.

4. Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt.

5. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until light. Slowly beat in the granulated sugar. Add the remaining 2 egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the tomato puree, the vanilla, and the chocolate mixture. Beat thoroughly. Slowly stir in the flour mixture.

6. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them into the cake batter. Pour the batter into two buttered and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out fairly clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook. Cool on a wire rack. Unmold.

Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 tablespoon brandy
4 tablespoon tomato puree
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

7.  Mix together sugar and butter on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

8.  Add brandy, tomato puree and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Seriously, a peach thief?

After our "thief" struck, a lovely neighbor shared sweet peaches with us.  

I planted a peach tree in the backyard two years ago.  Supposedly they take five years to produce, but this year it had a bunch of peaches, many the birds enjoyed.  Chris and I went in the backyard Tuesday evening and noticed that every single peach is gone.  Chris thinks we had a human peach thief.  I am dumbfounded, would someone really come into our backyard, walk to the back corner of the yard where the peach tree sits, and take all of our almost ripe peaches?  Considering our neighborhood watch sign is covered in graffiti, it's a possibility.  However, I can't decided if I'm going to believe it was a nasty thief, or if I'll explain away the disappearance as the work of a really thorough animal.  Opossums don't eat peaches, do they?

Thank goodness there are other places to get peaches this year, even though I am horribly disappointed and a little freaked out about the recent disappearance in our backyard.

*Hobbs Heritage will be selling peaches at the Kansas Grown Farmers' Market.
*Local U-pick farms that feature peaches (and some even do pre-picked):
  • Triple R Orchard, 7570 N. 159th St. Ct. E, Benton, KS 67017, (316) 992-4080
  • Steffen Orchard, 1345 West 90th Ave. N, Conway Springs, KS 67031, (620) 456-2706
  • Sargeant Berry Farm, 9836 S. Hydraulic, Haysville, 316-788-1370
  • Entz Orchard, 8604 S. Webb Rd, Newton, KS 67114, (316) 799-2515
  • Regier Orchard, 12249 NW Meadowlark Rd, Whitewater, KS 67154, (316) 799-2025

Chicken Update:  An opossum was in our trap this a.m., but, it looks bigger than the one I remember.  Surely it couldn't have grown that much in a week!  The hunt is still on, but the good news is the chickens are going into the house on their own at night again.  However, that doesn't mean they're sleeping in the nesting box yet.  Nope - eyes toward the door, that's the sleeping stance now.  Poor chickens!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm grieving chicken.

Our chicken house, AKA the death chamber.

I've written about the three girls Chris and I raised in our office and set free to roam in the backyard.  They started laying fresh eggs ~2 weeks ago, and last Thursday night an opossum put his natural instincts to work, leaving us one headless black chicken and a brown chicken with missing tail feathers.  I got up at 5:30 a.m. to let Jacques out when I noticed the chicken run was still open...yes...it's our fault the chicken was massacred. 

Heart beating I raced out, opened the hen house and piles of brown and black feathers greeted me.  I immediately knew our chickens were dead (thankfully a few minutes later I discovered the two brown chickens as far from the hen house as they could get.)  Peering around the run to an area Jacques was barking, I saw an opossum in full dramatic death act.  While he looked dead, I knew better and ran inside to get Chris to come deal with the little bugger.  I figured gunshots in our neighborhood aren't all that abnormal.  By the time we got back out there the opossum was gone. 

Chris got the shovel, picked up the black chicken and headed to bury it.  Looking at the two brown chickens frozen with fear across the yard I said, "Shouldn't we show them, so they know?"  "They're not that smart Paula," he replied, and went to dig a hole.  He was ticked, and kept saying, "I was going to eat that chicken."  I suggested he eat the black chicken, and his Gma said if he was a real famer he would have, but he wasn't interested in an opossum's leftovers.

So I'm grieving and feeling really badly that we didn't protect the chickens.  We're on the hunt, in two ways really.  For an opossum and for some chickens.  We're experimenting with a live animal trap for the opossum, and craigslist for chickens.  We hope for hens, I'm not ready to turn my office into a chick nursery so soon.

And, for the comfort of those of you who are animal lovers (how could you love an opossum) - we plan to free the murderer in the country, far from our chickens.  I realize, he was just following his instincts, as angry as that makes me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Food grade wax at the farmer' market, is this really local?

An egg sandwich with tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella cheese and homemade bread.

Recently Chris and I found a deal on fresh mozzarella cheese, and wanted to have tomatoes with our cheese.  He headed out to the farmers' market to purchase some ripe produce, and brought home red tomatoes, along with food grade wax.  Yes, food grade wax on farmers' market tomatoes.  My culinarian spouse said, "they're probably Sysco tomatoes."  To say the least, I was disappointed.  Now, I'm not saying foods from Sysco are bad.  I am saying when I go to a farmers' market, I expect to get locally grown produce -- ripe, fresh picked, succulent, yummy.  Unfortunately, it's not always the case, buyer beware.  Is anything simple these days? 

In my eyes, the integrity of the grower has been tainted.  No, they weren't promoting the tomatoes as locally grown, but I assume if a farmer is at a farmers' market, they are selling produce that actually grew in this area.  And honestly, maybe they did grow these tomatoes and covered them in wax, but I doubt that's the case.  Sure, they just wanted to provide me with what I want.  But what I want is seasonal food, if tomatoes aren't ripe, I'll eat something else.  And, if I want wax on my tomatoes, I'll buy them from the local chain grocery store (and sometimes I do.)

I believe most farmers do sell locally grown crops, but to those who don't, here's my plea -- farmers, we want to support you, but in return we want locally grown foods.  I wonder if this producer realizes the amount of my sales they lost to other producers due to one Sysco tomato.  There's a business concept in there somewhere.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A nutrition trend...tasty vegetables for dessert!

A Chinese Cucumber from our local foods meal - what beautiful edges (and tasty too)!

I experienced something Saturday evening that I can honestly say I have never felt before.  Chris and I entertained a group of local food enthusiasts, each of whom brought a dish they grew or got from the farmers' market.  The food was incredible, tasty, amazing and often unique.  As I finished my plate, I thought, "This is so good I don't even need dessert." 

Whoa..."I don't even need dessert..."  I love sweet foods.  I look forward to my dessert, chocolate, pie, creme brulee, cheesecake, tiramisu...I love it all!  This thought from nowhere, much like an epiphany, caught me completely by surprise.  It also helped me understand what I heard in the past, that fruits and veggies don't taste as good because they are picked early, shipped across the country (or world), and land on our plate less tasty than if they had been picked at their peak from the region we live.  That we struggle to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies not because they don't like produce, but because what we serve doesn't taste like it's intended.

The next day Chris and I cut into a honeydew melon I got at the store, yep, from Mexico (hey, even us local food enthusiasts don't do everything right!)  Mexico City, ~1300 miles to Wichita.  With the cost in oil, this melon better be amazing.  No flavor...okay...a tiny bit of flavor, but nothing compared to the apricots we picked from my aunt's farm a couple weeks ago, or the blackberries and blueberries I got from the Chautauqua Hills Farm.  And again, the concept of succulent fruits and veggies vs. mediocre produce changing a culture's intake came back.

Saturday evening, one guest shared that when her sons came home from college they asked her to make vegetables - can you imagine!  They told her the vegetables they got at college were terrible, nothing like the home grown goodness their mom prepared all their lives.  Amazing...what a new perspective...vegetables for dessert, mmmm.  How's that for a new nutritional trend?  Somehow, I doubt that will take off in our country anytime soon.

Oh...and the apple mulberry pie my friend brought made with fresh milled wheat and lard, yes, lard from a home butcher, was amazing too - I still love my sweets!  But, I have a new found understanding of what to look for in produce to increase my own intake - not because I "should" for nutritional reasons, but because it tastes amazing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Think a hybrid is environmental? Even better, a car that runs on water!

A colleague told me the other day that they've created a car that runs on water, and consumers should have waited for this invention instead of buying hybrids.  The catch - the water has to come from the gulf coast.  Hee, hee, hee!

While this joke adds a little laughter to the BP oil crisis, it's really no laughing matter.  And, the unfortunate part is that those of us who drive, ride the bus, or eat bananas are part of the problem.  Eat bananas, you may ask?  Yes, here's why...

Tuesday evening, while at the grocery store, I started reading the origin labels on foods.  The bananas came from Guatemala.  In preparation for a presentation, I looked up the distance from Wichita to Guatemala City.  It's ~1600 miles, so the banana I enjoyed everyday for breakfast for many years traveled many, many miles to reach my plate, was probably picked early so it would be ripe by the time it got to me, and allowed me to be part of the BP oil spill problem.  Thankfully, through much enlightenment, my morning fruit now comes from within 50 miles.  This includes mulberries in my oatmeal, Juneberries on my yogurt, or apricots with my pancakes.

While I was still sitting at the computer, Chris came in from the garden with ripe produce.  In awe, I told him the bananas traveled ~1600 to our local food store.  "This cucumber traveled 17 feet," he responded.  How's that for perspective?

Required labeling of origin on meat, poultry, produce and peanuts sold in the U.S. began in 2008, although, there are some exemptions.  Next time you're buying groceries, pay attention to these labels.  Think about how far your food is traveling, and how dependent you are on oil for your nourishment.  You might be surprised.  Then visit a farmers' market, and ask the farmer how far the products you purchase there traveled.  Do the math, does your typical plate of food travel the average 1500 miles most plates travel?

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Garden Bouquet!

Since we're all back to work after a wonderful 4th of July and Food Independence Day, I wanted to eliven the return to normal life with a garden bouquet my hubby brought me. Isn't it beautiful?
Tasty too, we ate it shortly after this photo was taken. 
Yep, that's swiss chard and squash blossoms!