August 28, 2012

California culinary crawl - what should I eat?

One of my closest, loyalest, funnest, awesomest, bestest friends in the world moved to Santa Monica a little more than two years ago.  We've remained close, and she's kind enough to return to Nashville every so often so I can hug her neck.  Next month, it's my turn to visit her.  I am beyond excited for this getaway.

My friend and I are grand eating buddies.  Her affection for nachos matches mine.  Needless to say, my itinerary for this trip will be built around where and what we want to eat (and drink).

But I need help.  I haven't been to southern California since I was 11 years old, so I don't have any firsthand experience with the culinary scene there. 

A few notes: I'm not interested in fancy meals.  I don't want foam on my plate.  I want to try authentic ethnic food.  I want to try street food.  However, I'm not interested in adventurous proteins.  I want to eat all the desserts.  I want to do touristy things, but the touristy things that the cool kids do.  We'll be in the following areas: Santa Monica, San Diego, West Hollywood, Malibu.

So, what should I eat?

Until then, counting the days.

August 22, 2012

tomato jam (and country ham)

I have a vivid, fond memory of walking out to my Opa’s garden in the summer as he checked on his crops.  He grew plump, bite-size cherry tomatoes and I loved picking them from the vine and popping them right into my mouth.  I can close my eyes today and still taste that sun-warmed, juicy tomato with a hint of dirt.  “Nothing like a Jersey tomato,” he’d say.  “They’re the best.”
New Jersey tomatoes are indeed fantastic.  It is the Garden State, after all.  But really, a local, homegrown tomato from anywhere is just fine with me.  I’ve spent many a summer in Tennessee, and the red, orange, yellow, and green beauties from these local crops are simply delicious.

Hands down, the cherry tomato is my favorite.  A larger tomato can’t burst with flavor in that way.  When the heirloom cherry tomatoes start showing up at the markets, I’m a happy girl.  Sometimes I’m overzealous in my plans for them, and I’ll end up with a pint of cherry tomatoes looking a bit sad and wrinkled.  However, this is when they’re perfect for the simplest, happy little recipe: tomato jam. 

It calls for just four ingredients and about 30 minutes of prep/cook time.  It’s a slow, lazy recipe that’s perfect for slathering on bread for sandwiches, topping over meatloaf or burgers, or chilling and adding to pasta salad. 

Tomato jam
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 tbs honey
1 tsp coarse or flake salt
1 tsp dried thyme

Chop tomatoes into thirds or fourths, depending on size, leaving seeds & juice intact.  Place tomatoes in a sauté pan over medium heat, cooking until juices begin to release – about five minutes.  Reduce heat to low; add honey, salt, and thyme.  Cook on low until tomato mixture reduces and thickens, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.

I revisited this recipe when this year’s Tomato Art Fest recipe contest called for ‘best sandwich.’  Last year’s competition stung a bit (read: I didn't win), but I was inspired by the sandwich category and bounty of local ingredients.  And thus, the “Tennessee Ham & Jam” sandwich was born.

Humble brag time: yours truly won 2nd place for that entry.  What’s more, one of the judges asked for the recipe, and it also was featured in the Tennessean.  I’m still beaming.

Tennessee Ham & Jam
Country ham ‘salad’/tomato honey thyme jam/fresh romaine, tomato, onion/crusty bread
makes two sandwiches
½ lb country ham (about two large slices)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 oz goat cheese, softened
1 tbs half & half
½ tsp honey

Crusty Italian bread – four pieces
romaine lettuce – two large leaves
sliced fresh tomato
shaved red onion, if desired
prepared tomato jam

Ham ‘salad:’ Heat a skillet over high temperature.  Add the ham and sear on each side until nicely browned.  Deglaze with balsamic vinegar until absorbed into the meat.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Dice ham; set aside.

In a bowl, whip goat cheese, half & half, and honey until smooth.  Mix in ham until thoroughly blended.  Chill until ready for use.
To assemble sandwich, toast four pieces of Italian bread.  Place a layer of ham salad on two of the slices; spread tomato jam on the other two slices.  Place lettuce, tomato & onion atop ham salad and top with the bread/jam.  Cut and serve immediately.

This recipe was inspired by a childhood favorite - ham salad - blended with the use of overripe tomatoes that needed to be repurposed.  Local ingredients were used in this recipe:  Noble Springs Dairy, The Hamerycountry ham, local tomatoes and lettuce, local honey, Silke’s bread.