Meatless Monday: Caprese Stacks

Hello from New York City! After lots of family time on Long Island, I escaped on the train and have been enjoying a little bit of time with friends in the Big Apple. Highlight so far (besides their amazing rooftop lounge…amazing views!) is definitely meeting Zachary Levi. Ummm he is most definitely in my top 3 celebrity crushes. I walked around the rest of the day saying “oh my god…oh my god…” and “Hey Alex, remember that time when Zachary Levi touched my shoulder?” Haha. I never want to leave!

Aaaaanyway…a few weeks ago, I was planning on heading over to a friend’s house to hang out with da guys, and our host was planning on BBQing a lot of meat. I decided, since I had just picked up lots of produce at the Farmers Market, that I would bring something fresh and healthy. With beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a basil plant at my disposal, Caprese Salad was the obvious choice!

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I know Caprese Salad isn’t exactly the most novel side dish (vegan Caprese? That’s another story! 😉 ), but it is seriously the ultimate summer salad.

Unfortunately, those plans fell through and I didn’t end up going to hang out with the guys. But I had already made the Caprese stacks…

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Guess what Katie ate for dinner that night? 😉

In my opinion, making them in stack form instead of the typical salad makes them a finger food – just shovel ’em into your mouth like a tomato-mozzarella-basil finger sandwich! Totally socially acceptable.

Caprese Stacks

2 heirloom tomatoes (or similar meaty tomato…you don’t want lots of seeds and water!)
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
~15 basil leaves
1 cup balsamic vinegar
drizzle olive oil (optional)

Put balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer at a low boil for about 15 minutes, until reduced down to about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.

While balsamic is simmering, slice tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Discard the rounded ends. Slice mozzarella into similarly-sized rounds. (Pro tip: if you are having trouble cutting the mozzarella, stick it in the freezer for a bit to make it less soft!)

ASSEMBLE! Layer one tomato slice, a basil leaf, mozzarella, and another basil leaf (if desired). Repeat with all the tomaters. To top it all off, drizzle the cooled balsamic vinegar (which will now be more like a glaze/syrup) over the stacks, as well as a couple of drops of olive oil.

Fried Green Tomato BLTs with Spicy Buttermilk Ranch Spread

There are a lot of foods that I disliked as a kid that I’ve since changed my mind about: bananas, juice (yeah I was a strange kid), sweet potatoes, some pies…

There are also foods I insist I will never like: raisins, black licorice flavored anything, tomato juice, plain raw tomatoes, basically any tomato that isn’t fresh from my parents’ garden or chopped up into salsa…

Come to think of it, tomatoes are somewhere in the middle for me. While I love tomato sauce (Italian, duh) and salsa, the thought of plain tomato soup or tomato juice makes me queasy.

But maybe it’s not so crazy that I don’t like tomatoes. Apparently, the DNA in grocery store tomatoes has actually been mutated so much that they are huge, but they are also completely watery and nothing like real tomatoes anymore. Those tomatoes are not the business.

When my parents started growing their own tomatoes, I saw what they could be: meaty, sweet, no sign of mealyness…Actually edible.

T-Man shares my disdain for tomatoes, except he is not as accepting of even the fresh ones. (Though his dislike of tomatoes doesn’t come close to his dislike of the dreaded BEANS, which is the worst.)

So he was in for it when I spotted these at the Farmer’s Market last week:

Green heirloom tomatoes.

He was really in for it.

My work was cut out for me.

I wasn’t even sure if I’D like them.

Holy hell, did we like them.

It took some work but since he had most of the day off, T-Man was helped me assemble everything!

This was when I started getting excited. They looked so pretty!

It was my birthday weekend, so I felt no guilt about the fried food. Calories don’t exist on birthdays.

The outside was so crunchy, and the tomato inside had so much (non-tomato) flavor!

The spicy buttermilk ranch was seeeriously the icing on the cake.

And my reward from T-Man for a job well done:


2 shots of birthday whiskey, of course.

Fried Green Tomato BLTs
makes 2 sandwiches, with a few leftover tomato slices (for dunking!)

FOR THE TOMATOES
2 medium firm green tomatoes, cut into thick slices
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp green hot sauce (use your favorite kind)
1/2 cup cornmeal (I used polenta)
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
cayenne pepper or chile powder
garlic powder
canola oil, for frying

FOR THE SANDWICHES
2 extra large slices sourdough bread, cut in half
1 cup arugula or spinach
4 slices bacon

Spicy Buttermilk Ranch Sauce
1/2 packet ranch dressing mix (~3 tsp)
4 oz (half a container) of sour cream
1/2 tsp green hot sauce (use your favorite kind)
1 tbsp buttermilk

First, prepare the sauce. Combine first 3 ingredients, then add buttermilk until it is your desired consistency. Thicker if you’re using it as a spread on the sandwich, thinner if you’re just using it as a dipping sauce. Set aside in fridge.

Next, create your tomato assembly line. Put flour and seasonings on a plate, then buttermilk, egg & taco sauce in a bowl, followed by cornmeal, breadcrumbs & more seasonings on the last plate. It’s important to include seasoning! Dredge tomatoes in flour, tap off the excess, then into the wet batter, then press into the cornmeal, making sure all sides are coated. The best way to do this is to use one hand to handle wet ingredients and one hand for dry ingredients. Feel free to add more dry ingredients if needed. Repeat until finished. Set aside tomatoes on a large plate or baking sheet while you assemble the sandwiches.

Fry bacon to desired crispiness, then set aside on a paper towel lined plate. If you want to be really decadent, discard all but 1 tbsp of bacon grease and use what’s left to toast your bread. If not, just toast it!

Finally, fry your tomatoes! Cover the bottom of your pan with a layer of canola oil. Heat until a tiny crumb of cornmeal/breadcrumb sizzles when dropped in the pan. I had 8 tomato slices and did it in 2 batches. I fried them for about 2 minutes on each side, but your stove might be different. Check frequently to ensure they don’t burn! Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Spread the ranch sauce on one side of the toasted bread. On the other, layer your arugula/spinach, followed by 2 tomato slices (or however many fit), and bacon. Then, dig in!

Tomatoes & Ranch Sauce loosely based on Fried Green Tomatoes with Jalapeno Tabasco Ranch from My Life as a Mrs.
Idea for Fried Green Tomato BLTs from A Cozy Kitchen

Then, after he helps you make a food that you forced him to eat because he previously thought he could never like tomatoes but hey maybe he’ll like it fried up in cornmeal, annoy your boyfriend while he tries to work:

Here’s to trying new things!

Tomato Sauce from Scratch: Who Needs Therapy?

Sometimes, days don’t go your way.

Sometimes, you wake up to realize that you forgot to put your breakfast yogurt in your boyfriend’s fridge and left it out overnight. And that your work shirt is at home. And you’re 15 minutes late. And why are there 5 other people in this elevator all going to different floors, it’s 9:15 why can’t you people show up on time?!

Sometimes, you then find out that you have to delay getting your cast off (bringing your total cast-wearing time up to 10 weeks) because the firm you work for wants to send you down to a work training. One day only, no room for rescheduling. 10 hours of travel for a 1.5 hour training.

This is all okay…No meltdowns yet.

Until you lose your house key on your lunchtime jog. Then it’s time for a meltdown.

I think everyone’s entitled to a meltdown every so often. Even Joy the Baker says so. For me, that day was yesterday.

Here’s another thing that went wrong and was much more time-consuming than originally thought: tomato sauce from scratch.

But for some reason, it worked. It was therapeutic, even.

It took forever. Seeds got through. It wasn’t perfect…But dammit, it was rustic. And I made it myself! I had something to show for my frustration. Maybe it’s the Italian in me.

At least I made a dent in my parents’ ever-growing tomato bounty:

(This was how many they had left after I used all of the above tomatoes to make tomato sauce)

Put your tomatoes to use. Make some tomato sauce. Peel the tomatoes, gut them and squeeze out the seeds. Who needs therapy? I’ve got food.

Homemade Tomato Sauce
makes ~2 heaping cups (2-3 servings)

10 small/medium vine ripe tomatoes
1/2 small onion, diced very finely
1/2 green bell pepper, also diced finely
1 clove garlic, diced
olive oil
parsley
basil
thyme
s&p

Prepare water to boil, and fill a bowl with ice and cold water. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato, then plunge into boiling water. Remove after 1 minute with a slotted spoon and transfer to ice bath. If it doesn’t seem like the skin is loose yet, keep ’em in for a minute longer.

Once tomatoes are cooled, the skin should slide off very easily. Cut tomatoes lengthwise and squeeze out all of the seeds over a strainer, saving any juices that gather in a bowl beneath. This may take a while. Now is where you decide if you want a chunky or thin sauce. I like a little bit of both, so I put about 6-7 of the seeded tomatoes in a food processor and pulsed a few times. For the rest of the tomatoes, I chopped them up coarsely.

Heat olive oil in a pot and saute onions, garlic and peppers until tender, only a couple minutes. Then, add in pureed and crushed tomatoes. Add herbs and simmer on medium-low for 30 minutes. Take peeks every 5 to 10 minutes to stir, season with salt and pepper, and to see if the sauce is reducing and thickening. If it is, add in the reserved juices from earlier.

When sauce has reached desired consistency, remove from heat and serve!

Notes: If you’re using a food processor to puree everything, might as well chop your onion and pepper in there too (separately)! Next, my sauce started out really watery and I didn’t think I’d have to add in any juices — as it thickened, I actually ended up adding almost all of the juice! Finally, feel free to add sausage, turkey, or lean ground beef. Just add it to the pot when you saute the onions and peppers!

T-Man was supposed to eat stir-fry that night, but I think he was pleased with his alternative:

Anyone else find cooking therapeutic?

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For meals that were not at all stressful to cook, check out my next entry with photos of some gourmet French meals I was lucky to be treated to when I studied abroad!

Farmer Fresh Fiesta Friday

There are so many wonderful things about summer. Sunshine, swimming, bright colors, barbecues, vacation, weddings…just to name a few. But since this is my first summer of living on my own out of college, I’m learning there’s another great thing about summer: all the best produce is fresh, cheap, and bountiful!

This is the weekly Certified Organic Farmer’s Market at Capitol Park next to the State Capitol (and my office). Every other week, I usually stop by and get a few things like fruit and veggies for myself, or almonds and pistachios to share at the office. Pretty much every day of the week, there is at least one Farmer’s Market going on somewhere in Downtown Sacramento!

Normally I only need to stop by every other week, though, because I have another farmer supplying me: my dad! Check out how his garden looked a few weeks ago:

Doesn’t it all look great? I’ve pretty much stopped buying zucchini at the grocery store or farmer’s market because every time I go to my parents’ house, I come back with a zucchini the size of my face. No, seriously:

I have a feeling tomatoes and corn are next!

Check out some of the ways I’ve been using up all my Farmer’s Market finds:

Grilled Veggie Tacos that I showed y’all on my Day of Eats

After my Mexican Pizza recipe, I think you all know that I’m a fan of piling things on a tortilla and calling it a pizza. In lieu of refried beans, I often mash some avocado instead! Above is roasted veggies, below is steamed/sauteed (with my favorite coasters!).

Charred corny goodness.

OK this is not at all Farmers Market fresh, but I just wanted to share this tip I recently tried: add a touch of french vanilla creamer in your plain oatmeal! What?! Amazing!

Fudgey ZUCCHINI cookies from Two Peas and their Pod! The zucchini is perfectly hidden by all the chocolate!

Inspired by Edible Perspective’s Curry Zucchini Roll ups, I tried my hand at Caprese Zucchini Roll ups (they have basil, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella & a bit of avocado stuffed inside!), but kind of majorly failed. They wouldn’t stay together, but at least they tasted good!

Last night’s dinner: a kale salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and homemade balsamic vin all over the bowl. Kale isn’t exactly in season right now, but for some reason I keep buying it at the market…

Now, I’ve covered Farmer Fresh… Why the Fiesta in the title?

This week is Fiesta in Santa Barbara! A week of parades, carnivals, parties…….and confetti eggs.

I will use a few photos of my friends and I in 2010 as a demonstration:

They seem unassuming enough, right?

We thought so too…

But then…

…the aftermath!! (p.s. not my hair! Don’t worry, I didn’t turn into a brunette in a matter of minutes ;P)

And even though I don’t live in Santa Barbara anymore, I’m still feelin’ the Fiesta — the law firm I work for has their California headquarters in Santa Barbara, and gives all California employees a half day on “Fiesta Friday”! Ole! Have a great weekend!

Also, I’ll just leave this here.