Pop Goes The Basil!!

Tommy Tom's Tomato SauceBasil, (pronounced like Nasal) or Basil pronounced like . . . Fawlty Towers? I’m a Fawlty Towers anglophile Basil pronouncer myself. I had a dear friend once roll her eyes back in her head when instead of emphasizing the “O” in Innovative I emphasized a long flat “A” ala the English way. Drove her mad, it was so cute to watch.

The sauce to my left here is chock full of Basil as you see but not Innovation.  Not that it’s bad in any way, early reports mark it as . . . well . . . remarkable! To my kind taste testers out there a big Tommy Tom’s Tomato Sauce thank you!

Not every thing I, or you, cook needs to be innovative.  Sometimes, most times in my opinion, the traditional recipe given the right set of ingredients can provide a remarkable dish.  In point this very large pot of tomato sauce you see above is simple to make, no fancy this or that just tomatoes and the basic building blocks of a good sauce. I made this batch about a month or so ago and can’t give you an exact recipe but I will lay out the process for you and ask you to innovate for yourself. (I’ll stop now.)

Better Boy TomatoesThe first thing you need is a big bunch of fresh tomatoes, enough to fill your favorite pot.  These little jewel toned heckling aids came from my garden this year. Last year the yield and size were pitifully small. Not so this season. This crop wasn’t just bumper, it was bumper to bumper. Time for a small aside.


tj burnI have neglected you my readers and I apologize. I was unexpectedly offered a ticket to Burning Man this year and jumped on it.  It took me away from cooking and writing  for too long.

My trip: Driving and dust, music and mayhem.  It was all those things and more.  And yes, not wanting to stand out or seem the prude, I went topless and blended right in. The Utilikilt is mighty comfortable and I have a much better understanding as to why skirts are so popular.

Coming Home Surprise

Back to my tomatoes! The bus pan above I picked the week before I left for Black Rock City. This 5 gallon pot is what I picked when I got home.  Holy Romas Batman, that’s a lot of tomatoes for a home garden.  As I said, bumper to bumper.  So what to do with all of these fantastic vine ripened lovelies?  Can ’em! So can ’em I did. The first batch went like this.

Dice 2 large onions course and half a head of garlic fine and saute’ in a very large pot.  Reserve half an onion uncooked to add later.  Wash, core and half the tomatoes and toss into hot pot. Cook tomatoes down and reduce liquid by 1/4th. Some cooks don’t but I prefer to spoon off the scum before the next step.

Tomato ScumHere’s where I have some fun.  Take off the heat and ladle tomatoes into a blender and . . . well . . . blend.  Return the tomatoes to the pot and repeat the process.  This does not give you a perfectly smooth sauce but rather one with some lumps and character, like me.  The last 2 blender cans full add the reserved raw onions  and blend with the sauce.  The raw onions add a sweet little bite that cooked onions don’t.  Return to the heat and slowly bring to a boil.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Now here’s the secret sword thrust:  Add some sugar.  Tomatoes are acidic as you know and adding just a small amount of sweet balances out the flavors.

CanningTo finish I tossed in a few handfuls of freshly chopped basil and set to put my sauce up. In another pot I placed jars and lids in tap water then brought them to a boil together. With a large set of tongs I reached into each jar and gently tipped the hot water back into the pot. The jars steaming hot and my sauce taste tested and bubbling I sanitized my ladle in the boiling water and canned my latest pride and joy. As I said, early reports have come back favorable. Don’t forget to place the hot lids on top of the hot jars with the hot sauce. Make sure the top of the jar is wiped clean and no tomato bits are outside of the seal.  This will cause your tomatoes to spoil and your guests to get sick.  I let my jars cool on the counter and check to make sure that the dimple on the jar lid has sucked down indicating a good seal.

So if you don’t have tomatoes in your garden run down to the Farmer’s Market and get them before there gone.  In only takes a little bit of time in the kitchen and you can enjoy the sweet, vine ripened taste well into the winter.


Eat Well and Smile Often!!




p.s. Tommy Tom’s Tomato Sauce  ( I like it!)







Fishy Fish . . . Got Milk??

Orange - Ginger SnapperI had a great weekend spending time with my brothers and sisters, something we rarely get to do together. We laughed, we drank and we reminisced . . . but most of all we ate.  My brother and his lovely new bride started us off with Saturday breakfast of French toast casserole, frittata and fresh orange juice while my little sister nailed Huevos Rancheros for Sunday’s breakfast. One of my older sisters made fabulous dinner reservations at a local little Italian eatery which left Saturday lunch for me.  Now those of you with siblings understand the rivalry and competition that occurs, especially, when adult children get together. This left me little room to prepare a so-so meal.

With a busy work week, a lovely visit with a high school friend and a long drive to Arnold ahead of me I didn’t have time to go to my favorite little fish monger where the fish is fresh and the selections amazing.  Instead I was left to shop at the local supermarket and the only “Fresh” option available to me was Red Snapper.  (I probably do not need to point out that I placed the term Fresh in quotes, meaning of course . . .) So here I was with this great recipe for Orange Cilantro Marinated Snapper with an Onion, Zucchini and Yellow Squash salad and my snapper was not very snappy.

What to do?

Got milk??Fish on the Grill

Time to pull a rabbit out of my hat. Now technically the fish I bought was fresh only because it hadn’t been frozen but unfortunately it had not been stored correctly in the butcher’s cooler leaving it slightly ripe.  Thankfully I paid attention in culinary school and a little hand-me-down from my French Cuisine chef Brian Mattingly came in handy. “If your fish is a day or two old, soak it in whole milk.”  So along with my 3 pounds of fish I purchased a quart of whole milk.  After rinsing and de-boning the fillets I laid them in a Pyrex dish and covered them with the cold milk. Plastic wrap over the top and the dish went in to the refrigerator for an hour.  Fingers crossed I set to the marinade.

Snapper Marinade

1 bunch    Cilantro, leaves only – no stems
4               Red Jalapenos, seeded and chopped
3 tbsp.      Ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cups      Orange Juice

Place the first three ingredients in a blender and and start them blending on low. Pour the OJ into the blender in a thin stream just until all the ingredients begin to chop evenly. Blend for about 30 seconds then slowly add the remaining OJ. Reserve.

1 Hour Later – Time to check the fish.

Out of the fridge I uncover my dish and pour off the milk and voila, no more fishy fish. Thank you Chef Mattingly!
I let the fillets drip dry for about a minute, rinsed out the dish then poured a bit of marinade into the dish, laid in the fillets, covered then back in the fridge for another hour.

With the snapper soaking up all that Orange-Ginger goodness I set about making the Squash Onion salad. I thinly sliced the zucchini and yellow squash on a mandolin then cut them int thin julienne strips. Next I Lyonnaised an onion. (This is a style of onion slice that gives julienne thin threads.) A bit of olive oil in a saute pan and in go the onions. After they begin to soften I added the julienne of squash cooking them al dente. After seasoning with salt and pepper I set them aside to cool while I made the salad dressing.

Orange Ginger Salad Dressing

1/2 bunch   Cilantro, leaves only – no stems
4                 Red Jalapenos, seeded and chopped
3 tbsp.       Ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup       Orange Juice concentrate
1 cup          Olive Oil

Place the first 4 ingredients in a blender and blend for about 1 minute. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until fully incorporated.

Time for lunch!

I fired up the grill and set to cooking.  Delicate fish will often stick to the grill so I use aluminum foil pans with a bit of olive oil.  The grill adds a lovely smokey flavor that the oven just will not give.


A bit of Romaine lettuce on the plate, toss the onion squash salad with the dressing and place on the lettuce.  Next the Grilled Snapper and a garnish of avocado and Voila!  (Trust me, my reputation was saved.) Even my sister who does not like fish liked this dish.

All in all it was a great weekend with family.  I hope you have many like this as well.


Eat Well and Smile Often!!


p.s. The whole fish in milk thing . . . just another version of surf and turf.

Fish on the Grill

Front Yard Gardens – Outlawed!!

One of my most popular posts is Organic IS Marketing Hype.  If you have not had the chance please take this opportunity to give it a read.  In it I lay out the reasons why it is a good idea to have your own home garden.  In Canada a family with similar beliefs is being told that by having a front yard garden they are breaking the law.   Just take a look at how beautiful their garden is in this picture. If these were decorative plants they would be in civil compliance but since they dare grow edibles their city is now considering making all front yard food gardens illegal!  The crazy thing is that their neighbors have never complained. They are all happy getting free, fresh organic vegetables!  I mean who would not?  So who is this really offending?

I must tell you that I am really enjoying my little garden. I have pumpkins already and of course tomatoes and squash, lemon cucumbers and peppers too.  These lovely round orange ‘punkins’ are looking forward to becoming pie, pancakes and raviolis.  I also recently harvested a spaghetti squash which I’ll roast and top with my latest harvest of tomatoes.

This weekend I’ll be grilling some snapper for my siblings that has been marinated in ginger, cilantro, orange juice and chili peppers and served with a sauted salad of zucchini, yellow squash and onions tossed in a dressing made just like the marinade. Keep a watchful eye for the recipe.Squash

If you have some time please read the Huffington Post article on this family and lend them your support.

Eat Well and Smile Often,




p.s. What’s in your garden??


Bloom, Bloom, Ka-Boom!!

Squash BlossomThe first of my harvest has arrived with a bloom and ka-boom!

About 6 weeks ago I planted a number of tender little shoots.  Some tomatoes, some peppers, an eggplant, a few watermelon and a handful of squash; zucchini, yellow crook neck and patty pan to be precise. This last week these little charges bore the fruits of MY labor.  In my post Organic IS Marketing Hype you will see the early photos of my garden and my very first squash blossom of the season (as seen here).  This beautiful little flower yielded the rather rotund patty pan you see below.

Patty Pan

Now every Second Sunday of the Month my friends and I gather around a large table where we drink too much wine, eat too much food and tell each other too, too may lies. Inevitably in this raucous Bacchus caucus, a voice of dubious authority will pipe up and say something like, “These tomatoes taste great but the ones my grandfather grew in his garden were amazing!!”  Now while I am not a grandfather I do have a garden and I can state with some authority that the freshly-grown-in-my-own-backyard vegetables do taste amazing!! Luckily I live in California where fresh really is fresh and the quality and variety of produce it truly remarkable. But even they can’t compare to the incredible difference in flavor, color and texture that home grown, fresh-off-the-vine vegetables have. And I must tell you there is something tremendously cool about going out to the garden every night and harvesting my own dinner.  In my own little mind I hear the plant gently offering up its fruit that I might live another day. “Dear Mr. Tom, You have been so kind to me. You’ve taken me in and given me this wonderful planting bed to lie in.  You feed me, water me, and protect me from vile pestilence.  Please accept this offering in small exchange for your love and protection.”  or something like that.  Out of respect for these noble plants I vow never to waste their efforts.

Sizzling Saute PanSo right after harvesting the mother of all Patty Pan squash I tucked in to it with my 10″ chef’s knife dicing it in to  3/4″ cubes.  The remnants of an onion waited patiently in my fridge for just this opportunity.  A quick chop put this savory bulb into 1/4″ pieces. This onion, with 3 cloves of garlic smashed, hit the hot olive oil soaked pan with a sizzle. On their heels went my darling Patty Pan.

Sitting beside this purple read onion of mine I found a tail-end chunk of prosciutto.  I sliced off a fat inch and trimmed it into lardons.  Into the pan they leapt to join their sauteing brethren. A big fat tablespoon of tomato paste, a cup of white wine, add a big spoon to stir and Voila!  Dinner is served.


I topped this luscious Ratatouille with a heavy hand of grated Parmesan cheese and a chop-chop of basil.  I couldn’t get a fork into it fast enough. Who’s got two thumbs and a mouthful of goodness?  This guy!

Eat Well and Smile Often,



p.s. Why is it Rat-atouille?  Wouldn’t it sound better being Cat-atouille?  (maybe not)