Muir Glen Tomatoes: Product Review and a Giveaway!

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the nice folks at Muir Glen tomatoes. They offered me a free sample of their 2009 Reserve Tomatoes to review on my blog. The nice folks at Muir Glen, are really nice folks: they also offered to let me give away the same nice box of goodies to one of my lucky readers. (I’ll give you more details at the end of this post).

When I was corresponding with the representative from Muir Glen, I tried to appear really casual. You know, really savvy and cool. I let her know that by sending me and my readers freebies, she was not guaranteed a good review! Little did she know  the reality of the situation:  I use their tomatoes every time I cook (so she was almost guaranteed a good review, in fact, I was trembling with anticipation about receiving this kit!). I came across their products years ago and in my opinion, the canned tomatoes are the best on the market. They taste good. They don’t taste like the can they come in. Not only do they have tomatoes of exceptional flavor, but the tomatoes are organic which is important to me. Why? Because not only am I concerned about the pesticide residues in my food and in the environment, but tomatoes have been one of those foods that have been genetically modified quite often in the past. Although there is no proof (yet) that GMO foods are harmful to us, I have a gut feeling that I should avoid them. Certified organic foods cannot contain GMOs. After the box arrived, I started pouring through the materials included in the shipment. I learned that the high quality of the tomatoes has to do with careful handling from the farm to the can. I also learned that these tomatoes are grown in California which for me, makes them a local food (yeah!).

Now, let’s talk about the box I received in the mail. It is gorgeous! You get a wooden crate filled with goodies.

Inside the box is a packet talking about the two cans of Reserve tomatoes included within. There are also two recipe cards. Now… I was promised recipe cards and at first I was a little disappointed because I saw only two recipe cards and I didn’t yet realize what the book underneath these materials was.

It turns out that the book is a gorgeous cookbook, with all of the information about how they grow and package the tomatoes, but…it includes 50 pages of delicious sounding recipes with full color photos of the food. This is a gorgeous book, and in my opinion. it is  worth as much as the tomatoes themselves if not more. After perusing this book, I decided I would use the four cans of tomatoes to make two of the recipes from the book so that you can get an idea of what the recipes are like.

Below the books, nestled away, were the four cans of tomatoes. There were the two cans of reserve tomatoes: Yolo Red diced tomatoes and Brigade whole tomatoes. Also included were Fire Roasted tomatoes and Adobo Seasoned tomatoes.

I used the reserve tomatoes to make Braised Tuscan Chicken with Fennel and White Beans. Upon opening the cans of tomatoes, I took a taste of each. I was disappointed with my choice in recipes for a minute, because the Yolo Red tomatoes where so sweet and delicious, they would have been wonderful used in something fresher such as a bruschetta or in a salsa. (If you win my contest, take note of that). The Brigade tomatoes had good acidity and tasted like they would be perfect for this slow braise. The only surprise I had, happened when I poured the Brigade tomatoes out of the can. If memory serves me right, a 15 oz can of tomatoes usually includes about 5 or 6 tomatoes. When I poured, three perfectly gorgeous round tomatoes popped out of the can. I had to laugh, I guess they didn’t want to smash them, so they only include enough tomatoes to not get smashed in transit. Luckily, the can of diced Yolo Reds where packed full, making it so that I had plenty of tomatoes for the recipe. The braised chicken came out delicious. The sauce begged for bread to sop it up and was loaded with chunks of vegetables and beans and a hint of herbs, the tomato flavor was outstanding. The chicken was falling off the bone tender. I’ll be making this chicken dish again!

The next day, anxious to taste the Adobo seasoned tomatoes, I decided to make the vegetarian chili recipe. I tasted the tomatoes upon opening the cans. The fire roasted tomatoes are familiar to me. They have a good roasted tomato flavor with a hint of smoke from the charred tomato skins you see floating among the diced tomatoes. I tasted the Adobo Seasoned tomatoes. The flavor was strange and familiar at the same time. I had to taste again before I realized that it is a light version of the super hot adobo sauce you find in a can of chipotle with adobo sauce. It is like they added just a hint of chipotle to their tomatoes. I had a really good feeling about cooking with these!! The chili turned out to be a smash hit. I followed the recipe exactly, using the prescribed amount of jalapeno and chili powder even though I knew that half my tomatoes had a good kick already. The chili came out spicy with a hint of that good chipotle flavor. It was wonderful. I’ll be looking for the Adobo Spiced tomatoes at my grocery store, I can think of many recipes that would be improved by using them.

So… you are probably wondering how you can get a box of these tomatoes and recipes for yourself.  Please leave a comment on my blog between now and Monday December 7th. I’ll hold a random drawing and one lucky Delectable Tidbits reader will receive a Reserve kit from Muir Glen.  Unfortunately, Muir Glen can only ship the reserve kit to people in the U.S., Sorry.

If you are not the winner, you can still get a Reserve kit. Muir Glen has these Reserve kits available for $7.00 at this link. By my calculation, that price barely covers the cost of the tomatoes much less the shipping and you get a crate to recycle for storing CDs and the cookbook and… Muir Glen will donate money to the charity Chefs Collaborative each time we buy a reserve kit. They are donating $2 for every Reserve kit they sell and $1 for each person who becomes a fan on their Facebook page (My friend Kevin is laughing at me right now because I am anti-Facebook, but hey, it’s for a good cause! So stop laughing Kevin!)

So, all of my friends and lurkers, leave me a comment.  Good luck everyone!!

So many recipes, so little time

CurryChickenAndEggplant

As I travel though the blogosphere, I have a tendency to bookmark recipes for future use.  Most of these bookmarks never get revisited and “my favorites” in my browser are littered with good intentions.  I also have a real world example of this horrible pack rat tendency of mine.  I am a magazine junkie and I tear up my magazines, saving recipes that look good.  I currently have two file folders bursting with clippings from years of reading and hoarding.  I don’t often weed through these folders either.

One day, as I was admiring other bloggers that are hosted on WordPress, I stumbled upon a gorgeous blog called See Beautiful.  Beth Ann is a talented photographer who moved to Japan and was chronicling her life there through her photos and her blog.  As I looked at her photos, I stumbled onto some delicious looking recipes and I bookmarked them for later.  A few months later, I actually remembered the recipes and made them.  They were so delicious that I have made them again and again.  Beth Ann has reworked her blog and it is now called Beth Ann Blog.  Click on the link to enjoy her amazing photos of Singapore!

About those recipes?  I highly recommend you make this food for dinner soon, so click on the links for Curry and Dijon Baked Chicken and Roasted vegetables with soy sauce and ginger.   Don’t be put off by the idea that an Asian style chicken recipe has Dijon mustard in it.  It is pure genius.  The sauce has a lovely sweet and spicy flavor.  I add twice the ginger and garlic to the veggies for a spicy and sweet but mellow flavor.  Round out this meal with a hot serving of plain brown rice to soak up the sauce from the chicken.  You’ll be happy you are cooking with other bloggers, just as I am.

Comfort food on a chilly evening

Herb Coated Chicken

This week, I promised my boyfriend that I would make a fussy but delicious baked chicken breast meal with lemons, tomatoes and kalamata olives.  It is the kind of dish that makes me spend a long time in the kitchen, cutting and chopping.  It is really the kind of meal that is best suited to a weekend night, not an after work night.  I really wanted to make such a dish but many factors conspired against my being able to fulfill the promise of fussy, fancy chicken so if you got to my blog by typing in a search for chicken with lemons, tomatoes and kalamata olives, I must apologize.  That will have to wait for another day.

 

Bone-in chicken breasts were supposed to be on sale this week.  That fact is what prompted my frugal Virgo personality to steadfastly plan and plot to make such a precise dish.  I arrived at the store on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I guess all of the people who frequent my favorite store after Thanksgiving all decided they needed chicken since they must have been sick of Turkey by Sunday.  Who knew that chicken would be so much more popular than fish or red meat?  I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances that would explain such a weird-ass phenomenon, but when I asked the butcher where all of the chicken was, I got the kind of blank stare that makes you wonder if the person you are talking to is going to begin to drool a bit before they keep on staring at you in a catatonic silence.  For some reason, there were whole chickens, but the butcher made no apparent leap in reasoning to offer to cut me some breasts from a couple of birds.  I could tell that if I suggested such a thing, I would be in the store for a very long time so I risked asking him to cut one bird into serving pieces.  He was accommodating.  I got a whole bird.  I could make the planned recipe from a whole bird instead of breasts, so I continued on with my plan.

 

Monday went by and I was too tired to cook.  Tuesday…very tired and unmotivated but I finally realized that I had to do something or else I would lose the bird.  It would be such a waste to not cook it and have it go bad. 

 

I don’t really know why our generation of home cooks insists on making fussy food.  Whenever I hear my friends talk about making food for dinner, it is always something that takes effort.  Our mothers didn’t cook like that.  They had to support families.  They were just as busy as we are, but maybe they were smarter about it?  My mom made food that was easy but tasted good.  She made food that didn’t cause a huge mess and was simple to clean up after.  Many of my friends and I insist on being food network stars or celebrity chefs in our own minds.  If it isn’t fancy or complicated we can’t be bothered to do it.

 

Tonight, I just couldn’t do that.  You know… make something you would be proud to serve to visiting dignitaries sort of meal.  I fell back on an old standard or two and I cooked like my dear old mom.  I made my rendition of something she would cook for us often.  Dry herb crusted roast chicken pieces.  I served them with crusty cubes of roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes and a healthy side of steamed Brussels sprouts. Easy.  I am going to give you an un-recipe for the chicken.  I can’t give you precise measurements for the ingredients.  Sorry.  This is one of those few things I can cook with my eyes closed without a recipe so there is no recipe.  I think you should be able to follow the un-recipe and be able to make my mom’s delicious chicken for your family.

 

Herb crusted roast chicken

 

 A 4-5 lb chicken cut into 8 serving pieces
 

One lemon

 

Soy sauce

 

Onion powder

 

Garlic powder

 

Pepper

 

Dried oregano

 

Dried thyme

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan.  Squeeze lemon juice over all of the chicken pieces.  Drizzle soy sauce over all of the chicken pieces.  You don’t want too much soy sauce, just enough to cover the chicken without leaving a puddle on the bottom of the pan.  The soy sauce is your source of salt for this dish so try to balance this ingredient.  You want the chicken to be wet with lemon and soy sauce so that the herbs will adhere to the chicken.  Sprinkle a generous amount of onion powder then garlic powder over the chicken so there is a nice base coating on each piece.  Season with Pepper.  Lightly sprinkle each piece with oregano.  Sprinkle a very, very generous amount of thyme on each piece of chicken; it should look like the chicken is pretty well coated with herbs when you are done.  Roast the chicken for 50-60 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees when you test the chicken breasts.  Serve with your favorite veggies.

  

  

Chicken legs aren’t photogenic but they sure are scrumptious Italian style

Chicken Fricassee

Chickens aren’t safe with me around.  I like to eat chicken fried, roasted, stewed, and poached.  I love chicken any time and any day and just about any way.  The only chicken I won’t eat is canned chicken.  Unfortunately for you my dear reader, you may get sick of chicken once this blog begins to age.  Chicken recipes?  I’ve got a million of ‘em!

 

I have an old, well-worn, often used cookbook called “The Regional Italian Kitchen” by Nika Hazelton.  Almost every recipe I have tried from this book has been delicious.  Last fall, right around this time of the year when we still have basil at the Farmer’s Market and the tomatoes and peppers are at their peak, I discovered a wonderful recipe for chicken.  It is a chicken fricassee that features a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes.  The flavors are wonderful and the dish pairs well with thick slices of Polenta.

 

Polenta is one of those foods that now have a reasonable fast food version that you can pick up at any supermarket.  Polenta now comes sealed in tubes of plastic.  I have to admit that I have bought my share of these polenta tubes in the past because they are easy to use and minimize any mess.  The chicken fricassee is a little bit of a production number so I have to admit, I only made polenta once last fall and gave up on it after I burned myself and had to soak my sauce pan for a week to get the leftover polenta off.  I wanted to make fricassee last night but I forgot that polenta was the side dish of choice.  I did not buy the convenience tube.  I did have a bag of polenta in the pantry.  I made polenta from scratch, I did not burn myself but I did trash my saucepan.  It was worth it.  Homemade polenta tastes fresh and hearty.  If you have time, I highly recommend doing the work. 

 

The chicken dish normally calls for a whole chicken cut into serving pieces.  This recipe is highly adaptable.  You can use chicken breasts.  I used 2 lbs of whole chicken legs last night (I should have used 3 lbs.  The chicken to sauce ratio was a bit low). There are a bunch of time intensive instructions in the fricassee recipe like skinning the peppers or peeling the tomatoes.  The recipe is fine without all of the attention to detail.  Recipes for both the chicken and the polenta follow.

 Chicken Fricassee with tomatoes, peppers, and capers (Spezzatino di Pollo Picante)

Adapted from The Regional Italian Kitchen by Nika Hazelton

6 tbsp. Olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

 

1 medium onion, sliced

 

4 large red bell peppers cut into strips

 

3 large tomatoes, diced

 

¼ cup fresh basil, minced (or 1 tbs. Dried basil)

 

Salt to taste

 

Freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Tabasco to taste (or other vinegary hot sauce such as cholula)

 

2-3 lbs whole chicken legs (or 1 whole chicken cut into serving pieces)

 

Whole-wheat pastry flour for dredging

 

1 cup dry red wine

 

1/3 cup pitted black kalamata olives, cut into halves

 

4 tbsp drained capers

 

Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a deep frying pan (big enough to hold sauce and chicken).  Add garlic.  Cook for a minute until golden.  Add onions and peppers.  Cook the onions and peppers over low heat until the peppers begin to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and basil.  Season lightly with salt (the olives and capers are salty so don’t overdo it), pepper and hot sauce to taste.  (The hot sauce should add flavor and a touch of heat but not make the dish too spicy).  Mix well.  Simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  During this time, heat the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan.  Coat the chicken lightly with flour and fry on all sides until golden.  If the sauce is still cooking, transfer the chicken to a plate.  When the sauce has cooked for 30 minutes, stir in the red wine.  Add chicken to the pan, making sure you cover the chicken in sauce.  Sprinkle olives and capers over the chicken.  Simmer the chicken covered for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is very tender.  Serve with Polenta. (see recipe below the polenta picture)

  

Polenta

Polenta 

Recipe from the back of the bag of Bob’s Red Mill Polenta

 

6 cups water

 

1 tsp salt

 

2 cups polenta

 

3 tbsp unsalted butter

 

In a deep sauce pan, bring water to a boil.  Add salt.  Add polenta gradually, stirring and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Use a long handled wooden spoon to stir, polenta tends to spatter and will burn you!  Be careful! If the polenta does start to shoot out molten polenta bombs, you can lower the heat to just below a simmer. I did so last night and the polenta cooked just fine.  Cook for 30 minutes until thick.  At the end of the cooking time, stir in the butter. Oil a deep pie pan.  Spoon the polenta into the oiled pan, smoothing the top down.  Let the polenta cool for at least 10 minutes.  Invert the polenta onto a serving plate.  Serve polenta sliced.

Chicken-Basil Sausage Pizza with Sourdough Crust

pizza.jpg

I love pizza.  Oh my god do I love it!  Even when it is bad it is good.  It is bread.  It is melted cheese.  It is an amazing concoction of textures and flavors.  If I could be allowed to eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would have to be pizza!  I now make pizza.  My pizza is better than any pizza I have ever had.  Hands down.  The only problem with my pizza is that it takes all day to make and it can be an exhausting pain.  But ooooooh.  It is soooo worth the time and effort.

 

On Sunday, I decided that Herbert hadn’t been shown any love in too many weeks.  He had been sitting in the fridge, neglected, belching up hooch for way too long.  Our grocery trip was imminent and I had leftover homemade spaghetti sauce and leftover homemade pesto both needing to be used up in the fridge.  Pizza was the logical conclusion to how to deal with these situations.  I grabbed Herbert and fed him warm water and flour.  Within an hour, Herbert was awake and bubbling away in his crock.  We took off for the grocery store and the farmer’s market.  I would comb the market for yummy things.  I tend to like a pizza with lots and lots of toppings.  This tendency is often my undoing.  I end up locked in the kitchen, slave to pizza and the perfection it can be.

 

When we got back, I made the sponge for the pizza dough.  I went for a walk and dilly-dallied until an hour and a half went by.  The sponge looked good, so I added the rest of the bread ingredients and used my mixer to mix and knead the dough.  Now, bread baking and sourdough in particular can be finicky.  Bread dough will either come together well or it won’t.  I’m not really sure why.  It could be temperature, humidity, the phases of the moon, a leap year, Friday the thirteenth or just karma, but every once in a while, you have dough that just won’t cooperate.  My dough decided to be wet, wet, wet.  When this happens, add flour to your dough one tablespoon at a time until it finally wants to play nice and form a ball in the mixing bowl.  I added flour, added flour and repeated and repeated.  I got it to ball up but it was still very wet.  What a pain.  I wasn’t too worried.  Wet dough can be nice because the dough will get airy and form holes when it rises and bakes, it can just be challenging to work with. 

 

I left the dough to rise for an hour.  It should have doubled.  It didn’t.  Ok.  I figured I could go to the gym and come back.  I came back an hour and half later and it looked very similar to when I left.  Sigh.  I wasn’t worried.  Pizza is flat bread.  My Pita’s don’t rise the way bread should either and they turn out fine.  If I was really making bread, I would have been more concerned.  I dumped the dough onto the counter and added more flour while gently folding the dough hoping to dry it out a little but not deflate it.  I cut the dough in half.  The recipe I use is the Alton Brown Country bread recipe from the Herbert post with a tweak or two.  It makes amazing Pizza dough.  Absolutely delicious!  It is crunchy yet chewy with a flavor that is nutty and wheaty.  Yum.  The good thing is that it makes enough dough for two pizzas.  One for the  red sauce and one for the pesto.  Anyway, I digress.  After cutting the dough in half, I went to roll it out.  Sticky, sticky, ew!  I had to dust the board, the dough and the rolling pin liberally with flour.  Roll. Scrape.  Move to a liberally corn meal doused pizza peel.  Repeat.  The dough could now rest and continue to rise because after so many hours, the work would just begin.

 

The pizza stone was warming in the oven and I set about to make the toppings.  Pizza #1:  Red sauce, mozzarella, four cheese blend, spinach, red onions, kalamata olives, red peppers, sautéed shitake mushrooms, chopped fresh garlic and chicken basil sausage.  Pizza #2:  Same as #1 to help with sanity except substitute zucchini for spinach, and pesto for red sauce.  Normally, pizza #1 and #2 will have some similarities but other huge glaring differences.  Maybe a salmon pizza and a kielbasa pizza this time, with a combo of different veggies.  Shrimp pizza with a Canadian bacon pizza next time with different sauces and combos of veggies.  Whatever will cause me the most headaches but the most bang for my buck.  So I start chopping onions, olives, peppers, garlic, and zucchini.  The kitchen is becoming hell because the oven has been on for a good half hour and the temperature is getting awful.  Chop shitakes, sauté in olive oil, garlic and red wine.  Transfer to a bowl.  Spinach has been simultaneously rinsing.  As the mushrooms are removed from the pan, chopped spinach goes in.  When it is cooked down, I remove it and in goes the sausage.  The heat in the kitchen is becoming stifling but I have ingredients coming together now. 

 

By now my boyfriend is getting the kind of post gym hunger that encourages him to help the process go faster.  He starts to open packages of cheese while I start to lovingly spread pesto on one pizza and red sauce on the other.  I squeeze the liquid out of the spinach and add it to the red sauce pizza.  We add cheese to both.  Next we just start tossing ingredients on both pies.  Once they are groaning under the weight of too many toppings, we decide the red sauce pizza looks perkiest so we toss it in the oven.  This is a two-person operation.  The dough is sticky and immobile.  I shake the peel, he uses a large wooden spatula to coax the pizza off of the peel and onto the stone.  Success.  The pizza bakes for thirteen minutes and we are ready to start eating.  We repeat the two-person operation and get pizza two in.  Did I mention that I made salad sometime after the bread dough and before the toppings?  I did!  Aren’t you impressed with me?  I quickly dress the salad with oil, vinegar and herbs.  We open a nice bottle of wine and flop down at the table exhausted but happy and eat the best pizza we have ever had.

 

 

Sourdough Pizza

 

Crust adapted from Alton Brown’s Country bread recipe on Epicurious.com, Makes 2 pizzas

 

Crust:

 

1 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)

3/4 cup sourdough starter

 

1/4 cup buttermilk

 

2 cups unbleached white flour

1 1/3 cups (or more) stone ground whole wheat flour

 

2 teaspoons salt

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Cornmeal

 

Toppings:

 

Spaghetti sauce or pesto sauce (or both) about a quarter cup for each pizza

 

8 oz mozzerella cheese

 

4 oz Quatro Fromaggio (4 cheese blend from Trader Joes)

 

3 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and wine

 

2 small red peppers sliced

 

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

 

about 20 pitted kalamata olives, chopped

 

One large head of Spinach, sautéed, cooled and liquid squeezed out

 

4-5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

 

4 chicken basil sausages, removed from casings and sautéed in olive oil 15 minutes.

 

Mix first 3 crust ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups unbleached white flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Using dough hook, mix in 1 1/3 cups stone ground whole-wheat flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat a rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten (be careful not to press too hard and deflate the dough). Divide in half. Roll each half of the dough into a ¼” thick round and transfer each round to a pizza peel or baking sheet coated in cornmeal.   Cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise for at least a half hour.

An hour before making pizza, place a baking stone in your oven and preheat to 500°F.

Spread sauce on pizzas.  Add spinach to top of sauce (one or both pizzas).  Sprinkle mozzarella and four-cheese blend onto pizzas.  Add remaining toppings.  Bake pizzas one at a time for 13 minutes each.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving.