I did it! I cooked*! Well, almost...

My panzanella was a success! Even more rewarding (for me) was that I didn't need to follow a recipe exactly; instead I read three and combined by favorite parts of each. I even diced up all the ingredients on my own! (Yes - I do realize this could be the accomplishment of a motivated 10 year old - but cut me some slack. I wasn't remotely interested in real food or cooking until after I turned 30.) 

My panzanella is combination of Ali Benjamin, Alton Brown and the pin I found online. Two called for bacon, one did not. Two called for stale bread, one called for toasting. One added chili peppers, two did not. None of them suggesting adding dijon mustard to the dressing; I figured that out on my own. 

This is what I did:
• Cubed two cups of baguette then spread them on a pan, drizzled them with olive oil and put them into the oven for 10 minutes until hard/crispy.
• While the bread was in the oven I: diced one shallot, put it into a cup of red wine vinegar, added a spot of dijon mustard and whisked. Next I cubed two avocados, a cucumber, a variety of tomatoes and combined them all in bowl. For a little heat I added half of one jalapeno. 
• When the bread came out of the oven it moved it to a Pyrex bowl to cool. Next I heated up the cast iron skillet that still contained bacon fat from our morning's breakfast. Once the bacon fat was hot I spooned out three tablespoons and drizzled them over the bread and tossed. 
• To the bread bowl I added the tomato mix and an appropriate amount of dressing. I mixed it all up with my hands and then put one and half handfuls into each dinner bowl. The only thing I would do differently next time is not mix in the avocado because it made the dish look green and mushy. Instead, I would add the avocado at the end as a garnish. 

It was so delicious!! And perfectly summer. I hope you try it yourself!
XO -
Cullen (the one who obviously doesn't create the beautiful meals you see on this blog). 

*According to Oliver "adding heat" is a core part of cooking. Everything else is just "combining ingredients". But I'm okay with that. Baby steps!


Seeking an in-season, mid-summer dinner idea I turned to Pinterest. Panzanella caught my eye. While I don't think I've ever had it before, it seems to be a chunky version of gazpacho and I love gazpacho. Tomatoes, cucumber, chunks of bread, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.

Not enough of our tomatoes are ready to be picked so we biked down to the Grant Park Farmer's Market to see what we could find there. A colorful pint of mixed cherry and heirloom tomatoes caught my eye. On our way out of the market we ran into our friends Laura and AJ; they mentioned that Laura's sister-in-law (Ali Benjamin of the blog and book  Cleaner Plate Clubhas a great Panzanella recipe. As soon as I got home I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to the tomato chapter. Her recipe calls for toasting the bread in the oven - which sounds more appealing then the recipe I had which calls for leaving the bread out overnight. AND it means we can try this sooner then later! 

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Memorial Day: the unofficial start of summer! For me, nothing says summer more then a fresh tomato sandwich.  So what better way to celebrate the season then with a fried green tomato sandwich from the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, Georgia! 

It wasn't until 1990, in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, that the space took on it's current role as a southern style restaurant Built in 1927 the building spent it's first 45 years as a General Store. When the doors closed in 1972 the store went through a series of a different reincarnations. I'm not quite sure when it became a real restaurant but I think it was at least ten years ago (as this is my third visit - and my last visit was in 2004). The menu is exactly what you'd expect from the movie/book: fried green tomatoes, pulled pork, southern sides and cobbler for dessert. Eating here isn't just lunch, it's a trip back in time. Love it!

End of summer garden update

Three of the four tomato plants have made a surprising recovery. In the next two weeks we'll have at least another dozen new tomatoes ready to pick. But as the weather grows cooler my enthusiasm for tomato sandwiches wanes while my ardor for the rose-like beauty of a mature cabbage grows. The seasonal changes in my garden never cease to amaze me.

Bad Tomato

For all my talk of perfect homegrown tomatoes you'd think I'd be able to spot an impostor. Well, it turns out I cannot. While at YDFM today I picked up a few seemingly ripe tomatoes, grown in the bordering state of North Carolina. My plan was to make Oliver the gazpacho he'd missed out on last week. You can imagine my disappointment when I cut into them and discovered this:

These tomatoes are my definition of CRAP TOMATOES! Ick. I threw them in the trash. If I'm going to go through all the trouble of making gazpacho then I'm going to use the best tomatoes possible. 

The end.

A perfect homegrown tomato

This tomato* is exactly why I grow my own tomatoes. It's vine ripened, a luscious red color throughout and there isn't a trace of white/pink tasteless Styrofoam texture. Every bite is delicious. No ethylene gas ripened tomatoes for me. I'd rather wait all year for this!

Some reading material for those interested in learning more tomatoes:
Why supermarket tomatoes tend to taste bad - LA TIMES
Taking tomatoes back to their tasty roots - NPR
Perfect tomatoes come from unhurried biochemistry - VegetableGarden.com

*This tomato is from our Beefsteak plant. I'm looking forward to seeing how the larger heirlooms compare.

What's for lunch? Alton Brown's gazpacho

The big news about this meal is that I (Cullen) made it by myself while Oliver was not home! I'm three for three on cooking for myself this weekend. I've started easy (spinach salad with an egg) and have been working my way into meals with more ingredients and more steps. Last night I roasted eggplant and then mashed it with tahini, ground cumin & lemon. While today's gazpacho didn't require any cooking it did require much more knife work then I usually take on. And I learned how to peel a tomato! I recommend this recipe for any beginner cooks who love tomatoes (and/or salsa). Thanks to Alton Brown for another easy and great recipe!


  • 1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Tomato juice
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade


Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe copied from here. Click for original posting.

Pruning tomatoes

As usual our tomato vines have grown into a big, jumbled mess. Two of them are 7 foot tall tangles of branches, leaves, fruit and twine. It's containable - for now. But by the end of August we'll probably have given up trying to tame the wildness and will just let the plants spill onto the ground.

Pruning the tomato plants is not something I've given much thought. I only have a vague understanding as to why we pull off the "suckers". A conversation last night with Oliver's cousin has gotten me thinking about changing my ways. He explained that a well pruned tomato plant produces more fruit. As evidence he showed me a photo of his well trimmed tomato vine and then one of of the huge pile of gorgeous tomatoes he'd already picked. 

Motivated by what I learned I did some research on the internet this morning. The following video provided a great lesson about which suckers to pluck, why and what you can do with them (stick them in ground and they'll grow a new plant!!). It's probably too late to make difference for us this year; but I'll definitely apply this knowledge next summer. 

Our tomatoes as of mid-July 2012:

Pickled grape tomatoes

In my last post I mentioned the "grape tomatoes in the Blood Mary...the ones Oliver pickled from our very last summer 2011 harvest. Dill flavor, yum!" Then this morning I realized the pickling post is one that I never finished. So better late then never, here it is:

These tomatoes were part of the batch that Oliver ripened in a cardboard box in early November. Except these are the ones that didn't ripen. Some were a bit shriveled and others were still hard and green so we decided they were best suited for pickling. Two cans were packed with the hot Italian peppers we grew and two more were packed with okra from YDFM. Now, four months later, we are finally enjoying it all! Gotta love homegrown goodies and canning!

Turn that frown upside down - happy tomatoes!

Turn that "sad tomato" frown upside down because Oliver has successfully ripened some of our late summer tomatoes! I want to start with the acknowledgement that fried green tomatoes topped with homemade pimento cheese are not heart healthy. But fortunately they are real food!

If you read the "sad tomato" blog post then you know we ripped out our tomato plants the day before the first predicted frost of the year. Oliver then took the 7.5 lbs of

growing tomatoes and wrapped them in newspaper and placed them in a cardboard box. Ten days later we checked the box. I was so excited to see that some of the tomatoes had continued to ripen! By then it was obvious which tomatoes were going to stay green and which had a chance of becoming perfectly red and plump. We rewrapped the reddening tomatoes and brought all the green ones to the kitchen.
Step one: slice! Step two coat: flour, then egg, then corn meal. Step three: Fry in vegetable oil. (We fry something possibly three times a year so I'm not feeling guilt about enjoying a fried sandwich but I should take the opportunity emphasize - stay away from fried foods!) Oliver then mixed up a homemade pimento cheese and spread it on bread fresh from the Grant Park Farmers Market. He topped it all off with the warm fried green tomatoes. We ate together outside on the freshly painted front porch.

I am so glad we grew those tomatoes. I am even happier Oliver was able to salvage the ones I thought were goners. There is still a box-full ripening and I promise to update as soon as we do something with them!