Pan con Tomate

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Pan con tomate is a national treasure of Spain.

This ubiquitous Spanish starter is the simplest thing in the world to make, but don’t be fooled by the basic nature of the dish. Probably the most famous dish from Catalonia, the beloved pan con tomate is a thing of genius, the sheer simplicity belying a profound complexity of flavor from five ingredients in symbiotic harmony. You start with good, flavorful, rustic bread. You toast it until it’s hot and crusty. Add garlic, tomato, olive oil, and salt. The end result is perfection.

To make pan con tomate at home you need very good bread with some flavor, a hearty crust, and a crumb dense enough to withstand a little manhandling. I like to make it with a sourdough batard, which is a French loaf that’s fatter and more irregular than its cousin the baguette. I cut it on the bias (at an angle) into slices about three-quarters of an inch thick.

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Fresh tomatoes and good bread.

You can use any kind of grill you like to toast the bread. This time I used a grill pan for the convenience; I didn’t feel like firing up the propane Weber for a few slices of bread, ya know. I’m sure you could broil the bread if you wanted or hold the bread in a pair of tongs and wave it over a roaring oak fire, which would probably be the most authentic method. However you do it, get the bread nice and hot and a little charred on both sides.

Okay, the garlic. Take a peeled clove of fresh garlic and trim off about the end, removing about 25% of the clove off. You’ll scrape the cut end over the hot bread’s surface. For tomatoes I like the medium-sized vine-ripe kind. Cut them into quarters. You need one tomato quarter per slice of bread. You’ll also need extra-virgin olive oil, ideally from Spain; something fruity with some good character. Finally good sea salt. I had on hand some fleur de sel de Camargue but use anything except iodized table salt.

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Rub the fresh tomatoes on to the cut surface of your crusty bread.

So, to assemble your tasty pan con tomate first grill the bread until crusty. Gently scrape the garlic clove all over one side of the bread. Now rub the tomato into the bread on that same side. A little pulp will rub off, maybe a couple of seeds, definitely some good tomato essence. Now drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the slice, maybe a teaspoon per slice, and sprinkle some salt over the slice. You can crack some black pepper over it if you’d like, although it’s optional.

Serve with a little manchego cheese or salami or jamon Serrano. Oh, and don’t forget a glass of cheap but tasty red wine!

 

Baby Vivian Eats A Godmother!

My baby’s got a healthy appetite!

Okay, okay, so my seven-month old child isn’t actually devouring one of the best sandwiches in Los Angeles, but she sure wanted to! Hell, she couldn’t even take a bite due to a conspicuous lack of teeth. But like her mom and me and pretty much everyone who’s ever eaten a Godmother, I’m sure baby Vivian would agree that it’s the best Italian-style sub (or hero or grinder or whatever) in the city. The bread is the key — crisp, chewy, and flavorful. If you haven’t eaten one yet, you should. And get it with the spicy peppers!

This pic was taken by my good friend Jen Kramer

 

Read more about it in my original Godmother post from 2011, which can be found here:

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-best-sandwich-in-la/

Omnivorous Video #4: Frosted Flake French Toast (starring Bennet Gray!)

I shot this video with my son Bennet. It’s a very simple recipe for Frosted Flake French Toast. I won’t bother to post a recipe, since it’s so easy. You’ll just have to watch the video to find out how to make it!

And while you’re at it, check out my other OMNIVOROUS videos.

Feeding the Family

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A casual dinner by the Willamette River.

Regina, Bennet, Vivian, and I visited my father and step-mother in Portland, Oregon last week. Dad and Joan have an absolutely gorgeous place by on the east bank of the Willamette River. Their house is set on a bluff overlooking a wide expanse of perfect lawn that leads down to the river bank. My father is a dedicated plant man and he’s got stunning vegetable beds, fruit trees, and grape vines growing vigorously on their property. Kale and tomatoes, lettuces and potatoes, rosemary, lavender, fig, eucalyptus, red chard, bartlett pear, apples, and more. In the eight years they’ve been in Oregon they’ve managed to create and maintain a home that is inviting and charming and that’s a reflection of their progressive thoughts on nature, food, health, light, and community. And on a late summer afternoon there’s nothing better than sipping a glass of my Dad’s homemade white wine and watching rowing sculls flit across the river’s surface, competing occasionally with the wake-making antics of jet-skiers. Birds loop in the blue skies, adopted fuzzball cats get fresh with your legs, a breeze stirs the perfect green beans clinging from their trellis, the occasional passenger jet carves contrails impossibly high above us. It’s all so perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Regina and I got married on these fair premises last summer.

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Always superb salmon can be found in the Northwest.

When we visit I usually try to cook one good meal for my family; we only seem to have time for one as we always have so much on our plate — other friends and family to see, zoos to visit, and breweries to tour. We like to eat outside, watch the sunset, play board games as we nibble dessert, and perhaps sip a little cheap sherry (that would be only my father and me) as we yak about our lives, politics, and what-have-you. This past week talk of politics, the food industry, my much-missed absent sisters, and (naturally) The Olympics dominated. We try to make the most of what Dad and Joan’s garden has to offer, we take a casual pace, and we enjoy each other’s company.

Joan and Jeff (my bro) contributed some excellent Coho salmon — each filet about a pound, very lean, but very fresh. Full of pin bones, even though I yanked out most of them. I patted-dry the fish very well, cut the filets down to individual pieces, and seasoned them with sea salt, pepper, and a big pinch of some random Penzey’s spice mix (maybe like a poultry seasoning) that Joan had in her cooking arsenal. I cooked the filets by first searing the fish skin-side down in a very hot skillet with some olive oil. After the skin was crisped I then flipped the pieces and cooked the other side about a minute. I then transferred the par-cooked pieces to a baking dish. The baking dish I popped into the oven and finished the fish at 375º F for about five minutes.

The fish was just cooked through, moist and delicious.

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A simple salad — romaine, tomato, radish, etc.

Our salad was definitely a family affair. Jeff contributed a perfect large Persian cucumber from his yard-garden, Joan added a bulb of fennel and a head of fresh romaine from her lettuce bed, and just that morning I’d gotten a few excellent tomatoes, celery, and radishes from the small but very inviting Milwaukie Farmer’s Market. At the market I also picked up some great local and organic goat-milk feta cheese. I whipped up a simple cider vinaigrette with some garlic, shallot, and a bit of minced fennel frond (and S&P, of course).

I (mostly) peeled, seeded, and chopped the cuke. I shaved the fennel and soaked it briefly in cold water to firm it up. I cut, soaked, and spun-dry the romaine. Cut the tomatoes, finely cut some celery, shaved some radishes, crumbled the sublime and creamy feta. I tossed everything together with some of the dressing. Basically a Greek-style salad with no olives or peppers, it was light and refreshing and complemented the fish perfectly.

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Potatoes fresh out of the ground are the best!

Dad dug up some potatoes from a mixed patch that yielded some good glossy reds, some Peruvian purples, and a few starchy Russet-style baker-types. After hosing them down, drying them off, and cutting the spuds down to similar sizes (think 3/4-inch thick cubes, about) I tossed them (in a big bowl) in melted butter and olive oil. Over the top I sprinkled generous amounts of kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I also threw in some minced herbs from Joan’s herb pots — fresh rosemary, a bit of fresh lavender, lemon thyme, marjoram, and parsley. A couple large cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, completed the potato seasoning. I spread the taters in a roasting pan and cooked them at 400ºF for about 35 minutes, until the potatoes were browned and crisp on the edges but soft in the middle. I turned and tossed and moved the potatoes around a couple of times during the roasting to ensure even cooking.

Everyone loved the potatoes, and it’s a good thing I made a whole lot as we ended up eating them the next day as well! The dish wasn’t particularly hard to make or inventive. It’s  all about fresh potatoes. Fresh potatoes are heads above your typical grocery store spuds. They are moister, richer, earthier, and butterier. Just excellent. And according to Dad, pretty much toil-free as a home crop.

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Very simple sauteed green beans.

Earlier that day Joan had picked some green beans. I trimmed these and blanched them in boiling salted water for about four minutes until tender. I shocked them in a ice bath to stop the cooking and then then drained them very well. I cut the beans into two-to-three-inch lengths. About five minutes before dinner time I heat up a big sauté pan and lightly browned (over medium-high heat) some chopped onion and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil. I threw in the beans and cooked them for another minute. I added a splash of white wine (New Zealand Sauv Blanc), stirred the beans, and served them.

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Excellent lemon-garlic fettucine with butter, parmesan, lemon zest, and fresh breadcrumbs.

At the Milwaukie Farmer’s Market I also picked up a pound of very good organic linguine infused with lemon and garlic. First step in making this dish was toasting some homemade fresh breadcrumbs. I cut the crust off of a chunk of stale baguette and then cut the interior of the bread into smaller pieces, about a half-inch in size. I put the bread into a food processor and pulsed it down into crumbs. I then sautéed the crumbs in butter and olive oil until nice-and-crunchy; I pulled the crumbs from the pan and held them until later.

I set up a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. I set up another big sauté pan and melted a generous plug of butter in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Into the oils I added two cloves of coarsely garlic & once minced shallot. I cooked the garlic and shallot about a minute until softened and then turned off the gas. When the water boiled I cooked the noodles to al dente.

I drained the noodles but I retained a half-cup of the pasta-cooking liquid in a measuring cup. I put the hot drained linguine into the butter-olive oil mixture and tossed it well. I turned the heat up to high and added the cup of pasta-water. I threw in a handful of chopped red chard and about 5 basil leaves, which I tore up by hand. Over the noodles I added two tablespoons of lemon zest and the juice of one lemon. Using a pair of tongs I mixed the noodles to get everything together and then tested for seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a whole bunch of black pepper, and 1 cup of grated parmesan. I killed the heat, stirred the cheese in, and transferred the pasta to a big serving bowl. Finally, as a garnish, I topped the linguine with a big handful of toasted breadcrumbs. Voila! Garlic & lemon linguine with butter, chard, basil, parmesan & crisp breadcrumbs.

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Sitting down to a fine meal with fine people (clockwise from left): Jeff, Bennet, Regina, me, Vivian, Joan. (Missing from this photo: Dad, who took the pic, and my sister-in-law Kate, who had to work.)

Jeff brought some homemade beer (pretty yummy!) and we also drank lemonade and one of my personal faves — Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (pretty decent and relatively cheap NZ white). For dessert we had this delicious crostata made from organic nectarines and a partially whole-wheat crust, which came out a tiny bit tough. I made a basic pate brisée but I think I screwed up the proportions of fat-to-flour. C’est la vie. Even the best of us screw up from time to time. Best of all, we topped off the crostata with vanilla ice cream from Graeter’s out of Cincinnati. Good, ole-fashioned iced cream.

Seriously, is there anything better than good food and family? Well, the view helped too. And the wine.

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Fresh nectarine crostata. Yummy!

Today’s Salad: Anita’s Tomatoes with Greek Ranch Dressing

This photo hardly does justice to this delicious salad. Sorry.

Our good friend Anita gave Regina and me a few fantastic tomatoes from her little garden patch. Nothing beats summer sun-ripened tomatoes; and these were very good tomatoes — sweet, acidic, very moist but not mushy. I could hardly assemble this salad as I kept putting juicy tomato slices into my mouth instead of in the bowl to toss the salad!  A warm huzzah to Anita (and Shawn and Syd) for the gift of food.

For this salad I sliced some tomatoes, put them in a bowl, and chucked in a handful of crisp iceberg lettuce and a few chopped scallions. I tossed it with an impromptu “Greek-style” Ranch dressing, which I made from (approximately) 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 or 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one big garlic clove (smashed), four thick slices of Persian cucumber, a teaspoon of lemon juice, a 1/4 teaspoon of Konriko Greek seasoning, about four fresh mint leaves, about a teaspoon of chopped dill, and hefty pinches of both kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I whizzed all that up in the blender and chilled it until it was salad o’clock.

I used a couple of tablespoons of this Greek Ranch to coat this excellent salad.

QPD Wine

My dad’s homemade swill.

My family is a handy bunch. In general we like to take on projects — my mom makes her own tofu, gardens constantly, and is a fantastic cook; my sister sews very handily; my step-bro makes his own beer; my son Bennet likes to write little stories on his computer and is obsessed with building legos, and of course you know what I do. A week cannot pass by that I don’t plan or work on some new project. Right now I’m interested in drying beef jerky and making raw almond bread, for instance. And I’m waiting for my producers to finish editing some video segments for this blog, which I wrote and star in (naturally).

My father (Dave Gray) was (and continues to be) very instrumental in inspiring us in these directions. He’s a vigorous guy and he’s always hard at work on some project or other. At various times in my life I recall him gardening (for food and landscaping), making wooden furniture of all kinds, building trellises, tilling soil, composting, planting fruit trees, installing ceiling fans, fixing minor electrical problems, drying fruit on homemade screen, painting, installing planting beds, making beer, and most recently making white wine. For the past several years he’s been growing grapes on his property abutting the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

It seems as if he finally had the grape yields to make some wine, because on his most recent visit to LA he brought with him a bottle of homemade white wine. I was pleased if a tad skeptical; my dad has demonstrated an alarming predilection for boxed wine and has never expressed any interest in being a vintner. But certainly he likes to drink wine and to grow fruit, so perhaps making wine was the next logical step.

My dad named his inaugural release QPD, an acronym for Quite Possibly Drinkable. I think he might have sold himself short, because I’d dub the wine Quite Perfectly Delicious! It’s dry but it’s got decent fruitiness. It’s un-oaked so you don’t have any excessive wood on the tongue. The finish is smooth and elegant, with hints of vanilla and honeysuckle. It’s probably a bit inexpert and innocuous; the flavor is too fleeting and it definitely lacks complexity. It could have used a bit more acid for my taste, as well. But for a first stab at winemaking, the end result was absolutely delicious. A very tasty table wine.

It’s also remarkably good considering my pops made it not only from wine grapes (Aurora and Chenin Blanc) but from red table grapes usually used for snacking. Swenson’s Red grapes make up half the fruit used in the wine. Good work, Dad! Keep it coming.

I’m just a little pissed he only brought the one bottle!

Web Series Teaser

I’m a goofy fella, aren’t I?

A couple of weeks ago I shot footage for four short episodes of my new web cooking show, also called OMNIVOROUS, which will be a companion series to this blog. Some good friends own a production company called The Other House and they are producing and editing this web series for me. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to put the short shows up on YouTube as well as this blog.

Here are a few stills from the shoot, just to whet your appetite for more.

Yes, that’s shrimp cocktail in a bowl made out of Himalayan salt!

Like I said, I shot enough for four shorts — one solo, one with my son Bennet, and two with my good friend, food stylist Liesl Maggiore. When I finally post the series, I’ll post full recipes right here on this site. If the response is very good, I’ll try to do more. I’m very excited about this first series, so please keep a look out! I appreciate your support.

Mixed Mexican Ceviche!

I will tease you guys a bit more in the next few days!