Sunday, July 27

Tomato Caprese Pie

Of all the fresh produce that drip from the market stands this time of year, I think tomatoes are the ones I love best...  

I adore the smell of the tomato vine when you walk through the stalls at the farmers' market. Like a summer rain storm, I can smell the tomatoes long before I see them.

When I was a kid, my brother and I loved to scour our mother's garden, looking for green-horned tomato worms.  We'd hunt through the tomato plants first thing in the morning while it was still cool and the plump caterpillars were inching their way through the green tomatoes.  Thinking we were saving them from certain doom, we'd collect them in old glass pickle jars, adding sand and sticks and fuzzy tomato leaves for them to munch on.  You see, after the breakfast dishes were washed, my mother would put on her sun hat and go out to the garden, and if she found a green-horned tomato worm feasting on her plants, she'd certainly smash it.  Heroically, we'd pull the worms from the vines, and place them safely in their new homes.  In protest the worms would spit-up on us, a sticky green mess that smelled of tomato vine.  By lunchtime we'd smell like tomatoes from head to toe.

Okay, not a very appetizing memory, I have to admit.  But the point is that just the smell of tomatoes on the vine brings me right back to these moments as a child in the garden.

Tomatoes are everywhere these days, and I can't help but buy them every chance I get.  The kids eat them like apples, juice running down their chins, and I've been known to add them to just about anything.  Someone once said: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is adding it to your fruit salad.  Well, I haven't yet added them to a fruit salad (it's coming), but I did make a pie with them last weekend.  This Caprese pie is everything we love about Caprese salad, baked into a tender crust.  Finished with a sweet drizzle of balsamic sauce, I can almost imagine I'm back in that garden.  The tomatoes are ripe, and there's not a sticky, green worm to be found.

Monday, July 14

Caramel Bean Truffles with Fleur De Sel

"What's a caramel bean?" you ask.  Let me explain...

Last month I was invited by Snack Out Loud to participate in a recipe showdown with two other Colorado based food bloggers.  Snack Out Loud would provide their Crunchy Bean Snacks and I would "reinvent" a recipe using one of their five flavours.

Never one to pass up a good challenge, I said "Bring it on!"

A day later a huge box landed on my doorstep.  Inside were several boxes of Snack Out Loud's Crunchy Bean Snacks.  The kids wanted to dig right in, but I needed to do a little research.  So we lined the five different flavours up on the dining room table and I started reading down the list of virtues on each package.

Gluten Free
All Natural
Packed with fiber and protein (7g per package!)
Made using 100% wind power (cool!)
Produced in my home-state of Colorado (local!)
and (most important to me!) Nut-Free

I was getting excited already, but I still hadn't tasted them.  So we ditched our typical afternoon snack (bread and fruit) and dove into the boxes on the table.

I went for Ranch first.  The beans were light, airy and crunchy and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were slightly spicy!  This isn't your run of the mill potato chip ranch flavour!  It had a kick to it!  I closed my eyes and recipes flooded my mind.  These would be perfect sprinkled over a salad . . . like croutons . . . but perhaps that was a little too simple.

Next I grabbed a bag of Jalapeno Cheddar.  Whoa!  My tongue was on fire!  Immediately I thought of breading a chicken cutlet with these, serving it along side a spicy mango black bean salad with a cool margarita to wash it all down.  I got out a notebook and began jotting down recipe ideas.

Eve, meanwhile, was very happily munching away on a package of Tomato Basil bean snacks.  I took a few and thought of pesto.   Could I replace the pine nuts in traditional pesto with these?  A nut-free pesto served over pasta!  I wrote it down in my notebook.

Connor grabbed a bag of Smokey Chipotle BBQ.  A few seconds later he was panting and fanning his mouth with his hand!  These were a little sweet and a lot spicy!  I finished off his bag and got him a big glass of milk.  They reminded me of a sweet, smokey chili.  Something we'd eat on the camping trips of my childhood.  The kind of chili you sop up with hearty cornbread muffins . . . I scribbled "bake into cornbread" in my notebook.

Alas, it was getting late and we were all quite full (7 g of protein, remember) but there was still one flavor that no one had tried.  Lightly Salted.  I picked up a bag and popped a few in my mouth.  Crunchy.  Salty.  Mild.  Then it hit me: This was the perfect "blank canvas" on which to create a work of art.  Something unusual, out of the box.  Something decadent and sweet and unexpected.  The recipes poured in faster than I could write them all down.  In the end, when I finished the package, one word was written on the bottom on the notebook page: "Caramel."

And so, after a few days of playing in the kitchen with melted sugar, chocolate, ice cream and even a little spiced rum, the recipe was finally born.  I was inspired by the crunchy texture to create a candy that was deep, rich and salty.  I tossed the beans in a little homemade caramel and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sea salt.  They were amazing just like this - like caramel corn (I even sprinkled a few on my ice cream that evening).  I was tempted to eat the whole batch but held out.  I had bigger plans for these crunchy little caramel beans.  I made an easy chocolate ganache which I formed into little balls around the caramel beans.  I put the remaining beans in a plastic bag, handed Connor a meat mallet and let him go to town.  When the beans were crushed,  we rolled the truffles in them, pressing all that caramel-y, salty goodness into the sides of the candy.  Et voilà!  A nut-free caramel bean truffle was born - crunchy on the outside; rich and smooth on the inside.

And now you know what a caramel bean is.

Check out the recipe on and visit their facebook page to see what my competitors came up with.  Then vote for your favourite!  You can vote once a day and be entered to win a carton of your favorite Snack Out Loud flavor.