Keeping it Simple: Tomato Preserving

Tomatoes

I can’t be the only one that has a problem with getting home preserving right. My jam consistency is never correct and the time I processed salsa had me in tears. The Husband would say that it’s because I don’t follow directions when I’m cooking. While there is some validity to that theory, I would also offer that some preserving techniques are a pain in the ass and following the directions doesn’t always ensure a successful outcome.

Case in point, Tomato Basil Jam. I was ecstatic to come across a recipe that would keep me in tomato sandwiches for the entire winter. Fast-forward to my execution. The jars look pretty but the “jam” seems be rolling around like red vegetable oil inside my processed jar. Not quite what I had in mind and I followed the directions to the letter. I waited a week and the consistency is still the same even though the pectin packaging said that thickening could take time. I opened a jar to sample and it is really sweet. Definitely not what I had in mind and reaffirmation to trust my instincts (the amount of sugar in this recipe was staggering). That said, I’m still without a tomato spread to keep me in sandwiches through the winter. Does anyone have a recipe that I can try?

My preserving success seems to be come from the more simplified approaches. I acquired my dad’s vacuum food sealer this summer and have been freezing items like a crazy fool. When I grew tired of freezing whole and quartered tomatoes fresh from the vine, I tried this recipes with extremely tasty outcomes and very little effort – high priorities for me in the kitchen.

For others like me with tons of tomatoes that prefer the simplest preservation approach, I recommend slow-roasting using a cook’s best resource: The Joy of Cooking. These are really fantastic and so simple. I have been adding them to beans and rice for quick work lunches and expect them to work well in tomato sandwiches or bruschetta.

The recipe for Slow-Roasted Tomatoes is on page 312 and calls for:

  • 4-5 large ripe tomatoes cut into 3/4″ slices
  • 1 tsp each of powdered sugar, salt and black pepper

Tomato slices are placed in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkled with the powdered mix and your favorite chopped herbs (basil, thyme or other), drizzled with olive oil and baked for 2 hours at 250 degrees. Cool at room temperature before refrigerating or freezing. VOILA!

If you want something that is more akin to the sundried tomatoes packed in oil, try this recipe from The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper for  Oven-Candied Summer Tomatoes. Here are mine during the final rest period in the oil:

Candied Tomatoes

I still have tomatoes waiting to be preserved, so let me know if you have other great recipes that I should try!

Date Night (for One): Back to Basics

Sometimes when a girl is planning her solo Friday night, she has to go back to basics: Delivery. When I think about the most self-indulgent way to spend an evening, it includes delivery, television and knitting. Tonight is a return to those indulgences.

One would think that ordering a pizza is simple, but they are obviously not the pizza aficionados that I am. We also have four different DELICIOUS pizza places to choose from and all provide their own unique experience. I confess that I know personally that you can order from a different location every night and not tire of pizza. Now I try to curb my enthusiasm to dial for delivery by planning meals in advance, and aspire to only order pizza once a week (*cough*). With this in mind, I must weigh my choices very carefully when I have the opportunity to indulge.

I decided to consider my delivery options based on the television I planned on consuming. Would I feed my brain watching back episodes of NATURE on the DVR? Would I binge watch some “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? Or would I dig deep into the DVDs and spend the evening watching personal favorites that would have The Husband scoffing? I opted for the third option. Two DVD classics: “GHOST” and “Dirty Dancing.” I would have an evening dedicated to Patrick Swayze and self-indulgence. That meant that there was only one delivery option appropriate for the evening: Fat Lorenzo’s. Hand-tossed with a spicy, chunky sauce and cheese bread oozing mozzarella in a classically Italian way (to this Minnesotan anyway). Comfort food for the soul. I found a bottle of wine simply labeled “Red Table Wine” and decided that Patrick would have approved. Sometimes simple is best.

And now as I sit with the pizza box balanced on my knees and Red Table Wine in hand enjoying my solo evening of self-indulgence, I look forward to crying at Patrick’s parting words of comfort: “The love inside? You take it with you….” Sometimes nothing beats a Friday night at home alone.

Fat Lorenzo's

Sacrificing the Body in Pursuit of Culinary Wonders

Last night in my latest pursuit of culinary wonder, I almost lost a finger. Well, I may be exaggerating just a bit, but not much. I nearly lost the tip of my thumb to the mandolin. While it would be more impressive to cause oneself injury from a musical instrument, I was unfortunately using the kitchen slicer known as the mandolin at the time.

The evening started harmless enough. We were having The Mom-In-Law for dinner and I was looking forward to trying a new recipe for Pear & Blue Cheese Flatbread. Fast-forward to the prep period of the night where in my typical fashion, I had tried to do a few more things than I realistically had time for. First, there was some idle chitchat with The Neighbor, which technically wasn’t my fault because she desperately needed to use our fax machine. Yes, we still have one of those and who would have guessed that someone still desperately needed to use one? Then I had to get the fresh picked grapes into the vodka to infuse (more information on my grape infused vodka in a later post). Four liters of vodka and 16 cups of grapes later, I was behind schedule getting dinner together. I started wrestling with the mandolin which seemed to be sending me signals from the beginning that I should not use it.

The Husband will roll his eyes at me, but I’m a big believer in signs. If something doesn’t seem to be going right, in my mind there is a reason for it. In his world, things just aren’t going right. Since I’m the one with the injury, we’ll say that I’m right this time. First, I couldn’t figure out where the legs were to raise the mandolin off the cutting board. Then I couldn’t get the blades to adjust. I don’t even know where the protective cup is that is used to hold the item being sliced, but that would really have come in handy. I proceeded to get slicing on the purple onion and moments before The Incident, I could hear a whispering in my ear, “This is a really bad idea… you’re going to lose a finger.” No, it wasn’t The Husband. I often hear this voice of reason immediately preceding the most impressive injuries that I have sustained. These injuries have always been my own fault and most often because I haven’t been exercising the most sound judgment.

When The Incident occurred, I was working on finely slicing three cups of the most potent onions I have ever experienced. I did what most logical people in that situation would do, jammed my thumb in my mouth because then I could pretend it hadn’t happened and everyone knows that when you do this, the injury will not hurt. The Husband urgently pressed, “WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT HAPPENED?” All I could manage? “I’m going to need the Super Glue.”

Super Glue is the most used item in my first aid kit. A chef friend once glued another thumb injury of mine together and told me that it was a common practice in the kitchen so chefs could continue working. He also told me that Super Glue was originally invented for battlefield use during WWII, which I have heard many times since. This morning I was disappointed to learn from the Super Glue site that this is an urban legend.

Anyhoo, my thumb Super Glued back on, I was able to continue preparation of the Pear & Blue Cheese Flatbread. It was absolutely delicious and very easy to make. I recommend either NOT using a mandolin for the slicing, or making sure that you have the proper safety attachments in place before beginning. We served the flatbread with a mixed spring green salad tossed in a vinaigrette. The Husband and The Mom-In-Law drank Odell Brewing’s IPA while I enjoyed mine with a crisp pinot grigio.

Pear & Blue Cheese Flatbread

If you would like to try the recipe, http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/pear_blue_cheese_flatbread.html

The Regret of Sharing

I currently find myself regretting my impulse to share.

The fall weather has sent me straight into the kitchen where I have been busy preserving the bounty of my tomato harvest. In the midst of the salsa making, I felt a burning need to bake. I rationalized that taking a break from the tomatoes was the right thing to do because it would be wasteful for the overripe bananas to go in the garbage. And while I was at it, I could use up the Hershey bars from our last camping trip.

I scoured the internet for the best banana bread recipe and have to say, I found it. Say what you will about Martha Stewart, but I worship at her altar on a regular basis. And after moaning in delight at the first bite of this recipe, I will humbly lay loaves of delicious banana bread at her feet in tribute for many years to come.

All of this brings me to my current state of regret. In my euphoria over the piece of scrumptious bread, I decided to share. A third of the loaf went to the neighbors. Another third to friends who were hosting us for the evening. I took Grandma some slices from our remaining third, and parted with another slice to a friend who came for dinner. That left me with exactly no banana bread left. Now I sit, mouth watering and stomach growling, wishing for a bite of that tasty goodness. I never had a chance to try it out with peanut butter like I had planned. Did anyone else? Have the gifts of banana bread been eaten or are they sitting forgotten?

I wonder if The Husband will notice me intentionally ignoring the bananas we just bought so I can make more? Can I force them to become prematurely overripe somehow? Or if anyone has some overripe bananas on hand, I’m happy to bake some banana bread and share. But this time, there will definitely be limitations to my sharing. I will have that slice with peanut butter and expect it to be all I have dreamed of and more.

If you want to try Martha’s banana bread recipe for yourself:
http://www.delish.com/recipefinder/banana-chocolate-bread-recipe-mslo0612

** I used chopped up Hershey bars instead of bittersweet chocolate. My baking time took much longer than hers, so allow plenty of time.

Picture of Banana Bread

Date Night (for One)

Few people think of a Friday night alone as a fantastic opportunity, I’m glad that I’m not most people.

When my darling husband told me that he had to work late Friday night, I could hardly contain my excitement. This was the opportunity that I had been looking for, a night to prepare a meal for a king. Or, a night to prepare exactly what I had been wanting to eat, but isn’t it all the same?

Caught in the rain walking Danny after work only increased my excitement over the culinary extravaganza that was awaiting me. In my husband’s own words,  he “is not as into the bean” as I am. For months I had been sitting on a recipe for a southwestern pizza. I was downright gleeful as we turned to head home, ignoring the rainbow behind me as I urged Danny to hurry.

At home, I washed my hands and stretched my neck from side to side, ready to begin. First, I put on the proper atmospheric music to create my mood and poured myself a glass of wine. I don’t know about you, but I love a little bluegrass when I’m getting into the kitchen. There’s nothing like the Steve Martin album “Love Has Come for You” to get me in the culinary mood.  If I need to dance a little more, I ask Pandora to put together a rousing Harry Belafonte mix, but tonight, Edie Brickell sang to me while I worked up my  masterpiece.

As I was taking a sip of wine and singing along with “When You Get to Ashville,” I looked closer at the recipe. It wasn’t quite what I had remembered it to be… BBQ sauce? Not at all what I had been envisioning. That’s when I left the road more travelled and ventured into the world of my imagination. My darling husband would definitely not be comfortable with this. He is a supporter of following recipes, which I find to be more of a template when it comes to meal preparation.

I tossed black beans with corn, added some chopped jalapeno and garlic – and let’s not forget my very own homegrown tomatoes.  The more I looked at it, the more appalling the original recipe was became. Mozzarella on a southwestern pizza? That simply would not do. I sprinkled a Mexican cheese blend on top of my experiment. Baked for 10 minutes and served.

In less than 30 minutes, I had one of the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. And as I ate, Evie Briekll reminded me that the Sun Was Going to Shine again. It was a good Friday night.

P1010530 (2)

Recipe:
1 – “mini” prepared pizza crust (I used Boboli)
~ 1 cup black beans (rinsed)
~ 1 cup corn (I used frozen)
1 good size tomato, chopped
1/2 seeded and chopped jalapeno
1-2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup Mexican cheese blend
Red pepper, salt & pepper to taste

Spread mixture on prepared pizza crust, bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy – candle optional, wine encouraged.

The Flight of the Hummingbirds

The hummingbird migration is winding down in our Minneapolis backyard right now, but it was in full swing just a week ago.

It was a quiet Sunday morning when I assumed my observation post on the back step. It was crisp as I sipped my coffee. Nothing. I started to wonder if I’d missed all the hummingbirds this year. I sipped more coffee and took some pictures of a molting female cardinal.

Female Cardinal

Twenty minutes later, I noticed some action a yard over in my neighbors honeysuckle bush and Mexican Sunflowers. Little hummingbirds were all over her yard.

Hummingbird and Mexican Sunflowers

It felt like there was a big LOSER sign flashing on top of my feeder. Who picks a feeder when there are tons of flowers in the neighbor’s yard to choose from? I considered relocating to be closer to the flower buffet. Then there was a buzzing by my head. A hummingbird was circling my red hoodie. He determined quickly that I was not a giant flower and moved over to my little honeysuckle bush – so modest in size compared to my neighbor’s but obviously a tasting morsel.

Hummingbird and Honeysuckle

Suddenly, my yard was vibrating with tiny wings. The territorial buggers were in full combat mode. They chased other birds, tried to psyche out squirrels and even hovered around my canine sidekick, Danny, trying to see if he was competition. I was happy to see that the plants in my yard were more appealing this year than the feeder, though that received a lot of attention too.

Hummingbird and Feeder

I watched for most of the day and was buzzed several times as they zipped past my head. They spent some time watching me too. I can hardly wait until next year when the landscaping vision enters phase two… Mexican Sunflowers, here I come.

Hummingbird on Fence

** See all my hummingbird photos on flicker.

Non-Adventures in Eco-Landscaping

Bee on chive blossomI have been trying for awhile to figure out how to get this blog going again. After planning to document my eco-landscaping adventures, my dad died unexpectedly two days after my first post. My plan to fight the pesky dandelion was to remove sod and plant drought-tolerant groundcover. Two-thirds of my sod had been removed prior to my first post, the area was mulched and waiting for planting. However, instead of a summer of gardening, my landscaping plans came to an immediate standstill. Fresh mulch became overgrown with weeds while days turned to weeks, and then months went by while I sat on my back steps in a daze.

During this time, plants had started to grow amidst the weeds. The yard was overtaken with self-seeded Morning Glories, weird corn-like stalks under the bird feeders, and a hodgepodge of unidentified perennials I planted after the sod removal. Fruit was ripening on the raspberry, blackberry and strawberry bushes; and contrary to popular belief, tomatoes actually flourish when completely neglected. While the yard grew out of control, I watched feeling helpless and disinterested in doing anything to bring order to the chaos.

Last weekend as I sat on my back steps drinking a can of my dad’s Miller 64, I saw new life in this vast jungle of disorder. Mice. There were mice frolicking under the bird feeder. Two of them raced at a frenetic pace for fallen seeds, hid in the corn-like stalks and then raced back to the safety of the neglected jungle. I have since named them Bonnie and Clyde. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t tell them apart but I don’t think they mind. And there’s more. In addition to Bonnie and Clyde, there is also a chipmunk – and yes, I named him Chip. I have never seen a chipmunk in my yard since moving in four years ago, this was really something. He raced from shrubs to berry patches to the safety under the central air conditioning unit. We had new residents and my overgrown, sod-reduced yard had encouraged it.

So, while my adventures in eco-landscaping ended up being more of a non-adventure this season, the process has begun nevertheless. I find myself wanting to hang a sign saying, “I’m sorry I started this when I did, Neighbors, I hadn’t known my dad would die and interrupt my plans but I promise there IS a plan, you just won’t see it until next summer.” That said, I’m heartened to see that my meager beginnings have laid the groundwork for a habitat for city wildlife. So far it is a tangled mess of plants, weeds and a whole lot of mulch but there is more wildlife already – fewer dandelions than ever – and I look forward to future adventures.

Image of mouse
Bonnie (or Clyde) in the urban jungle.