Saturday, July 31, 2010

Preserving Summer's Bounty- Homemade Tomato Sauce

When I was growing up, a big part of summer was all about freezing or canning the summer bounty to prepare for the winter. Back then, we always knew where our food came from. My dad raised cattle, pigs and chickens for meat and eggs. We had a cow for milking. We always had a huge garden and grew plenty of vegetables for eating and putting away. Many evenings were spent shelling peas or lima beans, or snapping the ends off of green beans. We didn't have air conditioning like most homes today have, and I still remember that steamy kitchen! When my mom wasn't freezing something, she was canning, pickling or making jam or jelly. (She still is, for that matter!)

 We always had an abundance of tomatoes. I hated picking tomatoes. I didn't like the way the vines smelled, or the green streaks they left on everything they touched. But the worst part was reaching for a tomato and finding one of these instead. I probably whined a lot about picking tomatoes which is probably how I ended up helping in the kitchen. No hornworms there. But it was very satisfying to see the neat packages of vegetables in the freezer and the beautiful jars lined up on the shelves. (My dad would say "They're better than snowballs!")

We always canned a lot of those tomatoes. My mom still does, and uses them all winter long in soups, chili, stews and sauce. They are so much better than the cans of tomatoes you buy at the grocery store, and doing it yourself puts you a little bit closer to knowing where your food comes from.

I got some tomatoes from my brother last weekend and decided to make sauce, since that's what I use the most. I cooked this particular batch down until it was thick to use for pizza or maybe pasta. Once you've made your own sauce, I guarantee it'll spoil you for the store-bought varieties. If you have an abundance of tomatoes, I heartily recommend that you get out your apron (this can get messy) and try putting some away for later. This recipe makes a small batch, so it's easy to freeze or can. 

Tomato Sauce for spaghetti or pizza sauce
adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Canning
15 lbs. tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 tsp. oregano, dried or fresh
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. dried basil ( or a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped)
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tblsp. sugar (or to taste- some tomatoes are sweeter than others)
salt to taste
bottled lemon juice, should you decide to can your sauce.

Wash tomatoes. Remove core and blossom ends, and cut into quarters. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, saute onions, pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes and other ingredients (except lemon juice) and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft. 

Run the tomato mixture through a food mill to remove seeds and skin. (I strain out some of the watery liquid when I put the tomato "mush" in the food mill.) Put the strained mixture back into the stockpot and slowly simmer, uncovered, until sauce thickens. (You want to reduce volume by one-half.) Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Scorched tomato sauce is not so good. (Don't ask how I know this.) Taste and adjust seasonings.

Yield: about 3-4 pints  Your yield depends a lot on the type of tomatoes you use. Roma (plum type) tomatoes are meatier and have less water in them, so your sauce yield will be higher than if you use regular eating tomatoes. 

You can freeze your sauce or can it in jars. If you are canning, add 1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice to each pint jar, or 2 Tablespoons to each quart jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust two- piece caps. Process pints 35 minutes, quarts 40 minutes, in a boiling water canner.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's Hip to be Square (or Tomato Egg Salad with Basil Onion Dressing)

Can you see it? There's a surprise hiding inside the tomato. Here- I'll show you.

Here's a little item I picked up at a local thrift store. Too funny.

And it does this. Too cute.

So I did this. 
What would you have done with a cute square egg?

Tomato Egg Salad with Basil Onion Dressing

You'll need:
1 small/medium sized tomato and 1 hard-boiled egg for each serving
mixed salad greens
Onion Basil Dressing
  • Make Onion Basil Dressing (Recipe follows.)
  • Wash tomatoes. 
  • Slice each egg into uniform slices. (I used an egg slicer.)
  • Make vertical slices in each tomato, matching the number of egg slices. Cuts should go almost but not all the way through to the bottom (stem end) of the tomato. Gently fan the slices of the tomato.
  • Carefully place egg slices into openings in the tomato.
  • Place on a bed of greens and top with dressing.
Onion Basil Dressing
Recipe from my friend Carolyn, who served this lovely dressing over a plate full of heirloom tomatoes.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon chopped onion (to taste)
handful of fresh basil leaves
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place all dressing ingredients into bowl of small food processor or blender. Blend until combined.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yellow Butter Cake with My Mom's Chocolate Frosting

 Unless you count my one son who always wants lemon meringue pie, this is THE birthday cake requested at my house- yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I must confess that in the past I have made the cakes from a mix, but this time I was on a mission to make a very special cake for my hubby's birthday.

 Blogging about food (and reading other food blogs) has made me much more adventurous and confident in my baking endeavors, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make this one from scratch. Now I've made plenty of other kinds of cakes from scratch, but I've never tried just a simple yellow butter cake. (Mainly because so many of the "scratch" cakes I've tried have been dry and tasteless.) I knew I wanted to use my Mom's recipe for the frosting, but I didn't really have a "go to" recipe for yellow cake.

 When Memoria at Mangio da Sola went on her search for the perfect yellow cake, I followed along with interest thinking I'd use her winning recipe. But as fate would have it, my internet wasn't working (again) when I went to get the recipe so I had to look around for another. I settled for one that I found was in the Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America cookbook.  I made it exactly as directed and found it to be moist and delicately flavored, with a wonderful tender crumb. In other words, absolutely delicious! What was I so afraid of? I topped it off with my Mom's signature chocolate frosting that she's been making forever, and it was perfect.

The next time I make this (and there will be a next time) I will probably try to increase the frosting to cake ratio because for me, (even though the cake was moist, tender and flavorful) cake is a great excuse to eat frosting.  How about splitting those two layers to make four layers? With some pastry cream sandwiched between them?  I'm sure I'll be able to find some excuse to experiment with this further before I do more birthday baking!

Yellow Butter Cake
from Baking at Home With the Culinary Institute of America
3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1 cup whole or low-fat milk (divided use)
4 large eggs (room temperature)
2 large egg whites (room temperature)
2 tsp. vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat two 8" pans with cooking spray.
  • Into the bowl of your mixer, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Add butter and milk.
  • Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, mix together on medium speed until smooth, about 4 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together milk, eggs, egg whites and vanilla.
  • Add egg/milk mixture to flour mixture in three additions, mixing for two minutes after each addition. Scrape sides of bowl after each addition.
  • Divide the batter between prepared pans. Bake 35-40 minutes or until layers spring back when touched in the center.
  • Remove from oven and allow cakes to completely cool in their pans on wire racks. Release sides and bottoms of cakes with metal spatula or knife. Unmold and finish with filling and/or frosting.
My Mom's Chocolate Frosting
(I doubled this recipe for this cake. When my mom makes this, it always comes out perfect. I think it must be the way she holds her mouth or something. It's hit or miss for me. I've even watched her do it and I do it exactly the same way. Sometimes the frosting gets too hard, and sometimes I have to cook it again to get it just right. But whatever I do to it, it always tastes great and is what everyone expects to have on their yellow cakes around here.)

1 and 1/2 blocks unsweetened baking chocolate (1 and 1/2 ounces)
1 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1/3 cup milk
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Over very low heat in a heavy saucepan, melt together chocolate, butter, milk, sugar and salt. Once chocolate is melted, raise the heat and bring mixture to a boil. Boil for exactly one minute. Take off heat and add vanilla. Allow mixture to cool for about 10 minutes. Beat frosting with a wooden spoon until no longer shiny. It should be spreading (not pouring) consistency. Quickly spread frosting on the cake, because at this point it will begin to set.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cows in a Blanket?

 We always called them "Pigs in Blankets,"  but considering that these were all beef hot dogs I've decided that they should be "Cows in Blankets" instead. I've wrapped many a refrigerator biscuit (my kids called them whumps) around hot dogs in my day, but these were something special.

 I saw this recipe for sausage buns on Mangio da Sola when I found out that I had won her giveaway for a paella pan. (Thanks, Memoria!) My little sidekick was still here with me, so these looked like a fun afternoon activity. A wonderful yeasty dough wrapped around an all beef hot dog? Dipped in mustard? Oh yum. They made for a wonderful back porch picnic.

 I modified the original recipe slightly just because I prefer my bread a little less sweet, but I might try leaving it in next time. The contrast of the sweet dough and salty hot dog sounds like a winning combo I might like to try. These would be great for a potluck supper where children are involved. You could even cut the hot dogs in half to make more kid-sized treats. Either way, I hope you enjoy them!

Sausage Buns or Pigs (or Cows) in Blankets
adapted from Mangio da Sola
1 3/4 cup bread flour
scant 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tblsp. instant yeast
2 Tblsp. sugar (The original recipe called for nearly 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup butter, softened
8 hot dogs (I used Nathan's all beef hot dogs.)
Egg wash: 1 beaten egg plus 1 Tblsp. water
  • In a large bowl, mix together flours, sugar, salt and yeast. Slowly add water and mix together until well combined.
  • Add butter and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rise. (double)
  • After dough has doubled, punch down and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes. This will make rolling the dough ropes easier!
  • Roll each dough portion into a rope, roughly 2 to 3 times the length of your hot dog.
  • Wrap the "dough rope" around your hot dog, making sure the ends are underneath.
  • Place the wrapped hot dogs on a greased or parchment covered baking sheet.
  • Cover the baking sheet with a damp cloth and set aside to rise again, about 30 minutes.
  • Brush with egg wash. If desired, you may sprinkle with sea salt or sesame seeds.
  • Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, or until dough is golden brown. (Check after about 8 minutes. If your rolls are getting brown too quickly, reduce heat to 350 degrees and let them finish cooking at the lower temperature.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Easy Herb Baked Potatoes

 Whenever hubby grills steaks, it's my job to come up with something good to go with them. I had plenty of beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers for a nice salad, but these were gorgeous steaks and deserved some potato love. I do love potatoes with a good steak, and there's the dilemma. Baked potatoes just don't do much for me unless I use a bit of butter load them up with butter, and I'm trying to keep our butter consumption down to reasonable levels. (Everything in moderation, right?)  I bookmarked this potato recipe on Kayotic Kitchen ages ago but had never tried it.


 I knew I wanted potatoes, and I had plenty of lovely fresh basil just calling to me. And the recipe fit my requirements for the evening: #1:Tasty. #2: Lower fat than my normal baked potato. #3: Easy. And it turned out to be all three.


  The cheese added some extra fat, but not as much as cheese AND butter would have. And the potatoes were very tasty and went well with the steak. The basil added a lovely touch to the potatoes, and I'll definitely make this again- maybe with some rosemary or thyme to go with grilled chicken.

Herb Baked Potatoes
(This is really more of a method than a recipe)
Potatoes- However many your family will eat, or enough to fill your baking dish! I peeled mine, but this recipe would also work well with unpeeled potatoes.
Herbs- I used about 10 chopped Basil leaves in this dish, but Rosemary or Thyme would also be good.
Milk or fat free half and half- 1/4 to 1/2 cup
1 egg
Salt and Pepper to taste (but I recommend lots of pepper!)
A Sprinkle of Cheese- Parmesan, cheddar, pepper jack or whatever your favorite is
Wash, peel (or don't peel) and slice potatoes- They don't need to be thin, about 1/4 inch is fine
Arrange potato slices in a buttered casserole dish. (I just had to get some butter in there somewhere, didn't I?) 
Sprinkle on the salt to taste, and plenty of pepper. Make sure some of the seasoning gets down between the potatoes.
Whisk together the milk and egg until well combined. Add chopped basil or other herbs as desired.
Pour over potatoes, making sure that the mixture gets in the nooks and crannies between the potatoes.
Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Remove foil the last 10 minutes of baking to allow potatoes to brown.
Sprinkle cheese (as much as is desired) over the top and broil until browned and bubbly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In a Pickle...

Today I had to wait until my hubby went to work before I cooked these beautiful beets. Alas, I am the only beet lover in my household. I just don't understand how anyone could resist those beautiful crimson orbs. It seems that there's no "middle of the road" for beets- either you love them or you hate them. But if you've only been exposed to the tired beets you find on restaurant salad bars, I can't say I blame you. Those look like the beets I grew up with, but bear no resemblance whatsoever in flavor.

My mom typically served (still does, for that matter) beets two ways. She'd either have them hot with a little bit of melted butter and sugar, or cold with vinegary spices. My favorite? Pickled beets. I like to make small batches of these and keep them in the refrigerator instead of processing them. Sometimes I include thinly sliced onions, and sometimes I don't. They're great with sandwiches or salads or just a cold snack right out of the refrigerator when you know you want something but just can't put your finger on it. And when the beets are gone, do yourself a favor and put some peeled hard-boiled eggs in the pickling liquid overnight for a pickled egg treat!

Spicy Pickled Beets ( I usually half this recipe unless I am canning the beets.)
recipe slightly adapted from the Ball Blue Book 
4 pounds beets (1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter)
2 cup thinly sliced onions
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 sticks cinnamon, broken
(Or you could use a couple of tablespoonfuls of pickling spice in place of the individual spices.)
  • Wash and drain beets. Leave about 2 inches of the stems on the beets. Cover with water and cook until fork tender. (This takes quite a while, and depends on the size of your beets.)
  • When beets are done, remove peel and trim off the ends. Leave whole if they're small, or slice. (I usually slice mine about 1/4 inch thick.) Set aside.
  • Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepot.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add beets and cook until hot throughout. Remove cinnamon sticks.
  • If you are canning these, pack hot beets and onions into prepared hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid over beets, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 30 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
  • If you are not canning them, pack beets and onions into jars and cover with pickling liquid. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Yield: about 4 pints

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Support Your Local Farmers!

I could almost be a locavore in the summer. My brother's vegetable stand has...




green beans,

lovely eggplant,

sweet corn (my favorite),

watermelon, carrots, beets,


blueberries and peaches... and lots more!

 In addition to all of this bounty, my girls give me eggs. I can get beef, chicken and seafood locally. (I also have a freezer full of venison- can't get much more local than my back yard.)

Alas though, chocolate, coffee, and lemons would be a problem. And I'm not about to give them up. Locavore or not, please support your local farmers by buying fresh produce at local vegetable stands and farmers markets. Promote the connection of fresh local food and the local farms and farmers that supply it by voting for your favorite farmers market here-

Local Food and Local Farms

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Presidential Chocolate Chip Cookies

Surely a glass of milk and these chocolate chip cookies made the tough business of running a country a little bit easier! This chocolate chip cookie recipe is from Roland Mesnier, former White House Executive Pastry Chef- he baked for five different U.S. Presidents over the course of over 25 years. I found this recipe in my University's alumni magazine several years ago, and I pull it out from time to time when I want something a little different than my "go-to" recipe for chocolate chip cookies. The molasses in this cookie makes it wonderfully chewy and gives it a complex flavor. Enjoy this presidential perk without any of the strings attached!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 cups plus 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

  •  Mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  • Cream together the butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in eggs, molasses and vanilla extract.
  • Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir just until incorporated.
  • Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  • Chill dough for at least one hour. (Dough can be made the day before you want to bake.)
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (The high temp. browns the outside of the cookie while keeping the inside moist and gooey.)
  • On a parchment covered baking sheet, drop dough by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart.
  • Bake just until light golden, for 8-10 minutes. (Do not overbake! They will become over-brown on the outside and dry on the inside.)
  • Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool completely. They will keep fresh in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
  • Makes about 70 cookies*
  • * Don't want that many cookies at one time? Dough balls can be individually frozen (before baking) and kept in a container in the freezer for baking at a later time. (Up to 1 month) When you want to bake the frozen cookies, let them stand at room temp. for 30 minutes and then bake as directed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nuts About Granola!


Do you have a favorite breakfast? Mine is granola. It's actually something I love to eat that is good for me! My favorite way to eat it is with Greek yogurt and fruit, or even with a little soy or almond milk over the top.  Unfortunately, some of my favorite granolas are pricey and sometimes overly sweet. Fortunately I've discovered that granola is really easy to make and I can customize it to suit my whims or to whatever is available in my cupboards.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Studies have shown that eating a healthful breakfast on a regular basis is an effective way to keep your weight in check, and reduce your risk for developing hypertension and type-2 diabetes. Eating oats is also a proven way of reducing bad cholesterol. Do yourself a favor and make a batch of this yummy granola. Use whatever nuts you prefer, and customize it to include your favorite add-ins. It's easy and economical!

Nutty Granola
adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe, Andy's Fairfield Granola
5 cups rolled oats (not the quick kind)
3 cups raw nuts (whatever kind you prefer- I used pecans, walnuts and almonds) roughly chopped
Add ins- (up to about 1-2 cups total) Use what you like- I used:
    Coconut (I used dry unsweetened)
    Sesame seeds
    Sunflower seeds (unsalted, without hulls)
    Pumpkin seeds or pepitas (unsalted, without hulls)
    Flax seeds or flax seed meal
    Chia seeds (Who knew they were good for more than pets?)
3/4 cup date sugar (or light brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon Baking Spice Mix (recipe here) or cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup agave nectar or brown rice syrup (can substitute honey)
1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons Canola or light flavored olive oil

Optional (to be added after granola completely cools)
Raisins, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried blueberries or other dried fruit to taste.

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Set oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven. You'll need both of them.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the applesauce, agave nectar, honey and oil. (You can substitute honey for the agave nectar if you don't have any. It's still delicious!) Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, add-ins, sugar, spices and salt.
  • Pour the applesauce/honey mixture over the oat/nut mixture and stir together until all of the oat mixture is coated with the applesauce mixture.
  • Divide the mixture between two large baking sheets. (jelly roll pans) Spread the mixture evenly.
  • Put the pans on the oven racks and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans (top rack to bottom rack, etc.) every 10 minutes or so and stir the granola each time to keep it from clumping together. Stir again when you remove it from the oven. The granola should be golden brown- please don't overbake!
  • Cool completely. Mix in dried fruit if desired, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bacon, Cheese and Tomato Slider Muffins

I know what you're thinking. "Hmmm...that muffin looks kinda plain there."    But that's ok. It's hard to tell just by looking at it that this muffin doesn't need another thing- it's perfect just as it is. Why? Because hidden inside that unassuming exterior are savory bursts of bacon and jalapeno cheese, along with crunchy bits of sweet corn, just waiting to mingle with the juicy home grown tomato slice stuffed into the middle.

Lunch was approaching and I needed something to complement the beautiful homegrown tomatoes that I got from my brother last week. I'd had enough tomato sandwiches and wanted something just a bit different. Corn muffins? Absolutely. I started with my favorite corn muffin recipe and gave it a little zip with the addition of jalapeno cheese and crisp bacon. 

I sliced one of those muffins open as soon as it was cool enough, sandwiched a thick tomato slice in the middle, and was instantly in a new kind of bacon and tomato heaven. Try one for lunch- or even breakfast- with one of those beautiful juicy ripe tomatoes sitting on your countertop.  Enjoy!

Bacon, Cheese and Tomato Slider Muffins
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Corniest Corn Muffins
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow corn meal, preferably stone ground
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sweet corn kernels- fresh, frozen or canned (drain and pat dry)
8 slices bacon, fried, crumbled and drained
4 oz. pepper-jack cheese, shredded
Small ripe tomatoes- enough to make a thick slice for each muffin
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a muffin tin (12) or use paper liners.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, oil, egg and egg yolk.
  • Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and blend together gently using a spatula. The batter will be lumpy.
  • Gently stir in corn kernels, crumbled bacon and pepper jack cheese.
  • Divide mixture between muffin cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  • Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then remove muffins to a rack to finish cooling.
  • When ready to serve, slice muffin, open and insert tomato slice. 

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