Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One of about 101 ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes

It never occurred to me that yellow tomatoes were for more than just eating fresh. They're just so darn good fresh with a little salt on them. Why would you eat them any other way?

Okay, now that I am legitimately salivating at the thought of a big fresh Stripey or Pineapple tomato right now... Have you ever thought about using yellow tomatoes in some of the ways you'd use red ones?

Heidi Swanson, over at 101 Cookbooks, has. She has a simple recipe for Golden Tomato Sauce. And this sauce is bangin'.

I made it last night with some penne. I figured it would hold the sauce better. I literally made the sauce start to finish while I was waiting on the pasta to cook. That's how quick and easy it is.

I think yellow tomatoes have a much more mellow flavor than red ones. I'm positive there's some scientific reason, but I'm not sure what it is. I've always heard they are lower in acid, and I'm sure that affects the taste. The red pepper flakes add a nice subtle bite that pairs so well with the mellow tomatoey goodness. The only thing I did different in this recipe was add about a tablespoon of roux (1 tb extra virgin olive oil plus enough flour to make a loose paste) near the end of the cooking to thicken it and give it some body. Not as healthy as Heidi's, but soooooo yummy.

I love that blog, by the way. The recipes are so simple and straight forward. This is totally my food philosophy, and is the way food should be when using fresh ingredients. Some of my favorite dishes I've ever made have less than five ingredients. There's no need to fuss with deliciousness by adding a bunch of stuff to it.

Just another way to enjoy fresh tomatoes while they're in season. I'll be making this again before they're gone.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Pretties

I get it. I am a canning geek.

I realized it when I got excited about buying these:

These are Weck canning jars. They are made by a German company, and until recently, were exceptionally hard to find in the United States. (They're still hard to find, just not exceptionally hard to find.)

Although they make for a fun and novel way to can, the reason I bought them is because I am constantly looking for ways to further reduce my exposure to nasty chemicals. I was horrified to read that traditional two-piece lids for canning, such as those most commonly made by Ball and Kerr are coated on the underside with BPA. Yikes! And here I was trying to be a conscientious eater by putting up locally-grown fruit and veg for the winter.

After reading about that, I immediately began to search out a better way to can. Without chemicals. I found these jars, and not only are they bpa-free, they are really pretty, too. I ordered some and gave them a try this past Sunday afternoon.

My pretties: Freshly canned tomatoes cooling

Here's a close up with the "tongue" pointing down.
Here's the take-away.

  • Like I said, they are pretty and bpa-free. Big plus for that.
  • They are of course, reuseable, like traditional jars. (The only recommendation is that each time you can, you use new gaskets. Although, some sites on the internet suggest that you can reuse the gaskets. The cost of a new set of gaskets is comparable to a box of tradtional lids.)
  • I could only fit 5 of this shape (tulip) and size (1 liter) in my canner. I prepared 6. So now, the extra jar is in my fridge waiting to be used in the very near future.
  • I am paranoid about canning safety (Thank you, WVU Extension service for scaring the hell out of me when it comes to canning safety). I was a little worried with this batch, mostly because canning this way was new to me. Because the lids are glass, you don't get the familiar "ping" as they seal. Instead you need to look for the gasket's "tongue" pointing down slightly, and do the pick-up test, where you very carefully pick up the jar by the lid to see if it sealed. Also, they are slightly larger than a quart (33.8 ounces), so I presume you have to account for a slightly longer canning time to ensure the jars reach the correct temperature.
  • Not as easily found. I can get Ball brand jars at my local grocery store, I had to order these online.
To open these jars, I'm told you just pull on the tab until the seal is broken. I guess I'll have to wait and see how that works.

While I don't plan on rushing out to replace all my jars at once, I'll slowly phase more of these in as I get new jars. I'll just make sure I can fit more than 5 in a canner at one time. There are a number of shapes and sizes to choose from. I mostly can pints, anyway, because that is what we use. I ordered these from Kaufmann Mercantile's website. You get free shipping on orders of $25 or more, and you get $7 off your first order if you sign up for their email.

Also, here is a link to a great how-to for canning with Weck jars. It's not terribly different from canning with tradtional two-piece lids, but there are a few caveats, and this article explains it better than I could ever hope to, including how to tell if you have a good seal.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweet, sweet summertime.

After many long months of dreaming about, planning, preparing, babying, and whispering to my vegetable garden, the time is finally here. Tomatoes, that high-priestest of summer bounty, are at full-tilt.

It's a shame, really. I have been wishing away all these summer days until I picked that first tomato. And now that I can fully appreciate summer with all my senses, it's almost over. I still have many, many more green ones on the plants, but I am steadily picking the ripe ones these days. I was away for a work conference last week, and almost couldn't wait to get home to see what was ready to pick.

Here's what I picked Friday evening:

There's nothing quite as satisfying as a fresh-picked tomato. Especially one that you lovingly started from seed back in the first week of March. There were several roma and cherry tomatoes, three cucumbers (one of which was HUGE and probably was on the vine too long), and I picked all my swiss chard and carrots. The carrots are Danver's Half Long.  

Switching gears a bit, Saturday for dinner, I made this, which was AMAZING.

These are Eye of the Goat beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa, California. When I was in California last year, we stopped by this place after I'd read about it. It is a shop that specializes in heirloom beans. Can you imagine? A shop dedicated to heirloom beans? You read it hear first. This place is worth a gander. We bought up a bunch when we were in California, and this spring I ordered some from the website. My mom LOVES their quinoa. It's funny how I can detect subtle differences in the different varieties of beans that I've tried from this store. I made these very simply by putting them in a crock pot with half a diced onion and three pieces of bacon. Then I just barely covered them with water and added about 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. That is it. When they're finished, I put about 1 teaspoon of salt and some pepper in.

And, I've decided I make pretty damn good cornbread. Not to brag, but I'm a rock star when it comes to cornbread. Biscuits? Notsamuch. In my opinion, there are just a couple secrets to making rock star cornbread. 1) A really good iron skillet, that you 2) put a dab of canola oil in and put in the oven to pre-heat while you mix up the cornbread, which 3) you should be using really good quality cornmeal for. I get my cornmeal from Reed's Mill Flours in Monroe County. It's stone-ground by a grist mill. And it's made from open-pollinated corn. Open-pollinated corn, people! I don't expect anyone to be as excited about this as I am, but let me tell you this cornmeal is special. That is all you need to know. (I couldn't find a wiki article for open pollinated corn, so if you must know more about this special cornmeal, it is made from corn seeds that are heirloom, non-hybrid, and rely on birds and insects for pollination. Corn is naturally difficult to pollinate because of a number of factors, including it's structure, how it's typically grown, etc. And open-pollinated corn is also susceptible to insects and fungi. Basically, these corn plants have beat substantial odds to produce actual corn. There. Just in case you're ever on jeopardy or something...)

Anywho... I really needed to use that swiss chard up soon, so to go with my amazing humble beans and cornbread dinner on Saturday, I made wilted swiss chard. I adapted this recipe from Marthastewart.com, which was super easy.

Bacon and Garlic Wilted Swiss Chard
(who doesn't love bacon and garlic and anything)

1 small bunch of swiss chard (about 2 dozen medium-sized pieces)
1 piece of bacon
2 cloves garlic
1 - 2 tsp bacon grease
1 Tb water

Chop the bacon into tiny pieces and throw into a skillet on medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until fat begins to render and bacon begins to get translucent. Thinly slice the two garlic cloves, a 'la razor blade in "Goodfellas." But you don't have to actually use a razor blade. I knife will work fine, just slice it very thinly. That's what I did. Add the garlic to the skillet. Saute garlic until it begins to smell amazing and turns golden, stirring frequently. Remove the bacon and garlic from the skillet and set aside. Add the rest of the bacon grease and turn skillet to medium low heat. Remove the stalks from the leaves of the swiss chard and chop them into bite size pieces. Add to skillet and cover while you chop the leaves into 1 inch strips. Check the stalks to see if they are getting soft, and saute a couple more minutes if they need to soften. Add the leaves and stir to coat with the bacon grease. Turn the heat to low, add about 1 Tb water and cover. Cook until leaves are, well, wilted. About 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bacon and garlic back to the skillet and stir to mix.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Look what I picked!


From left to right, Striata d' Italia, Golden Marconi Pepper, Marketmore 76 CucumberAnaheim Pepper, and Patty Pan (scallop squash). You'll notice my golden marconi ain't golden. It had a bad spot in it, so I figured it was best to pick it under ripe and cut around the bad spot rather than loose the whole pepper...