Category Archives: cooking

Making Tomato Sauce

I have been asked several times by friends how I make tomato sauce and I usually answer “cook it, cook it, cook it, and when you think it is ready, cook it some more.” Making a thick tomato sauce takes lots of time.

There is, however, much to do before you get to the cooking part and that is what I want to address today. To start with there are many, many varieties of tomatoes and although I do like to start with a paste tomato, Amish paste or roma’s, you can use any type of tomatoes for making sauce. Along with Amish paste I use any tomatoes that are ripe and will not be eaten fresh in the next day or two. I will even throw cherry tomatoes into the mix rather than see them go to waste.

In addition to taking a lot of time to make tomato sauce it also takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce. It takes approximately 5 or 6 lbs. of tomatoes to make 1 quart of tomato sauce. So don’t be shocked when that shopping bag full of tomatoes ends up providing only a couple of spaghetti dinners for the family.

Now before you “cook it, cook it, cook it” you must first turn those tomatoes into juice and the are many ways you can accomplish this. I will share some of the methods I have used over the years including the steps involved and equipment required. If you have never made your own tomato juice or sauce keep reading.

When I first started making tomato sauce I did not have some of the equipment that I use now days so I used what I had on hand to juice the tomatoes – a blender. With any of these methods I start by washing the and any tomatoes that have rotten spots are discarded. When using the blender after washing the tomatoes I remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes. This is done by putting the tomato in a pan of boiling water for about a minute then immediately putting the tomato in a bowl of cold water. For this step I placed the tomatoes in a blanching basket or a wire basket that sits inside the pan of boiling water, then to remove the tomatoes from the pan I simply lift the basket by the handle and dump the tomatoes into the cold water. If you don’t have a blanching basket you may be able to use a metal colander or even just put the tomatoes in the boiling water and lift them out with a slotted spoon.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to hold I cut out the core of the tomato with a paring knife and then the peel of the tomato will slip right off. I then cut the tomato in half horizontally and scoop out (some of) the seeds. I don’t worry too much about removing all of the seeds because my family really doesn’t mind having seeds in their tomato sauce.

I then cut what is left of the tomato into small pieces and put it in the blender and blend it into juice. At this point I could of pour the juice through a sieve or fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds that remain. The juice is now ready to be cooked into sauce.

Over the years I have acquired some equipment has made this task easier. The first piece of equipment is this simple and inexpensive food mill. I’m sure I paid less than $20 for it several years ago when I purchased it.

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This food mill will sit on top of various size pans or bowls but must be held in place with one hand while turning the crank with the other hand.

When I use this food mill I wash the tomatoes, cut out the core, cut them in quarters and cook them until they are soft. Once they are soft this food mill will easily remove the skins and seeds and turn the tomatoes into juice.

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I use the medium blade and it does tend to get plugged up quickly. When it gets plugged up I need to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the blade (the pulp is part of the juice) and empty the seeds out of the top part of the food mill. The seeds are fed to the chickens later.

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While this method does not require blanching and removing the skins, it does take time to cook the tomatoes before juicing them. Once the tomatoes are cooked the skins break down easily and are mostly turned into pulp adding to the thickness of the tomato sauce. I tend to use this method when I am working with smaller batches.

When I am working with larger batches – a bushel or a shopping bag or more full of tomatoes, I use another piece of equipment that I have acquired in recent years.

It is another type of food mill or juicer. I actually have two of these, one was given to me by my mother and one was given to me by my father-in-law. Both of the models I have are very old and also very functional. Similar models are still produced today but they are quite pricey.

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My biggest problem with using this food mill is that it is designed to clamp to a counter top. Our home, however, was not designed with this kind of equipment in mind. The clamps will not fit over the lip on our countertops. In order to use this food mill I have to clear off this stand alone shelf that normally houses my food processor, nutri-bullet, and most of my stoneware baking dishes and move it to a location where I can clamp the food mill onto it and be able to crank the handle. I also have to set a chair next to the shelf to hold the pot that the juice runs into. Rearranging all this furniture can be a pain in the you-know-what so I usually only use this food mill if I am making a big batch. Once the food mill is set up the process goes pretty quickly. I just wash the tomatoes, remove the core and cut them up. I put the cut up tomatoes into the hopper and turn the crank and the food mill separates the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds.

I am certain that there are other methods that could achieve the same results and depending on the equipment that you have available you will figure out what works best for you.

Once your tomatoes are turned into juice it is time to cook the juice into sauce. You will be cooking the water out of it. I bring the juice to a boil then let it cook uncovered over a medium or medium-high heat until it is reduced by approximately 2/3rds to 3/4ths as the sauce gets thinker it may be necessary to reduce the heat even more to prevent scorching. Depending on how much juice you are reducing this cooking will take anywhere from several hours to a whole day. Since smaller amounts take less time to cook it may be wise to split a large batch into smaller pots to reduce the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking I stir it occasionally, as it gets thicker I stir it more often to make sure it does not scorch. When it gets to the point where about 1/3 of the amount I started with remains in the pan I reduce the heat and I start watching it more closely. When the sauce is cooking for a while without being stirred the water will rise to the top, if the layer of water covers the entire top of the sauce I keep cooking. If less than 50% of the sauce has a thin layer of water on it the sauce is probably thick enough for me.

How thick the sauce should be is really about personal preference and how the sauce will be used. For instance if the sauce will be used in a pasta or rice dish where it is mixed in and the water can be absorbed into the rice or pasta a thinner sauce might be appropriate, but if the sauce will be put on top of pasta the remaining water will drain through the pasta and run off the plate, so a thicker sauce is what you want.

I hope that you find this post useful if you intend on making your own tomato sauce. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section on this page, and if you like what you have read please feel free to share it.

 

 

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

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Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.

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He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.

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I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.

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I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.

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When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

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Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two. https://www.todayshomeowner.com/scarecrows-in-the-garden/

Using Garden Veggies – Two Recipes Worth Sharing

‘Tis the season of vegetables fresh from the garden, so I thought I’d share a couple of recipes that I made last week that we really enjoyed.

The first one was made with yellow squash. Generally it only takes one or two yellow squash plants to produce enough squash that you can eat it every day. More plants will have you sending it home with friends and family or the delivery man, and when no one shows up at your house you might resort to leaving a few on the doorsteps of random strangers and rushing off before you are caught.

With the yellow squash coming on fast and furious, and with no visitors in sight, I decided to look for new recipes for yellow squash. An internet search led me to this recipe.  http://diethood.com/garlic-parmesan-yellow-squash-chips/

I decided to make this (or something similar) as a side dish for our dinner one night. The ingredients were simple –

Yellow Squash cut into 1/4 inch slices

About 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 cup Parmesan Cheese

1 cup bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned bread crumbs)

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

I put the olive oil in one bowl and mixed the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and garlic powder in a second bowl. I dipped the squash slices first in olive oil coating both sides, then in the bread crumb mixture.

At this point my instructions vary from the original recipe. Rather than a metal baking pan lined with parchment paper, I placed the slices in my 9×13 Pyrex  baking dish. Since I didn’t know if my Pyrex could handle the 450 cooking temperature, I set my oven at 350. I baked them for about 15 minutes flipped each one over and baked for another 15 minutes.

These didn’t turn out crispy like the original recipe, nor did I want them to. Since they were a side dish we would be eating them with a fork not as a finger food. The breaded yellow squash was a delightful side dish.  When my husband repeated several times how good it was and went back for a second helping, I decided this recipe was a keeper and good enough to share with you.

Swiss chard is another garden vegetable that is very prolific. We start picking the green leaves when they are young and tender and they continue to grow back throughout the summer. We sauté them with garlic, use in stir fries and soups and eat raw in salads. If we try to give swiss chard to friends or neighbors they often reply that they don’t know what swiss chard is or have never eaten it. We describe it as being like a hardy spinach. That’s what trigger this next recipe idea.

We do like a good spinach artichoke dip but we don’t grow spinach. I decided to find a good recipe for spinach-artichoke dip and substitute swiss chard for the spinach. I started with this recipe   http://www.food.com/recipe/spinach-artichoke-dip-1209 . I read the reviews and suggestion’s for changes that people made then I came up with this recipe.

1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

10 oz. fresh swiss chard finely chopped

1 can artichoke hearts drained and chopped

8 oz. cream cheese softened

2/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

several garlic cloves minced equal to about 2 or 3 teaspoons

about 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

I mixed together the first 5 ingredients in one bowl and mixed the last 5 ingredient in a second bowl. Then I mixed the two mixtures together. I put it in a one quart casserole dish and baked it at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

We ate this with tortilla chips. “That’s really good” was my husbands response. He was right. “I’m not sure I will ever want to order spinach dip at a restaurant again” he said. We both had seconds and left overs were eaten the following day with lunch. Can you make it and freeze it he asked me last night, and I am planning on doing just that later this week. Obviously this is another recipe that I want to keep around, and in recording it here I have accomplished that and shared it with you as well.

If you decide to try either of these recipes please let me know what you think by leaving your comments on this page, and if you have a recipe that is worth sharing I would love for you to do so.

 

A Garden Dinner

Over the last week we have been so busy with digging and storing garlic to dry that some of the things we would normally do fell by the wayside. Two of those things include planning and preparing a good dinner and tending the garden. We finished up the garlic tasks yesterday morning and decided it was time to play catch up. My husband worked in the garden – weeding, harvesting, and thinning rows. He brought home a nice size bag of fresh veggies that we decided to incorporate into our dinner. I cleaned the veggies and prepared them for our meal. This is what was on the menu. All of the vegetables and herbs were home grown.

Salad – Three types of lettuce, radish, cucumber

Salad Dressing – Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, garlic, onion powder, sea salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar

Garlic mashed potatoes – I minced several cloves of garlic, mixed the minced garlic with 1/2 stick of butter, then mixed it into the mashed potatoes.

Baby beets with beet greens – The beets in the garden needed to be thinned so even though the beets were only about 1 inch my husband brought them home. After cleaning them I trimmed the long roots off the cut the leaves off leaving a couple inches of the stem attached to the beet. I put the greens and the beets in the steamer and cooked until the beets were tender.

Grilled pork chops – Since we don’t raise our own pork (yet) the pork chops were not something we produced, but they were seasoned with minced garlic and fresh dill. They complimented our garden dinner nicely.

My husband and I MMM’ed and wowed as we ate our dinner and even after dinner we continued to rave about how much we enjoyed the meal. We could truly taste the nutrition in the foods we were eating. Honestly, my favorite fresh garden vegetable is probably potatoes. They have flavor and texture that I have never found in store bought potatoes and are definitely worth the work it takes to grow them.

If you are growing a garden this year I hope that you too are enjoying the fruits or vegetables of your labor.

Tonight’s menu will include potato salad, sautéed swiss chard with garlic and grilled Italian sausage.

Mint Brownies

When I make brownies I usually use a box mix, whatever brand is cheapest,  sometimes it’s fudge brownie mix and sometimes it’s dark chocolate, but rather than just plain old brownies, I try to turn them into something special. In the past I’ve done this  by adding nuts, raisins or marsh mallows, or adding a peanut butter/ powdered sugar combination, or sometimes melting chocolate chips on top. Last week I decided to try something new.

I decided to make mint brownies. Instead of running to the internet for a recipe, like I would normally do when I want to try a new recipe, I went to my stash of dried herbs. Among the herbs that we grew and dried this year were both spearmint and chocolate mint. For brownies I decided to use chocolate mint. Using my fingers I crushed up some of the mint leaves until they were like powder. I then added about a teaspoon of the crushed mint to the dark chocolate brownie batter. Other than that I follow the directions on the box.

While the brownies were baking, my husband came in the kitchen and spotted the empty brownie box. “Yum” he said.

“But I added a surprise,” I said teasingly.

“I guess I’ll have to wait,” he pretended to sulk.

Then the detective in him took over and within a couple minutes I saw him sniffing around, “What’s that I smell?” he asked.

“What does it smell like?” I asked, testing his investigative skills.

“Mint,” he said with a bit of question in he voice.

I had hoped to gage his reaction when he tasted the brownies, but I felt forced to reveal the secret, “I made mint brownies.”

We waited until after dinner to try the brownies. The flavor was all that I hoped for. My husband compared them to Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, and the flavor reminded me very much of Andes mints, those irresistible little chocolate mints wrapped in the green foil paper.

So if you are wondering how to use some of the mint that is threatening to take over your garden this is a simple recipe that will give you a great appreciation for your mint. If you are not yet growing your own mint then you may find it tempting when you hear that mint is fairly easy to grow. It requires at least a partially sunny area and moist but not overly wet soil. I have read that it can be grown as an indoor plant, it can be grown as a potted patio plant or grown in any garden. Some people may be reluctant to plant mint as it is know to be invasive. One option that is recommended is to put the mint plant in a deep pot and then plant the pot and all to restrict mint to certain area. My recommendation, if you want to restrict mint growth, is to harvest the outer edges of the plant by the roots, or dig up a portion or several portions of the mint plant and give it to a friend or several friends. You could also present them with this simple recipe.

1 box brownie mix

1 teaspoon dried mint leaved (crushed into powder)

Mix brownies as instructed on package then mix in mint leaves. Bake as instructed on brownie package.

🙂 Enjoy!!!