Monday, October 26, 2009

REALLY scratch spaghetti sauce

Despite gloomy forecasts, it was sunny and 60 on Sunday, so I was able to get out into the garden and some of that end-of-year work that’s been nagging. I managed to get a good harvest of leeks (watch this space for cream of leek soup, coming up in a couple of days), broccoli, parsley, and carrots, and mowed the lawn maybe the second to last time for the year. And then I just sat on my stoop and looked at the garden and thought, "this is the feeling that everything I do should give me. This is how good I want to feel about what I do in my life."

Because working in the garden gives me a feeling of utter well being. Better than a pill.

Today's recipe is actually inspired by my bag-ripened tomatoes, and it's time to talk about how to make tomato sauce from the whole fruit.

Tomato sauce or puree from fresh tomatoes
To remove the skin, you need to blanche the tomatoes. Boil water in a 2-quart saucepan. When it's at a rolling boil, dip each tomato in, whole, for a count of 20-30 (or until the skin splits, whichever comes first). Remove it, and take the skin right off (it should just slip right off). Cut the tomato in quarters, and scoop out the seeds, set them aside with the skin (you'll make juice with these). Also core them, then roughly cut the remaining meat and put them in a second sauce pan.

Run the cores, skin and seeds through food mill, or just press them through a sieve if you don't have a food mill (although you should have one). You should end up with a nice red tomato juice, just poor this right back into the sauepan with the tomato chunks. Simmer this down to the desired consistency for either sauce or paste.

You can make about a quart of sauce from 6 large or 10 smallish tomatoes.

Tomato sauce with roasted bell pepper

2 large bell peppers, different colors
1-2 pints of tomato sauce
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1/2 large onion, diced
4 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons sugar if needed
salt and pepper to taste

To roast the peppers, cut them in half, remove the seeds and stem and roast at 400F/200C for 20 minutes or until the skin starts to brown. Remove from oven, remove the skin (should be easy) and dice.

Saute onion and garlic in a little olive oil, add the tomato sauce and simmer. After about 5 minutes, add peppers, oregano, and bay. Give it a taste and add remaining flavorings. The roasted peppers give this sauce quite a sweet taste; I liked it better with a little sugar added, so that the tomato also leaned to the sweet rather than the acid side. For a really sweet sauce, add a pinch of baking soda.

Serve over your pasta of choice.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Scuse me while I take some aspirin

Just dropping in for a quick note, to say that I have an MSG headache and only myself to blame. It's one of those scheduling things. I have a list of fantastic things to make with all that fresh food-- cheese casserole, stir fry, barbeque chicken, pumpkin soup-- and just haven't been on top of the schedule.

So I have eaten the last three meals at the mall or MacDonald's.

No wonder all those suburbanites in SUVs are so full of road rage. They've poisoned themselves on industrial food.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guinea pigs

The cast, crew and staff of Light Opera Works' production of C'est la vie went the extra mile this week and taste-tested two different versions of carrot bread for me, including my first ever attempt at changing key ingredients in a baked goods recipe. You may have noticed that you don't see a lot of baked goods on here; I'm not much of a baker. All that sciencey-stuff. You kind of have to know what you're doing.

But I took a chance at a pumpkin-carrot bread (remember all that pumpkin and carrot in the larder?) made with honey instead of sugar. The verdict seems to be that this Carrot Pear Bread was the winner, but the adapted recipe was also pretty good. (Don't tell them, but I brought them the smaller, drier loaf. What can I say.)

Apparently, I have now spoiled them, as they are asking what I'm bringing next week. This is why I never bake (although I did find a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate swirl brownies...)

Pumpkin-carrot bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
1 cup homemade or 1 can of pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
3/4 cup nut or vegetable oil
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.

Put raisins in a microwaveable container, just cover with water, and microwave on high for 1 minute (this will plump them).

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil in large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in carrot and raisins. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50 minutes, test with an inserted wooden pick (should come out clean). If not done, bake another 6 to 10 minutes and retest. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 2 loaves

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jenn brings lunch

My friend Jenn came over today to talk about art and skating, and brought bounty with her, a homemade minestrone made from farmstand vegetables, sourdough bread, and chocolate eclairs. I provided the ambience and the homemade cherry soda. A perfect finish to a week of rain and flu.

Minestrone is another "stone soup" type of dish. There are some things you must put in there to call it minestrone-- cabbage, red beans, tomato, carrots, oregano-- but otherwise pretty much anything will do. Jenn threw in some brussels sprouts she had hanging around.


The Broth:
Beef or vegetable broth, homemade or canned
1 can of whole tomatoes, or 3-5 cut up fresh tomatoes
oregano, salt, pepper

The Bulk:
Thinly sliced onion
crushed or pressed garlic* (please fresh cloves only. Dried garlic is an abomination)
Kidney beans
1/2 large or 1 small head cabbage, rough cut
coupla carrots, cut in good sized chunks
something green (broccoli, spinach, green beans, or even brussels sprouts)

If you use dried beans, give yourself enough time to plan ahead. Most packages say soak overnight, but I've found this never gets them soft enough. I've found it works better to boil them for about 20 minutes, then drain and resoak in hot water at least 2 hours. Home-picked beans from a backyard garden also need to be processed this way; they'll behave like dried. But canned beans are fine, just remember to drain them well. I like to use different colored beans, from black to pinto, for the interesting visual sometimes.

Sautee the onions and garlic in some olive oil. When the onion turns translucent, add the broth ingredients, and then pretty much right away the remaining ingredients. Simmer for an hour. More. Less if you're impatient. Make enough to save, because this stuff is better from sitting overnight.

Garnish with grated parmesan or romano cheese; serve with a nice heavy peasant bread.

Thanks Jenn!

* to peel garlic with no mess or fuss, lay each clove on its side, snip off the ends, and gently tap with the flat of a large knife. The paper will fall off easily and you can crush, chop, or put it in the garlic press.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bloom Day October

Gloom Bloom Day October dreary wet cold. If we hadn't just had the coldest mid-October week in 140 years I believe I would have my late-season roses, my reblooming white iris, and possibly my new black iris. The beans that I was leaving on the vine for seeds are a loss-- vines died, so I don't know if the pods will mature enough to have viable seeds. The last pumpkin is not getting any riper, and the broccoli is in a holding pattern. Fingers are crossed for a promised warm-up next week.

In the meantime, still both fall and summer in the garden, fairly typical for this time of year.

Sweet Autumn Clematis, with blooms as beautiful fading as they are when full
More beauty in decline. Sedum with the turning foliage of canterbury bells.

I guess you can't have October Bloom Day without some mums

Head over to May Dreams for everyone's October Bloom Day, and to my flickr page for all my garden photos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Unfortunately, the music season starts just when the larder is packed with fresh vegetables. Why is this a problem? Because I'm now cooking, essentially, for one. The remaining musician at home, Bill, chows down on the leftovers, but somehow it's not the same making homecooked goodness and then sitting down to eat it by myself. I'd send more of the bounty down to Julian but I'm afraid he won't cook it.

Eating alone, eating alone well, is a leap of faith, a statement of self-esteem. It's very very easy to sit down to Wheel of Fortune and a bag of oreos for dinner, but you just hate yourself afterwards. It's hard to hate yourself after making crab cakes and then inventing your own version of slaw as garnish.

Brussels sprouts slaw
1 1/2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, blanched and sliced
1 cup cabbage, sliced (I had a very tiny head from the garden. Don't use too much or it will overwhelm the flavor of the brussels sprouts)
small onion, sliced very very thin
1/2 small green pepper, sliced thin
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped roughly

3 tablespoons each, lime juice and real mayonnaise
2-3 teaspoons hot or brown mustard
white pepper, salt to taste

Whip the dressing ingredients together (make sure you whip or blend it really well so that the lime juice doesn't separate the mayo. This has to do with emulsion or acid or something. What, you thought I knew what I was doing?) Mix it all up in a bowl, let it sit for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the larder

Green vegetables. Lots and lots of green vegetables. One quart each of brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans. 4 quarts of chard still in the ground. Three good sized bell peppers, including one yellow one. Still got a pound of turnips (and more in the ground, along with some beets). About 4 pounds of carrots (and more in the ground, oy). Two quarts of pumpkin pulp, and another pumpkin still, um, in the ground.

On the menu list are:

Pumpkin soup
Broccoli quiche
Some kind of slaw made with brussels sprouts, to go with crab cakes
Carrot bread
Pumpkin bread
Various casseroles

Are you reading this? What else can I make?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spaghetti sauce from a jar? Bite your tongue.

I've noticed that lately, the prepared food ads don't say "good as homemade" anymore. They say "good as restaurant food" or "better than restaurant food." When did that happen? One of the most common "good as homemade" accolades used to go to spaghetti sauce in a jar, but I can tell you, nothing is as good as homemade.

Now, full disclosure, I'm a big fan of jar spaghetti sauce. We always called it "fake spaghetti" and it was a quick, almost-like-homemade meal for those nights when you just can't bring yourself to cook and you don't want to spend money on pizza. I remember my daughter, I think it was, showing me some p.r. puff piece or column (sometimes it's hard to tell the difference) about moms "heating up the Ragu in a pot" and putting it on spaghetti. Amateurs. The real moms cook the spaghetti and just dump the Ragu onto it straight out of the jar. The hot spaghetti heats it up just fine. Oy.

But nothing beats homemade.

Spaghetti with meat sauce

1 6 oz can pure tomato paste
1 8 oz can whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 pound chopped beef
1 half medium onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
10-15 medium mushrooms diced
2-3 medium garlic cloves, smashed or pressed
dried oregano, salt, pepper to taste

In a medium frying pan or 2-quart saucepan, brown the chopped beef, don't worry if the pan gets a little browned too. Do not drain the fat off (the fat gives it flavor, and also releases the essential oils in the herbs). Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, let that heat up, then add the diced vegetables. Add the oregano (couple three tablespoons?) and some salt and pepper. I like dried herbs for spaghetti sauce. Saute until the onion is starting to go translucent, then add the tomato paste. Scrape back the meat/veggies and let the tomato paste brown just a little, then add the whole tomatoes, about 1/2 cup of red wine and a cup of water. Browning the tomato paste gives the sauce a nice flavor.

Simmer down to a thick sauce and spoon hot over your pasta of choice.

You can make a sauce your own by experimenting with other flavorings like cinnamon or orange zest.

Sprinkle with commercial parmesan from a jar, or grate your own parmesan or romano. Serve with a nice chianti. By candlelight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bringing summer in

One of the wonderful things about growing your own food is how it extends the season.  Outside it's cold and blustery, but inside I have a fridge full of summer goodness-- a big bag of broccoli, a quart of green beans, 3 pounds of turnips, carrots, onions, pumpkins and more.  Tonight, a turnip casserole with crunch, sweetness and color.

Au Gratin Turnips and Potatoes

 4 c Sliced turnips & potatoes (any combination,) peeled and thinly sliced
1 md Onion peeled and finely sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
2 tb Melted butter

1/2 c Milk
1/8 ts Grated nutmeg
1/4 ts Ground white pepper
1/2 ts Salt

10-15 broccoli florets
1/2 c grated medium cheese like cheddar or swiss, grated
1/2 c feta cheese
1/2 cup walnuts

PREHEAT OVEN TO 375F. TOSS together turnips, potatoes, onion and carrots with melted butter and place in a 9-inch square or round baking dish. Cover tightly and place in preheated oven for 30 minutes. In a small pot on top of the stove combine milk, nutmeg, pepper and salt and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat. Remove turnip-potato mixture from the oven, remove cover and mix in the feta cheese. Pour the milk over the potatoes and sprinkle with the other cheese.  Mix in the walnuts. Replace in oven, uncovered, another 20 to 25 minute, or until a knife goes easily through the turnips and potatoes.