Tuesday, October 23, 2012

End-Of-Season Misfit Cherry Tomato Paste

End-Of-Season Misfit Cherry Tomato Paste
Well, it's over. For us anyway. Tomato season is officially done. We plucked the last hangers-on off, and there won't be any more until next summer. Do you still have tomatoes where you live? Some years have found us picking them into November, but that was an exceptional year in a backyard that got oodles of sunlight. This was not such a year, and this is not such a yard. Alas.

Waste not... want not
As you may have noticed by now, I hate to waste any bounty and am always looking for ways to make the most of what we have. These last-of-the-season cherry tomatoes were in all different states of being. Some were perfection, some on the green side, and a few so ripe they practically imploded on contact. There were also those that looked ripe but had taken so long to get color that they just didn't taste as good as they should have.

You can leave the skins on
I figured the best thing for this to-motley crew was to make a tomato paste. But with all the stuff I've got going on right now, I just didn't want to drag out the food mill. Did I really need to get rid of the skins? (That's another theme around here: I don't peel or skin fruits and vegetables unless I absolutely have to.)

It's not laziness, it's efficiency!
I'm all about saving unnecessary steps, time, and energy, with one condition... the end result can not be lacking in any way. In fact, the end result should be at least as good as the version that it's riffing. OK, so maybe it doesn't always happen that way, but that's what I shoot for. This golden tomato paste (from Sun Gold tomatoes) is the very essence of ripe homegrown tomatoes. It's like all of summer condensed down into a little jar (and it's going to taste grand this winter in stews and pasta sauces)!

The Lazy Girl's End-Of-Season Misfit Cherry Tomato Paste
There is a tinge of bitterness from the skins, but it can be tempered with a bit of sea salt and/or sugar. I'm betting though that when used in a hearty stew or ragout... it will won't be an issue.


Cherry Tomatoes: enough to cover the bottom of a baking sheet in a single layer
Olive Oil
Salt & Black Pepper
Fresh Herbs: basil, oregano, or thyme, roughly chopped (Don't bother chopping the thyme, just strip the leaves from the stem.)
Sugar (Optional, and possibly not needed depending on the tomatoes of course)

  1. Wash, stem, and dry the tomatoes. Fill the pans with a single layer of them. Turn the oven to 300°F.
  2. Drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes. Grab the baking sheet in two hands and shimmy the tomatoes back and forth in the oil. Then sprinkle some sea salt over the tomatoes, followed by the black pepper.
  3. Roast for two hours, rotating the tray(s) half-way through. If the tomatoes start to get too dark, push them around on the tray and turn your oven down a bit. If after two hours, they don't seem done (kissed with golden brown, squishy and collapsed), leave them in until they do.
  4. Take trays out of oven and let cool briefly, then transfer roasted tomatoes to the bowl of a food processor. You may have to process them in batches, but it will go fast. Pulse until skins are cut up quite small.
  5. Look at the texture: does it look dry-ish and too pasty? If so add a little more oil and pulse it in until it's more of a glossy-creamy consistency. Now taste it. Does it need more salt? More pepper? What about a touch of sugar? Always add in small increments. Keep tasting until you're happy with it.
  6. Toss any herbs you want to use (if any) into the food processor with the tomato paste and pulse briefly to distribute them throughout.
  7. You're done! Let it cool completely, then transfer to freezer containers, label, and freeze.
Notes: This yields anywhere from 1 to 2 cups of finished tomato paste. Freeze it in quantities that you are likely to use when cooking: half-pint canning jars, smaller plastic freezer-safe containers, even ice cube trays. 

More Notes: The first batch I made got some thyme added in at the end, and I used my stick blender. It took longer to get the skins broken up enough that way, but it's a good option if you don't have a food processor. The next two trays went into the food processor and had fresh chopped basil and oregano added.

Shine on, harvest moon!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simply Cilantro Salad Dressing

One of the last things I did before my second cilantro plant bolted, was to make a simple dressing with it. A simply delicious dressing. If you are one of the many people that don't like cilantro, you probably won't find this tasty in the least. The rest of us, who do like cilantro... will love it.

Simply Cilantro Salad Dressing
Adapted from: simplefoodhealthylife

1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 bunch/handful cilantro
1/2 tsp ground pepper
sea salt to taste

Mix everything but the salt together in a food processor. Taste the dressing, then start adding the salt, a 1/4 tsp at a time, tasting as you go. When you're happy with it, transfer the dressing to a bottle or jar and store in the fridge. It should keep at least a couple of weeks.

Notes: We've been using this on lots more than just salads... tacos, quesadillas, even omelets and baked potatoes. It's great for a bright little touch of flavor almost anywhere.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Kefir-versary!

Concord Grape Kefir Soda
And just what ever happened to that half-gallon of murky Concord grape juice that I threw in the freezer last month? Well, part of it went into making some kefir soda. It so happened that we were out of store-bought juice and there was all that leftover grape juice just sitting there.

I introduced it to my water kefir and SHAZAM! As you can see in the photo, water kefir loves raw organic unfiltered unpasteurized fruit juice! Duh, right? Of course it does! Fizzy bubble-rific-ness. Delicious, free (yea!), and full of all kinds of health and happiness. Hubs calls our kefir sodas Fizzy Lifting Drinks, after his favorite boyhood film.

It's been just over a year since I started these kefir grains. We still drink kefir soda every single day and the little darlings seem to be going strong with no signs of stopping... except that one time when I left Hubs in charge of them... but enough said on that. They bounced back and were none the worse for the ordeal.

We've all settled into a nice routine and they're pretty forgiving if I'm late a day here or there. I still make the kefir soda as cheaply as possible, and I only make as much as we can consume before the next batch is ready. It works out really well... nice and predictable!

My secret to making great budget kefir soda (from juice), is this: Use the best juice you can find for the best price you can find it at.* It sounds obvious, and it sounds easy... but it isn't if you're trying to do this on a squeaky-tight budget. I tried a lot of different brands from a lot of different stores and read a whole lot of labels...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Farm Fresh Harvest Pasta Sauce

Just days before our trip, while I was in fact hip deep in Concord grapes, cherry tomatoes, and other fresh produce that wouldn't wait for our return, we stopped to chat with a neighbor while on a walk through the neighborhood....

This neighbor, who has a small farm, was busy that day harvesting everything she possibly could before they moved. They were being forced out, not by a giant food conglomerate, and not by the government policies that hobble small farms. No, it was the simple act of their rent being raised to the point where they could no longer afford to remain. It's a sweet little farm with a tidy little house to one side with contented cows, happy pigs, and chatty chickens wandering about. The kind of sweet little farm that could only exist because of the hard work and commitment of two conscientious and genuinely nice people.

She asked if we'd like some tomatoes
Well, we couldn't say no. Who can say no to homegrown tomatoes? We may have had a truckload of cherry tomatoes this summer, but it's a little hard to make a BLT with tomatoes the size of marbles. So we finished our walk and Hubby went back over with a bowl. What he returned with were the most glorious Roma tomatoes I'd ever seen. There were a couple of big heirloom beauties also, and an onion that left me speechless, it was so fat and healthy looking.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Concord Grape Jelly (and the errors of my ways)

The Garnet Gleam of Concord Grape Jelly
So.... I mentioned having a ton of grapes the other day. Well, it wasn't really a ton... it was 13 pounds. I exaggerated. I can't even say that it seemed like a ton of grapes. I've actually had hands-on experience with what an actual ton (or twenty) of grapes is like when Hubby and I help with the wine crush at our favorite winery each autumn.

Our harvest of Concord grapes was like a drop in the proverbial bucket (barrel?) compared to that. But since my backyard is a far cry from ever being called a vineyard and my kitchen is certainly no winery... those 13 lbs. still seemed like a whole awful lotta grapes.

Making the most of what we've been given
The vines came with the house, stealthily growing under the ivy on the back fence. And although we didn't plant them, pay them any attention, or even want them... there they were: fat, juicy, sweet, abundant, and free. They were a truly a gift to us, and I wasn't about to waste them.