Feeling Saucy

Here I am, produce aficionado, CSA blogger, and all-around foodie, and until last night, I could say that I’d never used my crop of fresh tomatoes to make traditional marinara sauce.

Honestly, I’d attempted once, and I got frustrated when the peeling & seeding process was not as easy as I was promised. I don’t know what I did differently then; the instructions were the same: slice an “X” into one end of the tomato, submerge in boiling water for ten seconds, then drop into an ice bath. the skin starts to peel away from the “X” and is easy to slough off.

Between my two shares, I had a ton of tomatoes this week – more than even this tomato fiend could handle. So, I got brave and made my own sauce. I used this recipe as a basic guide. The sauce came out looking lighter simply because there were yellow tomatoes in the batch that I used; it’s funny to me that it came out looking like vodka sauce, yet not tasting that way.

I packaged the sauce last night and left it in my refrigerator, with plans to amend it this morning. As a stand-alone sauce, it’s wonderful! I just like variety.

I kept one pint of sauce plain.

Into one quart of sauce, I added the beautiful chard I got in my Coeur et Sol share this week. I sauteed the chard just enough to make it start to wilt, then I mixed it in to the sauce. (I reserved the stems for later. They could go into my stock bag, but I will likely throw them in my food processor when I make carrot green pesto later.)

For the remaining quart, I sauteed cremini mushrooms until they were browned and tender, then mixed them into the sauce.

All three containers are now in my freezer, awaiting their chance to be part of some satisfying autumn or winter dinners.

Dinner successes

Two nights in a row, Little Chef has informed me that I’ve cooked “the best dinner ever.” High praise from a preschooler!

Last night was nothing groundbreaking in terms of creativity, but I do have to agree that it was delicious. I sauteed chicken apple sausage with a bunch of leftover vegetables – a summer squash, a few tomatoes, garlic, spinach – and served it mixed up with bow tie pasta. The end result had a sweet-and-smoky thing going on, unsurprising because of both the apples in the sausage and the small sprinkle of maple sugar I added in during cooking. Adding sugar to this concoction seems so counter-intuitive, but I was thinking in terms of cutting the acidity of the tomatoes, the way you would when making marinara sauce.

Tonight, we had homemade vegan Sloppy Joes, with corn on the cob (from Farmer John) and cherry tomatoes (from Chelsa).

For the sandwiches, I sauteed onions in some grapeseed oil, cumin, and chili powder. I then added garlic and bell pepper. When they started to soften, I added a package of chorizo seitan. Meanwhile, I made the sauce.

Growing up, I definitely remember Mom making Sloppy Joes with pre-packaged sauce. It’s ridiculously easy to make your own sauce, though, and it honestly tastes better. I used 3/4 cup ketchup, to which I added a healthy glug of Worcestershire (you can adjust based on how smoky you like your food), dried mustard (I would have used dijon if I had it, but we’re out of mustard currently), a heavy-handed dash of pepper (again, optional) and some water to thin it out – about half a cup.

I added the sauce to the seitan and veggie mix, and I let it cook down until the sauce thickened. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I was concerned that it wouldn’t be enough food – because that’s what I do – so I added a can of kidney beans. It would have been exactly enough without the beans, but they tasted good! And now we have leftovers!

Plum Torte

I have a confession to make. If you know me well, it may be a shocker.

… I’m finally tired of plums.

Normally, I’m a plum fiend. I feel like this year has been super abundant on the plum front, though, and I’m really just done when it comes to eating them straight. So, I searched for other things to do with this beautiful bowl of fruit I had…

And I found this legendary recipe from the New York Times for Plum Torte. People are crazy enough about this darn recipe that I figured it had to be worth my time. Little Chef helped me out. We ended up having (and needing) fewer plums than the recipe suggests – it really depends on the size of your pan and the size of your plums. I somehow also still don’t have a springform pan (Dear Santa, if you’re listening…), so I lined a cake pan with parchment paper. It turned out just fine.

This was ridiculously easy to make, and when it comes to taste, I think this last picture speaks for itself. A piece disappeared before I could even get a picture! I’ll definitely be making this again. Apparently, it freezes well, so if I get plums again this week, I’ll make a second torte and stick it in the freezer.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It’s not often that I pick a dud for dinner. I have startlingly good luck with the recipes I choose, which I’ve always chalked up to understanding my family’s tastes and preferences. Tonight, though? Total let-down.

In my diet and lifestyle makeover that began a couple of years ago, I invested in several “lightened up” slow-cooker cookbooks, one of which is Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution.  I’ve made several meals from here that I enjoyed, and the pictures for Thai Eggplant Curry looked enticing. I love Thai food. I love curry and lime. I love eggplant.

… I didn’t love dinner tonight.

The texture was all wrong. The sauce was too thin, and the eggplant was too chewy. The curry taste was not strong enough – I think I’d have to double the amount of curry paste to get in the ballpark of what I like. I added fresh basil leaves in an attempt to perk it up, and even that didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t alone in my assessment; my spouse graciously ate his serving, though with the same lack of relish I was experiencing, and Little Chef picked out his rice, peppers, and beans and left the rest. (I used green beans instead of snow peas, because it’s what’s in season and was in my share.)

I’m going to take the leftovers (boy oh boy, there were a lot of leftovers) and add them into a basic Pad See Ew tomorrow. I’ve got noodles and a big head of napa cabbage, so hopefully I can salvage the bulk of the eggplant that way.

I’ll share pictures from the cooking process, when everything smelled so hopeful. Don’t bother making the effort to make this, though. It was disappointing.

High Summer, Part 1

I took this ridiculous picture today.

What you’re seeing here is the sum total of both my Coeur et Sol share and my Bloomfield-Montclair share, along with some backyard harvest, though minus whatever we ate from Chelsa’s share last night.

It’s high summer. Tomatoes. Summer squash. Eggplant. Ground cherries (which I’m shamelessly popping as I type this up). Basil, canteloupe, beets, peaches…

Getting this treasure trove really helped my outlook on life today, and it’s been therapeutic to process this evening. Late afternoon, I had an unfortunate patch of bad news, so my cooking reporting is not quite as varied as I’d hoped it’d be by this point, but there is always tomorrow.

I had hoped to make ratatouille tonight, but with the interruption, we had sandwiches, instead. I did make a killer salad for a side: Coeur et Sol salad mix, purple radish, yellow cucumber, and Montclair-Bloomfield ground cherries and green bell pepper. Yum.

I’ve been itching to try out Thug Kitchen’s Peach-Mint Sun Tea. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Peaches came from my share. Mint was the orange mint I have growing in my yard. I did find I needed to strain the tea after blending, which they don’t mention in the recipe.

I broke out the CSA cookbook for the first time this season, and I used some of the parsley that’s thriving in my yard to try making Chimichurri. It’s currently steeping. I could have used the next-size-down jar (I made a half-recipe), but I didn’t realize that until too late. Live and learn.

Eggplant. There is eggplant everywhere. Tonight, I made an eggplant parm that will likely go in the freezer tomorrow. I breaded and baked the slices of eggplant in the same manner that I did for the eggplant sandwiches from last week. I sauteed portobello mushrooms and basil (from my share) and mixed that into the (jarred) sauce to make things more interesting. I used the leftover eggs from the breading process to thicken the ricotta; my mom used to do that for calzone filling.

I found myself with an abundance of thyme from my yard, as I often do. Thyme is really easy to grow, and I’m grateful for it, because it’s one of my favorite herbs. It’s really easy to dry, and I documented the steps tonight for you to follow. This drying method works well for any non-oily herb. I’ve had great success with thyme, dill, rosemary, savory, oregano, and marjoram with this method. Herbs like basil are better dried in an oven or a dehydrator because they have so much moisture that they risk molding before they’ve successfully dried.

First, you’ll need your herbs, kitchen string or yarn, scissors, and a brown paper bag. I save the lunch-style bags I get from things like bagels for this purpose. Tonight, the bags came from my fruit share, actually.

Tie a bundle of the herbs together, leaving a long  tail of string. Place them inside the bag, with the string coming out of the top. Pinch the top of the bag and tie it shut, like a drawstring, but leave a nice long tail. Label your bag with the herb and the date, and cut ventilation holes in the bag. use both string tails to tie the bag up in a cool, well-ventilated, dry space. I use a closet in my kitchen that otherwise holds a recycling bin, broom, mop, etc. It has a bar across, as though one would hang coats in there,  so it’s really convenient for hanging. You can see the graveyard of old strings in the photograph – this has been my drying place for years, and I’m a little lazy about cutting down the bags.

On average, your herbs should be dry in a couple of weeks. This will vary due to temperature and humidity. I usually err on the side of leaving them hanging longer – there’s little damage that can be done. Store the dried herbs in glass jars or repurposed empty spice jars and revel in the feeling of not paying an arm and a leg for the store-bought stuff.

Clearly we’re not through the pile of veggies yet. See you in installment #2.

Red Chili

Last week, I got beets in both of my CSA shares. I love beets, but I’ve been feeling a little off lately, and didn’t want any of my usual beet options. So, I made Beet Chili to freeze for this winter!

The recipe comes from Light & Healthy Cooking, a Good Housekeeping cookbook that I got on a bargain rack at PathMark years ago. A very well-spent $7, as many of my favorite recipes come from this book.

I normally hesitate to post pages of published cookbooks, but this recipe is readily available online here: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/a9756/valentine-red-chili-recipe/

I had to change a few things, none of which impacted the quality of the chili. I had green peppers, not red (thoroughly an aesthetic change), and I discovered partway through assembly that I did not have a can of tomatoes. However, I did have several fresh tomatoes, so I diced them up, along with some cherry tomatoes.

Before the long simmer:

And after:

As I implied above, this recipe freezes really well. If you’ve got a lot of beets and are running out of ways to use them, I highly recommend this recipe.

Digging Things That Are Ugly

(Subtitled: In which I wax poetic about heirloom tomatoes by way of a 50-year-old Mike Nesmith quote, to no one’s surprise)

At the end of an episode called “The Monkees Take Manhattan,” there is an interview with the 4 actors/musicians. This was a common way of dealing with an episode falling a minute or two short. In this case, one of the most memorable moments in the clip, for me at least, is when Mike Nesmith goes on a ramble about “digging things that are ugly.”

I often quote this, and think of it even more often than  I utter it. Tonight, I found that phrase popping into my head as I held a gloriously, beautifully “ugly” heirloom tomato.

Every now and then, posts about “ugly produce” and food waste make the rounds on facebook. All I can figure is that we, as a society, are usually so removed from our food sources that we’re used to cookie-cutter grocery store tomatoes, so people balk at a tomato with dark ridges on the top.

They miss out on the real beauty:

We had a simple, satisfying, summery dinner tonight. Turkey and chicken burgers and hickory smoked gouda, with tomato and Sol Salad Mix from our share from today. Sides of flax seed tortilla chips (a Trader Joe’s obsession of mine) and a big bowl of cherry tomatoes rounded out the meal.


Eggplant Sandwiches

There’s a pub nearby me – Oak Barrel Pub, if you’re curious – that has an outstanding eggplant sandwich. Instead of a traditional eggplant parm, with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, this sandwich has the fried eggplant slices on a baguette with balsamic, tomato, fresh mozzarella and arugula.

Last night, I made a healthy, at-home version of this sandwich with the eggplant and radish greens I got in my share from Coeur et Sol and the tomatoes from Montclair-Bloomfield, and the result was delicious.

I sliced the eggplant and breaded it – fairly usual, an egg wash and breadcrumbs that were a mix of Italian seasoned and Panko.

I then baked them on a cookie sheet at 350. I didn’t time how long – when they’re browning, they’re good.  I flipped them halfway through.

Sandwich assembly, then back into the oven to heat the cheese through….

And the finished product. So satisfying.

I’m still alive…

… and hopefully I’m cooking again.

It’s been the height of summer, I’ve had beautiful produce coming in, and I’ve been utterly silent. For that, I apologize. I will not go into much detail, but my mother has been very, very sick, and I’ve been caretaker/person-in-charge. This has been the case basically for all of July, and I haven’t had the mental and emotional capacity to keep up with my blog throughout this.

I’m finally coming up for air. Here are some pictures of pretty produce to keep you enticed while I queue up some posts about what’s cookin’.