A site for sore tastebuds and a woeful wallet

Posts tagged “home grown tomatoes

Life Would Not Be As Good Without Home-Grown Tomatoes

“There’s two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!”  That’s a line from a song that says it all if you’ve ever tasted that summer sweetness of a  tomato right off the vine.  My grandmother, who used to live in a small town down in southern Illinois, always had a patch of tomatoes and other vegetables growing in her backyard.  My sisters and I would spend weeks at a time with her over the summer and every evening those super red juicy tomatoes would be served in slices with supper.  Her little patch would produce enough to share with all her neighbors and we would even be allowed to just go pick one and eat it right out there in the sunshine when ever we wanted.  No tomato ever went to waste with her unless a squirrel made off with one and couldn’t eat it all.  She would can everything she could get her hands on.  Many sweet childhood memories involve that lovely lady and home-grown tomatoes.

100_0663I just acquired two huge bags full of very ripe beefsteak tomatoes from my dear friend Gayle.  She and her husband have 12o plants producing away in their backyard. Every flat surface in their house is covered with tomatoes.  They sell them to passers by, but what really has to go she either cans or gives a bunch to me.  How blessed am I!  In my own garden I have two varieties of basil to add to some of the jars for added flavor.

Canning has become a favorite pastime for me and my husband.  It’s great having a partner through all the peeling.  In the end we get a product superior to anything we would purchase at the supermarket.  Since we’re the ones doing the selecting, and processing, we know exactly what is going into the jar which by the way is far better for us than tomatoes in metal cans containing BPA a chemical which scientists have noted some concern relating our health.

It’s really easy to process dozens of tomatoes.  It just takes a bit of time but if you have a friend helping, it’s quality time.

First you boil two big pots of water.  One will be for blanching the tomatoes and the other will be the water bath.  We used a pressure canning pot.  Blanching the tomatoes for just one minute helps the skins slide off very easily but first you will need to remove the core with a paring knife.  Once all the tomatoes are peeled sterilize the jars in the other pot of water and set them aside to dry.  You could also just run them through a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher. Sterilize lids and rings in hot water as well.  A few minutes should do but keep the temperature of the water just below boiling.  180° is Pasteurization temperature and it won’t allow the waxy seal in the lid to become damaged.

100_0667Now the fun part…filling the jars with tomatoes.  Just smash as many as will fit, releasing trapped pockets of air and leaving a half inch of head space at the top.  Wipe the rims clean with paper toweling and place the clean lids on top.  Screw the rings on top just to hand tight and lower the jars into the boiling water bath.  We made several variations; some had bits of 100_0669the purple speckled basil and lettuce leaf basil added and some we left salt free.  If salt was added it was only 3/4 teaspoon per pint.  A quart would get a whole teaspoon.  The jars need to boil for 40 minutes completely submerged to ensure a good seal and kill all bacteria.

Canning tomatoes in the peak of ripeness makes opening one up in the winter a lovely reminder of those beautiful sunshiny summer days.  So make sure you store up plenty of homegrown tomatoes while you can because like the song says, “All winter without’em is a culinary bummer.” 100_0674


Grilled Rib-Eye Dinner, No Sweat

Summer and cooking indoors are two things that are a bit tricky to mix.  The grill has become my new BFF for the past several weeks, along with small appliances in the household.  The last thing I want to do is crank up the oven when the temps are in the 90’s!  This post is all about keeping the diva cool!

The perfect summer meal never requires flame unless it’s lit outside and I found a way to make perfect corn on the cob in the microwave.  A freshly sliced vine ripened tomato is always a great side in the summer as well.

100_0612I found Rib-Eye steaks on sale at the supermarket and they were nicely marbled to ensure great flavor.  A light rub of olive oil and  a quick sprinkle of salt pepper and a pinch of Cajun seasoning was all the steaks needed before placing them on a clean and very hot grill.  I gave the steaks a quarter turn after about two minutes and let them sear away another two minutes 100_0615before flipping them over to reveal those classic cross-hatched grill marks.  The other side received the same treatment and the flame was turned shut off.  They stayed on the cooling grill to rest while I went inside to address the corn.

There wasn’t much involved here.  I simply put all four ears, husk and all in microwave and cooked them on high for seven minutes…just enough time to let the steaks rest and choose a great tomato to slice and serve on the side.

I went out to get the steaks which looked and smelled divine.  A plate of glistening ruby red tomato slices were ready and the corn had a few minutes to continue steaming in their husks.  To get the corn ready for the plates, I got a sharp knife, cut the bottom inch off and squeezed the perfectly done cob out of the open end…not one strand of corn silk to be seen.  I’ve never made an easier or more sumptuous supper.  Even though the temperature was in the mid nineties, I never even broke a sweat.  It just didn’t seem right for it to taste so good…but boy it did. 100_0619100_0622

Ratatouille fresh from the garden

100_0433The quintessential vegetable casserole is what the French call ratatouille.  It’s sort of the comfort food of summer gardeners.  There are many variations but I kept mine very simple with only zucchini, tomato, onion, cabbage, garlic and 100_0442herbs in a creamy Gouda cheese sauce.  Nothing says summer like vine ripened tomatoes and I’ve recently found myself up to my ears in them 100_0444thanks to my friend Gayle.  She and her husband put in at least six ten foot rows each year.  The yield this year is off the charts.  We’ve had lots of good rain this spring and it seems to have been spring for half the summer here in St. Louis.  Only recently have we had the traditional high humidity and heat.  That’s what those tomatoes love.  So just now those juicy fruits are going strong on hearty vines.  Even the ones in pots on my porch are 100_0447producing well.  Every windowsill has at least six tomatoes glowing red in the sun.

100_0449I chose five medium and very ripe ones along with half of an overgrown zucchini to make this dish.  First, I preheated the oven to 375° then I 100_0451sliced everything uniformly and arranged the vegetables in neat rows of alternating vegetables.  In a skillet I made a roux with olive oil, garlic, a hunk of chopped cabbage, a diced onion and a couple of tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper and freshly chopped thyme and parsley.  I cooked it all down until it bubbled into a golden brown.  A cup or so of milk went in a little at a time and was whisked together until it thickened.  Gouda cheese which is sharp like cheddar and melts very well was shredded along with  a bit of leftover cheddar, added to the skillet and was whisked in as well.  The sauce became nice and creamy and I poured it over the tomato and zucchini.

100_0454For a topping I pulsed a few slices of bread in the food processor with a pinch more of the herbs from the garden , pulsed in a dash of olive oil and sprinkled the top with the crumbs.  Into the oven it went for about 45 minutes until the top was crisp 100_0457and golden and the sauce bubbled up the sides.  Before we could dig into this casserole, it needed to cool down quite a bit before it could be served.  100_0464We survived the wait and boy, was it worth it!

You could use a wider variety of vegetables in this dish.  Often mushrooms Green peppers and eggplant are sliced and arranged in layers too.  Fresh herbs from the garden like basil, thyme oregano, tarragon and parsley can be added…what ever suits your taste.  I went the simple route and worked with what was abundant at the time.  I will have the opportunity to try more of a variety the next time.  My peppers are getting bigger and I just bought some porcine mushrooms.    Stay tuned!100_0467100_0505


100_0419The tomatoes are ripening on the vines like crazy this year and I’m up to my ears in those yummy ripe summer fruits.  One of the things I wait all year for is a fresh tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.  I wanted to make one today that would be more than special and made my own mayonnaise or “aioli”.  To begin I gathered some extremely fresh ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • one farm fresh organic egg
  • 1 section of garlic
  • the juice of one lime
  • salt and black pepper to taste100_0421
  • 1 good size leaf of basil
  • a pinch of sugar
  •  a splash of vinegar

In a tiny food processor I cracked a tiny egg that was no more than a day old and refrigerated immediately after being laid by a healthy free-range hen (temper your eggs in a double boiler if you are worried).  Next I added a two teaspoons olive oil and blended it with the egg in a few pulses.  I did this several times adding a bit more with each blending.  It was a creamy mixture so I began to add vegetable oil pulsing between 100_0423additions until just under 1/2 cup was used.  I now had a thickened and paler colored emulsification that needed some flavor.  I pulsed in the rest of the ingredients in one at a time to make a rich blend of flavors.  The basil I used was a variety called “Lettuce Leaf ”

100_0426So now, what to put it on?  Well there’s only two window sills full of the ripest juiciest tomatoes you could wish for, so I grabbed the prettiest one, sliced it, toasted a bagel and spread it with this beautiful rich aioli.  It was like eating a slice of paradise! 100_0430100_0431


Best Mac and Cheese Ever

Marconi and cheese is the favorite food of my daughter.  I used to make it from the little blue box mix until I read the list of no less than twenty ingredients, not including the milk and butter you add which are probably the most natural things in it.  Today I made mine with only fourteen.  To be fair the macaroni contained seven of those 100_0402ingredients.

So to make a rich, tasty, creamy and REAL sauce only seven things are required

  • 100_04032 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • salt to taste (I used about a teaspoon total)

100_0407I start by boiling 1/2 pound of macaroni noodles in  plain water for 12 minutes and set it aside to 100_0410drain.    Then I melt the butter add the flour and cook it together in a nice heavy sauce pan.  Once this forms a pasty bubbly mixture I slowly add cream and stir constantly with a whisk.  Adding the cup of water, I lower the heat to medium and stir until it comes back to a boil and thickens into a creamy 100_0411bechemel sauce.  Salt is added to taste, then the cheeses (I grate my own cheese to leave out the anti-caking ingredients) and the sauce is whisked again until the cheeses are completely melted.

Now,  the drained noodles go into to the creamy sauce and are stirred together until every noodle is coated.  I check the 100_0412seasoning, add another pinch of salt and it is ready to eat.

Admittedly this is a pretty decadent comfort food.  I don’t make it often but my daughter was craving it.  Since she’s such a peanut I gave her a nice big bowl of it for lunch.   I feel so much better about it when the ingredients are real and wholesome.  Not only that but lunch included a side salad of home grown lettuce and tomatoes with a sprinkle of the grated cheese and dressed with lemon juice and pepper.  I don’t think I’m putting anyone in danger of malnourishment…not on this diva’s watch!  100_0415100_0417

Drag Me Through The Garden

100_9065Yep, that’s exactly how this salad happened.  It’s too easy in summer to eat fresh veggies all the time.  Between the things I grow in the backyard, the things people at work bring in, and the things neigbors share, I’m ususlly up to my ears in ears of corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, onions…you name it!  Oh, I’m not even complaining.  I try very hard to savor the flavors as long as I can.

100_9066This salad is one of those right out of the garden works of art.  There is no cooking or baking, just cutting, dressing and enjoying.  I do make my own dressing which is to say, I add mayo, buttermilk and a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch.  I like it the best because you make it fresh, and you can clearly taste the difference between it and the bottled stuff.

The vegetables I used were cucumbers in half inch cubes, also tomatoes in that way, a fourth of a red bell pepper and also a fourth of a green one, about a fourth of a red onion, a whole spring onion, all of these vegetables in tiny dice.  I chopped some fresh parsley, dressed everything with that yummy ranch dressing…about a third cup.  Freshly cracked pepper got cracked on top of everything after it was all tossed together.

Wow!  Talk about tasting the sunshine!  I love that this salad was basking away in it just the day before.  I can’t wait to drag myself through the garden again…only the next time I’ll feel so healthy, I won’t be dragging.100_9068



What Does One Do With Forty Tomatoes?

Five words will answer that question…Make a pot of sauce!  Actually, I have many more than forty tomatoes, but making sauce is a start to managing such a wealth.  I’ve been learning how to can and preserve recently and I find that tomatoes are the easiest thing to put up in the Mason jars.  No pressure canner is needed, just the water bath method will be enough to kill off any bacteria.

My friend Gayle planted 150 plants and is having an incredible crop this year.  Almost every surface in her kitchen and dining is covered in tomatoes.  She’s got a lot to manage as well.  Part of her management scheme has been giving me the tomatoes that need immediate attention.  Lucky me!

I started by blanching, coring, and peeling the tomatoes just like in the previous post.  To make tomato sauce though, I needed some other flavors. This sauce was made with the following:

  • 40 ripe tomatoes, blanched, cored, and peeled
  • 2 ribs of celery sliced thinly
  • 2 carrots also sliced thinly
  • 2 onions diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian herb mix
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cans (6oz. cans) of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons salt (I salt on the low side)
  • a dash or two each of cayenne pepper and black pepper

I put all of the tomatoes in a big stock pot, and in a skillet with a good coating of extra virgin olive oil, I cooked down the aromatic vegetables.  I added the garlic, a bit of salt, then tipped it all into the pot that was getting pretty steamy by this time.  Everything continued to cook as I stirred the pot every so often smashing the tomatoes as I went.  I even ran the electric mixer through it to further crush the tomatoes.  After  about an hour and a half of simmering, I added the fresh herbs and dry herbs (not yet with the bay leaf) then I added the two cans of tomato paste.  It really started to smell good!

After another half hour of simmering, I turned off the flame and used a big 6 cup measuring cup to scoop out the sauce into batches and run each scoop through the blender to further puree the tomatoes.  I dumped the now pureed tomatoes into a large bowl.  When I transferred the last scoop of tomatoes to the blender, I poured everything from the bowl and blender back into the stock pot on the stove, added the bay leaves, salt, and sugar, then cranked up the heat to high.  Since tomatoes vary in size, this is the time to check the taste and make adjustments to the salt, sugar or spices.

To insure being bacteria free, I brought this smooth and lovely sauce to a good boil and checked that it read 210° on an instant read thermometer for at least 5 minutes.  I carefully poured the sauce into sterilized quart jars, wiped the rims, and placed sanitized lids and bands on each one.  I got exactly 4 quarts out of this batch, but I really had to scrape down the stock pot to do it…otherwise I would have had to make a batch of spaghetti to go with it at 9:30pm.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to do that!  I’m still saving myself for after that physical examination to eat pasta again.  Anyway, with the lids on and another pot of boiling water waiting, I further heated the jars in the water another 10 minutes just to be sure of sterilization.  Out of the water bath and on the counter I heard the lids pop one by one as they cooled.  The news was just starting when everything was finally cleaned up again.

This was a lengthy process that took about five hours total but I assure you when something is made with this much love. it’s got to be good!