Monday, August 24, 2015

A Bushel and a Peck

Towards the end of the growing season, many farm stores will sell the final harvests of their crops in bulk at excellent prices, particularly those things that can be preserved easily by canning or freezing. This is a great way to have local produce on hand during the colder months, without ever having to leave your home. Freezing is the simplest method, and tomato products do wonderfully well this way. With very little time and effort, you can have roasted plum tomatoes ready and waiting for soups, stews and sauces.



Roasted Plum Tomatoes

You will need:
plum tomatoes
sea salt
bay leaves

Line a baking sheet (or two, if needed) with parchment paper (I line mine with foil first for easier cleanup). Sprinkle lightly all over with salt, and lay about six bay leaves around evenly. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Core and slice tomatoes in half lengthwise, laying them cut-side down in a single layer on baking sheet(s). Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size. The skins should be completely shriveled and juices bubbling all around the tomatoes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about one hour. Gently remove skins from flesh (most will slip off easily). Pack into freezer containers, pressing out any air bubbles and leaving about an inch of space at the top to allow for expansion during freezing. Defrost before using.

Notes: I found that about 7-8 lbs. of plum tomatoes fit on two large baking sheets, and yielded about 8 cups of roasted tomatoes. I used bay leaves to provide a neutral flavor base, but certainly other herbs or aromatics could be included in the roasting process.

What are your favorite foods to preserve, and what method(s) do you use? How do you like to use them throughout the year?

>o<

Monday, August 17, 2015

In The Good Old Summertime

There is nothing like Summer, but it's a bit of a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it's SUMMER - the days are long, your spirit is free, and you're able to enjoy things you can only dream about doing the rest of the year. On the other hand, the weather can be so hot and humid, you may end up cowering in front of a fan or languishing in the cool embrace of your A/C, not daring to move at all.

The yard and garden experience this same conflict, and I'm struck by it every year. One minute, everything looks wonderful, but the next it's scorched and dry. Just a few weeks ago, the flowers in the edible garden were magnificent - the chamomile was sunny and bright, and made for a calming tea in the evenings:



The starry borage blossoms were striking on their tall, hairy stems:



And the nasturtiums were creamy and smooth, belying their peppery bite:



Then, somehow, things started to change, taking on a more barren and forlorn aspect. The echinacea in particular now looks like it was stuck in the oven too long. Even though it's painful to see, I won't cut them down until I'm sure the goldfinches have pecked every last seed out of those cones:



Conversely, weeds and other things seem to thrive and take over, like this luxurious pigweed by my deck. I can't help but admire how healthy it looks, and I almost (almost) hate to chop it down:



But there are some things that don't seem to care how hot it gets and, thankfully, they taste like sweet success. So I'm enjoying them while I can, because before I know it, these too will be just a delicious memory:



>o<


Monday, August 10, 2015

I Scream, You Scream

Anyone who knows me can tell you I have an inordinate fondness for ice cream. It's my go-to, out-and-about treat - and many times the outing is premeditated to ensure that ice cream will be consumed at some point during the day. One might think I would own an ice cream maker, but I don't, and for good reason: I would never be seen again. The temptation to make ice cream ALL the time would be too great, and I would become one of those reclusive people who have unusually large quantities of milk, cream and sugar delivered at all hours of the day and night.

But never being able to make some kind of creamy, frozen confection is a little too unfair, especially in the hot months of Summer. I'd seen some recipes around boasting "no-churn" ice creams of various kinds, and searched online until, of course, Martha provided the perfect one. I streamlined the method a bit, and the results were more than spectacular for a mere ten minutes of work:



Homemade "No-Churn" Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons bourbon (whiskey, cognac, or other - I used homemade vanilla extract made with rum)
OR
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In a large, deep bowl, stir all ingredients together gently with a spoon until combined. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture until stiff peaks form, about 8-10 minutes (mine did splatter quite a bit until I was able to get enough air into it). Spoon ice cream into containers, cover tightly, and freeze until firm, about six hours. Serve as soon as you possibly can.



Notes: Slightly adapted from this recipe. As mentioned there, it's best to enjoy this kind of ice cream within a week - after that, the structure begins to break down, despite being frozen. I definitely plan to experiment with other flavors and ingredients, especially since dulce de leche is also available in a 14-ounce can :-)

>o<

Monday, August 03, 2015

Just Peachy

Sometimes Summer's bounty is more robust than you can comfortably manage - that basket of peaches is starting to languish on the counter, berries are starting to shrivel in the fridge, and maybe even a fruit fly (or 20) are starting to eye your goods. Fret not: you can always convert these stragglers into something wonderful!



Summer Fruit Cobbler

Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
About 2 cups fresh fruit, sliced or chopped (any soft fruit like peaches, nectarines, or berries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan; set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Add milk and mix until smooth (the batter will be quite thin). Scrape into prepared pan, top evenly with fruit, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cobbler is deeply golden all around the edges and the batter is completely cooked in the center. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Notes: Don't worry too much about the precise quantity of fruit - I happened to have just three wrinkly peaches when I made this cobbler, and it was delicious. You can certainly use more than one type of fruit, too. Definitely serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired!



>o<