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Archive for the ‘Tomato’ Category

There’s nothing like fresh tomatoes. Straight from your garden or a real farmer’s market, fresh tomatoes are one of life’s amazing gifts. Sadly, this seasonal fruit (yes, fruit) has but a brief few months before they’re gone and you find yourself in the middle of February with some canned tomato paste and a sad face.

Now, no canned tomato is going to hold a candle to that summer Beefsteak. But here we are in (hopefully) the tail end of winter and our choices are limited. However, we do have some good choices! My favorite canned tomato is Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes. They actually do taste fire roasted, they’re organic, the cans are BPA free and they are the best tasting canned tomato I’ve tried thus far.

You can actally get them at a decent price from Amazon. If you do subscribe and save it’s $1.86 per can for 12-pack and you get them delivered to your door. If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can get them through the Prime Pantry program for $1.38 per can. If you’re a Costco member you can get them right now for $6.89 for a 6-pack which is only $1.15 per can – not bad at all.

Here’s some of the things I like to do with these ‘maters:

Bruchetta

Mix a can of fire roasted tomatoes with three cloves of minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Slice a loaf of French bread on the diagonal and toast in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes, then top with the tomato mix. Broil for 4-5 minutes. Top with shreds of basil and freshly grated parmesan.

Lazy Pasta

Cook 8 ounces of the pasta of your choice (I find small shaped pasta best for this purpose – fusilli, rotini, large shells, etc.) according to package directions. Drain and return to the pan and put on low heat. Stir in a can of fire roasted tomatoes, about two tablespoons of basil paste or a handful of shredded fresh basil to taste, a cup of shredded cheese (any good melting cheese will do) and about a half a cup of heavy cream. Heat through and salt and pepper to taste.

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Dehydrated Tomato Goodness

Dehydrated Tomato Goodness

For my birthday I finally bought myself something I’d been kicking around for several years but couldn’t bring myself to lay out the cash. A dehydrator. More on that to come in another post, but the giant metal monstrosity arrived and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I looked around my kitchen like a mad scientist thinking “what can I shrink??”

Those plump roma tomatoes caught my eye. Within moments they were sliced about 1/8 inch think and spread out on one of my racks. At 125 degrees and about 6 hours later, we had dehydrated tomatoes.

Test subject Bill was the first one to take a bit. He nodded approvingly and said, “It’s like candy!”

Tomato candy?

I took a bite. Indeed, the sweetness of the tomato had condensed into these slightly chewy little rounds of goodness. And now I know how to turn the world’s undercover fruit into a sweet snack!

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Grilling out is a sign of independence. Humans. Fire. Meat. Electricity optional. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular to have a cookout on the 4th of July. Maybe it’s because this style of cooking was very popular during the early years of the USA, as it’s easy to feed a large crowd. Whatever the reason, it’s a great idea. And since I’m still in the honeymoon period with my Big Green Egg, I’ve been giving it a workout this holiday weekend.

Today’s meal was the epitome of simplicity and was heavenly delicious. I formed burger patties (no filling or binder) out of some dry aged beef I picked up from my local farmer last month and used the rub from Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo
(a great cookbook and her website is also great, btw). I cut some red onions, rubbed them with olive oil and salt and pepper and skewered them on metal skewers (no more charred wooden skewers for me). Finally, I made a simple tomato salad (recipe below).

Everyday Paleo burger, KKF tomato salad, grilled red onions and a few of Bubbie's pickles for good measure!

The burgers were unbelievably delicious and moist. I’m going to do them this way from now on, whether it’s with Sarah’s rub or with another seasoning. I always thought hamburger mix had to have egg and/or breadcrumbs…forget about it. Oil your gril (I used spray coconut oil), rub on your rub and slap them on the grill. I cranked up the Egg to about 650, put on the burgers and closed the lid. After two minutes, I opened, flipped, closed and left it another two minutes. Burgers were perfect. Oh, and I was doing all this in a FRIGGIN RAIN STORM. Yes, about three minutes before my grill got to temperature it started pouring.

Luckily the Egg works just fine in the rain. Test subject Bill was an excellent umbrella holder as I brought out meat and flipped and swapped. I think the struggle made my rain burgers taste even better.

KKF Too Easy Tomato Salad

1 pint farmer’s market fresh cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 small red onion, chopped

small bunch fresh basil, cut into thin strips

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Mix everything together and let it marinate at room temperature while you’re preparing the rest of your meal. Deee-licious.

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Clearly, the fall school semester has begun. That’s when I practically drop off the face of the earth. But I’m surfacing this morning to reminisce about the fun I had with tomatoes this summer. Although it almost still feels like summer in Georgia…kind of annoying as I’m ready to start wearing sweaters! I was actually still able to get tomatoes at the farmer’s market two weeks ago…amazing! Anyway, here is a happy memory from this summer’s tomato haul:

When you make every effort to eat seasonally, tomatoes are one of those things that are truly treasured. A fresh, homegrown tomato in the heat of summer is a special thing. But I don’t want to forget that in the middle of winter. “Fresh” grocery store tomatoes are a sad, tasteless waste of money. Enter the water bath canner and 24 pounds of tomatoes I picked up from a happy vendor at the farmer’s market.

As I was picking through the tomatoes for my canning projects I heard another market customer come up to the farmer and tell them in a hushed voice about how they had the best tomatoes in the whole market. This is the kind of stuff you want to hear when you’re preparing to drop sixty bucks on ‘maters. The farmer replied that it must be the soil…or the love they have for growing. Ah. That’s something you can never buy at Publix.

When I got home I had several ideas for what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make the garlic-basil tomato sauce from the Ball website. But how much did I want to make? And there was something else nagging at me…

I recently pronounced my disgust for jarred salsa. Yet when I was home in Iowa for my niece’s wedding in July my sister in law provided me with a taste of a jar of her home canned salsa and it was good enough for me to ask for her recipe. Perhaps I was too quick to judge. Maybe I shouldn’t condemn all jarred salsa until I have tried my own…

So I ended up with three different salsa recipes. Janet’s recipe, one from the Ball website, and one from Cooks.com. It was going to be a salsa brawl to the finish, and a really really long weekend in the kitchen. I had pickled jalapenos to can as well.

Basil garlic tomato sauce/soup.Tasty!

The tomato sauce turned out delicious, but very thin. Next time I may strain the tomatoes a good bit. Or just eat it as soup…it bares a fair resemblance to my tomato-basil soup.

The three salsa recipes smelled fantastic cooking away on the stove prior to filling the hot jars. Only the Ball recipe called for cilantro, one of the ingredients I feel a good salsa needs to have. But after tasting Janet’s cilantro-free salsa I am in a bit of a quandary as to whether it really is a requirement.

 

 

Janet’s Salsa

5 cups tomatoes

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1 large onion

1 banana pepper (optional)

½ cup vinegar

¼ cup tomato paste

1 T sugar

2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 T salt

1 tsp garlic salt

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for one hour. Pour into hot jars and process for 30 minutes.

I used about four pounds of tomatoes for this and it yielded six half-pint jars. I did not use banana pepper but did use two large and one small jalapeno peppers. (Later I made the same recipe again but added fresh garlic to the mix. I am incapable of leaving anything alone.)

At first I thought the addition of tomato paste was really odd, but as things got cooking and I saw how liquidy all the salsas were I understood, and I actually ended up adding it to both other salsa recipes otherwise they would have been soup instead of dip. Next time I am definitely being more cautious about how much juice I allow to make it into the pot.

For the pickled jalapenos, I didn’t have any carrots to include so I used some of the multi-colored bell peppers I got at the farmer’s market instead. Hopefully that doesn’t wreck the recipe. I plan to include these pickled peppers in black bean soups and such this winter.

I was excited to be able to use almost exclusively items from my farmer’s market for these recipes. The tomatoes, of course, but also the red and green peppers, the jalapenos, and the onions. Only the cilantro and seasonings were store-bought.

Canned pickled jalapenos, salsas and tomato sauce.

At the end of the weekend, I had six pints of garlic-basil tomato sauce, six half-pints of Janet’s salsa, six pints of pickled jalapenos and onions, and three pints each of the Ball salsa and Cooks salsa. I’m still a big fan of Janet’s salsa, but the Cook’s salsa kind of caught me by suprise. It was the one I was least excited about but turned out to be the most interesting (and a little hotter than the other two). Test subject Bill likes the Ball recipe with the cilantro. A suprising success story for all three recipes, and I stand corrected. I will eat jarred salsa if it’s home made!

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The South is known for its cooking. Fried chicken, grits, collard greens and black eyed peas, sweet tea…and of course, fried green tomatoes and fried okra. I’ve been living in Georgia since 2002 and only had fried green tomatoes once. I decided it was high time I tried creating this Southern classic on my own, and my friend Lori kindly provided a recipe: 

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Cori’s FGT (Fried Green Tomatoes)
(These are approximate amounts; I didn’t actually measure when I made it recently.)

You will need:
5 Medium Green Tomatoes (Firm; baseball size)
A frying pan
Olive Oil, as needed (If possible use the bottle labeled for frying.)
4 Eggs (Beaten, in bowl)
1 Cup Flour (In separate bowl)
Salt, To Taste
Pepper, To Taste

1. Pour olive oil in frying pan (About ¼ deep); warm to medium heat. (Don’t allow it to get too hot, olive oil ‘breaks down’ & loses its flavor if too hot.)
2. Wash & cut top & bottom off tomatoes. Slice to about ¼ inch thick. (Some people prefer thinner slices, to me they are crispier but you can’t tell you are eating tomatoes. Thicker slices give you the tartness of the tomatoes that contrast with the fried batter; a perfect union. It’s all a matter of preference.)
3. Dip slices first in egg, then flour. (I did them all at one time & stacked on a plate.)
4. Fry as many as will fit in the oil, about 3-4 minutes on each side. The batter should be golden brown all over.
5. Drain & cool on a paper towel; eat warm. Sprinkle salt / pepper to taste. Makes about 25 slices, more or less. Store uneaten slices (Yeah, right LOL) in an airtight container. Reheat under broiler to maintain crispness.
6. I didn’t use dipping sauces but ranch dressing or a honey mustard horseradish sounds like a good match.

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I picked up a couple of green tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Unfortunately they sat for a little longer than I’d anticipated and one of them was more pink than green, but I figured it was the firmness that really mattered and it was still pretty firm. And I’m a yankee so I can probably get away with a kung faux pas like that.

Since I only had two tomatoes I halved the recipe. Also, I used the lard I rendered last week to do the frying. Test subject Bill was suspicious when I told him what I was making (he’s from Nebraska…) but I was confident he would become an enthusiastic supporter once he tried them.

Frying up the green tomaters..

I egged and dredged and fried the tomato slices in my cast iron skillet in about half a pint of lard, give or take. I probably could have gotten away with less. I fried them for about three minutes per side and they came out looking fabulous. On Lori’s suggestion, I whipped up a dipping sauce – just dijon mustard and local honey for a sweet and tangy zip.

As the slices came out, I salted, peppered and then added a dash of smoked paprika over everything. I don’t think the flavor of the paprika came through, though, for the ones we used the dipping sauce on. However, it did make them look nice!

Fried Green and Pink Tomatoes

Test subject Bill came down for a sample and walked away with half the slices. I think he liked them even better when I told him they were fried in lard. Pork fat. It just makes you smile.

I do think that I overdid it last week on the lard rendering though. The porky flavor really came through more than I think it should have. Plus when I was frying I could really smell it. Next time I’ll know what to look for as far as “doneness” and take it off the heat earlier. No more lard kung faux pas for me. I can learn!

Fried okra with a rib eye steak for dinner...God bless America.

Since I was frying and had all this nice lard and happened to pick up a basket of okra at the farmer’s market, fried okra was the natural progression. I did a lot of research on different recipes but settled on this one. I did end up modifying it a bit based on some other recommendations on other recipes (I used half cornmeal and half flour for the coating), but it came out fantastic! The coating totally stuck to the okra and came out crunchy and flavorful. I think even my okra-hating Dad would have loved this. After all…what food does frying in lard NOT improve?

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Before I forget – announcements! I participated in a blog hop this week! Check us out here: http://spaininiowa.blogspot.com/2010/07/simple-lives-thursday-first-edition.html

Also, I’m on Facebook! Like me – I’m nice! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kitchen-Kung-Fu/117815484922486

Now for our regularly scheduled blog:

A few months back I bought a pressure canner. I know a lot of traditional foodies are down on pressure canning, but here’s my position: I can’t rely 100% on electricity and feel secure. I desire shelf-stable, safe food that I prepared in the event of an emergency. I certainly would not recommend relying on pressure canned foods on a regular basis throughout the year. It’s more of a personal survival and independence thing.

My All-American Pressure Canner (AKA the Tank)

That said, pressure canners are a bit intimidating in the kitchen. First, they are heavy and huge. Second, they have ginormous warning labels all over them. Not the kind of thing that gives the average cook warm fuzzies. I bought this one because it had a higher capacity (fewer loads needed) and it’s made in the USA (go USA!). Let me tell you, this thing is built like a TANK. If this doesn’t last forever nothing will. I also like that it has a metal-to-metal seal that you lubricate with petroleum jelly instead of gaskets that can and will go bad, requiring replacement. Additionally, the safety features are impeccable. You shift the lid to lock, then there are six wing nuts that hold the lid securely to the base. That baby’s not going anywhere. There’s some really good info on pressure canning and pressure canners here. I recommend doing some homework before buying one, as they are pricey.

My test run for the pressure canner was green beans. I picked up a load at the farmer’s market and washed and cut the beans. After spending about an hour reading the user’s manual for the canner (which I found poorly organized and required reading parts several times to determine which steps came when), I was ready to roll. I washed the canner and lubricated the seal and the screws. I packed the beans in hot pint jars and poured boiling water over them, checked for air pockets, and lidded.

Vent on the pressure canner (without the weight)

Here’s a big difference between pressure canning and water bath canning. When you put jars into a water bath canner, there’s water in it already going to town boiling. When you put jars into a pressure canner, it’s cold. There’s about an inch and a half of water (for my canner)  at the bottom of the base. It’s a bit…anticlimactic. Don’t worry though, there’s more action to come.

I settled seven pint jars on the rack inside the canner and secured the lid. The jars were to be processed at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. However, the first step was to vent steam. This means the canner has to heat up. This took FOREVER, but finally I could see steam coming out of the vent and started counting – seven minutes as per the owner’s manual. Then I put the weight on the vent set for ten pounds. You don’t start counting the processing time until the weight begins to jiggle. This, also, takes forever (at least for my enormous caldron).

I found it was easier to watch for steam with the black background of the handle for contrast.

The weight is supposed to do its jiggling venting dance one to four times per minute. I found it difficult to maintain that. Either the heat was too high and it jiggled all the time or it was too low and it didn’t jiggle at all. Oh well. The pressure gauge showed constant at ten pounds of pressure the whole time so I wasn’t too worried.

Once processing time was up, I cut the heat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the pressure gauge was showing zero pounds of pressure. I removed the weight from the vent and allowed the rest of the steam/pressure to release, then removed the lid. Note: it is hotter than hell. Do not allow it to touch any body part EVER. Not that I did that or anything.

My jars of green beans inside were intact. They had not exploded, disintegrated or otherwise become unusable during their time under pressure. The test run was counted as a success.

The next day it was time for the big guns. Beef stew. Making a protein like beef shelf stable is no laughing matter. I joked about botulism last year when I canned, but for real – I don’t want to kill myself or others in an attempt to be independent. I carefully followed the exact instructions for preparing the stew as per this recipe. I would hope Ball knows what they are doing when it comes to canning. (Ok I added garlic. Who can make soup without garlic??)

I followed the same procedure as the day before. This time the jars processed for an hour and fifteen minutes. Actually probably longer given how long it takes the thing to heat up and cool down, but I followed the instructions precisely for my first time through. I can play with timing later.

Pressure canned green beans and beef stew; water bath canned marinara sauce

While the stew pressure canned I was busy making marinara to water bath can. I made it last year and test subject Bill has been talking about it ever since. I had enough tomatoes to make twice as many this year. Good thing, because it is time consuming to make! Darn tasty, though…mmm, need to do some fried mozzarella to go with it…

While the marinara cooked down the stew finished processing and cooling. And the lid promptly became stuck. The manual had talked about the possibility of a vacuum forming and how to remedy it – by prying the lid open with a screwdriver. However, test subject Bill came to the rescue with the claw end of a hammer. Worked like a charm!

My weekend's work

By the end of the day, I had fourteen cans of beef stew, seven cans of green beans and seven cans of marinara. It was a long but productive weekend. And if the power were to go out…we would be ok for a while due to our own diligence and foresight. After all, who wants to eat factory processed crap even in the midst of an emergency? We have standards!

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The Spice is Right

Apparently I’ve been on a spicy roll lately. I was quietly perusing the farmer’s market and came across these fantastic looking poblanos. I had to have some. Suddenly all my weekend cooking plans were completely rearranged, all due to some chiles.

Poblanos just beg to be stuffed, and these ones were no different. Earlier this year I did some shrimp stuffed poblanos and they turned out well, so I decided to take that idea and run with it.

But before I could do anything else, there was another urgent matter. Salsa. I chopped and diced and threw together my CSA tomatoes, farmer’s market sweet onions, garlic and jalapeno, and some cilantro, lime and salt n pepper. I took several bites to make sure it was good.

For the poblanos, I roasted them in the oven, turning often until they were mostly blackened, then steamed them in a covered dish. I know that the skin is just supposed to peel off effortlessly, but peeling these poblanos made me remember why it’s been eight months since I did this. It really is a pain in butt. Then you have to carefully open it and pull out the seeds. This would be easier if you have slave labor (aka children) to help. The kitties told me I was on my own.

pork stuffed poblanos1For the stuffing, I cooked up some Nature’s Harmony Farm ground pork and seasoned it with this chipotle seasoning from Whole Foods. I stirred some sour cream and cilatro into it and was suprised at how really fantastic it tasted. I lined my baking dish with a bunch of chopped tomatoes that didn’t make it into the salsa and arranged my poblanos onto them, stuffing them with as much pork mix as they could take. A sprinkle of mexican cheese went on and into the oven they went until the cheese was all nicely browned and bubbly.

pork stuffed poblanos plate1They were delicious, if I do say so myself. Spicy and savory, with the extra kick of the salsa on the side…mmmm…. Test subject Bill went back for seconds.

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I have some pickles calling from the fridge, reminding me to enjoy the fruits of my labor…hope you do, too.

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