Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Doin' It the Ol' Fashioned Way

My mom used to can with my grandmother.  I remember my grandparents had a very large garden, and there were always jars of things in her basement.  I'm sure my mom learned what she knows from grandma.  I've come to canning only in the last couple of years, and my mom has taught me a lot, but I'm a devotee now.  There's no BPA in the containers, there's nothing in the jar I don't know about, and I'm only using the best and freshest ingredients for anything I make.

Yes, this is really old school.  Hardly anyone does this anymore, right? Well, does that make it wrong?  I take incredible pride in my kitchen, and yes I'm likely a bit off my rocker about it.  (Anyone else out there make all their own ketchup, mustard, mayo, that kind of stuff?)  But it's just who I am, and it makes me happy.  I know my son is getting healthy, real food and he knows where it comes from.  (Cleaning fish and rabbits comes a little later, but he'll get there.)

So each year, I put up enough tomatoes to last us through the winter.  Sometimes I guess right, and sometimes I'm short and am forced to buy cans in the supermarket.  But I think the magic number for my little family of 3 lies somewhere between 20 and 25 quarts of tomatoes for the year.  So that was my goal.  Yes, that's a lot of work.  But when you have a friend to do it with, it goes a lot easier.  And, of course, the right Pandora channel playing.

My friend and I figured we'd need roughly 2 1/2 bushels of Roma tomatoes to cover our families, so I picked up 4 boxes of tomatoes.

We collected up all of our quart jars, and had the estimated 4 dozen we'd need.  We talked about how to prep jars and lids in a previous post.  But please, don't take my word for anything.  The USDA publishes guidelines on safe home canning, and you definitely want to review that before you get started.  Sterilizing 48 jars, though, was going to be long and tedious to do by boiling them.  The alternative approach we did was to put the oven on at 250˚F and leave them in there until we needed them (much longer than 10 minutes).  Learned the hard way:  Those suckers are going to be hot when you take them out to fill...
To skin the tomatoes, cut out the core, cut a small "x" in the other end, and blanch them in boning water for a couple of minutes (like 2-3, until you just start to see the skin split where you cut it).

Transfer them into an ice bath and let them soak there just until they're cool enough to handle.

The skins should come off pretty easily at that point.  You should then pack them into your jars as tightly as you can.  First, put a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of the jar, then squeeze in the tomatoes.  Really cram them in there.  As you're squeezing them in there, they will release some of their juice, which is what you want.

After you have the jar packed tight with tomatoes, slide a table knife into the jar along the wall, pushing the tomatoes over to let out any air bubbles.  You don't want air trapped between the tomatoes.  Leave 1/4" (or a little less) of space at the top of the jar.  Wipe the rim with a clean paper towel, and put on your prepared lid and the ring.  Submerge the jar into boiling water, and once the water comes back to a boil, start your timer.  Leave in the water bath for the recommended time (see above).

The jar needs to cool gradually, so you can either wrap it in a blanket and let it rest overnight, or just turn off the burner on the water bath and let it gradually cool with the water overnight.

The jar should be sealed.  Push down on the lid, and if it doesn't click, then it should be sealed.  You shouldn't be able to pull the lid off easily, either.  Then, one last thing before you put it up.  This is a step oft forgotten.  Take the ring off.  If you leave it on, any tomato bits under the ring will turn into Superglue and make it impossible to take off later.  Storing them with lids and no rings is just fine.  Oh, and label with the contents and the dates.  (I just use a Sharpie on the lid.)

So, four boxes of Romas.  What'd we get?  It came out to 44 quarts of tomatoes, with about a half a dozen left over.  For the extras, I think I'm going to try making my own sun-dried tomatoes.  Do I recommend doing 4 boxes of tomatoes all at once?

Let's just say my back really hurts.  And our tummies will be happy all winter long.

Next year, I think we'll do two boxes at a time.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Groupon alert!

Nalls has just posted a Groupon!  Please help spread the word to friends and family!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Emerald of the Herb Garden

Wow, two big bunches of parsley.  So, what to do... what to do... what to do...

First off, parsley isn't the green stuff on the side of the plate at old school restaurants.  That's curly parsley anyway.  The bunches we have are, well, a horse of a completely different color.  Italian flat leaf parsley, and it's an oft-overlooked emerald in the herb world.

Parsley is what's called a biennial plant.  That means it has a two-year lifecycle.  Over its first growing season, it stores nutrients in a taproot.  After the second growing season, the roots can be used in soups and stocks, or roasted with other root vegetables.  Mmm...  The varieties of parsley we typically get here in the US have smaller, thinner roots than Eastern European varieties, but they still taste really good.
Photo via Wikipedia

So, what to do with all this parsley?  We did talk about pesto before, and parsley makes a really good one.  Take a basic pesto recipe, and make the following substitutions:  parsley for the basil, toasted walnuts for the pine nuts, and a little grated fresh ginger for half the garlic (but go easy on the ginger).  That'll make a pesto that's great on pasta, fish and chicken.

It's called Italian flat-leaf parsley, and it's in a wide variety of Italian dishes.  Spaghetti puttanesca, for example.  There are numerous risotto dishes featuring parsley, as well.
Photo via SimplyRecipes

Parsley is a classic ingredient in American cooking, particularly in stuffing.  Yes, yes, I know, Thanksgiving stuffing has to have sage.  But this isn't Thanksgiving.  Sunday dinner is fast becoming a thing of bygone days, but hey, fight the trend.  Roast a chicken, and make some stuffing (you can get bagged roasted chestnuts at any big grocery store).  This one is a great stuffing recipe, too.  Bring back tradition!

As previously mentioned, you can stuff some of the zucchini that you have, and there's parsley in the stuffing.
Photo via Fareham Wine Cellar Blog

Finally, I'd like to tell you about a recent culinary interest of mine.  I discovered a Bolivian restaurant, and a prominent feature of their cuisine is chimichurri sauce for their steaks and chicken.  Parsley is the main ingredient, and the bright vinegary sauce shows just how not boring the parsley is.  I've been trying to replicate their chimichurri, and can never quite get it.  There are some recipes out there that get pretty close, though, and they're delicious.  Try this one, this one, or this one.

In looking at my recipe database, of the 1100+ recipes I have, more than 20% list parsley as an ingredient.  Many of those use it just as some color sprinkled on top, but a lot of them use it as an integral flavor in its own right.  Yep, parsley is more than just color.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Being a Tomato Groupie

Last time we talked about pizza,  and the time before about family secret recipes, and it got me thinking about what other honors could be given to a tomato.  Red sauce is a coveted secret in the kitchen of every Italian grandmother, right?  And not being Italian, I had to get mine off the TV.  That's okay, it still kicks butt!

Being a "Groupie"
I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain.  For those of you who aren't, he's an author-turned-television chef.  If you've never read Kitchen Confidential, get it.  Read it.  You can even find it at the public library.  Fantastic look behind the scenes of fine dining establishments, in quite the irreverent vein.  There's an awesome passage where he describes tasting his first oyster at the age of 9, comparing it to... well, I won't give it away.  But I bring this up because I've learned a lot from both watching his television show and reading his cookbook.  Yes, actually reading his cookbook.  You'll both learn, and laugh your butt off, through the whole thing.  The couple of pages he has on making stock are alone worth the cost of the book.

Why am I bringing it up?  Because watching his show is how I learned to make red sauce.  Granted, I've tweaked it along the way.  It's the go-to recipe that I can make by heart using a grand total of about 4 brain cells.  Here's what I do:
Photo via Travel Channel


  • 4 cups diced Roma tomatoes, either fresh (blanched and peeled) or home-canned
  • 1/3 cup decent olive oil
  • 1 large sprig fresh basil
  • 2 large sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (more or less to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • healthy dash red pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste (but don't use much)

  1. Steep the herbs in the olive oil over gentle heat for 10-15 minutes, then strain and discard the herbs.
  2. Add the garlic,  and tomatoes to the oil, mash with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the consistency is a thick sauce.  Add the butter and stir until melted.  Ta da!
  3. If you're using it with pasta (okay, yes that's a blinding flash of the obvious), let the noodles cook their last minute or two in the sauce along with 1/2 cup of pasta water.  You want to aerate the noodles while they cook in the sauce.

Photo via Epicurious

So, let's take a look at some other types of tomato-based sauces.  Marinara is a classic.  One of my family's favorite recipes is this one for chicken in an herby French sauce made from cherry tomatoes. This Provencal chicken stew has a beautiful tomato sauce as well.  Yes, even the humble Sloppy Joe should have a beautiful, rich tomato sauce.  Of course, the most glorious use for tomatoes (after, of course, deep dish pizza) is my Nirvana:  cioppino.  (Let me know if you ever go to San Francisco, I know the greatest place!)
Photo via The Old Clam House

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Greatest Honor You Can Give a Tomato

As I started bringing home my crop share box, I started to think about what was in it.  Then, a lightning bolt from above:  there are plum tomatoes and mushrooms in that box on the back seat!  These being our first Romas of the season, I decided to convey upon them the greatest status a tomato can have:  to become part of a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.  Quite an honor, little guys.  You're lucky.

Pizza done properly isn't just crackers and cheese, you know.  My native Chicago perfected the dish in the era of the Great Depression, when hearty Midwesterners decided to turn pizza into an actual meal.  Thus, deep dish is born.  The art of Deep Dish has actually been perfected in Champaign, Illinois.  Papa Del's has been an institution at my alma mater (Hail to the Orange!) for decades.  While in no way believe my efforts pay adequate homage to them, I try to model after their assembly.  I originally got the idea to make my own from watching television, and I've tweaked the recipe along the way.  You'll need a deep dish pan, and I use a bread machine for the dough.  Here's what you do:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • healthy dash red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups diced fresh plum tomates
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 slices mozzarella cheese
  • 8 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Toppings of your choice (sausage, mushrooms, onions, spinach, et al.)
1. In a sauce pan, warm the olive oil. Cook garlic for 30 seconds, add spices and herbs and cook another 30 seconds.
2. Add tomatoes, paste, sugar and wine. Bring to a simmer, reduce to low heat and cook about 30 minutes until thickened. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Use the dough setting on a bread machine, putting ingredients in as your manual specifies.

1. Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Spray pan with cooking spray.
2. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Flatten into a disk. Working from the center out, stretch dough into pizza shape. It should come up the walls of the pan and overhang the edge all around just slightly.

3. On the bottom of the crust, tear half the provolone and mozzarella into pieces and create as even a layer as you can. Sprinkle half the Parmesan on top. Next, add a good layer of sauce.

4. Arrange your toppings on the sauce. Tear up the remaining mozzarella and provolone, then sprinkle the remaining Parmesan, making a layer on the toppings. Finally, add a generous layer of sauce. (Chicago pizza has sauce on top, otherwise the long cooking time would burn the cheese.)

5. Tightly roll the overhanging edges and create a small lip over the tomato sauce. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and sauce is bubbly. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Pardon me, but my dinner is ready. ;)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yet Another Ethnic Tongue-Twister Dish

I guess I have a penchant for cooking things that are difficult to pronounce.  Green beans are becoming quite abundant, and tomatoes are starting to come in.  What’s that mean?


Go ahead, spend a minute trying to figure out how to pronounce it.  I’ll wait.  Meanwhile, I'm going to dig deep into the nightmares of pledge semester and see if I can write that with the Greek alphabet.  Hmm... Φασολακια  Is that right?

It’s Greek stewed green beans.  No crispy onion straws involved.  Yay.  Unfortunately no bacon either.  Boo.  This is the sort of dish that it’s easy to get going, then leave on the stove for forever to cook.  Without further delay…

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. green beans, ends snapped off, washed
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, oregano, or a combination thereof
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt & pepper


Gently heat olive oil over medium flame (not to smoking).  Add onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes until translucent.

Add green beans, tomatoes, water, and herbs.  Let simmer over low heat at least 30 minutes, but it’s okay to leave it a lot longer than that.  (I’ve had no problem with it cooking for 2 hours.)  Stir occasionally.

Remove the lid and bring flame to medium, let reduce 10 minutes.  You still want the beans in liquid, but it shouldn’t look like soup.  Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

That’s a pretty easy one, but the flavors are amazing.  I like making this when I’ve got a number of other things to cook, and I can just let it go while I’m busy elsewhere.

Any other ethnic dishes out there you can share with me?

If you happen to stop by Nalls today...

Wish Valerie a happy birthday!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Family Secrets

We've all got them, right?  Some treasured family secret recipe somewhere.  I gave you one of mine in my first post on kohlrabi.  I'll give you another one now:  my mom's German potato salad, with a couple of my own tweaks.  Potatoes are another almost-every-week kind of staple, and we're in the midst of cucumber season, too.  So, without further ado:


  • 1 1/2 lbs. assorted potatoes, either peeled or unpeeled, sliced into bite-sized 1/4" disks
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
  • 2 scallions, sliced 1/8" thick
  • 3 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup white vinegar, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, to taste
  • Salt & pepper
  • Kettle of boiling water
Yes, you need to slice a number of ingredients thinly.  Yes, the mandoline will make that fast and easy.  No, you may not use it without the safety glove.


  • Boil potatoes in salted water until tender but not soft.  Since you're cooking the potatoes after they're sliced, they will cook quickly.
  • Crisp the bacon, reserving fat.  You should have about 1/4 cup.  Remove bacon to a paper towel and make gravy from the bacon drippings.  Add half the flour to the bacon fat with salt and pepper, whisk.  Gradually add remaining flour to create a roux, and allow to darken a little.  Add sugar and 1/4 cup vinegar to roux, then gradually add boiling water, stirring, to create a medium-thickness gravy.  Adjust vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

  • Toss together potatoes, scallions, cucumber, and crisped bacon.  Pour over half the gravy, toss.  Add more gravy and toss again until you get the desired consistency.

  • Ta da!  Serve either cooled or warm.  And yes, it'll be better tomorrow.

Potato salad is the sort of dish where nearly every family has their own favorite.  I asked around Nall's and Vanessa had a really good one, too:
I used about 6-8 red potatoes, cut in small cubes, tossed in olive oil and red wine vinegar then lined then up in a deep cookie sheet and bake for 50-60 mins at 400. While potatoes are baking, take about 4 ears of corn and cut off cob. Chop up 2-3 spring onions and toss with corn. When you take out the potatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and toss with mayo to your liking while the potatoes are hot and add in the spring onions and corn. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. You can also add bacon!
 I've got a couple of other potato salad recipes that I really like as well.  This one is sort of an Alsatian take on my German potato salad, using pancetta and brown butter.  It's my go-to pot luck dish.  This one is similar and on my list to try.  Here's a creamy, lemony one that's very good too.

Do you mind sharing your "secret" potato salad recipe?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

No, It's Not Just a Movie

Listen, I love that little mouse, too.  But Remy's movie isn't just a movie for kids.  It's a movie for us foodies, too.  And, ratatouille is an actual dish.  Granted, like any good chef, Remy put his own spin on it.  What you'll see in a traditional ratatouille recipe looks more like a vegetable stew with a tomato sauce.  And it's fantastic.
Map via Google Maps
Ratatouille is a dish native to Provence, particularly around Nice.  In reality though, forms of this dish can be found all the way around the Ligurian Sea to Tuscany and even south to Rome.  In Italy, essentially the same dish is called ciambotta.
Photo via Epicurious

Yes, there are definitely variations in both ingredients and in how it's served.  Generally they will both contain a combination of eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Toward the east (France), the dish is flavored with marjoram and thyme.  As you go west, there is more basil and parsley instead.  In France, the dish is a casserole or the filling in an omelet and can be served either hot or cold as a side.  In Tuscany, the dish is thicker, and generally a stew, often with potatoes and olives and sometimes even meat.  Making either ratatouille or ciambotta is fairly simple, and the ingredients are now in season!
Photo via SmittenKitchen

For those of you who, like me, have a child who is a fan of the movie, you can't get away with making the dish if it doesn't look like Remy's interpretation.  Don't worry, I've got you covered.  There are two great examples (here and here) that will make you quite the hero.

So, do you have any of those peppers left from your box?