Category Archives: Cooking

Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes

Here in Denver the weather is insane. It’s pretty common to have it be snowing one day & sunny in the 70’s the next but honestly, that’s one of the reasons I love it here so much! That & the fact that it’s sunny 99% of the time. Colorado actually has one of the highest rates of sunny days in the entire country! Since it’s so nice & sunny here I decided I wanted to make sun-dried tomatoes this summer. I’ve had an amazing crop of tomatoes this year in my new garden! I am so happy with how my new garden did. There are a few things I feel like I did right & I’ll share those tips for anyone interested in growing awesome tomatoes.

  • Use a whiskey barrel: Thanks to my dad, I was able to have a fantastically huge crop of tomatoes because I grew them in a make-shift whiskey barrel. Growing veggies in containers like this is definitely the way to go. The larger size allows plenty of room for the roots as well as giving you a place to create the perfect soil mixture without having to worry about the quality of the soil. Plus it keeps the moisture trapped within the walls of the barrel, reducing the need to water every day.You can see what the homemade whiskey barrel setup with the tomatoes growing in the picture below.
Tomatoes in the Whiskey Barrel

Tomatoes in the Whiskey Barrel

  • Feed your plants: I used a tomato food from Burpee.com called Tomato-Tone. It’s organic & all-natural so you don’t have to worry about chemicals getting into your food. I had four groups of plants, each group had 2-3 plants in it. I feed each group 3 tablespoons of Tomato-Tone every other weekend. From the very first feeding, the results were almost immediate! The plants started producing extra flowers within a few days of the feeding.
  • Prune like crazy: This tip is from my mom. If you haven’t read any of my older posts then you wouldn’t know that my parents are the most awesomest gardeners ever. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but they did with the Rocky Mountain News Home & Garden Denver Home Garden Contest & were pictured on the front page of the Lifestyle section sitting in between their happy little plants! I think what I’m trying to say is that my parents know what’s up when it comes to growing stuff. In regards to the tomato plants, my mom put it like this: tomatoes are really a vine-like plant. You basically want to nip off all the leaves & suckers near the bottom of the plant so the plant puts all its energy into producing plants. My mom drew me a little picture, which I don’t have anymore, but it showed that you leave the top 5 flower buds plus their suckers & pinch off everything below it. I didn’t really follow the 5 rule, I kind of just pinched off everything below a certain point & that seemed to work just fine. As they grew, I chose which suckers I wanted to let get bigger, depending on where there were located on the plant, how many suckers it already had, how big & healthy it looks. You start to get a feel for what needs to come off & what needs to stay after a few weeks. But I got such a fantastic crop this summer I’m definitely going to prune like that next summer. You can see in the picture below how it looks like there’s hardly any leaves, just tomatoes!
My Pruned Tomato Plants

My Pruned Tomato Plants

With the recent REALLY cold snap that lasted for one week in the beginning of October, the tomato season came to a sudden end. I went outside & harvested EVERYTHING I could off the tomato plants. My neighbors didn’t really harvest any of their tomatoes this summer so I picked all their plants too. I am going to make a spicy pepper mix with the green tomatoes (post will follow) but the red ones I didn’t really know what to do with. I REALLY wanted to can some tomatoes this summer but all I got around to were pickling some cherry tomatoes with garlic & purple basil. Most of the tomatoes I grew were cherry, thanks to the mystery plants donated by my mom this spring. Don’t get me wrong, I am SUPER happy I didn’t have to buy plants but I think next year I’ll add some different varieties. But on the bright side, all the extra cherry tomatoes ended up being perfect for sun-dried tomatoes. Now the last week of October isn’t the sunniest week around here, I probably would have been better off doing it in the 100 plus degree weather we had for three solid months this summer but better late than never!

I started off by speeding up the drying process in the over. I drizzled extra virgin olive oil on a big roasting pan. I spread the cherry tomatoes evenly over the pan.

Cherry Tomatoes in a Roasting Pan

Cherry Tomatoes in a Roasting Pan

I stuck them in the oven for about a half hour at 275 degrees. I also propped the oven door open because cooking tomatoes doesn’t mean they are getting dry. That’s another trick I learned from my mom since that what she does when she makes beef jerky. It allows the moist air in the over to escape & reduces the humidity inside. After they looked like they were starting to get  a little bit shriveled, I took them out of the oven.

Shriveled Tomatoes

Shriveled Tomatoes

I set them outside on my balcony on the rail where I thought they’d get the most sun during the day. I left them outside for 3 days. At that point they weren’t completely done but it was going to snow & that would have ruined them.

Tomatoes Drying in the Sun

Tomatoes Drying in the Sun

I brought them back inside & left them out on the table in the pan to finish. Every day I picked out the tomatoes that looked done so there wouldn’t be extra humidity in the pan (kind of like how the less clothes you have in the dryer the faster it gets done). Remember, you don’t want them bone dry, think raisins. They should be slightly soft & the test I used to determine if they were ready was if they felt solid between my fingers. If there was any mushiness then they still had some liquid left inside & needed more drying time.

Finished Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Finished Sun-Dried Tomatoes

As they got done, I stuck them in a mason jar with a lid one it, not sealed or anything, just air tight so they wouldn’t become dry & crumble to dust. After an extra 3 days the last of them were done. I ate one & they were really good! I can’t wait to cook with them!!!

Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Mason Jar

Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Mason Jar

 

Unprocessed October 2012 Challenge!!!

Unprocessed October 2012

Ok, so I ran across this fantastic challange about 11 days too late! I love the idea of unprocessed foods. My mom constantly tells me she thinks I would have made an awesome pioneer. I knit compulsively, make tons of crafty household doo-dads, sew, do most of my own household repairs, do home decorating from my own ideas & designs, chop my own wood, smoke meat in my homemade smoker, grow my own food, can my own food, make my own broth, grow my own herbs, make almost all the food I injest from scratch, have a hoard of cats, ok maybe that last one may or may not be a telltale sign of  a successful pioneer, but you get the point. I see almost all things as a challenge, like hey, that’s a pretty cool sweater sitting there on the rack for $75 but I’ll bet I could knit a better one! Or hey, that’s some pretty good super expensive gourmet seasoning from Whole Foods, I totally could make it better myself! The funny thing is a lot of the projects are partially based on the idea I could do them myself without paying for things but sometimes, a lot of times, they end up being just as expensive, if not more expensive, but man! is it worth it. My eyes have been opened to an entirely new world of food!!! I’ve learned so much about cooking & eating, it’s been a really amazing, delicious experience. Anyways, back to the challenge, Andrew Wilder has this challenge going that defines unprocessed eating as such:

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.

I think that could be open to a wide range of interpretations but I think the idea is very clear, don’t eat crappy food!

I signed up, took the pledge & will begin the challenge on the 15th. I think I will commit to the first week on a solid. I have doubts about doing it the rest of the month because of Halloween. I love Halloween, my son loves Halloween, Halloween is all about the unholiest of all unprocessed foods – CANDY! So there may be some slight modifications due to that one issue but I will sort out the details in my head over the next few days & come up with some ground rules. I plan on blogging about it so stay tuned. . .

Here are a few recipes I think I’ll include in my challenge:

Maple Apple Chips

Maple Apple Chips

Author: Aimee Wimbush-Bourque from SimpleBites.net
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 mins

I used MacIntosh apples and they didn’t require any special measures to prevent browning. If you think your apples will brown excessively, dip them in a solution of 2 cups water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice right after they have been sliced.

Depending on how strictly you apply the Kitchen Test, spices might be out for Unprocessed. Since I bought my cinnamon whole while in Mexico this summer and ground it myself for the apples, I figured it was okay.

Ingredients
  • 3 medium Apples
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground Cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together maple syrup and cinnamon in a small ramekin or bowl.
  2. Wash and core the apples using an apple corer.
  3. Slice off 1/4? of the top and bottom of the apple and discard. Slice the remaining apple using a mandolin set to 1/8? thick.
  4. Spread the apple rings out onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Try to avoid overlapping the rings.
  5. Using a pastry brush, coat apple slices lightly with maple syrup. Place in oven.
  6. Bake for approximately 2 hours, rotating once or twice. Start checking on them around 30 minutes*.
  7. They may be slightly pliable when they come out of the oven, but should crisp up when cool.
  8. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days.
Notes

*Baking time will vary with apple varieties, thickness of slices, and position in the oven. Keep an eye on them!

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt

The basic steps of yogurt-making…

…are easier than chocolate chip cookies:

  1. Heat to sterilize the milk (185 degrees).
  2. Cool milk to proper incubation temperature (90-120 degrees).
  3. Add starter yogurt.
  4. Incubate at warm temperature 4-24 hours.

Supplies

  • Glass jars (quart canning jars or empty mayo or spaghetti sauce jars work great)
  • Milk (any, from skim to whole – but skim will be very runny unless you add powdered milk, which seems a little #processed for this challenge. You could always just grab raw milk straight from the cows!)
  • Candy thermometer, but I can show you how to do it without one too
  • Pot large enough to hold your glass jars
  • 2 Tbs of plain yogurt per quart of milk (Buy the freshest yogurt possible at a store and make sure it has “live and active cultures.” I prefer Dannon or Stonyfield. I know they have the three top cultures that I’m looking for to help the gut.)
  • Picnic cooler
  • Bath/beach towel
  • Timer

Method

1. Put a dishcloth in the bottom of a large pot, and place the clean jars on the cloth.

2. Pour milk into your jars to about an inch from the top.

3. Place jars into the pot and fill pot with tap water around the jars.

4. Cook on high heat until boiling and get the milk to about 185 (you can’t burn it with this method, so if you forget it for a while, it’s OK!). Turn off the heat and put lids on the jars.

5. Put the pot in the cooler with the towel underneath and the lid on both pot and cooler.

6. Cool the milk. You can do it on the counter, in the garage in winter, or in a sinkful of cold water with ice packs.

7. Get milk to about 110 degrees. I know the milk is about ready when I can pick up the jars and hold them without burning my hands.

8. Stir in ~2 Tbs. plain yogurt for each quart of milk.

9. Get those lids on again and nestle your jars in the cooler. Keep them wrapped in one half of the towel and take the lid off the pot to let the heat out, then close the lid of the cooler to keep the heat in.

My yogurt jars happily nestled in the cooler, ready to incubate.
Before I close the lid, I’ll wrap the towel end from the right around the jars.

10. Incubate 4-24 hours. Shorter incubation makes sweeter yogurt, longer is more tart. Also lower incubation temperature makes sweeter yogurt and higher makes more tart. I’ve had good success at 4 hours and at 24 (add a teapot of boiling water at the 12-hour mark if going for the full 24, which gets rid of almost all the lactose in the milk).

11. When the time is up, put the jars into the freezer for about an hour to make a creamier consistency. Do not stir first. No room in the freezer? They can go right into the fridge.

That’s it! You have created yogurt!

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Author: Tina Ferris
Ingredients
  • 4-5 pounds very ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.
  2. One by one, use tongs to place each tomato into the boiling water. Leave each tomato for about 30-45 seconds. Then, use tongs to remove each tomato and place immediately into an ice water bath in a large bowl.
  3. This is my favorite part. The skins of the tomatoes will crack and start to peel; all you have to do is simply peel the skins off completely. (You can save these skins to make your own hearty tomato paste!)
  4. Using a knife, quarter each of the tomatoes and cut away ant of the hard pieces.
  5. Now, it’s time to squeeze out the seeds and excess water. Place an empty bowl on your work surface and squeeze out the seeds and liquid. Place the drained tomatoes in a strainer and allow them to strain longer. Don’t worry if you don’t get every seed out. The point is not perfection; the point is rustic, homemade goodness.
  6. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place the tomatoes in the skillet and bring to a boil.
  7. Bring the heat down to a simmer. There is no need to break apart the tomatoes. Over time, they will simmer down and break apart. Simmer for at least 45 minutes. You may simmer longer depending on your desired thickness. Less time results in a chunkier sauce whereas more time will result in a thinner one. At the end, finish it off with a pinch of organic sea salt and stir it in. Enjoy!

Zesty Zucchini Relish

I have a ton of zucchini coming to me from my parent’s garden. It is insane how much zucchini can come off of one plant! I have about had it with eating it at this point. I’ve grilled it, sauteed it, stir-fried it, steamed it. But the one thing I didn’t do was pickle it! I had SO much left over I decided to make some zucchini relish. I’ve never made pickles before & this was my first summer doing my own canning, every other time I’ve canned it’s been with my mom at her house. My cousin apparently was doing the same thing in Wisconsin, this was her first summer canning too. We’ve been going back & forth on Facebook about this & that, posting pictures, trading tips. She forwarded me this recipe for Zesty Zucchini Relish. I had found something similar in the Ball Blue Book but I liked her’s better. The only problem is, I HATE green peppers. So I did some tinkering & substituted the green pepper with a mix of yellow summer squash & cucumbers.

Zesty Zucchini Relish Ingredients

At first, as you can see in the picture above, I was considering adding some celery, but once I shredded my yellow squash & cucumbers, I had more than enough veggies. All the ingredients came from either mine or my parents garden. It turned out freaking delicious. My son liked it so much, the first day after I canned it he called me as soon as he got home from school & asked me how to cook hot dogs so he could have something to eat the relish with!

Brined Zesty Zucchini Relish

So here’s the recipe I used, with my own modifications added! Please note, this is technically a sweet relish. I don’t like sweet relish & I refuse to eat it. However, this doesn’t taste like normal sweet relish. It isn’t really sweet, it’s more like a spicy bread & butter taste. I just thought I’d throw that out there so no one gets misled.

Rox’s Zesty Zucchini Relish

Brine Soak Ingredients
8 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups shredded white onions
2 cups shredded cucumber
1 cup shredded yellow summer squash
3 green chili peppers, roasted
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup canning salt

Vinegar Solution
3 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon chopped lemon basil
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place the Brine soak ingredients in a glass or stainless steel container. Add canning salt & cover with cold water. Let stand for 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
  2. Rinse well and drain. Squeeze out excess water. Resulting mixture should cont4 cups of well packed veggies.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot prepare vinegar solution by adding all it`s ingredients bring to a boil then add the drained vegetables and simmer for 10 minute Add food coloring if desired.
  4. Fill jars, leaving 1/4-inch head-space. Process pints for 10 minute in boiling-water canner.

FYI – Always adjust the processing times for your altitude. Here in Denver, the mile high city at 5,280 feet above sea level, I have to add 10 minutes to everything I process. I forgot to do that on my peaches & one batch of peach butter & it was a nightmare to fix.

Funneling Relish into Jars

Canned Zesty Zucchini Relish

Canned Zesty Zucchini Relish

Garden Antipasto Recipe

Another oil based canning recipe, this one for eggplant!

Eggplant, eggplant, eggplant. Never have we received so much eggplant in the CSA: growing eggplants must be fond of torrential rain storms interspersed with bright, sunny days. The peppers have been no slouch either: pale green Cubanelles, tiny, dark purple bells, fat red and yellow sweet peppers, they’ve all been making their way into my meals of late, but there are so many that they need to find their way into my freezer and pantry as well.

Enter canned antipasto: a vinegar & oil pickle, this preserve makes use of this summer’s bounty of eggplant & peppers, adds a bit of aromatic flavor with garlic & herbs, and once mellowed on the shelf for a few weeks, will be a welcome addition to a cheese plate, charcuterie platter or traditional Italian meal. I haven’t yet opened a jar, so I can’t comment on taste or texture of the finished product…

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Oil Preserved Zucchini Planks Recipe

Trying to find a way to can zucchini! This is a good thought. Love marinated stuff in EVOO.

Auburn Meadow Farm

An everlasting post-traumatic stress symptom of my early jobs in bustling restaurants is this recurring dream:

I am the only server on duty in a restaurant with many rooms on many levels. The hostess seats a party and I take their drink order. Then she seats another party and I take their drink order, then another, and another and another….

I’m rushing to greet each table as they are seated, up and down and all over this gi-normous, ever-expanding restaurant and I can only collect the drink orders, never fill them and get back to the tables to get the food orders…

Exhausting.

What’s my dream got to do with anything? Zucchini, that’s what.

The zucchini keeps coming, and coming and coming! Those fertile plants just keep popping out beautiful, shiny, perfectly formed fruit and I just can’t do them justice. I go out, greet them, take their drink…

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