Time for Tomatoes

Fri, Jan 30 • 0

A yellow-green variety called Pork ChopIt’s about 10 weeks to last frost here in zone 7. So if you live near me, then it’s time to start your tomato and pepper seedlings.

This year, I’m trying five  new varieties… two big beefsteak heirlooms called Country Taste, and Grandma’s Pick; a medium-sized orange variety called Moonglow that’s supposed to be one of the best for straight-off-the-vine eating (though I would think that they would say that about all tomatoes, wouldn’t they?) ; a cherry variety called Sweet Million; and a yellow/green one called Pork Chop.

I’m also going to try growing the seedlings in egg shells that I have been saving since November. Supposedly, the added calcium will be a benefit to the plants down the road, but I’m wondering if it would be wiser to just handle the seedlings in a more normal way, and crush up the eggshells and add them when I put the plants in the ground.


Whole Foods-like Tomato Bisque

Sat, Jan 17 • 0

Gourmet-Garden-Dill-TubeWhen I make this, I go to the trouble of peeling fresh tomatoes for this recipe, because I think the flavor benefits, but I know that’s more of a hassle than probably most people would go to. I usually start with two or three of the containers of fresh tomatoes that the sell at Costco. I’ll also shred the carrot using a food processor, but if you’d rather not dirty up your processor bowl, you can probably get away with finely dicing it. The vermouth is crucial for the flavor, so don’t skip it. And fresh dill can sometimes be really hard to find in the grocery store, but I’ve found a product that is a god-send … it’s fresh dill in a tube, like toothpaste, sold under the name “Gourmet Garden,” and I use it quite generously. You will find it in the produce department, and it works perfectly for this recipe. I’m told that this soup freezes well, but it’s never stayed around long enough for me to find out.

3-4 (or more) lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled and cored, or 3 large cans of organic tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 large carrots, shredded
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
½ c dry vermouth
fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

If you’re starting with fresh tomatoes, boil a pot of water, and fill another bowl with cold water. Cut an X, or just slit the skin on the bottoms of the tomatoes. Dunk the tomatoes, 6-8 at a time, in the boiling water until the skin starts to loosen. (It’ll wrinkle and start to peel.) Remove them with a spider and cool them off in the bowl of cold water until you can handle them. Remove the peel, and the stem/core, and cut the tomatoes into quarters, reserving as much as the liquid as you can.

Saute onions until translucent, add carrots and saute a few more minutes. Add garlic, and stir until fragrant. Deglaze with vermouth. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, add a generous amount (1 T, at least) of fresh dill, chopped. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning. Puree with a stick blender, or in blender in batches.


Orecchiette with Sausage, Baby Kale, and Bell Pepper

Sat, Jan 17 • 0

Orecchiette_Pasta(Even though this recipe is called orecchiette, I’ve made it with other shapes of pasta. Rigatoni works well.)

2 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
Freshly cracked black pepper
14 oz sweet Italian chicken sausage, casing removed
6 cups baby kale
10 oz orecchiette (or other shaped pasta)
¼ cup grated pecorino romano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Start a large pot of water boiling, with 2 teaspoons of salt.

Meanwhile, heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onion and red bell pepper, crushed garlic, and the rest of the salt. Cook, stirring until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage using a wooden spoon, and brown for 10 minutes. Add the kale, and cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the cover, and stir and let the moisture evaporate.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Mix the sausage mixture and the pasta and the reserved water. Cook together until the water evaporates. Remove from heat and mix in the cheese and the optional red pepper flakes.


Chocolate Birthday Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Wed, Jan 14 • 0

I don’t often get called to make birthday cakes, but when I do, this is the recipe I use. It’s practically foolproof, and completely rich and delicious, with dark chocolate cake mounded with sweet, white frosting. I usually make it as a layer cake, but it works perfectly fine as a sheet cake or even cupcakes –just use the toothpick method to figure out the proper cooking time.

My friend Theresa tried making this recipe, and snapped a picture of the result.

My friend Theresa tried making this recipe, and snapped a picture of the result.

Cake :

butter, for the pans
3 c all-purpose flour, plus a little more for the pans
2/3 c cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 c sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 c canola (or corn) oil
2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 cup cold coffee

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  • Gently mix together the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl with the beater blade.
  • With the mixer on low, add the oil, vinegar, and vanilla, and mix, then add the water and the coffee, and blend until well mixed.
  • Pour the batter equally into the cake pans, and back for 30 minutes, swapping and turning them after 15. You know they’re done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool completely in the pans.

Frosting:

1-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, and heat to 240° or soft-ball stage. Meanwhile, start beating the egg whites, the cream of tartar, and the salt in your mixer until foamy.
  • Once the sugar syrup is at temperature, resume beating the egg whites on high, and add the hot syrup in a slow drizzle.
  • Add the vanilla, and continue mixing until the frosting is glossy and the mixing bowl is cool to the touch.

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