Category Archives: Cooking

Making Sauce on a Sunny Day

Now that it’s finally warm, it’s the perfect time to make some tomato sauce with the beautiful garden tomatoes. Well not really, but this has been a great year for my tomatoes and I need to get them harvested. I have lots of tasty San Marzano Roma, Early Girl slicing tomatoes and tons of Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.

I picked about 5 lbs of San Marzano and Early Girl tomatoes and processed them with my new toy, an Oxo Food Mill.

food mill

Last year to prepare the tomatoes, I par-boiled them, removed the peels and seeds, and then processed them in the food processor to puree them for sauce (see 35 Pounds of Tomatoes for directions).

I kept reading about food mills as a better way to prepare tomatoes (and apparently mashed potatoes), so I thought I’d give it a try this year.  It’s actually pretty easy to use and makes perfect puree.  I also think it’s even more efficient at making puree than the way I prepared the tomatoes last year, since it seems like I ended up with a lot more sauce than before (and fewer seeds).

Here’s some tips I learned:

  • The medium grate was just the right size to get a thick puree without seeds.

oxo food mill

  • I found it was faster if I par-boil the tomatoes for about 1 minute.  Then put tomatoes right into the mill.  About 5-6 fit in at a time.

food mill

  • I made a slice in each tomato once in the food mill to make the process even a little easier.

food mill

  • Be sure to go both forwards and backwards.  You need to clear it periodically to get the chunks mixed up and under the press.
  • It’s done when you are only spinning skins under the press.  Be patient, it’ll happen.
  • Scrape out the peels with a fork and put another batch of tomatoes in.
  • It doesn’t really take any strength to use this.  It’s really just spinning the handle.  I was worried with a bit of a bum shoulder this would be hard.  Not at all.

Now I was ready to make my sauce.  Last winter, I used my frozen tomatoes and played around with recipes.  This was ultimately my favorite.  The longer it cooks the better it tastes.

For 8 cups of tomato puree (about 3 lbs of tomatoes):

2 medium onions, grated
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons Penzys Italian Herb Mix
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups fresh tomato puree
4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter and heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add grated onion and Italian Herb Mix. Sautee 7-8 minutes over medium heat, until onions are soft and golden minutes. Add minced garlic and cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for at least 1 hour. Longer for a richer taste.  Before serving, stir in fresh basil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta.

**If you like a smoother sauce, use a hand blender to blend the sauce when finished cooking.
**If freezing the sauce, leave out basil. Add fresh when warming thawed sauce.
**We eat a fairly low sodium diet. This is flavorful without salt, but if you prefer your sauce with salt, add desired amount to taste with the pureed tomatoes.

tomato puree

Puree is ready to add

Onions and spices are cooking beautifully.  Kitchen smells great!

Braun Stick Blender

Use a hand bender for a smoother sauce

Now that I’ve cooked up all the garden tomatoes, I’ve moved on to the 10 lb box of Roma tomatoes from the farmers market.  Getting ready for winter already 🙁

Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 medium onions, grated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons Penzys Italian Herb Mix
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 8 cups fresh tomato puree
  • 4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Melt butter and heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.
  2. Add grated onion and Italian Herb Mix. Sautee 7-8 minutes over medium heat, until onions are soft and golden minutes.
  3. Add minced garlic and cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant.
  4. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low heat for at least 1 hour. Longer for a richer taste.
  5. Before serving, stir in fresh basil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta.
Notes
**If you like a smoother sauce, use a hand blender to blend the sauce when finished cooking.
**If freezing the sauce, leave out basil. Add fresh when warming thawed sauce.
**We eat a fairly low sodium diet. This is flavorful without salt, but if you prefer your sauce with salt, add desired amount to taste with the pureed tomatoes.

 

Keeping Fresh Berries Fresh

There is nothing tastier than fresh berries from the farmers market. All those lovely strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.  But, there’s also nothing worse than going to the fridge and finding them becoming fuzzy only a day or 2 later.  I tried different ways to try to prolong their freshness, and finally found something that worked–Vinegar.  Simple white vinegar.  Using a dilute vinegar rinse, I’ve had blueberries last up to 2 weeks and raspberries a week in the refrigerator!  (And with no vinegar taste, either)

berry vinegar wash

Place the berries in a colander and put into a bowl containing 3  parts cool water and 1 part white vinegar.

berry vinegar wash

berry vinegar wash

Soak for a few minutes, drain, and rinse under running water.

berry vinegar wash

Place berries onto a towel to dry completely.  Some people suggest placing berries into a salad spinner for 15-30 seconds to dry, but I would only suggest that for firm berries, never for raspberries.

berry vinegar wash

berry vinegar wash

Store the dry berries uncovered (or loosely covered) in the fruit drawer of the fridge.  Enjoy!

 

 

Homemade Suet Cakes

I was at my favorite local butcher shop (Prime-N-Tender Meats) the other day, and asked if they had any suet I could have to make homemade suet cakes for the birds.  They went in the freezer and came out with this bag containing a big bag of fatty glop.

Homemade Suet Cakes

I’m not really sure what I was expecting.  This was a bit of a last minute idea that I came up with while I was there.   I thought seemed like an quick, easy project.  Oops.  I really should have thought this through a little better.  But in the end, I did get some really nice looking suet cakes for the birds.  Would I do it again?  Yes 🙂

Making Homemade Suet Cakes

Ask your local butcher for suet.  You may need to ask around, as not all will carry it, and some may charge a nominal fee for it.  Cut it up into small, even chunks.  Put everything in, even the stuff that doesn’t look at all like anything would eat it.  The fat then needs to be rendered.  After trying a couple of different ways, (see below), I found that the best way was to use a crock pot over low heat.  I felt confident that I could safely leave it to cook all day without worries of starting a grease fire.  To get the rendering started, I added a 1/4 cup of water.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Then cover and let it cook all day until the the remaining fat is crunchy and there’s a good amount of liquid fat in the bottom.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Strain out the crunchy remains and place the liquified fat (and little crumbs) in a bowl.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Now it’s time to pull together the ingredients to make the suet cakes.  There’s lots of things to use that the birds will love.  This time I chose:

  • cornmeal
  • peanut butter
  • bird seed
  • sunflower seeds

Homemade Suet Cakes

To the 1 c of liquified fat I ended up with, I added about 1/2 c cornmeal, 1/2 c peanut butter, 1 cup mixed seed and 1/2 c sunflower seeds.  It should be fairly thick.

Homemade Suet Cakes

 

Homemade Suet Cakes

I then used 2 glass storage containers to make the cakes in.  I don’t have a lot of plastic containers around anymore, but you can use whatever you have in the cupboard–plastic storage containers, plastic tubs, paper cups, whatever you might have around that is the right size.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Place in the refrigerator to harden.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Remove from container and use immediately or store in freezer bags in the freezer.  I got them to release from the glass bowls by putting them in warm water for about 30 sec.  They may also needs a little coaxing with a knife.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Yum!  Now I have 2 very tasty smelling suet cakes ready to be put out for the birds.  Whatever you don’t use you can freeze for later use.

Homemade Suet Cakes

Notes:

**Everything I’ve read says it’s not a good idea to have suet out in the warmer weather.  It can melt, go rancid, start to smell bad or can simply damage birds wings or your patio.  All good reasons to store the leftover suet in the freezer until next fall.

**When I first started to try and melt the suet, I tried the big chunks in a saucepan, and then cut up in the saucepan.  Both terrible ideas from a fire safety standpoint.  If you do want to use a saucepan, a double boiler would be a much better idea.

Homemade Suet CakesHomemade Suet Cakes

**My mom, Peggy, simplifies things even further by just putting the fat from the butcher in a net or cage and let the birds go at it.  They love that, too.

 

 

Peanut Butter Candy Cup Cookies

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Here’s another family holiday favorite snack. By changing up the colored M&M’s, this can be made for any occasion. This recipe has been adapted from MyRecipes.com

You’ll need:

Peanut Butter Cookie dough
Mini Snickers Bars (24)
M&M’s

Prepare your favorite Peanut Butter Cookie dough.  This is mine:

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c margarine or butter, room temperature
1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda

  • Preheat oven to 350º. Spray mini muffin pan with cooking spray
  • Combine sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add peanut butter, vanilla and egg; blend well.
  • Add flour and baking soda

peanut butter cookie dough

  • Roll into 1 inch balls
  • Place each ball into mini muffin pan cup.

Peanut Butter Candy Cup Cookies

  • Bake at 350º for 15-17 minutes, until cookie cups are puffed and golden brown.
  • Remove from oven; press mini Snickers into each one

Peanut Butter Candy Cup Cookies
Peanut Butter Candy Cup Cookies

  • Return pan to oven for 30 sec. to melt the top of the candy bar.
  • Remove pan from open and put 3 M&M’s on top of each mini Snickers bar.

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  • Cool slightly, remove from pan by popping out with a knife.
  • Cool on wire rack.

With any extra dough, make some Christmas Peanut Butter Blossoms

Christmas Peanut Butter Blossoms

  • After rolling dough into 1 inch balls, roll in colored granulated sugar
  • Cook for 9-11 minutes at 350, or until cookies are set and golden.
  • When done, press a Hershey’s Kiss into the center of each cookie.
  • Remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

Peanut Butter Candy Cup Cookies
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Recipe type: cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ c sugar
  • ½ c firmly packed brown sugar
  • ½ c margarine or butter, room temperature
  • ½ c creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1¼ c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Mini Snickers Bars (24)
  • M&M's
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Spray mini muffin pan with cooking spray
  2. Combine sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  3. Add peanut butter, vanilla and egg; blend well.
  4. Add flour and baking soda
  5. Roll into 1 inch balls
  6. Place each ball into mini muffin pan cup.
  7. Bake at 350º for 15-17 minutes, or until cookie cups are puffed and golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven; press mini Snickers into each one
  9. Return pan to oven for 30 sec. to melt the top of the candy bar.
  10. Remove pan from open and put 3 M&M's on top of each snickers bar.
  11. Cool slightly, remove from pan by popping out with a knife.
  12. Cool on wire rack.

 

Time to be Thankful

I’ve been away for a bit, enjoying time with my family. I was lucky enough to host everyone here for a Thanksgiving gathering, that included my daughter that lives on her own now, my mom and my sister. Thanksgiving is definitely a wonderful time to spend with family, and to remember those who can’t be with us. For many years, Thanksgiving was just the five of us since my husband rarely had time off, so traveling was out of the question. But we still made it special and developed our own wonderful family traditions, mostly centering around food.

We get up to a yummy brunch…

brunch

…and in the last couple of years, one or more of the kids are off to a turkey trot first.

Pie 3.14 Race

After brunch, the turkey gets stuffed with my delicious Leek, Apricot and Chestnut Stuffing and put in to cook, making the house just smell delicious.

Leek, Apricot and Chestnut Stuffing
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Recipe type: Main dish
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 10-12
A delicious savory and sweet turkey stuffing
Ingredients
  • 2 loaves french bread, cubed and air dried
  • 2T olive oil
  • 6T butter
  • 4 stalks celery-sliced
  • 2 med leeks-cleaned and thinly sliced
  • ½ lb mushrooms-sliced
  • 2 med cloves garlic-minced
  • 16 oz chestnuts-coarsley chopped
  • ½ c dried apricots-coarsly chopped
  • ½ c fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-16 oz can low sodium chicken broth
Instructions
  1. Over medium heat, melt oil and 2T butter in large skillet.
  2. Add celery, leeks and mushrooms, sauté 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add garlic-saute 1 minute
  4. Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients.
  5. Stuff turkey
  6. Extra: Put remaining in a medium, buttered casserole dish.
  7. Dot with remaining 4T butter; cover with foil
  8. Bake 325°F for 20 min (with turkey); remove foil and raise temperature to 375° for 10 min. (Add a little more broth if it seems a little dry)

 

Then there’s time for a bit of relaxation to catch the end of the parade or maybe kick-off, before the midday appetizers and drinks come out.  On the menu this year was Sage and Prosciutto Stuffed Mushrooms, Prosciutto, Gruyere and Sage Palmiers, Zucchini Casino, Spinach Dip with Vegetables and assorted olives.


We celebrated the holidays this year with delicious, sparkling glasses of Pomegranate Prosecco .

Pomegranate Prosecco
Pomegranate Prosecco

After mid-day appetizers, there’s plenty of time for football and maybe even a walk before the pre-dinner panic sets in. Glad I had so many helpful and willing hands in the kitchen this year.  This year’s dinner consisted of fresh turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, green beans wrapped with prosciutto, jellied cranberry sauce (from a can, what can I say it’s what everyone wants), celery, carrots, black olives and rolls. Finished off with apple and pumpkin pies.  What a wonderful day!

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving
Then of course there’s Daisy who just wants so badly to be part of this all.

Westie

I hope your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Many of the recipes can be found on my Pinterest site

(Many thanks go to Emily, Peggy, Sherry and Steve for helping with the pictures)

Fresh Bread on a Saturday Morning

fresh bread

Over the summer at the Farmer’s Market there was a booth, Katic Breads, that sold the best bread you could imagine.  Everything was delivered warm, fresh and perfect. It also didn’t hurt that the women running the stand were so cheerful week in and week out.   As the market wound down for the winter, customers were asking what to do for the winter months??  We had become used to our focaccia, ciabatta, french breads, harvest breads and, of course, the delicious fresh croissants.  To satisfy their loyal customers, they set up a way to have a standing order delivered to a fabulous local coffee shop, Cafe la Fortuna every other Saturday.  Dusan Katic, the baker, assured us that all their items could be frozen with no problems.  Well, they were right.  Even the croissants that came out of the freezer and reheated just a little, were perfect.

Katic Breads

I just picked up my second order this morning.  Once home, I wrapped everything for freezing, and then enjoyed a fresh croissant with Mammoth Cave Black Cherry Preserves, a specialty of the Mammoth Cave National Park Lodge, and a steaming hot cup of Cafe la Fortuna coffee.  That’s a great way to start a Saturday morning.

Katic Bread

Here’s Dusan Katic’s instructions for storing their fresh breads:

 FREEZING
  If you bought a loaf and are planning on freezing it for later use, place it in a closed plastic bag, in the freezer, as soon as you can. The fresher you freeze it, the fresher it thaws. When you are ready to serve your bread, let it sit out to thaw while the oven is warming up to 350F. To get a crispy crust, wet the surface of the bread with a spray or with your hand. Then, place the thawed/sprayed loaf in the oven for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the loaf). If you don’t care to crisp the crust, then wrap the loaf in aluminum foil and place it in the oven (especially for rolls).
STORAGE
  Never store bread in the fridge. This actually accelerates staling. Remember that the loaves you receive are pulled out of the oven at 7AM. If you cannot finish the loaf near this peak time, then freezing portions is a much better plan compared to storing in the fridge. Avoid leaving the bread in sunlight. Store bread in a paper bag or wrapped in a kitchen towel in between use.

 
If you have a chance to find them at a farmer’s market or specialty store in the Chicago and Northern IL area, pick some up. You won’t be sorry.

35 Pounds of Tomatoes

No, I didn’t grow that many in my garden.   I got a decent harvest this year to keep us in fresh tomatoes for the summer and early fall, but for stocking up for winter, I went to the local Farmers Market.   I bought the large, 10 lb box last week and processed those for the freezer, then decided I needed more.  Being the savvy consumer that I am, I realized I could get 2.5x as many tomatoes in the half bushel as in the large box for only 25% more.  That’s a screaming deal in my book,  and they were beautiful red, perfectly ripe roma tomatoes.  My first hint of how much work was ahead of me was when I picked up the bag they were in to carry them to the car.  A half bushel of tomatoes is really heavy-apparently about 25 lbs.

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Over two nights, I made 2 double batches of pasta sauce using America’s Test Kitchen’s (recipe here).  Instead of the canned crushed tomatoes, I used 3 cups of lightly pureed, peeled tomatoes.  I also found that the texture of the tomatoes was better when pureed in my food processor than in my blender.  As I’ve described before, peeling tomatoes is pretty easy, and I think necessary to have a more pleasing sauce texture.  (Just personal preference, but I’m not a fan of tough skins floating in my sauce, soups or stews.)

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While the tomatoes looked beautiful, my kitchen was a mess!

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Once I had the tomatoes peeled, I was ready to make the sauce and chop up the rest for a variety of uses.  I left most only roughly chopped to allow for more versatility.  I can further chop or puree the frozen tomatoes depending on what I need them for.

I’m pleased with the final number of bags, it didn’t seem like a lot at first, but I think this will last me quite a while.  The large bag of while tomatoes was turned into 4 more bags of pasta sauce the next evening.  I ran out of garlic so had to have time to run to the store.

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And what are tomatoes without some basil?

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So in the end, did it save me money over buying canned diced tomatoes and jarred pasta sauce?  Maybe, maybe not, but my tomatoes and sauce will definitely have a better, fresher taste, with only those ingredients in them I want.  I’m actually looking forward to winter cooking (but maybe not the weather).

What’s Going in My Freezer?

I have been very busy freezing whatever I can fresh from the Farmer’s Market for the winter. I seem to have a lot more freezer space than cupboard space, so I decided to forego the canning of the things I can freeze. Here’s just some of what I have so far:

Strawberries, Raspberries and Blueberries

Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries should be fresh, unwashed and checked over for damaged or generally yucky ones.   Then they are spread in a single layer on a pan, placed in the freezer until frozen and then put into freezer bags.  They can be used frozen or thawed, but need to be rinsed since you didn’t wash them before freezing.  I like to keep a bag of blueberries in the freezer, take out a few in the evening, rinse them, put them in my cereal bowl and put the bowl in the fridge overnight.  Fresh blueberries are all ready for my cereal in the morning.  Or you can thaw them quickly by putting what you want into one of those handy little berry colanders and rinsing with running lukewarm water.  Washed and thawed all in one!
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ZUCCHINI

In a previous post I talked about how to freeze zucchini, either shredded or in chunks.  I’ve got a whole winters worth of zucchini stored away!

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Tomatoes

I’ve used what I grew in the garden, then bought lots more (about 30 lbs worth–I got a great deal!) at the Farmer’s Market.  I now have many bags of whole cherry tomatoes (not blanched, treated like the berries), chopped and diced tomatoes,  tomatoes crushed for sauce, and ready to go sauce.  It was like a little factory in my kitchen!  I’ll talk more about all that in a later post, but you can see how to generally prepare tomatoes for freezing here.

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Green and Red Peppers

I didn’t have much luck with green peppers this year, but they looked great at the Farmer’s Market.  I’ve been buying a few at a time for freezing.  Like most other vegetables, you need to wash them, look and remove any blemished areas, blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes then plunge into ice water to stop any further cooking.  I left mine in pretty big chunks so I can use them as needed for a recipe, but in the past I’ve frozen them diced or sliced.  I freeze them in a layer on a pan in the freezer and then put into a freezer bag so they don’t freeze as one giant clump together in the bag.

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And more…

I also have a few bags of diced and sliced spring onions.  I’m thinking about freezing some corn if I can get some really fresh, otherwise it’s no better than the store bags.  I bought a head of cabbage today to make some “freezer slaw” from a family recipe from a friend.  Can’t wait to try that!  So, what’s in your freezer this year?