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Preserving Summer Tomatoes

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One of my favorite things about summer are juicy, sweet perfectly ripe tomatoes straight from the farm.  I love to eat them sliced, sprinkled with just a bit of salt. I take great joy in making the first caprese salad of the season, whipping up a batch of gazpacho and creating countless dishes that bring out the best of these summer treasures.

Maybe it’s a bit greedy, but I want to capture that taste of summer and be able to savor that freshness all year round.  Several of the local farms are currently offering tomato specials.  You can buy large boxes of tomatoes for a discounted price.  I recently bought a 20 lb box of Valley Girl tomatoes from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and they were kind enough to also give me a 10 lb box of heirloom tomatoes because of the work we do together throughout the year.

As I stared at my 30 lbs of tomatoes, I quickly realized I needed a strategy for managing these beauties. I have very limited pantry space, but plenty of freezer space, and opted for freezing my tomatoes to save them.  I put some of my fresh tomatoes through the food mill, making a puree, and froze them in plastic bags.  I also froze a batch of tomato sauce, seasoned with garlic, basil and oregano.  Finally, at the suggestion of Suzanne Santos market director for the Sustainable Food Center, I froze some tomatoes whole.  Suzanne suggest this method so that you can then thaw and cook them using whatever method you prefer on that day.

Canning is another option for saving those precious tomatoes.  My grandmother and great aunts canned regularly, but this skill was somewhat lost on my parents’ generation who could easily buy canned tomatoes at the store. But, oh, those tomatoes are not the same.    I’m committed to learning how to can this summer (I have a larger pantry in my near future) so that I can preserve my favorite produce to enjoy all year round.  I’m going to use the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking for my challenge, but if you’d prefer to learn in a class room environment, Johnson’s Backyard Garden is offering a tomato workshop this Sunday, June 26th with Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due who will teach how to can and preserve tomatoes.  For $30, you get 10 lbs of tomatoes, recipes and instruction o how to safely can tomatoes at home. (Details below.)

What are your favorite recipes featuring tomatoes?  Are you preserving any and, if so, how?

Johnson’s Backyard Garden Tomato Workshop
Sunday, June 26th 10:00am – 12:00pm
JBG River Rd Farm. Cedar Creek, Texas

The Tomato Workshop will focus on canning:
  • Prepping tomatoes for canning
  • Discussion of which types of tomatoes are best for canning
  • Canning safety and basics
  • Equipment for home canning
  • Recipes and demonstration for tomato sauce (with garlic, oregano and basil), charred tomato salsa (with jalapeno and lime) and ketchup

10 pounds of tomatoes, tomato tasting and recipes
Class is size is limited.
$30 per person.

Click here to reserve a seat in the workshop.

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A cookbook in every stocking: more holiday gift ideas

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Phew!  I emerged from last week’s Edible Austin Eat Local Week with some great new finds (post to come soon) and a little worn out, only to realize that I hadn’t finished my holiday shopping.  Hopefully, you don’t find yourself in the same predicament, but just in case, I raided my bookshelf and thought I’d share some of my great cookbook finds from the year.

If you have a dessert lover in your life, you can’t go wrong with Deborah Madison’s Seasonal Fruit Desserts.  It is obvious from the first page that Deborah loves fruit and celebrates everything about it.   The photos and stories are lovely and the recipes are fantastic.

Edible: A Celebration of Local FoodsAnother favorite from the year is the beautiful Edible Communities book, Edible: A Celebration of Local Food.  Part travel guide, part cookbook, I enjoyed reading the book from cover to cover.  Learning of the local food adventures across North America has never been quite so fascinating.  I felt like I was on a long journey as I read each story.

In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You LoveI had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Clark, columnist from the New York Times, during the Texas Book Festival this year.  Melissa is delightful, but her cookbook, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, is even more so.  Her recipes are straightforward in a way that only a mom could understand the importance of and yet are packed with flavor.  From Cheater Pork & Ginger Dumplings to an easy recipe for Bacon & Pecan Pralines, you will not get bored with this book.  It’s worth buying just for the Better Fried chapter.

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily

The last two books I received this year focus on our food traditions and heritage.  The first, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, features interviews and recipes from twelve grandmothers in the different regions of Italy.  Jessica Theroux lovingly recounts her visits and I felt as if I was sitting in the kitchen of each woman as I read their stories.  It made me want to be Italian – or at least eat that way.

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in FranceFinally, I had the pleasure to visit with Joan Nathan during her recent visit to Austin and have thoroughly enjoyed her cookbook Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.  My stepmother is Jewish and I have attended more than a few family passover dinners, bar and bat mitzvahs.  Trust me that nothing as lovely as the Friday Night Algerian Chicken Fricassee or Moroccan Braised Lamb with Couscous graced our tables.  Joan weaves stories of French food artisans and Jewish traditions with mouth-watering recipes that anyone of any faith will truly enjoy.

I hope someone on your nice list will enjoy one of these selections.  Please chime in with your favorites from 2010 as well.  The more the merrier!

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Unprocessed Food Challenge Wrap-Up

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No Processed Food ChallengeWell, I did it (mostly.)  One month with almost no processed food.  With the exception of the Diet Coke slip-up and the Frito temptations, I managed fairly well and I’m proud of myself for pulling it off.

I discovered a few things a long the way.  At first, I was mildly panicky about having enough time to cook at home during a busy month.  I quickly stepped back and reminded myself that I didn’t need to make elaborate meals, I just needed to make something healthy to eat.  This mindset gave me permission to do simple stir fries or vegetables with pasta.  I also ate a lot of salads and sandwiches – not fancy, but satisfying and unprocessed.

On those days when I didn’t have time to cook at all, I explored some of the healthy take-away options around town.  I’ve used Central Market and Whole Foods for healthy take out meals for years, but I also discovered a growing number of outlets for healthy meals to go like  Snap Kitchen, My Fit Foods and Mel’s Meals.  My lunch of bison quinoa hash from Snap Kitchen was packed with flavor and nutrients while keeping the calorie count to a dull roar.

Most importantly, my month of reading labels carefully taught me that even seemingly innocuous looking products can contain ingredients you weren’t expecting.  (Can someone please tell me what PGPR is in a Hershey’s plain milk chocolate bar and why it needs to be there?)  Maybe all those things aren’t bad for you, but if I don’t know what it is do I really want to be eating it?  I don’t think so.

My hope is to keep this new found awareness front and center in my daily life.  I’ll probably still have Fritos on occasion, but it will be the exception, not the rule.  After all, if I can make it through a Halloween party surrounded by chips and salsa, I can do anything!

Thanks to Andrew wilder of Eating Rules for the inspiration and the encouragement.  I’m looking forward to continuing my less processed life.

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Unprocessed Food Challenge Week #3: Navigating a Tailgate Party

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No Processed Food ChallengeWeek Three of my Unprocessed Food Challenge issued by Eating Rules was less difficult in many ways.  I feel like I hit my stride and it became easier to make good choices.  It helped that I ate a home quite a bit last week – always easier to eat unprocessed when you’re in your own kitchen.  I didn’t make anything fancy, just simple home cooked meals, but it was nice not to worry about what I was eating or what might be in it.  
The  one big hurdle I faced this week was Saturday when I attended the (dreadful) UT game with some friends.  At half time, we went to the Corral Club and it was clear that my food choices were very limited.  People were carrying around plates piled high with nachos drowning in Velveeta queso and loaded with meat and jalapenos.  I love nachos as much as the next person, but these did not look good at all.  Instead, they were an unappetizing tower of excess – very unappealing.  Stadium food was definitely out.

When it was clear in the third quarter that our football team wasn’t going to show up for the game, we headed to a friend’s tailgate where we were hopeful I could find something to eat.  The aroma of the meat on the grill enticed us as we approached the tailgate, but the first plate I saw was loaded with chips and queso.  Yikes!  Was I out of luck?

Fortunately, our friends had lovely sausages on the grill from a local butcher shop and some homemade menudo that was rich and satisfying.  Lunch was a win even if the game wasn’t.

I’m looking forward to this last week of the challenge.  Question of the week:  Can I skip the Skittles in my niece’s and nephew’s Trick or Treat bag on Sunday?  

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