Tomato

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My mother was a tomato grower and canner without peer. 

Seriously, she was good.

Back then, my parents didn’t have air conditioning. But, that didn’t keep my mother from spending  day after day slumped over huge, steaming, graniteware kettles, doing things with tongs and filling shelf after shelf with her homegrown canned tomatoes. 

But, despite my mother’s success, maybe it is the memory of what seemed  like too many long hot hours and too many procedures and having to be totally sterile that made the discovery of a food dehydrator in DH’s barn so exciting.

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The abandoned food dehydrator waiting to be filled with tomatoes.

I also love the concentrated sweetness and flavor of sun dried tomatoes. Home dried tomatoes are less expensive than those from the grocery. They take up much less shelf space than canned tomatoes. They can be used in any recipe calling for tomatoes.

Best of all, they are easy to make.

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The first tier of tomatoes is ready.

Plum or Roma tomatoes are recommended. However, any type you want to use will work. The tomatoes should be firm and ripe, but not over ripe, which will lead to decay. For round or slicer type tomatoes cut the tomatoes crosswise into no thicker than 1/4 inch thick slices.

 Drain your tomatoes in a collander, pat slightly with paper towels, then place the tomatoes on your dehydrator racks leaving enough space between the slices for air to circulate.

 Rotate the trays if you have more than one to dehydrate. Ideally the temperature should be at 135 to 140 degrees. To oven dry: place your tomatoes on foil lined cookie sheets. Your oven temperature should be between 140 to 150 degrees.

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Be sure to turn your tomatoes over when necessary and to rotate the tiers. Some of mine are wet and need to be turned over.

Drying tomatoes will take from 10 to 24 hours. When your tomatoes are dry they should be leathery but pliable. As soon as my tomatoes were of the same texture as a raisin, I removed them from the dehydrator with a spatula. I decided to preserve them by freezing to prevent mold and used ziplock bags with the air pulled out through a straw.

 If your tomatoes come out too dry or you want to make them into flakes put them into your freezer for about 5 minutes and then crush them with a rolling pin or kitchen mallet.

 To make tomato powder use your food processor or blender until the tomatoes are ground very fine.

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1/4 cup of dried tomatoes I am going to hydrate with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

 To rehydrate your tomatoes, soak them in water or olive oil at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Using boiling water will speed up the process.

dsc00604.jpg Dried tomatoes can also be added to soups and stews during the last half hour to rehydrate. I added them to my chili on Sunday. DH said it is the best chili he has ever had!

SUN DRIED TOMATO CREAM CHEESE SPREAD

This recipe is simple and absolutely delicious.

– ¼ cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and coarsely chopped

– 8 ounces block cream cheese, softened

– ½ cup sour cream

– ¼ cup mayonnaise

– 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

– ¾ tsp. salt

– ¾ tsp. black pepper

– 1 Tblsp. Dried basil (I used 2-3 Tbsp. of fresh basil)

– A dash of hot sauce (or more if you like it spicy!)

Toss all of the ingredients into a food processor, and blend until smooth. (I just used a whisk because I like having little tomato chunks in my spread.) Chill for about an hour before serving. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container, and it will keep for up to two weeks.

– You can make this spread figure-friendly by using reduced fat versions of the cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise. It will taste so good, you’ll never miss the fat!

crean-cheese-3.jpgTomorrow I will use the cream cheese spread on bagels. But, DH and I couldn’t resist getting out some crackers and doing some taste testing. The spread is outstanding!

SUN DRIED TOMATO, MUSHROOM, CHEESE &

MEATBALL PIZZA

  • 1 1/2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (I used 1 can of canned)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (10-ounce ) can refrigerated pizza crust
  • sweet onion sliced thin and chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
  • Meatballs (precooked & chopped) 

Combine dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan; let stand for 15 minutes. Add canned tomatoes and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add the next 5 ingredients and cook 5 minutes longer or until liquid has evaporated, stirring often.

Press pizza dough out onto a greased 12-inch pizza pan and spread with tomato mixture; if desired, arrange onions & meatballs on top. Sprinkle with cheese and bake in a 425°F oven 12 to 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

 

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Our vegetables have spread from the counter to the table. It has been so rainy, we are trying to cure our onions inside.

Tomato cake?

Whoever heard of tomato cake?

We have given away cucumbers and onions and potatoes and tomatoes to just about everyone we know. I’ve made sauce. I’m not fond of canned tomatoes. Then, I found a recipe from who-knows-where, stuffed into a cookbook for tomato cake. I had only to read that it included an ENTIRE cup of dark brown sugar to know it was a recipe with potential.

 With cream cheese frosting, it was wonderful.

dsc00481.jpg The first step toward peeling tomatoes is to put them into boiling water until the skin cracks.

dsc00482.jpg Next plunge the tomatoes into ice water and pull the skin off.

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I’m stirring in the tomatoes, raisins, dates and walnuts. It is not looking very good.

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The cake is done and cooling before being frosted. I used a silicon baking pan for the first time and didn’t use enough support taking the cake out so it cracked. But, I can tell from the smell and what I can see I am going to like it.

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN TOMATO CAKE

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar, dark
1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups ripe, peeled and chopped up tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup raisins

Directions

Mix cream sugar and shortening.

Add eggs.

Add sifted dry ingredients, mixing well.

Stir in tomatoes, nuts, dates, and raisins.

Put into greased and floured 9x inch baking pan.

Bake in preheated 350’F oven for 35 minutes or until cake tests
done.

Frost with cream cheese frosting.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Ingredients

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Directions: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

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Tomato cake ready to be served.

As promised, here are my SUPER, SECRET ingredients to always perfect, moist and tasty roast chicken with crisp and golden skin:

dsc00499.jpg I’ve been stuffing my roast chicken with an apple and onion for over 20 years and always had perfect results.

For a flavorful and moist roast chicken, stuff it with an a cut up apple and halved or quartered onion. Don’t bother to core or peel the apple. Butter your chicken. Sprinkle with rosemary, paprika, salt, pepper and maybe a little lemon (or not). Bake at 325 to 350 degrees and baste often.

Your chicken is done when the legs move freely and the juices are clear.

 UPDATE: Healingmagichands, http://healingmagichands.wordpress.com/ , wrote to say that she puts sprigs of rosemary inside the chicken cavity along with lemons and onions. She says putting fruit & onions inside her chicken  gives her a crispy crust with very moist and flavorful meat.

I like the taste of rosemary with chicken so much that I use it to butter the outside of my roast chicken. (And always with roast potatoes.) But, I bet my chicken WOULD be even better with a sprig of rosemary in the cavity.

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Tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden have become part of our kitchen decor.

Horse manure!

DH brags about the power of his horse manure compost as if he invented it and got a nobel prize for the invention. “George Washington swore the secret to good farming was horse manure,” says DH.

“You just wait,” he said last summer, “George Washington knew his stuff, you’ll see.”

We added dried manure to our compost pile of grass clippings and shredded leaves last fall. This spring DH tilled it into our garden. Then we used more grass clippings and shredded leaves for mulch on top.

I was hoping the mulch would prevent unwanted plants from popping up, resulting in a no till, weedless garden. That didn’t happen. We had weeds. But, DH was so right about horse manure producing garden miracles. Our one cucumber plant has produced 60 cucumbers…so far.

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Our onions shortly before they were pulled up and cured.

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The first watermelons we found. There are at least 15 on that plant now.

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An 11 pound zuchini that came from a volunteer plant on our compost pile. We didn’t find it until it had grown to this size.

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A basket full of Yukon Gold potatoes. I had no idea potatoes could be so good.

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Browning the meatballs and simmering the tomato basil sauce.

Dinner tonight featured home grown tomatoes and basil.

MY MEATBALLS

Soak in milk, water or stock;

1 slice of bread, 1 inch thick

 Beat:

2 eggs

Add eggs to:

1 1/2 lb. ground meat/I used ribeye

Saute until golden brown:

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Add to the meat. Wring the liquid from the bread. Add the bread to the meat and then add:

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/2 chopped clove garlic

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. oregano/I’ve used Italian Herbs

Mix and form into balls. Brown lightly in:

2 tablespoons butter

 Cover your frying pan and simmer on low until the meatballs for 1/2 or until the meatballs are firm and no longer pink in the middle.

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Cooking down the sauce.

SPAGHETTI SAUCE WITH FRESH TOMATOES AND BASIL
6 peeled, seeded and cut up tomatoes
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
 garlic, minced to taste or pinch of garlic powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons fresh basil (more or less to taste)

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet or saucepan combine the tomatoes,  tomato
sauce, garlic, sugar and basil. (Other herbs may be added. I really like basil and prefer just that with tomatoes.) Stir all together and simmer over low heat until thickened. More sugar and a tablespoon of butter may be added if the sauce is too acidic. Flour (1 to 2 tablespoons) may be added if you prefer a thicker sauce. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

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Homemade spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes and basil over meatballs & spaghetti. It was sooooooo good!

HOW TO PEEL TOMATOES

Put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 – 45 seconds is usually enough)

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then….

Plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water.

 

 

This makes the skins slide right off of the tomatoes!  If you leave the skins in, they become tough and chewy in the sauce…not very pleasant.

 

 

 

 

After you have peeled the skins off the tomatoes, cut the tomatoes in half. 

Now you need to remove the seeds and excess water. Wash your hands then squeeze each tomato and use your finger or a spoon to scoop and shake out most of the seeds. You don’t need to get fanatical about it; removing just most will do.

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Toss the squeezed tomatoes into a colander or drainer, while you work on others. This helps more of the water to drain off. You’ll end up with a thicker spaghetti sauce in less cooking time!

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Skipper being led to the riding enclosure by DH’s nephew.

Skipper reared today.

I’ve had him for almost 3 years and he’s been a dream. He is 15 years old. A former child’s 4-H pleasure champion with perfect gaits, he’s child safe and has good sense. Or at least that’s what I thought. 

My other horse, Summer, is six. She’s flighty and nervous. She loves DH, tolerates me and is wary of everyone else. I also saw her buck like a bronc soon after I got her. 

A birthday present from DH the first year we were married, she was by far, my best birthday present ever. Perfectly proportioned, with a tiny head and ears, intelligent alert eyes and a typical quarter horse rump, Summer is a gorgeous bay. Her red coat gleams, her muzzle sock, mane and tail are coaly black. Her eyes are are exotically rimmed in black. I fell in love immediately. However, it was soon apparent that she needed work. She didn’t neck rein. She was nervous and spooked easily.  She stomped her feet, turned her rear toward me in the stall, crowded people, used them for scratching posts and worse sometimes flattened her ears and threatened if approached. 

blog-pictures-5-020.jpg  Summer & I.

I hired a horsetrainer who said she had an attitude problem and took her off to his farm for two months of schooling. That’s where I saw her buck. DH and I were at the trainers  watching her being schooled. The trainer was showing us what they’d been working on. Summer saw us by the fence and decided she’d had enough training. She bucked. She bucked as viciously and hard as any rodeo horse being spurred and abused. The trainer, whose hobby is rodeo contesting, stayed on. He got her calmed down, rode her until she was tired and then I forced myself to get on her back and rode her around the ring as instructed. I pretended to be calm because I didn’t want to show misgivings and hurt the trainer’s feelings. Or appear anything but thrilled with my birthday present. But, I was afraid.

Summer graduated from Training School and returned home. But our relationship was changed. Because I knew if she ever bucked that hard with me, I’d be a goner.

Today DH’s family joined us on the farm for a barbeque and DH’s nephews wanted to ride the horses. Marc, is an experienced rider and he rides Summer on every visit. I think he likes knowing of her wicked past and knowing he is skilled enough to deal with it.

Steven rode Skipper, formerly known as the “one anybody can ride”.

Steven was holding Skipper to a walk and Summer got ahead. Which wouldn’t have been a huge problem except Marc wanted to go faster and Steven still wanted to walk. That’s when disaster struck. Skipper wanted to run too. He reared and did some wimpy bucks. There was no danger of Steven being thrown. But, he was nervous and done riding.

Steven got off. Now Skipper was proud as punch. Nostrils flaring, he pranced when I lugged myself up into the saddle cursing (in my head) that I was wearing my too tight skinny jeans.  But, no way was I going to reward him for his antics. Skinny jeans and hot sun notwithstanding, we were going to walk, trot and canter around the enclosure until Skipper didn’t care which horse was first.

And we did.

Summer, I am proud to say, was a perfect lady the whole time.

blog-pictures-5-021.jpg Summer talks & gives kisses.

For dinner we had grilled pork chops, pasta salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with sour cream, green beens from the garden, sweet corn from Mrs. Weaver’s vegetable stand, coleslaw (from the grocery deli) and cherry pie (from our farmer’s market).

dsc00320.jpg Getting the cucumbers and onions ready.

SOUR CREAM CUCUMBERS

Sour cream cucumbers are a popular dish at midwest family gatherings. They always make me think of summer and my mother’s garden.

2 large cucumbers peeled and sliced

1 onion sliced into rings

3/4 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl combine the cucumber and onion. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers. Mix well. Chill.

 UPDATE: Rockyroadoflove has suggested an old southern method to make these cucumbers more crisp and flavorful. She uses salted ice water and says it works wonders for cucumbers. My cucumbers were good as they were, but I think Rockyroadoflove’s technique will make them even better.

Rockyroadoflove’s cucumber article is here:
http://rockyroadoflove.wordpress.com/2007/08/14/marinated-cucumbers-in-sour-cream/

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Sour cream cucumbers with mixed herbs sprinkled over them.

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Pasta salad with fresh tomatoes and creamy parmesan dressing.

I cheated with my pasta and used a box of Betty Crocker’s Suddenly Pasta mix. I followed the directions on the box and then added fresh, lightly salted cut up tomatoes. I sprinkled herbs over them also, hoping they would look more homemade.

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The green beans are snapped and ready and the corn is being shucked.