Tomatoes

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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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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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