Beautiful gift baskets filled with gourmet foods and snacks
Well, true to my word, I'm up to my elbows in tomatoes and basil and canning implements. Even though it's been a horrid week (we won't get into THAT), my daughter is here and so we're canning!!!
It's actually something I had planned to do anyway; it's just that sometimes the best laid plans go off kilter. (I can see our editor-in-chief nodding since my column was sent in late too!)
Anyway, this year we're doing things a bit differently. You see, our routine for tomato canning is as follows:
We wash them, then bring them to a boil and let them simmer till they start to pop (about ten minutes).
Then we take them out of the water into a bushel basket lined with muslin and let them drain off some of the excess water.
After they've drained a bit, usually ten minutes, we transfer them in small batches to the . . . grinder . . . for want of a better word. Literally this machine grinds them so that we have tomato puree coming out one end and tomato refuse (read skins and seeds) coming out the other end.
Once we have the puree, we salt it, and pour into sterilized quart jars which someone -- usually one of the kids -- has stuffed with fresh basil leaves.
The jars are then sealed and set aside for their boiling water bath.
Now picture that we repeat this process with anywhere from ten to fifteen bushels of tomatoes! So it's done outside with propane burners and humungous pots. The boiling water bath is done in a drum over an open fire. Big goings on, trust me. It's an event that involves the whole family in some way -- from washing tomatoes to stuffing jars with basil and it usually happens over a weekend. If you've got a big family and are canning lots of tomatoes, then you'd be tied up over a long weekend.
But though it may sound work intensive and no fun at all, it really is a good time and everyone looks forward to "tomato time".
This year, I'm changing the process slightly. I'm going back to the way my parents used to can their tomatoes years ago. No pre-cooking, no grinding. Once the tomatoes are washed, we drop them for a minute into a pot of boiling water. We'll be peeling them, cutting them into quarters, setting them into a large colander to drain off some of their liquid then transferring them immediately into the prepared sterilized jars. Then we'll process them in a boiling water bath as usual.
While I've found that the pureed "sauce" is convenient at times, I like the texture I get from having some shape still left to the tomato. If I really need it to be smooth, a quick run through with my hand blender will do the job nicely.
In addition, I also can a "recipe ready" tomato mixture that I use in everything from pot roasts, to slow cooker recipes to soup bases.
It's a really easy recipe and, though the quantity I offer is rather large, you'll find you go through it quickly.
I start with the following vegetables which I dice and simmer in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold about half a bushel of tomatoes with about a cup of olive oil.
Vegetables to use:
6 large red onions
2 heads celery
8-10 red peppers
1 quart basket of fresh chili peppers (optional)
3-4 heads garlic peeled and crushed
Seasonings (this is a bit more tricky to give measurements for since I usually go "by eye"):
salt and pepper to taste (a couple of handfuls of each)
fresh basil (usually at least a couple of cups of leaves)
fresh oregano (this is more a personal thing, I like to use about the same amount as I use of basil)
fresh parsley (about half the amount of basil)
Let the vegetables all simmer until nicely wilted then add your tomatoes -- which you've already peeled and quartered. Bring it to a boil, add the seasonings, then let it simmer till some of the liquid cooks off. Pour it into sterilized jars and seal. Process in a boiling water bath.
The stuff is awesome, great in just about anything, including just spread on fresh crusty bread!!!
When I have tomatoes around the house for canning, I like to use them fresh as much as possible. The following recipe is one that's a favourite at my house, especially now that all of us are making an effort, if not to be totally vegetarian, then to at least eat less meat in general.
1/2 cup salad dressing made with balsamic vinegar (you can use store bought but it's so much nicer to make it fresh)
6 - 8 large roma tomatoes, cut in rough chunks
1 cup mixed salad greens
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
Cook the tortellini according to package directions, adding the peas during the last bit of cooking time to just allow them to defrost (about 30 seconds), drain and place in a large bowl.
Add half the salad dressing; toss gently and allow to cool. Just before serving, add tomato, salad greens and onion and the rest of the dressing. Toss gently and serve.
Yields: 4-6 servings
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Two new requests this month, but nothing new submitted. Hmmmmmmm!!!
One of our readers is looking for some new recipes for seasoned green beans. This is a great time of year for all those lovely harvest recipes to be broken out, let's see what we can find for her.
Also, "Cheese Impaired" writes in to tell us:
Ok, I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich. My mom used to put them on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven, but when I tried that, all of the bread slid off the pan and landed in the bottom of the oven. Can you give me directions on how to make a great grilled cheese?
There's nothing to be embarrassed about. We have lots of novice cooks out there. Let's see what our more seasoned chefs can come up with.
To all of those who wrote in to wish me a Happy Birthday, thank you. It turned out to be an awesome birthday. My daughter was here so we celebrated by going out for our traditional wings 'n' beer 'n' pool on Wednesday (my birthday was on Friday), which was a lot of fun. The new man in my life took me out for a lovely dinner on Thursday and then the actual day of my birthday was spent road tripping to Montreal to deliver my daughter home and my youngest to spend a week with her there. The kids turned my car into "party central". We had a "road trip party" which was so much fun!! They had decorated the car inside and out with streamers and balloons. Every half hour, they had a new treat or small gift for me (and it was a six hour drive!!). And they had even baked a cake, which was served with Kool-aid and Tim Horton's coffee. I turned 46 that day but there was no feeling sorry for myself. Once in Montreal, we found that it was the Molson Indy weekend. Great fun and parties galore!!! And street festivals!!! I bought a truckload of books at all the used bookstores and spent only about twenty dollars. All in all it was a good time to be celebrating a birthday!!! Hope all your birthdays are just as much fun!!!
See you next month!!