Wednesday, October 14, 2009

hoarding heirloom tomatoes for winter

suddenly in the past two weeks it's turned into winter in the bay area. i really wasn't prepared for this since i was just walking around barefoot at the park a couple weeks ago, but as the chill sets in and now the rain has started i'm kicking into squirrel mode - hoarding and saving all the fruits of summer/fall for the long hard winter ahead (ahem, forgive me friends who live in places that actually have winter - i think i'm funny).


much as i was doing at about this time last year, i decided to start by canning our precious heirloom tomatoes while we're still getting them in our farm box and they're still gracing the farmers markets. last year i was a little grumbly at the price of preserving heirlooms, since they shrink down so much that the cost to cans produced ratio shocked me. but come the middle of the winter when the only tomatoes in sight are those hot house water sponges in the grocery store i was so grateful to be able to crack open a jar full of the flavors of fall. so i vowed to make them again this year, and here i am.


i supplemented our usual farm box tomato stash with a run to the farmers market, only to realize when i went to pay for my bounty that i didn't have enough cash. thankfully the guy at the stand knows me (he's one of my two favorite vendors at the farmers market) and graciously told me i could pay him next time. i mention this because it's happened to me a couple of times in the past month - once at a coffee shop i'd never been to before in the financial district of san francisco - and i love the recognition that even in a seemingly big, anonymous urban place people look out for and trust each other.


i had to call to consult with aryn, since i was tomato canning solo this time, about temperatures and process. it goes something like this: wash your tomatoes. oil a baking pan (or two in this case) generously with olive oil. aryn made the "generous with olive oil" point to say that the tomatoes seem to do nothing in the oven for a while, and then reach a point where they burn easily if you don't have enough oil on the pan. i experienced this; she's right.


i also tossed in a few whole cloves of garlic with the tomatoes this time, figuring everything is made better with roasted garlic. stick your pans in the oven at about 400 degrees for somewhere between 20-40 mins. i hear you can slow roast tomatoes, but i'm not really one for slow processes.
if you're canning heirlooms, you're likely to have a variety of sizes of tomatoes - from very small to very large, thus the range of cooking time. watch them carefully and once they slump into a little puddle it's time to take them out - i opened the oven every few minutes to take them out in ascending order of size so the little ones wouldn't burn.


while your tomatoes are in the oven you can get started on the water bath. bring a giant pot of water to boil, and steralize your jars and lids by boiling them for about 5 mins.


when all your tomatoes have successfully roasted you can layer them in the jars with basil, garlic, and lemon juice. the lemon juice here is crucial - about 2 tablespoons per jar - to discourage botulism. i like to layer them in alternating colors, with a basil in between, and then top it off with a little of the tomato juice/olive oil mixture left in the pan from roasting. it also helps to run a spatula around the edge of the jar to encourage the air bubbles to come out, and i recommend doing this before you top off the jar at a 1/4 inch from the rim - otherwise it can get messy. i speak from experience. make sure you wipe the edges of the jar so you can get a clean seal and screw on your lids to they're on but not too tight.


process the jars in the boiling water bath for 40 mins (or longer if you're using larger jars).  take them out and let them cool for a day somewhere where they won't be disturbed. make sure your seal was created properly (the lid shouldn't be able to pop up and down when you press on it). and admire your work. good luck waiting until winter to crack them open; i've been salivating over mine all week.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

the pufferfish pouch - happy birthday to ali

last weekend was my little sister, aliana's 9th birthday. she went zip-lining with my dad. i'm so jealous and bummed i couldn't be there to celebrate with them in person. but i did celebrate her birthday by making a few crafty goodies to send her way (and calling to wake her up on the big day at 6am - not knowing she had the week off of school - oops).

i found this pattern for what marty has aptly named "the pufferfish pouch." it's a super cute boxy zippered pouch for keeping your goodies, and fast to whip up once you have the hang of it.

i included in the pouch one of my coveted measuring tape wallets. i started making these about a year ago and checkout ladies all over the bay have been wanting to purchase them. i'm perfecting the design before i start mass producing them, but i think if i ever get around to starting an etsy page this will be my first item of sale. my problem with making business out of my crafts is that i never want to make a lot of one thing - i just want to try out new ideas all the time. but that's no way to make money. so stay tuned for a possible craft business starting in the near future.
finally, i made ali a button bracelet - hey, why don't we wear buttons as jewelry more often? there are some great buttons out there. it's been a while since i've made any kind of jewelry, so i hope my techniques will hold up to the test of time and gradeschool pressure.

i sure miss being around for family time - i'm looking forward to a visit soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

roasted red pepper dressing

we've been getting tons of bell peppers in our farm box lately, and i love peppers - but i rarely buy more than one red or yellow bell pepper because they're so pricey.  did you know that red bell peppers are the same as green bell peppers, they're just ripe?  

anyway, i didn't really know how to handle this influx of colorful peppers in my life - and while we've been chopping them up and adding to dishes i still had a handful left over. so i pulled out a recipe from the complete vegetarian cookbook for sweet pepper dressing.  it's delicious and good on all sorts of things.

i love roasting red peppers, so i went ahead and did that rather than boiling like the recipe calls for.  my preferred method for roasting is to throw the peppers on a sheet pan under the broiler - i even do it in the toaster oven if the peppers are small enough to fit in there without touching the broiler - that way you can monitor their progress easily through the window.  just rotate the peppers every few minutes as the skin starts to blacken so that they're nice and charred all over.  then i pop them in a paper bag - which helps the skins loosen from the flesh - and let them cool in there.  peel the skins off and take out the stems and seeds.  this one ended up looking like somebody's heart, i thought.  and then you throw the pepper in the food processor with some oil and vinegar and salt and pepper - i also added a bit of lemon juice to mine - and that's it.

here's the recipe:


Makes about 1 cup

1 large red pepper
4-6 tbs olive oil
2 tsp wine vinegar
a little lemon juice (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper

1.    [if you don't want to roast your peppers like i did you can use this method:] Put the whole pepper into a saucepan and half cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15-20 mins, until the pepper is very tender.  Test by piercing it with a fork.
2.    Drain the pepper and remove the stalk and seeds.  Purée the pepper in a blender or food processor, then add the oil and blend again.  You should have a thickish scarlet emulsion, like a mayonnaise.  Gently stir in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

we used the roasted red pepper dressing as a pizza sauce since i'm not really a fan of tomato sauce.  it was delicious - kind of sweet and very flavorful.  i imagine it will also be good on salads, pasta, and i think it would pair well with cheese and crackers.