Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week 12: Tomato Jam

Post-Irene, and no damage to report from home, save for some tree branches down. I'll find out at Friday's CSA pickup how the farm and its orchards fared.

Meanwhile, I'm still enraptured by the tomatoes. This week, with both farm tomatoes and home-grown ones to contend with, I was ready to cook tomatoes en masse. That led to a batch of fresh tomato sauce and a couple of pints of tomato jam.

It's hard to describe the jam: It's sweet with an underlying note of vinegar, vaguely reminiscent of a chutney. We slathered some on turkey burgers and we are brainstorming ideas for other uses. If you plan to break out the grill before summer's end, this jam would be an uncommon condiment for barbecued meat. I can imagine it spread on grilled cheese sandwiches or used as a dipping sauce for vegetarian egg rolls.

Jennifer Perillo's Sweet and Savory Tomato Jam 
(Adapted, with only one change, from this recipe posted on food52. Instructions are my own wording. Yield: 1.5 pints.)

3.5 pounds fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped (no need to peel the tomatoes)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime (Original recipe calls for a lemon, but I didn't have one on hand; see note regarding canning, below)

Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan. (The recipe calls for a 2-quart pot; I found that I needed a 3.5-quart pot to hold the volume of chopped tomatoes.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture thickens to the consistency of jam, about 3 hours. Transfer the jam to sterilized glass jars, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The jam will keep at least two weeks.

Note: Per the original recipe, the jam can be processed in a boiling-water bath for long-term storage. However, canning tomato products requires careful attention to the acidity level. Read up on the process before making any ingredient changes to ensure safe canning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week 11: Stuffed Tomatoes, Two Ways

With rice, beans, and corn.
Herewith, a reminder of some of the perils of farming, and, by extension, of being a CSA shareholder: 

Crops fail. Something goes wrong with the zucchini seed and you get yellow squash instead. Blueberries get torched by 103-degree heat. Carrots shrivel, greens bolt. It’s too hot, too dry, too cool, too wet, too something.

And yet, we still get wonders from the harvest. For this, I am eternally grateful to all the individuals who have dedicated their lives to farming, especially here in my corner of Massachusetts.

This week's wonder is tomatoes. Vine-ripened tomatoes. Not-shipped-across-country tomatoes. (Not even shipped-one-town-over tomatoes. A step away from my-own-backyard tomatoes.) I can’t think of any fruit or vegetable more dissimilar from its supermarket counterpart. In New England, August tomatoes epitomize tomato perfection.

This is the time of year for caprese salads and tomato-and-mayo sandwiches and stuffed tomatoes -- anything that pushes these gems from garnish to starring role. Both of these stuffed tomato recipes use  corn, another wonder from the farm that we have in abundance at the moment.
With ricotta, corn, and crumbs.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Ricotta and Fresh Corn 
(Adapted from Veggie Belly. Serve as a rich side dish or a light supper.)

3 medium tomatoes (about 6 ounces each)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp pesto (I used a cheese-less version of my nut-free basil pesto)
3 Tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese (you may want to lower this amount if your pesto already has cheese in it)
3/4 cup to 1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from one ear of corn)
Black pepper, to taste
6 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Olive oil, for drizzling

Cut each tomato in half horizontally. Remove and discard the seeds, then carefully scoop out the tomato pulp from each half, leaving an intact shell. (I found that a melon baller worked well for removing the pulp.) Lightly salt the tomato shells. Place them cut side down on paper towels and let them drain for 30 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomato pulp; pat dry with paper towels if the pulp is very juicy. Combine the tomato pulp with the ricotta, pesto, Parmesan, corn, and black pepper, and set aside. Combine the breadcrumbs and seasonings.

After the tomato shells have drained, spoon the ricotta mixture into each half, mounding the filling as necessary. Top each half with about 1 Tbsp of seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs down lightly. Place the tomatoes into a lightly oiled baking dish and drizzle a little olive oil on top of each. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crumbs begin to brown.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Rice, Beans, and Corn
(Adapted from a USA Rice Federation recipe. For a Mexican-flavored approach, season the rice mixture with cumin and chili powder instead of parsley and thyme.)

4 medium tomatoes (about 6 ounces each)
1.5 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup to 1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from one ear of corn)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling

Remove the top of each tomato (cutting deep enough to include the stem area) and reserve the tops. Remove and discard the tomato seeds, then scoop out the tomato pulp. Lightly salt the tomato shells. Place them cut side down on paper towels and let them drain for 30 minutes or more.

Roughly chop the tomato pulp. Combine the pulp with the rice, onion, beans, corn, cheese, and herbs. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture. Place the tomatoes into a lightly oiled baking dish, and replace the tomato tops. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each tomato. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the filling is heated through. Bake any extra filling in a greased casserole dish, for about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Week 10: Oven-Fried Squash Sticks

Ah, CSA season. Time for lots of local food and healthful eating.

Yeah, who are we kidding? Last week we were noshing on chips and salsa. This week, we could have steamed or grilled our lovely squash, but ... Hey, let’s coat these babies in eggs and crunchy breadcrumbs and salty cheese ...

These are not deep-fried, so you could construe them as healthful. Or not. Regardless, they were mighty tasty.

Oven-Baked Squash Sticks
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour. Note that the squash should drain for 1 hour before breading, so PLAN AHEAD.)

   For Preparation Step

3 slender summer squash (straightneck), about 6 inches long
1 Tbsp salt

   For Coating and Baking

1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Scant 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil spray, or regular cooking spray

Preparation: Trim squash ends. Slice the squash in half crosswise, then cut each half into six (or more) sticks or wedges; these should be about 3 inches long. Place the sliced squash in a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt. Let the squash drain for 1 hour or longer, then rinse and pat dry.

Coating and Baking: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray the paper with olive oil or regular cooking spray.

Combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, and seasonings. Place half of the mixture into a shallow rimmed bowl, and set aside the rest. Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Place the flour into a third bowl.

Dip the squash sticks individually into the flour, tapping off any excess with a fork; then into the egg, and then the breadcrumb mixture. Place the coated squash sticks onto the baking sheets. Use the reserved  breadcrumb mixture when needed; by adding to the crumb bowl periodically, you keep the mixture from getting too eggy to coat the squash well. (Also, it's a good idea whenever you are breading something to use only one hand for dipping ingredients, and keep your other hand clean.)

Bake the squash sticks for 12 minutes, then turn them over and bake for about 8 minutes more, or until they are golden brown and crisp. Serve hot, with marinara sauce or another sauce for dipping, as desired.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week 9: Blueberry Salsa and Cilantro-Basil Sauce

As CSA weeks go, this one was a bit ho-hum: Light on the produce -- corn, cucumbers, a single beet (goodness, what is the point of a single beet?); and heavy on the herbs -- cilantro, basil, and dill. So it was a herb-filled week all around.

Most of the dill, and all of the cucumbers, were dispatched in the form of pickles. We had corn with basil; cole slaw with dill and basil (using up Week 8's cabbage); vegetarian chili with corn and cilantro; a cilantro-basil sauce for fish; and a fruity salsa with more cilantro and basil.

I’ve hit overload with these herbs, and I still have some dill and basil to carry into Week 10. Oy. At least the food's been tasty. The cilantro-basil sauce was delicious over a pan-seared tuna steak, and would be equally good over poultry or beef or with Indian food. The salsa would work with chicken as well, but we just ate it with tortilla chips. I happened to pick up the blue-corn kind, but I don’t really recommend doing that: color-wise, the chips and the salsa match a little too well.

(I apparently go for fruit salsas. Here are recipes for Peach-Pepper Salsa for now and Apple Salsa for closer to the fall.)

Blueberry Salsa
(Adapted from Jones Family Farms)

3 cups blueberries, washed and dried (divided use)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped; seeds and membrane removed before chopping if you desire less heat
1/2 cup (packed) basil leaves, slivered
1/2 cup (packed) cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 tsp coarse salt, or to taste

Place 2 cups of blueberries in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add onion, jalapeno, and herbs to food processor and pulse again to combine ingredients. Remove to bowl. Stir in lime, salt, and remaining blueberries. Allow flavors to blend one-half hour or more.

Cilantro-Basil Sauce
(Adapted from Laurie Constantino)

1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 cup (packed) basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped; seeds and membrane removed before chopping if you desire less heat
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp water

Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve sauce over fish, beef, chicken, vegetables, or what-have-you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Week 8: Meatballs With a "Secret" (Swiss Chard!)

I don't hide vegetables from my children. I'm not a sneaky chef. But I also don't make pronouncements about dinner that are liable to provoke an "ick" from the kids before before anyone has taken a bite.

I will tell you upfront, dear reader, that the meatballs had Swiss chard in them. Hardly secretive, really; you can see the green, leafy bits in the meat. And since these meatballs are Turkish/Middle Eastern in style, they were cooked in a lemony broth. So, no red sauce for the green bits to hide under.

Furthermore, I left the printout of the recipe on top of the toaster oven for the better part of a week.

So there you have it. Kit, apparently food-deprived after a day of camp, happily gobbled these down without asking what was in them, and I decided against volunteering the information. Which means she ate Swiss chard. And her head did not explode. Do me a favor, though: Don't tell her. She'll stumble across this post eventually, at which point I may never get her to eat these meatballs again. 

Meatballs With Swiss Chard
(Adapted from a recipe on Food Bridge)

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1 pound)
1 pound ground beef
6 cloves garlic, divided use
1/2 cup grated onion
1 egg
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup vegetable stock or water

Remove chard stems and discard them or save for another dish. Thoroughly wash the chard leaves but do not dry them. Wilt the chard in a large, covered pot over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Drain well. When the chard is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any extra water and chop the leaves finely.

Slice three cloves of garlic and set aside. Finely mince the remaining garlic. In a large bowl, combine the chard, beef, the minced garlic, onion, egg, bread crumbs, and black pepper. Mix thoroughly. Divide the mixture into 16 slightly flattened meatballs.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, deep skillet that has a lid, and brown the meatballs in two or more batches, about 2 minutes each side, adding oil as needed. Remove the browned meatballs to a plate; they are not fully cooked at this point.

Add the sliced garlic to the skillet and fry until golden. Return the meatballs to the pan and add the lemon juice. Add in the stock; it should almost cover the top of the meatballs. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cover the skillet. Simmer the meatballs for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through, turning the meatballs over once about midway through the cooking.

Remove the cover, and let the mixture simmer for a couple of minutes longer if you want to reduce the cooking liquid. Serve over rice or couscous.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bonus Post: Blueberry-Lemon Scones

Late July is blueberry pie season here, and while I respect the tradition of pie-for-breakfast, I recognize that practice is less accepted outside of New England. (Though, when you think about it, how far is pie from blueberry danish or muffins or Pop-Tarts?) Anyway, if you can't fathom pie for breakfast or brunch, I suggest making scones as an alternative.

Bakery scones generally disappoint me -- too heavy or too dry -- but this home recipe won me over. It has a nice balance of flavors and moistness without being cloyingly sweet. The scones are definitely best eaten warm on the day you bake them. Revive day-old scones (if you have any) with a quick zap in the microwave.

Blueberry-Lemon Scones

(Adapted from Baking Bites. Makes 8 scones.)

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup milk (see note, below)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have on hand a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the flour mixture appears sandy and no pieces of butter remain larger than a pea.

Stir in the milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest with a fork until the dough comes together. If the dough is too wet, add in another tablespoon of flour. Knead the dough in your bowl for about 1 minute. Flatten the dough slightly, sprinke with blueberries, and gently knead or fold in the blueberries so they are evenly distributed in the dough.

Divide the dough in half and scoop each half onto the baking sheet, keeping a couple of inches between the mounds of dough. Flatten each mound into a circle about 3/4-inch thick. (You can do this by putting a piece of wax paper or parchment paper on top of the dough, and pressing down with your hand.) Slice each circle into quarters with a knife or bench scraper.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Note: I used skim milk, because that's what we keep in our fridge. Any kind of milk should work. I think more fat would just add to the creaminess of the scone, but I didn't test the recipe that way.