Heirloom Tomato Bloody Marys

It’s peak tomato season, so at the farmers market I’ve been rattling off all the tomato projects I know in a very thinly veiled attempt to convince people to buy huge amounts of tomatoes from me.  The usual tomato projects that I tell people about are making canned sauce, dehydrating heirlooms in the oven (they’re so good, and it’s so easy!), freezing bags of sungold tomatoes to make tomato bisque during the winter, canning tomato jam, ketchup, and bbq sauce…  I mistakenly omitted one of the best projects, though: the Bloody Mary.  Williams-Sonoma contacted me and asked if I’d share my recipe here as part of their focus on juicing this month.  Since Bloody Marys are delicious and we’re drowning in tomatoes, it seemed like a perfect idea.  (Especially since a bunch of the farmers from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market had been meeting up after the market for Bloody Marys for a good part of the summer, and every time we’re drinking them I keep saying I need to write up our recipe to share with everyone). bloody maryThese are bloody marys for right now.  While it’s true that you can cook tomato juice and can bloody mary mix for later (which I’m going to do), the base for this cocktail is just fresh tomato juice, bright and sweet. I used my champion juicer to juice a couple slightly overripe tomatoes that we had leftover from the market today, but feel free to use a blender if you don’t own a juicer.

The ingredients for this cocktail were almost all right out in the garden.  Jason picked some fresh dill to add to the bloody mary base, along with horseradish and green olives.  I raided the pantry for some pickled okra and dilly beans that I’d canned a few weeks ago for garnishes, though any sort of crunchy pickled vegetable is at home in a bloody mary.  The one thing I noticed is that you have to be careful not to over spice these since the fresh juice from heirloom tomatoes tastes much more delicate than regular cooked bloody mary mix.   Our first round was a little heavy on the horseradish and I thought it overwhelmed the flavor of the tomatoes, so naturally we had to do some more recipe testing and get it figured out.  Naturally. (Because cocktails).bloody mary & okraHEIRLOOM TOMATO BLOODY MARYS

The perfect cocktail to celebrate tomato season, and the perfect cocktail to relax after a long day working at the farmers market.

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Makes: 2 cocktails

Ingredients:

  • Bloody Mary Mix
  • 4 oz. vodka
  • Garnishes: pickled okra, dilly beans, lemon wedges and green olives

Fill two glasses with ice. Add 2 ounces of vodka (or less, of course) to each glass. Top of bloody mary mix. Stir. Garnish with a lemon wedge and pickled vegetables.

BLOODY MARY MIX

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fresh heirloom tomato juice
  • juice from a wedge of lemon
  • 2 tbs. fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • a dash of worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 3 green olives and 1 tbs. olive juice
  • 1 tsp. prepared horseradish (or if you have fresh, substitute 1/2 tsp. fresh grated horseradish)
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Individual varieties of tomatoes will taste very different from one another and may taste good with more horseradish, a little extra heat, some extra lemon, etc.

Quinoa Tabouleh, Spring Lettuces and A NEW FARM

This salad.quinoa taboulehIt’s so delicious and so simple, and takes just a few minutes to throw together.

My brain is kind of fried from working so much, and this is the perfect kind of dish to make for that kind of time in your life.

We’re emerging from this crazy whirlwind right now.   In April, we moved from our house in the mountains of Lake County to a sweet little house down the road from our new farm space in Redwood Valley.  Part of the transition meant turning a bunch of raw land into a vegetable and flower farm over the course of about two months so that we could grow during this season and not have to wait til next year to start. Our last farm was tiny and took us ten years to get to where it was.  This farm is still very much in process, but it took us about a month to get an area planted that absolutely dwarfs anything we’ve ever had before.   We’re pretty excited about everything and I can’t wait to show you some pictures.

If you know me personally, you might know that I’ve been compulsively planting too many tomato starts for years and years, and that heirloom tomatoes are my one true vegetable love.  I always plant more than I should but it’s really never enough.  I’m so thrilled to say that I just planted the heirloom tomato garden of my dreams! (It’s HUGE).  The land owner, an expert farmer who’s been teaching us a lot as we go forward this year, keeps making comments along the lines of “you are an absolute lunatic for planting that many tomatoes” but I’m soldiering on, undaunted.
(I still remember the first time I ate an heirloom tomato.  I was working at Restaurant Lulu when I was 19 and had just moved to San Francisco, where they were serving this simple tomato salad, but it used tomatoes that were unlike any that I’ve ever seen before, and when I tasted one, it basically blew my mind and changed the entire course of my life.   True story.)

It’s like this song says: Only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.

Anyway though, this salad. taboulehI made this tabouleh with some leftover quinoa, lettuce and herbs from the garden and some mediocre grocery store tomatoes, and it instantly became my favorite salad of the moment.  It’s going to be amazing when I actually have some decent tomatoes to put in it.  It’s a nice side dish for a summery dinner, served with grilled lamb or chicken, but it’s also a wonderful lunch on its own.  We used butter lettuce leaves to make lettuce wraps with the tabouleh inside and it’s about my favorite thing to eat in the world now.

 

QUINOA TABOULEH

Vegan & Gluten Free

Serves: 4

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. cooked tricolor quinoa
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped mint leaves
  • 3 c. diced tomatoes
  • juice from 1 1/2 large lemons
  • olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small head of lettuce (butter lettuce would be perfect)

If you’re making the quinoa specifically for this recipe, rinse it with cool water after it’s cooked so that it doesn’t cook the vegetables in the salad.  Leftover quinoa that’s not steaming hot anymore obviously doesn’t need rinsing.  Combine all the ingredients except the lettuce in a bowl.  Add the olive oil, salt and pepper to your own taste.  Cover and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes (not in the fridge! Cold tomatoes taste weird).  Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves, or use the lettuce leaves as wraps.

 

Lazy Cherry Tomato Salsa

We’ve been harvesting a lot of cherry tomatoes recently.

Normally, cherry tomatoes are mostly for fresh eating since it would be crazy to peel them for sauce or other canning projects…

…but since I hate peeling pretty much everything (carrots, peaches, potatoes, etc.), I stopped peeling my tomatoes long ago.  I just zap them with my immersion blender for sauce, ketchup, jam, and salsa.  If I peeled my tomatoes, there’s no way I’d have a two whole shelves in the pantry filled with tomato products.  There’s just no way, not enough hours in the day.

This means I can take advantage of that delicious, superpowered cherry tomato flavor for all my canning projects — it doesn’t just have to be a summer treat.

This salsa is my way of turning a bajillion cherry tomatoes into something wonderful.  I’m sure we’ll have it with tortilla chips and in burritos, but what I really want it for is breakfast.  I like fried eggs with salsa and tortillas for breakfast, and this salsa is my secret stash that I’m not sharing with anyone.

 

Unless they ask.

 

And then I’ll probably end up frying eggs for both of us.

 

Lazy Cherry Tomato Salsa

adapted from the recipe for “Spicy Tomato Salsa” in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, p. 205.

Makes: 6 pint jars

Cook Time: 45 minutes or so

Ingredients:

  • 12 c. roughly chopped cherry tomatoes, stems removed (it’s fine to do a quick, sloppy job with this chopping, you just want to get an accurate measurement of 12 c. of tomatoes and not 8 c. of tomatoes with a bunch of air pockets)
  • 3 c. diced onions
  • 1 c. tightly packed chopped cilantro
  • 15 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
  • 6 fresh cayenne chilis (or whatever you have)
  • 3/4 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbs. sea salt

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Combine all the ingredients in a big, heavy bottomed pot.  Cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes, until everything is simmering and tender.  Puree with an immersion blender (or whatever you use to puree things).  Feel free to leave the salsa a little chunky if you like.

Cook for another 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally,  until it’s slightly thickened. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Process pint jars for 15 minutes.  Remember to adjust for altitude if necessary.  (Half pint jars also get fifteen minutes of processing time, if you don’t want to do pints).

 

P.S. You can definitely use whatever tomatoes you have for this, it doesn’t have to be cherry tomatoes.

Make This Now: Tomato Jam

I haven’t posted many jam recipes recently.  Mostly, I hate writing down recipes.  Then, I end up feeling like I really prefer simple jams anyway and that the magic isn’t really about my recipe so much as the fruit itself.   Great jam isn’t because of my recipe, it’s because of the farmer/mother nature/ the peach tree.  Plus, to write it down implies that the peaches I’m using are the exactly same as the ones you’re using.

Ok, but really I’m just being lazy about writing down recipes.

At last, though, I realized I have a recipe that seems unique enough and delicious enough to warrant sharing:  tomato jam.

Before you can all of your tomatoes into sauce, you must make this.

“plum lemon” tomatoes

This jam is so simple to make and good on pretty much everything.  I’ve been roasting eggplant and then topping the slices with tomato jam and goat cheese, and it ends up being MAJOR.  It will make you think you adore eggplant, but really it’s just the tomato jam that makes it taste so damn good.

Put it in eggs. Put it in quesadillas. Toss it with some tofu and cilantro for stir fry. Brush it on grilled chicken in the last few minutes of cooking.  The other night we used it like a chutney and had it with this coconut-chana masala that’s one of my favorite weeknight dinners.  Put it on grilled steak fajitas.  Put it on a hamburger and you’ll forget you ever knew about a thing called “ketchup.”

Plus, I’ve made a few batches now and have had really good luck with it coming out with this perfect semi-runny jammy set, that’s thick but not firm, thin enough to use like a sauce or a glaze still, but thick enough to have some body if you want to spread it on a piece of bread. 

Black Dog Farm Tomato Jam

I’ve tried making this recipe with many different tomato varieties.  I’ve been enjoying keeping them separate, doing batches of just black cherry or just paul robeson tomatoes – you can really taste the difference in the characteristics of each tomato.  Yesterday morning, I harvested a box of plum lemon tomatoes, and I thought it would be pretty to have the bright yellow color in the finished product.  It doesn’t really matter, though, a mixture of whatever you have is fine too.  Just keep in mind that big heirlooms will have a lot of water and need to cook down for a longer time than paste tomatoes.

Cook Time: about 3 hrs.

Makes: around 12 half pint jars

Ingredients:

(This is a monster batch, because I don’t really do small batches when I’m trying to preserve hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, but I’m sure you could cut it in half or less –  just do the math for however many tomatoes you have.)

  • 20 c. diced tomatoes –  leave the peels on, but remove the cores before you dice them
  • 15 dried serrano chilis*
  • 1 c. water
  • 3 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 c. onion blossom vinegar – if you have it, or just do all apple cider vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 10 c. sugar

In a very large pot, combine the tomatoes, vinegars, bay leaves, cloves, salt, and allspice.  Bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes.

While you bring the tomatoes to a simmer, rehydrate the dried chilis: Put them in a small saucepan with about 1 c. of water and simmer for 5 minutes.  Transfer the chilis and the water to a blender and puree. Pour the blended chilis into the pot with the tomatoes.

Stir the sugar into the pot with the simmering tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium high and cook until it gels, which will probably be several hours for a batch this size. (I didn’t use a thermometer, I just eyeballed for the tomato jam to start sheeting off the big metal spoon I use when I make all my jam). As the jam reaches the end of the cooking time, you’ll have to stir everything fairly often to make sure the tomato bits don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Remove bay leaves and discard.  Ladle the hot jam into prepared half-pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean, attach prepared lids and and process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

*The chilis I was using didn’t seem very spicy at all, so I put in a lot.  Use your own judgement before you do anything crazy.

Saucy Summer Vegetables

I meant to post this recipe a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t decide what it really is.  Is it a stew? A sauce? A soup? I still don’t know.

The reason I finally decided to share this:

If you have a vegetable garden, shop at the farmers market, or get  a CSA box, this combination of vegetables is bound to show up at some point, and this recipe is a really versatile way to put dinner (and then leftovers for lunch and other dinners) on the table with almost no planning at all. 
The flavor of this dish is kind of like a cross between a vodka sauce and a ratatouille.   Cook the veggies for a shorter time to leave it like a stew, and eat it with crusty bread and a salad.  Cook it for a long time, letting the moisture really reduce off, to make it into more of a pasta sauce.  Once it’s thick and saucy, you can  toss it with cooked penne, top with mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven.  Or use it as the filling in a lasagna, alternating with layers of ricotta cheese.  I love this sauce served over a bowl of creamy polenta with mascarpone.  Fold it into some scrambled eggs and eat it for breakfast.   For something really luscious, make a batch of fettucini alfredo and then stir in some of this sauce — it’s so creamy and good, really divine.  You could even puree this and serve as if it were a plain red sauce if you’re trying to do things like trick haters into eating eggplant.

The point is, this combination of vegetables may not be all that much of a revelation. I realize lots of people know about ratatouille.  The thing is, I feel like any time you can effortlessly walk into your garden, pick some vegetables, and turn them into a dinner that everyone will love, it’s a major victory. When it’s a dish that can be transformed into several different meals and you end up using every last little scrap of it and wishing you’d made even more, it deserves to be on the internet.

Saucy Summer Vegetables 

You could absolutely add other vegetables, like green and yellow string beans, bell peppers, or a couple swiss chard leaves.  You could also substitute white wine for the vodka, other cheeses or cream for the chevre, or no dairy at all if you’d like to leave it vegan.

Cook Time: 20 minutes of active cooking, then 2 hours to simmer on the stove

Makes: a lot… but it really just depends how long you cook it

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 c. cubed eggplant (1 large Italian eggplant or several smaller Asian eggplants, either is fine)
  • 7 1/2 c. sliced summer squash (from a couple medium sized squash of different shapes and sizes, sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • 10 c. roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes, cores removed (about 5 really large tomatoes)
  • 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 c. vodka
  • 6 oz. plain chevre

  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

 

In a big pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and the cubed eggplant. Give the eggplant a liberal seasoning with salt at this point. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to brown nicely.  Add a little more olive oil if it starts to stick. Add the summer squash (and any other vegetables you’d like to throw in) and saute for another couple minutes.  Crank the heat up to high and get everything flaming hot for a couple seconds (purposely trying to get some slightly caramelized bits on the bottom of the pot) then quickly pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the chopped tomatoes, basil, and chevre. If you want this to be a soup, you can add a couple cups of vegetable stock or water.  At this point, you just turn the heat to low and cook it until it’s the consistency that you want.  It will probably need to cook for at least an hour on low heat to get the flavors tasting really awesome.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve… over rice/noodles/polenta/in a bowl/whatever makes you happy.

A note about tomato skins: I never peel tomatoes.  I also don’t peel carrots, potatoes, or cucumbers.  I really think the skin on heirlooms is so delicate that it’s not worth the time it takes to get it off. If you hate skin, though, feel free to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then core them and dice them.

Tomato Starts for the Ukiah Farmers Market Tomorrow 4/28

Tomorrow we’ll be loading up a bunch of tomato starts to bring to the Ukiah Farmers Market (so exciting, right?)…

Our tomatoes are all heirloom and specialty varieties that will grow well here in Northern California and look beautiful both on your dinner plate and in your garden.  The seeds that we use aren’t certified organic (many of these varieties aren’t available as organic seed) but we grow them completely organically from day 1.  We’ve grown almost all of these varieties here on the farm, so if you have any questions about them, feel free to ask.

This is the list of varieties we will be bringing tomorrow; the selection will change over the next few weeks. (The descriptions are taken exactly from the Baker Creek seed catalogue, none of them are my own writing- I thought it would be helpful for all of the market customers to see the full description written by the folks that are working hard to keep all of these great varieties around for generations to come).   Hope to see you at the market tomorrow!Ananas Noire: (Black Pineappple) A most exciting new tomato, it is wonderful in every way.  This unusual variety was developed by Pascal Moreau, a horticulturist from Belgium.  The multi-colored, smooth fruit (green, yellow and purple mix) weight about 1.5 lbs.  The flesh is bright green with deep red streaks.  Everyone loves their superb flavor that is outstanding, being both sweet and smoky with a hint of citrus.  The yield is one of the heaviest we have ever seen!

Big Zebra: “New! A stunning tomato that looks much like a giant version of our popular “Green Zebra,” this 8-10 oz. beauty has a vibrant green and deep gold striped skin, with delicious red-streaked, green flesh.  A superb home and market tomato, a must for all who love the beautiful and unique.  One of the most amazing tomatoes we have grown; so groovy and retro looking! 80-90 days.

Carbon: 90 days Winner of the 2005 ‘heirloom garden show’ best tasting tomato award.  These have won taste awards coast to coast in the last few years, so we were proud to locate a small supply of seed.  The fruit are smooth, large and beautiful, being one of the darkest and prettiest of the purple types that we have seen.  They seem to have an extra dose of the complex flavor that makes dark tomatoes famous.

Cherokee Purple: 80 days An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very large sized fruit.  Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor

Copia: 80-90 days  One of our most unique and beautiful large, striped tomatoes, these have lovely fine striped of glowing gold and neon red.  Inside the flavorful flesh is a mix of red and yellow that is swirled together in various combinations.  This new variety was developed by Jeff Dawson and named in honor of Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts, of Napa, CA

Cuor di Bue: 70 days This oxheart type Italian heirloom has been a favorite in Italy for many years.  Beautiful 12 oz fruit have a delicious sweet taste; similar to the shape of a heart; great for fresh eating or cooking.  Large vigorous vines.  Hard to find.

Dr. Wyches Yellow: 80 days This heirloom was introduced to Seed Savers Exchange by the late Dr. John Wyche, who at one time owned the Cole Brothers Circus and used the manure of elephants to fertilize his heritage gardens.  The 1 lb. fruit is solid and smooth; their color is a glowing tangerine-orange that always stands out in the kitchen or off the vine.

Fox Cherry: Delicious large, red heirloom cherry tomatoes that seem to be one of the best-tasting large cherries around.  The vining plants are very reliable; even in years when the wilt kills about everything else, these seem to do great.  The fruit weigh about 1 oz. each and are perfect for salads.

Great White: 80-85 days Large, 1-lb giant, creamy white fruit, this tomato is superbly wonderful.  The flesh is so good and deliciously fruity, it reminds me of a mixture of fresh-cut pineapple, melon and guava.  One of our favorite fresh-eating tomatoes! Fruit are smoother than most large beefsteak types, and yields can be very high.  Introduced by Gleckler’s Seedsmen.

Hillbilly or Flame: 80-85 Days A huge, bi-color heirloom: brilliant yellow color with red marbling.  Very large with a rich, sweet flavor.  Beautiful when sliced.  An heirloom believed to be from West Virginia.

Lollipop: 70 days Delicious, light yellow translucent cherries.  The flavor of these is really good– both sweet and fruity.  Plants set good yields.  A real winner!

Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge: 80-90 days Stunning tomato is a vibrant, tangerine orange with shocking true purple splashed in various amounts over its upper half.  This is one of the few domestic tomatoes that have true purple pigment, although research is being done with wild purple tomatoes.  These have a mild taste that make them good for snacking.  Fruit weighing 4-10 ounces were produced in abundance and tended to turn more purple as the season progressed.  Some fruit may not be very purple, coloration varies.

Paul Robeson: 90 days This famous tomato has almost a cult following among seed collectors and tomato connoisseurs.  They simply cannot get enough of this variety’s amazing flavor that is so distinctive, sweet and smokey.  7-10 oz. fruit are a black-brick color.  Named in honor of the famous opera singer star of “King Solomon’s Mines,” 1937. This Russian heirloom was lovingly named in his honor.

Placero: A flavorful, small tomato from our friend Herb Culver.  He colected this tomato in Cuba from a man named Orlando at Mission Mundial.  This tomato also is said to have a very high beta-carotene content.  Tasty, red fruit grow on very productive plants.

Pink Brandywine: The most popular heirloom vegetable! A favorite of many gardeners; large fruit with superb flavor.  A great potato-leafed variety from 1885! Beautiful pink fruit up to 1 1/2 lbs. each!

Plum Lemon: 80 days Bright canary-yellow 3” fruit looks just like a fresh lemon.  … This variety was collected by Kent Whealy, of Seed Savers Exchange, from an elderly seedsman at the Bird Market in Moscow.  Delicious, sweet taste.

Purple Calabash: 85 days.  May be the most purple of all the “purple” tomatoes; a deep purple/burgundy and very colorful! The shape is also exciting, with the 3” fruit being very flat, ribbed and ruffled.  Flavor is intense, sweet and tart, with a lime or citrus taste.  A most uniquely flavored tomato! The plants give huge yields.  This tomato resembles tomatoes pictured in 16th century herbal diaries.

Riesentraube: 76-85 days This old German heirloom was offered in Philadephia by the mid-1800s.  The sweet red 1 oz. fruit grow in large clusters, and the name means “Giant Bunch of Grapes” in German.  It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today’s cherry types.  Large plants produce massive yields.

Violet Jasper: When these little Oriental jewels ripen, your eyes will be stunned with color.  They have pretty violet-purple fruit with iridescent green streaks! Fruit weigh 1-3 oz., are smooth and have good tasting, dark purplish-red flesh.  This variety will also amaze you with its yield: It’s not only high, but incredibly high, being one of the most productive tomatoes we have grown.

Yellow Brandywine: 90 days Superbly rich and delicious tasting large fruit, the golden variety gives good yields and, in our opinion, the fruit are better tasting than pink brandywine.  Large potato-leaf plants are very sturdy and deep green.  This heirloom is delicious any way you eat it!

Yellow Pear: 78 days Very sweet, 1 1/2” yellow, pear-shaped fruit have a mild flavor, and are great for fresh eating or making tomato preserves.  Very productive plants are easy to grow.

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For some tomato growing tips from serious experts, I recommend reading this great article from Love Apple Farm. 

Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

So I made these tacos the other day…And tacos are always delicious but these ones turned out extra-super delicious.

I didn’t use a recipe but it doesn’t matter; I can still share the technique with everyone.  As you probably know, making tacos basically involves putting a bunch of tasty things in a tortilla.  The star player of my version is this amazing chicken that’s braised with beer and tomatillo salsa all afternoon.  It’s tangy, juicy, tender, and absolutely tastes like it should be from a mexican restaurant or a taco truck.  If you have the tomatillo salsa already in jars in the pantry, fantastic, but you can also just grab a jar of the store-bought stuff and vow to can more tomatillos this summer.

Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

I didn’t really put down amounts for each of the items that go in the tacos.  It’s really up to personal taste and what you have lying around in the kitchen and the garden, so it seems silly to try and specify.  Only you know how much cilantro you like.

Cook time: 25 minutes, plus a couple hours for the chicken to braise in the oven

Ingredients:

  • corn tortillas
  • braised chicken for tacos (recipe follows)
  • thinly sliced radishes
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • diced avocado
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • grilled spring onions (recipe follows)
  • salsa of your choice (from the pantry, fresh made or store-bought will all work)
  • lime wedge for garnish

To assemble the tacos, first heat up a couple tortillas. There are lots of acceptable methods for this, but I put them on a hot grill pan for about a minute on each side.  Lay the tortillas on a plate and top each one with the braised chicken, salsa, radishes, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, and the grilled onions.  Squeeze some lime juice on them to get really crazy.  Dig in.

 

Braised Chicken for Tacos

This chicken is equally good served over rice as it inside of a tortilla. It also holds well in the fridge for leftovers.

Cook Time: 4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts and 4 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, organic)
  • 1/2 can of beer (something on the lighter side for this recipe)
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half and then sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp.  dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dark roast chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • sea salt & black pepper to taste
  • water or stock
  • 1/2 c. medium-heat tomatillo salsa

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees or so.  Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a wide-bottomed pot (I basically use my jam pot for everything).  Add the chicken, onions and spices and saute on medium high heat for 7-8 minutes to sear the chicken and toast the spices.  Turn the heat to high.  Pour in the beer.  Add water or stock to cover the chicken.  Add the tomatillo salsa.  Give everything a stir and put it in the oven.  Cook for the afternoon.  Check it occasionally to make sure there’s liquid covering the chicken, adding more water or stock as needed. (I’m sure this would work in a crock pot but I don’t own one…)

Once the chicken is fork-tender, take it out of the oven.  I like to break apart any big chunks of chicken into smaller pieces with a pair of tongs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Grilled Spring Onions

Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of scallions or small spring onions with thin, tender tops
  • olive oil
  • sea salt & black pepper

Cut the roots off the onion. Wash well to remove any dirt.  Toss with a splash of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Grill until completely cooked through and very tender, about 20 minutes, but it will depend entirely on what you’re grilling on and how hot the fire is.  (Grill pans on a stove will work fine for this).  To prepare for taco filling: roughly chop into 1″ sections.

 

P.S. I was using the first of our spring radishes for this recipe so I haven’t gotten around to pickling any of them yet, but just so you know… radishes make excellent refrigerator pickles and pickled radishes make excellent taco toppings.

How to Preserve 100+ lbs. of Tomatoes With Almost No Work

Tomatoes are one of the main crops that I preserve. Jam is all well and good, but face it: there’s a ton of sugar in those jars. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are incredibly good for you can go in just about anything. Home-grown tomatoes are also one of the food items that are so far superior to their grocery store counterparts that they are worth the time it takes to put them up.

Vegetables are so labor-intensive to grow that it makes me cringe when they finally ripen in such abundance that some are left to rot or are simply fed to animals.  I put literal blood, sweat and tears into our farm, and I’ll be damned if I’m letting anything go to waste.  It’s like they say, “there are starving children…”

The key is knowing which preserving methods involve the lowest amount of work at the front end and are the most versatile during the winter months.  I used to get swept up in strange recipes for chutneys and pickles, but when it comes down to it, we really don’t need any of that in the pantry. They make nice gifts, yes.  If you really want to grow and preserve your own food, however, you won’t get by on chutneys. It’s basics like tomatoes (or potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbages, etc) that make up a well-stocked pantry for us.

So. Let’s get down to it. Last summer I preserved almost 2,000 lbs. of tomatoes and I intend on doing so again. Here’s everything I know about how to get it done.

First you’ll need to grow some tomatoes. You can also develop a relationship with local farmers. Hopefully you shop at farmers markets anyway. There is a certain time of year when busy farmers start feeding extra tomatoes to their chickens or giving them away to friends. This is the time of year that you want to go to the farmers markets just as they are ending, see what is left, and ask any of the following:

  • Haggle: “I’m interested in buying the rest of your tomatoes, can you make me a deal?”  For non-heirloom tomatoes, you should aim for $1/lb. or lower. $20 or lower for a huge box full of tomatoes is a good price.  Heirlooms will be slightly more expensive.
  • Barter, which is even better:  First ask the farmer what they are going to do with all the leftover tomatoes. Then you can tell them: “I do a lot of canning.  If you’re interested, I will take your tomatoes home, turn them into tomato sauce and can them.  In exchange, I keep 3/4 of the jars and will bring you back 1/4.  You will end up with beautiful jars of tomato sauce to eat during the winter without having to do any canning at all.”  A jar of high-end tomato sauce sells from $5-$9 per jar, so a farmer is essentially selling you a case of picked-over tomatoes for $10-$20, depending on how big the case is and the yield of your sauce. Most farmers will be quite happy with this, but will only do the trade if you’re buddies with them (which is why it’s good to be on a first-name basis with your favorite farmers).

Preserving options:

1. Freezing: I’m off the grid, but if you’re on the grid and have the freezer space, tomatoes are perfect for the freezer.  Wash them, let them dry, and either put them in ziploc bags suitable for freezing or vacuum seal them. Date them, and put them in the freezer.  You can take them out as you need them, and there’s absolutely no need to peel them; when you take them out of the freezer, the skins will slip off easily under some warm tap water.

2. Tomato Sauce For Busy People: So there’s this idea floating around that you have to peel and seed tomatoes to make a good sauce, and it’s 100% nonsense. It hurts my brain to think about peeling all those tomatoes.  And seedless sauce? Why? People who peel and seed tomatoes are the same people who peel potatoes and carrots, which I also don’t do and think is a waste of time. If you’re cooking at the French Laundry, then fine, peel and seed the tomatoes. Until then, don’t bother.The main argument for not peeling the tomatoes is that it often makes the difference between “I have time to can tomato sauce” and “Are you smoking crack? No way am I doing that!”

(Instead of photographing and writing out the whole tomato sauce process, you should go read about it on The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter.  Her recipe is for freezing, but all I do is add lemon juice and process the jars to make it safe for canning.  Keep reading for more instructions…)

All you need is a huge pot, tomatoes, salt, lemon juice, and a lot of big jars. Cut the stems and any damaged or rotten spots off the tomatoes,* put them in a pot, and cook it on very low heat until it gets to the consistency you want. Stir it every once in awhile.  I cooked mine for 36 hours. If you want, you can saute some onions, garlic, shallots and herbs in some olive oil and throw that in the pot with the tomatoes too.

If you like a smooth sauce, purée it in a blender or a food processor. I blended about half of my sauce because I like to have small chunks of tomatoes in it. Season with salt and pepper.

The summary: Instead of spending a ton of time peeling tomatoes, all you really do is throw whole tomatoes in a pot and then cook them forever.

To can the sauce: Add 1 tbs. of lemon juice to pint jars and 2 tbs. of lemon juice to quart jars. Fill the jars with hot tomato sauce using 1/2″ headspace. Process in a boiling water canner.  Pints get 40 minutes and quarts get 50 minutes. (Lemon juice is what makes the tomatoes acidic enough to be safe for the boiling water method).

NOTE: (brought up by a smart reader!) Processing times vary by altitude, so check this chart here to match your altitude to the right processing time for where you are. http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_03/tomato_sauce.html

Do NOT get all crazy and start doing stuff like adding ground beef or mushrooms or carrots or any of that. You absolutely must pressure-can a sauce with vegetables or meat in it. I add all of that fancy stuff later, in February, when I am making spaghetti and meatballs while it’s freezing cold outside.  This is a basic sauce to amend later.

3. Oven Dried Tomatoes

I like to dehydrate all of my heirlooms in the oven (I would use a dehydrator if I were on the grid).   They have such a wonderful flavor to begin with, but when you dry them with a little sprinkle of sea salt, they caramelize and turn into magic candy sweet salty tomato snacks. You can put the dried tomatoes in all kinds of stews, sauces, salsas, grain dishes, and jams for a wonderful burst of roasted tomato flavor.  I would challenge anyone to find a dried tomato from a grocery store that is half as delicious as a homegrown dried heirloom.

Cut the stems off and cut the tomatoes down into more manageable sizes: halved for smaller ones, quartered for larger ones. Lay them on a cookie sheet, skin side down. Sprinkle them with some sea salt. Add fresh herbs if you want; i like fresh thyme and wild bay laurel leaves. Put the oven on the lowest temperature it has. I roasted mine for 48 hours at 175 degrees, but you’ll want to just keep an half an eye on them. When they start looking almost done (shriveled up like any other type of dried fruit), you’ll need to check about every half an hour. Smaller tomatoes finish faster and I just pick them off the cookie sheet and put them in a jar as they are ready, letting the larger ones stay in the oven.

And there you have it- a case of heirloom tomatoes now fits in a quart mason jar. I dry them pretty thoroughly; they will still feel leathery and nice, not burnt and crunchy. Cover them and store in a cool, dark place. They should last for months, but I wouldn’t really know how long, we always eat them sooner. If you want to leave a little more moisture in them, I would throw them in the freezer to make sure they don’t spoil.

4. Last But Not Least, the Cherry Tomatoes: Cherry Tomato Bisque

I haven’t made it this year, but tomorrow these cherry tomatoes will go into a bisque. It’s so simple, but so bright and luscious.  Just saute some garlic, dump the cherry tomatoes in the soup pot, and cover with vegetable stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, then puree. Stir in some heavy cream and season with sea salt and black pepper.  This soup would freeze very well if you want to save it for later.

… And that is how to go through 6 cases of tomatoes in just a few days without losing any to rot or giving up and feeding them to the animals.

I would, however, be open to something like La Tomatina, the world’s largest food fight.  A small town in Spain started this tradition, where “over 100 metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.”

That could be fun.

A Gardening Question

I got an e-mail this morning with some questions about starting your own tomatoes from seed.  I thought I’d share this info, since it pertains to so many backyard gardeners. Not everyone has money or space for a greenhouse or grow lights, and it’s important to learn how to adapt using whatever materials you have on hand.

the tomato seedlings in question

Hey Caroline,

The first tomatoes I planted are already about 2 1/2 – 3″ tall and are starting to get the second set of leaves. But I have the impression that they are leggy. The stem seems very tall in my opinion. How do I recognize if they are leggy? I can send you a pic of then and could you please tell me if they are and if so, what to do with them?


thanks!!!

These little seedlings in the picture are a bit leggy.  The tomato in the lower right hand corner of the picture is doing the signature ballerina stretch, as you can see by the long, thing, graceful but delicate looking stalk.  When the plants are older, the distance on the stalk in between each new set of leaves will be quite long on a leggy plant and very short on a plant that has received enough light.  There are several things that a gardener can do to remedy the situation:

1. Greenhouses are always ideal for starts, at least from what I’ve seen.  That way you can make use of the ambient light from the sun and you won’t have to worry as much about hardening off the plants when it comes time to plant them outdoors.  That being said, not everyone has a greenhouse, and you definitely don’t need one to grow your own seedlings.

2. Light is key: Your plants should be in the sunniest, warmest area of your house.

If you have the money or space, hang a florescent grow light over the seedlings to augment natural light.  There are a huge array of grow lights available, but a simple 24″ florescent fixture with two bulbs will work fine. If you get a light, you’ll need somewhere to hang it from, and it doesn’t need to be the ceiling.  Metal shelving like you might have in your garage or pantry is easy to hang lights from using some lightweight chains and S-hooks .  Simply hook chains onto lights, loop the chains over the shelf that it’s going to hang on, and use the S-hooks to hook the very end of the chain back onto itself below the shelf.  Most hardware stores carry rolls of rope and chain that they will custom cut for you in the store.  This method is easily adjustable as the plants grow and it’s very sturdy, but you can also use rope or a variety of other materials that you may have lying around the house.  You don’t need shelves, either.  One year, I attached eye-hooks to the bottom side of our very nice wooden dining room table, and then hung my light under the table.  The tomatoes were happy, but my boyfriend was less than thrilled.  It worked really well though!

If you don’t have access to a light, just remember that if it happens to be sunny and warm outside for a few days, but it’s safe to plant the tomatoes in the ground yet, you can always carry the tray outside for the day to give the little ones some light.

3. Point an oscillating fan at the little seedlings, even though they look so delicate. I’m talking about whatever kind of fan you might have lying around; just place it about a foot from your tray of seedlings, turn it on low and point it at the tomatoes (or any seedlings, for that matter).  They will blow all over the place and stop growing for about a week, but their delicate stalks will get stronger and healthier.

4. Take special care to plant leggy tomato starts very deeply when it comes time to put them in the ground. If your starts still look leggy when it’s time to put them outside, gently tear off the bottom leaves and plant the seedling so that most of the main stalk is below the soil, leaving only 3-4″ of the stalk above the ground.  All of the stalk that is below the soil line will sprout roots, resulting in a very strong, sturdy tomato plant.  Remember to break apart your roots when you transplant! It’s actually always a good idea to transplant tomato plants using this method, but it’s more important when the plants are lanky and have a long, thin stem.

5. Just remember, tomatoes are very resilient and you should be able to work with whatever you have when it comes time to plant them outside.

It’ll be summer before we all know it…