Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tomato Fig Marmalade

Still attached like a cluster of grapes

The volunteer tomato plant that appeared among the beans this summer is still producing.  Such a hardy determined plant deserves some special attention.  After all, it did the thing that plants are supposed to do.  When it died last year, its last rotting tomatoes were the nourishment for the seeds that were left behind.  The winter rains, falling debris, even the turning of the soil in the spring could be the nursery for a new plant to begin.  When the beans started to grow, their strong young stalks provided a trellis for the young volunteer that lay hidden but was now reaching for the sun.  Undisturbed, the tomato plant continued to grow and strengthen until it towered over all the other plants in the bed.  And long after everything else has finished, the untended, ignored volunteer is showing the essential hardiness that comes from being a determined survivor.
My plan had been to make orange marmalade so I went to Fannie Farmer to remind myself of the basics of making jam.  Listed above the instructions for orange marmalade was a recipe for tomato marmalade. 
Red and green tomatoes, orange and lemon slices and sugar

 Hmm…why not?  It didn’t seem to matter whether the tomatoes were ripe or still green and I would only need one orange to do this, so I could still have enough to make orange marmalade later, once I get more jars.
But I would only make a small batch because the tomatoes have been ripening so well on the counter that they continue to be a treat to eat as they are in all their sweet juiciness.  Besides, this was a bit of an experiment.  Tomato marmalade?  It sounded really good for a lover of tomatoes like me, but...  Then I remembered the figs I had left over.  They were really ripe and would be a good spark of flavor to complement the tomatoes and orange. 
Simmering away happily with the figs

 I only made four 6 oz. jars.  Maybe I’ll have to make more. It’s really, really good on a breakfast piece of toasted baguette.
 Put in a pretty little jar it could be a nice gift and a reminder of the summer that wasn’t but became the fall to remember for its giving harvest.

 Tomato Fig Marmalade
6 ripe black figs
1 Valencia orange, sliced very thin
½ lemon, sliced very thin
4 cups red and/or green tomatoes, cut in small pieces (I didn’t even peel them, they’re so tender)
3 cups sugar
Mix all together in stock pot and boil slowly, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking until thick, about one to two hours.
Ladle into hot, sterilized jars.  Seal and boil ten minutes in water bath.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I think my favorite snack is salsa.  Best of all is a chunky chip dipped into restaurant style salsa, spicy and smoky.  I feel a little guilty pleasure in this indulgence since Joe doesn’t really care for salsa; so when I choose a jar at the grocery store, I go for cheap since it’s only for me.  Finally, it occurred to me that I should just make my own salsa.  I still have a lot of tomatoes and even a few peppers, though tiny.  I could augment with peppers at the market, which are on sale this week, and onions are also a good bargain right now. 

 And since I need at least three quarts of tomatoes for the amount of salsa I want to make, I’ll augment the tomatoes from the garden with diced organic tomatoes from Costco (also on sale this week).

I sorted all the tomatoes, keeping the best to enjoy in salads and keeping some in the process of ripening to enjoy later.  It looks as if we might actually have a few tomatoes left by Thanksgiving.  A really late start to the season, but those wonderful tomatoes just keep on coming.  The main plants are done but the volunteer cherry tomatoes are still happening as well as the two little patio plants by the door.  For all my early grousing and worry about this season, I am astonished.  It’s almost as if these plucky tomatoes were determined to prove me wrong.  They would produce, despite my belief they might not!
I like the taste of roasted peppers and onions and garlic, so I started with that. 

I didn’t bother peeling the tomatoes, just cut them into chunks.  I also found a few tomatillos from the volunteer plant that came out of the garden earlier this season.  I could add them as well.

  After the peppers were roasted to my liking, I dumped them in the stock pot along with all the tomatoes. 

I added a little vinegar and a little sugar and some pickling salt and set the whole business to simmer for about a half hour.

The messy part was when I put batches in the processor to mash up.  I put everything back in the stock pot and set it to simmer while I prepared the jars in a boiling water bath to sterilize.  When I tasted the salsa it was good but didn’t have much oomph.  It needed a little more spicy heat.  I shook in a bunch of powdered chipotle pepper—and a bunch more when it was still a little too bland.

Finally, I was done.  I scooped the salsa out of the pot with a measuring cup so that I could pour it into the jars without making too much of a mess.  Wow!  Thirteen 12 oz. jars in all!  That should last a little while at least.
But the sale at Costco is still going on for the diced tomatoes, and I still have a large supply of homegrown, and still some peppers and onions.  And maybe this time I’ll cook the tomatoes with some dried chipotle peppers.  Make this a fiery batch.  I just need more jars…
Restaurant Style Salsa in Jars
3 quarts tomatoes
1 red onion to roast
1 large sweet pepper (I used 1/3 each of red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers)
3 fresh jalepenos (I only had 2, but I had about 4 little ones from the garden
2 Anaheim peppers
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 white onion, chopped and cooked with the tomatoes rather than roasted
3 tablespoons pickling salt or sea salt
1/3 cup vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground chipotle pepper
Roast pepper slices, red onion in chunks, and garlic about ½ hour in hot oven until slightly charred.
Meantime, cut up tomatoes and add diced tomatoes to make three quarts.  Add chopped white onion and roasted vegetables and cook in large stock pot over medium heat for about ½ hour.  Process in food processor in batches and put back in stock pot and simmer while the jars are boiling to sterilize.  Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more chipotle pepper for more heat.  Makes thirteen 12 oz. jars.

I was eager to try some of this salsa out and wondered if Joe might like it in a meal.  How about a sort of fajita/jambalaya kind of thing with leftover chicken?  The salsa might dress up the humble dish.  So I sautéed a bit of onion, garlic, celery, a carrot, a couple of small tomatoes and peppers in a little olive oil;  I cooked a little white rice.  In the last five minutes, I added the chopped chicken to the vegetables and stirred it all together.  Served with the rice and garnished with a little cheese and a generous dollop of the salsa, it was pretty good, especially with a little sour cream on the side to soften the flavors (since I had spiced up the vegetables quite a bit).
Joe liked it.  But then, he seems to like everything I cook, sweet man…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finally, Baguette Success

When my trusty bread machine died, I replaced it with another, the same kind, that I found at Goodwill for $9.99.  Not bad, and it worked.  For a while.  When it also died, I shopped around, comparing prices, reluctant to try again at Goodwill, though there is always an assortment of bread machines at Goodwill.  It’s a puzzle to me that there should always be several to choose from.  Why do people give up their bread machines? 
I finally settled on a Cuisinart machine that Costco was selling at a pretty good price.  When I tried it out it made such a racket I was certain there must be something seriously wrong with it.  Metal banging against metal with terrible noise!  I repositioned the container—to no avail.  In frustration, I cleaned it out and repackaged it.  I returned it to Costco the next day, but didn’t replace it.  I thought I’d try the Goodwill one again.  I made a good pizza dough and was ready to attempt the French bread again.  But the dough didn’t rise as expected.  It was heavy and dense.  I was using the same flour and the yeast was new.  What’s the deal?  When I tried again, the machine just stopped working altogether.
Not ready to give up, I went back to Costco and bought the Cuisinart again.  Maybe the first one was just defective.  After all, Cuisinart is a good name in small appliances.  They wouldn’t be selling something defective, would they?  I decided to make a baked loaf instead of just the dough.  It was pretty good, but not my idea of French bread.  It was more like an English muffin.  Joe loved it and ate too much of it.  Time to try the baguettes again.
This time, the dough seemed fine and I shaped it into the usual three loaves I make.  It felt a little different as I was shaping it, not as elastic as I had been used to.  It rose nicely but when I baked it, the dough fell as flat as a pancake.  The resulting bread was only good for crostinis, not the nice full slices I had come to expect.
Remnant slices of deflated loaf next to latest success

Not one to give up easily, I thought through all the different steps I had taken in this journey to make the perfect baguette.  I had tinkered with my recipe a couple of ways, thinking maybe that was why this was not working.  I adjusted the rising time, the baking time.  Nothing seemed to bring me back to those first incredible loaves I had come to expect when my trusty Breadman still worked.
Finally, I went back to my original recipe, not the one recommended by the Cuisinart machine people.  The dough came out really well and was a sensuous pleasure to shape into my three loaves.  So far, so good.  I scored the tops with a serrated knife, covered them with my soft towel and put them to rise for ninety minutes.  When I checked them at forty five minutes, they seemed ready to go to bake.  Instead of using the convection oven, I chose the bake option.  I put a clay pan of water on the top rack of the oven and my pizza stone on the bottom rack and gently put the perfectly risen loaves in the middle.  I set the temperature to 425˚ and the timer to thirty minutes and waited.
It took a little longer than thirty minutes, but when those loaves came out of the oven, they were finally the perfect baguettes that had eluded me so long.  Joe wanted to have a slice right away, but he would have to wait until they cooled.  No way was I going to cut them before their time!  But he could take in the wonderful fragrance of these simple baguettes.
Can he get any closer?

Late that night, when the house was dark and I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the familiar clatter in the kitchen that signaled that Joe wasn’t going to wait until morning to have his first slice of baguette, slathered with blackberry jam.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Birthday Celebration and More

This time it was my daughter’s birthday and I wanted to pull out all the stops and present a meal that she might not prepare for herself and her family.  Like so many of us, she faces budgetary challenges as she tries to stretch her grocery dollar to feed her ravenous family.  With ten of us at the table for this birthday feast, I had to come up with something that wouldn’t break the bank for me either.
I settled on something French and went to my two favorite cookbooks for some ideas and settled on Boeuf Bourguignon and a Tarte au Chocolat with chocolate sorbet for dessert (since I know she is passionate for chocolate).  I modified the sorbet to make it a little creamier than called for since the tarte would be so densely chocolate.  I made a dilly bread and a simple salad to go with it all.  Betty brought over her raspberry chipotle sauce and poured it over a block of cream cheese, which we served with the pita crisps I had made.
Mark came with fresh chanterelles he and Dawn had picked the day before. They were sautéed quickly in garlic and butter and we ate them on little crostini toasts that I always have on hand (I use the ends of the baguettes I bake, sliced thin and slowly roasted in the oven with a drizzle of garlic infused olive oil).
I was pleased that I only had to shop for the meat, the little button mushrooms and some small shallots.  I would also need some good chocolate and some strawberries to decorate the cake.  But the rest would come out of my well-stocked basic kitchen, so the outlay, including the meat, was about $30.  For ten people, this worked out to about $3 per person, a modest investment for a birthday celebration of my sweet daughter.
She came with three enormous red cabbages from her garden and an 18” zucchini.  Oh my! 
Giant Zucchini and Cabbage

I like cabbage but I’ve never grown it because I don’t like that gassy smell it has.  And my one zucchini plant was so lost in the other squashes and crazy potato plants that it didn’t stand a chance of developing anything but small fruit—which is fine with me because the small ones are so much more tender and succulent.  I was delighted with her gift and knew I could find ways of preparing it all—even going beyond slaw or zucchini bread.
We had a lovely party with absolutely nothing left over except the dilly bread, which became a delicious lunch the next day as grilled cheese sandwiches with a bowl of fresh tomato soup.
Tomato Soup with Dilly Grilled Cheese Sndwich
What did I do with the cabbage?  Much of it is still in the refrigerator and I will give my neighbor one large head.  But I have already used half of one head in a taco soup/stew which Joe and I had the other night. 
Taco Soup/Stew
I made a lot so I took a tip from Betty’s very smart way of freezing leftovers.  One zip-lock sandwich bag will hold about one cup, while a quart bag will comfortably hold two generous cups—just right for two people.  When the bags are zipped and flattened, they take up very little space in the freezer and can easily be stacked.  Of course, I’ve done this with spinach, blackberries, with much of the stuff that couldn’t be preserved on the shelf.  But when it comes to leftovers, I usually have put them in margarine tubs to freeze, thinking that zip-lock bags could leak.  I’ve frozen sliced peaches arranged for future tarts and carefully laid them flat on a freezer shelf.  That will be a real treat at Christmas or Thanksgiving! 
As challenging as I thought this growing season would be when we had so much rain and cold as late as mid-August, in fact the garden has produced an abundance of everything—even the best tomato crop I’ve ever had!  For the first time in the fifteen years we’ve lived here, there was no blossom blight on the tomatoes.  It may be all the egg shells I mixed into the soil around the plants.  It may also be that the plants were protected in their cozy hoop house.   I’ve saved a few seeds to dry and plant for next year’s crop.

The best tomato, by far, has been “Purple Calabash”, a really gnarly looking heirloom that is incredibly sweet and juicy. 
Purple Calabash
 A close second is “Black Krim”, a Russian wonder that has crimson flesh and a deep mahogany skin.  It is large and abundant and delicious. 
Russian Black Krim
 “French Carmello” is a  tart salad tomato that seems to never spoil.  Bright tomato red, it is closest to a “campari” on taste and size.  I will try these all again next year, with an earlier start, in the cozy hoop house.
French Carmello and unripe Cherry Tomatoes

I think the only reason I am so passionate about gardening is the reward of tomatoes in the fall.  This year, we may even have a tomato or two for Thanksgiving!
Taco Soup/Stew
2 cloves garlic
½ onion, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped fine
2 tablespoon taco seasoning (I used Pwnzey’s—a birthday gift)
1 teaspoon chipotle seasoning
½ tablespoon salt
3 chopped tomatoes
1 pound ground turkey (or beef)
1 can black beans
1 can 3 bean salad (from my sister when she moved away)
1 cup tomato soup (leftover from the day before)
½ cup salsa
½ cut cabbage, finely sliced
Fry turkey with seasonings, onion, and jalapeno.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer about 30 minutes until flavors are well blended.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve with toasted pita chips and grated medium cheddar.  Makes about 10 cups.

Dilly French Bread
Follow directions in your breadmaker for French bread, adding 2 tablespoons dill weed to dry ingredients.

Easy Tomato Soup
1 small can tomato paste
1 quart chicken stock (or water)
1 tablespoon roasted tomato/garlic/basil pesto
1 cup milk
Combine all and simmer about 20 minutes.

Roasted Tomato/Garlic/Basil pesto
1 cup tomatoes slow roasted with garlic and herbs in olive oil (or use a jar of tomato pesto)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh basil leaves
Whir all ingredients in food processor until well combined.  Delicious spread on crostini as an munchy appetizer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lost in the Woods with Chanterelles

We weren’t too sure what to expect when we were invited to go off-roading in Mark’s jeep, but we knew we were in for an adventure.
“Where are your jackets?” Mark asked, and Dawn echoed, “And how about a scarf—and boots?”
I thought I was ready for a tromp in the woods.  I had my hoodie and my good walking sneakers.  And Joe had his heavy fleece.  But they reached for extra jackets and scarves—just in case, and we were off.  We were going mushroom hunting.  Dawn has done this sort of thing since she was a child and is quite comfortable picking the mushrooms she knows well.  And I certainly remember going mushroom hunting with my father when we walked through northeastern forests in search of chanterelles and morels, which were more elusive.  We came home with big paper bags filled with the glorious gold of Chanterelles and he cooked most of them in an evening in butter and garlic, and we feasted—all six of us kids and my parents.
It was misty-rainy, perfect for mushroom hunting.  Mark drove until urban became suburban, then country, then simply forest with a few access roads.  We bumped along for awhile until we could go no farther as the forest road finally ended with a gate.  This might be perfect.  The woods were deep and quiet with only a small sound of raindrops falling to the undergrowth in light splashes.  The trees wore blankets of moss, soft to the touch as I reached out for sound footing.  The ground was so thick with pine needles it was like cushions underfoot.  The forest breathed quietly.  Ferns and salal were electric green in the deep shadow of the trees.
We started out together and gradually drifted apart, eyes to the ground, trying to differentiate between fallen leaves and a possible mushroom patch.  I stayed close to Joe and Dawn while Mark moved off in another direction.  I didn’t dare lose sight of my companions because I had absolutely no idea where we were, where we had been or where we were headed.  Dawn seemed the most sure of herself and where to go.  We called out to Mark but there was silence all around.  Where had he gone?  Did he go back to the jeep, assuming we were also headed back?  We called again, thinking we couldn’t possibly be far from the jeep.  We hadn’t been hiking very long, after all—or so it seemed.
Dawn finally found a road and the three of us headed there, thinking surely we would see the jeep as soon as we left the woods.  But the road stretched blankly in either direction.  I wondered if there might be cell service in this remote area.  I was beginning to get a little scared.  And was tremendously relieved when I was able to connect to Mark’s phone—but he wasn’t answering.  I left a message, “we’re on this road, but don’t know if it’s the same road we came on.  It doesn’t look familiar…please call back…”
Joe took out his iPhone, now that we knew we had coverage, and began zeroing in on our location until he had the name of this road.
Mark called back finally.  “I’m at the jeep,” he said.  “”I’ll honk the horn.  Can you hear it?”
I heard it on the phone but not in reality.  “Mark’s honking the horn.  Can you guys hear it?” I asked, now really beginning to panic, though at least we were in contact.
“Tell him the road we’re on,” Joe said.  When I told Mark he said, “that’s pretty close by.  I’ve got it on the GPS.  Walk down to the gate because I can’t come any further.  It’s not far.”
Dawn had been walking fast in both directions of the road, hoping to find something familiar.  Her hair was wet now and her jacket shiny with rain, which had begun to fall softly and steadily.  I sought protection under the overhanging boughs of a tree.  Now that we knew which direction to go and how far it was, we set off at a fast clip until we finally saw the jeep.  Dawn ran ahead to Mark and there was a sudden exclamation of joy as she looked in the Whole Foods grocery bag he was showing her, an enormous grin on his face.  He was as drenched as we all were.
“Chanterelle!” she exclaimed.  “Where did you find them?”
“I have no idea.  I got really lost and called and called you guys.  Then I saw them, right there in front of me.  So I picked them and here they are.  But I was really freaked out when I couldn’t find you and you didn’t hear me call.”
“I’m so relieved there’s cell service—even here…” I said.
We piled into the jeep and went on with our adventure promising to stick together on any future hike—and to all have our phones with us—just in case.
We decided to have lunch in Leavenworth, clueless about the fact that this was the first weekend of Octoberfest. 
 Mark and Dawn
Joe and Me
We surfed the crowds, had the obligatory bratwurst (which was deliciously succulent and spicy) and ended up in a little meat and cheese shop.  On the counter top was and array of sausage and cured meat samples.  Never one to pass up a food sample, I tried a few until my toothpick pierced the most unusual sliver of a mound of petals on a plate labeled “Buckboard Bacon”.  Looking in the case, I saw what looked like some of the fallen logs we had seen in the woods, dark and withered and gnarly.
Buckboard Bacon

Mark bought a half pound and handed it to me.  “Here, Mom.  I know you’ll know what to do with this.”
“How about on a pizza?” Dawn suggested.
“Or how about a pasta carbonara?” I chimed in.
“Tossed with petite peas,” she said, continuing the riff.
“And with the chanterelle sautéed in butter and garlic, to top it and with just a few slivers of asiago.”
“Sprinkled with a bit of chopped parsley—for color,” she finished.
Mark insisted I should do this and take pictures and put it all on my blog.  Well, okay then!
Pasta Carbonara with Chanterelles and Sliced Tomatoes in Vinaigrette

Pasta Carbonara and Chanterelles for two
¼ package linguini
1 quart water with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup frozen petite peas
3 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup Buckboard Bacon in petal-sized pieces
1 glug olive oil (about ½ tablespoon)
¼ cup white wine
1 egg separated
2 tablespoons cream
ground sea salt and black pepper
¼ cup shaved Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Bring water to boil with salt and a splash of olive oil.  Add linguine and cook al dente, about 8 minutes. Add peas to linguini water in last 2 minutes of cooking time.

Chanterelles and Buckboard Bacon, ready to saute
Meanwhile, sauté garlic in glug of olive oil in a large pan until fragrant, about 2 minutes. 
Whip egg white and cream together.
Add Buckboard bacon and egg and cream mixture and toss.  Add wine and toss.
Buckboard Bacon and Garlic

Scoop out linguini and peas from cooking water with a spider and add to bacon/ garlic/cream mixture.  Toss together with yolk of egg and half the asiago.  Add a bit of the cooking liquid if needed. 
Chanterelles in Garlic and Butter

Top with Chanterelles, a smidgen of asiago and the parsley.  Serve immediately.
Chanterelles in Garlic Butter
1 cup sliced chanterelles mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 tablespoons white wine
Ground sea salt to taste
Melt butter in medium frying pan and add garlic.  Cook about 1 minute until butter and garlic foam together.
Add chanterelles and sauté until much of the liquid is reduced.
Add wine and toss to coat mushrooms in syrup reduction.

This is a simple and elegant meal that can be put together in less than 30 minutes.  Add a salad of sliced tomatoes drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and garnished with basil leaves for a colorful balance of flavors and textures.
On our way back home we took a little side trip to explore the trail where the Great Northern Railraod used to be until a catastrophic avalanche obliterated it about 100 years ago.  It was the worst railroad disaster in history at the time. 
Part of Snowshed Wall at Iron Goat Interprative Trail

Snowshed Wall from old railroad line

Dawn at mouth of train tunnel