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.


  1. That tomato soup looks like something I could do :)
    These guys eat grilled cheese and tomato soup every weekend ... Every day if they could!

  2. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is my favorite lunch, and yours look delicious! I grew tomatoes this year in a hoophouse too, it worked really well. Thanks for posting your great recipes.