Monday, August 31, 2009

Makin' Hay While The Sun Shines

We've all heard the term "making hay while the sun shines". This is a folksy way of saying, you've got to get the work done while you can.

In August, when the garden is bursting, I've got to put in the work with the harvest while it's still going which has meant a very busy few weeks. Before, during and after regular work hours, I've been making tomato sauce, drying tomatoes, churning out pesto, roasting peppers, freezing veggies and more. This is what I get when I innocently plant a modest few plants around Mother's Day; paybacks for my naive ambitions.

But, it's therapeutic work. There's no denying, I've had a summer of the Drama Llama. Lots of situations out of my control, but which still very much effect me and those I love the most. Spending the time outdoors pulling weeds, propping up vines, picking fruit and bringing in the fruits of our labors opens up the mind to think, process and work outside the box.

This has meant precious little time to be artfully inclined in the tiny studio, but I feel no less creative when I'm chopping, stirring or tasting something that's been kissed by the sun and infused with great flavors. It's a different kind of process, but equally satisfying.

So, the tomatoes are still madly producing and the recipes keep coming...

First is one that uses the Tipsy Tomato Sauce as a base for Pizza Sauce. We make a lot of pizza and while some members of the family like less sauce and some like more, we all agree that this sauce is 'just right' for us. My son even took a jar to college with him last week.

Pizza Sauce
1 3/4 C. Tipsy Tomato Sauce
1/2 C. tomato paste
2 small cloves garlic minced
1/2 ts. dried oregano or 1 ts. fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 ts. dried basil or 1 ts. fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 ts. sugar
1/4 ts. salt

Place all ingredients in a blender and process for 15 seconds or until smooth. If you have them, in the summer use fresh herbs. The fresh basil, most especially, makes a difference in the flavor of the sauce, but dried always works. It's pizza sauce; not the Holy Grail.

Another great recipe is for Grilled Stuffed Tomatoes. This one comes from the tomato recipe collection I talked about with the first tomato recipe post. With some farm fresh corn and whatever protein you throw on the grill, this rounds out a very nice meal with full flavor...

Grilled Stuffed Tomatoes
2 large, firm tomatoes
3 T. dry seasoned bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 ts. fresh basil, chopped (just a leaf or two)
2 ts. fresh parsley
1/4 C. grated mozarella
2 T. butter, softened

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Combine the remaining ingredients and pack into the tomato cavities. Place on aluminum foil cute side up and grill for 15-20 minutes or until tomatoes are heated through and the cheese is melted.

~I've changed up the song playlist with some Back to School stuff. Am I imagining or did I feel the first cool, crisp hint of Fall in the air this morning?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top Chef starting tonight with a hometown favorite!

So yeah, we're all excited around this area to tune in to see Chef Brian Voltaggio competing on Top Chef this season!

We are blessed with an abundance of fantastic food in downtown Frederick, MD, among the best is Volt Restaurant. Wonderfully fresh, seasonal food from local sources. If you are ever in the area, check it out!

He's competing against his brother, Michael, too! No matter what high drama may ensue, the food at Volt is always a pleasure. If you get the chance, check it out!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

And the tomatoes continue to roll in...

Busy day today, but I do have this simmering on the stove and it smells GOOD!
This is how you get sweet revenge upon a few killer tomatoes...

Tipsy Tomato Sauce

2 large onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/3 C. olive oil

15 large tomatoes

2 C. red wine

12 oz. tomato paste

1 1/2 ts. salt

1/2 ts. pepper

4 ts. Italian Seasoning (Pizza Magic if you can find it)

Saute the onions, garlic and olive oil until golden, about 10 minutes, in a large pot. Rough chop the tomatoes and add to the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is reduced & thickened to your liking. I keep it simmering for hours until it's super thick and rich.

Freeze in pint jars or keep in refrigerator for 2 weeks.

We use this in so many ways: add a few more spices to create pasta sauce, pizza sauce, add some to soups & stews, make a marinara or use it as is for a mild, richly flavored sauce.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chalk it up to...

summer fun!
Every year my daughter and her friend spend a good part of the summer rambling around the neighborhood looking for 'something fun' to do because they are bored. They are old enough now to walk or bike to the library together or head off to McD's, ice cream stand, local market or even the old hardware store, but sometimes, it's the simple things in life that occupy their fancy.
Like a giant tub of sidewalk chalk...
More summer fun is measuring the rate at which one pumpkin vine and a couple of gourd vines are attempting to take over the back yard...Finally, one super early morning while the studio was still cool (there's no AC in there!), I played around for an Opus Gluei challenge...The challenge is called "Book 'em" and while I had visions of Cops, they really meant books! I made a small, hand-bound (sewn) book to send off with my daughter's friend as she goes back to her mom's once school starts. If you're looking for tomato recipes, don't forget to look through the last couple of posts!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Which one is the true gargoyle? 2nd post of the day

It is appropriate to combine my thanks at being able to travel to Paris with a few photos of one of the most famous houses of worship in the world, Notre Dame. As we walked into the great sanctuary, a children's choir was performing. Their voices filled the air, a perfect welcome to a place I had only dreamed about since I was a child.

What a testimony of faith that those who would begin the cathredral would carry on their life's work and pass away, knowing their vision would not be fulfilled within their lifetime, but knowing the vision was true and worth their sacrifice.

We were able to take a guided English tour throughout the cathredral which greatly expanded our understanding beyond any guidebook or poor interpretation of French signage. I had not comprehended all that had happened within these walls from its inception, to the destruction during the Revolution, to Napoleon being crowned as Emporer by the Pope and beyond.

This window is one of only a few original stained glass windows left in Notre Dame.
You are looking at art that is very nearly a thousand years old. Now picture the course of civilization over the span of a 1000 years that this window has endured... In order to go up to the bell tower and scale the heights of Notre Dame is another trip altogether with an enormous and excruciatingly slow line. Not knowing if I would ever return, I convinced hubbie to wait with me. (in front of us was in Italian family with twins who were fascinated that I have no pinky toenails. my college Italian still tries to hang on, hehehe)

A few hundred steps later, we come to the first level...Great views of Paris beyond...after a hundred or so more steps...the Chimera and Gargoyles I had previously only seen in photos (oh wait, that's the hubbie!) Rubble that has fallen from Notre Dame over the years lying abandoned...The back of Notre Dame, just a thoughtfully designed as the rest of the cathredral, but a photo without the hundreds of tourist (myself among them)...

The Attack of the Cherry Tomatoes, 1st post of the day

Remember that movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"? I think a young George Clooney may have even been in that movie. It isn't remarkable enough to watch again, but I can stilll remember the song. In fact, it's playing in my head right now!

Well, we are under attack. By cherry tomatoes. Actually they're a super yummy heirloom variety called Brown Berry. I took some to church to give away and people thought there was something wrong with them because when ripe, they are a deep purple-brown. We pop them like M&Ms or dunk them in ranch dressing (cause everything's better with ranch, eh?).

One of my most favoritest (I swear that's a word) summertime recipes uses cherry tomatoes, so whenever possible, you will find me making it, filling a bowl and chowing down. This recipe is addictive in particular if you are an avocado fan or black bean fan too. The colors make this a gorgeous salad. The flavors make the recipe a keeper.

I won't lie. This recipe is directly from Barefoot Contessa At Home book by Ina Garten. I only change it up a few ways. What I love about her recipes is that they are, for the most part, simple and you don't need wonky, exotic ingredients to prepare them.

Without further ado, Guacamole Salad:

2 C. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 C. red onion, small diced
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
1/2 ts. freshly grated lime zest
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 C. good olive oil
1 ts. kosher salt
1/2 ts. freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 ts. cayenne pepper
3 ripe Haas avocados, seeded, peeled and diced

Place tomatoes, peppers, beans, onion and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and cayenne pepper. Pour over the vegetable and toss well.

Fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temps.

(hubby always feels the need to dip tortilla chips into this. I skip the chips completely, going for a bowl, a spoon and a quiet spot to enjoy)

Now, we're getting an attack from some Habanero peppers too. Help! What to do? What to do?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of tomatoes and unlocked cars...

First off, I want to send a shout out to the Opus Gluei ladies. They had an enormous blog candy giveaway earlier this summer and I was a lucky winner. When Rosemary delivered this huge box to me, I was blown away. It was a creative Christmas in July bonanza! And being the shopaholic I am, I was surprised to find that with the exception of adhesive and a white pen (which we can never get enough of), all of these goodies were new to me.

Finally I was able to sit down and play with all of this fun stuff and made a sweet card using only goodies from the blog candy stash (except for 2 Stickles colors)...Even the bird stamp, inks and flower punch were in this box. And some of the paper is embossed or blinged ~ Love it! Made the card into a circle by using the old standby Creative Memories circle cutter. After folding my cardstock in half, I cut the circle leaving one side of it over the edge to maintain the crease of the card. Thank you Rosemary and Jana for a most fun collection of artsy crafty inspiration!

Now, about those tomatoes....

We've come to that wonderful time of year, long after the first exciting summer BLT, when we have more tomatoes than meals or time to deal with them. I've yet to start making tomato sauce, but that will be in the works this week. If you have more tomato plants than sense (like me), you may find yourself in a similar predicament. There are 2 ways to handle this; when you go to work, the gym, etc, bring bags of tomatoes and stash them in unlocked cars. One a particularly warm day, the lucky recipients will already have stewed tomatoes for dinner that night. Or get creative with your tomatoes.

I'm trying hard to choose the latter. Long ago and far away when AOL was still a baby, there were super-active gardening boards. I've always enjoyed playing in the dirt and the gardening boards were my first stop each day. We traded tips, stories and in late summer when the harvest overtook us, recipes.

The boards have been long gone since the Plant Nazis chased us out (another story for another day), but the recipes remain. One summer, everyone contributed their favorite tomato recipes which turned into a huge file that had to be emailed to us in 2 installments. That tomato stained file is one of my favorite places to turn to when looking for inspiration. Seeing the names of the contributors also brings back great memories of trading gardening wisdom and anecdotes.

I'll try to post tomato recipes throughout the rest of tomato harvesting season to help anyone else with a kitchen that's been overtaken by the summers bounty a little inspiration.

First up is a recipe for Italian Bread Salad. During the summer, we always seem to have all the ingredients on hand, making this a quick summer treat.

Italian Bread Salad:
2-3 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cucumber, diced
1 C. croutons or stale bread cut into squares
1/4 C. feta cheese
4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

Put the croutons or diced bread in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Place the tomaotes on top of them and gently toss. Add cucumber, feta and basil. Lightly toss. Dress with vinegar and oil to taste. Salt and pepper to taste (the feta and balsamic adds a lot of acidity & saltiness, so start light on the salt). Tastes best if it sits about 15-30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.