Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

When it comes to food, we shop seasonally. In some ways this is a financial decision. We’re feeding five grown people, and anything we can do to minimize costs makes a big difference over time. But it’s also a flavor decision. Having grown accustomed to fruits and vegetables only hours from harvesting, we aren’t tempted by waxy asparagus or tomatoes in December.

Today I bought the very last available tomatoes from our local farmer, double checking to be sure they weren’t hiding any in the back. We shop seasonally, but we don’t eat completely seasonally, thanks to our freezer and the stacks of canned food in our basement. Some of these final tomatoes will be eaten fresh. The rest are laid out on trays in my oven, shrinking and shriveling and concentrating summer into firm, red, chewy bites.

Dehydrated Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Salt

Cut the tomatoes into chunks. The size doesn’t matter much. Bigger ones will take longer, obviously. They do shrink quite a bit, so keep that in mind.

Lay on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. I like kosher.

Bake at 225 (with convection fan if you’ve got one) until they feel like raisins. Mine take between 4 and 6 hours, depending on their size.

Store in fridge for immediate eating, or in freezer for a taste of summer in December.

Everything Nice

Jon had a sudden need for cinnamon rolls.

Next thing I knew, I was licking sugar from my fingertips.

It didn’t take much more time than it would have to drive to the store for one of those cans that pop open with a belch of stale air. Here’s how he made it happen:

Cinnamon Rolls

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling:

4 Tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon

Dough:

2 cups flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter

3/4 cup milk

Glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup milk

Combine the filling ingredients to make a crumbly mixture.

Spread half of the filling on the bottom of a 9 x 9″ baking pan. (You may want to line it. This gets messy.)

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture.

Add milk and work it into a soft dough.

Roll the dough into a 1/4″ thick rectangle.

Spread the remaining filling over the dough.

Roll the dough up and slice it into 12-18 rolls.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While they’re baking, mix up your glaze.

Drizzle with glaze while warm.

Now You See It

I may rename this Disappearing Bread, as it’s notably smaller every time I reenter the kitchen.

It’s possible I’m contributing to the trick a bit myself, but a magician never tells.

Cinnamon Bread

Preheat oven to 350.

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups flour (I use  1 1/3 cups white and 2/3 cup wheat, but all-purpose will do just fine.)

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar + 1/3 cup sugar, divided

Cinnamon

In a small bowl, combine:

1/3 cup sugar

cinnamon to taste

In a separate, larger bowl, mix up the egg, milk, vanilla, and oil.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar.

In a buttered bread pan, layer:

1/3 batter

1/3 cinnamon sugar

1/3 batter

1/3 cinnamon sugar

1/3 batter

1/3 cinnamon sugar

Bake for 40 minutes.

Be Prepared

I did a different sort of pumpkin carving today. No scary faces, no intricate designs, just a good chop in half.

Seeds scooped out (and set aside to dry for next year’s garden), pumpkin halves placed cut side down in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes or so, we’re on our way to pumpkin pies.

Pumpkins will last quite a while in a cool spot (best leave the stem intact), but I prefer to cook and puree a bunch at once so that when the mood for making pie hits Andrew, all he has to do is pull a pint jar from the freezer. I like to do lots of things ahead of time in the kitchen: boiling noodles for tomorrow’s lasagna today, roasting peppers on Tuesday for the veggie burgers I want to make on Thursday, chopping and freezing peppers for fajitas in the future.  Sometimes cooking from scratch can feel just one step too many to want to do, but if that one step, that extra bit of time and effort, has already been done, it feels manageable.

And anything that gets Andrew baking more pies works for me.

Andrew’s Pumpkin Pie

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine:

16 oz pumpkin puree

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Lightly beat 3 eggs into mixture.

Add 1 cup milk.

Pour into pastry lined pie plate. (Need a pie crust recipe? We like this one.)

Cover edges with foil.

Bake 25 minutes.

Remove foil and bake for another 25 minutes, or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Easy as Pie

Never made applesauce? Try it. It’s so simple, even my friend Karen can do it.*

Cut up some apples. Peel them if you think someone might find bits of peel yucky. How many apples? Doesn’t matter. In my experience, 8 apples makes enough applesauce to fill the bigger jar you would buy at the grocery store. (Not the HUGE jar, but the bigger than small jar. About a quart.)

Throw apple pieces in a pot big enough to hold them and have enough space left on top that you won’t need to freak out if some bubbling up occurs.

Add some sugar. Really doesn’t matter how much. You’re going to taste it in a while to see if you like it, so you can go light here. Or you can skip it altogether. Unsweetened applesauce is good.

If you’re concerned about burning/have a lightweight pan/don’t really want to pay a heck of a lot of attention, add a splash of water. I never bother.

Turn heat on medium. In a few minutes, liquid will start to come out of the apples. The sugar will start to melt. Give them an encouraging stir.

After a few more minutes, give another stir and make some observations: Is anything sticking to the bottom of the pot? If so, turn down the heat a bit. Is the sugar melting? Are the apples changing at all? Good, it’s working!

Let it do its thing for 5 minutes or so. Come back for a stir and a peek. Is it boiling a bit? Not sticking? Apples starting to look a bit translucent? Yay!

Let it do its thing for another 5 minutes or so. Stir. Are the apples translucent and pretty squishy? You’re almost done.

Grab a spoon, scoop out some apple, let it cool a bit, then taste. Does it need sugar? Cinnamon? Add whatever you’d like and let it cook for a minute or two.

You’re done cooking now, and it’s decision time: chunky or smooth?

For chunky applesauce, you can eat it as is or smash it a bit with a fork or potato masher.

For smooth applesauce, like what you’d buy in a store, give it a whirl in a blender or with an immersion blender.

(If you’ve never put hot food in a blender before, know this: BE CAREFUL. If your blender does not have a vent on its lid, steam will build up in the container and cause a high pressure situation. You can get around this by filling the container only halfway and pausing every few seconds to open the lid to allow steam to escape. Or you can avoid it altogether by letting your apples cool completely before blending. I am not that patient and enjoy hot applesauce, which is how I know that high pressure plus hot food can equal painful consequences.)

*That’s what Karen says. I know Karen can do anything.

Slice of Life

We haven’t gone apple picking yet this year, but apple season has officially begun in our kitchen. It started with Andrew and Dagny making what I think was the prettiest apple pie I’ve ever seen in real life. They used a new-to-us crust recipe, and it was flaky and delicious.

A pie can be an ambitious undertaking. All that peeling and chopping and rolling is time-consuming and makes a bit of a mess. Totally worth it, in my opinion, but if apples sound good and an afternoon in the kitchen doesn’t, try this instead:

 
Apple Chips

Apples

Cinnamon

Sugar

Cut apples into thin slices – as thin as you can manage.

Remove any seeds.

Arrange slices on baking sheets covered with parchment paper or silpat.  (Don’t try this on tin foil. The apples will stick.)

Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Bake at 200 degrees until dry.

If you weren’t able to get the slices very thin, this could take a long time, but it will happen. At 200 degrees you don’t have to worry about them burning, so let them sit there until they’re crunchy.

Store in an airtight container.

Color Outside the Lines

Sometimes people decide not to make recipes because they don’t have or aren’t familiar with every single ingredient listed. Cooking really isn’t that rigid. You can skip, you can substitute. You may end up with a different food. So what? Look at recipes not as instructions, but as inspirations.

This is a good recipe to play around with. If you start with fresh corn and/or fresh tomatoes, you can’t possibly go wrong.

Summer’s End Salad

2/3 cup quinoa

1 cup vegetable stock

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons olive oil + a splash to cook quinoa

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon coriander

1 1/2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped

2 Tablespoons scallions, minced

1 1/2 cups black beans

1 cup bell peppers, chopped

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons minced hot peppers

1 cup corn

Fry the quinoa in a splash of olive oil in a small pot for a minute or two, then add vegetable stock and salt.

Cover and bring it to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat, let cool, then fluff with fork.

Mix all of the ingredients and enjoy.

I Think I Can

It’ll come as no surprise that I enjoy a blog called Food in Jars. I haven’t gotten my hands on the author’s book yet, so I was excited to find a recipe from it (for Basic Tomato Salsa) on another blog I love, Eating From the Ground Up.

In her post introducing the recipe, Alana Chernila references an article from 2010 about the resurgence of home canning, and responds to some of the ideas presented. My own response to the article is this: Imagining we know what other peoples’ motivations are in doing anything is unwise. Disparaging people and the work they choose to do with terms like “self-congratulation”, “cultish hobby”, and “bloggable and boastworthy” based on those imaginings is not in good taste. And I’m all about good taste. It’s not the only reason I put Food in Jars or fill my Homemade Pantry, but it would be enough of one for me.

Custom Made

Jon and I work for a week every year as helpers in a camp kitchen. While I love the equipment – giant mixers, walk in coolers, hot boxes, speed racks, oh my! – I’m always glad to be back in my own kitchen, which is small and laid out to my exact liking.

A kitchen that works for you is more motivation to cook than any piece of fancy equipment. While it would have been nice to move into a home with a clean and workable kitchen, the benefit of having had to remodel ours is that we were able to design it to function for the way we cook, eat, and clean up. Living with it gutted and unfinished for a few years (yes, we did) gave us time to understand the space and how we move in it.

The counter with the microwave on it is our baking station. Standing at it, we can reach everything we need to bake without taking more than a step in any direction. The largest base cabinet opens to reveal our mixer on a shelf that rises to just below counter-height.

All of our ingredients are in the cabinets to our right. Baking sheets are to the left. Measuring cups, spatulas, assorted bowls, and mixer accessories are close at hand.

Not everyone needs to, wants to, or is able to renovate their kitchen. But anyone can organize the one they have to make cooking easier and more enjoyable. Here’s how I’d do it:

1) Donate anything you do not use regularly. Don’t let things you don’t need clutter your drawers, cabinets, or counters. Keep what you need and love, and you’ll be happy to use, organize, and maintain it.

2) Make things easy to get to. You should not have to walk into another room and climb on a stool to get your mixing bowl. (I’m not naming any names.) If you need to store things in another room, make sure it’s the things you don’t need every day, and make them as easy to access as possible.

3) Place things in the way that makes sense for how you use them. Do you use one spatula every time you scrape your mixing bowl and another every time you flip pancakes? The first should be near where you mix, the second near your stove.

4) Group the things you need to do specific activities together: make a baking station, a chopping station, a cleaning station.  This does not mean you need a gigantic kitchen. Stations can overlap, and none needs to be enormous.

5) Look beyond the kitchen. The giant pot you use a few times a year for canning does not need cabinet space. It can go in the basement. Of course if you find your basement is overrun with kitchen supplies, you may want to revisit step one.

All done? Make yourself a treat.

Upside-Down Peach Cake

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup boiling water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons brown sugar

peaches, peeled and sliced (3-6 peaches, depending on their size)

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. (Sift if you like.)

Beat yolks til thick and light.

Add sugar to yolks gradually.

Add water and vanilla.

Add flour, powder, and salt gradually.

Melt butter in an 8″, oven safe frying pan.

Add sugar and stir til melted and combined with butter.

Remove from heat.

Layer peaches on top of butter and sugar. This will be visible as the top of your cake, so lay them prettily if you like.

Pour batter over peaches.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, til golden.

Turn upside down onto plate and serve.

(First photo thanks to Kyra Elizabeth Photography.)

Cheaper by the Dozen

Most people don’t think of eggs as a seasonal food, but of course they are. Chickens, unless their bodies are tricked with artificial daylight, lay far fewer eggs in the colder, darker months. If you’ve not tried a fresh egg laid by a chicken free to find the tastiest morsels in the summer sun, please do.

Get yourself two dozen – one for taste-testing and one for this recipe.

Frittata

Preheat oven to 350.

12 eggs (10 will do in a pinch)

1/2  cup milk

Bread cubes to cover the bottom of a 9″x9″ pan (Slightly stale is just fine.)

Fresh rosemary and thyme, or any other herbs you like

A block of Gryere cheese, grated

Minced garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk eggs and milk, and season with salt and pepper.

Put bread, herbs, cheese, and garlic in baking dish.

Pour egg and milk mixture over other ingredients.

Bake 40 minutes.

Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.