What’s In The Fridge?

My dear husband is great at many things. I wouldn’t say finding things is his forte. We came to an impasse a few weeks ago when he ordered lunch while he was home alone instead of digging into the plethora of leftovers we had in the fridge. The Hubs (unlike me) does not have a problem eating leftovers, but finding them is another story. So, to meet everyone’s needs I instituted the “In The Fridge” list.

Every time I make something, I put it on the list. Then every time the empty dish goes in the dishwasher, he crosses it off. It was working like a dream and The Hubs was actually eating leftovers when I realized that the true beauty of the list didn’t have anything to do with The Hubs at all. With the list of leftovers laid out, I had a new source of inspiration. I could just look through the list of leftovers and come up with new ideas for soups or lunch or even remix dinners.

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So, there I was on pizza night. Pizza for me is just a good way to use up any last bits of leftovers. I picked the taco meat, mushrooms, eggplant and I wanted ricotta, but didn’t have any. I had butter beans left over from making oxtail soup. I think it was the butter in the title that got me since I was already thinking dairy. I figured if they didn’t taste good, we’d just pluck them off. But, the skins got a little crispy and the inside stayed creamy. Who knew?!  It was fantastic.  I guess you just never know unless you try it.  And yes, the taco meat and eggplant were good too…

 

 

Endless Possibilities

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It’s seed starting time. I love this time of year. The garden is full of endless possibilities. In my mind I’m immediately transported to summer where everything is lush and growing. I’m outside with my garden basket gathering up tomatoes and beans and lettuce. I head inside and make a gorgeous salad with a perfectly roasted chicken and then I’m soaking up the chicken and salad dressing juices with a fantastic whole grain bread that I baked that morning. That’s garden romance for me.

 

To make that dream a reality, I always start too many seeds. Well, you kind of have to since not every seed (even the ones in the same packet) is the same. Some are stronger. Some won’t pop at all. And sometimes even the weakest seeds produce the best plants. So I don’t give up on any of my seeds. I feel the need to plant all of them. Some years… my dream is a reality. Some years… the garden is a mess. It’s ok. Because in my mind, next year will always be the better (and it is).

If you are interested in gardening, there is a logical stream of getting your hands dirty so to speak.

  • The first year, find an independent gardening center, buy a few plants, a few herbs and a few flowers. Grow them organically in containers. Decide if you like gardening. Join a CSA so you can get more organic vegetables. Start a compost pile.
  • The second year, buy a few more plants, a few more herbs and a few more flowers. Pick out a small area of the yard in a sunny location where you are going to put your in-ground garden. Find some free compost. (Many townships and high schools will have a pile where you can go get some for free as long as you bring your own containers or contractor bags to haul it away.) Dig up the soil in the small area and replace it with the compost. (You may need to go back and get some more soil over the season.) Grow the plants you grew in the containers last year in the ground. Try something else in the containers. Stick with the CSA. You’re not growing for the world… yet.
  • The third year, buy a few more plants, a few more herbs and a few more flowers. Expand your garden area a little (remove the dirt and replace with compost). Move the plants you grew in the ground last year to the new area, add more compost to the old area and try some new plants. Do a few plants in the containers.
  • Repeat over the years until you can in fact feed the world (or at least some of your friends & family).

 

Now, understand that I’ve dramatically oversimplified the process and there are a few other things that I’ve found out about over the years that can really boost your success. Over the next few weeks, I’ll do my best to lay it all out. One thing I recommend is finding an independent garden center in your area. In my opinion you’re better off getting plants from an independent garden center when you’re getting started. In general, most of the people who work there know something about plants. Some of the larger chain store employees don’t have the plant knowledge of people who “do this for a living”. I understand that gardening seems like a ton of work, but trust me, most people with a “green thumb” also have a big compost pile. And in that pile are all the things that didn’t work. The great thing about gardening is it’s easier than it looks and (if you have a compost pile) your mistakes feed your successes.

 

Ultra-Change – UPDATE

Okay, so I have been converted… by milk. I have been drinking skim milk forever and thought it was okay… for milk. I used to drink non-organic, then I read all the articles telling you that there are unending reasons to get organic milk that are good for you and good for the environment. So, I switched. I noticed a modicum of flavor improvement, but quite frankly, it was still… milk. Better, but kind of flavorless. It was supposedly good for calcium and what not, but I could live without it. As a side note, I tried soy milk and realized there were worse things out there than bland milk and had something of a boost in my appreciation. As is expected with me, I eventually lost the appreciation when once again I tasted… milk. Maybe it just wasn’t for me. I guess I could accept that. Maybe I’d just find some other way to get the whole calcium thing. The Hubs on the other hand loves milk. He came along on the skim milk ride — begrudgingly, but since he didn’t have to do any grocery shopping he let it go.

Okay, so I was drinking organic milk and getting through when I read something that said, if you don’t like milk, it’s probably because it’s been ultra-pasteurized. Supposedly, the pasteurized method doesn’t destroy the flavor the way ultra-pasteurizing does. Really….?! So I looked it up. They have to heat the raw milk to make it safe for drinking, but the method of heating makes a big difference. Either they do the super high heat for a few seconds (Ultra-Pasteurization) or they go for a longer period and get it to the right temp (Pasteurization). So let me get this straight…. either you sit in a tanning bed cranked up to a million for a few minutes or you go to the beach for a few hours and relax to get a tan. I know which one I’d prefer. The milk I found also happened to be from grass-fed, not corn-fed cow’s milk and switched again. So, I switched again to see if it made a difference. Surprise, surprise…. definite flavor improvement. But honestly, there was still something missing.

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Now, as I was doing all this I was waging a war of sorts against anything low fat. I swore off all versions of sour cream, cream cheese and any other cheese that claimed to be low fat because they just didn’t taste right. They always tasted kind of bland to me and when you flip over to the nutritional panel on the packaging it always had way too much sodium to balance the fact that sucking out the fat makes it taste well…. bland. Then we were blessed with The Kid who around a year started drinking milk. We were instructed to get him whole milk. So, we dutifully cut into our premium refrigerator space and started having two huge gallon jugs of milk in the fridge. Skim for us, whole for The Kid. Then, recently, I started making my own yogurt with homemade preserves. Since it was what I had, I tried yogurt with the skim milk. It was good, and definitely cheaper than store-bought organic yogurt and it was crazy easy. I just heated the milk to 180F, cooled it down to 140F, added the freeze dried yogurt starter and poured it over the preserves in the jars on the yogurt maker. I turned on the machine and in 10-12 hours… organic yogurt. Then, last week we ran out of skim and I was out of yogurt again and tried it with the whole milk. Epiphany…. Amazing!

Then I took the final step… I told The Hubs that I’m not buying skim milk anymore. I still hear the cartoon double take sound effect when I remember telling him about this. I had a bowl of cereal with whole milk. When I used to make cereal with the skim milk, I would put in a massive amount of milk with not that much cereal. Since I didn’t want to cut into the kid’s supply I put half as much whole milk in and it was fantastic. Great texture, great level of satisfaction. Why would I bother to drink a lot of skim when I could drink a little whole. The house is converted. We’re a whole family now!

UPDATE: If you are considering making your own yogurt, I added links to the products I actually use.  I worked it out and even though it’s an up front investment it will pay itself off in the end.

It is dramatically cheaper  to just make your own and understand that this rational is included in the fact that I use expensive organic, pasteurized, grass-fed milk at $6.99/gallon.  I used a quart per batch and I get 7 6oz. yogurts per batch.  Now compared to the $1.00 (or more) price tag of the greek organic yogurts in the supermarket and of course the Story of Stuff‘s recommendation to reduce using plastic.  I could save more by using some of a previous batch to make the new one instead of the freeze dried powder, but I just can’t be bothered.  But seriously… try this it’s a great way to use up leftover fruit too since you can just add your own homemade compotes or just some of your favorite jams/jellies.

Double Take

It happened…. The Kid ate meat!!! Okay… this may not seem that exciting, but I was pretty sure this day would never come. Up until now, every time I made a dish with meat in it, The Kid would pick out all the meat and hand it to me. But the other night, he did his usual: he saw me eating a piece of meat and asked for a piece. I gave it to him, expecting the usual spit out and hand back, but instead — he ate it!!! Then he asked for another piece. And another, and another. It was a miracle that I didn’t drop my poker face when he kept eating it and he ate about the size of a chicken thigh and then went back to his bowl of Garbanzo & Potato in Red Curry and Thai Purple Rice like nothing happened. Meanwhile, I was in shock and desperately trying not to indicate to him that a miracle happened.

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The chicken was actually the same chicken that I got in the two pack a few weeks ago and butterflied. Since I cooked another chicken that night, I just threw this one into a freezer bag with the rind of a lemon, 4-5 whole smashed garlic cloves, about a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, a tablespoon of salt and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. It turned out fantastic if I must say so myself. I moved the chicken to the fridge two days before I planned to cook it and let it defrost. I guess I put it in a cold section of the refrigerator because it didn’t look entirely defrosted to me so I decided to cook it low and slow at 325F for 90 minutes. I took out my broiler pan and put the chicken on top. In the bottom section, I just put a sliced Spanish onion, an entire head of garlic with cloves separated (but not peeled) and the contents of the freezer bag in the bottom. I didn’t even add my usual splash of dry vermouth. When I took it out, the onion and garlic were roasted and covered with the chicken drippings. The chicken was so moist that I didn’t even need to make gravy. I just cut up the roasted chicken and saved the onions, garlic and chicken drippings for another night.

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The other great thing about this dinner was the Thai Purple Rice. I’ve been on a colorful rice kick lately (which I plan to discuss soon), but there was something truly gorgeous about this meal when I added the Thai Purple Rice. I cooked it using my usual foolproof rice method letting most of the water evaporate off until it was just below the level in the pan then stirred once, covered it, turned off the burner and walked away. The taste is a little sweeter than brown rice and I’m a huge fan now. Paired with the golden Red Curry Sauce the Purple Thai Rice gives a similar (inverse) visual of Cuban black beans over yellow rice.

Although I may have to remember this dinner forever since it was The Kid’s first true appreciation of meat, I will still endeavor to come up with more recipes that incorporate his first food love: beans. We will continue to be vegetarian-ish, but the meat really does add more options and you know I love options!!

Oooh… Under Pressure

I did it!! I got a pressure canner!! Ok, perhaps I am the only one who is even vaguely excited about this. The Hubs didn’t quite understand why it was Happy Dance worthy, but that’s okay. I’ve had this idea for years that I should help out my poor bulging freezer and can some of the stuff I make like sauce and beans. Unfortunately, I’ve also had this irrational idea that I would blow a hole in the kitchen ceiling if I used a pressure cooker. Yes… I know it’s irrational, but destroying the house seemed like a good reason not to give it a try without some lessons. But then, during the Holiday Deals madness I found a 23 quart canner for half off and decided, “Why not!” and ordered it.

The pressure cooker arrived at the house and was sitting in the box for a couple days. I took one look at it and remembered my poor yogurt maker that sat in the pantry for a year unused. Now here is the part where I lost my mind… I had the day off, I was finally finished with all the organizing and the kid was at daycare. The plan was to just relax and stay in bed to recover, but instead…. I decided to make some tomato sauce and can it. The tomato sauce was nothing fancy and to be honest, I only made it to test the canning procedure. It was just a super simple tomato, onion and herb mix with a touch of balsamic vinegar (canned tomato sauce needs some acid and the lemon juice that the recipe book recommended just seemed weird to me).

So, there I was… standing in front of the stove woozy from exhaustion. I took one look at all my sterilized quart size glass jars, lids, and rings still in their hot bath and figured it was now or never. I put the tomato sauce into the jars, assembled all the jars, and gently placed them in the canning rack. As I put the lid on the canner, I figured The Hubs couldn’t possibly be THAT mad about having to extricate a pot lid from the kitchen ceiling if I was seriously exhausted at the time. I turned on the heat, and prepared for the madness. The instruction book said I needed to get the pressure gauge over 11 pounds of pressure for about 20 minutes. I kept an eye on the pressure gauge half terrified of catastrophe and kept adjusting the heat (mostly downward so it didn’t hit 15 pounds of pressure). After 20 minutes, it was all done. According to the instructions, I could just walk away and let it cool off by itself.

After that massive build up and my obsession with destroying the kitchen, it was over. I had three bottles of canned tomato sauce and a kitchen still in tact. Of course, when The Hubs got home he took one look at the kitchen and said…. “So did you rest at all today?!”

How I Spent My Winter Vacation…

Looking around the house I realized that I actually managed to get a lot done over my winter vacation this year! I had a few days alone at home with The Kid at daycare and I finished the plan of reorganizing the entire house. It’s surprisingly fulfilling to finish a job that has been kind of hanging over my head for what feels like years. I got rid of so much stuff that it took a few car loads to get everything to Cradles to Crayons and Goodwill, but at least someone can use all of the stuff I wasn’t (and probably never would use again).

Now, obviously, I had to do some cooking related stuff too so I used that yogurt maker I found in my Pantry Reorg and made mango-strawberry yogurt  with some preserves I had in the fridge.  Not sure why it took me so long to make the yogurt since I bought the yogurt maker almost a year ago and as it turns out the process is really easy. I just heated up the milk to 180F added the culture and the mango and strawberry preserves and poured the mixture into the jars and turned on the machine.  The machine does all the work!

I tried the first batch using a spoonful of store bought Greek yogurt to get the cultures, but it’s just not cost effective.  Greek yogurt isn’t that cheap so I found some freeze dried starter at the supermarket that I’m going to use to do the next batch. The Kid loves yogurt so I’m determined to figure out how to get (less expensive) organic yogurt for him.

I also made a pineapple-pear preserve before we left to visit family for a few days. I knew the pear and pineapple wouldn’t still be good after we got back so I figured preserves was a reasonable solution. And I could use it in future batches of yogurt. I’m probably going to end up tinkering with this recipe, but here was the original:


Pineapple-Pear Preserves

4 small pears, cored, peeled, and cubed
1/2 pineapple, cored, peeled, and cubed
2 cups natural cane sugar
1 pinch ground cardamom

Purée the pineapple in a food processor. Pour the puree into a fine mesh strainer set over a small saucepan. When most of the juice has dripped into the saucepan (remove the strainer and rest it on the lid of the pan) and set the saucepan over medium heat. Let the pineapple juice caramelize (about 3-5 minutes) then add the pear pieces. When the pear has started to soften (about 5-8 minutes), add the remaining pineapple purée and a pinch of ground cardamom. Leave to simmer on the stove as it thickens. Process in pressure cooker.

 

I honestly didn’t think the flavors would work, but it tastes great and it’s not too sweet. Should be really good with the next batch of yogurt.

Oh and did I mention I got a pressure canner…

Butterflies in the Kitchen

My dad was my first cooking teacher.  Despite everything he’s taught me over the years and all the meals I’ve created, I’m sure that my cooking will never really compare to his (if you’ve had his lasagna you would understand). One of my favorites of the myriad of foods that I grew up on was his roast chicken.  It is still the best roast chicken I’ve ever had.  While I would love to be able to roast a chicken once a week I don’t always have the time.  So, I generally end up with the much faster, but equally tasty butterfly method.

I generally don’t buy chicken unless it’s whole.  I try to stick to organic chicken and the cost of organic chicken cut in pieces is disturbing on a good day.  So, I buy whole chickens and break them down myself into parts and then make stock with whatever bones are left over and whatever I have in the refrigerator vegetable drawer.  I figure it’s a two for one kind of enterprise.  It took me a few tries to get it right, but I got it right eventually.

The best thing about the butterflied method is that it is a really easy start into breaking down chickens.  You make two cuts and there’s no worry about carving when you’re done.  And it takes much less time than the full and proper roast.  In the evenings, by the time I set up the butterflied chicken and throw it in the oven (toaster oven actually if I’m just doing one chicken), I have enough time to relax for a minute, change, go pick up the kid, get back, get all the kid’s stuff unpacked and get everyone together to eat.  It looks complicated, but if you have a good pair of kitchen scissors it won’t take much time or effort at all.    …And even less effort to clean up.  If you have a remote temperature probe that sits outside of the oven, it will beep when the chicken gets to the correct temperature.  You wouldn’t even have to worry about setting a timer.

Note: pour the vermouth into a measuring cup and measure out and set aside the spices, salt and pepper for the chicken before you start so you don’t have to wash your hands a million times after you start handling the chicken.

 

Butterflied Chicken

1 whole chicken
1-2 tbsp kosher salt
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp of any combination of dried spices (sumac, smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander, poultry seasoning, etc.)
3-4  sprigs tarragon
4 sprigs lemon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large spanish onion, cut in large pieces
1 large carrot cut in pieces
1-2 stalks celery, cut in pieces
1/4 cup dry vermouth

Preheat oven to 400F.

On the sheet pan, scatter the onions,  carrots and celery and fresh herbs.

Put your whole chicken on your cutting board.  There are two big pieces of fat at the neck and “tail” ends.  Pull them out.  Flip the chicken so the breasts are down on the cutting board.

Use the kitchen scissors to cut out the backbone.  If you use the “tail” as a guide, you can just cut to the left and right of it to remove the backbone.

 

Rinse off the chicken under cold running water and pull off any organs you might see.  Press down (hard) between the breasts to break the breast bone then rest the butterflied chickens on top of the carrots and celery.  Flip the chickens over and pour the oil over the chicken and rub it into the skin.

 

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the  salt, pepper and spices.  Tuck the wings under the bird and insert the temperature probe in the thick part of the thigh, (without touching the bone) and toss it in the oven or toaster oven if it’s big enough.

Before you close the oven door, add the vermouth to the roasting pan.

Now you are probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with that backbone and the bag of giblets (the stuff that was stuffed inside the bird).  Well, if you’re in a hurry like I usually am, throw the backbone, the neck and the gizzards in a freezer bag.  Write the date on it.  Throw it in the freezer and deal with it another day.

The chicken should be done in about an hour.  Check the temperature probe.  Serve with a salad.

NOTE: In the interest of time, you can save the drippings from the pan and make a gravy for tomorrow night’s dinner or just make one that night if you have the time.

The Reorg

So, The Hubs’ grad school schedule this semester of three nights a week, plus some weekends has been depriving me of those now precious commodities… time and energy.  The Kid has simultaneously developed a severe objection to seeing me sit down.  So, I figured I had to get creative.   I started with running laps around the basement with him.  Then, I just got used to the idea that I don’t get to sit down.  On nights when he didn’t want to do laps I started reorganizing.  The Kid is usually willing to help carry things from one place to another and has no problem going up and down the stairs a million times so it seemed like a good idea.  I made the mistake of believing that the kid would eventually get tired and let me sit down, but it didn’t happen so I ended up reorganizing just about the entire house.  Every night, The Hubs would just come home from work or class and just shake his head as I reorganized something else.  The good news is that I’ve found tons of stuff that we aren’t using and will be able to donate it all just in time for the holidays (tons of baby stuff — seriously, how does someone so small go through so many clothes and need so much STUFF?!).  The bad news, is now I’m so close to reorganizing everything that I can’t stop.

This weekend, I reorganized the pantry.  My pantry serves three purposes: It holds most of my room temp food supply (the freezer is just another story), Holds all my platters and party supplies and lastly, it is where I start the seeds for most of the plants that my mom and I grow in our gardens each year.  So, the pantry has always had a lot going on.  The Hubs used to hate the pantry.  I would send him down to the pantry to grab… anything and eventually he’d give up after repeated trips up and down the stairs and just call me with the camera on his phone to figure out where to look.  Poor Hubs!  The Pantry reorg didn’t take nearly as much time as I thought it would and I found everything I swore I had and almost purchased over again.  Thanks to the reorg, I found my:

 

  • yogurt maker (I had an idea that making yogurt with organic milk would be cheaper than buying it)
  • bread dough container (I became a fan of the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book and used to make bread, then just lost the time)
  • All my canning jars (I really need to bite the bullet and start canning this summer)
  • more than 25 boxes of pasta (don’t ask, if I had a coupon and it was a great price then I got pasta) … oh and this is after I gave boxes away to the food drive
  • the package of farro, I swore I had somewhere
  • …and so much more
Well now I guess I have to do something with all that wonderful stuff I “found.”
I came home energized for some crazy reason today and pulled off a masterful feat.  I juiced, made kale chips (dangerously addictive by the way), made my Curry Chicken and gravy and served it with the brown rice, beans & corn that the kid loves.  (The Hubs and I loaded the hot rice on the salad of course.)  I butterflied the other whole chicken and added garlic, lemon peel, cracked black pepper, salt & olive oil to the freezer bag so it can marinate while thawing.  I somehow had the presence of mind to clear out the vegetable drawer to make a stock with the remaining chicken bones.  And all this was preceded by me grinding wheat berries and rye into flour to set up the bread dough to rise for 2 hours when I got home according to the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book!  There’s just something about a clear pantry that makes me want to really get going in the kitchen!
Every year around this time, the pantry has to undergo an overhaul (although I think I got the formula right this year) so I can get ready to start the seedlings for the next year’s garden.  In about a month, my mom and I will be studiously hovered over trays of seed starting systems trying to decide what we are planting this year and what we didn’t like from last year.  I know we are going to plant too much, but i never care.  Now that I have tons of space available, I’m going to have to sit down with my collection of seeds (It turns out that I have more than 600 [and still counting] flower, herb. vegetable or fruit seed packets) so since my greenhouse plans have been delayed, I might as well get started with the seeds so the plants are ready to go into the greenhouse whenever it materializes.  Apparently putting up a greenhouse isn’t a simple feat, but I have every confidence that the Hubs will be able to pull it off as an early Valentines/Mother’s Day/(isn’t there another holiday early next year) gift.  (Hint Hint, Hubs)


What to do…. What to do….?

Sometimes my overindulgence in buying vegetables works out to some sort of magical symphony of ingredients available in the house. That was what happened on Wednesday… National Sandwich Day (I guess there’s a day for everything). So, there seems to be an odd phenomenon in our family… I can’t pick a good sandwich. It is my Food Achilles Heel. If The Hubs and I go to a restaurant and get sandwiches, I always end up liking his sandwich and not eating mine. I’ve learned over the years to just have him help me pick a sandwich because he is a sandwich genius. I don’t even try anymore. So, I was dreaming of The Hubs’ grilled cheese sandwich when I realized I roasted all the tomatoes I had in the house last night to make the Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce. I had to come up with some other way to convince The Hubs to make me a grilled cheese. He makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had and I love to dip them into a smooth super creamy soups (usually my Balsamic Roasted Tomato Soup) so I had to come up with something else.

I was at the produce place last weekend and since it’s that time of year, I got winter squash, sweet potatoes and apples which are plentiful and relatively inexpensive at the moment. I ended up roasting the butternut squash (in a 400F oven for 1 hour) and making sweet potato fries (roasted in a 400F oven for 1 hour) and when I looked into the fridge this afternoon and saw the leftovers, I had an idea…. What if I made a super creamy soup with the butternut squash, sweet potatoes and apples. If I made it spicy enough It could hold up to a grilled cheese sandwich….hmmm…. So I started fiddling.

Okay… so here’s the other thing…. my “blender” is a Vitamix which I love (and which is expensive).  If you see any contest to win a Vitamix, I highly recommend entering it.  You won’t be disappointed if you get one.  It blends things really fine so I didn’t peel the sweet potatoes or squash (I did peel the apples).  I leave the skin on most things I puree in the Vitamix to boost the texture since The Hubs likes creamy soups and corporate microwaves don’t generally do a great job with creamy soups when you reheat them.

The soup turned out far better than I expected.  The ground poinsettia peppers gave it a lot of heat.  I really recommend growing them and drying them because their heat sneaks up on you so you get to taste all the spices before the heat hits you like a wave.  The apples are sweet enough so you’re not left with a permanently burnt tongue and if you pair it with a grilled cheese sandwich you’ll be all set.  This is a great cold weather soup!

 

Spicy Sweet Potato &  Butternut Squash Soup

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 large Spanish Onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or ground poinsettia peppers if you have it)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp apple pie spice
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
6 apples, peeled and cored (I used 2 small McIntosh, 2 Gala & 2 Fuji)
1/3 cup AppleJack (or apple juice)
2 large roasted sweet potatoes, cut in large pieces
1 medium roasted butternut squash, cut in large pieces
2 quarts water

In a soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and garlic. Cook slowly moving onions around the pan as needed until the onions have given up most of their moisture. Add the apples and all the spices. Let this cook slowly for 5-8 minutes. Stirring as needed. Add the AppleJack or apple juice to deglaze the pan and scrape up any spices that may be sticking. Add the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and the water and turn the heat up to high. When the mixture starts boiling, turn down to a summer for about 10-15 minutes. Puree the mixture to a smooth texture in a blender and serve.

End of Year Garden Sauce

Every Spring, my mom and I start seeds for tomato and pepper plants. We always end up getting excited by the different varieties of seeds we have and start at least a couple seeds for almost every variety (we never learn). Every year, we end up with around 50 tomato & pepper plants and sometimes more. One year we’re going to get our act together and sell them since they’re all organically raised. So, at the end of every summer season, there are entirely too many tomato and pepper plants and people start hiding from us. So, every year, I end up with a bunch of tomatoes and a bunch of peppers and I make this sauce and throw it in the freezer. It’s not complicated, but it is delicious and it’s my backup to tomato paste. The sauce is a little different every time since the ingredients aren’t always the same, but it is yummy! I add tomato paste to a lot of dishes, but have a terrible tendency to always forget to put it on my shopping list. I’ve run out on several occasions so I just dig some of this out of the freezer and works as a great addition to sauces or soups. BTW: If you don’t make huge batches of food like I do (yes I know I am not feeding an army but I will be raising a teenage son, so I’m in training), freeze the sauce in ice cube trays then store it in the freezer in freezer bags so you can use a little bit at a time.


20111103-125853.jpg Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce

An equal amount of sweet peppers & tomatoes
2 Spanish Onions, cut in large pieces
Peeled garlic cloves from 1 head of garlic
Poultry seasoning or fresh herbs
1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Black pepper
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Vinegar (Either Balsamic or Sherry Vinegar)
1/2 cup White Wine (or Vermouth, or Red Wine, or Vodka)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and move the rack to the top position.

20111103-125729.jpg2. Cut up all the peppers and tomatoes (squeeze out the seeds as much as possible). Add to a large glass baking dish (preferably 11×14 if you have it). Add the onions and garlic cloves. Make sure the garlic cloves are buried underneath the peppers and tomatoes.  Add the herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar and wine. Toss together. (NOTE: You don’t have to toss. I had to do this all one handed the other night while holding the Kid so I can tell you it still works.)

3. Roast for 60 – 90 minutes. This just depends on how much you have. At 60 minutes, take a look at the mixture. If it looks caramelized enough then take it out. Otherwise, just keep checking back for the next 15-30 minutes.

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4. Puree just enough that it’s still a little chunky then put it in a large soup pot to simmer on medium-low heat. After about 30 minutes, taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning. Then package it up and store it for the next time you forget to buy tomato paste. This works great in the Lazy Gravy Recipe too instead of tomato paste.