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Tag Archive | "tomatoes"

Learn How to Preserve the Freshness of the Season


Want to learn how you can enjoy tomatoes, squash, peaches and more seasonal favorites year-round? The answer, of course, is canning.

Connie Sheppard of the Texas Agrilife Extension and Marilyn Magaro of the Texas Department of Agriculture are teaming up for a class set for 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Pearl Farmers Market, 200 E. Grayson St.

Their demonstration is one of three on canning planned for the summer. The remaining two will be at 9:30 a.m. July 16 and Aug. 13.

By controlling what goes into the canning jar, you know exactly what it is that you are eating, a release from the market says.

A “Beginner’s Guide to Canning & Recipe Booklet” will also be available at the Pearl information table.

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Griffin to Go: Fresh Is Best, No Matter Where You Are


Island life can be expensive, but smart shopping can help you save.

Before I visited Maui the first time, a friend warned me about the food prices on the island. “If you have to have cereal,” she warned me, “pack your own.”

I remember seeing the cost of such items and I was glad that cereal is just one of the many foods I can live without. If it comes in a box, it most often doesn’t get a second glance from me.

But I can’t live without fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fresh meats and seafood. If your idea of grocery shopping is only about a trip to the local supermarket, then you may be in for the same sticker shock that my friend talked about. Limes were $1 apiece at one grocery store near the place I’m staying. Carrots were close to $3 for a small cellophane bag. Lettuces were out of reach.

On my first night, I arrived after most of the restaurants were closed and I was starving, but I didn’t want or couldn’t afford much of anything, so I ended up with a Maui onion, some celery and a carton of eggs. Scrambled eggs always work in a fix.

The next day, Costco beckoned and I loaded up on cheese, raspberries and wine, all of which can be truly expensive elsewhere. The store is located less than a mile from the airport, so you can make an easy pit-stop after your arrival. It also specializes in the freshest local fish you could want. I cooked up a meaty ono fillet one evening after marinating it in local spices.

Alongside the fish was organic kale that I found in an upcountry grocery store and trinket shop. Behind the souvenirs and postcards was a display case filled with local clover sprouts (they weren’t from Europe, so I assumed they were safe) and just-picked zucchini. Nearby were tomatoes that had been harvested at the peak of ripeness.

After loading the car, we headed further into the country where we found a fresh fruit stand with an honor box at the side of the road. Lemons and limes were 25 cents apiece, so were tiny Mandarin oranges that were so aromatic I left the peel in the car as a pleasant reminder. A few rock hard avocados were there for 50 cents apiece. I have them in a brown paper bag and hope they ripen before we leave at the end of the week.

On the way back, we found a farmers market set up in a Kmart parking lot (just behind the Costco). Ripe fingerling bananas, tubers of all shapes and colors, exotic roots and more filled the stands, and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning sifting through everything there. Fresh pineapples, three for $5, were next to miniature organic watermelons. Litchi and mangosteen (at least I think that’s what the farmer called them), fresh dill and basil, butterleaf lettuces, carrots, Asian eggplants — I couldn’t believe my luck. The prices and the quality were much better than those touristy markets set up alongside the main drags where pineapples are priced at $7 apiece.

Ratatouille

A chiffonade of Thai basil topped the tomato and slices of fresh mozzarella. Each ingredient was so good, so ripe and so flavorful that no olive oil, balsamic vinegar or salt was needed, though we had all three on the side.

The pineapple I picked was so ripe and golden that its fragrance perfumed the car. It proved the star of the evening. One slice was all that was needed for the perfect dessert. It was sweet, almost honeyed, yet it had enough acidity to offer balance. No canned or fresh pineapple on the mainland can ever come close. As my friend Carol said, “One has never had pineapple unless one has it in Hawaii.” If you’ve never been here, that may sound snobbish. Once you visit, you’ll understand how true her words are.

I threw the remainder of the pineapple in the blender to create a marinade for a pork roast, which was also seasoned with fresh ginger and garlic. Perfect with a ratatouille made from the zucchini, tomato, onion, red bell pepper and radishes.

One of the secrets of enjoying any trip you’re on is sampling as much local food as possible. The local food is always the best. That’s why it grows there in abundance. It’s really that simple. And thanks to the growth of farmers markets and independent vendors, more and more people, locals and tourists alike, are tasting the proof for themselves.

Ratatouille

Olive oil
Onion, diced
Garlic, minced
Zucchini, thinly sliced
Red bell pepper, diced
Radishes, diced (optional)
Tomatoes, diced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme

The beauty of this dish is that you can make it to your tastes, using as much or as little of any ingredient as you choose.

Pour a tiny bit of oil in a pan and heat the onion and garlic together until slightly soft, 4-5 minutes. Empty the pan into a large pot.

Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan and soften the zucchini, about 5 minutes, depending on how much you use. Add that to the pot. Repeat the procedure with the radishes, if using, and red bell pepper. Last, warm the tomatoes slightly. Add to the pot and season with salt and pepper and thyme, if using. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are ready. Just before serving, stir in the basil, if using.

From John Griffin

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Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic, Gorgonzola and Herbs


Use plum tomatoes in this recipe.

Use plum tomatoes in this summertime recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. It can be either an antipasto or as a side dish.

Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic, Gorgonzola and Herbs

12 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
3/4 cup (3 ounces) finely crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon, remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Place the tomato halves, cut side down, on paper towels to drain, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, salt and pepper. Using clean hands, gently toss the drained tomato halves in the oil mixture until coated. Marinate the tomatoes for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and Gorgonzola cheese.

Place the marinated tomato halves, cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Fill each tomato half with the bread crumb filling. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly softened and their undersides are brown.

Arrange the cooked tomatoes on a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From “Giada at Home” by Giada De Laurentiis

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Tomatoes with a Mignonette Sauce


Use beefsteak, Better Boy or heirloom tomatoes in this recipe.

The tomatoes at the farmers markets have been loaded with flavor this year. Treat yourself to this simple dish that is easy and will help keep you cool on these hot days. For best results, “the herbs and tomatoes must be of high quality, preferably organic and very fresh,” says Keith Snow, author of “The Harvest Eating Cookbook.”

Tomatoes with a Mignonette Sauce

1 to 3 ripe tomatoes (beefsteak, Better Boy or heirloom variety), sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 shallot, finely minced
1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or basil
Pinch of kosher salt
A few twists of freshly ground black or white pepper

Combine the tomatoes, shallots, vinegar, tarragon, salt and pepper in a non-reactive bowl. Marinate for 30 minutes.

Arrange the tomatoes on a serving platter.

Spoon the leftover marinade over the tomatoes.

Chef’s note: The addition of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is nice if you’re in the mood for the extra flavor boost.

Makes 1-3 servings, depending on how many tomatoes you use.

From “The Harvest Eating Cookbook” by Keith Snow

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Ratatouille Lentil Stew


Lentils turn ratatouille into a main course.

“When summer’s vegetables are at their best, ratatouille is a lovely addition to the table: thick, mellow, soft and bursting with flavor without bragging,” writes Joy Bauer in “Slim & Scrumptious.” “My version features all of the usual suspects – tomato, eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers – but also introduces nutrient-rich lentils, which turn this traditional side dish into a satisfying main meal.”

Ratatouille Lentil Stew

1 small eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cubed
1 yellow summer squash, cubed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups unsalted or reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Divide the eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash between two large baking sheets, and spread the vegetables out into a single, even layer on each sheet. Coat the vegetables liberally with oil spray, and then sprinkle the oregano and rosemary evenly over them.

Roast the vegetables for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender, stirring them about halfway through.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the soup base: Liberally coat a large pot with oil spray, and preheat it over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened, adding a tablespoon of water at a time as necessary to prevent scorching.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.

Add the lentils, vegetable broth, 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the roasted vegetables to the pot and stir thoroughly to combine. Simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls.

Nutrition information: 383 calories, 21 g protein, 69 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 18 g fiber, 740 mg sodium

Makes 4 servings.

From “Slim & Scrumptious” by Joy Bauer

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Griffin to Go: Meeting One Goal, Keeping Up With Another


Last summer I made a goal. After seeing the movie “Julie & Julia,” I told myself I was going to cook my way through an entire section of a cookbook. The book I chose was the “Avoca Café Cookbook,” a treasured volume I had picked up in Ireland a few years ago, and the section was on soup. (Click here.)

It took several months and not a lot of discipline on my part, but I’m happy to report that the last new soup has been made and consumed – and it was as good as the best of the lot.

I learned as much about making soup as I learned about one kitchen’s approach to this labor of love. Quite a few of the recipes begin with softening an onion in olive oil, which provides a natural sweetness. A good vegetarian stock is added later and magically, the flavors blend together, changing with each ingredient.

But most of all, the recipes were simple and straightforward, not fussy yet full of flavor. If this is what Ireland treasures, then it shares something wonderful in common with that other “I” country in Europe: Italy. The emphasis is on layering a few fresh ingredients in a manner in which they all complement each other, so you can enjoy the best that nature has to offer.

Recipe: Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

It could be something as comforting as cauliflower and cheddar or something as offbeat as parsnip, rosemary and olives.

Along the way, I revisited some old favorites, such as Courgette and Almond, just to make sure they were as good as I remembered. I also was forced to revisit a few vegetables, such as turnips, that I didn’t care for as a child and have largely avoided as an adult. (I still don’t care for them, but soft baby turnips have a more pleasant flavor than their rock-hard adult cousins.)

Some of the journey was frustrating. I had had a stand of lemongrass in the backyard, but the ugliest of winter freezes took care of that. So I had to buy fresh lemongrass from the market for the Sweet Potato and Lemongrass soup. (I also didn’t have time to visit an Asian market, so I probably paid twice the price for the stalks I needed.)

Recipe: Courgette and Almond Soup

Most of the recipes were vegetarian, a few were even vegan. The lone exception was a Tuscan Bean Soup that required bacon in it. And what an impact that bacon had on the final product! After the first taste of the meat boiled into the broth, I could understand why a few – not all, mind you – of my vegan friends will have the occasional piece of pork. I will remember the richness and depth of flavor it brought to the soup and use that in other ways.

I made the most of these soups during the worst of the winter, when I had a seasonal job. To save money, I would bring a jar of soup each day and pop it in the microwave. The aroma of Potato and Fennel Soup or Aztec Corn would fill the break room and often drew questions from co-workers who wanted to know where I’d bought it.

The last recipe in the section was Mixed Mushroom, which I made with button caps, brown mushrooms and portobellos. Rich and creamy, it was a fine end to a most tasty experiment.

Recipe: Aztec Corn Soup

Another goal I wrote about recently was planting a garden so I could enjoy some freshness from my own backyard.

I’m happy to report that the radishes, lettuces and arugula I planted survived the snow/sleet/slush that fell several days after planting. It’s almost time to thin some of the sprouts, which will make a great addition to a salad.

In the meantime, the potted tomatoes are thriving. I know some friends who have planted theirs in the ground already. I’m not quite ready to do that, but I do have them clustered in near the backdoor so they can get some light.

Recipe: Mixed Mushroom Soup

I also planted a pair of olive trees I picked up at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. I planted the arbequina, which should survive our freak freezes and bear fruit in a few years. I would appreciate that. The loquat tree I planted eight years ago is only now ready to bear fruit, and I fear I lost some of this year’s potential harvest to the cold.

But that’s the nature of gardening, isn’t it? We never know what nature has in store for us, no matter the goals we set.

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Griffin to Go: Getting Dirty


When I was growing up, one of the last things I wanted to do was work in the garden.

For decades now, my parents have planted an annual garden, filled with lettuces, radishes, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic, corn, kohlrabi and the like, in addition to the fruit bushes laden with raspberries, red currants, strawberries, figs and more. Since I moved away, they have added apple, nectarine and pear trees, all of which can thrive in the Louisville, Ky., climate.

But the idea of digging up earth to plant seeds or, worse, to weed around the tender young shoots was, as a city kid, my idea of torture. I loved the food, mind you, especially those white icicle radishes with their lively bite and the salads made of oak leaf lettuce; I just never wanted to have to work for it.

I certainly didn’t want to get my hands filthy from all that mud. Who knew was crawling in all that dirt! I was never one to play with earthworms or bugs beyond the lightning bugs that sparkled each summer evening.

Times change, and people change.

Over the past few years, I have been planting more and more herbs in pots. Basil, thyme, sorrel, rosemary, chives, lovage – you name it. Last year, I added peppers and tomatoes to the mix, but everything was largely in pots. Why?

Pots are easy. If a plant dies, you just pull it out of the dirt and start all over.

And many of my plants don’t make it. Friends claim I have a black thumb. I prefer to think of myself as a Darwinian farmer. I’ve taken the time to plant the plant, but if it doesn’t survive on its own, then that the plant’s fault.

Last year, I began to change my mind. I was going figure out ways to make my plants healthier. I gave them compost plus rich soil that worked into the clay. I also learned when to water many of them. Some, like the sorrel, got water sometimes twice a day in the nasty heat; others got water every other day.

The recent deep freezes took a few of the herbs, including the thyme, the basil and mostly likely the lemon grass. But others, including the mint, are already starting to come back.

Yet I want to go further.

This weekend, I dug up a chunk of my backyard and dug in both hands to work through some of the muddy clumps. I rejoiced in the sight of all the worms and crawly things in the rich soil under the layer of grass that died in last year’s scorching heat. Digging up the soil didn’t break my back and I was finished a lot quicker than I thought I would be. Of course, my MP3 player helped.

Planting seeds has changed somewhat since I was a kid. Ferry-Morse seed company now offers something called planting strips. Forgive me if I am as out-of-date on these things as George H.W. Bush was when he first encountered a bar code scanner, but I had no idea you could by seeds already spaced out and placed inside a strip. Simply plant the strip in the soil as deep as the package says and wait. The lettuce strips should sprout within seven to 10 days, the package promises.

But I didn’t stop there.

I had to plant some old-fashioned seeds, which were for arugula and radishes, the latter of which remains a favorite food and one that is better when just picked.

I also picked up some tomato plants, not to plant in the soil but to do something the Bexar County Master Gardener Hotline calls “potting up.”

“Do you believe homegrown tomatoes are superior to store bought?” David Rodriguez, Texas Agrilife Extension service horticulturist for the county, writes in a handout I picked up at the stock show recently. “If so, February is the time for you to ‘pot up’ your spring tomatoes.”

What is this exactly? “Planting tomato transplants into containers to take advantage of growth and still be able to protect them from cold weather,” Rodriguez explains. “Until mid-March or the first of April when the weather stabilizes enough to place the transplants in the vegetable garden or plant them in large containers with a 16- to 20-inch diameter.” (Think of the forecast that it will drop below freezing on Tuesday.)

For more information on potting up or starting your own garden, call the Master Gardener Hotline at (210) 467-6575 or click here. And don’t be as silly as I was all these years. Yes, I now have a speck or two of dirt under my nails, but that will disappear with the help of a nail file. But it’s worth price to get my own fresh vegetables.

Get your kids involved, too. They may not thank you now, but they should eventually.

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WalkerSpeak: Canned Tomatoes Haven’t Killed Me Yet


In November, on Yahoo’s “Shine”, I read an article that mentioned canned tomatoes as something  food experts avoid. That is because of a substance in the resin linings of tomato cans, a synthetic estrogen, that in even very minute amounts can impact our health, especially in the very young.

The scientist quoted is Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D.,  an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, who has researched the topic for years. The substance is called bisphenol-A, or BPA. Vom Saal was quoted as saying “I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”

Because I am not a scientist, I don’t instantly scoff at this sort of thing without reading further.

I found an interesting article on PBS Frontline that ran in 1998, when the endocrinologist was already making warning sounds about bisphenol-A.

It made me wonder if it makes any sense for me now to make a major change in my lifestyle and avoid canned tomatoes. If I am to do that, there are certainly other choices out there these days. We can select tomatoes in boxes, such as Pomi. We can find tomatoes in glass jars, especially canned pasta sauces. We can put up our own tomatoes in glass jars in the summer when they are so plentiful.

But we have to also consider all the canned tomatoes that go into our fast food addictions such as pizza, salsas, spaghetti sauce and more when we eat out. Is this another item that we need to ask the waiter about, sending him or her back to the kitchen to query an irritated chef?

I probably won’t.

It was good news some years ago when we heard that tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene. That’s when I figured that canned tomatoes were probably responsible for keeping me alive. (Tomatoes, plus not smoking cigarettes or eating liver, which I’m convinced is toxic – otherwise why would it taste like that?)

It might be tempting to think that maybe the lycopene content cancels out the bad effects of bisphenol-A, but we know that science doesn’t work like that.

All I can say is, canned tomatoes haven’t killed me yet.

When I was growing up, my mother gave piano lessons every night, so the task of making dinner fell to me. Dinner often included the instructions to “open a can of tomatoes.”

When we made baked Swiss steak it was made by pouring a can of tomatoes over the browned steaks and baking it. Many of the casseroles we made (this was in the ’60s) contained a can of tomatoes.  I remember one in particular called “Shipwreck.” Neither I nor my mom can remember exactly what it had in it, except for that can of tomatoes, a layer of ground beef and a layer of chopped potatoes.

When we ran out of soup for lunch, and we always had soup for lunch, we’d open a can and make tomato soup. Canned tomatoes went into lasagnas and pizza sauce, salsa and spaghetti sauce.

One childhood dish was simply tomatoes out of a can, heated up, then piled with strips of buttered toast. We called it “stewed tomatoes.”

Those innocent days are gone. We now have been alerted to so many ways we can toxify our bodies that it seems a full time job to keep up with the research and make the necessary changes.

But since by a rough calculation I have consumed a minimum of 5,000 pounds of canned tomatoes in my lifetime, I am not going to worry about this, though I might start buying more tomatoes in glass jars. At this point, if I die from canned tomatoes, it will more likely be that someone launched a 32-ounce can at my head — and that’s a different sort of problem altogether.

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Recipe: Leeks With Cream and Mint


Fresh Leeks from the Pearl Farmer's Market

Fresh Leeks from the Pearl Farmer's Market

This lively recipe comes from a favorite recent cookbook, “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” and uses the fresh vegetables from the farmers market.

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 leeks, about thumb thickness, or 3 large leeks, trimmed washed and cut diagonally in 1/2-inch slice
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into thick slices
4 sprigs of mints, leaves only, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring cream to a boil and simmer to reduce by one third.

Cook the leeks in fiercely boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. Drain well.

Divide leeks and tomatoes evenly into 4 lightly buttered ramekins or oven-proof dishes.

Add the mint and garlic to the reduced cream and season with salt and pepper. (The cream will reduce slightly more during baking, so be sparing with the salt.) Ladle cream over the leeks and tomatoes.

Bake for 20 minutes or until top is scorched with golden brown flecks.

Adapted from “Roast Chicken and Other Stories,” by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Barcham.

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