What I did with those 90 pounds of tomatoes

I’ll admit: the first time I canned tomatoes, I felt empowered. Like a woman who could save the world, in a pinch, with her preserved foods.

Save the world, I say — with SIX! QUARTS! of TOMATOES! (picture the recently-awakened Dr. Evil, in one of the Austin Powers movies, making his demand for ONE! MILLION! DOLLARS!). Yes, immediately after that empowerment, I was a little dumbfounded at what a big box of tomatoes actually looks like once canned.

I wondered: was it worth the effort?

But then I spent all of last winter making tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce, and realized that there was a noticeable, even significant difference between the flavor of a soup made with home-canned tomatoes versus store-bought. Add to this the fact that I’d love to avoid BPA-laden cans altogether, and it seemed that the whole canning thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

So this year I bought an extra box, bringing my total up to 90 pounds (the jury’s still out on whether I’ll go for yet another 30-pound box — the jury being made up of 75% myself and 25% my husband, who is likely now trained to panic whenever he walks into the house and smells simmering romas, as he knows I will be preoccupied with sloshing tomato juices for the next 12 or so hours).

But it’s just. So. Hard to stop.

To give perspective — you can look at this list and choose to be either impressed/jealous or surprised/disappointed at the yield. From 90# roma tomatoes, I now have:

  • 6 quarts marinara sauce (two have already been eaten, after having not sealed on my and Suzanne’s first attempt at pressure-canning).
  • 6 quarts thin tomato juice/broth (leftover from straining chopped tomatoes before cooking down).
  • 6 quarts stewed Italian-style tomatoes
  • 6 pints tomato salsa
  • 10 quarts diced tomatoes (in the two “dueling canners” above, as diced tomatoes can be either water-bath or pressure-canned — I plan to compare the flavor of both!)

…aaaaaaaand that’s it. Looks nice stacked up in my stockpiling warehouse basement — but the jars are so precious, I wonder if I’ll be afraid to use them.

In other news — I have a super-fun giveaway planned for next week. Be sure and check back, especially if you’re interested in learning more about fermented foods.

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Want to get set-up for canning? This is the water-bath canner I use, pictured above-left (cheaper, and a great intro to canning). For a step up in complexity, or to can lower-acid foods, this is the type of pressure-canner I use (above-right).

 

Tomato-corn pie with grain-free crust

A thing I’ve had to truly mourn this year: Tomato Pie.

It’s like summer in a pie plate. Like someone sat down one day and wondered, How can I fit all of summer into this pie dish? And that is what was born. Garden tomatoes, basil, and really good cheese baked into a delicate pie crust.

However, sadly… there is no tomato pie for the grain-free. And while I hear that really good pie crusts can be made gluten-free, grain-free is an impossibility.

But I refuse to be doomed to a life without my own pie plate full of summer. Just had to think outside the box a bit.

I’ve long heard praises sung for this recipe for a Corn-Tomato Pie over at Smitten Kitchen. And while I still don’t believe it’s as good as the pure unadulterated tomato-ness of my classic, it’s still a darned good pie. A bit richer, with its lemony-mayo and layers of summer corn. And as luck would have it — very adaptable to a grain-free crust.

This pie was loved by all but two of my three children. Which in our household means a winner. I’ll be making it again, likely long after I’ve re-embraced grains in my life. It will just be added as a distant cousin to the first and favorite savory summer pie in my repertoire.

If you are still among the grain-consumptive, definitely check out the original recipe (I’ve made very minor changes to the filling in the version below), which utilizes a double-classic pie crust. Otherwise, there’s still time in these weeks before September 22nd for the grain-less among us to get our fill of sunshine on a plate.

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Chicken scratches

It’s been one of those weeks. Between the unbelievable heat wave and drought we’re having in Indiana (and I know we’re not alone), kids (ahem… and a Mom) who are at the end of their summertime rope, and the unexpected chaos that life throws at you sometimes, I’m ready to announce that the month of July can stick it.

Except there have been some bright spots of intense, broad-spectrum UVA sunshine. A couple of fun moments in the past days:

WE GOT CHICKENS!

I plan to write much more about this, and include all the back-story about Tim building our coop, and acquiring the chickens, and their appropriately bizarre names, and the fact that Tim thinks they’re dumb (as if he expected otherwise). But the best part by far is the fact that we’re already getting eggs — the pic above was our very first one, before we had even touched it. Isn’t it beautiful? I couldn’t believe how big and perfect it was. Not a spot on it. Like a pristine little gift from who knows which chicken.

I’m eating eggs everyday, from my backyard! This brings me much joy.

I’ve also gotten to spend a few hours at a new bakery in town, called Amelia’s. I’m working on my next story for NUVO, and am beside myself with excitement over this one. For our three years in Indianapolis, we’ve never had a good artisanal bakery — but Amelia’s is changing this. It’s a commercial bakery, so they’ll mainly be supplying local restaurants — but you’ll be able to buy their naturally-yeasted breads through their next-door restaurant, Bluebeard, as well as several other local markets in town. If you’re local, look for the story in next week’s issue (edited: whoops, looks like it won’t run until October).

Meantime, we’ll just be here waiting for a seemingly endless summer to break, dumping buckets full of ice into the chicken coop, continuing to be surprised by the fact that chickens really will eat anything, counting my lucky stars that we have air-conditioning. Less than a week, right?

 

How I live grain-free

There’s a recurring conversation I’ve been having for almost a year now. It goes something like this:

Me: Oh, thanks for offering. I’ll have to pass on that lovely cookie/cake/sandwich, because I’m on this diet where I don’t eat any grains.

Normal person: Oh, you mean like gluten-free?

Me: Well, yes — but a step further. I don’t eat any grains at all, which means I can’t eat most “gluten-free” foods. In fact, I don’t even eat rice.

Normal person: NO GRAINS AT ALL? Oh em gee, what do you eat? No pasta, no bread, no RICE? I wouldn’t last a day on that diet.

And, you know, I get it. It is unorthodox, for sure — and I was totally one of those people who said I could never go gluten-free, much less grain-free. But, here I am. With the exception of a cheat bite here and there (and my now-allowed single piece of sprouted-grain Ezekiel bread each day), I’ve been grain-free and starchy-vegetable-free for almost 9 months. How do I do it? And more specifically, how do I do it when the rest of my family still eats many of the things I don’t?

Well, there are a few tricks up the hungry, resourceful sleeve of the grain-averse. Here are a few of my go-to replacements for things that were once our staples:

  1. Squashes: great replacement for pasta
    The beloved squash, both winter and summer varieties, has been my flavor vehicle for countless meals over the past year. One of our favorite winter-time meals is a Classic Italian Meat Spaghetti Sauce. When I make a batch, I cook a pot full of pasta for my family, and roast a spaghetti squash for myself. The sauce tastes just as good on squash as it does on pasta (a good douse of olive oil and salt is in order).  In summer months, zucchini serves the same purpose. One of my favorite ways to eat it is by steaming zucchini ribbons (recipe below) — last week I had the ribbons topped with pesto, chicken, and fresh cherry tomatoes for a light and filling dinner (but olive oil and good parmesan are also elegant toppings).
  2. Cauliflower: a good substitute for rice or potatoes
    Cauliflower is another non-starchy vegetable that can mimic a classic. A shepherd’s pie is legal for my diet if I use puréed cauliflower in place of the mashed potatoes (with butter and salt, my husband couldn’t even tell the difference). For dishes that call for rice (like our beloved Coconut-Lime Fish Curry or Red Lentil Curry) I mash steamed cauliflower with a fork until it’s a similar consistency as rice.
  3. Greens: replace almost anything
    I’ve discovered that you can go a long way with simple “meal salads.” I’ve long relied on grain salads as lunchtime workhorses — so these days I just throw everything on top of a big pile of lettuce greens instead. Nuts, seeds, fermented vegetables, cubed chicken, avocado, boiled eggs — this is a king salad that will keep you full until dinner. Greens are also the solution for taco night — my family reaches for taco shells, and I fill my bowl with greens.
  4. Grain-Free Crackers: keep a stash on-hand!
    I’ve been known to sneak a baggie of my Grain-Free Crackers into a dinner party or book club. I don’t want to miss out on that cheese plate or dip, and a cracker certainly helps. I also love these for a quick lunch of smoked sardines or egg salad — the crackers give the exact crunchy vehicle necessary in dippy situations.

Believe it or not, I’ve grown so accustomed to these replacements, it will honestly be hard to go back when I wean off my diet. If you currently live grain-or-starch-free, what have I missed? Are there other nourishing, belly-filling foods in your arsenal?

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Zucchini-corn fritters (gluten-free)

I like petite zucchini. There’s just something about the scale of a giant summer squash that seems, I don’t know, wrong. I know it’s not wrong, that this is just some silly subconscious preconceived notion about what should be the limits of squash growth, something probably covered by Freud in one of his texts. But reasoning with myself on this does no good. I will fish out the little guys from the bin at the farmer’s market, loving them for their convenient circumference and polite volume of seeds.

But of course, I also won’t turn down a big specimen, not when offered one from a friend’s garden.

Which is what happened a few weeks ago — my in-laws came through town, and I was handed a large zucchini, fresh from their vegetable patch. I brought it home with gratitude, and within a few hours had it shredded down to the perfect amount for making up a batch of zucchini fritters. I had leftover grilled corn cobs in the fridge to use up, with the challenge of making this batch grain-free. The skillet was heating up as I was stripping the corn of its kernels.

I ended up using the fritters as a base for dinner — one that involved sautéed kale and an over-easy egg on top. But several inspirational recipes included dips of sour cream cut with a little lime juice and spiked with chopped chives, or creme fraiche (easy to make at home). The sweetness of the corn (with a smoky component if you use grilled) perked up the texture and flavor of my usual standby fritter. My kids rejected them outright, so that left me with about 10 fritters all to myself over the next day or two — which I had no problem consuming, they were that good.

Good, and able to clear my conscience of squash discrimination.

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For this recipe, it can help your knuckles if you have a food processor — this one is my favorite. You’ll also do well to have a good pre-seasoned cast-iron pan.

 

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This post was linked up to the Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Zucchini at GNOWFGLINS.

 

 

Old-fashioned Blueberry-Basil Preserves

I love using descriptors like “old-fashioned.” They are completely undefinable (from the time of yore?), and conjure images of everything on the shelves at your local Cracker Barrel.

(In case you’re wondering, other adjectives falling into this category include old-timey, prairie-style, country — oftentimes spelled with a “k” — and grandma’s.)

But I’m coming up empty on finding another name for these preserves. Honey-sweetened, commercial-pectin-free, and lacto-fermented. Seems like the way our great-great-grandmothers likely had to make jam, yes? On the prairie or in the country, no doubt.

My motivations for making them this way should come as no surprise: I’m still not eating sugar, which leaves most jam recipes out of reach — and I’m totally into fermenting things these days. Give me a jar of just about anything, and I’ll stir a little whey into it, let it sit on the counter for a day, and let those good lactic acid bugs multiply (granted, the honey in this recipe probably halts that growth a bit, but they do still grow, according to what I’ve read in Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation — ahem, many thanks to Suzanne for the weekend book loaner! It’s now on my to-acquire list!).

Oh how I heart this jam. The high salt content helps with fermentation but also lends a delightful surprise flavor component to what we’ve come to expect from jam (read: candy-sweet). Simmering the berries with honey helps bring out their natural pectin — so once chilled, the jam really does jelly up (though some liquid does remain). I’ve recently been allowed one slice of Ezekial bread each day on my diet, and don’t think every one of those precious slices hasn’t included this jam, since the day it was ready.

Old-fashioned, somewhat near a prairie. I think I’ve found my kountry urban calling.

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Blueberry-Basil Preserves (lacto-fermented) on Punk Domestics

Grain-free Blueberry Tart

Oh, how I miss pie.

I was looking back over some old blueberry recipes, and came across one for my first blueberry pie. Just looking at the (admittedly-average) photo made me salivate. I could hear the knife cut into the flaky crust, feel the crumbs stick to the corners of my mouth, smell the butter that lingered after the plate was licked clean.

Pie, the ways that I love it. If I mourn fruit now, my woes will shift to tomatoes come August.

‘Cause you know what? There’s no good way to make a grain-free pie crust. Nut flours just don’t behave for the likes of that.

My solution? Let us eat tart.

In researching this recipe, I combed through varieties involving cheeses, custards, pastry creams and jams. But since what I wanted was PIE, I went with a filling that is as close to that as possible. In fact, it closely resembles the filling for that delightful pie of yore, from Cook’s Illustrated. I wanted something that showcased the plump and sweet blueberries we picked last week (still happy in their bag in my fridge) — something fresh but also intense and jammy. Something in want of a dollop of whipped coconut cream (or whipped dairy cream, for the lucky among us).

After one miserable tart shell failure, I happily landed on a winner. The crust is mild and buttery with a good crumb, the filling simultaneously rich and fresh, scented with lemon, just-sweet-enough. So good, in fact, I’m filing this under recipes-I’ll-make-again-even-when-I’m-no-longer-grain-free.

Right after I make that pie.

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Recipe: Grain-free Blueberry Tart (refined-sweetener-free, optional dairy-free)

: makes (1) one 9-inch tart
Inspired by this recipe at Martha Stewart dot com and this recipe at Deliciously Organic.

This recipe is not GAPS-legal because of the starch thickener necessary for the filling. I have found that I tolerate small amounts of tapioca starch — an alternative would be using gelatin, but I’m not sure of the ratios. I do not recommend making the tart without a thickener, as the filling would be watery.

If you have sweet berries, you can likely use just 1/4 cup of honey — use up to 1/2 cup if berries are on the tart side.

Ingredients

For the shell:

  • 1 3/4 cups blanched almond flour
  • 2 Tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp gelatin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter or cold coconut oil, cut into small pieces (plus more for pan)
  • 3 Tbsp honey

For the filling:

  • 5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1 Tbsp pearl or instant tapioca, ground to a fine powder in a coffee or spice mill (or use tapioca starch)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup mild honey (see note)
  • pinch salt

Instructions

For the shell:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Brush a 9″ tart pan with melted butter or coconut oil.
  2. In the work bowl of a food processor, add the flours, gelatin, and salt, and pulse to combine.
  3. Scatter butter or oil over top of the flour. Pulse about 8 times (1 second each), or until mixture resembles meal.
  4. Pour honey over the top of the mixture, and pulse a few more times until dough comes together.
  5. Spread dough evenly into tart pan, making sure to evenly cover the sides.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown (watch carefully during last minutes, almond flour burns quickly). Allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:

  1. Reserve one cup of berries for the top.
  2. Place 2 cups of berries into a small saucepan with 2 Tbsp water. Cook over low heat, mashing the berries with a potato masher until only a few remain whole. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Add tapioca, lemon zest and juice, honey, and salt. Return to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened.
  4. Stir 2 cups of fresh berries into the cooked mixture, and immediately pour into the cooled tart shell.
  5. Scatter reserved cup of berries over the top of the filling, pressing gently so they adhere.
  6. Chill until set, about an hour.
  7. Serve topped with fresh whipped cream or whipped coconut cream.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.