From harvest to table ~ what's cooking now?

This blog shows where all those garden goodies I grow end up. I call this little eating area next to the stove my "chef's table" because at all the best restaurants it's a privilege to be invited to dine in the kitchen where the chef reigns supreme. So here I am "reigning" and you are all invited. :-D

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cold "cooked" tomato sauce

In a previous post I demonstrated how easy it was to make tomato sauce if you remove most of the water before you simmer the tomatoes.

In my last post I lamented how stuffed my freezer was right now so I hunted for ways to unstuff it.  Friday morning I found 2 gallon bags of frozen tomato halves. I was going to put them in a pot to simmer like in the previous post, but the day got away from me so I just left the bags in a colander in the sink after cutting the corners off the bottom of the bags.

(I should mention that this year I did NOT scald/skin the tomatoes before I froze them.  I just cut them in half and bagged them up - much less work.)  Anyway, I left the bags in the sink for a couple of hours while I got busy with something else.  By that afternoon the tomatoes had started to thaw and leaking pretty good.  But I still didn't have time to cook, so I dumped the contents into a stockpot and shoved the whole sheebang into the 'fridge.  Every now and then I would tip out the clear liquid that had thawed.  In the end I left the pot there until Sunday morning.

By then there was no more clear liquid to thaw and tomato volume had reduced to about a third.  And I finally had time to cook them up.  First I took 10 minutes to slip off the loose skins before turning on the heat.

All that went into the pot was thick tomato meat and seeds.

I used my potato masher to break up and crush all the halves.  Then I brought the works to a boil and let them simmer for 30 minutes.

I didn't want to overcook.

While the sauce was still warm, I forced it through a sieve to remove all the seeds.

And voila!  Hands down the quickest and thickest tomato sauce I've ever made.  And easiest for sure - by letting the FREEZER do most of the "cooking" instead of the stove.  It softened all the fruit and shriveled the skins for easy removal and the thawing released all the "whey" so I didn't have to simmer the sauce for hours to thicken up.

In the end those 2 gallon bags yielded a shy quart of heavily textured rustic sauce.

I didn't add any seasonings at this point, but will freeze it in 1C containers.  From there I can make tomato soup, or add to chili, pasta or pizza sauce, etc. and add the appropriate seasonings then.

Not only did this turn out to be the best sauce to date, but, boy!, did I free up some freezer space! Win - Win!

I also appreciated working on a small batch - not as overwhelming (or time consuming).  But fear not.  This 1 quart isn't the extent of my bounty.

I've got 3 more gallon bags of tomatoes  stashed over in my Mother's freezer!  :-D

P.S.  Observation:  While just washing and halving the tomatoes and then bagging them up is the fastest/easiest to get the fruit into the freezer, this method takes up more freezer space.  Last year I scalded and skinned the halves and let them drain a bit before bagging them up.  Those frozen bags contained far less water than this year's bags.  That's why in the older post you saw how much sauce I ended up with from the same amount of bags.  Bottom line - this coming season I'll use which ever freezing method I have time (or space) for when harvest starts coming thick and fast as both processes have their appeal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stock options

Sunday, November 13th dawned warm, but with howling winds, presaging the coming (massive) frontal system.  So I hunkered down inside and decided to clean out my little chest freezer.  It's only 5 cu/ft and it was packed full.

In the bottom I found 3 whole chickens, 1 pkg of ham hocks, 1 large pork roast and a small rack of babyback pork ribs.  Good grief!!  The dates were almost a year old.  Time to do something with them.  Two of the chickens had been cut up, but one was whole so did that one up Sunday.  I don't bother to defrost stock stuff.  I just put it in the pot, cover with hot water, add savory vegs like onion, celery, garlic and black peppercorns and turn up the heat.  In less than an hour the chicken was tender enough to break apart with a spoon.  I took out the chicken, shredded off the meat (yep, 180F), then returned the bones, etc. to the stock and let it simmer for a couple more hours.  When sieved I put the stock into the 'fridge for overnight cooling and let the fat rise to the top for skimming.

The next morning was another windy - howling even - day with pouring down rain.  A good day to stay right in the kitchen! I skimmed the fat off the stock, but saw that the broth was very thin, no gelatin at all.  Hmmm.  When measured I found I had 5 quarts of stock.  Oh good heavens! I don't get 5 quarts of stock even when I cook a whole turkey carcass!  What to do?  Cook it down for hours?  Think. Think.  Aha!

Since I planned on simmering up the other 2 chickens, what's to keep me from simmering them up in STOCK instead of water?  So the 2nd frozen chicken went into the pot and when it was fully cooked and tender, I pulled it out, shredded the meat and returned the bones, etc. to the stock.

You probably know what I did next.

Yep, the 3rd chicken went right into the pot.  (I have to tell you, by now the house smelled wonderful!)

The shredded chicken meat was so tender, almost creamy that it melted in my mouth.  Yum!
Meanwhile, on another burner, I'd decided to go for broke and simmered up the 2 small ham hocks with bay leaves and peppercorns (can you tell I use them a lot?).
It took a lot longer than the chickens for the ham hocks to start falling apart.  I've noticed with both, though, that when the meat starts to rise to the surface, it's usually done.

Now these particular hocks were almost all meat with just some slices of bones (none of them marrow bones).  Still, the stock tasted good.

So late that afternoon all the stock went into the fridge for overnight cooling.  My - just look at all that chicken fat rising to the top!
I must admit the chicken stock did not gel that night either, but it was thickened - like syrup.  Still, it was truly tasty with lots of flavor.  So was the ham stock.

I ended up with 2 3C bags of ham stock and 5.5 quart bags of chicken stock.  The shredded meat was also portioned out - 2 bags of ham and 6 bags of chicken.  Now, when I want to make chicken and dumplings, chicken soup, chicken pots pies, etc.  I can just grab one of meat and stock and have at it.  Same with the ham (ham, kale & limas; ham & bean soup, etc.).  Talk about easy peasy.

Aaaaaaaand.  After 2+ days in the kitchen I freed up some space in the freezer, but, truthfully, not all that much.

With the continued successes in the veg garden and my growing penchant for batch cooking, I'm going to have to bite the bullet and buy another small chest freezer.  I'd like to have one for gardens vegs and baked goods (like when I buy (don't wince, Glenda) bread and rolls on sale) and the other one for meats and prepared foods (like stock, soups, portioned casseroles, etc.)  Ah well, you gotta spend some dough to save some, right? *heh*

Click here to return to Melissa Majora main page.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tangy rhubarb sauce

A late harvest of 4# of rhubarb stalks. What a treat this time of year!

Washed and diced into the skillet.  It doesn't get much simpler.
Add sugar and spice and everything nice: sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and (for kick) 1/2t of citric acid.

Simmer until soft.  I don't take it all the way down as I enjoy some texture in my treat.

Ah.  Warm, chunky goodness in a cup.  Between the tangy sauce and the sweet shortbread cookies, it's heaven in a cup.

And oh so good for you. Yum.

Click here to return to Melissa Majora main page.