How-To: Putting Up Tomatoes

Yesterday, I woke up early, trucked it over to Stevie’s, then together we headed up to the McCarren Park farmers market to pick up 25 pounds of not-quite-ripe Roma tomatoes. Because we were buying so many, the farmer even gave us a discount: $1/lb., rather than the advertised $2. With trembling arms, we carried these home, then went back out to Brooklyn Kitchen to get quart and pint jars, as well as a wide-mouthed funnel.

25 pounds of tomatoes.

We began by sterilizing the jars. We filled Stevie’s extra large pot with water and placed the jars and their lids inside, then set it over high heat to come to a boil.

Floating jars.

Then, we began to scrub the tomatoes to get all of the dirt off. Stevie put another pot of water on to boil. In the meantime, she scored the bottom of each tomato with an “x” to facilitate peeling later on.

Scoring the tomatoes.

Once the water was hot, she put in one batch of tomatoes at a time, removing them once their skin cracked.

Washed and ready to go in the water.

As she removed the tomatoes, she brought them over to me to peel, core, and quarter. With one hand gloved to protect it from the heat, I began the arduous process of peeling, using the edge of a paring knife to literally get under the tomatoes’ skin.

Peeling back the skin.

We removed the large pot of jars from the stove to make room for the batches of tomatoes that needed to cook but left everything covered in the hot water. Stevie explained that the jars need to be hot when we put the tomatoes into them in order for them to seal properly. In separate pots, she cooked the tomatoes with a bit of salt and sugar, accenting the natural sweetness of the tomatoes while adding salt (a preservative) to the mix. When they were ready, she removed them from the heat and brought over a few jars to begin the canning process.

 Placing the hot tomatoes and their juice into the hotter jars.

The funnel is important because it keeps the lip of the jar clean – necessary in order to seal them properly. If anything gets between the jar and its lid, it will not close up and make the much-anticipated “popping” sound that signals that all air is out of the jar and its contents are sealed for later use. Stevie had read that an acidifier was recommended in order to help preserve the tomatoes, bringing out their natural acidity, so I placed a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint on top of the tomatoes before we closed the jars. Then, we sat and waited, making sure that each and everyone popped, sometimes for an agonizing thirty minutes! At the end of the day, however, we succeeded, with about 10 and a half quarts put up.

Our beautiful jars of canned tomatoes!

Can’t wait to try these this winter!

In Memoriam: The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg, for Ian

Today I learned that a friend from college passed away in a car crash over the weekend. Ian was one of those guys that I always just knew: we were placed in the same small freshman dorm and I can’t remember a day of college that I did not consider Ian Burgin a friend. He and I were cut from very different trees. I liked to play the part of the Southern belle, walking around the Vermont campus in my heels, and if there was snow, I most likely fell into it (while wearing snow boots, lest you think I’m too crazy). Ian, on the other hand, was from northwestern Massachusetts, not too far down the road from Middlebury. He was fond of the outdoors and plaid, studied Environmental sciences, and, I was convinced, was going to have some fabulous impact within the realm of sustainability. Where I spent many months holding my breath when the smell of manure began to waft its way through the state, Ian inhaled deeply, saying it reminded him of home.

Despite our differences, I loved the person Ian was and I always enjoyed his company. He was a wonderful person, so genuinely good, and good to talk to. One of my favorite memories of him is a recurring one: breakfast in Atwater dining hall. Always mindful of health and fitness, he started every day with a balanced meal, which included hard-boiled eggs. He would carefully peel the shell, separate the white from the yolk, and, leaving the latter on his plate, eat the protein-rich and cholesterol-free egg white, without seasoning. I was appalled. How can you eat that without the yummy goodness of the fatty yolk…and no salt?, I asked him throughout our first year. It just didn’t seem worth it to me. Ian, however, was more concerned with the healthful benefits of the egg over its flavor.

Over the years, our conversations often turned to food, sustainable eating, and farming, and the egg became less of an issue. His mother, he once told me, was involved in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a book about one family’s decision to eat only food produced in the place where they live. I assumed this was his community in Massachusetts, but I never asked. Ian was someone who grew up with the ethos of local eating, something that I am only just discovering.

Ian and I did not stay in touch after college, our lives shaped more by our divergent interests than the ones we shared. All the more reason I was so deeply affected today by the news of his death. Ian, you are in my prayers.

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg, for Ian

  • Place the egg in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Do not salt the water.
  • Over high heat, bring the water to a boil.
  • Once a rolling boil is achieved, set timer for 3 minutes and let the egg cook.
  • After 3 minutes have passed, remove from heat. Let the egg sit in the water for another 8 minutes. Then, remove from the hot water and run under cold water, about a minute.
  • Let sit in the refrigerator for a half hour to an hour for best peeling results.

I LOVERMONT: Ice Cream and Whoopie Pies

I spent this past weekend in Greensboro, Vermont in a beautiful turn-of-the-century wood cabin on the lake, in the middle of the woods, blissfully disconnected from civilization (otherwise known as out of cell and internet range). What did I do to celebrate these facts? I indulged my sweet tooth.

A few highlights:

 Craving inspired by SAVEUR: a delicious Whoopie Pie

As discerning connoisseurs of sweet, Anna and I selected the whoopie pie from Connie’s Kitchen, instead of one of the other options, since Connie’s had about 10 ingredients rather than 35. We also picked up some of her delectable traditional doughnuts and ginger cookies, all on sale at the Willey’s General Store in town.

Sweet Cream and Cookies, only available the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Scoop Shop.

This bit of deliciousness was a cookie-heavy twist on one of my all-time favorite flavors. Even though I went to college in Middlebury, I never once made it up to the factory for a visit. So, on our way to a concert in Burlington, Anna and I stopped in for a treat. Although there was no time for a tour, there was plenty of time for a snack. And yes, this was a single scoop.

Really happy.

Dinner Party: Italian Night! Carbonara and a Twist

Stevie has mentioned a few times that she was interested in learning Italian (she comes from Italian stock), so we finally decided to do our first cena italiana this past week. The idea was simple: cook an Italian meal, drink Italian wine, and speak as much Italian as we could, pointing and miming our way through it. I enlisted Toni to join us to keep the conversation going and to be an additional teacher in the room. Lesson #1 went well, with Stevie learning and recording a few key terms and present tense verbs in a little notebook I gave her, while assuming her usual duties of chef/sous-chef combo when we cook together.

And what did we eat? We decided a simple carbonara dish would be fun and easy, allowing us to focus on the language without having to worry about too much prep work. Since her butcher didn’t have any pancetta available, Stevie picked up some thickly-sliced coppa, the muscle of the pork right behind the back of the head, at the top of the shoulder. It was an interesting, meaty alternative to the usual fatty taste of the pancetta (whose closest cousin in American is bacon).

Stevie diced the meat into little cubes and threw it in a pan with a bit of butter. In the meantime, we put some spaghetti on to boil. I had previously bought some elegant pasta from Marlow & Daughters for a dinner party a few months back but never ended up using it — this seemed like the perfect time for it. I opened up the package to find that each spaghetto was slightly curled at one end: a handmade pasta that had been hung to dry and later cut. I was ecstatic… life really is in the details. While the sea salted water boiled, I began to separate the eggs. We’d consulted several carbonara recipes and ultimately decided we only wanted to use the yolks (no worries, I saved the whites for a yummy omelette).

We put Toni to work, grating the parmigiano. Everything had to be ready for the moment when the pasta came out of the water, since the heat of the noodles is what would cook the egg and create the cheesy “sauce.”

Everything came together in the pot, lightly coating each and every spaghetto. We noshed happily on way too much pasta with a bottle of Orvieto, a white wine from the eponymous town made from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. A slightly fruity and weighty white that is balanced with the acidity from the Trebbiano juice, it was an excellent complement to the eggy, meaty pasta we were consuming.

At this point, you might be wondering what the twist was. Toni buys melons almost by the dozen, and since one was reaching a high level of ripeness, I figured it was best to try something new with it, a change from fruit salad. Summertime screams prosciutto e melone to me — the perfect, light combination of salty and sweet — but as a result of the hot days we’ve been having, I’ve been eating it all the time. So why not take the traditional antipasto dish and make it into a dessert? In preparation for the meal, I made a canteloupe sorbetto a few days before:

I had Stevie pick up a few of the thinnest slices of prosciutto she could get. I proceeded to dry the meat in the oven to give it a harder consistency:

Then, once we’d begun to digest the pasta, I served the sorbet with pieces of prosciutto sprinkled on top. The same salty-sweetness that I love in the antipasto shone through in the dessert version. Ta da! A meal in reverse!

Sorbetto di Melone

  • 1 medium-sized canteloupe, diced
  • The juice of one lemon, freshly-squeezes
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 1/2 cup sugar (shouldn’t need more if the melon is in season!)

Place the melon in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vodka, and sugar and process briefly, until blended. Place the mixture into the refrigerator until the mixture cools. Pour the chilled mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Adapted from Alton Brown.

Morning Report: The Gulf Dead Zone

I was appalled when I heard the report this morning on NPR about the expanding “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an area of deep water in the Gulf where little, if anything, can live because of a steady stream of chemical run-off from industrial farming in the Midwest (the American “bread basket”) that runs down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico

Yes, it is frightening to hear about this dead zone expanding. Yes, I am happy that this issue is getting some national attention. I especially appreciated the analysis of government spending: even though there is some money to put toward “fixing” this problem, much more is spent in subsidies to keep agribusiness and industrial farming going… did you know your tax dollars are polluting the environment?

However, the part of the report that most irked me was the reference to this sort of industrial farming as “traditional.” What a joke, since industrial farming has only been around for the last 50 years, give or take. Traditional farming is what your local farmer does — raise animals and vegetables in a single, sustainable farm where all elements of the ecosystem benefit one another and do more good than harm to the environment.

I understand that producing food on the massive scale required to feed our population may not be able to be sustained entirely by this kind of farming (especially since farmers are decreasing steadily in number), but it is an insult to the institution to perpetuate the belief that our current, dominant food system is “traditional.”

Eating Local: Hot Bread Kitchen

Amazing farmers’ market find at the Union Square Greenmarket this weekend!

Since I have almost finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, I am finding myself being ever more conscious about the way I look at the labels on food. Not for calorie intake, but for what ingredients are listed. As Pollan suggests, I look for “real food,” names I can recognize and place…what a concept! This bit of deliciousness has exactly 11 ingredients, all of which are things  I have tasted individually: 100% whole grain rolled oats, peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, unsulphered raisins, sesame seeds, wheat germ, New York State honey, vegetable oil, and kosher salt. Believe it or not, most of the ‘food’ that is in the marketplace is processed to the point that all nutritional value is removed (if it was there to begin with), and we are left with page-long lists of manufactured ‘ingredients’ that look more like chemical compounds from a lab experiment. No thank you.

Additionally, Hot Bread Kitchen is a bakery with a cause that I am happy to support. To quote the mission from their site:

Hot Bread Kitchen is a non-profit social enterprise that creates better lives for low-income women and their families.  We do this by paying women while they learn the skills necessary to launch food businesses and achieve management track positions in food manufacturing. To help offset the cost of our training and to build esteem in the contribution of immigrants, we sell delicious multi-ethnic breads that are inspired by our bakers and the many countries that they come from.  We make it a priority to use local and organic ingredients. As our staff of trainees grows, so does our product line.  As part of our mission, we preserve valuable baking and culinary traditions and “br-educate” New Yorkers about the tasty and important contributions of immigrant communities.
This granola cost me $5 — that’s more or less what I spend in the grocery store on a plastic package the source of which I am unaware. Instead, I bought My Mom’s Nutty Granola from one of the staff of Hot Bread Kitchen and know that I am eating the produce of the state in which I am living. I think that’s pretty cool. And it’s delicious with Chobani Greek Yogurt, also local (I am not quite at the stage of making my own).

Food Trends: Mexican Ice Pops

I’ve been reading a lot recently about Mexican ice pops so was extremely excited when I discovered La Newyorkina at the Hester Street Market on Saturday morning.

 Cute, eye-catching sign in the shape of a pop, right at the entrance!

Essentially, these pops are just like the syrup-based popsicles I made as a kid (this freezing method pre-dated my obsession with my ice cream maker), only with flavors that are native to Mexico, with everything from mango-chile to horchata flavor… some brave souls even sprinkle red chile flakes on their pops once unwrapping them.

Mine were cool like this, with their built-in straws that minimized dripping
(waste in my eyes, mess in my mother’s)

Since I am not a spice lover, the ones that caught my eye from La Newyorkina’s selection were the coco fresco, blackberries and cream, and hibiscus. When I asked La Newyorkina herself what the favorite was, she immediately told me to go for the hibiscus. Boy was I glad I listened. It was juicy, sweet, and had a lovely red-fruit and floral taste. I’d only ever had hibiscus in teas, blended with black tea leaves, so I was excited to find that its essential flavor was more fruity than earthy. The beautiful red-purple plum color only enhanced the taste of the pop and left my lips stained the same dark color.

My hibiscus pop, straight from the freezer.

La Newyorkina’s pops are also available at Marlow and Daughters, which I discovered the next day. This gave me the chance to taste the coco fresco and watermelon (unavailable the day before). Yes, I spent $13 on pops this weekend. No, I am not ashamed. Do I need to do it again? Only for the hibiscus… for the rest, I am going back to my roots and ordering me some new sipper ice pop makers.