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It is clean up time in the garden.  The last of the tomatoes and peppers are ripening on the vine.  We have cleared almost all of our summer crops in favor of space for fall garlic and broccoli and kale.  We left the tomato and pepper plants in hopes that a few more fruits would ripen during this week’s heat wave.

We have been on a serious salsa bender this summer, chopping most of the best tomatoes into a simple lime-laced habañero-powered accompaniment to everything from grilled fish to scrambled eggs.  Our smallest tomatoes are now chilling in the freezer having been transformed into Savory Oven Dried Tomatoes .  Today though,  emboldened by a bulb of fennel gleaned from a surprise source, I squirreled away enough tomatoes to make this delicious basic tomato sauce.

Basic is perhaps not the right word to describe Roasted Tomato Sauce with Fennel, because it suggests that the results may be a bit boring.  Quite to the contrary, this sauce absolutely sings of late summer with intense flavors of tomato and a slight sweetness lent by the roasted fennel.  I make as much of this sauce as I can, multiplying as necessary, and then freeze it in 2 cup portions that are ready to serve with the mood strikes.  Besides the intense and pure fall flavor, I also love this recipe because it calls to cook the sauce in the oven which frees up my time (and stove top) to take on other tasks such as making fig jam, cheering for the Giants, and supervising my children’s creation of a zillion maple leaf imprints. Read the rest of this entry »

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Our garden grew wild this year.  Between the overload of responsibilities and excursions that spring demanded, not to mention an uncooperative back, it is actually surprising we even found time to thrust some plants in the ground.  But somehow, despite our lackluster efforts, the garden is producing heartily.  The other afternoon on a saunter through our beds I was shocked to find piles of peppers.  We planted a variety of sweet and hot that we found at our favorite plant sale. Each plant boasts a different flavor, color and shape.  The other night their abundance begged to be honored with a starring role in this dish. Read the rest of this entry »

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

September 16, 2012

 

Though I was not particularly fond of tomatoes in my youth, tomato soup none-the-less was a favorite.   Tomato soup, the condensed variety-from the can, was the required side dish, along with crusty sourdough French bread, to our Dungeness Crab dinners every winter.  I loved the tangy creaminess of the soup topped with loads of cracked black pepper.  As the years progressed and I grew to have a garden that graces us with loads of tomatoes each late summer, I began to make my own soup- still seeking delightful tang and creaminess, but with fresh notes as well.

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup does not taste like the soup of my youth.  Do not try to pass it off on a die-hard canned soup fan.  Instead it highlights the intense flavor and aroma of summer tomatoes and fresh basil. Cook the tomatoes down and puree smooth.  The creaminess comes from a bit of Greek yogurt swirled in at the end, making this soup deceptively light despite its luxurious mouth feel.  My daughter, who is a bit of a tomato-phobe, paused while eagerly loading this soup into her mouth to say,”MOM, this soup is YUM!”  We are still working on proper grammar, but you get the point.

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There are certain foods I count on to take me through the dreary winter months.  Summer tomatoes are without a doubt on the top of that list.  We are not fantastic tomato growers, but each year I scan the plant sales and farmers’ markets for ten or so tomato plants to sink into our backyard garden.  At least one of those plants must be a Principe Borghese.  This heirloom tomato is a bit larger than a grape tomato and bred to be dried,  If you cannot find that variety, any Roma type or smaller tomato will do. While I have sliced and tossed these beauties into my dehydrator, I much prefer to dry them in the oven.

Savory Oven Dried Tomatoes are unlike the brittle sun-dried tomatoes found in stores.  They are dehydrated only to the point that their juices intensify and the flesh develops a slight chewiness.   Because they still have some moisture to them, they are not shelf stable and must be kept in the refrigerator or freezer. Dry a few baking sheets worth and enjoy them through the winter.  These oven dried tomatoes taste great in any number of dishes.  Toss them on pizzas or into a simple pasta dish, lay them  in frittatas, or on a simple Oven Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart.

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I am back.  This last month I took an unexpected, but much needed break from many of the details of my life, including keeping My Pantry Shelf full of new pictures and recipes.  After many anxious months, I finally had my chance at desperately needed back surgery.  The weeks that followed proved that I am not very good at resting (big surprise).  Luckily my incredibly generous and talented friends stepped in to make sure that my family and I were eating in style.  They dropped off pot pies and meatloafs, quiches and casseroles, salads and a notable tub of pad thai from my friend at Make Room.  It felt so indulgent to lie around while others fed me, but I could not be more grateful for the support.  The flip side of course was that I was hardly cooking at all and certainly nothing “blog-worthy”.  Then we took off for a couple of weeks of true rejuvenation in the best place on earth (no- not Disneyland, how could that be rejuvenating?).  Now I am back.  Back to my energetic, pain-free, and most importantly happy self.  It is good to be me…again. Read the rest of this entry »

Strawberry Freezer Jam

July 15, 2012

Delicious strawberry jam can be elusive.  The standard jam-making technique of cooking down fruit and sugar until the mixture achieves a jell generally does not work with strawberries.  All the fresh sweetness of the ripe fruit converts into an overly sweet darkened mash when cooked.  Not bad, but definitely not one of my family’s favorites.  Mixed with other fruits, it does not seem to be a problem.  The strawberries added to Three Berry Jam only add to the complex fruitiness of the mix.   Slow roasting the strawberries is another option, as I have done  in this Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.  To capture the simple delight of strawberries though, the trick is not to cook them at all.

Strawberry Freezer Jam is perhaps the simplest jam I have made.  Starting with fresh ripe strawberries in season, they are simply cut, mashed, and mixed with a simple syrup mixed with pectin.  That is it, no additional cooking.  As the pectin cools, it jells.  Now since this jam is not cooked, it is not safe for shelf storage.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks and for a year in the freezer.  It is so quick and easy I literally made it while my kids ate their lunch one day.  Since there is no boiling jam it also does not heat up the house like other jam making might.  My daughter took over the job of filling the jars.  We capped them off, labeled them with the name of the jam and the date, and we were done.  What a perfect way to preserve the fresh taste of strawberries for the winter ahead.  It would also be a great jam recipe for someone who is new to jam making and does not want to deal with the sterilization and processing required to safely make other types of jams.

This post is linked with Grow It, Cook It, Can It’s Cook It 2012.  Check that site shortly for a roundup of great jam making posts.

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Strawberry Shortcakes

July 11, 2012

Could there be a more classic summer dessert than a strawberry shortcake?  Probably not.  So when I finally got my hands on a lug of gorgeously fragrant, deep red strawberries from a local farm, all I could think of was making this simple dessert to showcase these berries.

Since there are only three simple components to a strawberry shortcake, it is essential that all three elements can sing on their own. Most recipes call for a cream scone, but I prefer a buttermilk biscuit not only because it reduces the overall fat in the recipe, but also for the lovely tang that the buttermilk provides.  This recipe makes buttery, flaky, beautifully browned biscuits.  Split them open and dollop  them with cream which has been whipped into a soft, velvety mixture.  (Do not pour in cream, turn on your mixer to whisk and then leave the room to mediate a sibling squabble,  oh no, do not.  You will make butter. Trust me.)

Last are the strawberries.  This dish is best with fresh sweet summer berries.  Pick ones that are small and red to the core, preferably from your local farmers market and not shipped to the supermarket in plastic boxes.  There is a huge difference.  Depending on the size of the strawberries, halve or quarter them and dust with a bit of sugar.  As the strawberries sit they will gently weep and make a beautiful pink syrup.  Scoop the berries and their syrup onto the pillow of whipped cream and top with the other half of the biscuit.  Simple and delightful.

The last time we made these was the 4th of July, so we tossed in some blueberries as well to go with the red, white, and blue theme.  My son insisted that the dessert would benefit from the option of Chocolate Pudding as well.  He was right.  We went with the self serve model, allowing each person to create their own shortcake dessert from bowls of whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, and chocolate pudding.  For a more formal approach, serve the assembled shortcakes.

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