Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

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September can be the time of tomato burnout, at least if you have your own garden or are friends with someone who gardens. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but fresh tomatoes at every meal do pall after awhile. We don’t personally have that problem this year, but we were inundated last year, especially with cherry tomatoes. I love the bounty of fruit you get from a cherry tomato plant, in July and August. By September I am usually faced with bowl after bowl of cherry tomatoes that no one is really all that interested in anymore.

The typical answer to too many tomatoes is to make sauce. This can be problematic with cherry tomatoes. No one is going to peel those babies and they sometimes have very thick skins. Last year I tried an experiment to deal with them in the quickest way possible. It was about a hundred degrees (I’m not exaggerating) and I wanted to get in and out of the kitchen in the shortest amount of time.

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Now, this does involve turning the oven on in the summer heat, but it isn’t on for long and the results make it worth it in my book. Long story short – roast those luscious nuggets of summer sunshine until they are browned and shriveled, which takes very little time since they are so small. Let them cool a little and then chuck them into the food processor. A quick whirl and they break down into sauce that is thickened by the pureed skins.

I like to freeze the sauce flat in ziplock bags, like I freeze my zucchini, to save freezer space. It also makes for easy and fast thawing later. You can thaw in the fridge overnight or put the bag in hot water. It also works to cut the bag off the frozen block of sauce and put it right in a pan to thaw over low heat.

Print or download the recipe.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce
From The Cook’s Life
Yield varies

Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet with sides. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake 20 minutes, or until softened and browning in spots. You might hear some of the tomatoes burst as they are cooking. There will be a fair amount of liquid on the pan from burst tomatoes and it might be caramelizing in spots. That is fine.

Let the tomatoes cool, on the pan, for about 30 minutes. The scrape, pour or otherwise transfer the tomatoes and all their juices to a food processor or blender. Process the tomatoes into a sauce. Scrape down the sides once and process again.

Pour the sauce into ziplock bags. Be sure to label them with the contents and date before you fill them or you’ll be writing on squishy bags. I like to use quart bags and fill them with about two cups of sauce. It is easiest to place the bag in a straight-sided glass or glass measuring cup before filling. Place the filled bags flat on a plate or a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen solid, you can store the bags upright like books or stack them flat.

When ready to use, thaw the bags overnight in the fridge or float in a bowl of hot water for about half an hour. You can also cut the bag off the frozen sauce and thaw it right in your cooking pot. Use the sauce as the base of any soup or stew, or spice it up for pizza or pasta.

Zucchini for the Freezer

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‘Tis the season of zucchini – the time of year when gardeners are tired of the zucchini bounty and are happy to give friends, neighbors and random passersby their extra squash. I got so tired of my plant taking up most of my garden space that I took the whole thing out and planted a fall garden. More on that in another post.

I have mentioned dealing with all the zucchini in several posts. Can you tell that zucchini has been preoccupying me just a bit? Some of the harvest played a starring roll in lemon zucchini muffins and some featured prominently in pasta dishes or side dishes. And then the rest of it…

Most of the harvest ended up in the freezer, in the form of bags of shredded zucchini. Ready and waiting for me to make zucchini bread and muffins or to sauté to make a quick batch of zucchini pesto for pasta. When I’m not so tired of the blessed vegetable.

DSC_0349I have a ready stash now, stacked in the freezer in ziplock bags. Over the years I have develop a process that works for me and makes the most of precious freezer space. First, shred the zucchini, either by hand or with a food processor. For ease of filling, line a glass or other straight-sided container with a quart-sized ziplock bag, folding the top edge back over the glass. Fill the bag with about two cups of zucchini shreds. You can measure the first one and then fill the others to the same height as the first. I use two cups because that is what most of my recipes call for, and it fills the bag nicely.

DSC_0359Press all the air out of the bags and seal them tightly. Flatten the bags as much as possible, spreading the zucchini shreds out to the very edges of the bags. Label each bag with the contents and the date. Don’t skip the labeling or you will be stuck puzzling over the contents in January, when the contents are frosty and your memory is fuzzy. Freeze the bags flat, and then store them on their sides, like books in a shelf.

When you are ready to use the zucchini, the bags thaw in just a few hours on the counter. Or dip the sealed bag briefly in hot water until the zucchini is thawed enough to use. Or throw the frozen zucchini block right into boiling soup or pasta sauce.

What is your favorite way of dealing with garden abundance?

Salvage Smelly Cutting Boards with Salt and Lemons

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I am a fan of wooden cutting boards. They are easy on my knives, they look pretty and they last forever with just a little TLC. They do have their drawbacks. They can’t go in the dishwasher and they sometimes pick up aromas from whatever you have been chopping on them.

I speak most specifically of onions, garlic and shallots. Some of my cutting boards have a definite smell of onions when you get them wet. The aroma lingers, even after umpteen scrubbing sessions. I even got the sandpaper out and went to town. No luck.

The problem came to a head when I cut an apple on a cutting board and then used it to serve said apple. Partway through the meal Rich and I both commented on how weird the apple tasted. Yep, eau de onion. Not a good combination.

It was time to pull out the big guns. Or rather, whatever we could think of that we felt comfortable using on a food preparation surface. Anything chemical was out – I was afraid it would soak into the wood. I remembered that I had stained my white Corian counters with blueberries not long ago. I scrubbed the stains with salt and they were gone in no time, with just a little effort.

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I decided to use salt on the cutting boards. Then I started thinking about other food safe fresheners. Lemons came to mind – they work on garlic and onion smells on my hands and to freshen the microwave.

I made a paste of salt and lemon juice right on one of the cutting boards. I scrubbed it with a nylon scrubbing pad until the salt was all dissolved and not abrasive anymore. I repeated the process and then rinsed the board clean. No onion smell. I let it dry and took another whiff. A hint of onion. I repeated the process. Voila, no onion.

Salt, lemon and a little elbow grease did the trick. I had to re-oil the boards after that, but I now can cut apples and bread on my boards without adding a note of onion.

What are your favorite kitchen cleaning tips?

The Freezer Makes it Easy

We have had a few busy weeks here lately. To be honest, when is a week ever not busy for any of us, but lately we have been burning the candle at both ends more than usual. Most people would probably eat out more than normal or rely on boxed frozen meals, but I’m not most people. I have a few tricks that have saved the day lately.

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Lately, when I make a casserole, pasta dish or soup, I double the amounts and freeze half for another time. Sure, that makes more work initially, but it certainly doesn’t take twice the time for twice the food. And, of course, later I will have a homemade dinner in the freezer, waiting. I do this most often with cheese stuffed shells, but it works with just about any soup, chili or casserole.

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In addition to having some main dishes in the freezer, I am trying to build up a frozen stash of a few things to give me a head start on the cooking. Our grocery store had a meat sale a few weeks ago, and I picked up a bunch of packages of bone-in chicken breasts. I baked them all and then shredded the meat. Then I portioned it out into quart bags, filling each with about two cups of chicken. It makes me feel rich to have those bags in the freezer, ready to make into tacos, sandwiches or to throw in a quick chicken soup.

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I also picked up a pork roast as part of the same sale, and cooked it in the crockpot. I shredded the cooked meat and stashed it in the freezer next to the chicken. It is all ready to mix with barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches, to dice and put in stir-fry or to put into tacos. Can you tell we are on a taco kick lately?

What do you do when you are pressed for time at dinnertime? Do you plan ahead, do you get take-out, or do you stand over the sink and eat a bag of chips and salsa?

Get the Scoop on Chilling Your Dough

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The weeks leading up to Christmas are cookie-baking time around our house. We give cookies for presents, take them as our contribution to potluck holiday parties and package them up for hostess gifts. We have done this since the first year we were married, and I don’t see us ending the tradition any time soon.

We make about twelve different kinds of cookies every year. Most of them are drop cookies, or the kind you roll into balls before baking. Some of them require a little more effort, but none of them are complicated or time consuming. As I write this, I realize many of our favorites are the roll-into-balls recipes – gingersnaps, Russian teacakes, chocolate chip doodles and snickerdoodles. The recipes instruct, “chill the dough before forming into balls for baking.” This often ends up with me using my forearm muscles of steel to scoop rock hard, chilled cookie dough.

The other day, when I was fiddling around, fixing my Russian teacake mistake, I had a revelation. If I scooped the dough balls first and then chilled the dough I would be getting the best of the process. I could scoop soft, creamy dough with ease and then chill the balls. Then, when I was ready to bake, the heavy lifting (so to speak) would be done and I could just place the balls on the pans and bake.

It works beautifully. Mistakes lead to innovation. And no, I’m not comparing myself to an inventor of say, rubber or the Slinky. It did kind of rock my cookie-baking world, though.

Try the method with any dough that calls for an hour or two of chilling. Portion out the dough right after you mix it and then chill the balls in an airtight container for up to a week. You can freeze them if you want to make them further ahead.

Oh, and in the free time that you will have if you use my revelatory method, you can kill some time on the internet. Try typing, “mistakes that led to inventions,” into any search engine and you will get some interesting reading.

Take Your Recipe Box into the 21st Century

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I used to have a binder of recipes torn from magazines and printed out from websites. You might have one too – full of recipes you are going to try “some day.” Mine was a zippered binder, which was the only thing that kept the whole thing in one place. I used to have to make sure it was on a flat surface when I unzipped it, or papers slithered everywhere. Add my handwritten recipe collection of family recipes and tried and true favorites and you had the sum total of my version of the old recipe box.

I have a whole new system now that works so much better than the old one ever did. Several years ago I stopped printing out recipes I wanted to try, instead I saved them as PDF files on the computer. Our Computer Cookbook (catchy name, right?) is full of recipes that I want to try someday – alphabetized and ready for me when I want them.

The computer cookbook file also has every recipe that I have typed up to email to someone and all the recipes I have developed for the blog. Slowly I am adding old favorites from my handwritten recipe book, as I get time to type them.

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Dropbox is the tool that makes the computer recipe file work like a dream. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Dropbox is a cloud storage service that allows me to share my files (recipes and otherwise) between my various devices: computer, iPad and iPhone. Since my computer cookbook files are stored on the Dropbox servers, I can access them from any device, anywhere I happen to be.

Mostly I use it to open files on the iPad so I can use it as an electronic cookbook in the kitchen. I also love having access when someone asks me for a recipe – I can find it right then and send it in an email. Best of all, Dropbox is free, unless you need tons of storage, and it works better than any of the recipe and cookbook apps I have tried. If you want to check it out, click on this link. (Full disclosure, if you sign up, you get extra storage space, and so do I).

How do you manage your recipes?

How to Evaluate a Recipe

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I have had several conversations lately about how to decide if a recipe is worth making. Recipes are everywhere and it isn’t always obvious which ones will give good results.

A simple online search for just about any recipe brings up thousands of results. Not all of them are worth making. Some are not tested, some contain inaccuracies and others don’t give you enough information or direction. Many are just fine. Some are spectacular. The same goes for recipes in cookbooks, magazines and newspapers. Just because a recipe is in print doesn’t mean it will necessarily work. A few simple tricks can help you determine if a recipe is worth your time and effort.

First, read through the whole recipe, including the directions. Are the ingredients listed in the order you use them? If they aren’t that is a red flag. Recipe convention is to list the ingredients in order of use. If the ingredient list is all over the place, the results might be too. It is overstating it a bit, but if the recipe isn’t carefully written, you should wonder if it was carefully crafted and tested. You don’t have to automatically pass by a recipe written like this, but make sure everything else checks out before you make it.

Read through the directions to make sure you understand how to do everything. If you don’t, check any accompanying pictures or headnotes to see if they help you. Sometimes recipe authors assume you have skills or experience that you don’t. If you really don’t understand what you are supposed to do, you might want to find a recipe that is more detailed.

Check to see if the proportions of ingredients are similar to other recipes. If you have never made a dish before, compare the amounts of ingredients from several recipes for that dish online or in cookbooks. If one recipe has ingredient ratios that are wildly different from most of the others, you might want to skip that one.

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. But these are the steps I follow when I am searching for recipes. No, they are not foolproof. I have certainly made some bombs. But for the most part, these are starting points for finding good recipes, both online and in print.

How do you decide if a recipe is worth trying?