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.

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Twice Baked Potatoes

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You can’t really go wrong with potatoes and cheese. And if you brown the cheese it’s even better.

Rich and I had a date night a few weeks ago and we were looking for something that was tasty, but not too indulgent. We are still coming off our holiday indulgences and are happy with lighter meals. We decided on spuds and salads, but we wanted to jazz up the potatoes just a bit. Twice baked potatoes to the rescue.

The potatoes are a nice change from regular baked potatoes and are only a little more work. You can cut the work down even further if you use leftover baked potatoes – it is easy to throw a few extra potatoes in the oven for later in the week.

Twice baked potatoes are the epitome of a customizable dish. Make them early in the day, or even the day before, and stash them in the fridge until ready to bake. Or make them right before you want to eat them. Use less cheese, or more. Add bacon, chives, green onions, garlic or bits of whatever you have in the fridge. I kept the recipe pretty basic, but feel free to make it yours.

What’s your favorite way to eat baked potatoes?

Print just the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

Use more cheese if you like your potatoes really cheesy.

You can make bake, mash and fill the potato shells ahead of time. Store them in the fridge until ready to bake them the second time.

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 egg, slightly beaten
2-4 tablespoons milk
Salt
Pepper
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar, Swiss or a combination of your favorites)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes for about an hour, or until they are soft when poked with a fork. Cool potatoes until you can handle them comfortably. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides of each half, leaving about ¼ inch shell of potato inside the skin. You don’t have to be precise. Set potato shells aside.

Mash the scooped out potato with a fork or potato masher. Try to get most of the lumps out, but don’t get obsessive. Add the egg, about 2 tablespoons of milk and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and mash again. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit more milk and mash again. You want a mixture that is a little wetter than mashed potatoes.

Mix in about ½ cup of cheese. Reserve ½ cup of cheese for topping the potatoes later.

Fill the potato shells with the cheese-potato mixture, mounding the tops fairly neatly.

Place the filled potato halves on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, propping the potatoes against each other if they won’t stand up.

Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or just until the tops are starting to turn golden brown in spots. Remove the potatoes from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the reserved cheese. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Broil the tops for a couple of minutes if you want the cheese browner.

Roasted Red Peppers

DSC_0038Maybe it’s because we had our first hard freeze last night, but I am thinking about the last preps for winter now. We will take out the last of the garden tomorrow and put it to bed for winter. And I am working hard to preserve the last of the garden produce – peppers, tomatoes and basil for us.

Roasted red bell peppers are one of my favorites. And red peppers can be mighty pricey, summer and winter. When I can get my hands on a reasonably priced supply I buy several, roast them and freeze them for later. When I got the precious pepper bounty a few weeks ago from my dad and his garden, I did exactly that. Now I have a nice stash in the freezer, waiting for me to make roasted red pepper soup or to add to tacos or quesadillas.

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What are you waiting for? Get thee to a farmers market and check for last minute deals on peppers. Now is the time to stock your freezer for the winter. Or, if garden season is long past in your area, watch for sales at the store and snap them up.

Download or print the recipe.

Roasted Red Peppers
From The Cook’s Life
Yield varies

Red bell peppers
Cooking spray or oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking pan and set aside.

Cut down along the sides of each pepper to separate the flesh from the core, seeds and top. You will end up with 4-5 pieces from each pepper. Cut off any thick white ribs on the inside of the peppers. Place pepper pieces in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, skin side up.

Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the skins and edges are starting to blacken and the flesh is soft.

When cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Or leave them on, according to your preference.

Freeze in a single layer in a zip-top plastic bag. Thaw as needed.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

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Fall weather changes my thinking when I plan dinner, even side dishes. I turn from things like light, citrusy rice to rich, cheesy potatoes. Or at least I did today. I wanted to make a cheesy potato dish to go with the breaded, baked fish I was planning. And I wanted to make it as simple as possible, with as few dirty dishes as possible.

I decided to make scalloped potatoes like my mother used to when I was growing up. I sliced potatoes and layered them with cheese and sprinkles of flour. I poured milk over the top and baked them until they were browned and bubbly and the milk and flour had thickened into a sauce.

The only hard part about this recipe is waiting for them to bake. No cheese sauce to make, no potatoes to parboil before baking. Just cheesy, warm potatoes with a minimum of fuss and bother. My idea of a perfect side dish.

Download or print recipe here.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 6-8

You can make this with your favorite cheeses. Stronger cheeses are better than mild ones, in my opinion. Use any milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer your sauce.

4-6 potatoes (1½ pounds)
1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ cup flour, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
black pepper, to taste
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heavily grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish.

Peel the potatoes and slice them into thin, round slices. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl.

Cover the bottom of the casserole with a thin layer of potato slices – use about a quarter of the potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour, ⅛ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Spread 1 cup of cheese over the second layer of potatoes. Repeat the layering twice more with the remaining potatoes, flour, salt and pepper.

Pour milk gently over the entire casserole. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes.

Remove foil and sprinkle top of potatoes with remaining 1 cup of cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes, until top is golden brown, edges are browned and sauce is bubbly and thick. Let potatoes rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well.

Caramelized Acorn Squash

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I alluded to this recipe a couple of weeks ago, when I was talking about the date night meal Rich and I enjoyed on a Friday night. We had Cornish hens, a whole grain medley and this squash. I’m not sure which was our favorite, but together they made a wonderful fall meal.

I had two beautiful acorn squash that my dad grew in his garden and I wanted to do them justice. I also wanted to do something different than my usual method – roasting the squash halves and serving them with butter and brown sugar. I envisioned slices of squash browned in butter, but I wanted to do it with the least amount of work and without flirting with stitches.

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As you may know, winter squash can be nigh on impossible to peel when they are raw. You can do it, but you risk losing a digit or two in the process. If you are particularly unlucky, you will get one with a thick rind that leaves you wondering if your knife will ever make it through the darn thing so you can get the seeds out.

I figured I would need to cook the squash a little before I tried peel it. I was able to cut mine into wedges while they were raw, since they were small and had relatively thin rinds. After a short time in the oven, the wedges were easy to peel and only needed a few minutes in a skillet to get toasty brown. The flesh was tender and sweet, contrasting with the buttery, slightly salty caramelized sides of the slices. Just exactly how I had imagined they would be.

Download or print the recipe here.

Caramelized Acorn Squash
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

You can bake the squash wedges ahead of time. Store in the fridge for a day or two, until you are ready to caramelize and serve them.

2 small to medium acorn squash
¼ cup water
½-1 tablespoon butter
salt, optional
pepper, optional
brown sugar or maple syrup, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut squash in half and remove the seeds and strings. Cut squash into wedges, about 1½ inches wide at the widest portion.*

Arrange squash wedges in a single layer in a casserole dish. Add water and cover with the lid or foil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until they are crisp tender. A fork will go in the flesh, but not easily.

Remove squash wedges from oven and let cool until you can handle them. Peel squash. At this point you can refrigerate the squash wedges for up to a couple of days.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add squash wedges, laying them on their sides in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, if desired. Let cook, undisturbed, for 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottoms. Carefully turn over and brown the other side for 5-7 minutes more.

Serve hot. Sprinkle with brown sugar or drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

*If your squash has a particularly hard-to-cut rind, you can cut it into wedges after it bakes.  You will probably need to bake the halves longer than the wedges to get them crisp tender.

Fresh Corn, Tomato and Bean Salad

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I came up with this salad last summer, but then forgot to post the recipe before the corn and tomato season was over. I almost did it again this year, but we still have a few weeks left before the summer’s bounty gives way to fall harvests.

When I developed the recipe, I was looking for a different salad to take to a barbecue. I wanted to use in-season vegetables and I wanted to make a dish that would hold up at room temperature for several hours. I started with the corn I had in the fridge, thinking while I cut the kernels off the cobs. Tomatoes were a given – we had a bowlful begging to be used. Lemon zest and juice provided a bit of a tang without taking over like vinegar might have. I added shallots, but caramelized them to soften and deepen their flavors.

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I mixed and tasted and thought. The colors were there, with the red of the tomatoes and the yellow corn. The flavors were there, with the sweet corn and shallots, the bright lemon and the fruity tomatoes. The textures were there with the crunch of the corn and the soft tomatoes. But there was still something missing. I had a can of black beans. Dark, slightly salty, creamy beans. Color – check. Flavor – check. Texture – check. The beans were the key to bringing it all together.

Be sure to make the salad with in-season tomatoes. If you use insipid grocery store tomatoes they will look pretty, but they won’t add much to the dish. You want the tomatoes that smell like summer when you cut into them. The ones that make you realize that you were kidding yourself with tomatoes over the winter. The ones that make you say, “Yes, that is why I fight the deer and the squirrels to grow tomatoes.” The ones that make a trek to the farmer’s market worth it.

Download or print the recipe here.

Fresh Corn, Tomato and Bean Salad
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 8-10

This salad is fabulous with fresh corn cut off the cob. If you can’t get good corn, or don’t want to mess with cutting it off the cob, use the same amount of frozen corn – no need to thaw.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, diced
1½-2 cups fresh corn kernels, about 3 ears (see head note)
1 tablespoon water
1 large or 2 small tomatoes
1 15 oz. can black beans, low sodium preferred, drained and rinsed
1 lemon
cayenne (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
salt

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add shallot and reduce heat to medium low. You want to slowly caramelize the shallot, so lower the heat if necessary. Add another teaspoon of oil if shallot starts to stick. Prepare the rest of the salad while the shallot cooks.

Mix the corn with the tablespoon of water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Cut the tomatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp and seeds. This will keep the salad from being too watery.

Dice tomatoes into pieces about the size of the kernels of corn. Add the diced tomato to the corn. Add the beans and the caramelized shallot. Zest the lemon and add it to the mixture. Toss gently to mix.

Juice the lemon into a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and whisk to combine. Add cayenne and black pepper to taste. Pour dressing over the bean mixture and stir. Taste and add a touch of salt if necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

This keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Roasted Green Beans

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I have been roasting green beans all summer, but I realized yesterday I had never shared the recipe. I thought I had better get the recipe posted before green bean season is totally gone.

I am always looking for new ways to make vegetables that my family will eat. They aren’t crazy about boiled or sautéed green beans, but they will eat them roasted. Go figure. It might have something to do with the Parmesan cheese I put on top. I think it also has something to do with the roasting. Roasting vegetables brings out the best in them, I think.

The hardest part about making the beans is snapping off the tops. Really. They take care of themselves in the oven. And then they are ready for the table, in all their caramelized glory, topped with a shower of snowy Parmesan cheese.

The only note I have is to be careful with the oil. The beans don’t absorb the oil like other vegetables, and if you use too much they are greasy. The recipe is correct – you only need a couple of teaspoons of oil to keep the beans from drying out.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Roasted Green Beans
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

¾-1 pound green beans
1-2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
salt
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beans and snap off their stem ends. Spread the beans on a baking sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle them with the oil and stir to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 12-15 minutes, or until the beans are starting to lightly brown on the bottom. Stir the beans and return to the oven for another 3-5 minutes, until beans are tender and spotted all over with light and dark brown spots. The beans will shrink and shrivel quite a bit. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve hot. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave or a skillet.