Tomato town

Tomatoes are everywhere right now. You can find lots of ways to put them up for the winter: can 'em whole (I never do this), make sauce with them (I rarely do this, but remind me to tell you about the roasted tomato sauce/puree I made), freeze 'em whole (did you know you could do that?), make salsa, tomato jam, etc.

But... maybe you don't want to do any of that. Maybe you would rather read a good book outside in the crisp September air. Maybe you would rather hit up a local happy hour, grab Mexican food or go to a movie. Maybe you just don't want to stand over a stove all day processing tomatoes. Ain't no shame. I have the perfect solution for using up your tomato bounty.

Just eat them. Slice them up and eat them. When I was younger I couldn't imagine doing this. I didn't think I liked tomatoes enough. The fresh, local, in-season, juicy tomatoes from your garden, farmers market or CSA are so much better than the ones available in the grocery store during January. These are worthy of turning around your tomato shyness.

We like to borrow a recipe from Chris' family and add minced shallots, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper on top. If there is basil in the house, that goes on there too. For extra fancy occasions, a slice of mozzarella may accompany the tomato. Try it. Go buy a fresh, juicy tomato and see for yourself. (Note: Admittedly, there is a limit to how many of these you can eat. I know, because I've pushed past that limit only to find my mouth and stomach sore from all the acid. That subsides quickly though, but consider this a warning.)

Cooking rice

It's a rice and beans kind of week. Last night we had a whole mix of beans with sautéed corn, brown rice & a salsa verde-greek yogurt sauce. I've been prepping for a big, all-weekend event with work so we've been keeping dinners quick and simple. We cook a lot of rice 'round these parts. Consequently, I have burned a lot of pots of rice 'round these parts. Especially with the longer cooking time of brown rice, it is absurdly easy to wander off and completely forget about what is on the stove, even if you were ultra vigilant for the first 30 minutes. So when my mom served roasted root vegetables with a pot of brown rice that she made in her new rice cooker, I was blown away. For some reason I thought that rice cookers didn't work as well for brown rice, but I'm totally wrong. You don't even have to time it, the cooker just shuts off when your rice is ready and will even keep it warm for you until you are ready to eat. I was blown away. The rice cooker probably won't be making any appearances in our tiny kitchen, due to the utter lack of counters, but you can bet that it will pop up as soon as we are cooking in a normal-sized space.

Do you have a rice cooker? I've heard from many people that it's really the only way to make rice. Have you made brown rice in it? What about other grains? Is it totally worth it? Speaking of appliances that are totally worth it, stop in at FSC for my {What's New In My Kitchen Wednesday post}, all about my continuing love affair with Mr. Vitamix, the blender of all blenders. 

sunday soup, sunchoke, turnip & carrot

Sunday Soup is back! Or as we lovingly refer to it, Sunday "Throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and cook it" dinners. That's really all soup is. You knew that, right? Most of our soups begin with a bit of oil or butter, a garlic clove or two and chopped onions. Saute them up, add in the rest of your veggies, some veggie stock and herbs and cook. Sometimes we finish it off by sticking the immersion blender in there for a minute or adding a bit of cream. That's it. That is my recipe for just about any soup.

In the interest of offering a more comprehensive recipe, though, I'll make one up below. We had odds and ends of vegetables in our fridge that we were desperate to use up; consequently, the Super Local Sunchoke, Turnip & Carrot Soup was born!

See what I mean? Just throw some stuff in a pot and eventually you might have soup. We were pleased to be able to make this soup from almost exclusively local ingredients: the vegetables, including the ones used in the veggie stock, were all from Kilpatrick Family Farm in Granville, NY. The olive oil comes from Dancing Ewe Farm also in Granville. We ran out of local butter, so that's where the recipe falls short. Oh, the salt and pepper aren't local either, but come on.

Sunchoke, Turnip & Carrot Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • garlic, chopped
  • onions, chopped
  • sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), cut into 1" chunks
  • Hakurei turnips, roughly sliced
  • carrots, roughly sliced
  • veggie stock
  • salt and pepper
What? You wanted quantities? I told you can just throw things in a pot. But if I had to guess, I'd say that we used at least a cup of chopped white onions, 2 cloves of garlic, maybe a pound (2-3 cups?) of sunchokes, 3 carrots, a bunch of Hakurei turnips (or one or two big regular ones), and 3 1/2 cups of veggie broth.

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and then add the chopped onion. Cook for 4-5 minutes until soft and then add the garlic and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and saute for 7-8 more minutes. Add the veggie stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Let simmer for 35-45 minutes until the carrots, sunchokes and turnips are cooked through. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender (alternatively, you can do this in batches in a regular blender or food processor, just be careful not to burn yourself). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with a bit of cracked black pepper and Parmesan cheese, if you wish.

No sunchokes? Use potatoes. Never heard of Hakurei turnips? Ok, just use whatever kind you can find. It will work out, I promise. We used a combination of regular and sunny carrots and it was wonderful. The sunchokes give this soup a very earthy flavor, which we love, but just let that serve as a heads-up. It came together really nicely and helped free up some space in our fridge. Speaking of our fridge, we just got our last CSA delivery of the season. Sad. I'll wrap up the "Inside the Cooler" series this week, complete with my lessons learned and reflections from our first summer as CSA members. I'll wax poetic for awhile, make a few corny vegetable jokes and finish the season strong. I may even show you my Halloween costume from this year, which (SPOILER) re-used my costume from last year

bbq tofu & rice bowl

I had a few things to use up last Friday and the heat had broken just enough that I could bare to think of cooking over the stove. Plus, my end-of-week reward was a trip to the theater to see Midnight in Paris had me motivated to cook up something nice instead of having buttery popcorn for dinner. As I may have done when I saw Harry Potter the week before. Can't quite remember. (Midnight in Paris, by the way, was wonderful. It was one of those movies that as soon as it ended, I was tempted to buy a ticket to the next showing just so I could keep absorbing it all in. The synopsis on IMDb sells the film short, so have a look at this movie cheat sheet from The Atlantic instead.)

I needed to use up a package of tofu, half a jar of homemade swapped BBQ sauce and leftover whey (from the cheesemaking! Ouy, let's schedule that recap post right now, shall we? How about... next week. I will tell you about making cheese next week. Tuesday.) The result was much better than I anticipated, and I credit the rice-cooked-in-whey and the BBQ sauce with that. I'd never cooked rice in whey before and to tell you the truth, was a little skeptical because boiling leftover milk remnants sounds a little strange. The resulting rice was so smooth and flavorful, though, that I was completely won over. Of course, you could follow this recipe and just cook the rice in water or vegetable broth without a problem. And the BBQ sauce! At the June food swap in 'Toga, I had traded the lovely Sarah Without A Blog For Me To Link To some strawberry-rhubarb muffins for a jar of strawberry-rhubarb BBQ sauce. (Super seasonal, eh?) Her strawberry rhubarb BBQ sauce was phenomenal. Unless you can persuade her to make you some, you may have to settle for regular ol' run of the mill sauce. Still delicious, but maybe not quite as delicious as what I had on hand.

BBQ Tofu Bowl with Peppers & Onions
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 1/2 cups whey (water, or veggie stock)
  • one package extra firm tofu, sliced into one-inch chunks
  • olive oil for sauteing 
  • 1/2 onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • salt and pepper 
  • 1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce*

  1. Start your rice! I always forget this part until too late and am waiting forever for it to finish cooking. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups whey (water, or veggie stock) to a boil. Add in the uncooked brown rice, return to a boil and then simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes or until water is completely absorbed. As always, watch it carefully in the last few minutes and stir to avoid scorching. I cannot even tell you how many times I've scorched rice. Like really badly. Keep an eye on it.
  2. Dry-fry that tofu in a skillet (see step 2 in this post). Once much of the liquid has been pressed out, set aside the tofu on a plate.
  3. Using that same skillet, cook the onion in a bit of olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes. Add in the green pepper with salt and pepper. Cook for another 7-8 minutes until the pepper is softened. Next, add in the cooked tofu along with the BBQ sauce. Reduce heat to low, stir and simmer for about five minutes so the flavors can absorb.
  4. Serve tofu and veggies over rice. Yields about four servings.

The beauty in this recipe is that ingredients in the BBQ sauce were local, the whey was from local milk and the pepper & onion were from our CSA. Not too bad for a dish that, at first glance, may not seem completely seasonal. This tofu bowl makes for a great lunch too because I have no problem eating the leftovers up cold. If you wanted to kick up the tofu, you could dredge it according to these directions from my sesame tofu recipe. It takes an extra step, but the result is a crispy, crunchy tofu that tastes like it's been decadently deep-fried, but isn't actually all that bad for you.

Update: This recipe was a winner in the 2011 Cook-Off!

brown bag challenge: summer veggie wrap with spicy mayo

I've been looking forward to a good summer veggie wrap for months. I'm guilty of occasionally buying out-of-season, non-local, crappy produce at the grocery store during the winter months, hoping to recreate favorite summer meals. It's not worth it, it's not rational and so I cut back this past year. Now that I have farm-fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash and greens... I had to wrap it all up.

If I had a grill, I would have grilled these vegetables, but alas I do not. I sauteed a handful of sliced mushrooms and summer squash in a splash of olive oil and added them to a wrap with a few quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, arugula, a chopped hard-boiled egg, sprinkle of shredded cheddar and a dollop of spicy vegan mayo, the idea for which I totally ripped off from All Good's Bakers incredible Sriracha mayo.

The result is an easily-transportable, protein- & nutrient-packed wrap that will keep you full and alert throughout the rest of your work day. This is one of those "no-recipe" recipes, because you can add anything you'd like to it. A few slices of turkey, bell pepper or sauteed onions, a completely different dressing, swap the egg for a handful of chickpeas... anything you like. Just wrap it up. If you are traveling to work, package it up tightly in plastic, foil or a small reusable container and wait until lunchtime to cut it in half. Bring along a piece of fruit and a bottle of unsweetened home-brewed iced tea with a squeeze of lemon and you've got yourself a satisfying midday lunch break.

This post is part of the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge. All this week the ladies from Big Girls, Small Kitchen/Small Kitchen College are celebrating the brown bag lunch and all of its nutritious, convenient & money-saving glory. They are partnering with BuiltNY to share recipes, tips & giveaway goodies for brown baggin' your lunch. If you've got a tasty homemade lunch-on-the-go to share, head over there and enter the challenge! I'm always on the prowl for new lunch ideas that travel and will keep well in the refrigerator for a few hours. Which reminds me, I still need to recreate that delectable lunch from Portland's The Whole Bowl food cart :) 

More lunch ideas:

And check out my post up on From Scratch Club today for a kicky Garlic Scape Pesto recipe. It's garlic scape week over there with garlic scape info, recipes and growing tips!