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Cooking Ripe! 2012 Review and 2013 Preview

What to do with all of those little yummies?Cooking Ripe! has moved to: CookingRipe.com – please join us on the new site!

Cooking Ripe! was launched in late August of 2012 and has had just under 3000 views so far. It’s been very exciting to get to share my garden-to-table recipes with so many people in such a short time. I’ve been learning a lot about this whole food blogging business and I am ready to take things to next level!

Coming in 2013: Cooking Ripe! will be moving to a new hosting site where we’ll have our very own domain name: CookingRipe.com. YAY! Our very own dot com address. Legit, right? With this change, you’ll notice that the blog will undergo some spiffing up and will get a new overall look. I hope to make it a little more user friendly by adding some slick tools that will make things like recipe printing and pinning a little easier. We’ll likely have a little downtime while we complete the migration process, but don’t worry – I’ll give you plenty of warning when it’s time. Stay tuned for more details on the New & Improved Cooking Ripe!

Tops in 2012: In our few short months online, I’ve had great traffic and feedback on the blog posts. Below is a list of the five most viewed posts on Cooking Ripe! in 2012. Have you tried all of these yet? If not, you better get cookin!

1. The number 1 most viewed post on the blog is Homemade Pumpkin Puree. I had a whole crop of volunteer pie pumpkins in the garden this year, so I had to learn to make my own puree. I’ll never go back to canned! It tastes so fresh and it’s so versatile. Try the many other Cooking Ripe! pumpkin recipes, too.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

2. The runner-up as the most viewed post is the Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup. I LOVE soup and LOVE orange food, and apparently my readers share my love of soup and orange since it was the second most popular post. This is a simple and creamy cold weather soup with a little ginger kick. Check out the other Cooking Ripe! soup lover recipes.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

3. Number 3 is my personal favorite, as you can tell by its title: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta – the BEST pasta you’ll ever eat! Really. You have to try this recipe if you haven’t yet. I got an eggplant in my Bountiful Basket last time and I am thrilled to get to make this recipe again this week. The Hubs doesn’t even mind repeats of this one!

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

4. One would assume this next post would have been number 1 since it includes BACON! and everything is better with bacon, right? Caramelized Brussels Sprouts – with BACON! I try not to cook or eat it very often, but once in awhile you gotta live, right? Brussels sprout lovers and haters can unite to love this recipe, I promise!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

5. Last, but certainly not least in the round-up of most viewed posts is the Southwestern Green Chile and Corn Potato Chowder. Yes, another soup made the list! This one is creamy and spicy without any heavy cream at all. This is a great recipe to use up your preserved roasted green chiles and warm up on a cool night.

Hatch Green Chile and Potato Corn Chowder

Remember, you can go to Cooking Ripe’s Recipe Index for a complete list of all of the recipes. Also, if you haven’t joined me on Pinterest yet, it’s high time! And, finally – like Cooking Ripe! on Facebook to stay up to date on all blog updates and other tasty tidbits. Stay tuned for a great new year of growing and cooking!

Thank you all for your support. Cheers to a delectable 2013!

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Homemade Fresh Marinara Sauce: The No-Waste Method

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Tomato season is ending in most of the U.S. (unless you live in the desert like many of my friends who are now planting their winter gardens! **jealous**), so it’s time to use up the last of the season’s crop of ‘maters.This is a pretty simple, no fuss, no waste way to make some delicious marinara sauce – for dinner tonight and/or to preserve for the winter.

The first time I canned diced tomatoes, I was pretty appalled by the amount of tomato waste I had afterwards. By the time you skin and seed the tomatoes, you end up with bowl o’ leftover tomato parts. While I was ok with composting my waste, it seemed silly (and also ironic) to have grown all of those tomatoes, only to waste so much of them in the preserving process. I felt like I was burying my children in the compost pile (cue dramatic music).

I went on a search for recipes to use the rest of the tomato parts, so I wouldn’t have to loose so much in my future processing. I found recipes for paste, juice, etc. and plan to try some of those next year when I have a larger crop. But, the one that struck me as oh so simple and also so obvious is this recipe for Fresh Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce on The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, a blog I love. Ali and Tom, the authors, keep it simple with their recipe and I love simplicity.

I followed their recipe, but only made half a batch because I had about 10 pounds of tomatoes, so this is the recipe for the half batch version of their recipe. Note that while I usually tell you not to be fussy about ingredient amounts, if you are going to can this recipe, as I did, you really need to stick to the recipe for food safety purposes. However, if you’re going to eat it tonight and freeze any leftovers, feel free to play around with the ingredients to your personal tastes.

* Because I made this sauce on a super-harvest-preserving kitchen day and had many projects going on at once, I didn’t photo-document the whole process this time.

Fresh Whole Tomato Marinara Sauce:

Servings: 9 half-pints

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1  1/2 large onions, minced
  • 1/2 whole head garlic, minced
  • 10 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional) – (I used regular white sugar)
  • 1 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoons sea salt

Directions (directly from original recipe):

1. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the minced onions and garlic. Saute for about 10 minutes.

2. Remove the stem-end of the tomatoes (this is the only waste and I put mine in my homemade veg stock storage in the freezer). Process some of them in a food processor, leaving them a little chunky. Blend the remaining tomatoes until smooth.

3. Then begin to add the tomatoes to the pot of onions in batches as you puree them. (Don’t be alarmed if your tomato mixture looks more pink than red at this stage. The color darkens as it simmers).

4. Add the chopped basil, vinegar, sugar, Italian seasoning, and sea salt.

5. Cook, uncovered, for about 3 hours or until sauce has cooked down and thickened. Be sure to stir it on occasion and keep it on a rapid simmer. Keep cooking until sauce has thickened to your liking (my smaller batch was ready in about two hours).

6. Taste and add more salt if needed.

7. If you are going to can the sauce, prep your jars and lids, according to accepted rules for sterilization. I waterbath canned mine and I use The Ball Blue Book for a reference. See their Intro to Canning article for safe water bath canning techniques. Be sure to add a 1/2 Tbsp of lemon juice to each 1/2 pint jar (1 Tbsp for quarts) before processing. Process your jars according to the timing chart for your altitude on page 6.

I chose to can my sauce in half-pint jars because I felt that the smaller quantities fit our two-person household better, but you may prefer to use quarts, especially if you make a larger batch.

SAUCE! This is a very tasty sauce that the whole family will really love. You will never notice that the skins and seeds have been left intact because they are obliterated in the blending process and then cooked down and softened during the simmering process. I also heard that the seeds are the most nutritious part of the tomato, housing tons of vitamin C, so this sauce must be more healthy than the non-skin-and-seed variety, right?  The picky-eater-daughter, who doesn’t like chunks of onions and such, fully approved and took a jar home to her new apartment and later commented that she needs a larger jar in the future. Note taken.

Now, what to make with this great sauce? Pasta is the obvious choice, but I have also used it as a pizza sauce and I keep a jar in the fridge, ready to throw a dollop of it in whatever skillet or casserole dish I might be cooking. Since I adore all tomato saucy recipes, you can bet that my little stash of sauce will not last until Christmas.

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Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup – orange you ready for some soup??

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I love orange veggies! Pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet orange peppers, butternut squash….mmmhhhmmm. They all inspire images of cozy Fall evenings by a fireplace. Comfort. Fall is in the air here in SW Colorado. The nights are cooling off enough to force us to close some windows at bedtime and when we drove up to Telluride this weekend, we saw that the leaves are turning crispy golden colors already.

Another sign that Fall is upon us is that the Hubs has a cold. That’s the downside of the season change, right? I’m fending it off, so far, but I feel some sniffles coming on, too. So Fall is arriving and we’re a little sickly, so that means it’s soup season! I adore making soup. There is something so wholesome and satisfying about mixing up a batch of comforting soup and letting it simmer quietly on the stove. I think one of the first real scratch cooking recipes I made was soup – Tuscan bean soup, I believe, and I was amazed how simple it was to make and how yum-o it was to eat.

The Hubs requested chicken soup over the weekend and we finished it last night, so I wanted another soup recipe for tonight. My kitchen is overflowing with veggies from the garden and from my most recent Bountiful Baskets haul, so I assessed what I had and started my daily trolling of Pinterest for  ideas. I found it: carrot soup! I have tons of my own garden carrots and also two packages from Bountiful Baskets. I’ve never made carrot soup, but I have made pumpkin soup and it sounded similar – and it’s orange! YAY! My inspiration recipes are from Basket 411 (which I’m glad I found because it’s all about using Bountiful Basket produce) and from Food 52. I stole borrowed a few ideas from both and made my own version tonight.

It turns out that I got to combine the carrots with another orange veg: sweet potato (or yam)! Orange squared!

Secret ingredient: sweet potato!

So here’s what you do:

Start by peeling and chopping up about 6-10 carrots into bite-sized pieces. Personally, I only peel my carrots if I can’t get all of the dirt out of the nooks and crannies because you lose a lot of nutrients by peeling. You need to wind up with about four cups of chopped carrots. I have some very large, odd looking carrots from my garden, so my quantity of carrots to start was only about 4, plus a couple of normal carrots.

This is what happens when your carrots get “uneven watering” and you don’t thin them enough – freaky carrots!

Chop up carrots into bite-sized pieces measuring about 4 cups

Next, peel and dice one sweet potato (or yam) and toss into a bowl with the chopped carrots. Peel a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over the mixture and gently toss to coat all veggies in the EVOO.

Combine carrots, sweet potato, garlic and EVOO

If this process sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s basically the same process described in my post about roasting cherry tomatoes. Yep, we’re going to roast these veggies before we throw them in the soup. Roasting brings out all kinds of flavorful yum in veggies and since it’s cooling off, we don’t mind having the oven on for awhile.

Dump the mixture onto a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking pan) and spread veggies into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. If they begin to scorch, move to lower rack or reduce heat to about 400. Each oven is different, so adjust accordingly.

Dump veggies onto baking sheet and spread into a single layer

Roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until largest pieces are very tender. Be sure to taste test to be sure.

While the orange veggies are roasting in the oven, caramelize an onion in your soup pot. The roasting and caramelizing both take about 20-30 minutes, so do other kitchen chores while they’re working.

Caramelize an onion while the orange veggies roast

When the orange veggies are roasted, pour in some vegetable stock to deglaze the soup pot before adding veggies.

Sidebar: speaking of veggie stock, you should make your own! Really! It’s super simple and it’s healthier than the commercially processed kind. Plus, you’ll always have some on hand when you need it. See my method for Easy Vegetable Stock here.

Freeze veg stock in muffin tins then store in big baggies for easy use

I used about 2.5 cups of stock, but I like a thicker, heartier soup. If you like a thinner soup, use more stock. You can also add more after you puree it to get the desired texture. Bring stock and onions to a medium boil.

Dump the roasted veggies in the pot and add the ginger and thyme, with a little more salt and pepper. I decided we needed a little acid to counteract the sweetness of the roasted veggies and caramelized onions, so I added about two or three heaping spoons of my roasted tomato mixture from the fridge. If you don’t have roasted tomatoes, just chop up a couple of tomatoes and throw them in the pot. You cold also use about half a can of diced tomatoes, drained.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and let simmer on low for at least 10 minute or longer

Next, add the other secret ingredient: Worcestershire sauce. I know: weird, right? I don’t even know what’s in the stuff (no, I don’t  want to know), but I swear by it in soups and stews. Adding it increases the richness of the soup exponentially. I only use a quick glug or two, but it makes all the difference. Trust me.

Finally, chop the parsley and add to the pot. Once all of the ingredients are in, simmer covered on low for at least 10 minutes to allow all of the flavors to get happy and dancing together. I believe soup must simmer and you must be able to smell from outside your front door before it’s “done.”

To finish, you need to puree it. You can use a blender or food processor, but you’ll need to cool it to warm before doing so or it blows the lid off. Also, don’t overload the container; process in batches. I am lucky enough to own an immersion blender (and I highly recommend you invest in one, too), so I just buzz it around the pot until I get the right texture. The Hubs  and I like some chunkiness to out soup, so I leave it pretty thick and don’t blend down all of the pieces (though I do try to get the garlic pieces all pureed in). Add water or more stock if you want a thinner consistency.

Puree the soup to the desired texture, adding water or stock to thin if needed

Return pot to stove and reheat until hot. Simmer a little longer, or serve immediately.

Simmer pureed soup on low or serve immediately

Garnish with whatever you like and have on hand. Some toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds would be lovely. Or, some cilantro or green onions would be good. I meant to add green onions, but the Hubs arrived and I got distracted and forgot. Crusty bread or toast makes a great dipping tool (too bad we finished the baguette with the chicken soup). Cuddle up under a flannel blankie by the fire and enjoy your orange soup!

Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped carrots (about 6-10 carrots)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (canola would also work)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, sliced (preferably yellow)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock (could sub chicken broth)
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger (fresh is best, but I only had some in a jar)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2-3 heaping Tbsp roasted tomato mixture (or 2 chopped tomatoes, or 1/2 can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Garnish (optional): nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine diced carrots, sweet potato and garlic in a medium bowl. Toss withe EVOO to coat all veggies.
  3. Dump mixture on a jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet) and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast in over for 20-30 minutes until the largest pieces are very tender.
  5. Meanwhile, caramelize the sliced onions in a large soup pot (see caramelizing instructions here).
  6. Deglaze the soup pot with a little veggie stock, then add another 2 cups of stock. Reserve the remaining stock to add as needed during the puree process.
  7. Bring soup to a medium boil, and add ginger and thyme and a little more salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add remaining ingredients.
  9. Simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  10. Puree in blender or food processor (cool to warm, then puree in batches) or using an immersion blender. Blend to desired consistency, adding stock if needed.
  11. Return to stove and reheat until hot.
  12. Garnish with nuts or seeds, green onions or cilantro.

Notes for next time:

I like spicy food, but since the Hubs has a sore throat, I didn’t spice this recipe with anything other than the garlic and onions. Next time  I would add some red pepper flakes or a little curry powder or paste to heat it up. I also might try using basil rather than parsley and I might add a little red wine to the soup. Another thought is to toss  a little balsamic vinegar with the veggies before roasting. I also thought out adding some roasted corn after pureeing the rest of the soup. The Hubs liked his soup, but required a grilled cheese sandwich on the side to feel satisfied after a long day of working while sick 🙂 I was full after my bowl.

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Simple Savories

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UPDATED: See bottom of post.

This year I planted tomatoes for the first time. I had planned to only have three plants because I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy growing them – or be successful. Since I didn’t know a lot about the many plant choices, I ordered a variety pack from Burpees. One of those was called the Super Sweet 100 Hybrid, described as a high-producing sweet cherry variety. Then a friend gave me a couple of additional plants, which turned out to be cherry varieties, as well. So, out of five plants, I have three that are cherry! Know what that means? I have MILLIONS of itty bitties, and I wasn’t prepared for the influx of the little sweeties.

Cherry tomato plants produce MILLIONS of sweet little tomatoes!

I started exploring other food blogs to figure out how to preserve the giant harvest of mini tomatoes and learned that while it is possible to can them, most people don’t because most people don’t like to leave the skin on canned tomatoes and most people refuse to peel 1000 cherry tomatoes in order to get a couple of pints of canned tomatoes. Personally, I’m not terribly averse to skins and I do throw some cherry maters in my salsa, but decided I wanted to do something else with the little guys since I’m canning the big ‘uns.

What to do with all of those little yummies?

I learned a simple, fast and super yummy trick for roasting and then preserving cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen several versions of this technique, so I am by no means claiming to have thought of it myself! As always, I try to put a little of my own spin on it and show you how easy this savory delight is to make and how versatile the finished product can be.

Roasted cherry tomatoes are simple and versatile

I started with about a pound of cherry tomatoes, which fits in one jelly roll pan and makes about one half pint of the mixture. I only have one jelly roll pan so that’s all I make at a time – you could make more if you have multiple pans.

Preheat the oven to about 425 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes by slicing each of them in half. TEDIOUS! I hate tedious! Let’s make this faster. I wish I remember where I saw this trick (somewhere on Pinterest, I’m sure), but the person who invented it is a genius. Here’s what you do: find two plastic lids of the same size. I use the kind from the big Greek yogurt containers (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.). Set one lid, label side down and fill the lid with tomatoes. I find it works best if you use similar sized tomatoes in each batch.

Fill the first lid with the tomatoes

Fit them in as snugly as you can, then place the other lid, label side facing up on top of the tomatoes, making a little tomato sandwich.

Place the second lid on top of the tomatoes

Now, press down on the sandwich firmly and begin slicing into the tomatoes with an very sharp knife. If you don’t keep the pressure firm, the tomatoes will escape out the backside of the sandwich. Sometimes I do rotate it a bit, but do not pull out the knife, which would make it messy.

Press firmly on the top while slicing through the tomatoes

Viola! Quick work made of slicing up a handful of cherry tomatoes! I told you it was genius!

Like magic, they’re all sliced in one move!

After the tomatoes are halved, place them in a medium sized bowl. Peel, but do not chop a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl of tomatoes. Remember that garlic mellows out when roasted, so feel free to add more!

Add some garlic cloves to the bowl of tomatoes

Add about a 1/4 cup of EVOO to the bowl and gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic cloves. Dump the contents of the bowl onto the pan and spread the tomatoes and garlic out into a single layer. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes sit cut side up or down.

Spread the garlic and tomatoes into a single layer on the pan

Sprinkle the spices and salt and pepper over the mixture and place in the oven. Roast for about 20-30 minutes. I like a little charring on the edges, so I wait until I see that before I pull them out. Be careful, though, because you can go from a little char to a major scorch in a matter of a minutes. My pan below may have gone a little too long.

Roast until you see a little charring on the edges of the tomatoes

Let the mixture cool on the pan. The second they are cool enough to eat, taste them! (Caution: I have burned my tongue more than once by diving in too soon!). Amazingness, right? Super savory flavors that make you want to lap it up off the pan. Depending on how much you eat off the pan, you now have a nice little batch of roasted yummies to add to tonight’s dinner, or save in a jar for a future recipe.

Cool then taste!

If I want to save them for another day, I scoop the mixture into a half pint (jelly size) jar. Be sure to get all of the drippings and the garlic (you can smash or chop the garlic to make for easier use later). Smoosh the mixture firmly into the jar and top with a splash of EVOO. Fill to nearly the top, but f you’re going to freeze it, leave about 1/2″ headroom. I have kept the mixture in the fridge for up to a week, but if I don’t think I’m going to use it quickly enough, I just pop it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight when ready to use.

Pour the mixture in a small jar for fridge or freezer

The mixture makes a perfect pasta topping, as is. Just prepare some pasta, warm the tomato mixture in a saute pan (add some pesto and/or a little tomato paste for more body) and then combine the pasta and tomato mixture for a super easy, but very savory supper. I will share my FAVORITE pasta dish with you in a future post soon, and we’ll use this recipe as our basic sauce starter.

Besides pasta, you could use this as a topping or stir it into many other dishes since it’s just a tomato and garlic combo. Think: stews and soups, stir into meatloaf or burgers, cassaroles, bruschetta, pizza, eggs, rice, veggie stir-fries, shrimp or fish topping, bean or green salads, etc. It also occurs to me that it could be pureed to create a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. Oooo…gotta try that!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Serving size: makes about 1/2 pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 whole, peeled garlic cloves (more, if you like)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning (or any combo of basil, oregano, thyme, etc. You could also use fresh chopped herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp each: salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice tomatoes in half, place in medium-sized bowl.
  3. Peel garlic, add to bowl with tomatoes.
  4. Add EVOO to bowl, gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture onto jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet), spreading mixture into single layer.
  6. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until edges of tomatoes are slightly charred. Remove from oven.
  7. Cool completely on the pan.
  8. Use immediately, or scoop mixture into small jar, packing tightly and topping with EVOO. Leave 1/2″ head space if you plan to freeze.

Notes for next time:

I think it would be fun to try a Mexican spin on the mixture by using Mexican spices instead of Italian and adding some green chiles or jalapenos to the roasting pan. This version could be used as a stir-in to taco filling and other Mexican dishes. Another nice addition to either version would be thick slices of onions and/or green peppers which also roast so nicely and pair well with tomatoes.

Leave a comment with your roasted tomato recipe ideas. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

When I wrote this post, I noted that maybe the roasted tomato mixture could be pureed into a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. I also thought it would be fun to add some onions and bell peppers to the roasting pan to include even more savory flavor. Well! Last night I tried both and it turned out to be simply delicious and got rave reviews from the Hubs. He isn’t quite as enamored with the texture of the plain roasted tomato mixture as I am, so the smoother version works great for him. I just had to share!

Here’s how:

Prepare cherry tomatoes and garlic as above, but add chopped pieces of bell pepper and onions. I had some pearl onions (over-grown green onions) from the garden, so I used those. You can just chunk up about half an onion. Toss with olive oil, as described above and roast the same way.

Next, dump the mixture into a bowl and use the immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency (or cool then use a food processor or blender).

Blend with food processor, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency

I added a dollop of my basil pesto, a little salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp of sugar, but mostly because I was experimenting with the flavors. It was great, as is, before adding ingredients. Just tweak to your own tastes and you end up with great marinara sauce. I served mine over open-faced (chicken) meatball sandwiches and the Hubs asked for seconds. Enjoy!

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Mexican Zucchini Succotash (Calabacitas)

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It’s that time of year when squash is taking over our gardens, kitchens and every other available corner of our lives. It’s great that it’s so easy to grow, but after you’ve made 88 loaves of zucchini bread, it’s time to change things up a bit. Zucchini is a very versatile veg, so you can really put it in most any recipe and it’ll make a great addition. My friend Mary even made a zucchini cobbler for book club once and it was way yummy (it was actually sweet, not savory).

This is some of the squash that is currently hanging around in my kitchen

I have a speedy weeknight, one-pot wonder of a zucchini meal for you that the whole fam will devour. When I first started growing zucchini, my husband kept talking about something his mom used to make with zucchini, corn and cheese. He called it calavacitas, but in doing some research, it looks like calabacitas and calvacitas are the same basic dish – each family just has their own way to say it. The beauty of it all is that there are many versions of the old-school dish, so we can tweak it however we want!

I also use the zucchini, corn and a little cheese, but I add a few more ingredients to make it more of a main dish. I use chicken as the protein, but you could swap that out for pork, ground beef, or shrimp – or you could leave it out and make it a vegetarian meal instead. It is really fast to throw together and it’s one of those recipes where you can sub out any ingredient you don’t have for one you do have and get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Simple one pot Mexican Succotash!

Start by dicing the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I used some chicken tenders (about 3) I had in the freezer, but you could use breasts or boneless, skinless thighs also. The meat is easier to dice if it is still about half frozen.

I buy a large package of chicken tenders when they’re on sale and then freeze smaller portions to pull out as needed.

While you’re dicing the chicken, heat a large saute pan to medium heat. When hot, add a few swirls of EVOO and let it heat up. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic to the pan and cook for a minute – be careful not to scorch it as burned garlic tastes really bitter.  Chop up about a quarter (or more, if you like!) of an onion and add to the garlic.

Add garlic to taste: I used 3 cloves

Now add the corn. If you have fresh corn on the cob, just slice it off the cob straight into the pan. I used two cobs in mine.

Once the corn gets a little sear on it, place the diced chicken in the pan, along with some salt and pepper. Sprinkle in about a 1/2 tsp each of cumin and Mexican oregano. Stir and simmer over medium heat.

I have a lot (a ton) of these little green peppers – we think they’re Sandias – so I chopped up a few and threw them into the pan. You could use bell peppers or whatever type of pepper you might have on hand – or just skip if you don’t.

We received a mystery pepper plant from a friend that we think is a Sandia pepper and it’s very productive, so I threw some in for some flavor.

Next, add some chopped tomatoes, and/or salsa. I had some (or about a thousand) cherry tomatoes and some fresh salsa so I added some of both. Use what you have on hand. If you think you’ll need a little more heat, throw in some red pepper flakes.

Throw in some tomatoes and/or some salsa and let it all simmer together until the chicken is fully cooked and tomatoes are softening.

Then continue by chopping the zucchini (or yellow squash) – I used about two regular sized zuccs to feed two of us. Add more for a larger group (or to use up more of your harvest).

Slice the zucchini in half, then slice each half horizontally.

Repeat with the other half until you have quarters

Chop the quarters up into about 1/2″ slices

Add the zucc to the pan and stir into the mixture. Cover and simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Watch the zucc, though, because you don’t want to let it get overcooked and mushy.

Add the chopped zucc and cover. Simmer 3-4 minutes.

At this point, your meal is complete – well, the Hubs says it’s not complete until you add the cheese! He likes a lot of cheese all mixed up and melted in the pan, but since I’m on the healthy kick, I shred a little on the side so we can each add as much or as little cheese as we like.

I had some sharp cheddar and some Monterrey Jack cheese on hand; use what you have, or skip if you prefer no cheese

Garnish with some green onions and/or cilantro and you’re ready to eat!

Can it get any simpler than that? If you have other veggies you need to use up, go ahead and throw them into the pot as well. I think some diced potatoes or some green beans would be a happy addition – and would add a little more bulk if you’re trying to stretch the meal a little further. I could also see beans – maybe pinto or black – rounding it out nicely, as well. You could also wrap it up in a corn or flour tortilla to make it more kid friendly or portable.

Mexican Zucchini Succotash

Servings: 2-3

  • 2-3 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • Diced chicken (2-3 tenders/thighs/1 large breast) – or similar quantity of pork, ground beef or shrimp
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Sandia peppers (or 1/2 bell pepper), diced, seeds removed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • Corn – 2-3 fresh cobs or 1 small can drained or 1 cup frozen
  • Tomatoes, diced (1 handful cherry or two regular) and/or 2 Tbsp salsa (optional)
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional – to taste)
  • Salt and pepper + 2 Tbsp EVOO

Directions:

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of EVOO to lightly coat the bottom of pan.

2. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute then add onions. Saute on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove corn from the cob and place in pan with garlic and onions.

4. Stir cumin and oregano, along with salt and pepper into the mixture.

5. Once corn is beginning to sear, add diced chicken to the pan.

6. Let the chicken begin to brown and then stir in tomatoes and/or salsa. Let simmer until chicken is no longer pink. (If you’re using shrimp, add the tomatoes, allow to cook five minutes then add shrimp with zucchini, making sure they are cooked through (pink) before removing from heat.)

7. Add diced zucchini, cover and cook 3-5 minutes until zucchini is tender but not mushy.

8. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese, if including it – or use as topping for individual portions. Garnish with green onions, cilantro and red pepper flakes to taste.

Notes for next time: The Hubs liked this version of his childhood favorite and endorsed the addition of the chicken. He said I made it a little spicy for him (perfect for me), so taste before adding extra heat with peppers. I will make with shrimp next time (when I’m home alone) because the Hubs is weird about shrimp mixed into other food – he likes it on the side (??). Otherwise, I might also add some beans next time.

I would love to hear your spin on this old, new again classic.

Need other zucchini recipes (who doesn’t?)? See my squash board on Pinterest.

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Adventures in Canning Tomatoes 1.0

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Before this summer I never bothered with trying to grow tomatoes. I know, you can’t call yourself a real gardener if you don’t grow tomatoes. But here’s the deal: I just didn’t really like them. Oh, I love tomato sauce, in fact I could pretty much bathe in and drink ketchup, salsa, marinara, or pizza sauce. It’s the actual raw tomatoes I didn’t really care for. Yes, I know that tomato sauce starts with tomatoes, but a plain ol tomato has….well, texture issues. It’s hard yet pulpy and squishy and seedy and then there’s the skin. Am I right? I never eat a raw, naked tomato slice – nope, not even on a burger or a taco (yes, I pick them off!).

Aside from the fact that I didn’t really like tomatoes, growing them sounded pretty difficult. People are always going on about issues with their plants – no tomatoes, dropping tomatoes, no ripe tomatoes, frozen or heat exhausted tomato plants. Sounded like a big hassle over something I didn’t really want to eat. I stuck to growing the easy stuff like squash and carrots.

I think it was sometime last winter when I opened a can of diced tomatoes with basil and dumped the contents into my saucepan to make some spaghetti sauce when it hit me: I could make my own canned fresh diced tomatoes if I grew tomatoes! DUH. My cupboard is always stocked with a variety of canned tomato products: diced with green chiles, fire-roasted, whole, stewed, crushed. I use them all the time in my cooking because I love the flavor when they are cooked down. It’s just the raw variety I find unappealing.

So, there it is. I grew tomatoes this year and now I have to do something with them. I’ll tell you about the types of plants I grew in a future post, but I’ll tell you that I ended up with five plants: three cherry/grape varieties and two ‘regular’ varieties. Since this is my first foray into tomato growing, I didn’t know how many tomatoes to expect, so I prioritized my list of tomato needs (wants, really), so I would be sure to end up with my favorites if my crop was less than bumper.

  1. Salsa – it’s a pantry staple in our house. It’s not just a dip for tortilla chips for us. I use it in everyday cooking – you’ll see.
  2. Diced – like I explained above, I use diced tomatoes throughout the winter for tons of dishes. It would be great to have a variety of diced like my old commercially canned versions.
  3. Pasta sauce – pasta freak that I am, I use a lot of marinara. I have frozen it in the past, but bottled has to be better.
  4. Pizza sauce – can we ever get tired of pizza? Certainly not the Hubs, who could literally live on it. Some homemade pizza sauce would be super nice to have.
  5. Paste and sauce – I can always use some basic tomato paste and sauce for everyday recipes.

So far, I’m on #2 – I did some salsa a few weeks ago. I’ve made salsa in the past, but I didn’t can it. This year, with my new-found love for homegrown tomatoes, I knew I had to learn to can. I have friends who can and I knew the internet would help me along. I also bought The Ball Blue Book, which is the standard canner’s guide and I also bought a lovely book called Canning for a New Generation by Lianna Krissoff. I invested in a big pot to do the water bath step and also a basic set of tools and, of course, mason jars (aren’t mason jars the best little things?).

This is my new ginormous pot for water bathing

My friend Mary taught me how to can salsa without using the water bath technique, which I’ll tell you all about in a future post about making salsa (UPDATE: apparently non-water bath technique is considered unsafe by USDA, so I cannot recommend it).

I ended up with nine 1/2 pints of fresh salsa

Even though I canned the salsa, I didn’t feel like I had had the “real” canning experience since I got to skip the water bath part. So, armed with several pounds of tomatoes, I decided it was time to do this thing! I planned to use the traditional Ball Blue Book’s basic recipe for chopped tomatoes, which you can find on their website.

My technique:

Since I don’t own a kitchen scale, I have no idea how many pounds of tomatoes I started with, but the Hubs guesses about 8-10 lbs. Here’s the whole lot in my big salad bowl:

I started with this many tomatoes

Jars: I chose to make mine in pint jars because that’s about the amount I would use for most recipes. Next time, I may go to the half pints for a smaller quantity option. I bought my jars at the local big box store, but I have also seen them online. Remember, you can reuse jars and the outer lid rings, but you always have to get new flat lids to ensure a good seal. The good news is you can buy the flat lids separately so you can reuse last year’s (or grandma’s) jars.

Cute pint jars

Work space: If you’re going to can tomatoes, you need to know that your kitchen will look like a crime scene when you’re finished – and you will look like the guilty party with all of that bloody red stain on the front of you. Cover your clothing and clear as much counter space as you can. This makes me laugh at myself. Have I told you about my ridiculously outdated and inefficient kitchen yet? Pink and tan tile back-splash. Forming an image? It’s worse than that – I only have two and a half cupboards and about two feet of work space by the (electric!) stove. BUT, if I can successfully can in my kitchen, you have no excuses.

Tools: You’ll need three large bowls: one for the ice bath, one for the guts and peels and one for your chopped tomatoes. Besides the giant canning pot, you’ll also need a large pot for boiling the tomatoes and another for sterilizing the jars and lids. Find your best, sharpest knife and then sharpen it some more. It’s handy to have this basic set of canning tools, but you can improvise, if needed, with substitutes from your kitchen drawer. I highly recommend the jar lifter, though, because it will save you from scalding burns when you move the jars from the boiling water.

Tools and jars ready to go

Jar Prep: The recipe explains that we need to sanitize and heat the jars in boiling water. I just put a few jars, along with lids, in a wide pot and set it on a low, not quite boil while I was prepping the tomatoes. I suppose I could have done it in the giant pot, but I wasn’t ready to fire that baby up yet.

Fill the jars all the way to the brim with water inside the pot and set to a low boil while you prep tomatoes

Tomato Prep: Meanwhile, get the water boiling in another pot. Since you have to peel the tomatoes (actually, you don’t HAVE to peel them if you don’t mind them but most people do. I don’t peel mine for salsa, but I blend them in the food processor, so the peels get pretty broken down), the boiling water improves the process. Put a few cups of ice with some water in one of the bowls. Once the water is boiling, put a test tomato in and then watch a clock. Take the tomato out of the hot water after no more than 1.5 minutes. Immediately dunk into the ice water. Let tomato sit and cool for a couple of minutes. Then try to slip the skin off. If it comes off easily, keep doing the same with the rest of the tomatoes. If the skin doesn’t slip off easily or of you have to poke it with a knife to get it going, try this: cut a very shallow slit in the side of the tomato before dunking in the boiling pot.

Dip tomatoes in boiling water for now longer than 1.5 minutes.

Dunk tomatoes into ice bath to stop the cooking and cool the tomatoes.

Cut a shallow slit in the tomato before dunking in boiling water to allow skins to slip off easily

I took my time and only worked with groups of five tomatoes, but you’ll find a groove after the first few tomatoes are skinned. After skinning, cut out the stem end and then seed it. I found it helpful to slice the tomato in half horizontally (make your pre-boil slit horizontal to get it started). Once it’s halved, use your fingers to squish the seeds from between the ribs. Personally, I don’t mind if there are some seeds left hanging around the diced tomatoes, but some folks are pretty opposed to leaving any seeds in tact. Fun fact: the seeds contain the highest concentration of vitamin C and much of the flavor. Your call with your own tomatoes. I tried not to mangle the tomato too much, so as not to loose too much juice. After it’s seeded, go ahead and dice it up and throw it in a bowl.

After skinning, seed then dice the tomatoes.

Once all of the tomatoes are skinned, seeded and diced, we’re ready to can ’em!

This is when I got the gigantic pot boiling. Mine has a rack that sits inside to hold the jars up off the bottom, so I pulled that out before I filled with hot water and set to on the burner. Meanwhile, I carefully pulled the jars out of the other boiling pot, using my jar lifter, and dumped the hot water out. I set the jar on the rack that goes into the big pot. Once I had six jars set up, I used my wide opening funnel and a ladle to fill the jars with the diced tomatoes.

Fill the jars with the diced tomatoes – pack tightly!

One mistake I think I made was that I didn’t pack the jars tightly enough. I was probably being too gentle with them, but the point is to have diced tomatoes, not a jar full of fluid. The recipe says to fill with boiling water, so I used the leftover water I blanched the tomatoes in earlier. I had to add quite a bit, again – I should have packed more tightly. Use a chop stick or spoon handle to poke around and remove air bubbles. It’s ok to really stir and poke, as this will lead to a tighter pack. Add more water or tomatoes to fill it up, but leave about 1/2″ of head space at the top of the jar so it has room to expand while water bathing.

IMPORTANT: Unless you want botulism, you have to add either 1 Tbsp lemon juice or 1/2 tsp citric acid to each pint jar. I used citric acid, but would probably use lemon juice next time because I’ve read it tastes better. I also added 1 tsp salt, which is optional.

You MUST add citric acid or lemon juice to each jar or you will kill people!

Add salt, if you like, and clean up the rim of each jar. Be sure to leave about 1/2 of head space at the top of the jar.

Once the jars are full and the rims are clean, place flat lids on top and screw the outer ring on – just “finger tight” is fine in case air bubbles need to escape during boiling. Now it’s time to put all of the kids in the bath. I set my rack o’ jars down into the giant pot of boiling water (yes, it was a little scary) and used the jar lifter to set the jars upright, as needed. Make sure the water covers the jars by about two inches, then make sure you have a full boil and cover the pot. Keep it boiling!

The recipe says to process pints for 40 minutes, but you have to adjust if you’re at a higher altitude according to this chart. I live at about 6,800′ so I had to add 15 minutes. So, I had almost an hour to clean up the crime scene while it processed. Once time is up, use the jar lifter to pull the jars out and set them someplace they can be left undisturbed for at least 12 hours. The flat lid is supposed to seal to the jar. This can take up to 24 hours and you’ll know it’s sealed when the lid will no longer flex when you press the center. If it doesn’t seal within 24 hours, it didn’t seal and you’ll need to refrigerate the jars instead. Mine were sealed almost immediately.

BUT, they looked funny:

I had separation of the tomatoes and liquid, but it’s ok!

I was worried! Did I just waste all of my tomatoes by doing something wrong? I immediately went to my favorite canning expert: Marisa McClellan who writes Food in Jars. She has great info on her blog and I found this post that explained that I probably did something wrong – like got it hot and cooled a bit -but it’s still edible! YAY! The hubs looked skeptical, so I shook the jar (after it was completely cool) and it looked much better.

After completely cool, just shake it up and it’s all pretty again.

So the work paid off! I have six pints of beautiful, freshly canned diced tomatoes I can use this winter when the garden is over and the produce in the market is from faraway places and tasting bland.

Beautiful pints of yum!

Was it simple? No. Worth it? Yes. It is so empowering to know that I was able to grow my own tomatoes in the backyard and then preserve the harvest for year-round healthy, fresh cooking! OH, and I should tell you that I now like raw tomatoes! If I grow it, I like it and I eat it!

Notes for next time:  I would also like to try the raw tomato with no added water recipe. I will keep researching other types of diced tomato recipes – I think some allow for added garlic, herbs, etc. Finally, I didn’t really like the part where I ended up with a bowl of seeds, skins and tomato guts that I had to waste (well, I did compost it). So, I’m researching what I could do with all of the leftovers instead.

I hope the tomato crop continues to produce so I can get through the rest of my tomato priority list, but it’s getting a little cool here in SW Colorado.

Leave a comment – I’d love to hear more tomato canning techniques and ideas. Happy canning! 🙂

For other canning recipes and ideas, see my “Canning and Preserving” board on Pinterest and follow Cooking Ripe! on Facebook for more cooking and gardening tips and tricks.

Update: Well Preserved shared a great way to peel lots of tomatoes fast!

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Garden 2012 – The Season in Pictures

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Since it’s late August and I’m just getting started here at Cooking Ripe! I thought I should catch you up on how the garden grew this year. We’re in full harvest now, so you’ll see the fruit of the labor in the kitchen in future posts.

We have a large lot, and tons of mostly flat space out back, but I have only had one tiny garden back there previously. It was so tiny that the Hubs and I cleared it and turned it by hand (and backs) last year. This year, I called in my friend with mini-tractor to ‘disk’ it, as the farmers here in SW Colorado say. I had another friend bring a load of sheep manure from his farm to mix into the clay soil. Due to a timing error on my part, I hand spread the manure myself.

Then in late April, I planted the right-hand side with early season crops: potatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers, carrots and garlic. I tell you more specifics about the varieties I planted later.

Here’s how it looked after the first round of planting:

First Planting: last week in April 2012

About a month later, I finally had time to get the second half planted. I added cilantro, basil, peppers, more garlic and onions, squash and my first ever tomato plants.
Meanwhile, the other side was starting to pop up:

Second planting: last week in May 2012
(Opposite view from first photo)

Over the next few weeks I watered and watered and fretted over what wasn’t happening: the cilantro and basil weren’t appearing on schedule. Fearing I would be watering expanses of empty dirt if I didn’t fill in along all of the soaker hoses, I added few plants from a local greenhouse: replacement cilantro, Thai basil, broccoli, and cabbage. I filled some other gaps with leftover green onion seeds and carrots. (Meet our kitty, Kow. She supervised the gardening, especially the carrot plants, until she passed away in late July. RIP sweet kitty).

Third week in June 2012 – everything’s planted.

As the watering continued (and the weeding began), I noticed many sprouts that I did not plant. I knew  the lazy composting (throwing my kitchen scraps out in the garden area all winter) was the culprit. I figured it was some sort of squash or melon, but nobody seemed to be able to positively identify the various volunteer sprouts. I decided to leave some, move some and (gasp!) pull some up.

Mystery squash

By early June the first payday: fresh cut LETTUCE! Isn’t it pretty and crispy? We had salad almost every day through most of August! There’s nothing simpler than going outside with some scissors, cutting a bowl of greens, washing them up and eating them with some homemade dressing (yes, I’ll show you how easy it is to make later!).

First of MANY lettuce cuttings!

While we sometimes get freaky snowstorms in June, this year was not cold: it was blistering hot for a few weeks. Coupled with crazy windstorms and no rain, I was afraid my delicate plants would wither or blow away. But, the heat broke on the 4th of July when we got some much needed cool air and a little rain. We also got our first carrot.

4th of July carrot!

Turns out that the cilantro and basil that had threatened to stay below ground, were just teasing. Both came up beautifully after the heatwave ended. Can you blame them? I love me some cilantro and lime – on anything! (Don’t worry, I have lots of cilantro recipes!) I was giddy when I got to cut bunches like this:

Viva cilantro!

By mid-July the garden was starting to produce regularly. We were eating lettuce daily and had fresh carrots and peppers as often as we wanted. The cilantro was ultra-productive and the basil was looking and smelling heavenly.

Mid-July: Great Progress!

By the end of July we were finally able to positively identify the mystery squash. We have a mini-pumpkin patch and a mini-cantaloupe patch. We are excited to see how the melons turn out, given our altitude (6,800 ft).

Here’s one of the pumpkins.

My very first ripe tomatoes – ever! I had never tried to grow tomatoes before, so it was oh, soooo exciting to see some red beauties hanging out on the vines.

First ripe tomatoes!

By the first week in August, we were really in full swing! We had green onions, zucchini, tomatoes, pepper, carrots and I started freaking out about keeping up with the harvest. It’s hard for two people to eat all of those veggies, but I did my best to find recipes to use up what we had so we didn’t waste. Also, since all of friends have gardens, it’s hard to give away the extras. Just eat your veggies – or freeze them!

Early August harvest

One of those extras I added from the local greenhouse was eggplant and has been the surprise hit of the year! The plants are really pretty and the eggplant is super yummy and not bitter like the ones in the store. Even the Hubs says we should grow more next year. I will share my favorite eggplant recipes soon! By mid-August, we started cutting basil (pesto recipe also coming soon) and pulling a few onions. Aren’t they pretty?

Mid-August basil, onions and eggplant!

When the garden gives you tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro you HAVE to make fresh salsa! I’ve made salsa in the past, but this was my first time canning it – and it was pretty simple. I’ll show you the next time I make some.

Fresh, homemade salsa: first canning project!

By late August, the lettuce and cilantro were going to seed (did you know coriander is the seed from the cilantro plant? I didn’t but do now!), but the tomatoes, squash, carrots, peppers, eggplant, broccoli and onions are still rocking. Soon we’ll dig and cure the onions and garlic for winter storage. We are still waiting for the pumpkins and cantaloupe to ripen, but I think we’re getting close. Potatoes are not looking great, but we’ll have a few itty bitties. Oh, and we have one monster cabbage still cooking out there. Can’t wait to cut that head and cook it up. The Hubs loves cabbage!

Late August progress

Fresh broccoli anyone?

Coriander is cilantro that has gone to seed – it’s like a “two-fer-one”

Purple bell peppers are odd looking, but fun in the garden. Haven’t eaten any yet, so we’ll see how they taste later

This is Lola, my main garden supervisor

And this is Daisy, my main tomato taster (thief)

So, this brings us to date with the garden. While it’s starting to wind down, we have lots to eat and preserve still. I hope we can get it all done!

End of August