I told myself I was going to eat nothing but vegetables while on my “recovery vacation” these two weeks. I lied.
Monthly Archives: September 2007
I told myself I was going to eat nothing but vegetables while on my “recovery vacation” these two weeks. I lied.
Many people scoff at my farm membership when they hear things like, “This week was awesome! We got 28 pounds of tomatoes!” Well, those people have never known the joys of homemade tomato sauce coming out of the dead-body freezer on a dark wintry day. The sauce and paste tomatoes from my farm are probably my single favorite thing about the membership; if there were only a quarter as many of the other veggies I’d probably still happily pay what I do now, just for the tomatoes. And yesterday, being home and only slightly gimpy from my surgery, I decided it was time to tackle the mountains of them that were piling up on the counter, if only because I’d just brought home even more mountains to add to the pile.
I started with an array of Plum Dandy and Amish Paste tomatoes, with a few standard slicing types in the mix. Normally I’d not bother putting the slicing tomatoes in the sauce because they’re so watery, but with that many paste tomatoes, I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I slapped them all on trays and roasted them at 375 degrees in the oven, just until they’re mushy and their skins are peeling off. They give off a lot of liquid this way, too, and I’ve read suggestions to roast them on a cooling rack set in the sheet pan so they don’t stew in their own juices. I can’t be bothered with this, since I don’t expect them to come out of the oven all dry and ready to be smeared on something as sauce. At the same time as the tomatoes were roasting, I roasted up some garlic too. For this many tomatoes, I went with six heads of garlic, with the tops lopped off, propped up in a little sleeve of tin foil, and drizzled with olive oil. Once the garlic is golden brown and oozing out the top of the head it’s good to go, and almost impossible to resist just eating on its own. I really, really love roasted garlic.
Anyway, I let everything cool to the point where I could handle it all, and then got to food milling the tomatoes. This was not a brief process yesterday; in five years of farm membership, I’ve never made this much sauce at once. I ended up needing to use my ginormous pot for it!
My sauce is hardly anything fancy. I smushed up the garlic and thinned it with some of the milled tomatoes to get it liquidy, then stirred it into the pot. Then I tossed in a bunch of salt, black pepper and a fairly large pile of fresh, chopped oregano. And then I let it simmer. And simmer. And simmer. It took about five hours to get it to a reasonable consistency, and even so, I’ll probably want to cook it down a bit more when the time comes to eat it. After the simmering, I tossed in copious quantities of freshly chopped fino verde basil, and then divvied into tupperwares. The end tally? Close to 22 cups of tomato sauce, ready to go into a chilly dormancy until a cozy January night when it will get doctored up and make us think fondly of the one thing about summer we like — the tomatoes.
Last night was Pookie’s late night at the library, which means I have to have dinner ready at 10:00 instead of our standard 7:00. The most difficult part of this is having the get-up-and-go, after an evening of IMing with her, to actually cook something. Normally I make things like “linguini fini tossed with butter, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes” (read: “lazy and pretty lame, but with a glass of red wine can actually pass as a decent-ish dinner”) or “DiGiorno” (read: “lazy and really lame, but IPB Manor’s most beloved guilty pleasure”). This week I felt strangely inspired, and compelled to get creative. Of course, creative for me involves taking only the tiniest of steps outside my comfort zone, or trying — gasp! — a new recipe. So if I seem unreasonably proud of something that is actually insanely simple, well, the reason why is that I’ve never made anything like this before.
I happened to have a heap of things from the Farm that were a) crying out to have something done with them ASAP, and b) crying out to be roasted and then turned into a pasta sauce. A mountain of sauce tomatoes (a mix of plum dandies and amish paste), a front hall closet choked to its rafters in curing garlic (it has been a crazy year for garlic) and five bright red peppers (the ones shaped like cubanelles, not bell peppers). So I oven-roasted the tomatoes until they were peeling and shriveling, roasted the garlic until it was creamy soft and making the house smell deliriously good, and slapped the peppers under the broiler (stupid not having a gas main on my street…) until they were blistered and blackened. Then I pushed the tomatoes through the food mill, sauteed up some onions, and added the tomatoes, garlic, chopped red peppers (sans skins), some oregano and salt and pepper and simmered it until it was thick. Then I tossed in some fresh basil, and served on spaghetti with some freshly grated Parmesan on top.
You might read this and say, “Huh. Sounds like a pretty safe meal.” For me, though, it was wildly daring. And it was also wildly delicious. And no, I don’t have a picture, because after doing all that work after a long day, I’d used up all my giddy-up and couldn’t be bothered to turn on the camera. Suffice to say it was red and it looked delicious.
Pookie suggested as we browsed Baker’s Catalogue in anticipation of the kitchen’s completion that I impulse-buy the deep-dish pizza pan they had on sale. She said all kinds of things about how much she wanted to try making pizza and how she thought it would be so fun, and I agreed. I don’t do it very often, but I really do enjoy making my poor impersonation of pizza; the end result is often quite tasty, but it really doesn’t have much in common with pizzeria pizzas. Perhaps the deep dish pan would change all that!
The pan presents itself as a fancy device, what with the “dough cutting lid” that fits over the top. Basically, it’s a handle-less saute pan with a fitted lid. You place the dough in the pan with a generous overhand, clamp the lid on top, then push off the edges around the lid. Really not all that fancy — it’s like the kitchen utensil version of a brand-name drug that’s been relabeled to extend its patent or something. That said, it was every which kind of fun to use.
I opted to make the dough recipe that came with the pan, and this time I didn’t make my mixer break down while working the dough, unlike a certain challah experience I can think of. It rose like a dream, then rolled beautifully on the acres of granite on our island that I’ve long been dreaming of working dough on. After some cutting-lid action, I smeared on some sauce I’d made the night before out of tomatoes from the farm, then heaped on mozzarella, sausage, green peppers, sauteed onions, Parmesan cheese and some fresh basil. 45 minutes in the oven later, and we had our very own deep-dish pizza. It was amazing! It looked just like a real pizza!
It tasted pretty damn good, too. Next time I’m going to put in a lot more sauce, though. Other than that, I’d consider this a pizza well done!
My primary love as a baker is bread. For many years I thought myself a highly competent home bread-baker, and when I grew frustrated with hitting what I thought was my ceiling as a self-taught baker, I enrolled in a week-long course at the Culinary Institute of America with the hopes of making myself into a professional-level superstar. Instead I discovered that what had been my ceiling was suddenly my floor. I was, in fact, a really crappy baker in the grand scheme of things. I came home from my well-fed week with a vast new understanding of what I was doing when baking bread, but a far greater cognizance of when things went wrong. I went into a baking funk, and then we moved into stately IPB Manor, where I hated, hated, hated our kitchen. We spent almost two full years in suspended animation wherein I kept assuring Pookie and Boomer that I’d start baking again as soon as the remodel was done. Today, I had to admit it was time to get back in the saddle.
I decided to go with my very favorite bread recipe, specifically the challah from “Baking With Julia”. This recipe is not even remotely kosher, but as my annual bacchanal of Pork suggests, I don’t really keep kosher (there’s a variety of reasons for that, not least of which is that I’m Quaker), so the egg/butter combo doesn’t bother me in the least. There was no small amount of rust on my bread skillz today, though. I discovered at the CIA that I am a chronic under-kneader, so I decided I was going to try to ignore my dough as my mixer was working it until the specified kneading time in the recipe — 8 to 10 minutes — had elapsed. After just five minutes, though, my mixer crapped out, and I discovered my dough was a rock-hard heap of overdeveloped gluten. Whoops! Oh well. I decided since there would be two proofs before even shaping the loaves that it would have time to relax and, feeling chagrined, I slapped the dough into my beloved dough-rising bucket and walked away. An hour and 45 minutes (with one punch-down in the middle) later, it had relaxed, doubled in size twice and was eager to get braiding.
Now, I may have had my confidence shattered at the CIA, but I also learned something magical: the six-strand braid. None of this three-strand crap for me! The enriched dough was silky, soft and elastic, and an utter joy to work with. After another 40 minutes doubling in bulk, I egg-washed these puppies up, sprinkled them with kosher salt, and experienced the thrill that is having two ovens. I baked both loaves at once! Woo hoo!
And with the house filled to the rafters with the head-swimmingly delicious aroma of fresh-baked, buttery loaves, we let them cool until they were still just a tiny bit warm and sliced into them. The crumb was satisfactory, if not dazzling. I had a fair deal of compression and swirling where the strands of the braids met, but for the most part I was pleased. The texture was soft and a bit mouthy without being chewy, and the flavor? Well, it reminded me again why I love baking bread so much.
Between IPB Eats and IPB proper, it’s well established that we’re into cooking, eating and watching hockey. There is, however, one more hobby that consumes a lot of our time and energy: needlework. This is the first in what will be a very sporadic series of posts dedicated to my finished projects (it’s seems blogging is taking over my stitching time, so I think I can no longer brag of being “Threads of Fire”, finishing pieces every 3 months). I’ve been doing some variation of handiwork since second grade or so, embracing knitting big time in college and then cross stitching after graduating when I realized none of my sweaters were turning out how I wanted them to. Not that they had like three sleeves or anything, but that I would spend the months I worked on it dreaming of how awesomely wonderful I would look in the sweater, and then when I finally got to put it on, it looked like a handknit sweater on dumpy old me. Needlework, on the other hand, offered me so much more control over the final product, and had none of the stress of it looking worse when finished. Of course, I can’t wear my needlework out to show it off, which is a little sad. So instead, I’ll post it here, starting with the most recent piece I had returned from the framer.
This monochrome spot sampler look was all the rage in the stitching community out where we used to live. The pieces are all stunningly intricate and classic looking, and the single color means one can have a lot of fun choosing threads and linen (my older sister recently finished one done in light lilac on a deep purple linen). However, once you’ve done one, you can’t really do anymore, otherwise they’d look a little goofy on the wall. The photo doesn’t do the colors of this one justice — in real life it’s a much deeper blue, and the linen is a hand-dyed orangish-brown (at one point while I was working on this, Schnookie pointed out it looked like I was trying to support the Mets). You can get a slighter better feel for the colors in this detail shot:
This piece would have taken no time at all if I’d stayed with it, but after a few motifs, I couldn’t see the forrest for the trees. So I cast it aside and started some other samplers. Something sparked me to pick it up almost a year to the day of putting it down, and somehow I powered through. It was amazing how the instant I put the last stitch in, I couldn’t see the individual motifs anymore — it all became a whole. I love how almost snow-flakey it looks from afar. I think this will be a good piece to having hanging up in the blustery Wintery months.
(As for the title, the design is actually titled “Paradigm Lost” and is designed by Long Dog, a sampler company in France. However, here at IPB Manor, we promptly retitled it “Blue Enigma” after the perfume in one of our favorite movies, “Intermission”.)