Monday, August 27, 2012

Homemade Tomato Juice, Tomato Sauce, and Tomato Chutney

It's tomato season! I love tomatoes - they're cheery and red, and come in every shape and size and color, from the perfectly round cherries that can be popped into a mouth and fill it with pungent juice to the knobby irregular heirlooms, like fleshy gnomes in the garden.

So I buy up boxes of farm tomatoes (the store kind now taste like cardboard to me). The price of an organic tomato drops by half when you buy 20 pounds of it. And what to do with all this red bounty? As much as possible, eat your tomatoes fresh, or in salads, or in soups and other dishes. And then you can...

  • Make a nearly-instant pasta sauce with a little olive oil, some herbs (basil or oregano work well, fresh or dried),salt, pepper and some halved cherry tomatoes all sauteed for exactly 1 minute.
  • Make some tomato sauce: cook down a potful of washed whole tomatoes and let them simmer, partly covered, lightly salted, and seasoned with herbs or whatever you like in your sauce. Pass through a food mill if you'd like to remove seeds and skins. Pour into glass jars and store in the freezer (or can, if you wish).
  • Make a tomato chutney: heat a dash of oil, add mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, salt, and chopped tomatoes. Stir stir stir until it is a thick, spicy chutney (Stir further until most of the water is gone, make it spicier, add a bit more oil, and it's hot tomato pickle). Pour into jars and store in the fridge or freezer.
  • Make tomato powder: dry extra tomato skins (say from a food mill) in the sun until fully brittle, then powder and use the highly flavored powder for seasoning and bright orange color. Store airtight at room temperature.
  • Make tomato jam: cook tomatoes with sugar and a tiny dash of chili powder for a bright, unusual jam that's phenomenal with things sweet or savory (or by the spoonful).
  • Make sun-dried tomatoes by drying halved tomatoes in the sun or on a baking sheet in the oven or in a dehydrator.
  • OR you can make tomato juice.

Most tomato juice recipes call for celery and carrots and other things I don't keep on hand. This is a very quick simple version, heavily modified from this one, and takes no time at all:

Speedy Tomato Juice

4 large heirloom tomatoes (about 2lbs)

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

1-2 tbsp maple syrup, to taste

water (optional)

Chop the tomatoes and cook until they are all mushy and soupy. Pass through a food mill (if you don't have one, blend and then strain the juice through cheesecloth and press until all the liquid is through). Add salt and maple syrup to taste. Chill in refridgerator until cold. Dilute with water to desired strength (optional). Enjoy!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

JOT #39: homemade lipbalm or lipstick or lip stain

I've been putting off buying a tube of lipstick, which I planned to buy from 100% pure, made entirely of plant ingredients. However, I only use it for very special occasions (like weddings!), and there is still the issue of packaging and shipping, and I can't resist trying making something at home. It brings me back to high school days - mixing old bits of lipstick into petroleum jelly to make lip balms.

Here's the modern, vegan, eco-friendly version, modified from this very simple, clear tutorial:
grate about 1 tbsp soy wax into a stainless steel bowl
add 1/2-1 tbsp jojoba or almond or castor oil
add 1 tbsp coconut oil
add 1 tsp beet or cranberry juice (I used beet - or skip the color for clear balm)
a few drops of almond extract (or vanilla)

Stir together, and then melt on a very very low heat or over a double boiler (set the bowl on top of a pot of simmering water). When melted and well-mixed, pour into a small container.

Put on your lips with fingers or a brush for a very shiny shine and amazing moisturizing. The result is subtle enough for me to consider wearing lip balm every day!

Warning: no preservatives (see link above - "real" lipstick often contains toxic carcinogens and beetle juice)! keep tightly closed. Soy wax tends to melt more easily than beeswax, so you may wish to reduce the amount of the liquid color or almond oil for a harder lipstick/balm.

Want to skip the cooking? Just swipe some beet juice on your lips - the color stains them a deep red that stays.

Want a weird color? Try making lipstick with crayons instead (again a warning: those pigments could be anything!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jeera cookies

One of my favorite guilty pleasures in the past is a box of "zeera cookies" from the Indian stores (also called jeera biscuits). It comes in a plastic box that crinkles and snaps open, and the thick round cookies are delicate - too much pressure and they might powder into your hand. They have the aroma of cumin (hence the "zeera"), but the rest of the ingredients leave much to be desired, not to mention the box.

A search for "jeera cookies" turns up lots of recipes that are salty, until I cam across this one:

I love the eggless, whole wheat aspect of them, but needed serious veganizing!

So here's my version:
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tbsp earth balance, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 tsp baking powder
2-4 tbsp soy or other milk
1-2 tsp cumin (jeera)

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine the flour, sugar, jeera, and baking powder in a bowl. Slowly add melted butter and mix with fingers until like wet sand. Add soymilk 1 tablespoon at a time until it comes together in one ball. Let rest 10 minutes, then break off 1-inch balls of dough and flatten slightly. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes.

They are not crumbly and fluffy like the store-bought version, I'm sorry to say. But they do have that amazing jeera flavor, satisfy my sweet tooth with not too much sugar, and are relatively healthy to boot!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Oat pasta - all ears

In my quest to avoid buying packaged foods, a few things have happened recently:

- A 50lb bag of oats is now in my living room (thanks, Lori!)

- a half-block of real, firm tofu was just cooked into a stir-fry with broccoli and peppers:

- lots of farmer's market fruits and veggies have appeared around the house (not to mention several jars of tomato sauce in the freezer!)

The fruits disappear fast. The veggies mostly require preparation. And we're out of pasta??!

Of the pasta shapes I've made so far, included are fettuccine, pappardelle, ravioli, garganelli, capellini, and farfalle, not to mention ramen noodles and dumplings (here's a great pasta glossary for shapes). I don't have an extruder, but Little One loves smaller pastas.

In the meantime, my friend Janice posted a beautiful campanelle dish that is as pretty as it must be delicious. I'm drooling. She also gave me some zucchini, which I'd been craving.

Put that all together and we have a lovely vegetable oat orecchiete! I modified this recipe as follows:

2 cups oat flour (pulse rolled oats in blender, then measure - or sub 1/2 cup rice or other flour)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
water as needed
1 tsp ground flax (optional)

Soak flax in 2 tbsp water if using for 5 min.
Mix flour and salt. Make a well and add oil, flax, and then water, a little at a time. I needed almost a whole cup to get nice and soft (since there are no eggs). Let sit after it comes together (oats absorb water!), then add more as needed. Make several balls, then knead each separately. Knead really really really well, about 5 minutes (this is longer than you think). I used my pasta machine to start off some of the kneading. Cover with a wet cloth and let dough rest.

Once the dough is nice and soft, roll out the dough thinly (1/8 inch) or use a pasta extruder/roller to make pasta or noodle shapes.

OR, to make orecchiette, make small snakes about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide and cut into about 1/2 inch pieces (kids can do this with a butter knife). Push your thumb through the center of the piece to make a little upside-down hat. Leave them to dry on a floured surface about 15 min, then cook until al dente (ours took about 5 min). To freeze, dry 30 minutes, then gently place in a closed container and freeze.

This was very crumbly kneading at first, and after cooking, goopy on the outside although al dente (Little One adored it that way but DH not as much) - I'd recommend substituting 1/2 cup rice flour (gluten free) or semolina to help it bind a bit better.You can also make a double batch and save half for another meal later! Do not plan on making this in the half-hour before dinner as I did :)

The sauce: zucchini sauteed in olive oil, basil, oregano, salt, and tomato sauce. Orecchiette means "little ear" so we are imagining that they are tiny ears for invisible people.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Spinach and mushroom quinoa

In preparation for my Transition meeting tonight, I needed to make a quick, but satisfying meal that would work for DH and Little One as well as for the local-food gang at the meeting. Janice suggested I use my quinoa.

Quinoa is a lovely food. At the highest protein content for any grain, it's a good substitute for vegetarians and vegans when you are craving carbs! It's also beautiful - the compact grains blossom when cooked, revealing a tiny curlique, like a seed just sprouting. The taste is firm but smooth, and it takes many sauces and accompaniments well. So, which one?

A quick search through my trust Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone turned up "Spinach and Mushrooms with Pepper." I modified it by stirring it into cooked quinoa. Et voila - shockingly simple in seasoning, but big on flavor. The curly grains were devoured by the boys, along with "Mushrooms, Broccoli and Peppers with Caramelized Golden Tofu," which also made my house smell good.

Another note: rinse your veggies in a bowl. You can take them out of the water as you need them and the dirt stays behind - then toss this healthy water on plants or your garden.

Spinach and Mushroom Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
about 10 white or brown mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 bunch spinach leaves or baby spinach
2 + 2 tbsp olive oil (I used a chili-flavored one for kick)
1 clove garlic, sliced
freshly ground pepper

Rinse quinoa well. Add 2 cups of water and cook in rice cooker until done (or on stove). In the meantime, clean mushrooms and leave in a bowl of water. Place spinach in a bowl of water to wash. Chop mushrooms.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil, add mushrooms. Cook until the juices are gone but the mushrooms are not all mushy. Add salt and lots of pepper (I used 10 twists on the pepper grinder). Place in a bowl aside.

Add rest of oil, heat and add garlic, saute 30 seconds. Add spinach and sprinkle with salt. Cook until wilted and some of the juice/water is gone. Add mushrooms and stir.

When quinoa is cooked, add to the spinach and mushrooms, add salt to taste, and more pepper. Stir well to combine.

ps - Vegetarian Cooking suggests this might be even better with butter, though I can't imagine.

Handmade Mochi

After a friend of my mom made us delicious varieties of mochi and other Japanese treats this summer, I couldn't resist trying my own. We bought some Calrose Shirakiku rice (local but not organic) at the Japanese market and gave it a shot as follows:

  • Powder rice coarsely in blender.
  • Soak 1hr in water.
  • Put rice on muslin inside mesh strainer. Place the whole thing in the pressure cooker and steam 45 minutes (I think we did less).
  • Transfer the rice to a bowl and mash with a pestle or wooden masher (that's what I used) until smushy and one big congealed mass. I got tired and Little One was getting ready for bed, so this was very lumpy. In the future I will mash better, or break out the electricity!
  • Make 2-inch balls out of the rice mash, rolling in rice flour and patting flat.
  • Store covered with a wet cloth until ready. I put mine in the fridge because it's so humid these days.
  • When ready to use, toast on a pan or in the toaster oven until crispy outside.

These could be filled, but we had them topped with soy protein powder (okay, okara powder) mixed with sugar and sesame powder and some just with soy sauce. You could also boil them for a softer mochi.

From Serious eats recipe here. Decidedly nubbly.

An Indian recipe uses soaked and then powdered rice, which is then cooked by stirring over heat to make a very soft dough much like mochi. Next time I may try that method, since I still have a bagful of mochi rice. (The rice also makes a pretty good sushi rice! Delicious with strips of salted kombu...mmm...)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

My child

I am the mother of a child, a timid child. A mother whose heart breaks over and over as her child wants to make friends, then grows reluctant and runs behind her legs. The mother of a small creature whose legs reach her knees and whose tiny hands grasp her index finger firmly, insistently, trustingly. Still I weep silently that my child is not beloved by everyone the way he deserves, and that others cannot imagine that he is perfect in every way. Most of all, I weep that even I forget that he is perfect as he is. I forget that he is himself, not me. I forget that the umbilical cord is cut, and that his body is his own, that his tears come from his eyes. I forget that his pain belongs to him. And while his tears are drying on his laughing face, my heart continues to ache.

That was me, but you must read this.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Macaroon crunch

I bought some Nature's path macaroon crunch granola bars a while ago (for a train trip i didn't take!) and we proceeded to eat through them much too rapidly afterward. Before the last one was over, I was thinking about how to make them.

A little Googling turned up some options, but they were not quite right, and didn't include the exact ingredients on the ingredient list. Plus, the ingredients, despite all being organic, were full of things I didn't understand (why put vitamin E in granola bars? what natural flavors? why oats and oat fiber and oat syrup solids?) and things I'd rather do without (a dash of honey, uhoh, not vegan! and invert cane syrup).

Instead, with abundant modifications from, I came up with the following. I recommend using organic and/or local ingredients where possible, and fair trade cocoa and chocolate. Yay for treats without unrecyclable wrapping!

Homemade Macaroon Crunch Bars

1/4 c vegetable/canola/etc oil
2 cups oats
1 heaped cup powdered coconut flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c chocolate chips (or broken dark chocolate, or more to taste!)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325oF.

Pulse oats in a food processor/blender until coarsely ground but not fully powdered. Set aside, and pulse chocolate chips until very coarsely chopped (or chop chips roughly by hand, if desired). I got some of it powdered and some whole, but it was fine.

Mix the oil and oats and bake at 325oF for 20 minutes, stirring halfway in between well. Turn oven down to 300.

Transfer the oats to a bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients (salt, sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips, cocoa). Add just enough water to make it wet (1/4-1/2 cup) but not at all soupy. 

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment, and spray/drizzle/brush with oil. Press the granola mixture into the pan evenly. Bake 25 minutes - don't let it get too dark or it'll be very hard.

Remove from oven and cool completely, then cut into bars or squares. Eat all the powdered bits immediately! Store in an airtight container up to a week.