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Spicy Tomato Salsa

11 Sep

9 dried chili peppers

Hot water

12 cups diced cored peeled tomatoes (1/2 inch/1 cm dice) * See How to Peel Tomatoes.

3 cups chopped red onion

1 1/2 cups tightly packed, finely chopped cilantro

15  cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped * If you like your salsas extra spicy, leave in all or a portion of the seeds and membranes.

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tbsp salt

3/4 tsp hot pepper flakes

1. In a heatproof glass or stainless steel bowl, combine dried chilies with hot water to cover.  Weigh chilies down with a bowl or a weight to ensure they remain submerged, and soak until softened, about 15 minutes.  Drain off half the water.  Transfer chilies and remaining water to a blender or a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until smooth.

2. Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine chili puree, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno peppers, vinegar, salt and hot pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

4. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa.  Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process both 8-ounce and pint jars for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.

I haven’t been able to stop talking and thinking about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which chronicles the year she and her family  committed to eating 100% local produce.  She talks about asparagus the way some men talk about women in fishnets; and I can tell you, I’ve been as excited to see asparagus in local markets after a long, food-dull winter as many are to see beer, nachos and Bears football today. Maybe the book has stuck with me because I share her utter excitement in juicy, sweet tomatoes after months of unripened, tasteless toms from god-knows-where at grocery stores, but really, it’s just that she makes it sound so incredibly easy and doable.  And it turns out, it is.

I don’t live on a farm and I share my yard with 6 other units (currently 11 people total) so although the City of Chicago does allow its residents to raise and keep both chickens and roosters on their property within city limits, I figured all 11 neighbors would not be welcoming to a little brood of chickens between the 3 grills,2 tables and my garden.  Space is tight as it is.  These were the sorts of things I thought immediately as she described ordering her little box of chickens and the variety of wild turkeys for her property.  Literally every can-not that I’ve come up with has been followed by a very easy solution in the city.  For example, Gene’s Sausage Shop and Delicatessen, which is 3 blocks from my house, sells free range, organic chickens from a farm in Wisconsin and there are nearly always local eggs and meat at the farmers markets (and there is a farmers market somewhere in this city every day of the week).  I haven’t fully boarded the all-local-bandwagon (it’s so hard to resist avocados in summer) but I would estimate that well over 80% of the items I’ve cooked at home this summer have been local.

So as fall is setting in, I’m contemplating how to continue supporting local farming and how to save the tastes of summer.  This weekend was momentous because I finally started jarring.  This was yet another task that I had found completely daunting, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy and, between you and me, fun it can be.  I started with this salsa recipe but I also made a peach salsa that I hope to post soon.  It’s so convenient to have homemade salsa available when you need it and each of the individual ingredients shine in the homemade salsa rather than condensing into a homogenous stew like many of the store-bought options.  If it seems like too much work for you alone, get friends together to split the jars (this recipe makes 12 8-oz jars).  And I happen to know the local Ace Hardware on Lincoln Avenue is having a sale on jars and canners through the end of the month.  I’m happy to burst your can-not bubble, but no excuses,  you can do it too.

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How to Peel Tomatoes

10 Sep

Peeling tomatoes is actually very easy.  It’s important to determine what kind of tomato will work best for the recipe you are making. Most recipes which require peeling tomatoes are sauces, salsas, soups, etc. I recommend using roma tomatoes because they have more meat and less water than your standard slicer or beefsteak tomatoes (and let ‘s be serious, who the hell wants to peel a million little cherry tomatoes? Not me).

Cut a shallow x into the bottom of each tomato.  This will give you a nice tab from which to peel the tomatoes.

Blanch the tomatoes by placing them in boiling water for  1 minute and then run them under icy water to stop the cooking process.

The skin should easily peel right off.  Start from the 4 points created by the x cut.

Grilled Zucchini Caprese Sandwiches

26 Aug

 

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 6 slices
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 (2-ounce) ciabatta rolls, split and toasted
8 large fresh basil leaves
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

1. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Place zucchini in a shallow dish. Add 2 teaspoons oil and garlic; toss to coat. Arrange zucchini in grill pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Cut each zucchini piece in half crosswise. Return zucchini to shallow dish. Drizzle with vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
2. Brush bottom halves of rolls with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Top evenly with zucchini, basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
3. Brush cut side of roll tops with remaining liquid from shallow dish, and place on sandwiches. Heat the sandwiches in pan until warm.

Jackie Newgent, Cooking Light, August 2011

At this time of year, there is absolutely no excuse for not eating locally farmed, locally crafted food in Chicago.  The vegetables are literally pouring off the tables at the farmers markets, peaches on being sold at reduced prices and you simply can’t go wrong with buying blueberries straight from farmers in bulk.  The reasons are endless: on average you spend the same or less than major supermarkets but your money goes straight to the hands of small farmers (no corporate middle man), you can talk to the farmers about where your food was grown, their methodologies, even the kind of weather they’ve had all week, if you’re interested.  By the end of the summer, you’ll know their faces and you’ve probably seen or made a handful of friends at the market.   It helps the environment by cutting down on fuel for shipping and encourages varied-crop farming which decreases erosion often found on massive single-crop farms and, let’s face it, it’s a whole lot nicer to look at than an endless field of corn (and yes, I am from Iowa).   And let’s be serious, the biggest reason is taste.  There is simply no comparison.  Luckily, all of these ingredients can be purchased at the farmer’s market in Lincoln Square except the salt and pepper, which hopefully you have in your pantry already.

This is one of those recipes that shines in its simplicity, bringing out the fresh tastes of the basil (from my garden), tomatoes and zucchini.  The acidity of the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar are perfectly balanced by the sweet mozzarella.  The crispy, warm bread, slightly softened by the garlicky olive oil and vinegar is the perfect texture for the softened cheese and veggies.  And I appreciated that this was a one-pan-wonder, ready in 15 minutes since I, and many others, returned back to school this week.

Easy Summer Pico de Gallo

4 Jul

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped

1-2 jalapenos (depending on your spice-tolerance/preference), seeded and finely chopped

3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 lime

2 avocados

1. Combine chopped tomatoes, red onion, mango, jalapeno and cilantro in a medium-sized bowl.  Add fresh-squeezed juice from 1 lime.  Stir to combine.  Add salt to taste.  Place mixture in the refrigerator until ready to serve, preferably overnight.

2. Before serving, add chopped avocados and stir to combine.  Serve with tortilla chips.

I have to give primary credit for this recipe to Mary McMullin who asked me to come up with a salsa to serve with simple grilled chicken breasts, using her 2 mangos, a few tomatoes and an avocado.  I insisted that we add onion and jalapeno to spice it up and have since added the lime which helps to preserve the ingredients and adds a nice citrusy splash.  I just served this on a camping trip in Michigan.  I divided the batch into two servings, tossed them in the cooler and added 1 avocado per serving to keep it fresh.  Great way to use those farmer’s market tomatoes and serve a big crowd.  You can also mix it up by adding different peppers such as any bell pepper or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Paella with Poblanos, Corn, and Clams

16 May

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
3/4 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 pounds littleneck clams
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Heat oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, poblanos, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; sauté 3 minutes. Add rice and saffron. Cook 2 minutes; stir constantly. Add 2 cups water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper; bring to a boil.
3. Bake at 450° for 50 minutes or until rice is done. Stir in corn and tomatoes. Nestle clams into rice mixture. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until shells open, and discard unopened shells.
4. Return the pan to medium-high heat, and cook without stirring 10 minutes or until liquid evaporates and rice browns. (It should smell toasty but not burned.) Top with parsley; serve with lemon wedges.

Mark Bittman, Cooking Light , May 2011

I made this paella last night before heading out to watch the bulls wins (!) so I was drinking a sauvignon blanc and managed to burn myself not once or twice but three times on the pot.  Once the pot goes in the oven, keep the mitt on if you are in the habit of holding the handle while stirring your skillet-cooking foods.  Yes, I am an idiot, but hopefully this warning will help others avoid the same finger-burning fate.

The burns were worth every second!  I’ve never had a dish with saffron or poblano that I didn’t like and this was certainly no exception.  I’ve made paellas in the past, but this is hands down my favorite.  The wealth of smoky heat is balanced by the citrus of fresh squeezed lemon pouring from the perfectly cooked clams.  Nothing overpowers here.  The corn adds texture and a nice sweetness.  This dish is perfect for entertaining because the hands-on time is relatively short, but the product is complex and impressive.   Or you can make it for two to spice up an otherwise average Sunday night.

I strongly recommend serving with a light white wine.

Southwestern-Style Shrimp Taco Salad

18 Apr
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle hot sauce
  • 3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 ears shucked corn
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 ounces baked blue corn tortilla chips (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup diced peeled avocado
  • Lime wedges (optional)

1. Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine lime juice, olive oil, cumin, garlic, syrup, and hot sauce in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place the shrimp in a shallow bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the lime juice mixture over shrimp, tossing gently to coat. Reserve the remaining lime juice mixture; set aside. Thread shrimp onto metal skewers. Lightly coat corn with cooking spray. Place shrimp kebabs and corn on a grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 8 minutes, turning kebabs once and turning corn frequently until browned. Remove from grill; cool slightly.

3. Remove shrimp from skewers, and place in a large bowl. Cut kernels from ears of corn. Add corn, chopped lettuce, green onions, cilantro, black beans, and plum tomatoes to shrimp. Drizzle reserved lime juice mixture over the shrimp mixture, and toss gently to combine.

4. Divide tortilla chips evenly among 6 shallow bowls; top each serving with 1 cup shrimp mixture. Combine sour cream and diced avocado in a small bowl; mash with a fork until well blended. Top each serving with about 1 tablespoon sour cream mixture. Serve with a lime wedge, if desired.

Margee Berry, Trout Lake, Washington, Cooking Light
MAY 2010

One of my Summer 2011 cooking goals is to move beyond the basics of brats and burgers on the grill so this recipe was a great way to get started.  The most novice of grillers could easily perform the grilling part of this recipe.  I prepped all of the ingredients for the salad, created the marinade and prepared the shrimp and corn before heading outside to grill.  I didn’t have to make a single trip back upstairs which is always appreciated since I live on the third floor and our grill is in the yard.  My boyfriend and I also had time to sneak in two games of bags while the grill heated up and the food cooked.  We got to spend some time outside in the fading sunlight, have a few beers and when we were done, it was a snap to throw it all together.

The marinade is delicious in its own right.  We had a full pound of shrimp so we snacked on a few while we were cooking and they were absolutely delicious.  The Chipotle hot sauce and fire-roasted corn add a nice smoky spice to the entire dish.  It was a lovely bit of summer…

and then it snowed overnight.  My poor garden!

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

2 Mar

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 to 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces bucatini or linguine
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley or basil leaves, roughly chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, turning once, until almost cooked through, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet, then add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring, until the garlic is soft, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the wine, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Add the parsley, pasta and shrimp to the sauce along with any collected juices from the plate and toss to combine. Stir in some of the reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce. Season with salt. Divide among shallow bowls and drizzle with olive oil; top with red pepper flakes, if desired.

Food Network Magazine, March, 2011

This is a quick and easy recipe, perfect for weeknight cooking but it is more than good enough to share with friends as well.  The anchovies add a nice salty flavor which balances the acidity of the tomatoes and the wine.  The parsley and basil add a nice fresh flavor as well.  I made it exactly as prescribed and would recommend it to anyone for most any kind of evening.

Portobello Parmesan

22 Feb


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the dish
  • 3 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 4 ounces buffalo mozzarella cheese, sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Scrape out the gills of the portobellos with a spoon, then halve the mushrooms horizontally to make 6 thin rounds.

2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic; cook 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomatoes and basil and cook until the garlic is soft, about 15 more minutes. Transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Combine the panko, 1/2 cup parmesan, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a shallow bowl. Whisk the eggs and 2 tablespoons cold water in another bowl. Put the flour in a third bowl.

4. Dredge the mushrooms in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip in the eggs and then in the panko mixture, pressing to coat both sides. Heat 1/2 inch peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the mushrooms until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

5. Spread a layer of the tomato sauce in the prepared baking dish. Add the fried mushrooms, then cover with the remaining tomato sauce. Top with the mozzarella and the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan. Bake until browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

Courtney Credle, Food Network Magazine, March 2011

Let me start by saying that the tomato sauce for this recipe with a little parmesan would be worth making in itself as a simple tomato sauce for nearly any dish.  The parmesan tames the acidity of the tomato and adds a nice sweetness while thickening the sauce.  Second, it is absolute genius to deep-fry portobellos and cover them in cheese.  The panko-pamersan combination crisps up perfectly as it fries, allowing the portobellos to retain their shape and texture despite being covered in sauce and baked.  I was pleasantly surprised to find none of the mushiness I had fearfully expected.  This is a hearty vegetarian dish, both filling and packed with flavor.  The only change I made was that I used less oil for the frying (about 1/8 inch) which I thought was plenty.  I also nearly doubled the crushed red pepper for added spice and the basil for added flavor.  This is a recipe that encourages play – you could use slight variations of the sauce or add an additional layer – but it’s also perfect just the way it is.  Though not for those of you on a diet!

Spaghetti with Two Tomato Toss

5 Feb

  • 1/2 of a 7- to 8-oz. jar  oil-packed dried tomatoes
  • 4 cloves  garlic, minced
  • 2 pints  red and/or yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 tsp.  cracked black pepper or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp.  salt
  • 1 14- to 16-oz. pkg.  dried corn meal, multigrain, whole wheat or regular spaghetti
  • 4 oz.  bite-size fresh mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini), halved
  • 1/2 cup  chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh basil

1. For sauce, drain dried tomatoes, reserving 1 tablespoon oil. Halve large tomatoes. In 12-inch skillet cook garlic in oil from tomatoes over medium heat until tender, about 1 minute. Add cherry and oil-packed tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until fresh tomato skins blister, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with pepper and salt.

2. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti, with 1 tablespoon salt added to water, according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water (*Using Pasta Water, see below). Drain pasta.

3. Toss spaghetti with tomato mixture in skillet, adding enough cooking water to thin sauce. Serve immediately with fresh mozzarella balls and parsley. Makes 8 servings.

Better Homes & Gardens

I have been making this at least once a month for the last two years.  It is simply a staple at our house.  I can make it in less than 20 minutes but it packs a major flavor punch.  I love that all of the ingredients taste to fresh and no single ingredient overpowers any of the rest.  The citrusy tomatoes are complemented perfectly by the sweet mozzarella.  Also, I am a major sucker for any pasta dish with sun-dried tomatoes.  Doesn’t get much better.

Baked Vegetable Lasagna

31 Jan

  • 3  tablespoons  olive oil, divided
  • 1/2  cup  chopped white onion
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  teaspoon  kosher salt, divided
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/4  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
  • 1  (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh basil
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh oregano
  • 1  cup  ricotta cheese
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1  (14-ounce) package water-packed firm tofu, drained
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2  cup  thinly sliced green onions
  • 3  cups  finely chopped red bell pepper (about 2 medium)
  • 2  medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 1/3  cup  finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Cooking spray
  • 12  cooked lasagna noodles
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add white onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute or until golden. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, sugar, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, crushed red pepper, and tomatoes. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in basil and oregano. Cool.

3. Combine ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, tofu, egg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor; process for 10 seconds or until blended. Stir in green onions. Set aside.

4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, zucchini, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to pan; sauté 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and liquid evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.

5. Spread 1/2 cup tomato mixture in the bottom of a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with 3 noodles. Spread 3/4 cup tomato mixture over noodles; top with 1 cup tofu mixture and 1 cup zucchini mixture. Repeat layers twice, ending with noodles. Spread remaining 3/4 cup tomato mixture over top. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes or until bubbly; top with mozzarella cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Let stand 10 minutes.

Corrine Trang, Cooking Light, JANUARY 2010

I made this exactly as instructed except I do not have a food processor so I used a hand mixer instead.  Preparing each of the three layers takes quite a bit of time and effort so I would recommend making this dish on a night where you have a little extra time and are looking for a more involved cooking project.  Is the work worth the effort?  Yes and no.  This is not your standard lasagna which I knew going into it, but I was still disappointed.  Oddly enough, though, it was actually better leftover.  I don’t think the flavors had enough time to blend in the original cooking stages, but they really came together after a night in the fridge.  Also, if you’re a lasagna fiend looking for a healthier fix, this might be just the trick.

In case you’re weary of the tofu addition to the cheese (I was), no worries: the texture is actually incredibly similar to ricotta and, of course, it merely took on the flavor of the other cheeses in the cheese blend.