Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tomato Paste

I've had four trays of tomatoes ripening on the dinning room table for several weeks, since our first snowfall earlier this month.   As they ripen, I use them. 
I've roasted tomatoes, canned tomatoes, made tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato pesto, tomato salsa, even tomato mayonnaise, but the one thing I hadn't made was tomato paste. 
Having enough of all the above tomato items in my pantry and freezer, when ten pounds of tomatoes ripened at the same time, I decided to use them for tomato paste.
With only three ingredients, this recipe for tomato paste from Food52, is about as simple as it gets.  I suggest you make it on a day that you are house bound, like a bad weather day, because this process does require a lot of hands on.
Wash and quarter the ten pounds of tomatoes.  Combine them in a large pan with 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of sea salt.  Cook until they are soft and the peels begin to detach.  Push warm tomatoes through a food mill, so that you separate the tomato pulp from the seeds and skins.  Some of the seeds found their way through, but that didn't bother me.
Divide the tomato pulp between two large, rimmed baking sheets and bake them in a 350 degree oven.  Check every half hour, stirring the paste and switching the position of the baking sheets for even baking.  Over time, it will start to reduce and you can combine the two pans into one.  Continue baking until the paste is a shiny, brick color and there is no more moisture separating from the paste. 
I filled two ice cube trays, covered them with plastic wrap and allowed them to freeze. 
The next day I popped them out of the trays and froze them in small batches.  Each cube is about 1 1/2-2 Tablespoons of paste.  I can't wait to try these in my winter soups.
Looking down into the backyard this morning, we woke to 3" of snow; they were forecasting between 1-4".  Early snowfall, lightly covering the branches and leaves, is a gentle introduction to winter.  We are expecting another 3" tonight, and then a quick melt for the beginning of next week.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Dwarf Banana Tree

I have had terrific success with my potted citrus trees, so it stands to reason that I would bring another into the group.  I know this is going to sound crazy, but....I began looking at banana trees. 
Naturally, none of the local nurseries here in Denver have banana trees as part of their inventory, so I had to order from out of state.  The box was crumpled in a few places when it arrived, which lead to me being a little apprehensive about opening the package, but my fears were unfounded.  This was obviously not the first time Jackson and Perkins had packed and shipped live goods.
Welcome the new guy on the block, a dwarf banana tree.  After I got him unboxed and potted, he was introduced to his new friends.  He seems to be acclimating quite well.
I thought being surrounded by other Tropical plants would help him feel a sense of home right away, so I placed him near the Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and Gardenia.  Home~Sweet~Home

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Perfect Apple Cake

Last week we had friends staying with us from South Florida.  Making a dessert when company is in town, is a good way to be certain there won't be much leftover cake that you are compelled to eat.  Having my apple bounty, I'm always willing to try anything with apples.  What a presentation, almost looks like art work.
This really does taste as good as it looks.  With a few simple ingredients, you've got a great tasting cake.  Another plus:  this cake benefits by sitting a day.  Which is a good fit for the way I like to make things: the day before I need it.  I found this on Food52, one of my favorite recipe sites. 
 2  apples
 2 C unbleached all purpose flour
 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
 2 tsp ground cinnamon
 1 tsp ground nutmeg
 1/4 tsp salt
 1/2 C unsalted butter (at room temperature)
 1/2 C sugar
 1/3 C Honey
 1/2 C almond milk (can use soy or regular milk)
 2 large eggs
 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly grease an 8 inch springform pan.  Peel, core, and slice the apples.  With half of the apples, turn the slices, and chop three or four times, to get a large dice.  In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt until blended, set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar and honey and beat until fluffy.  Add each egg, one at a time, mixing in between, then the vanilla.  Scrape your bowl and beat again.
Finally, beat in the milk.  Add the flour mixture, and beat until you get a smooth, creamy batter.  Stir in the chopped apples, and spread into the prepared pan.
Arrange the apple slices, overlapping them slightly, in a circular pattern over the batter.  Put the pan on the top rack of your preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes or when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.
Allow cake to cool.  Now enjoy, with or without ice cream.  This really is the perfect apple cake.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Cereus Bloom

It happened...finally...something I've been looking forward to for nearly four years.  I had a feeling the bloom was about to explode, so early evening, I brought the plant inside and set it in a dark room for the night.  I'd been checking the bloom regularly, almost on the hour.  Knowing they don't bloom until after sunset, which I've been complaining about, now that sunset is earlier every day.  Okay, I see I'm getting off track...anyway, the flower remained closed. 
My check an hour later sent me spinning.  Now I began running through the house like a crazy woman, remembering when I downloaded pictures earlier in the day, my camera battery was bleeping 'out of power' and I didn't recharge the battery.  
It doesn't take long.  This flower is first a feast for the eyes, then for the nose;  the fragrance is the last to emerge.
Not overpowering, probably because it's only one flower.  Maybe if there were more blooms at the same time it would be overwhelming, but I'm willing to go through that experience.
Fortunately, the morning was overcast and rainy, which I think helped my flower to remain longer than is customary.   With it's end of life approaching, I sat there with my cup of coffee, appreciating that I had it. 
Recently, a friend of mine shared a story of a party when he lived in Nepal several years back.  His American friends had a party for what the locals call  'the-one-hour-flower'.  What a fun way to celebrate flowers blooming.
RIP Night-blooming Cereus.  I  look forward to more celebrations with you.