Friendship & Fresh Tomato Sauce

I have always wanted to learn how to make jars of fresh tomato sauce. Each summer when the tomatoes are at their peak, I fantasize about filling my cupboards with the most amazing sauce ever created (yes I am a food nerd). I even went so far as to buy a bushel of tomatoes a few years back and set about peeling, seeding, blanching, chopping and sterilizing….until the whole thing just got so overwhelming that I shoved my half-assed attempt at sauce into bags and popped it all in the freezer. Massive red ice-cube blobs that I eventually thawed and dumped. Pathetic.

The biggest stumbling block for me (and it’s the same story for homemade jam btw) is sterilizing the dang jars. Whenever I start reading the instructions for the sterilization process I end up breaking into a cold sweat as I imagine my dinner guests doubled over with acute food poisoning. I just can’t handle the pressure!

So you can imagine my delight when I mentioned my tomato-sauce ineptitude to a couple of my closest girlfriends and they said “Hey – it’s not hard at all. We’ve done it lots of times. We can teach you how to make it.” Woohoo! I quickly roped them into committing to a date and anxiously awaited my sauce-making lesson.

tomato bushel

The day before our cooking extravaganza, one of my girlfriends dropped off a bushel of the most beautiful bright red tomatoes at my door. “Wash them and set them out on a flat surface to dry” she instructed. Looked easy enough until I realized that a bushel of tomatoes is freakin’ heavy! She helped me load them into my son’s wagon and I rolled them gently into the backyard. After an hour scrubbing them and lining them up on a bed sheet outside, I stood back to admire my work (and then promptly hopped into a hot bath to soak my aching back….bending over the hose is tough work).

tomato outside

The next day, my friends arrived bright and early armed with boxes of jars, more tomatoes and tons of cooking supplies. One of the girls had miraculously discovered that chopping and putting the tomatoes right into our high-powered blenders would cut down hours of the tedious work of grinding the tomatoes by hand but I wanted to try one batch the old-school way. The girls just looked at each other and rolled their eyes but indulged me and passed me the tomato grinder.

tomato grinder

As they happily whirred up the tomatoes in the blender, I hand cranked the chopped tomatoes through a stainless steel grinder. Much more difficult and as it turns out – the sauce from my efforts didn’t taste any different from their blended sauce. After 1 batch, I also switched to the blender method and in no time at all we had a few pots of sauce boiling away on the oven.

tomato pot

Although I was expecting to make full-blown pasta sauce (ala Ragu), the girls told me that it’s much better to simply jar the boiled tomato sauce mixed with a little sea salt. This keeps the tomatoes fresher and you can add the garlic, basil and any other ingredients of choice when you open your jars and are ready to eat the sauce. (And let me tell you, just the simple boiled tomatoes and sea salt tasted amazing.)

It turns out that my fear over the jar sterilization was overblown. The girls simply popped the jars into the dishwasher on high heat and placed the lids into a pot of boiling water on the stove. They handled the jars carefully so as not to touch the lip and used tongs to place the lids on each one. Then they set them upside down on a table for a few minutes to make sure they weren’t leaking and turned them over to wait for the “pop” of the lids that indicates a good seal. Voila!

So here are the biggest lessons I learned about jarring fresh tomato sauce:

– tomato sauce tastes 100% better when you make it yourself

– when you are a rookie sauce maker in the kitchen with experts- it’s best to stick to watching, listening and doing the dishes

– sterilizing doesn’t have to be scary

– the taste is wonderful and fresh and it makes the house smell amazing (the kids even said it was the best sauce they’d ever had)

– I’m so lucky to have friends who are willing to share their knowledge and the workload (and it didn’t hurt that I had a couple of bottles of Italian wine on hand to keep them happy ; )

– it’s not so hard – just go for it!

My wish has come true – my pantry is all stocked up with tomato sauce. Thanks to my friends, I conquered my fear and learned a great new skill. Next stop….jam!

tomato jars

Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 bushel ripe tomatoes
Sea salt (to taste, approx. 1 tbsp. per large batch)
Mason jars (we used large and medium-sized jars)

Wash tomatoes and lay them on a flat surface to dry for 24 hours.

Sterilize jars on high heat in the dishwasher.

Quarter tomatoes and place them into a high-powered blender. Whir for 1-2 minutes until blended. Place mixture into a large pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil continuously for 1 hour, adding sea salt to taste.

Place jar lids and rims into a large pot of boiling water on the stove.

After 1 hour, scoop sauce into a sterilized jar, leaving at least 1-inch of space at the top of the jar. Use tongs to place a lid on the jar and seal with a rim. Place jar on the table upside down for a minute or 2 to ensure there is no leaking. After a couple of minutes, flip the jar right side up and listen for the “pop” of the lid that will let you know that the jar is properly sealed.

*Lori’s Suggestion: When you are ready to eat your sauce – put a tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet and heat on medium-high. Add a minced clove of garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and a dash of red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in your sauce and heat through. Scoop over hot pasta and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

It’s not easy when a member of your family announces that they are radically changing the way they eat. I was in my mid-30’s when I embarked on a plant-based diet and this threw a real curveball at my meat-and-potato loving parents. Although I had long since moved away from home and started my own family – it still meant that every holiday and visit became a head-scratcher when trying to prepare a menu that would appeal to everyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas with no turkey?! Easter with no ham?! A BBQ with no burgers?! Holy crap!

veggie cartoon 2

I must admit that we’ve had more than a few heated “discussions” over the years about being flexible and open to trying new things. And there was also the inevitable questioning of the health benefits of a diet with no animal products. “You mean you aren’t giving your kids milk? How will they get strong bones?” “How will your family get enough protein?” “What the hell is quinoa?” and “Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass Lori?” All valid questions.

In the beginning I stood up on my soapbox and was overly eager to share all of the wonderful information I was learning about my new diet. I told them about the fact that there is actually more digestible protein in leafy greens and legumes than in meat (not to mention the animal cruelty associated with the meat industry). And that chickpeas and sesame seeds are much richer sources of protein than dairy. And that milk has been definitively linked to cancer. AND I made my entire family watch Forks Over Knives over one Christmas holiday (yes I was insufferable).

Nowadays, I’ve learned to shut my mouth more often and to be appreciative of how far we’ve come in incorporating more plant-based foods into all of our diets. But I’ve gotta give credit especially to my mom for really giving vegetarian cooking a college try. My family recently spent a few days at my parent’s home and I was totally delighted when she announced that she would be making Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Wraps for dinner. She’s come a very long way from the woman who once told me she would never eat a vegetarian diet because there just wasn’t enough variety.

This recipe evolved from that wrap – which was delicious by the way (my son even turned down cheese pizza to gobble up a second helping). It’s simple to prepare and packed with protein, fresh veggies, herbs and spices. It just might be the best salad I’ve ever made! And as a special bonus, I turned the leftovers into a grilled wrap the next day that rivals the gourmet quinoa wrap sold by a very well-known coffee chain.

So if someone in your life announces that they are suddenly going to eat a different way – be it gluten-free or paleo or vegan or flexitarian…..be patient with them. When they come down off of their high horse – they just might make you something yummy to eat.

Mexican Quinoa Salad (with Bonus Wrap)

mexican quinoa 1

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pepper (any colour) diced
2 ears of corn- cooked, cooled and cut off of the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, corn, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze the lime juice over top. Pour on the olive oil and toss to coat. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper and toss again. Enjoy!

*Bonus Wrap*

mexican quinoa 2

2 whole wheat or gluten-free wraps of choice
1/2 cup grated regular or vegan cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups Mexican Quinoa Salad (above)

Heat a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat. Lay wraps on a flat surface and put a line of quinoa salad down the middle of each. Top with cheese. Fold in both ends of the wraps and roll together. Place the wrap in the frying pan and grill on both sides. Remove from heat after both sides are gold brown (approx. 3 minutes per side) and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve. (You could also use a Panini maker in place of the frying pan to make life easier).

Creamy Tomato Macaroni Soup

I grew up in a very small touristy town and one of my first jobs was as a coffee-girl at a quaint and traditional restaurant called The Golden Apple. I would greet each table with a basket of freshly made sticky buns and tea biscuits, I’d stop by the table again after the waitress had served the main course with a selection of relishes that people could dollop on their entrees and then I’d come by again after the meal to serve coffee. Sounds very old-school huh?

It was actually a great job and I learned a lot about manners, traditions and how to make a killer bloody Caesar from Spindle the friendly bartender (yes I was 13 at the time!)

Aside from the baskets full of sticky buns that I regularly tucked into my favourite food on the menu was a divine homemade tomato macaroni soup. Occasionally they would have some left over after my shift and Bert and Mo the chefs would let me haul containers of it home to share with my family. Oh the tomato noodley goodness.

These cooler days have got me hankering for a warm soup and Tomato Macaroni sounds just about perfect. The real beauty of this soup is that it’s so easy to make – you roast the tomatoes, onion and garlic in the oven and then pop them in the blender with a few extras and voila it’s done!

I made mine with regular macaroni noodles but you could use rice noodles to make it gluten-free and be sure to keep the noodles separate from the soup until you are ready to serve so that they don’t get too mushy.

This one’s for all the former Coffee-Girls who schlepped the mustard-pickle relish, quick-dipped the silver before every shift and wore white nurses dresses with apple-printed aprons over top. Those were the days.

Vegan Creamy Tomato Macaroni Soup (adapted from Vegan Lunch Box, Jennifer McCann)

tom mac soup in bowl
Approx 25 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like your soup)
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups of water (start with 1 cup and add more if necessary to thin soup)
1 28oz can organic diced tomatoes with juices (I like Eden Organics)
1 pkg regular or rice macaroni noodles
Additional Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.
Put cut tomatoes, onion and garlic into a large bowl and toss with olive oil and sea salt.

tom mac soup veggies in bowl

Arrange on 2 baking sheets placing tomatoes cut side down.

tom mac soup uncooked veggies on pan

Place in the oven and roast for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

tom mac soup cooked on pan
Working in batches – puree tomatoes, onion, garlic, water, fresh basil and red pepper flakes in a blender. (If you don’t have a high-powered blender you might want to strain the soup after blending to remove seeds and skins of the tomatoes). Pour the blended soup into a large pot and add the can of diced tomatoes and juice. If you like a really smooth soup you could puree the can of diced tomatoes too before you add them. Heat gently on low/medium heat.
Cook your macaroni noodles according to package directions and drain. Put a big scoop of noodles in the bottom of a bowl and ladle a generous serving of soup over top. Add salt and pepper to taste. Yum!