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Friday, October 26, 2012

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Homemade mincemeat? Doesn't sound especially frugal, fast, or fun, but this one meets at least two of the three criteria for this blog. It isn't especially fast, though it doesn't take as much time as it may sound, and one batch (or maybe two if you have lots of green tomatoes) will provide plenty for a season of baking. If you have tomatoes salvaged from that first killing frost, and maybe even some windfall apples at a bargain rate from the orchard, this will be much less expensive than purchased mincemeat. And the fun can come from being able to make something from America's past, a real heritage recipe. Home-schoolers working on history lessons from the last couple of hundred years might find this a fun project to try too.

If you do a search for green tomato mincemeat, you will find many recipes that do not take the extra step of steeping the tomatoes. While there is no doubt some loss of vitamins in this method, you will find that this approach results in a far more "traditional" flavor, without a hint of "green tomato."

Oh, and despite the name, this is a totally vegan recipe, and very low fat as well.   

From this:

 To this:


Green Tomato Mincemeat

4 lb ground green tomatoes
4 lb ground apples (unpeeled, preferably mixed varieties)
12 oz (2 c or so) raisins--if you like a more raisin-y flavor, add up to another cup or so
1/2 lb. brown sugar
2 3/4 c white sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 c plus 2 T cider vinegar
1 1/2 c strong coffee
2 t cinnamon
3/4 t cloves
3/4 t nutmeg

(NOTE:  Beause of the high acidity of the tomatoes, do not use aluminum or cast iron pans for this recipe.)

1.  Put at least 3 quarts of water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Use the pot that you will ultimately be cooking the mince meat in, to reduce dishwashing. 

2.  Cut the tomatoes in chunks and press through the grating blade of a food processor.
(NOTE: IF you still have an old-fashioned meat grinder, you can use that instead of a food processor.)

3.  Turn the ground tomatoes into a large bowl and pour boiling water over, just to cover. Add to the water in the pan and allow it to return to a boil.

4.  After 5 minutes of steeping in the hot water, pour the tomatoes into a colander and drain. Return to the large bowl and again cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for another five minutes, drain, and repeat the steeping and draining one more time.

5.  Meanwhile, quarter and core the apples, cutting out any spots but leaving the peeling on. Put these through the grating blade of the processor along with the raisins.

6.  Put the drained tomatoes, apples, and raisins in the large pot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking.


7.  To finish cooking:

A) Place in a 6 quart slow cooker with the cover slightly ajar. (As shown in the photo, just place a wood spoon under the cover.) Cook on low for several hours or overnight, stirring down occasionally.  After a few hours, taste and add more sugar if needed--the green-ness of the tomatoes and tartness of the apples will affect how much sugar you ultimately need.

B)  Place the uncovered pot in a 300 degree oven and continue to cook, stirring every half hour or so, scraping down the sides as you do. After an hour or so, taste and add more sugar if needed.

C)  You can continue to cook the mixture on top of the stove. Turn the heat to low, leave the pot uncovered, and stir often to avoid sticking. Taste for sweetness as above. 

8.  With any of these methods, continue to cook until the mixture is the thickness you desire. Long, slow, cooking will gradually caramelize the apples, deepen the spices, and in general, make for a very rich, full-flavored mixture.

9.  Cool and refrigerate or freeze in pie-sized portions--about 3 to 4 cups each. This amount should make enough for 3 to 5 pies. You may also want to freeze some in 1 or 2 cup portions for other recipes.

Beside pie filling, this makes an excellent yeast coffee cake filling, and I will soon be including a bar cookie that features mincemeat as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Green Tomato Salsa

The time has come. A killing frost finally shut down my tomatoes last Thursday, while I was again out of town. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, however, I have pounds and pounds of fruit she picked and boxed up, ready for me to use.

The first order of business was sorting. I took the best of the best and put them in single layers in flat cardboard boxes, covered loosely with newspaper. These went directly to my "root cellar"--my unheated garage that is  tucked under one wing of the house, a  perfect temperature for keeping fruits and vegetables well into the winter. If these do as well as prior years, I can expect to still have tomatoes ripened for our holiday meals in November and December.

Another group of tomatoes was picked out because they looked most likely to develop spots quickly.  These would be handled immediately, in salsa and perhaps a try at fried green tomatoes. Finally, the remaining greenies would also go into the garage, ready for a batch of green tomato mincemeat and some other new recipes after I get back from one more fall weekend away.

For now, the house is redolent of cumin and peppers and onions and cilantro--a wonderful warming fragrance that cries out for some fresh tortillas rolled around some refried beans and topped with salsa verde! Hope you were able to salvage a few green tomatoes to try this recipe too.

Green Tomato Salsa--Mild to Medium

Step 1
2 lb green tomatoes
4 oz yellow onion
3 to 4 medium to large green chile peppers--or more!
3 to 5 cloves garlic
1 1/2 t salt
3/4 t cumin
3 T water
1 T olive oil

Coarsely chop the four vegetables and combine with remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes, until tomatoes are just starting to get tender. If the tomatoes are very green and not juicy, you may need to add just a small amount of water, but avoid if possible.

Step 2
1 T lime juice
1/2 t lime zest
2 t sugar or to taste (see NOTE)
1/2 c chopped cilantro, including stems

Stir the lime, sugar and cilantro into the first mixture. Adjust lime, sugar and salt to taste. If you desire more heat, you could also add a finely chopped jalapeno or more finely chopped chiles at this point. Return to heat and cook another 5 to 10 minutes at most.

For the sake of your processor, allow the salsa to cool for a few minutes. Pour the mixture into the processor and pulse until just barely chopped. If desired, a tablespoon or so of chopped cilantro may be stirred in after processing. (If you don’t have a processor, you can use a blender, but you may have to divide the mixture into two or more batches.)

Chill and store the salsa in the refrigerator for up to a week. The salsa can also be frozen, but be aware that  some peppers change in their “heat” level upon freezing—sometimes hotter, sometimes milder. 

NOTE:  "Green" tomatoes can be a loosely descriptive term, since some of the tomatoes you will try to save from frost will be almost ready to turn red (or yellow, depending on variety), while others will be bright green and as hard as little green apples. The greener ones will be much more tart and often are more strongly flavored. Some will look green on the outside but will really be very close to ripening--as the picture below illustrates. 

If you have a choice, try to include some at various stages of ripening in your salsa, as illustrated by the ones I used today. Then, be prepared to add more sugar or lime, depending on how "green" your tomatoes really are.  

Hotter Variations and Other Substitutions

Increase the number of chiles, don't remove the seeds and/or ribs, or use other kinds of peppers to your taste--jalapeno, serrano, anaheim. This is a recipe that is easily adaptable to all tastes. 

If you don't have any fresh chiles, you could add a can or two of diced chiles or jalapenos after the cooking is complete.

If there are no fresh or canned peppers available hot enough for your taste, add a few drops (or more) of a good Mexican hot sauce. Our family likes the Valentina brand that is available in both supermarkets and Mexican food stores even here in the Midwest.

If you don't have a lime, lemon juice and rind can be substituted, but the lime will give this a much more "authentic" flavor.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chocolate Bread Pudding

Here's a quick dessert to make, using up some of that bread that is getting too stale for sandwiches. This recipe is a little more like a cake than a custard, and is best served warm with ice cream, whipped cream or even just some warm coffee cream poured over it. Raisins or nuts would be good add ins--or you could use leftover raisin bread for the base.

As with most bread puddings, the better the bread, the better the dessert, but you can use just about any kind of bread you have available, even buns. The real secret is to be sure the bread is dried well, so that it does not become gummy during the baking. And, as with almost all chocolate desserts, be careful not to overbake, to keep a slightly fudgy texture.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 t butter
2 c roughly torn bread pieces, about 2 inches or so in diameter
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c sugar (may increase to 1/3 c if a sweeter pudding is desired)
1 1/2 T baking cocoa
8 oz can evaporated milk (or 1/2 15 oz can)
1/4 c milk
2 eggs
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla

1.  Melt butter in bottom of 9 inch pie pan or 8 inch casserole dish.
2.  If the bread has not been previously dried, spread the chunks in the pan and put in 250 degree oven while preparing the remaining mixture.
3.  Mix together  the chocolate chips, cocoa powder, sugar, milk, and evaporated milk in a microwave safe bowl. Heat about 3 minutes at low to medium power, level 4 to 5, stirring occasionally. The mixture should be warmed and the chips beginning to melt.
4.  Remove the chocolate from the microwave and beat in the eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir until very well mixed.
5.  If the oven has been at 250 degrees to dry the bread, remove the bread from the oven and increase the heat to 325 degrees.
6.  Add the dried bread pieces to the chocolate and egg mixture and stir just until well mixed. Pour all back into the prepared pie pan or casserole dish.
7.  Bake at 325 for about 15 to 20 minutes, just until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.  Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 5 to 7 or 8.

Pizza Soup

It was one of "those days," the ones that seem to be just non-stop meetings and chores. I started with 7 am and 9 am meetings and then would be having friends over for lunch, so I needed something that would be pretty low maintenance and as much make-ahead as possible.

We are finally having the kind of cool days that make me ready to bake some bread and fill the house with warmth and fragrance, so that was actually the start of my menu planning. While there would be children at our lunch, the usual macaroni and cheese or pizza choices wouldn't be good to go with the bread, so soup was the next option.

In our family, just about any soup will be almost inhaled by the kids, but other children are not always so enthusiastic. Since I was thinking about pizza, I decided on a soup that would include pizza flavors. Add in fresh fruit--black grapes, bright green honeydew and bright red and white apple slices--and the menu was set. Peanut butter and jelly would also be available for those who just weren't into soup at all.

The recipe below reflects just how I made the soup, with no sauteeing of the onions and carrots, because I ran out of time the evening before. However, I do recommend the variation noted at the end; it will provide a deeper flavor that is worth the few extra minutes.  Note that this is a vegetarian recipe. If you have meat eaters who want an even more pizza-ish soup, you could add some browned Italian sausage or pepperoni slices along with the corn and seasonings.

Pizza Soup

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 oz baby carrots, cut in chunks
28 oz can or jar of prepared spaghetti sauce, garden vegetable variety (or your favorite)
15 oz can diced tomatoes ready for chili (this brand is mild; you could use tomatoes and chiles if you prefer a little heat)
2 to 3 c finely shredded cabbbage
1 c pearl barley
oregano, fennel seed, Italian seasoning, black pepper
10 to 12 oz frozen corn
water as needed

Optional ingredients:  1/2  c diced green or red bell pepper,  1 to 3 ribs celery, sliced, 1 6 oz can mushrooms

Garnishes:  Parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese; black olives

1.   Place all ingredients except the corn, seasonings, and water in a large slow cooker. Turn on HIGH and cook for about an hour or so.

2.   Add seasonings--I would start with about 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano and Italian seasoning and about a teaspoon of fennel seeds that have been crushed in a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle in as much black pepper as your family might prefer; I used about one half teaspoon.

3.   Stir in the corn (while still frozen) and enough water to provide the consistency you prefer. Turn the heat to LOW and cook another 6 to 7 hours, until carrots are just tender, and barley is well-cooked.

4.  Taste and adjust for seasonings before serving. Serve garnishes for each person to add as desired.

Alternate Method:

Over medium high heat, saute the onions, carrots, and barley (and celery if used) in about 1 T canola or olive oil. Cook until the carrots are just beginning to soften slightly and the onions are golden. Stir often.  Turn into slow cooker on LOW and continue as above. The time needed to finish cooking may be slightly less.

Pork Roast for Fall--Cook Once, Serve Two or More Times

Pork is particularly well-priced right now, a perfect season for it since it pairs so well with many fall fruits and vegetables. I was able to buy this roast for only $1.39 a pound so have enough for at least 15 to 20 servings at a remarkably low price. With the continuing impact of the drought, I do wonder if we will look back next year at this price and wonder how we ever saw such bargains. For now, we can be thankful for the bargains and take advantage of them whenever possible.

While there is a little prep time involved with this recipe, the result will enable you to serve guests, to freeze some for a later meal, and/or to make sliced roast sandwiches, pulled pork, stir fry, burritos, etc. If so inclined, you could feed a family of four an entire week for a little over $10, and never duplicate the menu!

Autumn Pork Roast--and More
The Roast...

approximately 7 1/2 lb pork shoulder roast, bone in
1 large onion (about 2 cups), cut in julienne strips
2 to 3 c finely chopped apples, cored but not peeled (OR 1 to 1 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce)
1 T canola oil (optional; see NOTE)
1 t dried rosemary
1 t ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg

1.            Cut the roast in two approximately equal pieces.(Cutting the roast into two pieces allows more surface of the meat to be in contact with the apples, onions, and seasonings.It also provides for more even cooking overall.)
2.            Heat the canola oil or trimmed fat (see NOTE) in a cast iron or other heavy skillet. When almost smoking, add one of the pieces of roast and brown on all sides. When all sides are browned, transfer to a large roasting pan. Repeat the browning with the second piece of meat.
3.            Cover the roasting pan and place in a 350 degree oven
4.            If using chopped apples, cover and microwave for about 3 to 4 minutes, until very tender.
5.            Saute the julienned onion in the juices in the skillet, cooking just until they have begun to brown. Stir in the apples or applesauce and seasoning.
6.            Spread the onion and apple mixture, with the juices, over the roast. Add a small amount of water if necessary to cover the bottom of the pan with liquid. Cover the pan and return to the oven.
7.            Turn the heat to 300 degrees and continue roasting for 3 to 4 hours, until the internal temperature is at least 145 degrees (though many, including myself) will prefer to cook longer, almost to the point of the meat falling apart, or 160 degrees or so.
8.            Remove the roast from the oven and allow to sit for at least 15 to 25 minutes. Skim the juices into a pan and thicken for gravy if desired or just serve with the meat juices as is. As the meat is sliced and served, provide salt and pepper to taste. (I do not salt the roast itself since that concentrates the saltiness only on the edges. As a result, most people still add more salt before eating, so you can reduce the ultimate sodium content with my approach.)
NOTE—the roast that I was using was so lean, there was not enough fat to adequately cover the pan while browning. If there is fat to be trimmed from the roast, cut it off and dice. Put it in the pan while heating to provide a thin layer of fat for browning, instead of using the oil. 

Slow Cooker Alternative
After sauteeing the roasts, place in a large (6 1/2 to 7 1/2 quart) slow cooker. Add the vegetables and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours, depending on your cooker.

...And More

Here are more detailed suggestions for using the meat as the basis for several meals. Unless otherwise noted, these are for four servings each.

Day 1     Set aside one of the roasts for use later in the week (or freeze for later menu planning). Slice the remainder of the one served the first day and reheat in the microwave, with mashed potatoes and two vegetables, one yellow/orange, one green. On the golden side of the plate, try baked squash or carrots braised with some onion and celery as in the photo. For the green part of the palette, try broccoli or braised greens from the garden. Or, if you have some available, put steamed red cabbage on the plate as pictured.

The reserved juices can be thickened slightly with corn starch for a gravy for the potatoes and/or the meat. There should be enough meat for serving 6 to 7 people, so this could be an ideal meal for sharing with guests.  If fewer people are served, you can freeze the leftover meat and sauce for a later meal. If you have some divided freezer trays, you could also make your own frozen dinners with all of the leftover ingredients.

Day 2     Cut four thin slices off the second roast. Place each on a slice of good whole wheat (or rye) bread and add mustard, lettuce, Swiss or other cheese, and whatever other things you like for a hearty sandwich. Chewy hard rolls are another good bread alternative. Skip the lettuce and heat the sandwiches to go with a tossed salad and some apple cranberry sauce. 

Day 3     Prepare your favorite stuffing (from a mix if that fits your schedule best). Stir in half a chopped apple and/or some dried cranberries if desired.  Oil a microwave-safe serving dish large enough to arrange four thin slices of pork roast over the bottom. Spread the stuffing over the meat and return to the microwave to heat thoroughly. This goes well with some of the squash from the first day or cole slaw or a plate of mixed fruits.

Day 4 and/or Day 5   Time to go ethnic. The pieces of meat around the bone can be diced and used in a stir fry or with cheese, beans, salsa, etc., as the filling for hearty burritos. In fact, my roast ended up providing enough meat for both a stir fry and burritos.

Additional ideas   If you still have some meat and/or bone left, you could add this to your favorite split pea or lentil soup, for just a little extra heartiness. (Stirring a little into macaroni and cheese would be another option too.)  Though the meat doesn't have the seasonings of sausage or pepperoni, it could be added to a pizza, with extra oregano, fennel, etc., added for more zip.

And we didn't even get to Pulled Pork, a great way to use up those bits and pieces along with any extra juices. Just take all the scraps and stir them into a little of your favorite barbecue sauce, put on a bun and microwave until heated through. Can't get much easier (or more frugal) than that!

Freezing   The meat may be frozen to use for additional meals. Simply slice (or dice) and place in small plastic bags, each enough for four servings (or the size that best suits your household). Seal tightly to keep air out and then place the small bags in a larger freezer bag. Label with the date and use within two to three months.

The bottom line is this:
Sometimes that enormous looking roast that is at a bargain price can result in not only saving dollars on the budget; it can also save you time since the cooking is done once and then the meat is ready for all kinds of other meals. 

Cooking Hint for the Day:

To julienne onions:            Peel a whole onion and cut in half from pole to pole instead of around the equator. Cut each half in half, pole to pole. Lay each quarter flat on the cutting board and slice in thin slices, again pole to pole. If the onion is very large, you may want to make one more pole to pole cut to reduce the size of pieces. The result should look like this: