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This past Sunday a few of us gave you a glimpse at what we have growing on our gardens. This week I wanted to share with you what I do with some of that fresh produce that comes out of our garden.

One of the salads that I make a lot is tabouli (or tabbouleh). It is great in the heat of the summer not to have to turn on the stove-top or the oven.bulgar tabouliSome tabouli recipes you find will have you pour boiling water over your bulgar, but I just soak mine. Again, any reason not to turn on that heat-producing appliance!

This salad can be made with the traditional way using bulgar or cracked wheat, but it can also be made using quinoa (need to follow quinoa cooking instructions for that)

Tabouli

  • 2 cups bulgar or cracked wheat
  • 1 tbsp.  salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 chopped mint

Put your bulgar in a bowl or sauce pan and cover it with water an inch above the bulgar. The bulgar will soak most or all that water up and you may need to add more. I let mine sit for at least 45 minutes, usually longer. The last thing I want it to take a bite and come down on a hard piece of wheat.

Chopping Mint

Chopping Mint

If you do end up with more water that your bulgar soaked up, just use a mesh colander and strain it.

While your bulgar is soaking up that water, start chopping all your herbs and vegetables. It is up to you whether you want to de-seed your cucumbers and tomatoes.

I toss things together as I chop. Once your bulgar is ready, toss it with all the vegetables and herbs. Mix your lemon juice and oil olive together ad pout it over your bulgar mixture and toss again.

You want to allow time for all the flavors of the herbs and dressing to mingle so give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to let everything marinate before serving. If you are in the area of the kitchen, give it a toss and stir as you walk by to bring any of the marinade up into more of the tabouli.

If you want your tabouli heavy on the vegetable and herb side, either double the amounts of the herbs and veggies or knock the bulgar amount down by half. Up to you! This makes a pretty big bowl.

I love making this using all the fresh herbs from the gardens along with the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. It is a great way to celebrate summer and the harvest from your garden or local farmers markets.

What are you cooking with things from your garden?

Sincerely, Emily

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Summer has been here for a while now in South Texas. Our heat index has been above 100F all week and the vegetable garden is sure showing signs of stress. Heck, I am showing signs of stress and I wilt at the mire thought of stepping outside.

Tomatoes - not looking good 6-2013The heat and humidity that we have been experiencing has really set me back with my recovery and my over all breathing. I am still doing well. Going to physical therapy 2-3 times a week. But three weeks ago when our temps started staying in the high 90’s I could barely get through a physical therapy session. We took out all the weights and resistant bands and I just went through the motions and even that was a struggle, so I can understand how those tomato plants must be feeling out there.

Dilled tomatoes 1The cherry tomatoes plants that my mom planted when she was here in early March have seen better days. They certainly aren’t going to win a beauty contest. Little by little their leaves are drying out and dieing. In the end of July we have our second planting for tomatoes, so on Friday I took some cuttings from the plants and potted them up to get them ready for planting in about month of so.

These cherry tomato plants are still FULL of green cherry tomatoes. Full! Most of them would probably not survive long enough to even start to blush. Besides the heat, I have the birds out there to compete with. They have been out there peeking away. First they started with the ones that started to blush, now they just seem to be peeking anything.

Dilled tomoates 2What to do with all those green cherry tomatoes? Well, I filed away an idea that I saw over Nancy post about over at Homesteading in Maine. Dilled Green Cherry Tomatoes! Luckily my brain was working a few days ago and I started picking all the green cherry tomatoes because I was on a mission.

I ended up with 2 quarts, 4 pints and 2 1/2 pints all heading to the refrigerator to sit for four weeks to develop their flavor.  I can’t wait to try them. To me, this is a great way to make use of something that probably wouldn’t make it to maturity and harvest. Instead of ending up in the compost tumbler, it ended up in the refrigerator. my other option was to make green tomato chutney, but I just didn’t have the energy. If some of the tomato plants start looking terrible, I will conjure up the energy and give the green tomato chutney a try. I know I would love it.

What would you do with an abundance of green tomatoes?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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I don’t know about you but at the end of the main growing season I always have all these notes in my head about what I loved and what I would do differently next spring.

So instead of taking the time to go try to find some paper that isn’t wrinkled and scribbled on and a pen that actually has ink…and then try to keep track of the list for 9 months…

I am going to make my ‘notes to self’ right here on the blog…hope nobody minds.

NOTES TO SELF

  • Tomato cages are wayyyyy better than this…it worked well for the cool spring but tomatoes need cages to grow up in…those tunnels did not control them nearly enough.

tomato tunnel

  • Remember to build more tomato cages before next year.
  • Yarn does NOT work as well as twine for green beans, it stretches in the rain and all the beans fall down…so don’t be lazy and go find the twine next time!
  • Put a self-closing hing on the garden gate…the dog likes cucumbers.
  • While we are on it…cucumbers do well with water.  Bitter is not the best flavor.Plant more flowers…

sisters1

  • Make more compost.
  • Growing peppers and eggplant in tunnels is an EXCELLENT idea, please remember do this again.

eggplant plate3

  • Pumpkins are great fun to grow…more are needed next year.  Try some new colors.

blk wht pumpkins

  • Squash takes up a LOT of room, remember this so the compost bin doesn’t get covered with vines.
  • Barrels are great for potatoes but you would need many, many more to have a large harvest.
  • Plant out gourds sooner…

spider grd1

  • Plant out cantaloupe later.

cantelope3

  • Yum, yum peppers are simply the cutest and sweetest peppers ever…grow lots more!
  • 6 foot wire fencing is perfect for growing peas.

pea picking1

  • Chickens fly…chickens escape…chickens invade!
  • Chickens love young pumpkins, which will grow up to be ugly hen pecked pumpkins.

eggs6

  • Remember to enjoy the process…
  • Always, always  involve the kids…even when they annoy you.

tomato napper1

  • And don’t hate the camel for doing what a camels does…

broccoli8

Which is anything he can do to try to reach your precious garden.

  • Reinforce the garden fence!

Finally…

Remember why you do this every year…

For the health of your family and the health of the planet.

Besides…

Its fun!

So fellow gardeners…what notes have you made to yourself for next year?

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bunch of tomatoes

All I can say is my oh my do I have tomatoes…planted 40 plants

WHAT was I thinking???

They looked so little when in their tiny starter cells.

So what to do with all these?

How about raw tomato sauce

Raw? Why raw you are wondering…

Well here is the deal, I have recently become vegan…but this has nothing at all to do with that!

So no I am not a raw food vegan…

I am a lazy vegan….as opposed to a lazy vegetarian which I perfected over decades of hardly working!!!

I just don’t want to stand around a big pot all day cookin’ up sauce so…

tom crate3

I decided that lazy was the word for the day I would make the sauce raw…

Why not I said to myself…there is no law stopping me.

So that is precisely what I did!

tomato sauce1

First I washed…

Then I cored…

Then I threw…I threw them into my Vita-Mix that is!

Then I added…

pepper4

Part of a pretty pepper from my plot…say that 3 times fast!

To which I also added…

tomato sauce2

Fresh basil, part of a sweet onion…

Parsley from my window sill…

Salt, pepper…

Roasted garlic…I LOVE roasted garlic!

If you put something roasted in your raw sauce does that not make it raw anymore?

And a touch of organic extra virgin olive oil.

Whirred it all around and voila’

Fresh, raw, yummy tomato sauce…

Which I forgot to take a picture of…sorry!

 

We have used this on pasta

Over roasted eggplant

As chilled soup

As tomato juice with a dash of Tabasco!

And of course with as many tomatoes as I have…we froze A LOT!

I must say it is scrumptious…is it exactly like cooked tomato sauce…no

But it beats standing around a big ol’ pot in the middle of August!

Go… enjoy…

Eat!

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Squeezing Maters

As the tomatoes produce on a daily basis, and I pick and pick and pick, how to deal with them in an efficient manner becomes the issue. Anything bruised, bugged or not quite “perfect” goes to the animals for their fruit-fest feast while I keep the majority for myself. After the sorting of good and bad tomatoes I still bring into the house about 40 pounds of fruit on average every other day. Yes…if I were in dire straights or needed more I would just cut out the imperfection of those thrown out, but some of our garden is grown specifically to supply our livestock with fresh eating too. A healthy animal supplies healthy food to me so it is in my best interest. Besides I still have plenty and so the problem becomes how do I handle these maters efficiently so that I can do all the  day to day things besides just processing tomatoes? As we all know they aren’t going to sit around and stay in good shape for long. So dealing with them quickly and efficiently is required. I have a number of ways to do this though none of them is perfect. All have pros and cons and other readers out there may have tips too. So, if your new to canning and prepping tomatoes, or only have one way you deal with your fresh tomatoes read all the way through and see what ideas you can glean that you may not have heard of yet.

I always start with washing my tomatoes of course. Washing removes dirt, slime from tomatoes that may have rotted (or gotten bird eaten) next to the one I picked or even just bucket or hand dirt. I then proceed on with a number of ways all of which get me to my final destination of canning them.

My first way is to freeze them. I have a few tomatoes that are somewhat juicy, but so flavorful, that I like them for whole or chunks in my sauces. When I use them fresh for dinner it is easy to boil off the juices since I don’t use very many. In mass quantity though…it would take years (well maybe a bit less time) to finish boiling off the extra fluids. So these special guys get washed, cored right there at the sink, put into plastic freezer bags, and then put into the freezer. You can use something other than a freezer bag but I find them easy and reusable with a rinse. I can use the same group of bags throughout the whole season with only the occasional corner failure (isn’t that where they always leak first?!).

So…what does freezing do? Why it burst those little cell walls and in turn, during the thawing phase, releases the water in the tomato. The almost clear water collects in the bottom of the bag and voila…you can just dump it out. The tomatoes then easily release their skins. The skins will slip right off in your hand and with a squeeze to some of the more watery or seedy varieties they become nice little hunks of tomato meat to add to sauces. Now…this method will allow some seeds to go through. However it is also fairly compatible with most ways that people seed their tomatoes so this will work as a combo process. This is an effective method for removing unwanted water without wasting the energy (and time) to cook the sauce down. As I said, I prefer this to add tomato “meats” to my sauce and I don’t mind the few seeds that come with it since my sauce is seed free. I just add them to the sauce when it is ready, make sure it all comes back to a boil and then can and process according to directions.

One caveat to this method is that I grew a number of yellow varieties this year. More than usual. I find, and this is a very limited experience, that the yellows don’t release their skins quite so well as the red IF they are all the way thawed. They seemed to do better if I work on them while they are still partially frozen. I don’t know if this is the case across the board…but something to think about.

Lastly….thaw these guys on a towel or in a few bigger pans. For some reason…as all bags are prone to do they will leak a bit…both condensation and a bit of sticky tomato juice which can be a bit of a mess to clean up especially in addition to all the canning going on during that time.

Next we come to the Squeezo. An item very similar to a food mill but a bit pricier. There are also other brands, but mine is a Squeezo so that is just what I will call all of them here. I posted some pictures of it just in case you have never seen one or seen it used. I also have screens for the berries and pumpkins too, so I can use it for much more than just tomatoes. However…it works so well and easily on tomatoes that it is well worth the price just to process them if you do many many tomatoes. It is similar to the food mill as I mentioned, but is a bit more efficient and effective (to me anyway). I cut up my tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces, about half for a medium roma and quarters for one of the extra large romas. Then dump them in the hopper and start cranking. I do not use the piece of wood meant to push the food into the mill (can’t remember what those are called for some reason– sorry). Since this is a hand crank item—I can be careful not to pinch my fingers. I find my hand is much more effective in feeding the tomatoes in than the pusher thingy is.

I use a three pan set up as you can see. One to catch skins/seeds, one to catch juice/pulp and one pour off into. I pre-prep everything so once I get to the feeding part all I have to do is keep going.

Initially when you begin to use it it can seem “messy”. And, as I learned before buying it when reading what others have to say, I do get a small amount of dripping from the handle and occasional splashing/squirting. The handle issue is easily solved by putting a towel down on the floor in that area before starting. Also…if you juice lots of juicy juicy tomatoes…a certain amount of spitting does go on. Romas on the other hand don’t seem to do that. No one says in the reviews if what type of tomato they are processing so this is (again) just my experience.

Over all I like this item and would highly recommend it, though I can see that it might not be every ones favorite. Nor is it the cheapest depending on which brand you buy and if you want all metal versus those that are partially plastic. Lastly…I keep a good used toothbrush for helping to clean the screen(s). I start out with a stiff brush and then soap well and use the tooth brush to finish off with in the folds. At first it took me a while to clean the screens but I have perfected my technique and now it is quite quick. It’s just a matter of finding what works well for you.

BTW…this also does applesauce too. As I said…a multi tool. I do not like ground applesauce and prefer chunks so we don’t use this for our applesauce. However…if you like a smooth applesauce then it requires, just like the tomatoes, nothing more than cutting the apple into the size that will go through the feed. I am sure it would require more effort to turn the handle than tomatoes or berries but many people swear they love it for making sauce. Maybe someone will comment on that here.

Another method that I know of…but have not used… is the juice steamer. I have heard, though again have no experience in, that using a stainless steel juice steamer allows for you to get tomato juice for canning to drink, or cooking beans and grains with, and you are then left with a cooked down version of paste in the top. This paste then just needs to go through a Squeezo or food mill to remove seeds and skins. Sounds easy doesn’t it? And since I would eventually like to try this for carrots and a few other foods that I would like juice, I may eventually buy one. I am not sure if it would do large quantities in a timely manner though so….that is the one negative I might find with this method.  As with the all metal Squeezo and other good quality food prep items (think the apple peeler that Lehmans sells) the steamers are expensive. However again, when reading reviews of them most all people swear by them so the money may be worth it. It can also be used for regular food prep too so it is a multi tool like the Squeezo. I am also leaving you with this site (Geopathfinder) to check out the steamer and also a good drying rack since we recently discussed drying our harvest.

Lastly..there is the boiling water bath for the tomatoes to help slip skins. I find that this is hot and irritatingly slow work and much much prefer the other ways I use to this. The steamer method also seems as if it would still be easier possibly.  Hopefully I have given you a few hints and helps for peeling and prepping tomatoes. This years harvest of tomatoes may be a bit lean (commercially I mean) since the weather has been so cool and wet. Blight has struck many commercial fields and even the plants of home gardeners. So, if you have your own tomatoes try and put up a few cans, or freezer bags full, if you can. Even if you don’t cook down your juice you can add a can of paste to help thicken it up. Or just freeze, peel and squeeze a few into your dishes like I often do with my freezer batches.

Squeezohornworm

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