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Quote of the Day: Robert Farrar Capon

October 29th, 2017

“The world does not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers–amateurs–it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral–it is the fertilizing principle for unloveliness.”

Robert Farrar Capon in The Supper of the Lamb





I’m very happy that winter is approaching. While I still enjoy cooking in the summer, my schedule makes it difficult to really immerse myself in cooking big meals, in trying new recipes, baking bread, etc. Summer is about quick cooking vegetables from the garden, winter is about spending hours in the kitchen, braised meats, long simmered soups…

Do you consider yourself an amateur cook? Do you enjoy the process of cooking?

Making Tomato Conserva

September 19th, 2017

Many years ago, I purchased the book ‘Cooking by Hand’ by Paul Bertolli. This book is part cookbook, part biography, part cooking theory; recipes are interspersed with stories of how they came about and recommendations and theories for making food even more delicious. While reading through the section on tomatoes, I came across the recipe for Conserva and immediately knew I wanted to make it. It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take some time. The final product makes it worth every single minute, you won’t find a better way to preserve tomatoes.

This rich, concentrated tomato paste (though calling it paste is a bit derogatory as it’s nothing like canned tomato paste), is like a ripe summer tomato intensified in a jar. Because it’s not cooked at a really high temperature, it has a completely different flavor than many cooked tomato sauces. The sugars seems to intensify and the fresh tomato flavor comes through quite clearly. Overall I’d say it’s much brighter than other cooked and canned tomato products, which almost end up with a heavy bitterness from the heat of cooking. Conserva is a bit of summer tomato heaven in the middle of our long Maine winters. It is such a versatile pantry staples; a small spoonful can be stirred into sauces to add a richness and depth of flavor, add it to canned tomato sauces to make it thicker, a spoonful in broth will add another layer of flavor to soup. We really enjoy it spread on sandwiches made of olive bread, eggs, arugula, bacon, and cheese (a bit of a BLT with conserva taking the place of fresh tomato).

In the book his recipe starts with 5 pounds of tomatoes, I find this size of a batch to be way to small. The final product is only about a cup of concentrate. I always double it, both because I want lots of it in my pantry, and because I like to maximize my time. If I have the oven on for 7 hours, I may as well have it full. Typically, my batches start with 10 pounds of tomatoes (though I make two 5 lb batches separately and put them in the oven together), from this amount I end up with a pint of conserva. Generally, I make 3-4 batches each summer. I also add a branch of a tomato plant in the pan, it adds a wonderfully deep tomato flavor to the final product. Contrary to popular belief, the stems and leaves of tomato plants are not poisonous.

Here’s the basics recipe:
Dice 5 pounds mixed tomatoes, some paste, some canning, into small pieces. Add a splash of good olive oil to a large pan, pour in tomatoes, add a small tomato branch with leaves, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Bring them to a rapid boil and cook for 2 minutes. Put through smallest plate on a food mill, there should be no seeds in the final puree. (If you’ve been looking for a nice stainless steel food mill, I highly recommend this one from Matfer. I bought mine 7-8 years ago and LOVE it. Previously, I was using an old aluminum Squeez-O and wasn’t super keen on my food coming into contact with the aluminum. I use this one all the time, for making applesauce, pumpkin puree, tomato puree, and pureeing soups.)

Lightly oil a large casserole dish, I prefer to use glass since tomatoes are very acidic. (My favorite are these borosilicate glass pans from Marinex, I have several of them and use them constantly.) Pour puree into pan, place into a 300 degree oven, convection is best, but not necessary, but it will take longer in a regular oven. Cook for 3 hours, if not using convection add another hour or two to the time. Stir occasionally with a spatula, when you notice the surface start to darken, reduce heat to 250 and continue cooking for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it is thick, shiny, and brick-colored. Your final amount will be about 1/10 of what you started with, 1 cup of paste is about what you will end up with this batch (which is why I always double it).

Put conserva into a glass jar carefully pressing out any air pockets, cover with 1/2 inch of good olive oil. Paul recommends keeping the conserva in the pantry if you have a cool, dark space. As long as you maintain the 1/2 inch layer of olive oil on top it should keep. I keep mine in the fridge because my pantry isn’t always cool. Mine always lasts a year in the fridge if I am careful to maintain a layer of olive oil on top.

It seems a little complicated, but it’s not at all. In fact, most of the time is spent waiting and occasionally checking on the conserva in the oven. I make 3-4 double batches each year, it’s a staple in our pantry.

What’s your favorite way to preserve tomatoes for winter?

Friday Favorite: Filling the Larder

September 8th, 2017

One of my favorite things time of of year is filling the freezer and the pantry with homegrown goodness. I’ve been making small batches of interesting things: pickled beans with garlic and basil, pickled garlic, pickled nasturtium pods, figs in brandy, minted onions, spiced peaches, and many more. The freezer is pretty much chocked full and the pantry shelves are starting to look lovely.


I have a few favorite canning books, most that provide small batch recipes, which are perfect for small amount of produce and small families. These books are constantly on my table, I leaf through them and read through recipes trying to decide what to make. A few recipes have become favorites and are used yearly, some are made every so often.

A few of my go-to books this time of year:
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin
Preserving the Taste by Edon Waycott
Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone

I don’t can much, but the things that I do are throughly enjoyed in the middle of our long winters here in Maine. Every time we crack open a jar of pickles or preserves we are reminded of the delicious bounty from the garden.

What are you preserving from the garden this year?

BBQ Spice Rub

September 7th, 2017

When we were back in Ohio for my mom’s memorial service, my dad gifted us with a small charcoal grill. We purchased some Wicked Good charcoal at the local co-op and grilles some country ribs given to us by Cari at Ridge Pond Herbals. I mixed up a BBQ rub and we grilled up these lovelies. Mr Chiots said it was the kind of meal you think about long after it’s gone. We tried the rub again a few weeks later on a venison backstrap and it was once again AMAZING. After giving some of the venison to a few friends, they all asked for the recipe. Since adding it to the blog is the best way to keep track of these things, here it is. Use it, change it, love it.

BBQ SPICE PASTE

1 Tablespoon of fresh garlic paste* (or sub 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 Tablespoon of fresh onion paste* (or sub 1/2 teaspoon onion powder)
2 tablespoons coarsely ground salt (like kosher)
2 teaspoons ground ancho chile
1 canned chipotle pepper smashed with a knife (or 2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile)
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I use Sucanat instead)
3 pounds of meat (chicken, venison, beef, pork, turkey)

Stout (optional)

*I use my microplane citrus zester to grate garlic/onions very finely. You could also dice and smash on the cutting board with the salt. You want it to be a paste.

Mix all ingredients minus stout or beer in a small bowl. Rub on whatever meat you are going to be grilling. Let sit in fridge 4-6 hours or overnight. If you are using beer/stout, pour over meat after rubbing in spices but before putting in fridge. Remove from fridge an hour before grilling. Grill over good hardwood charcoal. If you’ve never taken the step to buy real hardwood charcoal, do it NOW! It makes such a huge difference in taste. We have tried a few and Wicked Good is our favorite, though it can be difficult to find. Generally small, local butcher shops carry good hardwood charcoal.

We enjoyed the venison sliced thinly like lunchmeat. It was great warm the first night and phenomenal cold (we were both glad to have enough to eat for lunches every day this week). I’m already planning what kind of meat we will be using this mix on and grilling in a week or two.

Do you use a gas or charcoal grill? What’s your favorite item to grill? 

Pickled Nasturtium Pods

August 14th, 2017

I’ve heard of pickled nasturtium pods (which are the seeds) before, but I’ve never had them. Since I have quite a large crop of nasturtiums this year, I decided it was the perfect time to make a batch to see if I like them.

PICKLED NASTURTIUM PODS
(from The Joy of Pickling)
4 1/2 Tablespoons pickling salt
3 cups water
1 pint fresh, green, plump nasturtium pods
4 whole cloves
1 inch blade of mace (unground)
1/4 nutmeg kernel
1 slice horseradish (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter x 3/16th inch), cut into strips
1 shallot
about 1 cup white wine vinegar

Dissolve 1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt in 1 cup of water, and pour this bring over the nasturtium pods. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Drain the nasturtium pods, make fresh brine the same way as before, and pour over pods again. Again, let them stand overnight and do the same on the third day.

On the fourth day, drain the pods, put them into a jar with the cloves, mace, nutmeg, horseradish, and shallot, and cover all well with vinegar. Cover jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature for at least 1 week. After opening the jar, store it in the refrigerator.

I hear they are like capers, we shall see. I’ll let you know in a few weeks when they are ready.

What interesting things are you making this week?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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