We sit down for a hot breakfast at home most weekends once, if not twice. Sitting down to eat something hot rather than scarfing down a granola bar or toast on the run between our house and our desks starts a weekend morning out right. Since it is so easy to make a good breakfast at home, we find we enjoy it more than going out and spending an hour and $15 for a breakfast in a crowded diner. Sometimes we make an elaborate meal. Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Pizza, French toast, Belgian Waffles, Scrambled Eggs with Sautéed vegetables and cheese, bacon or sausage, veggie bacon or sausage, coffee, juice and fruit all show up upon occasion. But there are also days when the preparation takes only minutes. When it is Saturday, and you are eating breakfast at home, both of these breakfasts are very enjoyable, depending on the day. Today we wanted to get going on our day so our Saturday breakfast needed to be quick, so I decided to keep it simple with poached eggs and toast. We had a little cinnamon swirl bread leftover that we purchased for an elaborate French Toast affair. I toasted two thick slices, and brought a shallow pan of water to a simmer on the stove. I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water to help keep the egg together. I simmered the eggs for a few minutes until they yolks were beginning to get firm. We ate the toast with butter. I added a touch of fat-free chocolate milk to my cup of coffee to make a quick “at home Mocha”. A poached egg needs only to drain well, and be served with a little cracked pepper and salt. This breakfast is as quick and simple as it gets. It was satisfying without weighing us down, which is a great way to start a Saturday.
I often mention the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. It has become a destination for us every weekend. We have a garden of our own, and so we have a daily supply of tomatoes, lettuces, peppers and many herbs throughout the summer and into the fall. Still, there are so many summer and autumn vegetables we don’t grow that we pick up in our weekly excursions to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market. It is our source for corn, leeks, squash, melons, green onions, garlic and new species of vegetables to try for the first time. I had aspired to start canning this year, but by the time I had a free weekend, I was a week too late to do pickles, and just not as excited to make the effort for canning Dilly Beans. Salsa or pasta sauce would be fun, but I didn’t want to worry about pH levels in my first canning project. Pickled items just seem like a safer place to start. So, I gave up on the idea of preserving summer produce for winter. Then, as the summer wore on, I noticed that prices started to drop on large quantities of produce from $18 to $16 to $10 for a huge box and I couldn’t resist. I bought a crate of local tomatoes*, and planned to preserve them in the easiest way I know: blanche, chop and freeze them without seasoning to be used in sauces, chili and soups. I bought the crate of tomatoes on a late summer Saturday. My parents were visiting, so I didn’t get around to starting the blanching and freezing project until Tuesday evening.
I set up my blanching station on my handy kitchen table.** My essential list of tools included quart size freezer bags, 2 very clean plastic dish pans, one to be used for rinsing, and one for the ice water bath; 2 colanders; 2 cutting boards; a sharp paring knife; a bamboo-handled wire strainer (not pictured) and a large amount of ice for the ice water bath.
To begin, I washed the tomatoes and placed them in water in a plastic dish pan. I cleaned them up as needed with the paring knife, and cut a small X in the bottom of each clean tomato. When I had a colander full of cleaned up, scored-bottom tomatoes, I put them in a pot of boiling water on the stove, and left them there for 30 seconds. I initially set up two pots of boiling water on the stove, but soon realized that one pan of boiling tomatoes was all that could be tackled at a time with my small operation and two hands.
I removed the tomatoes from the boiling water with a wire scoop, and put them directly into the ice water bath. The hot to cold transition made the skins easy to slip off. I let them soak in the bath until they were cool enough to handle, removed the skins by hand and core quickly with a knife. I thought that cores came out more easily after the tomatoes were blanched.
Since most sauces are better with more of a tomato’s flesh than its liquid and seeds, I chopped the tomatoes and removed most of the seeds, and let the chopped tomatoes drain for a minute over the sink in a second colander so that my frozen tomatoes would be less liquid-y when thawed. The last step was to scoop the drained, chopped tomatoes into a quart-size freezer bag, and to remove as much of the air as possible before sealing the bag. Each colander-full batch of raw tomatoes yields a quart-size freezer bag filled about ¾ full. In total, I repeated this process for more than 2 hours and ended up with 9 quart freezer bags of tomatoes. It was some work, but 9 quarts of locally grown tomatoes frozen at the peak of freshness for $10 is a pretty good deal for the enjoyable effort that is involved.
Toward the end of the project, I got exhausted and I had to call in backup. Bjorn jumped right in and helped me see the project through to its close. I think it was the first time I’ve ever gotten wrinkled fingers from cutting up vegetables. Even though my Tuesday evening turned into a tomato-y marathon, the process of putting up food for the winter was rewarding. I’m certain that we’ll savor our favorite summer flavor preserved for the cold months to come.
*N.B., readers and self: this quantity is plenty for one person to handle in one evening.
**My kitchen table is a vintage enamel-topped table that I bought about 9 years ago. Through law school it served as a computer desk and work station. Last year we moved it into the kitchen for Thanksgiving preparations and discovered how nice it was to have some additional workspace in our tiny kitchen. I painted the table base flat black and Bjorn added casters. We use it constantly for cooking and baking projects, painting, sorting mail, as a place to sit for breakfast or have a guest sit while we cook a meal for them. I just love it.
Do not adjust your monitor! This cauliflower purchased at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market is an interesting orange-y gold! I’ve been seeing more and more varieties of vegetables in unique colours lately. Cauliflower that is orange, purple or bright green; purple potatoes; golden beets; and bright yellow carrots and tomatoes are becoming commonplace at the Farmer’s Market and grocery store. I don’t remember seeing these varieties much, just a year ago. I attribute this influx of vegetables in a new rainbow of colors to the masses becoming interested in growing and eating heirloom vegetable varieties and the local food movement gathering broader appeal. With all of the chatter among thoughtful eaters, people are becoming less suspicious of oddly shaped and uniquely coloured foods. We as eaters are learning that these characteristics often are accompanied by flavors that exceed those of red tomatoes of uniform colour and size; massive white turkey breasts, and eggs with white shells and pale yellow egg yolks in by immeasurable amounts. With a special-looking specimen like this golden cauliflower, I wanted it to play a starring role in what we made for our supper. At home, I have never done anything with cauliflower other that roast it, steam it or eat it raw. Recently, I sampled a truly delicious creamy, cheesy cauliflower soup at Heartland Restaurant in Saint Paul, and so for a weeknight meal my goal was to make a soup that was warming and delicious, but a little lower in calories and fat than the creamy-cheesy bowl of love from Heartland that I could never duplicate anyway. I followed some direction from Martha Stewart found in a recipe for Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup on her website.* The results were good, but as expected, it was no match for the Heartland Cauliflower soup which elevated all expectations for what a cauliflower soup could be from the first spoonful. I am not a James Beard winning chef though, and I’m striving to be health conscious, so I’ll cut my soup some slack. It was a tasty and healthy meal.
I started the soup by roasting the cauliflower. Martha Stewart’s recipe called for the cauliflower to be drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. I used some cooking spray so that the cauliflower wouldn’t stick, but skipped the oil and salt. The roasted cauliflower came out the oven with a similar colour and texture to macaroni and cheese.** Next, I added the roasted cauliflower to a pan of sautéed onions. Again, I used cooking spray instead of the butter suggested by Martha, but followed her lead on adding curry powder and low sodium vegetable broth, water and chopped fresh parsley.
I reserved a few of the best looking florets to top the soup, and gave the entire concoction a whirl in the blender to make it into a uniformly smooth consistency.
We enjoyed this soup with some grainy brown bread toasted with tomato slices, 21 Seasoning Salute** and a little melted mozzarella cheese. The curry added some kick, and helped to emphasize the golden colour of the cauliflower. It was a light but satisfying supper and there was enough for both of us to have a bowl re-warmed for lunch the next day. I’m sure we’ll make this soup again.
*Say what you want about Martha. She’s got her name on books, magazines, a website and a TV show that have been downright influential to my wedding planning, home keeping, cooking and entertaining and her website is by far the most comprehensive, well-organized resource on these subjects out there.
**Mmmm. Macaroni and Cheese.
***21 Seasoning Salute is a salt free assortment of dried herbs and spices from Trader Joe’s that is indispensable in our kitchen.
One of the downfalls of loving to cook and eat is getting into bad habits of having too much of our favorite foods, too often. Like many concerned eaters, we’ve recently watched the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and what we took away was a desire to go “Plant Strong” in our diet. To us, going Plant Strong means that meat (for Bjorn), complex carbohydrates and processed foods (for both of us) are playing a smaller role in our meals. We’re also aiming for scaled back portions when we do use these ingredients. We want to do this for our health, to shake off some bad habits we’ve acquired and to shed what we carry that comes along with those bad habits. We’re trying to put whole fruits and vegetables the center of more of our meals. We’re gardeners, veggie lovers and avid Farmer’s Market shoppers, so this isn’t new. We have just renewed our focus on putting the nutrient dense, delicious natural foods in the starring role they are meant to play in our diet. I am also trying to take little shortcuts and make substitutions to reduce the fat and salt used in our cooking, without sparing flavour. So far, we’re feeling good about the changes and I think we’re enjoying more variety and creativity in making a shift away from our pizza-pasta-burger routine we fell into over the summer. I love pasta a lot so we will still eat it, but a smaller amount, and prepared in a more thoughtful way. Tonight, our supper took the form of a lightened up, veggied-up, cobbled-together concoction with some characteristics that harken back to a traditional tangy and rich Russian-style Mushroom Stroganoff.
The recipe was simple, and came together quickly. I started by sautéing two small yellow onions with non-fat cooking spray, and just a little bit of olive oil. Then, I added chopped button and cremini mushrooms. I love mushrooms and can hardly resist adding them to every pasta meal I make, along with peas and spinach. They go with practically every sauce, and taste great together! Bjorn, being pleasantly open-minded as an omnivore has no problem foregoing the traditional beef in the stroganoff on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday night. To make the sauce, I loosely followed a Beef Stroganoff recipe, minus the beef from on of favorite my blog-haunts, Skinnytaste, using a can of tomato soup. We didn’t have Worcestershire Sauce in the cupboard, but after a quick Google search, Bjorn informed me that soy sauce with a shot of hot sauce would do the trick as a stand-in for Worcestershire Sauce. I used Braggs Liquid Aminos and Sriracha, aka, Rooster Sauce. We like deeply flavored sauce, so I added a healthy shake of paprika and some crushed garlic and let the sauce cook a bit. After cooking the onions and mushrooms and adding tomato soup the sauce was pretty thick, so I used some low sodium vegetable broth to thin it out a little. I cooked egg noodles separately in lightly salted water and when they were well on their way to al dente, I added peas to the sauce pan. When the noodles were nearly cooked, I stirred in some low-fat Buttermilk and a few generous handfuls of fresh spinach leaves into the sauce. Buttermilk gives the creaminess and tang of sour cream you want with a Stroganoff, but is low in fat. I had it on hand because I am planning to make another recipe that subbed buttermilk for a higher fat dairy product, so that is what I used, but low-fat sour cream would have been fine as well. The spinach and peas don’t belong in a traditional stroganoff, but they sure taste good! We enjoyed this cozy, richly flavored, savory dish with a little shaved parmesan and we both found the supper to be tasty and satisfying. With a few little tweaks to our cooking and eating habits, in time, we will see a positive result, I think. I also think we’ll enjoy some delicious suppers in the meantime.