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Monday, September 24, 2012

Preserving Tomatoes

I realize that most of you have probably turned your thoughts to cooler weather produce, like squash, but not so fast! There is still much of summer to be had, depending on where you live. I sit weekly at farmers markets selling my granola and admiring the beautiful tomatoes across the way. I wanted to figure out how to preserve them easily, without going to the trouble of canning.

Whole peeled tomatoes are so convenient to use in many recipes, but I am reluctant to buy them canned because of the BPA linings. Although some companies are now using alternatives to BPA, I read recently that all canned tomato products are still lined with BPA because of the acidity in tomatoes.

I asked a farmer at the market what price I could get on a lot of tomatoes. "Would you be interested in seconds?" he asked. "Seconds" are tomatoes that are slightly bruised, too big, too small, or otherwise imperfect. They are great for sauces and soups, and by the looks of the ones he gave me, for any other recipe too. Guess how much I paid for 25 pounds of tomatoes? Ten bucks! It was amazing. Three big bags of lovely tomatoes, all for ten dollars.

I reserved about five pounds to use fresh, and processed the rest of the 20 pounds by flash boiling them, plunging them into ice water, and then peeling them. I could have gone on to can them in a hot water bath, but instead I weighed them out into 28 ounce portions (the size of a large can) and froze them in freezer bags. The whole process, including cleaning up and packaging, took just over an hour. Totally worth it. Now I can pull BPA-free tomatoes out of my freezer all winter. Twenty pounds yielded the equivalent of nine 28 oz. cans.

1) Here's how it works. Set up your station. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and add water, leaving some room at the top. Set up a towel on the counter that you don't mind getting tomato on. Have a slotted spoon ready, or you can use a pasta insert.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

There is a coffee shop in Baltimore that has a lovely, charming, city atmosphere. They have nice things to buy, a bar with stools looking across the street at a beautiful cathedral, and plenty of people to watch. They are within walking distance from the central library, which always makes for a nice pairing of activities, and the staff is generally nice. However. I just don't love their menu. They have limited breakfast options, so-so pastries, and I can't say I've had too much lunch there. The coffee is good, but never wonderful. But they have the most amazing pain de mie raisin, which is a thick slice of white flour raisin bread grilled in a hearty amount of butter. It is divine.

I wanted to try and recreate it at home with less sugar and half whole grain flour. I've come close to succeeding, but it will never replace the dessert-like version with all white flour and tons of butter. This bread recipe is very easy, as far as bread recipes go. Have you ever made bread before? It can be intimidating. I remember the first time I tried, it seemed like an insurmountable goal. But it wasn't as hard as I thought. It is truly rewarding to pull fresh bread out of the oven and make the house smell amazing.

This basic bread recipe, adapted from Cooking Light, has only four ingredients, and one optional ingredient (cornmeal). To make it cinnamon raisin, I added three additional ingredients. The standard formula for making bread is as follows:

- Proof the yeast (5 minutes)
- Mix the dough (8 minutes)
- Place into oiled bowl and let rise (45-60 minutes)
- Punch dough down, roll out, sprinkle with filling (5 minutes)
- Roll dough into loaf and let rise until doubled (45 minutes)
- Bake (20 minutes)

It looks like a huge time commitment (and it is) but keep in mind that the total active time is about 20 minutes. The rest is waiting for the dough to rise and bake. Here is the recipe and step-by-step photos to help you on your way to successful homemade bread.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes two loaves
I like to do other baking simultaneously. The reason is that the oven is on for a while and churns out a bunch of products, which I can freeze, and the extra heat helps the bread to rise faster. It's not a requirement, but it prevents hour-plus rise times in a cold kitchen.