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Week 6 – Digging Deeper Into Convenience

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Now that I’m over the emotional stress of last week I can talk a bit more openly about everyone’s interest in my new diet. “How’s that new diet coming along?” one of my neighbors asked, “have you given up the fast food yet?” To be honest, I’ve been rather surprised how many people are rather surprised by what I’m referring to as convenience foods.

So this week I’m going to clear up a few of the mysteries surrounding my “rules” and my (somewhat arbitrary) choice of what comes out of a bottle vs. what comes out of the ground. I think of this as sort of a roadmap from processed food to the unprocessed life I’ve currently chosen.

Lisa last winter making "the gravy."

Consider the tomato. Why? Because I love tomatoes and so many of the foods I’m now labeling as processed, start with fresh tomatoes. I can still remember when I was about four or five years old, walking through my great grandparents farm field with my Mom. She used to carry a pocketknife and a saltshaker around with her so that when we came upon a perfectly ripe fresh tomato, we would savor a bite of its deliciousness right off the vine. Ah… the tomato memories. Anyways, considering my impulsive need to create as much of my meals from basic single ingredients for the next 45 weeks, I’ve been trying to overcome my limitations in mealtime variety because of the tomato. Not because of the fruit itself, but because of the processing of the fruit that is required before it becomes an ingredient I can use in a recipe. Here is the roadmap to my tomato dilemma.

Tomato Product What I’m currently doing Sometime In The Future…
Diced or Crushed Tomatoes Buying 2-4# of fresh tomatoes at a time, skinning, seeding, crushing or dicing – then freezing. I get about 16-28 oz. at a time this way. I plan to can both diced and crushed tomatoes when they come into season at the farmer’s markets this summer. I purchased my first enamel canning pot at a flea market last week.
Tomato Sauce Using my crushed tomatoes I’m prepared to cook down into sauce. Haven’t made time to do that just yet. I also plan to make and can lots of this during the summer.
Tomato Paste I’m using tomato paste from a tube that I had leftover since I don’t usually need that much at a time. I’ll learn how to make it from scratch but I understand I first need to buy a sieve?
Pizza Sauce I made one batch after crushing/processing fresh tomatoes – it’s frozen now awaiting my first pizza. Continue to freeze when I have a better stock of crushed tomatoes on hand.
Pasta Sauce Wow, that requires tomato sauce, tomato paste and diced or crushed tomatoes – so I’m currently not eating any. This makes a quick meal, I know so I have to come up with a plan to make a batch or two and freeze it
Chili Besides cooking the beans from scratch, I need tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. I liked using the fire-roasted variety in a can… wonder how to do that? TGIS (thank god it’s summer) but we eat a lot of homemade chili during the fall and winter. Just how much do I need to can?
Catsup I haven’t needed this yet and I still have some left in the refrigerator. I have condiments on my “okay to buy from a store” list. I’d like to make it from scratch and can it? Wow, canning might be a full-time job come August.
BBQ Sauce Using up what I still have left from last summer (is BBQ sauce a condiment?) Seriously, do you now see the point of my tomato dilemma?

As week six slowly sets into the sunset of Memorial Day weekend, I think I’ll go grab myself a beer and figure out what we’re going make for the cookout. Did someone just ask why I’m not brewing my own beer?


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10 responses

  1. Actually, in a broad sense, you did brew your own beer – the Outpost Brew!
    Tomatoes are so prevalent in our kitchens, thank goodness. Your list of what you’re doing/going to do with them is very helpful for many of us – it’s amazing what we can do with them for our diverse meal needs.
    Your little story about picking tomatoes in your great-grandparent’s field with your mom is reminiscent of my experience. When I was a child we had a garden in our backyard, next to the alley fence. It was always a huge treat for me to pick a deep red, ripe tomato and sit on our front porch to savor each sweet, juicy, drippy bite. There’s absolutely nothing like the taste and feel of a warm, fresh-from-the-vine tomato to enjoy on a warm Summer’s day.
    My friends and I will also be reaping our organic garden rewards this season canning, cooking, freezing – it takes loads of time and effort, but is truly a labor of love.

    • Wish we could have a back-yard garden but it’s all shade. Gotta call on our friends to let us “squat” some tomato plants in their sun.

  2. First—I asked my husband and we agree that BBQ sauce is a condiment! 🙂 That’s 2 votes!

    We have a similar issue in that most things out of my kitchen involve a tomato product of some kind. Here is the single best tomato sauce I have ever come across–EVER. Alton Brown’s Tomato Sauce (Oven Roasted). The recipe is at the Food Network website. I start with about 5# of tomatoes per batch to yield about a quart. You will need a food mill. Probably you should buy a sieve at the same time. 😉 I freeze quarts and quarts of this every Summer and use it throughout the year. Just used up my last quart about a month ago. I’m not sure if it’s acidic enough to water-bath can safely.

    Yes, you will spend most of a hot, steamy August in your hotter, steamier kitchen—but the rewards are well worth the effort. Make sure you have plenty of beer on hand…Home brewed or store bought are both good, just as long as it’s cold!

    • Thanks for the two votes Sam – I’ll take em! I’ve tried Alton Brown’s granola bars and they were great, so I trust his recipes.

  3. Okay, ya gotta deal with the sun-dried tomato part, yet this is my favorite way to process tomatoes and skip all the canning mess. It freezes well.

    Raw Marinara Sauce

    5 fresh tomatoes, Roma style nice
    1.5 cups sun-dried tomatoes in oil
    1/2 cup fresh parsley
    1 small onion – diced
    2-4 cloves garlic – minced, whatever your taste
    3 tablespoons fresh basil – minced
    1 tablespoon fresh oregano – minced
    salt & pepper, to taste
    1 tablespoon olive oil or more if needed, or water

    Chop tomatoes. Seed if desired. Place half of them in a blender. Puree briefly.

    Drain the sun dried tomatoes. (save the liquid to thin the sauce later if you need to) and add enough to blender and puree. Will be thick.

    Add the remaining ingredients and fresh tomatoes. Puree. Add oil or water as needed. I puree min for finely. You can leave it more chunky too. Further season if needed.


    Karen Cooks It

    • Thanks Karen. Technically I need to make my own sun-dried tomatoes so that will take a first step, but looks like Meg is helping me out with that one.

  4. I keep my dehydrator going all summer, the dried tomatoes will enhance your sauces and pastes. I dry batches and then freeze for later. Then process them with garlic and olive oil to make a sun dried tomato paste. Also, what are you going to do about salsa?

  5. No need to fear tomato preserving’s demand on your time. My mom cans all the styles of needed tomatoes in a single weekend…makes a party of it. People rotate through the blanching, peeling station to the food mill/dicing station, to the “cooking” station, to the jar filling station. I’m sure you can find a small committee of helpers for a day or two like that this summer. 🙂
    RE: the fire-roasted tomato dilemma…halve your tomatoes, toss with olive oil and a little coarse salt (herbs if you like too). Roast in a single layer (cut side up) on a baking sheet in a 425 degree oven until carmelized and they smell yummy (can be 25-45 minutes depending on how juicy/meaty your tomatoes are). I do big batches all the time and toss them in with other diced tomatoes to get that roasty tomato flavor.

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