How to: Make Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

Tomato Zeal (noun): an April/May induced state of fervent excitement for growing tomatoes that causes people to have 2-3 times as many plants as needed without foreseeing the future consequences of an amount of tomatoes that becomes unsustainable to stay on top of.

I am a victim of tomato zeal.  Every year.  Last year, I grew 4 tomato plants, moderately sustainable.  This year, the zeal possessed me to plant 8.  Yeah, I know, 8 plants for 2 people.  The main way that I convinced myself that I could handle this many tomatoes was to learn how to make fresh tomato sauce from them.  I can make tomato sauce from a can of tomatoes, but all freshness?  That was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up.

So, a little research entailed.  A 2009 article from the San Francisco Chronicle (“From Vine to Freezer”) helped me get the basic technique and proportions, then, the sauce went with the imagination.

This recipe is perfect for using up unloved, neglected tomatoes or brand new ones.  In short, it is the best way to temper tomato zeal.

Printable: Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

We’ll start with tomatoes.  The rounder the easier it will be to take off the peel, but heirlooms have an unbeatable flavor.  In the end, the peel comes off even the wild-shaped ones.

This one is old.  Perfect for tomato sauce the ultimate don’t judge a tomato by its peel.

To get the peel to come off easier, we have to score each tomato.  This means make and X with a knife on the bottom.  (If you have a food mill, you can skip this step.)

X marks the spot.

Some larger heirloom tomatoes may need a 6-pointed star because they are too good for an X.

We’re going to dunk these tomatoes in boiling water for about 45 seconds.  Just enough to blanch them.

The peel will start to roll up, the tomato may look like it’s about to burst.  Kind of like this.

That’s your cue to take ‘um out with a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to cool off under running water.  It sounds obvious, but we don’t want to use our hands to peel tomatoes that are recently out of boiling water.

Run the tomatoes under water to cool them.  Then take off the peels starting at your X/score mark.

Set the peeled ones on a LARGE cutting board that you can fit inside a cookie sheet.

Why the cookie sheet?  It traps the escapists juices that inevitably wonder off while you chop the tomatoes up, and we want to keep everything (except the the peels and cores) that these garden joys offer us.

I realized I needed a cookie sheet in the chopping process and lifting up pound of tomatoes with juice running over the sides was not a clean process.

We want to take out the cores of the larger tomatoes.  The cores of the small ones can stay in- don’t make too much work for yourselves.

Chop them up.  Doesn’t really matter how.  This is a forgiving recipe, and besides they will all just disintegrate into sauce anyways.

Tomatoes peeled, cored, chopped.  Check.

Everything else is pretty easy from here on out.

Dump the water from the tomato blanching process and use that giant pot to make your sauce.

Saute 1 onion in olive oil until the color becomes opaque and translucent, about 3 minutes.

Dump in chopped tomatoes.

Don’t forget about the juice that trickled over the edges of the cutting board that you ingeniously captured with the cookie sheet.

Press 4 cloves of garlic into the pot.

Add herbs.

And honey.  For a hint of sweetness.

Mix everything well and bring to a simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.  It’s good to make a lot of tomato sauce in a batch so you rarely have to do this looooong simmering process once.

Now go do something important around your house- like attempt to conquer the laundry.  Or shirk your chores and cuddle down with a great book.  Guess what I did…

Every 20-30 minutes, about the length of one chapter, check on the tomatoes.  Mix them so the bottom doesn’t burn.  The sauce thickens as it cooks.  It’s done when you can stand your spoon in it, a monument to handling your tomato zeal with finesse.


How to: Prepare Peppers for Stuffing

This method of preparing peppers for stuffing comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.  This is a stove top method that cooks the peppers until they reach a sweet spot, crunchy, but not raw.

This method is better than baking peppers in the oven for a few reasons.  First, it maintains, even enhances the color of the pepper, deepening its color and speckling it with some blackened spots.  Second, peppers are in season during the summer, and who wants an oven on for 45 minutes to an hour to bake peppers?  Third, it speeds up the stuffed pepper recipe.

A recipe for this preparation: No Bake Stuffed Bell Peppers

Caution: this method involves LOTS of spattering oil.  Be careful when moving the peppers in the hot oil.

ALWAYS PREPARE YOUR PEPPERS BEFORE STARTING ANYTHING!  The oil they cook in becomes this sweet pepper infused treasure of taste for the stuffing.

Here are some tools you need to start with: long tongs and a plate with paper towel to drain excess oil.

Once you start cooking the peppers you will not be able to do anything else, so prepare ahead of time.

Start with peppers of any kind.  I’ve got red bell peppers here, but feel free to substitute any sweet pepper.

Cut them in half, length-wise, leaving the stem on helps hold together the pepper when it’s brimming with stuffing.

Using a small knife, remove the seeds and white membranes.

Although your fingers work just as well.

Sometimes baby peppers start to grow inside another pepper, and these should be taken out as well.

Heat up about 1/4 cup of olive oil over high heat.  Wait for it to get very HOT.  This takes about 5 minutes.

Using tongs, place 2-3 pepper halves, CUT SIDE DOWN, in the oil.

It will go wild.  See all the bubbles?  Hot oil is meeting a watery vegetable (sweet peppers).  Stand back and be thankful that you have long tongs.

Sear the peppers for 3-4 minutes per side.  You will start to see the overall color deepen and become brighter, but around the edges you’ll notice a more cooked color that’s lighter than the rest of the pepper.  Using your long tongs, flip the peppers over in the oil.

Again, stand back as much as you can from the spattering.  (I look like I’m in an awkward yoga pose whenever I prepare these peppers.  My arm holding the tongs is stretched out, while the rest of my body leans as much as it can in the other direction in an attempt to avoid spattering oil.)

Sear the other side for 3-4 minutes also.  Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.  You want bits and pieces of the pepper blackened for a roasted flavor.

Repeat the process with as many peppers as you have.

Don’t forget: the oil you’re searing the peppers in will take on roasted pepper taste; use it in your stuffing.  Also, the cooling peppers will release juices; try to save as much of this juice as possible and use it in your stuffing.

Here’s the oil, color browned with flecks of sweet pepper juice.

How to: Make Nut Milk

I’ve made milk without lactating or stealing from other mammals.  Life is good.  This is a seriously easy recipe.  Too easy.  I must be cheating somehow.

Kris and I completed a 2 week body cleanse, 2 liquid meals a day, only 1 solid, with some pretty strict restrictions on allowable foods.   We’re hooked on making smoothies for breakfast now.

One of the key ingredients for smoothie yumminess is homemade nut milk or nut mylk for the vegan fans.  It gives a protein boost and a creaminess to the smoothies.

This is so easy.  Try it; I dare you.

3 ingredients and you’re done.  4 if you include time.

We’ve got nuts,Not metaphorical nuts.  We’re at Garden of the Gods by the way.

Literal nuts.  Any kind, except peanuts.   I don’t know why that is.I used 1 cup, raw, unsalted walnuts.  We’ve done almonds and cashews with the same process; everything is equally delicious.

One key factor about the nuts is the higher the fat content of the nut, the creamier the milk will be.  Cashews and macadamia nuts are the highest in fat content, so they will have the smoothest, richest nut milk.

Ingredient #2: water. 3 cups.  Fresh filtered water if you can.  This will soak the nuts.

3rd ingredient, a high powered blender, like a Vitamix.  OK, this isn’t a real ingredient, but once you use one, you will never go back to regular blenders.  A high speed blender will vastly destroy or improve your life, maybe both, depending on if you are a pessimist or optimist.

Yes, of course you can use a regular blender.  We did for a while until miraculously we managed to convince my mom that we could swap our blender for her high speed Vitamix, just for the 3 weeks to complete the cleanse.  She doesn’t know that we stopped after 2 weeks.  I hope she’s not keeping track.

Here’s the process:

Place 1 cup of nuts in 3 cups of filtered water.Let soak for 3-8 hours.  You’ll notice the water become yellowish.  If you’re using almonds or cashews it becomes more murky.

Why soak?  Soaking nuts improves their nutritional content.  Many nuts (seeds too) have enzyme inhibitors meaning they are naturally prevented from releasing all their nutritional goodness unless they have enough moisture.  Soaking the nuts helps release these enzymes, making the nuts release more vitamins and become easier to digest.

After 1 hour you’ll see some nuts sink to the bottom and a yellowish color form in the water.Here’s after 2 hours.  More of the same sinking and yellowing.After 3, you’ll notice the nuts look lighter and fluffier.  It doesn’t seem that nuts can be fluffy, but they just look perkier and more alive.Drain the nuts in a sieve.

What’s a sieve you may ask?  A fancy cooking term for a device that’s let’s you strain out very small pieces.  People often use these for powdered sugar or to sift flour.  Some people call it a sifter.Place soaked nuts in blender.  Add another 3 cups of filtered water.  NOT THE SOAKING WATER.  There’s a time to be frugal and a time to get new stuff.  This is a time to get fresh water.  Blend until a nice frothy liquid.

Strain the bits and pieces of nuts through a fine mesh sieve.

If you want to get rid of even more of the little chunks of nuts, use cheesecloth over the sieve.  This is how I like to do it.There you have it, walnut milk or mylk.  This is delicious, nutty, slightly sweet, more delicate than milk.  It is much more watery than milk.  I don’t drink it plain from the container; it is an ingredient for smoothies, maybe baking, but I haven’t tried that.  Sounds cool though.

If you want it even creamier, add less water and more nuts.  Try a 1:2 ratio of nuts to water.  This recipe is 1:3, 1 cup of soaked nuts for 3 cups of water.

If you’d like it a little more sweet, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1-2 teaspoons of agave nectar (a raw sweetener) or honey.  Also good,  a ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon.  If you’re in a bind or really don’t care about going all raw vegan, I suppose white sugar would be ok, but we’re trying to go unprocessed here.

Raw, pure milky goodness.



Our No Front Lawn Experiment

One of our New Year’s Resolutions, and I quote, was “Rip up front yard and replace with something better.”  Who needs grass?  It’s like botox, once you start, you have to keep it up.

Here’s what we started with:Lots of beautiful roses that burst in the summer=pollinating insects.

Don’t be fooled, as we were, by the green color of what is posing as grass.  It’s really just a bunch of weeds and evil, invasive bermuda grass.  Ickk!

So, off with their heads, I mean roots!

Idealist that I am, I thought this would be a quick weekend project.  We’d just rip up the grass, then plant some cool vegetables, et voila, as the French would say, our garden.

Thank God I have a husband who actually thinks things through and likes to problem solve.

He took a more rational approach to my idealistic one.  He went through about 3 different path designs before finally settling on the one that would optimize access to the different areas of the front yard.  What can I say, he’s an engineer, this is what he’s been trained to do, optimize space and utility.

Here’s our final design:So far this is half of the front yard, and the rest will surely follow.  In May we were able to rip up this part, the right side of our yard, a 16’ by 17’ space with lots of sun.

This would be our space for a French potager. For non-garden people, or wannabes like me, a potager is just an uppity way of saying French-style kitchen garden with cooking herbs, vegetables, and complementary flowers to bring in the beneficial insects.

Here are the stages of the No-Front Lawn Experiment, which took us 3 weekends with the help of a few sucker fabulous friends.

  1. Plan out a design.
  2. Rip out the sod.
  3. Find cheap or better yet, free, manure and compost to enrich the soil.
  4. Create your path.
  5. Plant your potager.

Stay tuned for more about our No-Front Lawn Experiment.

How to Make a Basic Vinaigrette

With my naked, homegrown salad, I wanted a basic balsamic vinaigrette.  Once you start making your own vinaigrettes and realize how easy they are, there’s no limit to your imagination.

At its essence, a basic vinaigrette is 4 ingredients, plus salt and pepper, alright, 6 ingredients.  Plus 3 tools: a small whisk (or fork), a prep bowl, and garlic press.I minced 1 clove of garlic in a small prep bowl.Then I combined 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon spicy deli-style mustard.  Please don’t use basic yellow mustard; it really doesn’t have the same flavor as deli mustard.  I stirred to combine.While whisking, I drizzled in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.  It wasn’t possible for me to get a picture while one hand whisked and the other drizzled, sorry.  Then I poured the vinaigrette over my salad and mixed with my hands.

Once you get comfortable with the basic canvas, play around with other ingredients you may enjoy: lemon juice/zest, spices, different vinegars, different oils, orange juice, etc.  Always taste the dressing before pouring it on the salad.

How to Make Freshly Grated Coconut

When I was in elementary school, we used to go to the San Jose flea market once a month.  My mom was a single mother, raising 2 young girls, working 50-60 hours a week to try to get ahead.  We’d buy hard-to-find tropical fruits and vegetables, and every time she would treat herself to a fresh coconut.

She walked around humming, sipping the coconut water out of a straw with a look of delight.  Afterwards, the fruit vendor hacked his machete, a harsh “thwack,” revealing the inside treasure, milk-white coconut meat.  He cut off the shell and put the meat pieces in a cup for her.  Immediately she turned giddy as if she were doing something behind her mother’s back.  I tried a bite each time, hoping for the same delight, but the gummy crunch never appealed to my tastes.

This Mother’s Day, I decided to make freshly grated coconut for  Coconut Custard Cupcakes.  I hope it brings my mom back to those stolen moments of pleasure she found drinking and eating a coconut in the midst of trying to raise 2 young girls on her own.

You can find coconuts at any Hispanic market, often Asian markets as well.  Remember coconuts have water and meat.  For grated coconut, you’ll just need the meat.

Printable PDF: How to Make Fresh Grated Coconut

Start with medium size coconuts, about the size of a ripe cantaloupe. Locate the 3 eyes of the coconut on the top.With a hammer and screwdriver, pierce 2 of the 3 eyes.  You will not need to go very deep, but you need to widen the holes by twisting the screwdriver in a circle.Drain the coconut water into a bowl.  (Drink it or store it or give it to your hard-working mom)Bake drained coconuts at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  Some stray strands will be browned.Place baked coconut on a hard surface (ex: concrete patio).  Take the hammer and lightly smash around the shell to break it in half.  Husbands like to do this.Use a butter knife to carefully take out the coconut meat from the shell.  It should come out in one bowl-shaped piece.Use a paring knife or a potato peeler to peel off the inner brown skin.Coarsely chop coconut and place in a food processor.Pulse until coconut is finely chopped.  You can add a tablespoon or so of the coconut water to help the grating.  Makes 2 cups.