Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spaghetti Sauce

So here we are again, with yet another garden based post. What can I say? It's summer, the garden's growing, and I've got to find some way to use up all this produce so it doesn't go bad. I've mentioned before how plentiful the garden is, and a person can only make so many veggie fairy drops to friends before she begins to feel a little like a Mormon missionary. People are polite, but how many zucchinis and tomatoes can their family stand? I imagine just as much as mine, but we don't want to overwhelm them.

Tomatoes ready to peeled.
In April we got 6 tomato plants from Costco. They're all different varieties, two of which produce cherry tomatoes. These suckers are throwing off fruit like gangbusters. From what we've heard other people have had some trouble with their tomatoes this year. My aunt and grandma, who are gardening goddesses with magical green thumbs, even got some from us because their tomatoes weren't producing big fruit, just little guys. We have one plant called "Big Beefy" and he produces tomatoes the size of softballs. These guys are so big they almost tip the plant. We do recognize that this harvest was mostly based on luck, but we're enjoying having been so lucky!

So, suffice it to say, we've had a number of tomatoes, and a need to make sure they don't just rot on our counter. So far this summer, my mom and I have processed over 120 pounds of tomatoes. And that's not including the ones we've used fresh. I've made tapatio sauce (as you've seen-- the second time I did it I upped the peppers and it was spicier, which I think is better), canned tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce-- which is the theme of this blog post.

Homemade canned spaghetti sauce is amazing. Working with the spices and fresh ingredients gives me a place to experiment and be creative. And it also makes you feel like a domestic pro to complete the process. Of course after you've completed it, you will crash in front of the TV with a glass of wine and a bagful of candy corn. But what makes that so different from any other night? And this way you'll have spaghetti sauce in the end. So everybody wins!

 20-25 pounds fresh tomatoes
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1-2 bell peppers (use what you've got in the garden if you have them)
fresh basil (I don't measure this, just put as much in as you want-- around 1/4 cup)
2-3 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 lemon juice

To start core and score the tomatoes and peel them like I showed you here ( This process takes the most time, but you need to do it, the peels become bitter over time and the sauce will not be great if you leave them on.
After they look like this. So pretty right?
Then chop the onion and mince the garlic. Saute in olive oil over medium heat. This will take about 3-5 minutes. After the onions are translucent and you kitchen smells like heaven, add the tomatoes and all other remaining ingredients (yes it is a very simple process). Let cook down, stirring occasionally, and smashing up the tomatoes where necessary. I usually let my sauce cook at least two hours and I taste and fiddle with the spices as I go. The longer it cooks--without burning-- the more the enhanced the flavors will be.
We had so many tomatoes we ended up with 3 pots full of sauce on the stove.
Recipes I've seen have varied on the cooking times dramatically. The shortest was 30 minutes, but I believe that woman finesses her sauce at the time she's using it in the meal. So her canned sauce is less flavorful. To me the point of having it canned is that it's all ready to go and I can just throw it into something, but to each his or her own.

So after your satisfied with your sauce now you get to start the canning process. Fill the canning jars (I suggest using quart jars, but I feed a family of 6) within a 1/4 in of the top. Seat the lid and hand tighten the ring around the top.

So close to the end...
Then you get to boil the canning jars. You put the jars in the canner and keep them covered with at least 1 inch of water. Keep the water boiling. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.

And voila! You have your very own homemade spaghetti sauce canned and ready to go! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Zucchini Latkes

Our garden in early July
So it’s August. We planted in May, I moved in February, and now it’s August. The garden’s a lush green drag-queeny space. Flamboyant and wild. Because it is my mom and I who are responsible for the garden, we will not control it out of its natural state. We’re loath to attempt to control anything and thus end up with willful pets, exuberant gardens, and long relationships.
This is the first time either of us has been particularly successful with gardening. I used to think that black thumb was something we had in common. It bound us together and solidified my understanding that she and I are of the same stuff. 
My dad’s side of the family can nurse any plant back to life. You can take them a clearly dead fern and within a few weeks of their care it has been resurrected! They plant and then reap in what seems like an effortless fashion. My grandfather even hybridized flowers, which speaks to the desire for control that my grandfather and much of the rest of that side of the family share, that my mom and I do not--- or at least not so much.
For reasons to numerous and complex to explain, my mom and I wanted to reclaim the earth this year. We wanted to nurture something and then have shareable results. We, with the help of other family members, turned the soil, planted the garden, and tend to it daily. There is something deeply therapeutic in the process of nurturing this piece of land with its sunflowers, zucchinis, tomatoes, peppers, and beans. Maybe it’s how symbiotic the relationship is. We nurture and water the plants giving them what we believe they need and in return they give us food.
The food our garden gives us most is zucchini. Those plants produce like rabbits. Every morning there are more zucchinis. We eat them constantly. I’ve pawned them off on friends, neighbors, repairmen, you name it. For the first time in my life I embarrassed my dad, when I considered asking the folks installing our air-conditioner if they would like some veggies to take home. 
I spy with my little eye... more zucchini!
My family may be growing tired of zucchini. “May” is actually an understatement, and “growing” is wishful thinking. The people in my house are sick of zucchini. I get rolled eyes when I bring more inside each morning. I can sense the troops are getting restless and I've got a mutiny on my hands--- "The Zucchini Uprising of 2012", but it’s essentially free food so what can I do?
I personally consider the current bounty a challenge to my culinary prowess. How can I get my family to eat zucchini? We’ve had zucchini bread, zucchini cakes, zucchini muffins, zucchini casserole, stir-fried zucchini, sautéed zucchini, zucchini parmesan, grilled zucchini. The list goes on and on. Which brings us to today: zucchini latkes!
Honestly, I loved them. Midway through cooking them I decided to triple the recipe because I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough. And by enough, I mean enough for me. I was ready to hoard them and not share at all.
Now, if you’ve never had latkes, first of all you need to—as soon as possible, and secondly they are little potato pancakes. Imagine little discs of fried hashbrowns and you’ve got the idea.
The recipe is absurdly simple. One medium sized zucchini, one large baking potato (peeled), one onion (peeled), one egg, one cup matzo meal (or bread crumbs), salt, pepper, a little lemon juice and you’re golden. So first you grate the zucchini, potato, and onion (I tripled the recipe—so three of each for me). Then you squeeze out the excess juice and water in a colander. Then you put the mixture in a bowl add the egg, matzo meal, salt, pepper, and lemon juice and mix it together like you would a meatloaf (i.e. use your hands and incorporate the ingredients evenly).  

Zucchini latkes sizzling in the pan!
Then heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan. Take a heaping teaspoon of the mixture put it in the pan, press it with the back of the spatula (it will end up being about the circumference of your fist, but flat). After about 2 minutes flip it and then after another 2 minutes you should have a finished latke to transfer to a plate with paper-towels (to soak up the grease). The latkes should be golden brown and tempting.  Add oil to the pan as you go through this process. I did about 4 latkes at a time in my pan. 

Serve these babies with sour cream and apple sauce and ENJOY!! We ate ours with roasted pork loin (which my mom thought, might be a little less than kosher--- it technically is, but all the same I think it’s ok), and tomatoes with basil and cheese. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tapatio Sauce

Ok, so after almost a 2 year hiatus, WE'RE BACK! And we're no longer 500 miles apart. I've finished grad school and am working in the SF Bay Area in private practice. So Xochi and I have shrunk our distance by about 400 miles which is a great start.

One good thing about having moved is that now I have an amazing garden in my backyard. This amazing garden comes at the price of living with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews-- I'm still evaluating to see if it's worth it. It's a close call. But I feel things coming out in favor of the garden--- and the family.

One great thing about having so much produce is all the crazy canning and food processing that I am learning to do. So in an effort to make use of our jalapenos and our pleuthora of tomatoes I made homemade tapatio sauce. My dad and BIL (brother-in-law) put hot sauce on most everything. I decided that instead of being mildly offended when they smother my phenomenal food with hot sauce, I could take pride in the hot sauce itself and so I have. (Note to my dad, if you're reading this, hot sauce does not belong on a lemon and asparagus risotto. It's not culinarily appropriate).

So back to the project at hand. I made tapatio sauce with ingredients fresh from our garden and it was amazing. If you are going to attempt this recipe I recommend using garden fresh, in season, ingredients. It just tastes better that way. I could have stood a little more heat, but the flavors are wonderful. If you want a bit more kick, use more peppers and cook the sauce for a longer period. The longer peppers have to incorporate into the mixture the spicier the end result.

Here's the recipe (adapted from


7 jalapeno peppers
1 gallon peeled, seeded tomatoes
2 onions
4 green bell peppers (our garden had green, but you can use red if you like)
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup canning salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar


To peel tomatoes I followed these directions from ( First of all, put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 - 45 seconds is usually enough). Then, plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water. The skins will slide right off of the tomatoes AND you won't burn the shit out of your fingers in the process! Trust me. I've tried it without the icebath and it's a pain. This way's much better. 

So to be fair, these guys suggest removing the seeds from the tomatoes. I bet that would be cool. I don't have a food mill, and I had just processed 16 quarts of tomatoes before this, so I wasn't about to add a step I felt was tedious and not entirely necessary, however, if you want to remove the seeds, go for it!

Next, chop all the ingredients, combine them with the peeled (and seeded) tomatoes and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to create a nice sauce-like texture. Fill half pint canning jars and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

I got about 10 half pint jars from this recipe. Enjoy with your next spicy meal! (Or if you're my dad just cover anything on your plate with it. Love you Daddy!)