Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to: Tomatoes

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

 

Today’s tomato round-up not only includes How to Peel and Seed a Tomato, but also:

How to Buy and Store Tomatoes

When you pick up a good tomato, it should feel heavy for its size and have a distinct tomato-y smell. It should have a little “give” when you feel it, but not be mushy, and the skin should not be bruised or have blemishes or cracks.

The best place to get tomatoes is in your own backyard vegetable garden or from a local farmer’s market. Tomatoes in the grocery store are often picked before they’re ready, artificially ripened, and not as flavorful as the locally grown fresh varieties. Canned tomatoes can often be better than the tomatoes in the grocery store.

Do not refrigerate tomatoes, because their texture will change; they’ll become mealy. Instead, store them on your counter top in a cool, dry spot, stem side down. Don’t stack them on top of each other, because they’ll tend to make each other mushy. Store them in a single layer.

There are roughly three types of tomatoes generally found at the grocery store.

1. Slicing tomatoes:

One popular kind is the beefsteak tomato.

It is grown for fresh use, and it yields large slices perfect for sandwiches! Look for the sign or the label on the tomato itself.

2. Paste/Canning tomatoes:

These are often smaller and more oblong-shaped than slicing tomatoes. They tend to be meatier and have fewer seeds – perfect for making sauces with creamy texture and lots of flavor, or canning for the long winter! One popular variety is the Roma tomato. These are also known as “plum tomatoes.”

3. Tiny ones:

Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes are the most popular. These are great for adding tomato flavor to dishes without any of the moisture associated with the cut fruit — perfect for pasta salads or green salads!

In the summertime, especially at Farmer’s Markets, there are of course, many more varieties of tomatoes available. Here’s a great website with a description and photos of dozens of tomatoes.


How to Peel and Seed a Tomato

Some of you might be thinking – “why do I ever need to peel and seed a tomato?”

It can be a matter of preference but, generally speaking, for recipes with quick cooking times it is best to peel the tomatoes. Recipes that call for a long simmering time usually do not have you peel the tomatoes. In my Guacamole recipe I do not peel the tomato but I do seed it as all those extra seeds (and juice) really throw off the texture and can make it watery.

 

Start by cutting an X in the bottom of the tomato with a very sharp knife. You want to just pierce the skin.

 

If you are peeling just one or two (or three!) tomatoes put them in a heat-proof (Pyrex) bowl big enough so that when you add the water they will be totally covered.

 

Pour BOILING water over the tomato(es.)

 

Within about 10-15 seconds, the skin will have burst. (There are some who say to leave the tomato in the water for 3-to-4 minutes. WRONG! You do not want the tomato to cook and get mushy.)

Remove the tomato from the water with a pair of tongs.

 

You can also do this in a pot of boiling water, using tongs to add and remove the tomato from the pot.

Prepare an ice-bath, which is just a bowl of water with ice cubes in it.

Using tongs, drop the tomato into the ice bath.

This cools off the tomato and stops the cooking process. Remove the tomato from the ice bath and the skin now just slips off…

 

…and the tomato is all peeled.

 

To remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half with the blade of the knife parallel to the stem.

 

You can gently squeeze the tomato to remove the seeds, or just ease them out with your finger.

 

Once tomatoes are peeled and seeded they can get added to salads, dips, sauces, cold soups, etc.

 

The longest part of the entire process of peeling and seeding a tomato is boiling the water!


 

How to Freeze Tomatoes

If your garden is bursting with fresh tomatoes you can actually freeze raw tomatoes.

The University of Nebraska’s Alice Henneman (MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County) has described how you would go about freezing raw tomatoes:

“Tomatoes may be frozen whole, sliced, chopped, or puréed. Additionally, you can freeze them raw or cooked, as juice or sauce, or prepared in the recipe of your choice. Thawed raw tomatoes may be used in any cooked-tomato recipe. Do not try to substitute them for fresh tomatoes, however, since freezing causes their texture to become mushy. Tomatoes should be seasoned just before serving rather than before freezing; freezing may either strengthen or weaken seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs.

Preparation:

Select firm, ripe tomatoes for freezing. Sort the tomatoes, discarding any that are spoiled. Wash them in clean water. Dry them by blotting with a clean cloth or paper towels.

Freezing whole tomatoes with peels:

Prepare tomatoes as described above. Cut away the stem. Place the uncut tomatoes on cookie sheets and freeze. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes from the cookie sheets into freezer bags or other containers. Seal tightly.

To use the frozen tomatoes, remove them from the freezer a few at a time or all at once. To peel, just run a frozen tomato under warm water in the kitchen sink. Its skin will slip off easily.

Freezing peeled tomatoes:

If you prefer to freeze peeled tomatoes, you can wash the tomatoes and then dip them in boiling water for about 1 minute or until the skins split. Peel and then freeze as noted above.

For more information on freezing tomatoes: Check this link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service: Freezing Tomatoes

Storage time

To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing (that means proper freezer bags, not just any bag that’s left over from the produce section of the grocery store). Keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about 8 months for best quality.”

Buying the Best Canned Tomatoes

(From this point onward, I need to extend an apology to my world wide audience. The following reviews are based on canned tomatoes available in the United States. I would love it if any of my overseas readers could add in the comment section what canned tomatoes they could recommend from their country of origin. Thanks!)

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All canned tomatoes are not the same. One should not dismiss canned tomatoes if the first brand you try does not meet your standards. There are many to choose from. Please keep in mind that some brands may have superior canned whole tomatoes but their “roasted” canned tomatoes are rated inferior. This is one purchase where you really need to read the label carefully!

Chris Kimbal, over at America’s Test Kitchens, provides a useful guide. One of the many wonderful things they do at America’s Test Kitchen is test ingredients.

Here is a quick summary of their recommendations on what canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato puree they recommend:

WHOLE CANNED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

  1. PROGRESSO Italian-Style Whole Peeled Tomatoes with Basil
  2. REDPACK Whole Peeled Tomatoes in Thick Puree
  3. HUNT’S Whole Tomatoes

DICED TOMATOES- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  1. MUIR GLEN Organic Diced Tomatoes
  2. REDPACK Diced Tomatoes (REDGOLD on the West Coast)

TOMATO PUREE RECOMMENDED

  1. HUNT’S: “Nice and thick,” “tomatoey.”
  2. PROGRESSO: “Thick,” “tastes kind of fresh.”
  3. CENTO: “Balanced, good flavor,” “slightly bitter.”
  4. MUIR GLEN: “Thick and strong,” “good flavor.”
  5. PASTENE: “Fresh tasting, “tinny.”
  6. REDPACK: “Velvety smooth texture, “very acidic.”
  7. CONTADINA: “Good balance,” “slightly sour.”
  8. RIENZI: “Vegetable flavor,” “very thin.”

If you would like a more in depth description of America’s Test Kitchen Review, head on over to America’s Test Kitchen and sign in! Thanks ATK!

(Note: America’s Test Kitchen is a fabulous site but not everything is available for free. To have complete access to ATK you will need to pay an annual fee.)

Links to Some Great Tomato Recipes!

Fresh basil is fragrant and delicious! My Marinara Sauce uses canned tomatoes with a nice big bunch of fresh basil. You can wash fresh basil the same way you wash lettuce.

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One of the easiest ways to use tomatoes is in Insalata Caprese, an Italian salad that combines tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and olive oil. It’s that simple!

A basic Tomato Sauce Recipe can be made and frozen for future use.

Home made Tomato Soup is surprising easy to make and it is m-m-m-m good!

When summer is bursting with fresh tomatoes and high temperatures, cold Gazpacho is a filling and refreshing soup.

Pasta Salad is the perfect meal to enjoy all year round. Bow-tie pasta, salami, olives, green onions, feta or goat cheese, and of course tomatoes make this salad a summer favorite!

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This one’s got a long name, but it’s so mouth-wateringly delicious-sounding that I have to tell you the whole thing: Tomato and Fresh Basil Crostini (toast) with Feta and Roasted Garlic Cheese Spread…mmm. A great appetizer similar to bruschetta.

Tomato pie in a flaky pastry crust is a classically southern way to enjoy your garden’s abundance of tomatoes. (Emily’s pie used peeled tomatoes and it looks delicious!)

Tomatoes stuffed with rice are an easy and elegant dish to serve your summer dinner party guests. Try adding vegetables, sausage pieces, or ground beef to your rice mixture.

Fried green tomatoes are another classically southern dish. Green tomatoes have a tangier taste than red ones, and when breaded and fried, they make a crispy and fresh appetizer, addition to sandwiches, or side for crab cakes.

Don’t forget about the classic BLT sandwich!

Taboule (shown below) will keep you cool because there’s no cooking involved! Plus, with fresh flavors like tomato, lemon, and mint, you can’t go wrong.

Cheers!

Kathy

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How to Pit Cherries

posted in Fruits by Kathy Maister

My all-time, number-one, favorite fruit is the cherry! Cherries are in season from about late May until early August. “Bing” cherries are the most popular kind on the market. When you buy them, be sure that they are firm, a deep, dark red in color, and still have the stem attached.

Ranier cherries are yellow/pink-ish in color and are sweet and juicy, but don’t have quite the intense flavor of the Bing Cherries

Don’t wash cherries until you are ready to eat them. They should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Cherries will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, but it’s better to buy small amounts and eat them within a day or two of purchase.

The best way to serve cherries is simple: rinse them in cool water, put them on a serving dish and dig in!

If you are adding them to a fruit salad, or putting them on top of cereal or ice cream you are going to want to remove the pit. Using a small paring knife cut around the cherry and split it in half. Pick out the pit with your fingers.

There is another way. I am not someone who likes to buy gadgets that are for doing just one thing. Storage space in just about everyone’s kitchen is very valuable, so why waste it on something that can’t perform multiple tasks? However, my cherry pitter breaks that rule!

The pitter, the strange-looking gadget pictured above next to the knife, supposedly can remove the pit from olives as well, but I have never been able to make it work with olives.

But it can remove the pit of a cherry in seconds!

Wash and remove the stem off the cherry. Place the cherry on the curved bit under the spike.

Squeeze the pitter so that the spike goes through the cherry, forcing out the pit.

Just that easy, just that quick!

There are a few things you need to be careful of, however.

If your cherries are really plump and juicy the spike may go around the pit instead of popping it out. Make double sure the pit actually did pop out!

Really juicy cherries sometimes get a bit messy, with juice squirting back at you. Be careful your shirt doesn’t get covered with cherry stains.

When you are through pitting all your cherries, rinse off the pitter and dry it with a dish towel.

There is a little lever on the base of the cherry pitter which will hold it closed and therefore take up less room in your kitchen drawer.

At the cost of about $12, these cherry pitters are not inexpensive, but if you love cherries, I think it’s a great investment. Cheers!

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Salad Greens From A to Z

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Emily Chapelle

It’s easy to get in a salad rut, turning to the same kind of lettuce every time. Why not go beyond iceberg, romaine, or leaf lettuce and try some more interesting options? Spring is the perfect time to experiment with salad greens, and this post will help you get acquainted with all that leafy stuff at the grocery store.

When you purchase or harvest lettuce, you should wash or rinse it, then store it wrapped in a cloth or paper towel, then in a plastic bag, in the crisper drawer. Store lettuce away from apples, pears and bananas. These fruits release ethylene, a ripening agent which will speed the decay of the lettuce. Because of its high water content, lettuce cannot be frozen or canned for long-term storage. It should always be eaten fresh, within about 10 days of purchase or harvest.

Nutritional content varies among lettuces and greens, though most are filled with Vitamin A and potassium. With the exception of iceberg, most varieties are also a good source of Vitamin C, iron and calcium. Lettuce is also a good source of dietary fiber.

When it comes to making a salad, try creating your own mix by tossing together at least three varieties. Here’s a basic formula:

  • Use a mild lettuce or green, like Boston, bibb or endive
  • Another should be a crisp lettuce or green, like romaine or cabbage
  • The third kind should be tart, peppery, or bitter greens, like arugula or radicchio

After your foundation of greens is mixed, you can add other goodies like carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Or you can venture into the more exciting world of salad-toppers, including edamame, beets, hearts of palm, sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, and more.

But wait a second. How do you tell arugula from endive? Mizuna from mesclun? Here’s a guide to recognizing and using the various greens in the produce section.

Arugula (pictured above)

Also known as: Rocket
Leaves are: Dark green and tender
Taste is: Bitter and peppery, with a slight mustard taste
Try this arugula salad with tomatoes and avocado.

Butterhead (pictured above)

Includes: Bibb and Boston Lettuce
Leaves are: Loosely formed heads of pale “wrinkled” leaves, smooth buttery texture
Taste is: Sweet and mild
Great on summer sandwiches!


Cabbage (pictured above)

Can be: green or red. Red is sometimes known as “purple cabbage”
Leaves are: crisp and crunchy
Taste is: bitter and sharp

Chard (pictured above)

Also known as: Swiss Chard
Leaves are: large, deep green, “wrinkled” leaves are always eaten cooked
Taste is: similar to beets, while the stalks are somewhat like celery
Try it in this Bean and Swiss Chard soup recipe


Dandelion Greens (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, flat, with jagged edges
Taste is: bitter
Young dandelion leaves may be used in salads, but the larger ones taste best when they’re cooked

Endive (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender and smooth
Taste is: mild and bitter. The lighter the endive, the milder the flavor is.
Their spoon-like shape makes them perfect for dips or try filling them with crab or chicken salad.

Escarole

Leaves are: wide and frilly
Taste is: mild. This is a good one to add for “fluff” and texture

Frisée (pictured above)

Leaves are: long, wide, and curly. Usually green, but sometimes edged in red
Taste is: slightly peppery or nutty
Try it with blue cheese, walnut, and cranberry on a crostini.

Kale (pictured above)

Leaves are: broad and ruffled, ranging from deep green to a bluish purple
Taste is: very mild, with cabbage undertones
The site Veganyumyum has a delicious-sounding recipe for kale salad with orange-blackberry vinaigrette. Kale is also often served cooked, as in this recipe with cranberries and pine nuts.


Iceberg (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, crisp, and pale-green
Taste is: mild and crunchy
Perfect for a make-ahead salad with peas


Leaf Lettuce (pictured above)

Leaves are: either red-tipped or dark green, ruffled and tender
Taste is: mild but interesting
Enjoy this lettuce on sandwiches or hamburgers


Mesclun (pictured above)

The term mesclun comes from the French word for a mix of tender young salad greens. You can buy this pre-mixed in bags, or make your own blend.
Leaves are: Varied, as a mesclun could include arugula, frisée, radicchio, dandelion greens, fresh herbs, and other salad greens
Taste is: Depends on the greens included, but is usually “bitter” or peppery
This is good to mix with a milder lettuce or spinach for a great tossed salad!
Try poached eggs with pancetta and tossed mesclun


Radicchio (pictured above)

Leaves are: crisp, deep red and white
Taste is: bitter and peppery
A honey-citrus dressing is the perfect foil for radicchio’s peppery bite


Romaine (pictured above)

Also known as: cos
Leaves are: long green leaves, with a crunchy center vein
Taste is: bitter and succulent
This lettuce is used in a Caesar salad, or great for a taco salad


Spinach (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, dark green, and sometimes wrinkled, sometimes smooth
Taste is: slightly bitter and somewhat hearty

Tat Soi (pictured above)

Also known as: spoon cabbage or baby bok choy
Leaves are: spoon shaped
Taste is: peppery

Watercress (pictured above)

Leaves are: small and dark-green on long stems
Taste is: strong and peppery
This sounds amazing: avocado and watercress salad with a soy-apple dressing

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