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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: Zucchini

posted in Food, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

Image result for free zucchini photo

It happens each year around the same time. Summer heat arrives and then – bam! – a bushel of zucchini lands on your doorstep, courtesy of a neighbor trying to offload their backyard bounty.

Or, maybe zucchini is just one of those vegetables you have no idea how to cook.

Well, the good news is, you don’t even have to cook it; it’s great raw in many dishes. And because it kind of has a split personality, you can use it in everything from stir-fries to cupcakes.

Is Zucchini a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Bright green zucchini squash is part of the gourd family. Along with its yellow cousin, the summer squash, it is considered both a fruit and a vegetable. The fact that zucchini contains seeds makes it a fruit, but it is used as a vegetable in most recipes.

How to Buy and Prepare Zucchini

Look for zucchini that’s about 4-6 inches long, and looks firm and shiny with no breaks or cracks. Large, older fruit will be tough and bitter; the best way to use very large zucchini is in zucchini bread.

It can be kept in the fridge for up to one week. When you’re ready to use it, wash the zucchini, then slice both ends off. If the skin of the zucchini has been waxed (to extend its shelf-life), peel the skin, but leave the skin on if it’s unwaxed. Larger zucchini should be peeled first because the skin can be bitter. Golden zucchini blossoms, the flowers on the zucchini plant (pictured below), are also edible. They can be battered and deep-fried, baked, stuffed or used as a garnish for high-class dining!

Zucchini is Good For You, Too!

Zucchini is a great source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. It’s high in water content, has only 20 calories per cup and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Try Zucchini Raw or in These Recipes

  • Shred or grate raw zucchini into salads, or cut it into spears for vegetable platters.
  • Grill it: Slice zucchini lengthwise, brush it with olive oil, sprinkle both sides with whatever fresh or dried herbs suit your fancy and some salt and pepper to taste. Grill outside on your barbecue or indoors on a grill pan for about 5 minutes on each side until crisp-tender.
  • Chilled Zucchini Soup is the perfect starter for a hot summer night or an afternoon brunch. Make it ahead of time and dish it up right before serving.
  • The Italian version of an omelet, this Zucchini Frittata is simple to prepare and versatile. It can be eaten hot or cold, taken to picnics, packed for lunches or served as an appetizer at your next brunch.
  • Shredded zucchini make this Ottolenghi recipe for Turkey Burgers super moist.  (I LOVE these burgers!!)
  • Here are  tons of kid-friendly recipes for zucchini that your kids will love!
  • A staff favorite from Food & Wine, Farfalle with Yogurt and Zucchini calls for just 5 ingredients, plus nutmeg. This fast bow tie pasta meal is made with yogurt, instead of cream, for a unique taste sensation.
  • Grilled zucchini is super simple and super delicious!
  • This Zucchini Bread Recipe makes two large loaves or 24 muffins to eat or freeze. You can’t get much easier than this, and your kitchen will smell sweet and spicy!
  • Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread is a perfect when you need a chocolate fix.

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How to Cook Corn on the Cob

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

One of my favorite vegetables, fresh corn on the cob, is in season in the USA from May to September.

When buying corn, the husks (outer green covering) should be bright green and fit snugly around the ear of corn. The kernels should be in tight rows right to the tip of the ear of corn, and be plump and milky (if you accidently pop one!).

While in the grocery store, it is perfectly acceptable to peel back the outer green husk to check and see if the corn looks OK.

You should peel the husk off the corn just before you cook it. To do so, peel back the husk, hold the peeled ear of corn in one hand, the husk and stalk in the other and then snap off the stalk.

To remove the “silk” (the white hairy threads just under the husk) wet a paper towel and wipe down the corn – from the tip to the stalk end. Be sure to totally remove all the silk as it is really not pleasant to serve corn on the cob with the silky threads still attached.

Once the husk and silk have been removed from the corn, it is officially “shucked”.

I am going to show you three ways to cook corn on the cob:

  1. In the microwave
  2. On the stove top starting with cold water
  3. On the stove top starting with boiling water

You can also cook corn in a pressure cooker which is quick and (many people tell me) quite simple to do, but I still have yet to buy a pressure cooker.

Note:

Be sure to have a look in the comment section below as many experienced cooks have added some great suggestions on how they cook corn.

Method 1: Cooking Corn in the Microwave

Cooking corn in the microwave is my preferred method. I am not too fond of pots of boiling water heating up my kitchen on a hot summer day.

This method is good when you are cooking only 2 or 3 ears of corn. If you are cooking more, you should choose one of the other cooking methods or do it in batches in the microwave.

Place the corn in a microwave safe dish and add about 2 Tablespoons of water to the dish.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap, making sure to leave a small opening (a steam vent) in the corner to let the steam escape.

Microwave the corn on high for 4-to-6 minutes – depending on the strength of your microwave.
Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the corn. There will be a lot of very hot steam escaping, so you probably should use a pair of tongs to remove the plastic wrap.

Method 2: Cooking Corn on the Stovetop Starting with Cold Water

Place the shucked corn in a large pot. Cover it with COLD tap water. Cover the pot and set it on the stove. Bring the pot to a boil. Once the pot has reached a boil, the corn is cooked.

Method 3: Cooking Corn on the Stovetop Starting with Boiling Water

Fill a large pot half way with COLD water. There should be enough water in the pot so that when you add the corn, it is covered with water but not overflowing.

Bring the pot of COLD water to a boil. Using a pair of tongs, carefully drop each ear of corn into the pot.

Cover the pot and return the water to a boil.

Boil the corn for 5-7 minutes or until done.

Cooking Corn Do’s and Don’t’s:

How do I know when it’s cooked?
The cooking times listed above are general cooking times. Some people eat corn raw, and some dunk it in boiling water for 30 seconds to just heat it slightly. The simplest answer is to taste the corn to see if it cooked to your liking. Over-cooked corn does become really tough and it is also pretty rough on the digestive track!

Should I add Salt or Sugar to the cooking water?
Corn is naturally sweet. Some people add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to the cooking water to sweeten it even more. That’s totally up to you!

Salt, on the other hand, should not be added to the cooking water as it will toughen the corn. Sprinkle it on after the corn is cooked.

Ice Bath:

When blanching vegetables, like asparagus, you plunge the partially cooked asparagus into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

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If you are cooking the corn for other uses than eating it off the cob, you may be tempted to submerge it in a bowl of icy water to cool it off. Don’t! It will cool the corn off BUT it will also turn your corn very soggy.

Storage:
Cook and eat corn on the cob the same day as you buy it.
To freeze fresh corn on the cob you must remove the corn from the cob first. It can be cooked or uncooked when you remove it from the cob to freeze. To remove the corn from the cob, a serrated knife works best.
Corn can be frozen for up to six months.

Corn Holders:
I really like these things! They do come in all shapes and sizes. You just jam them in either end of the corn cob. If the corn is really hot, they protect your fingers. They also have other uses. I actually used the big ones in the photo below to help peel a mango!

Buttering Corn:
One way to butter corn is to slide the corn in a circular motion over a stick of butter. Alas, the whole family really has to agree to this method!

Or you could butter a piece of bread and roll the corn in the slice of bread.

Or, you can of course just dab a bit of butter on each piece with your dinner knife and then sprinkle on some salt and…

Enjoy!

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