What's cooking? Here's a sneak peak of what you may find soon on the blog.


Tomato Juice "Stock"

I promised I'd tell you what to do with your leftover tomato "guts" that came out of all those tomatoes as we were prepping to crush them.  I'm sure you were tempted to toss them out.  After all, they do look kind of gross.  It may not look like much at first, but it's definitely worth saving ...and look how pretty they are now in these little jars!

If you strain the juice it can be made into your own V8 type concoction.  I'm not really a fan of V8, but I do like to use tomatoes to add flavor to soups or to cook rice.  

This tomato juice "stock" can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then transferred to a freezer bag, or you can jar it and keep it handy for the next time you want to add some additional flavor to your favorite soup.

Here are the directions...


Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

Wow. Yum. Double yum.

I have to say I've outdone myself with this one.  I'm usually pretty modest about my cooking and baking.    Always my own worst critic, and that sort of thing.  With this frosting, though, I'm feeling a little proud.  Just a wee bit.

I was making some vanilla bean cupcakes and decided to change up my usual cream cheese frosting to put on top.  Normally, I whip together equal parts of butter and cream cheese and add just enough powdered sugar to make it slightly sweet.   This time, though, I wanted to tone down the cream cheese flavor just a bit so the vanilla could really be the star of the show.  Instead of throwing all the ingredients into the bowl at once, I decided to take a little more time and attention to detail.  After all, these were going to be birthday cupcakes for two special friends.  

The result?  Light, fluffy, creamy and perfectly delicious vanilla cream cheese frosting.  So good that, when a big dollop fell on my kitchen floor, I almost scooped it up and ate it....almost.

Here's the recipe...

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes...and Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla beans make me so happy.  When I buy them, I feel like a little kid with a tiny treasure that needs to be guarded and saved for a special occasion. At the same time, I have to restrain myself from immediately thinking of dozens of recipes that I just have to make so I can use them.


Two friends in my small group from church had a birthday recently and I volunteered to bring cupcakes to celebrate. With some extra time on my hands I really wanted to make these cupcakes special.   Hmm...sounds like a perfectly good excuse to bust out those vanilla beans!

Look at all those gorgeous seeds from the vanilla bean!
I then began my search for a good vanilla cupcake recipe.  First stop, my Martha cupcake book. Nope....didn't see anything that really seemed to fit the bill.  Next, visited my usual blog stops.  While I did find some tempting recipes there, I didn't find exactly what I was looking for.  I knew there needed to be buttermilk involved and I wanted the recipe to really feature a vanilla flavor and create a tender, moist cake.  I turned to my dear friend, Mr. Google.  

Bingo.  I stumbled upon this recipe from Annie's Eats, a blog I'd never visited before.  I could tell from first glance that this recipe was just right...and it was.  Oh, it was.

The result was a tender, slightly spongy cake with beautiful flecks of vanilla bean speckled throughout.  I knew it needed an equally delicious frosting, so I came up with this vanilla bean cream cheese frosting.  Delicious!

Yay for vanilla beans!!

For the recipe, visit this link on Annie's Eats blog.  For the icing recipe, you can find it here.

...oh, and don't even think about throwing away those vanilla beans once the seeds are scraped out.  (Sorry, did I use my teacher voice?)  Make vanilla sugar!  It's so easy...

Just plop those vanilla beans into a jar (I had to slice them in half to make them fit) and then fill the jar with sugar.  Try to avoid spilling the sugar all over the floor, like I did.  Tighten the lid, give a little shake and then wait a few weeks.  You'll have vanilla flavored sugar that can be used wherever you'd use regular granulated sugar.  

Did I mention I love vanilla beans?   


Oven Dried Tomatoes

Don't you just love the concentrated burst of flavor in sun-dried tomatoes?  I know I do! For some reason, though, I don't usually cook much with them. Well, that's all about to change.  I found a tempting set of directions in one of my new cook books: Put 'em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling by Sherri Brooks Vinton.  The result creates a slightly caramelized dried tomato that is just to die for.   I admit, I ate a small handful before putting the rest away in the freezer.  You could put these in the refrigerator if you plan to use them soon, but the freezer is the best bet for long term storage.  It helps to preserve the color and freshness of the tomatoes better than the refrigerator.

Donuts and Coffee

...well, not those kinds of donuts. These are tiny "donut peaches". I wish you could see how cute and flat they are. They arrived in last week's shipment from my CSA, Great Country Farms. I'd been letting them perfectly ripen in a brown paper bag for several days and finally opened them up yesterday. So sweet, with a slightly milder peach flavor than I'm used to...and way fewer calories than regular donuts. I'd say that's a win.


Thank goodness for leftovers...and why I love thyme

At the end of my long canning adventure with the crushed tomatoes, I was lucky to have just enough left in the pot to make myself a much needed snack. 

To make a quick sauce, I grabbed a clove of garlic, a small shallot and a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little spice.  Out of my potted herb garden, I clipped a sprig of thyme and a few leaves of basil. 

Please allow me a moment to digress and explain why I love thyme.  Besides the wonderful taste that just oozes "Italian" to me, it's the perfect herb because it needs no chopping.  Just a pinch and a slide of the hand and it's perfectly sized to add directly to the sauce! 

Ok, back to the sauce.  

In the interest of not having to dirty another pot, I chopped the garlic and shallot and tossed them directly into the leftover crushed tomatoes.  With one slide of my hand, I could add the thyme directly into the pot. (Have I mentioned I love thyme?)  Then, in  goes the pinch of red pepper and a pinch of salt.  I let it all simmer for about 10 minutes, adding some of the reserve tomato juice from my earlier project when the sauce looked like it needed more liquid.  Near the end, I added some ribbons of basil (saving the rest to go on top) and voila!  

I spooned the sauce over some whole wheat angel hair pasta and topped it all off with a generous topping of basil and parmesan.  A quick and utterly delightful meal out of my left over crushed tomatoes.


Project #1 :: Crushed Tomatoes (or, "Summer in a Jar")

I use A LOT of canned crushed and whole tomatoes.  They come in handy when I make my own sauces or soups.  The downside, however, is that all the acid in tomatoes causes the cans to leach BPA.  This is the main reason that I have been anxiously awaiting the onset of tomato season -- so I can jar my own tomatoes at the peak of perfection and avoid all those nasty hormone disruptors!  Unlike in my native Florida, tomato season in northern Virginia doesn't start to kick into full swing until the end of July.  So, it seemed like FOREVER until the time would arrive...but, at last, the waiting is over.

I arrived home from Stoneybrook Organic Farm Market in Hillsboro, VA with 53 pounds of organic tomatoes and the enthusiasm of a girl who had no idea what she was getting herself into.  Seriously, I don't recommend embarking on a canning adventure of this magnitude alone.  With my hubby in Denver, and my mom off to Florida the next day, I was left to tackle the tomatoes alone.

Day one was brutal -- 8+ continuous hours on my feet in the kitchen!  It was quite a messy, long learning experience.  (Did I mention I've never done this before?)  By day two I had learned from my mishaps and was able to organize the process to make it much more manageable.  Consequently, the entire process ran much more smoothly (and quickly!) and the results were what I'd hoped for originally.

I highly recommend recruiting a friend or family member to help if you decide to jar your own crushed tomatoes.  Either way, the directions for crushing and packaging your own bit of summer in a jar are continued after the jump...  Enjoy!

Project "Lotta Tomata"

Crushed tomatoes, tomato "stock" and oven-dried tomatoes

Whew.  It's been a long two days.  53 pounds of tomatoes and far more hours than I care to admit later, I'm finally resting on the couch, enjoying some much needed leisure time.  

It all started a few days ago.  My mom was visiting from Florida and she and I ventured out to Stoneybrook Organic Farm Market in Hillsboro, Virginia in search of the perfect summer tomatoes.  It's about an hour drive, but well worth the trip.  I was told their produce is simply gorgeous (and it is!) and better yet, it's all organic (except for a few items provided by other neighboring farms).  Once I finished oggling all the fresh fruits and veggies, I remembered my mission: to find a good amount of delightfully ripe tomatoes at a decent price to store away for those months when grocery stores try to pawn off those wretched pale pink and yellowish things as tomatoes.  It was then that I discovered the boxes of "scratch and dent" tomatoes for $15 a box.  The utterly charming and super helpful gentleman working the counter even weighed several boxes so that I could take home the best deal.  We found two boxes, each over 26 pounds.  I left with 53 pounds of organic, ripe tomatoes for just $30....less than $0.60 a pound.  Score.

Now...what did I do with all those fabulous tomatoes? This will be the subject of my next few posts.  I'll be sharing my (often messy, or course) process and all the fabulous final products.  As often is the case, I was in a bit over my head...but I'm always game for an adventure in the kitchen.  Will you join me?