frozen tomatoes

I’ve gardened for as long as I can remember, and inevitably, this time of year, I have a counter full of tomatoes and no idea what to do with them.  I’ve made sauce, I’ve eaten them raw, I’ve made soup with them… and now there they sit, waiting for me to come up with other ideas.

The homesteady part of me thinks:  “I should can them!”  And then the realistic part of me says:  “That’s insane.  Who wants to spend hours over a hot stove during these beautiful sunny days?”  And really:  who wants to sit and peel tomatoes?

So here’s a trick I learned from my mama:  You don’t have to peel the tomatoes or can them to save them for the winter.  Just wash them off, put them on a tray and freeze them, and then dump them (they will look and feel and even sound a lot like billiard balls) in gallon freezer bags.   Then when a recipe calls for a can of tomatoes, head to the freezer instead of the pantry.  Pull out as many tomato billiard balls as you think you need, and run them under warm water until the skin is barely softened.  Use a knife or your fingers to remove the skin, which comes of incredibly easily.  (Alternately, you can just let them sit on the counter for about fifteen minutes, and then the skins will come right off.)

Use the peeled tomatoes just like you would use canned ones.  The skins are full of nutrients but add an unpleasant texture (imagine rubber bands in spaghetti sauce), so I pop the skins back in the freezer in my bag of scraps for stock-making.  Other people dehydrate the skins and grind them for use in sauces, which sounds like a great idea that I just haven’t gotten around to trying.

How many tomatoes you freeze will depend on how many you have and how many you think you’ll need over the winter.  I have limited freezer space, so my tomato stash is usually around two gallons, and that serves us well.  If I had a larger family, yes, it would make sense to can the tomatoes so it wouldn’t be taking up freezer space, but since our household is so small, this works just fine.

And, really, there are few things more satisfying than getting to taste home-grown tomato flavor on a cold winter day.

Of all the things I recommend to my clients to improve their health, growing a bit of food ranks high on my list.  Gardening is great exercise, it gets you outside, in contact with the soil (which helps ground us and also exposes us to healing bacteria), it re-ignites our natural wonder at the world (“how did a tiny seed turn into THAT?!”), and, of course, we get to eat what we grow, and what we grow always tastes better than anything we can buy.

Even if you only have a little bit of space – or just a patio, or a sunny window – you can grow food!  So get gardening, and let me know what you grow!

Outdoor Cooking

When it’s hot outside and you just don’t want to be inside cooking, what should you do?

Head outside to cook!

Outdoor cooking is, to many, limited to grilling, but it need not be. I put my camping gear to use this morning and was reminded of just how pleasurable it is to cook outside – even if my kitchen is just footsteps away.

This morning I opted to cook outside because it was beautiful out, and I wanted bacon but didn’t want the house smelling like bacon. So, my tot and I headed downstairs to get the propane stove, and minutes later, we were cooking!

Shown in the photo above are my Coleman one-burner stove, a propane cylinder, a folding wind guard, and a 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet.  (The cast iron skillet is what I use inside on my regular stove as well.)

A word to the wise, though:  if you live in bear country, cooking bacon may bring the bears to the yard!  Yikes!

(That was probably the most exciting bacon-eating I’ve ever experienced.)

What are your favorite foods to cook outside?  Let me know in the comments!

Herb & Garlic Polenta

This is the perfect base for Sprouted Italian Beans & Greens, or a ragout, or garlicky greens, or pretty much anything you want.  I like polenta right away, all creamy and soft, and I love it left over, too.  I transfer leftovers to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-sear in a bit of ghee, butter, or coconut oil.

To make this recipe, I soak the corn in lime-water, which helps to make the niacin in the corn available.  (This is how corn was traditionally consumed – and, as it turns out, it’s a lot healthier that way.)  You might be able to find pickling lime at a Mexican food store; if not, it’s available on Amazon.

To make the lime-water, put 1 inch of pickling lime (it’s a white powder) in the bottom of a quart mason jar and fill the jar with filtered water.  Shake the jar and let it sit until the lime settles on the bottom of the jar and the water looks pretty clear (at least an hour).  Then, to use the lime water, don’t shake the jar… just pour clear “lime water” off the top.  Pro-tip:  Label the jar, or, if you’re like me, in a couple months you’ll see it in the pantry and wonder… what the hell…?

Once you have the lime-water ready, soak the corn.

1 cup organic polenta or corn grits (available on Amazon,  but there is a much better price at Thrive.  You might also be able to find organic polenta or grits in the bulk bins at some grocery stores.)
1/4 cup lime-water (see directions above)
3-4 cups filtered water (enough to fill the jar)

Soak the corn for 7-12 hours.

To make the polenta, pour the corn and soaking liquid into a pan (I love using this cast iron dutch oven) and add another 1-2 cups water (or healing bone broth, for extra nutrition and yum).  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low.  Stir frequently.  Add:

1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs (I like this mixture)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon Celtic Sea Salt

The polenta will be cooked in 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how soft you like it).  When it reaches the consistency you like, scoop into dishes and top with:

1 tablespoon grass-fed butter or olive oil
grated cheese (optional)
whatever else your heart desires

Here it is, plain but creamy and delicious:

If you have leftovers, transfer them to a pan and refrigerate, then cut into squares and pan-fry in butter, ghee, or coconut oil to crisp up the outside.

Thrive is a grocery delivery service that I’ve used for several years and love.  They have better prices on a lot of the nicer brands, and they ship right to your door.  If you subscribe up using this link, you’ll get 25% off your first order, and I’ll get $25 in free groceries.  Win – win!

Sprouted Italian White Beans & Greens

This dish requires a bit of forethought, but not that much work, and the result is pure yum.  I serve these beans and greens over Italian-seasoned polenta, but you can enjoy them on their own, too.  I always make enough to have leftovers, because this dish is just as good (if not better) reheated.

Sprouting beans before cooking them lowers phytic acid levels, makes the beans far more digestible, and also improves their taste.

Sprouted Italian White Beans & Greens

Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup white beans I prefer cannellini but any white bean will do.
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning dried
  • 1 3 inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms you could substitute a half cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes I use frozen ones from my garden, but feel free to use whatever you have, and peel and dice them. Save the peels in the freezer for broth.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest from an organic lemon
  • 1 tsp Celtic sea salt
  • 6-8 cups kale or spinach lightly chopped. If using kale, remove all the hard stems.
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese optional
  • sprinkle aleppo pepper optional
  • sprinkle black pepper optional

Instructions
 

  • Start this recipe at least a day before you plan to make it.  To begin, soak the cup of dried beans in 3-4 cups of filtered water for 8-12 hours (I usually soak them overnight).  Then drain off the soaking water, rinse and drain, and leave on the counter.  You can use a colander to drain the beans, but I find it easier to use a quart canning jar with a cover like this.  Rinse and drain the beans every few hours until you start to see a little tail forming on the beans.  This means they are starting to sprout, and you can cook them then or refrigerate until you are ready to cook them.  They will keep in the fridge like this up to 3 days.  
  • Put the sprouted beans in a pot and cover with filtered water. Add the garlic, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and kombu. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the beans are fully cooked. Start checking them after 15 minutes, because sprouted beans tend to cook much faster than non-sprouted ones. Note how lovely they smell while cooking!  
  • Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and add the onions. Cook until softened, and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and become limp. Add the tomatoes, lemon zest, and salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.
  • When the beans are cooked, strain off the cooking liquid (but save it for later use) and add the beans to the cooked vegetables. Put the greens in the pan, give it a quick stir, and cover, allowing it to cook until the greens wilt. If using kale, let it cook for an extra couple of minutes so the kale softens a bit more.
  • To serve, put in bowls and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over each dish, then a teaspoon of lemon juice. Optional: sprinkle with freshly grated cheese, black pepper, and aleppo pepper.

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Rebecca Katz – you can find the original here.

Have you sprouted beans before cooking them?  If so, let me know about your experience in the comments!

Healing Bone Broth

I’ve been reading a lot lately about improving gut health (specifically, Dr. Josh Axe’s Eat Dirt, which is fascinating), and for years, I’ve been recommending bone broth to friends, family, and clients.  Bone broth is great not just for gut healing, but also boosting immunity, general healing, and even beauty!  After writing the recipe half a dozen times this winter, I realized:  this really belongs on my blog.

I was first introduced to bone broth a decade ago, when I moved back to my home state of South Dakota and into a farm house I rented from my parents.  The house had a giant freezer in the basement, and because my parents run a hunting lodge, the freezer had several shelves filled with frozen pheasants.

I was a vegetarian at the time, and to put it mildly, the sight of a bunch of dead birds in the freezer did not spark joy for me.  Freezing produce from my garden did, however, so in order to make room for the vegetables, I thought maybe I could use some of the pheasant.  But, since I didn’t really eat meat, and I didn’t have any desire to start, I thawed out a few birds, cut out the breasts and gave them to my mother to cook, and I put the carcasses in a big stainless steel pot with water and vegetables and proceeded to cook them.  I’d previously relied on homemade vegetable broth to make soups… but when I tasted the pheasant bone broth, I was a changed woman.

My vegetarianism went out the window, and over that summer, I converted all those birds into delicious, nourishing broth.  One of my go-to recipes has always been Rebecca Katz’s Chicken Magic Mineral Broth, which I first discovered in her (amazing, life-changing) cookbook, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.  Despite not having cancer, that cookbook has been my favorite for the last decade, and the recipes in it are ones I return to (and recommend to others) every day.

I digress.  Bone broth.  While I often make Katz’s recipe, which is phenomenal, I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s too much trouble, and I just want to make a simpler broth that requires next to no time.  This is where thriftiness comes in handy.  You see, I never toss a vegetable scrap that I’d like to see end up in a pot of stock.  So in my freezer, you’ll find numerous baggies and containers filled with random bits of organic veggie scraps – onion peels, carrot peels, potato peels, sweet potato peels, tomato peels, celery ends and leaves, a leek that didn’t have a proper home in another recipe, parsley stems, basil stems, ginger peels, etc.)  I don’t save things like broccoli or cauliflower, as they taste a tad sulfurous when cooked into a stock, but I do sometimes save things like hard kale stems.  Use your judgment, and save the things that you think would make a delicious broth.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has found one of these baggies filled with random scraps and tried to throw it away, and I had to run to the kitchen, yelling “Noooooooooooo! That’s for broth!” and rescue my precious scraps before they ended up in the rubbish bin.

Some people!

Another weird thing those friends will find, if they dig a little deeper in my freezer, is a package or two of chicken bones.   When I buy chicken (which I do sometimes now – my vegetarian ways were fully dismissed the day I realized I could kill a vicious rooster instead of allowing it to repeatedly attack me), I buy a whole young organic bird (preferably one raised on pasture), and I cook the bird, and then I save every single bone in the bird, as well as the giblets.  If I’m not ready to make broth right then, I put the bones and giblets in a bag in the freezer.

Then, when I’m ready to make a big pot of stock, all I have to do is dig around in the freezer, put the bones and the vegetable scraps in a big stock pot, and fill the pot with filtered water.  I also generally a few other items:

2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon bouquet garni (optional)
1 3-inch square of kombu (seaweed)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or 1 tablespoon lemon juice (this is to help draw the calcium out of the bones)
1 teaspoon sea salt

This takes all of 3 minutes to prepare.

If you don’t many scraps stowed in the freezer, add an onion, some celery, and a few cloves of garlic.  No need to peel any of these, just roughly chop and toss in with skins on.

Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat to low and cook for 12-24 hours.  If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your stove on overnight, you can make a smaller batch in a crock pot, or you can make broth in an instant pot, as well.  In the instant pot (this is the one I own and like), I add all my ingredients to the pot, fill with water to the fill line, and then cook on the manual setting on high pressure for 2 hours.

Once the broth is cooked, let it cool a bit and strain all the bones and vegetables out of it.  Throw the bones and vegetables away, as all the good stuff will be taken from them and put into the liquid, which should be a rich golden color.  I pour the broth into glass jars and refrigerate overnight, and then I transfer what I’m not using within a few days into freezer-safe containers and freeze.  Broth keeps for 4 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer.

I use homemade broth as the base for all my soups, and I also often drink it in place of coffee or tea.  Sometimes I add a teaspoon of miso paste after warming the broth, which adds more rich, savory flavor, and sometimes I drink the broth plain.

The broth has lots of vital minerals including calcium and phosphorous, as well as collagen from the bones, which is soothing to the digestive tract and also promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails.

If you’re sick, there’s nothing more magically healing than homemade bone broth, and if you’re healthy, there’s nothing more soothing.

And if you’re wondering… “Can’t I just buy bone broth?”  The answer is Yes, you can.  Kettle and Fire is a good brand, but when you see the price, you’ll understand why it makes sense to make it!

Plus:  I find that there’s something really lovely about making broth from scratch.  I get to use things that would otherwise be thrown away, and the process transforms them into something that’s precious, healing, and delicious.  That’s magic!

I keep bone broth on hand at all times, and if I feel a bit under the weather, I thaw out a container and drink 1-2 cups a day.  And, it’s toddler approved.  My 2 year old loves drinking broth and will ask for it.

Have you made your own broth before?  Have you experienced any health benefits from it?  If so, let me know in the comments!