Friday, August 21, 2009

you say tomato

It's (almost) too hot to blog. 34°C/93°F out there on this Thursday afternoon. One of my boys officially had Hitzefrei at 11 a.m. today - that's when they send the younger kids home in the middle of the day because of the heat. The older ones have to stick it out but luckily for Boy16, Biology was cancelled so he got to leave early, too.

The heat has been great for the garden, providing we water everything before it all wilts and I had some luck with my tomatoes this year.

Seeing all those unripe ones made me start thinking about fried green tomatoes, something I've never made before. I know y'all from the southern U.S. are saying "Yawn, been there, done that" but where I come from, we only ate 'em red and ripe. I got my courage up and boy, were they tasty!

After all that down home goodness I decided to try something more fancy, a tomato tarte tatin based on the famous French apple tart. Somewhere (somewhere!) in my recipe files (and I use that term loosely, it's actually just jagged scraps of paper stuffed in a box) I had a recipe ( carelessly ripped out of the food section of a Vancouver newspaper a couple of summers ago) I'd been meaning to try out for ages. Do you think I could find what I was looking for? Nope, but as usual, my beloved internet came through and offered up that very recipe on page 24 of this book preview. Who knew?

My first attempt was made in a springform pan. Big mistake. Don't do it. It dribbled while it was baking, smoked up my kitchen and ended up a soggy, inedible mess. Another entry for Mausi's Big Book of Kitchen Disasters.

But practice makes perfect and the second attempt was fabulous. This time I made individual tarte tatins (or would that be tartes tatin?) in little ramekins. Cute, are they not?

These were intensely flavoured - sweet, sour and savoury all at the same time with the coolness of the fresh mozarella adding a lovely contrast. I can see myself making these again and again.

Now, check out Pepe, my one and only sweet pepper this year. When Mr. M brought the plant home many weeks ago Pepe was just a tiny little thing, one of many would-be peppers, his label promising that he'd grow up to be bright red some day. Unfortunately all his other little pepper friends dried up and fell off, but Pepe grew and grew.

He stayed green for so long that I'd almost given up when all of a sudden he started changing colour and transformed himself into this racy number.

The only question then was do we stuff him, put him in a salad or turn him into some delicious tomato and pepper relish?

My mother-in-law has been gifting us with jars of relish for what seems like eons. Mr. M is just wild about the it so he was pretty upset when Oma announced that she didn't feel like making any this year. Fine, I said, give me the recipe and I'll make it.

Here's how it turned out

First things first. It's very common in Germany to re-use old jars and lids for making jams, jellies and relishes. No boiling water baths or any kind of processing that I'm aware of. The goods are simply cooked up, put into sterilized jars and inverted for five minutes so they'll (hopefully) seal themselves. This is the way the mother-in-law has been doing it for years and no one has died yet, but I know the recommendations in other countries are quite different and after some extensive reading I didn't want to take any chances on this stuff since it contains some low-acid ingredients. I did in fact use old salsa jars, however for safety's sake the relish is being stored in the fridge and we're using it up very quickly.

This is a sweet, mildly spiced relish that pairs wonderfully with grilled meats. You could probably doctor it up in any number of ways after you'd tried the basic recipe. After watching my husband pick the whole spices out of his dinner for years, I decided to be a genius and put the peppercorns and cloves called for in a tea ball, removing them after cooking. So much easier. The mustard seeds, being very small, can be left in.

So, what to call the recipe? I have no idea where my mother-in-law got it so we'll just have to attribute it to her. If you speak German, you'll know that Schwiegermutter is the word for the woman who gave birth to your spouse. But the Germans love to abbreviate things and since Schwiegermutter is such a long word, they'll sometimes shorten it to Schwimu when the mother-in-law is out of hearing range. It doesn't stop there. If you're an umpire, a Schiedsrichter, they'll call you a Schiri. If you're doing an apprenticeship, instead of being know as an Auszubildende/er, you'll answer to Azubi. And if you're still wearing your hair in that short-in-the-front long-in-the-back style commonly know as a mullet in English speaking countries, the Germans will tell you you're sporting a Vokuhila - vorne kurz, hinten lang.

So now that you know the scoop, back to the recipe. I proudly present you with

Schwimu's Tomato and Pepper Relish

1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
500g tomatoes
250g onions
4 T. vinegar
200g brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. sweet paprika powder
4 whole cloves

Seed and chop peppers, peel and dice onions. Peel tomatoes* and dice. Place vegetables and spices in a large pot, using a tea ball for peppercorns and cloves if desired, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 30-40 minutes. Remove tea ball and spoon relish into sterilized jars. Process according to your level of comfort. Makes about 4 jars. This recipe doubles easily but adjust the salt according to taste.

*How in the world do you get the skin off a tomato? Well, first you cut a little cross in the bottom of each tomato and place them all in a large, heatproof bowl. Then you pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a minute. After that they need to be scooped out with a slotted spoon and plopped into ice water for another minute or two. The skins will then slip right off with a little help from a paring knife.

What are you doing with YOUR tomatoes this year?

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

life is...

Cherry season is over now, but these cherries were from our neighbour's tree. She goes to Spain every year in July, so we get our fill and leave the rest for the birds.

Napoleon or Royal Ann cherries (similar to the Rainier cherries produced in Washington State) are quite delicate and sweet and best just eaten out of hand. In my search for something else to do with them I did come across a recipe that we enjoyed - a fresh cherry tart. It came out looking like this

Nothing complicated about this dessert. Just a pre-baked pastry shell (your favourite recipe), some cream cheese mixed with sugar to taste along with a couple of spoonfuls of raspberry syrup for colour and flavour. The original recipe called for Kirschwasser which I don't care for at all so I substituted the syrup. Pitted cherries top the cream cheese mixture and a glaze of apricot jam, put through a strainer and warmed a bit to make it smoother, gives them a little shine. This tart doesn't improve with age - I'd recommend eating it within a couple of hours of making it.

Now, when you've got all these cherries, you need to pit them, right? And that can be a tough job when you don't have a cherry pitter. Next year you can bring your cherries to my house, because I DO have a cherry pitter. Two in fact.

The larger apparatus seen here the world-famous (I'm just making that up) Kirschomat (Cherry-matic) which claims to be able to pit 15 kg of cherries an hour if you're quick about it.

Kirschen entkernen, endlich spritzfrei!, it says on the box - cherry pitting, splash free at last! Phew, what a relief that must be for the modern housewife, eh? Pits fall into the plastic container, cherries go into your bowl. Easy peasy.

The little instrument of torture on the left can be used for either cherries or plums and works well if you don't have a large amount of fruit to go through. A bit messier than the other one but it gets the job done just the same. Here's a close-up.


The mother-in-law also had a couple of cherry trees of a different kind. A bowl of those yielded this cake

basic white cake with mandarine oranges and pitted fresh cherries

and this cherry chutney, lovely with some goat cheese and hearty bread or crackers

I halved the recipe, which worked fine, but I had a little culinary accident when I was making this - I decided right at the end to put in a touch more powdered ginger (being lazy and not wanting to mince more fresh ginger) and the top fell off my spice jar, depositing a lot more ginger than planned. Oh well, I still think it tastes great, even if I'm the only one eating it. I knew I should have married Anthony Bourdain. He'd eat it too.

Last but not least, the beautiful apricots we bought at the market were getting their tiny noses all out of joint so we turned them into this cake made with a shortbread crust and a quark filling. The good thing about apricots is that they will surrender their pits without much of a fight.

I have to say that I didn't care for this recipe much. And good thing too because, oops, I think I threw out the German cooking magazine I found it in. It was similar to a cheesecake recipe, but came out quite dry and the taste of the lemon rind it called for was overpowering. So not rave reviews this time, perhaps a little tweaking is in order. I do like the polka dot effect though.

So you can see that I haven't just been sitting on the couch eating bon bons and watching Oprah! And there's more fruit and vegetable goodness where that came from if I evern get around to blogging about it.

The kids are back at school today, the weather is gorgeous and I can finally get this place cleaned up after a wonderful summer holiday.

Life is good. Go hug someone.

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