The Lazy Cook Makes Pasta Sauce for the Coming Year

My mother taught me to can. Not to cook mind you, well, not directly anyway. That was my sister’s thing. I was the official “guy” of the house; fixing the lawnmower, changing the oil in the cars. I didn’t start cooking until I was away from home.

But canning enough food for the coming year requires more than two people, so I helped prep vegetables, wash jars, tend the cooker and in general take orders while staying out of the way.

And over the years I watched my mother drag out her canner, can a batch of something and put it away. A few weeks later when another batch of something was ready, she would drag it out again.

When making pasta sauce this was not nearly lazy enough for me. Tomatoes are fickle. Too little rain means they wait to flower and fruit. A lot of rain often means blossom end rot and few tomatoes. Sporadic rain means batches of randomly ripe tomatoes.

So the Lazy Cook came up with a plan. We are lucky enough to have the space for an upright freezer; as many farms and rural households do. So as the tomatoes ripen, into the freezer they go. And when the season is through, you can bring them all out at once and make a weekend of it.

Freezing the tomatoes has the added benefit of making them easy to peel. Spending a lot of time up to my elbows in raw tomatoes irritates my skin. If I can dip the frozen fruit into boiling water for a few seconds, the skin slips right off and I can cut out bad spots and chunk them with relatively little mess.

Yes, it’s cold; but much less messy. Besides, there will be plenty of time to warm hands once the cooking starts.

This year, I’m trying out Amish Paste Tomatoes. They are an heirloom variety, so if they make a tasty sauce, I’ll just keep planting them as I need them in the future with no fear of Monsanto coming in and busting up the joint.

Many people add sugar to their sauce to offset a bitterness that can arise in the process of cooking away the excess liquid that regular tomatoes often have. Adding sugar is unnecessary and, frankly, an affront to the tomato. Here are some ways to avoid this, which are also conveniently lazy:

– Use sauce tomatoes which are less juicy. Roma, Amish Paste and quite a few other varieties are less watery.

– Use a sweet onion in your sauce. I use Vidalia onions; and a lot of them. It’s almost impossible to get your sauce too “onion-y” with these. Sometimes, if I want a different flavor, I’ll sautee the chopped onions to the point of crisping the edges. Sometimes I just dump them in raw. Add a few grated carrots too.

– Roast your sauce. Yes, Roast Your Sauce. Best lazy move I ever made.

You’ll need enamel pans or Corning ware. I end up stacking pans on dishes on pots in my oven. The very occasional stirring becomes more complicated, but on the whole it’s much easier. I have yet to burn a batch of oven-roasted sauce, unlike some of my early stovetop batches.

Turn your oven onto its lowest setting. I use propane and have a newer stove, so the lowest oven temp I have to work with is 170 degrees. My last stove’s lowest setting was 120 degrees. I miss that oven. Because, in this case, the slower you can cook the sauce, the better it will taste. So it might take all day, but you won’t have to stand over a hot stove. Unless you want to stick around because your hands are still cold from dealing with frozen tomatoes.

The sauce ends up with this amazing sun-dried flavor. Not a hint of bitterness even though I don’t remove the seeds. (Lazy)

Roast a batch, adding your spices in somewhere along the line. I tend to wait until it is almost “done”. My logic is: some spices don’t like extended cooking. Because I’m going to have it boiling in a canner for another 30 minutes with an additional hour to cool off, the flavor will have plenty of time to release. This allows me to make individualized batches. I just have to remember label them properly after the jars are cooled.

Put the roasted sauce in a suitable (non-metal) container and stick it in the fridge. Repeat until all tomatoes are processed. Then you can re-warm the sauce to a suitable temperature for the canning process.

If you decide to freeze it, reconsider when to add the spices. I make no promised here, as I’ve never tried freezing sauce.

Have fun.

Roasted Baby Carrots

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. And quite delicious with just a few easy additions.

For this recipe, I used some late baby carrots from our garden. These were the little bits of orange gold I found while turning over dirt in one of the raised beds. They got passed over as too small while harvesting the carrot crop. Then the tops died back, leaving them sitting securely underground.

With the exception of a few nibbles from the local bug population, they were fine; tender and sweet.

When you first taste a local, farm-raised carrot you end up asking yourself: “What the heck have I been eating all these years?” regarding the flavorless orange chew toys called carrots sold in chain grocers. Unfortunately, that applies to most produce.

So, after cleaning them up and removing the bug bites, I chopped them up into half inch sections. If you like them chunkier, have at. (Southern for: Go for it) For 2 people you’ll want around 1.5 to 2 cups of chunked carrots. Trust me, if there are leftovers, you’ll find a use for them.

Oven at 350. Enamel or glass roasting pan. Put about 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in the pan and put it in the oven to liquefy. You really will want to use coconut oil. Not the denuded, unflavored kind either; but the oil that has a coconut smell and taste. However, any vegetable oil will do. But please don’t ruin the goodies in your olive oil with all the heat. If you want the olive oil flavor, wait til they are done and drizzle some over the warm carrots.

Sprinkle some Tamari over the carrots; tossing them to distribute the Tamari.

Once your oven has reached 350, take out the pan and put the carrots in; stirring to coat them with the warm oil.

Bake for at least 30 minutes and then start testing them. When they are done (or nearly so) you should be able to pierce them with a fork rather easily.

Approximately 5 minutes before they are done, add a drizzle of sesame oil. (as with olive oil, sesame doesn’t do well with too much heat) and if you have any around, some unsweetened coconut. Toss together and back in the oven for a brief warm up.

Soooooo very tasty.

This is a good side dish for roasted chicken with rosemary or with brown rice. Enjoy

Easy Breezy Simple Summer Salads

Today, the Lazy Cook is offering a new favorite and an end of summer favorite that her mother often made.

The Mister is not a fan of pickled beets. Even though I have one of the best beet recipes in existence, he will pass on them every time. So I have learned to can them in the ½ pint size. I can have them when I like and they don’t end up going soft after sitting open and uneaten in the fridge. The smaller size still allows enough for me and Them Boyz, being Southern raised boys and liking the beets, to share with a meal.

Even with canning you still end up with a few garden stragglers or leftovers that won’t fit in the jars available. So I had to figure out what to do with the rest. A little research turned up a raw beet salad, which naturally I modified to suit my own taste. I made it one evening and utilizing the same logic your mom used to get you to eat your broccoli, I convinced the Mister to “just have a taste”.

Angels didn’t sing, but it was a miracle. He likes raw beet salad. A lot.

Medium sized beets will be your friend here. Although the smaller ones are more tender, they have to be skinned for the recipe. (or not, I guess, if you scrub them well enough?)

A couple of ways to take the skin off of a beet: vegetable peeler and cold vegetable in boiling water dunk. The second works if you are going to cook them anyway, but in this case, you are stuck with magenta fingers. Don’t worry, what doesn’t wash off gives your fingertips a healthy pink glow.

1 or 2 medium sized beet per person. I’d start with one in case you hate it. Peel it and shred it. If you have any kind of food processor, use it. Between the beet juice and the inevitable scraped fingers, a stand up grater could end up giving your kitchen a post shoot-out Quentin Tarentino look.

½ medium carrot per beet. Garden grown is best, as they have a better flavor, but store bought will do. Also grated.

After you have grated the veggies, add about 1 tablespoon per serving of a flavorful olive oil. Some people like extra virgin, some virgin. If you haven’t guessed by now, the Lazy Cook is not a stickler for super exactitude. If taste preferences were a given across the board the Mister would eat my damned pickled beets.

Love Julia Childs, but French cooking, this ain’t.

Now, take the juice of ½ freshly squeezed lemon per serving and pour it over the mixture. Toss it well, coating all the shredded vegetables.

Now I’m supposing you could use lime in this and quite possibly a sharp red or yellow onion sliced super thin. But as I am in no mood to do work I don’t have to, I’ll stick with the basic outline.

The amazing thing about this recipe is how sweet it is. The lemon does a nice job of playing off the sweetness of the beets and carrots and the olive oil gives the musty bottom of the beet flavor a deep note to hang onto. On top of that, the texture is really outstanding.

I don’t think I would care to eat it in the middle of winter as I do with pickled beets. It’s definitely summer fare. As is the next recipe: Tomato, Onion, Cucumber salad.

Gosh, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like this. It’s tasty, simple, cool and it takes everything that is good and right about summer and puts it in one big juicy bowl.

For two people: Take two medium garden ripe tomatoes. They should be ripe enough to have a tomato smell, but not so ripe as to be super soft. Core and cube them.

You can use regular “cucumbers”, but pickling cukes have a better flavor. Yes, they are smaller, bumpier and often hairy but hey, if women can find Donald Trump attractive, understanding my preference for pickling cukes should offer no mystery.

You’ll want about 1 to 1 ½ cups of peeled, cubed (or sliced depending on the diameter) cucumbers.

One medium onion, chopped. I like mine a bit chunkier as I use Vidalias and the flavor balance isn’t thrown off by large chunks of onion. If you are using a stronger onion, you might consider how much you want the onion to weigh in the discussion with your tomatoes; and always in balance with considerations of texture and mouth-feel.

Toss the prepared vegetables together in a bowl. Now add 2 (possibly more) tablespoons of a vinaigrette and mix together. I use French vinaigrette. I have used a light Balsamic in the past and did not find it pleasing to the taste buds.

Whatever you use, please, please, I beg you, avoid anything with sugar. Sugar masks all the flavors that make this salad light and fresh and summery; the tangy tomatoes, the crisp bite of onion and the mellow crunch of the cucumber. It really is one of those dishes that you can just eat as a light meal. Or a snack. Or just because you want a bite. It’s that good.

We had both salads last night along with a tomatillo salsa baked chicken breast, some white rice and steamed green beans tossed with a pat of butter and tamari.

And it was good. Summer good.