ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: Part 1

I make boring tomato sauce. By “boring” I mean “plain.” I don’t jazz it up with too many spices, or add chunks of tomato, mushroom, red pepper… It’s basically reduced tomato puree with some minimal seasoning. There’s a reason for making boring sauce. Interesting tomato sauce – with mushrooms, meat, vodka, roasted red peppers, fresh basil, etc… is only useful as tomato sauce… you put it on pasta. You make lasagna! Voila! But boring tomato sauce is infinitely versatile. I can add cumin, oregano, vinegar and sriracha and turn out a decent enchilada sauce. Add stock and it becomes a tomato soup base. Reduced with vinegar, ketchup, and mustard and it becomes barbecue sauce. Tonight, we combined the sauce remaining after filling the jars with sausage, shrimp and rice and had jambalaya. I can still add mushrooms or roasted red peppers and dump it on pasta… Boring tomato sauce is like the pluripotent stem cell of the tomato world. (Well, technically the tomato is the pluripotent stem cell of the tomato world, but… the metaphor isn’t great… so sue me.)

Step 1: Puree Tomatoes.

20130901-185124.jpg Pureeing tomatoes is a fun process with the food mill attachment to the Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. I estimate that I pureed 20 lbs of tomatoes into about 14 to 15 quarts of tomato puree.

Step 2: Add onions, garlic, spices.

Clockwise from the top is 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, 3 onions chopped and 5 cloves of garlic through the press and sautéed until soft, and 1/4 cup dried oregano. Not shown is brown sugar, salt and pepper.

Step 2: Cook and reduce.

We started the sauce about 8pm on Saturday, and cooked it overnight in the oven. Then, in the morning, it went back on the stovetop to cook through until about 3pm. Typically, we would have cooked the sauce overnight and seen a reduction of about 50% and canned it first thing in the morning. However, it’s REALLY damn humid here, so there was no place for the moisture to go… It took a really long time to reduce.

Step 3: Can.


I had enough tomatoes to make 7 quarts of tomato sauce, along with another 11 quarts of quartered tomatoes in their own juice. Those little jars are the onion jam that I’ll describe in a later post.

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Mushroom Week Day 4: Mushroom Burgers

Mise En Place... with a bit of tea and snacking along...

Mise En Place… with a bit of tea and snacking along… Annotations made with Skitch.

EDIT: There’s pictures now… Now I can only apologize for  the lack of a final picture of a cooked burger. 

So, I’ve found there’s two types of “mushroom burger” – the first is a portobello cap between a bun – a grilled mushroom cap sandwich, as it were. The other is macerated mushrooms with other stuff, made into a patty, and eaten between a bun. This recipe the latter type. But, since it’s a Cooks Illustrated recipe (yet again!) there’s a LOT more to it.

Disclaimer: I didn’t do much of the cooking tonight. Sam had the day off, so he did 95% of the cooking. My contributions were: microwaving frozen peas, opening a can of corn, microwaving said corn, and toasting burger buns. So much of this post is based on Sam’s narrative of making of mushroom burgers.

As an aside, all Cooks Illustrated recipes are sometimes more complex than they need to be… This is the extra work the writers at Cooks put into developing recipes that are reliable, not simple. Cooks is NOT concerned with novice  chefs that can’t read a recipe. They expect you to know your way around your well-equipped kitchen. That being said, all of the reliability of their recipes comes with a trade off. Sometimes the steps seem completely unnecessary and pointless. (note my discussion about rehydrating porcini mushrooms from Tuesday) But, when I’m cooking one of their recipes, I follow their instructions religiously.

Onto the mushroom burgers (So says Sam)… Sam doesn’t think this recipe made a “mushroom burger,” just a really good “veggie burger.” There wasn’t enough mushroomyness for him. In the recipe, the mushrooms were only one of four main components. The recipe called for  lentils, bulgur wheat, and pakno breadcrumbs, with mayonnaise to bind it together. So the overall impression was not “mushrooms” it was “patty of stuff.” We brainstormed how to make the whole thing more “mushroomy” and the only good idea we could come up with was to use dried shiitake mushrooms ground to a powder as a binder and a way to absorb more moisture. I also though about a “stuffed mushroom burger” where a portobello cap was grilled, then stuffed with mushroom filling and finished under indirect heat, and served on a bun. It would be a hybrid of the mushroom cap sandwich and the veggie burger.

So they’re a time-consuming but tasty substitute to Gardenburgers. We’ll have to do some tests to see how well the formed patties can freeze. Having these on hand in the freezer would make me more likely to cook them again. I’ve come to expect veggie burgers to be a quick dinner, not a 45-minute prep that required the food processor.

Sorry for the lack of pictures – I didn’t take any since I wasn’t cooking. There’s a few pictures hiding on the actual digital camera (I take all my photos on my iPhone), but I don’t know how to get to them…

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Mushroom Week Day 1. Wild Rice Mushroom Soup

The mushrooms for this week's recipes. 2.5 lbs crimini. 2.0 lbs portobello. 0.5lbs dried porcini. and 0.1 oz dried shiitake.

The mushrooms for this week’s recipes. 2.5 lbs crimini. 2.0 lbs portobello. 0.5lbs dried porcini. and 0.1 oz dried shiitake.

This has (somehow) become mushroom week. In the most recent (January/February 2013) Cooks Illustrated, there was a recipe for Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup. It looked good, so I thought to make it for dinner one day this week. Somehow, this spiraled into an entire weeks’ worth of mushroom recipes.

I also want to learn a little more about mushrooms. I eat them occasionally, but not regularly. There is much to explore.

The first recipe of the week is for Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup. If you would like a copy of the recipe, please email me. I’m hesitant to post it to my site because it’s copyright from Cooks Illustrated. I wouldn’t want to get into trouble.

The recipe has two interesting twists. First, the wild rice is cooked with baking soda to keep the grains intact. Didn’t make much of a difference, as far as I could see. Our grains fell apart. However, I am a cheapskate, so I didn’t buy the $25.99/lb “whole” wild rice, but the $6.99/lb “broken” wild rice. Might have something to do with it. Second, they use powdered shiitake mushrooms and cornstarch to give the broth some thickness and body. The broth did have thickness and body. Success!

Wild rice and mushroom soup. I had to work really hard to make it look tasty. Mushrooms and wild rice tend to sink.

Wild rice and mushroom soup. I had to work really hard to make it look tasty. Mushrooms and wild rice tend to sink.

We made one main modification – I don’t eat a lot of dairy, and the recipe called for adding 1/2 c heavy cream at the end of cooking. This would be way too much cream for me – so we substituted coconut based nondairy creamer. It’s not sweet and the soup didn’t come out tasting like coconut.

I keep saying “we” like I had anything to do with the cooking. Sam did all of it. All of the prep, all of the stirring. Everything. I was in my office stuffing Holiday cards into envelopes through the whole thing. I did stop by the kitchen to refill my glass of wine and observe the progress.  Tomorrow will be different. We’re making one of my favorite recipes… More then.