Friday, December 30, 2011

Between Christmas and New Years

August has new teeth!!! His bottom two teeth broke through sometime before Monday evening. Even though they showed up a day late, I couldn't help but start singing, "all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two front teeth." He thought that was hilarious, as did Charlie who started singing with me, which made Auggie laugh even harder. Now that he has the two bottom teeth, the upper teeth should show up in a few weeks. Not only will he be that much cuter, he will also start using them, which means that his food choices will soon become much more interesting--this is very exciting for Mom.

I love Christmas and I am so excited that Auggie's teeth arrived on, if not just after, Christmas. Once turkey day is over I am quick to put our Christmas tree buying day on the calendar and start planning the decorating, present and food frenzy. Our Christmas celebration actually begins on Christmas Eve, which has always been the big night for my side of the family. Our Eve dinner has historically revolved around a fondue feast and then gift exchange. Our dinner always begins with a cheese fondue appetizer, followed by savory fondue with various meats and seafood and assorted sides.

As the primary food planner and chef on my side of the family (historically I've been my mother's sous chef, but I've graduated to more of a collaborative role with her and my brother in law) I am responsible for a few of the dishes on Christmas Eve; the G-Free cheese fondue, blanched veggies for dipping in the cheese fondue, G-Free mac-n-cheese, and a veggie side to go with the meat fondue. We used to serve this a cheesy potato dish that could just about kill you, of course, it tasted so, so, so good. The dish is basically shredded potatoes mixed with onions, sour cream, various cheeses, spread out in a casserole pan, topped with butter coated smashed corn flakes and then baked until molten and bubbly.  Super.  Yummy. 

I can't remember exactly how it happened, but a few years ago I offered to make my triple cheese mac-n-cheese, instead of the potato dish, and it has stuck (perhaps the grand kids liked the idea of mac-n-cheese more than potatoes). So, now I make two giant pans of my mac-n-cheese: one for the kids, which is made without a bread crumb topping, and another for the rest of us who love the crunchy topping. My mac-n-cheese didn't start out G-Free, but it is now and I think everyone loves it, but really, who wouldn't love three types of cheese melted together, mixed with noodles and topped with butter coated breadcrumbs? Did I mention that it is G-Free?

Usually it is a rough, pinch here and handful there type of recipe and definitely not low-cal. But I tried to measure it out this time. I used four 12 oz packages of Bionaturae G-Free Penne pasta, but I will divide everything by two so that the recipe is more manageable and will fit into a single 9x13 pan.

2 12 oz bags of Bionaturae G-Free Penne Pasta (or Macaroni Pasta)
1 stick of butter
3/4 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups milk
10 ounces Sharp Cheddar cheese shredded
10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese shredded
10 ounces Gruyere cheese shredded

1 loaf G-Free bread of choice (I have been using Udi's G-Free Millet-Chia sliced bread and I don't use the end pieces.) torn into pieces.
1/2 stick of cold butter cut into 6-8 pieces

For the bread crumb topping:
Pulse the bread and butter in the Cuisinart (or other food processor) for about 20 - 30 seconds.

For the pasta:
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheeses and measure out the milk, flour, and butter, setting everything aside.

Drain the pasta and put the pot back on the stove, adding the butter to the pot.

When the butter has melted, add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper into the melted butter, whisking until the mixture has lightened a bit and is fragrant.

Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly which will prevent the milk from burning.

While constantly whisking, make sure that the milk comes a low boil to ensure that it thickens properly.

When the milk mixture thickens after a few minutes, and resembles heavy cream, turn off the heat and stir in the shredded cheeses.

When all the cheese has melted, add the pasta to the cheese mixture.

Spoon the mac-n-cheese into a 9x13 inch baking dish and cover with the bread crumbs.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until top is golden brown, about 15 - 20 min.

I always make this a day or two before I actually need it, saving the baking step for when I want to serve it. As it will have been in the refrigerator, it will be cold and will need to bake longer (about 45 min). I start it in the oven covered with foil, so that the top doesn't burn, and then remove the foil for the last 20 min

This mac-n-cheese freezes amazingly well, either before it is baked or after, if you want to save the leftovers.

This can be made with the same amount of traditional wheat pasta and wheat flours.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Something for Everyone Cookie Exchange: Gluten Free and Full of Gluten

“Firsts” are happening a lot in our house these days, but more often with August. His first real oatmeal, first night in his crib, first time having his picture taken with Santa. I love “first” experiences, especially the monumental “firsts.” Yesterday we had somewhat of a monumental “first,” but this time for Charlie and I. She was invited to a cookie exchange. Cookie exchanges are a ton of fun, especially for cookie/sugar hungry kids and it is a great way to see and taste something new. But Charlie was the only G-free kid there, and I was the only mom baking and bringing G-free cookies, or so I thought. It turns out that our host, who has three kids under three and a half years old, made a huge effort to include Charlie and made two batches of G-free cookies in addition to making the rest of the food for the party. I don't think she slept the night before. And another mom made macaroons, with Charlie in mind, which are naturally gluten free.

It was a wonderful surprise and felt great to know that the moms of Charlie's little pre-school friends wanted to make the effort to ensure that she felt included. I was pretty sure that we weren't going to be able to participate in the "exchange" portion of the party, so it was a thoughtful surprise. I will admit, though, that I am still not quite sure how to navigate the situations when someone, who usually uses wheat flour, makes something gluten free. The cross contamination potential is there, but how much is too much? How sensitive is she really? I know what a crouton will do to her, but not what a batch of G-free cookies mixed in a clean mixer that is also used for wheat flour will do to her. We are living and learning.

As Charlie gets older and is becoming more involved in the world outside of our house, she is also being exposed to and put in situations where she is the odd girl out. While she can do anything she wants, she can’t eat anything that she wants. For example, at school she gets special snacks, such as G-free pretzels, while the rest of the class has Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. That can be difficult for a kid, even for adults. But I do believe that one positive aspect about being diagnosed with Celiac so young is that she will ultimately learn, much more quickly than she would have otherwise, that she can’t have everything that she wants, that other people can eat/do things that she can’t, and that sometimes life isn’t fair. Those aren’t fun lessons to learn, but they are essential to understand if she wants a fun, happy and somewhat contented life.

Now that I’m an adult, I can look back and see that learning, sooner rather than later, that not everything needs or can be equal all the time and that sometimes life isn’t fair, is in fact a great thing. But try explaining that to three and a half year old. My goal, in guiding her through this process, is that she will understand that it is o.k. that someone else has something that she doesn't or can’t have. I want her to be able to focus more on and celebrate the things that she has and can do. Even though she couldn't eat most of the cookies at the cookie exchange, she was there, having fun with her friends. Ultimately, that is the point of the cookie exchange in the first place, right? To bring together great friends, share and have a ton of fun running, squealing and laughing. She had to say, “No thank you” when someone offered her one of the gluten filled cookies but she handled it well, and was then able to proudly say, “have one of our cookies, they're good.”

That is where I came in. Until she can bake her own stellar cookies, I need to bake the stellar cookies for her. So, for this “first” cookie exchange, I baked two kinds of cookies. I haven’t worked on and figured out my own snickerdoodle recipe, but I wanted to bring them. So I used a recipe from another G-free baker/blogger, "Irvin Lin's snickerdoodle recipe." These are great. Justin, who is very particular about snickerdoodles loved them.

The second cookie is my version of the Whoopie pie, but bite size. I used my Chocolate Banana Cupcake recipe (I will post that recipe in a separate post) and a vanilla cream cheese filling. Each little Whoopie pie has an M&M on top. M&M's are G-free, as are some of the other best candies out there--Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, anyone?

The cookie exchange was a huge success. Charlie had a great time with her friends and I was able to have coffee and chat with a few great women/moms. Not only did we come home with some tasty little treats, but Charlie was allowed to borrow her friend Emmett's Halloween costume. She wore it for the rest of the day, even during her nap and to a quick visit to my parent's house.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Loving the glitter.

I now know why, at least partly why, I had kids. I really love book stores and art supply stores. Since having kids I am allowed, if not overly encouraged, to spend a lot of time in both places. Charlie is my little artist. She loves painting, drawing, gluing, using scissors (especially the fancy edged craft scissors), using glitter, puff balls, stickers and squiggly eyes. She has even gotten into my giant box of tooth picks in her quest to realize her artistic vision. As a result I am finding these silly tooth picks in the oddest places, but not in the box, where they belong, when I need to test to see if a cupcake is finished baking. I'm counting myself lucky that I haven't stepped on one.

As you can see, Charlie's art area in the kitchen is overflowing with completed projects, drying projects, in the process projects and future project material. It is difficult to keep this area orderly. But it is from this craziness that she has created some really fun and beautiful things.

The holiday season is in full swing here, and because of an overly successful trip to the local art store, our floors are covered with red, green and silver glitter. While the little one naps, Charlie and I are working on a series of crafts: christmas trees, snowmen, paintings and ornaments.

Yesterday morning we brought together glitter, styrofoam, glue and puff balls to make these little christmas trees. Today, after school, I am looking forward to making snowmen; hopefully Charlie is too.

Enjoy your day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

6 months already--solid food here we come

August is six months old today. I can't believe that he is half a year old already. Some days I have a hard time believing that I'm either old enough or mature enough to be a mom in the first place. I look around at my "mom" peers and think, wow, I'm actually one of them. But they seem so put together, like they actually know what they are doing. I'm still following the "fake-it-till-I-make-it" plan; feeling very proud on days when the little ones are smiling, nap well, we are able to be on time (at least once) and I can shower and brush my hair.

Now that he's old enough to do so, it is time to explore solid foods. It has been three years since I first dove into making baby food. And now I am pureeing all over again. This time a bit wiser and probably a bit more easy going. I learned a lot when Charlie and I started exploring the world of solid food. With all the day to day need to do's and even want to do's I have a lot going on, but making Auggie's (and Charlie's) food is super high on my list--way higher than brushing my hair (that is why someone invented hair rubber bands, right? I am even thinking about looking into the dry shampoo thing; lazy, maybe, efficient, absolutely.) Some may think that making food for a baby is hard or time consuming, but with the right tools, it isn't that hard. And I have found that making my own food for the little ones helps speed up the transition between super pureed and chunky/textured and then finger food. And with a three and a half year old, I am all about having them eat similar if not the same things as soon as possible.

Since Charlie was my trial baby, there were probably equal number of hits and misses when it came to my homemade food; and Auggie is definitely benefiting from what Charlie and I learned. I did splurge and bought him new ice cube food trays, a new food mill, and bibs. I bought a ton of bibs, this boy drools, a lot, and is an always-puts-his-hands-in-his-mouth kind of guy, which makes for messy meals. He receives a lot of hand me downs, so new food products are the least I can do.

My little guy is growing, growing, and growing fast. His rarely satisfied tummy proves it. While some recommend not introducing solids, at all, until 6 months, August couldn’t wait. He has been excitedly gobbling up apple sauce, avocado, peas, sweet potato, banana and even a little rice cereal (not my favorite option as it seems really boring, but what are you going to do?) since he was about 4 months and 3 weeks old.

This past week I ventured into red lentils; Charlie loved red lentils. I would make and freeze batch after batch after batch for her. Mixing them with avocado, assorted veggies, quinoa, and even yogurt. We’ll see what Auggie thinks after the second or third taste. His first exposure was not love, but not hate. At this point he loves anything with avocado, but sweet potato seems to be his absolute favorite.

Charlie loved sweet potato puree as well, and now loves them cut into wedges and roasted. I ask, "How about sweet potato fries with dinner?" Then I usually follow up the question with a little tune/chant and dance I made up: sweet potato, sweet potato, sweet potato fries.

At first I chose to roast and then puree a whole sweet potato for August, while also making fries for Charlie. Once I new that Auggie was OK with and loved sweet potato, I've started making the same for both. Obviously Aug cannot eat a fry like Charlie and she isn't interested in pureed food, but if I smoosh-up a wedge, he can eat all he wants. I have found that this recipe, while really easy and simple, is a crowd pleaser, even with the adults.

Sweet Potato Fries
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Cut a washed sweet potato up into equal sized wedges (as narrow or wide, as long or short as you like)
Spread the wedges on a foil lined baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Evenly grind/sprinkle salt and pepper on wedges along with a few pinches of Herb de Provence.
Toss together
Bake for 10-15 min.
Flip wedges over and continue roasting until they are fork tender.
Feel free to bake them longer or shorter depending on how crunchy you like them. The time will also need to be different if the wedges are thicker or thinner. Currently, I am cutting the wedges pretty thick, which guarantees that there is a large quantity of soft insides for August.

I should also note that roasting a sweet potato for pureeing is very easy.
Wash a sweet potato, using a fork, poke a few holes in the skin and place on a foil lined baking sheet.
Roast until the yam is fork tender, remove from oven and let cool.
It is almost impossible to overcook the sweet potato. I completely forgot about one in the oven once and it turned out great. I think it was in there over an hour, the skin was almost completely burned, but the inside was close to perfect.
Spoon out the soft insides into a bowl and mix with a fork until smooth.
If a smoother consistency is desired, feel free to whizz it up in a food processor.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie--Part2

I was going to write about my pie dough recipe, it is Turkey day this week after all. But you know, sometimes things just don't go as planned. I'm not the best with that, but what are you going to do, I'm working on it. The funny thing is, Charlie just taught me how important and more fun it is to make the bounce back, from something yucky or not working out just right, as quick as possible. Long story short, on Thursday our day started out great, then she ate a crouton (old fashion style from wheat bread), took a nap and woke up with a tummy ache. She then proceeded to spend the next hour and a half in the bathroom as her body tried its best to bring every bit of that thing back up. Then, it was over, as fast as it came. A few Sesame Street videos, a little milk, water and quick visit from daddy and she was fine--back to her three and a half year old snarky self. Once everyone under four feet tall was happily asleep, I went back to my dough, but it didn't work out like I planned/envisioned. At all. That dough disaster and feeling disappointed and frustrated led me to realize that I was still bothered about and sad for Charlie and her afternoon, hours later. But why? Once she felt better she wasted no time dwelling on it and went straight back to being silly and not listening to me. She's a genius. It was like she was saying, "it's over mom, let's not do it that again, and can you pass me my purple crayon?" So, now I try again with the pie dough. In mean time, here are my imperfect G-free Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Most, if not all, of my recipes are works in progress to a certain degree. But this chocolate chip cookie recipe, my G-Free version, is absolutely still in the “tweak it every time I make it” stage. I want to see this cookie’s development. By posting it now, I see where it is and then will be able to look back and see the changes that it has gone through. The first time I made chocolate chip cookies, way back when, I, like everyone else I know, followed the Nestle Toll House recipe. Because of my need to tweak and make little changes to recipes, I am confident that I only made the true Toll House recipe that first time. Since then I have experimented with different chip combinations, more flour, more or less brown sugar, more or less white sugar, adding a bit more vanilla, adding peanut butter… until I finally got to That Cookie. 

I made That Cookie for Justin during the first few months of our relationship and gave them to him for our first Valentine’s Day. He is a cookie guy, with serious opinions and preferences about cookies; luckily it passed his test. In August of 2005 Justin and I were married at my parent’s place on San Juan Island, WA. That same weekend was the San Juan Island County Fair and the cookies won a blue ribbon. About a month prior to our wedding I spent a weekend at my parent’s place making and freezing about 400 cookies for our wedding. Along with a bottle of champagne (one of my favorite things) our guests took home two cookies at the end of the night. Some people took more than their share of cookies and/or champagne, but luckily we planned for that and had enough of both so that everyone left happy.

And so now I am starting all over again, this time G-free.

As I have mentioned, the original cookie has played a pretty big roll in my life. Who would have thought that a cookie would help find my husband, watch me get married, earn itself a blue ribbon and even help me get a job in the bakery of a catering company? 

Prior to being G-free, when I cooked or baked I knew that if I did or added A, then B would be the result. Now I feel like there are more wild cards, experimentation and “we’ll see how it works out” moments. The best part of this new version is that Charlie can help me mix, bake and taste test. This cookie has already been awarded, from her, an “Mmm, tastes good.” The trick is trying to get the texture and “bite” right. I don’t want it too dry, flat, crumbly, grainy or airy. Not only does the cookie need to taste good, but it has to feel good as well; there needs to be a certain weight to it when picked up. I will know when I have the right recipe the instant Justin tastes it—I can’t wait for that day.

It took a long time to get the original recipe where it is now. This is why I like posting the current version of my G-Free chocolate chip cookie. Seeing the contrast between the two (one, the way I like it and the other, still very much in the works) is a great reminder that it takes a lot of time and effort to get the kinks out and end up with a recipe that I truly love and feel confident about. I have no doubt that I will be able to come up with a great new version of my cookie at some point. While the recipe below creates a pretty good cookie, it will receive more time and more love.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 ¼ cup millet flour
1 ½ cup amaranth flour
1 TBSP psyllium husk powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

2 sticks butter, room temp
½ cup cane sugar
¾ cup brown sugar

½ banana
2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the dry ingredients (flours through salt) in a medium bowl and set aside.
With the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars on medium until well combined and the color lightens a bit.
Add the banana and vanilla and mix until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add eggs and yolk one at a time, mixing well between each addition, periodically scraping the bowl.
Add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing until combined between each addition.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Spoon dough onto cookie sheets and bake until edges turn golden brown.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie - Part 1

Our kitchen has been gluten free for nearly two years. Back in February of 2010, our daughter Charlie was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. She was just over one and a half years old at the time. As a result of her diagnosis, all gluten, save the occasional flour tortilla and Justin’s beer, has been banished from the kitchen and pantry. After all the testing was over and her doctor finally gave me the green light to change her diet, I jumped right into the gluten free world and haven’t looked back.

While she is absolutely one of the greatest things in my life, I have also come to realize that she is lucky to have a mom who’s skill set revolves around the kitchen. I can’t imagine what her childhood and adult life would be like if I didn’t like being in the kitchen, willing to learn how to bake and cook, from scratch, gluten free. The number of G-Free products in the grocery stores are only increasing and tasting better and better, which is great. But store bought items don’t compare to something freshly baked or made in your own kitchen.

Prior to our G-Free life, if I was “famous” for anything, other than talking too much and maybe being an over-sharer, it was probably for my cookies. Specifically my Reese’s Peanut Butter Chip and chocolate chip cookies. Cookies are wonderful things, of course, but I love the dough more then the baked form; as a result I always try to under bake cookies. I like to describe these cookies as cookie dough with a little integrity. I pull them out of the oven when the middle is still shiny and they threaten to break apart if taken off the cookie sheet too quickly. They are sturdy enough and hold together after they are cooled. They are uber moist and have a great bite—they’re just really good. I haven’t figured out why, but for some reason I can only make them a certain size; which is pretty big. Some people have asked me to make them smaller, but everyone seems to be very happy when the regular size shows up.

One of the first thoughts I had when we received Charlie’s diagnosis was, “she won’t ever be able to eat my cookies.” I have to admit that I did mourn that loss for her; and still do from time to time. It may seem silly to mourn for a one and a half year-old (now three and a half) over a cookie, but the Celiac diagnosis meant a fundamental shift in the day-to-day goings on in our kitchen and mealtime. Many of my favorite memories revolve around the kitchen and I assumed my kid’s memories would too. In a way, my mourning for her over the cookie (and the crepes I had planned to eat with her on our future mother and daughter trips to Paris) was an easier way to wrap my head around the fact that I needed to immediately stop doing what I knew so well and was good at, and start doing something new and foreign. Baking is baking and I get the process, but I wanted and needed to be able to create yummy things that were kind to Charlie’s belly and also yummy to eat, for her, our family and friends. Who would be excited over a bland or a dense-as-a-brick cookie or birthday cake? Not me, and the last thing I want is for her or Auggie's future friends is to think that our house only has funny or things that aren't good to eat. (Doesn't everyone remember the friend's house that smelled weird or only had not yummy things to eat? I don't want to be that house.) Since her diagnosis, I have been trying and trying and trying to re-create that cookie. I completely understand that I will never be able to replicate that cookie exactly in G-Free form and it is probably futile to even try, but I'm stubborn. I love that cookie so much and it has brought so many smiles to so many people, that I can’t not try to get as close as possible.

I will post the “in the works” G-Free recipe in Chocolate Chip Cookie Part 2, but I am going to give you the original recipe first. Even though this blog will mainly include Gluten Free recipes, a great recipe is a great recipe, G-Free or not. It seems important to include the recipe that has evolved over time and has been part of a few of the biggest events, and a lot of the little events, in my life. This cookie and I go way back. I do still make them, just not as often as I used to, and now I bake them in my mom’s new kitchen. It is kind of nice to make a mess in someone else’s kitchen—maybe it even makes my mom feel like I’m in high school again.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Chip and Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 sticks of butter at room temperature (I use salted butter)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs (ideally closer to room temperature as well)
2 tsp vanilla

2 ¾ cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

½ bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips
½ bag of semisweet chocolate chips

A note on chocolate chips: I have yet to meet two people who like the same amount of chocolate chips in their cookie. So feel free to add more or less of either chip. I love more chips and my husband does not (he will actually watch me pour the chips in the bowl to make sure I don’t add too many).

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking soda) and set aside.

Add butter and both sugars into the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until the butter and sugars lighten a bit in color. Of course you don't need a standing mixer to make cookies. These cookies can be made by hand or with a hand mixer. Please note that the dough will be much easier to make if all the ingredients are brought fully to room temperature, yes, even the eggs.

Scrape the sides and on medium/low speed beat in each egg one at a time.

Scrape sides, and add the vanilla, mixing until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, one third at a time, mixing on low after each addition until the dry ingredients are almost completely incorporated. The trick is to not over mix, as any additional mixing will just encourage the gluten in the flour to toughen. (Gluten, is a fabulous stabilizer, and is the "frame-work" and structure in baked goods. When handled appropriately, gluten helps create wonderfully chewy and elastic characteristics--picture a perfect baguette. But if over worked dough will toughen and lose its delicate and light texture.) Keeping the mixing of the flour to a bare minimum helps maintain the silkiness of the cookie. The addition of extra flour in this recipe (compared to other chocolate chip cookie recipes) helps create the bulk of the cookie while also helping hide the graininess of the sugars.

Next add the chips, gently mixing them with the mixer. The chips can also be folded in by hand. I tend to do a short mix with the mixer and then finish incorporating the chips into the dough by hand.

Scoop the dough with a spoon, and drop, evenly distanced apart, on a cookie sheet.

Bake on the middle rack in a 375 degree oven until the edges just start to turn golden but the middle is still a bit shiny, about 9 to 12 min depending on the size of the cookie. I tend to make bigger cookies because the middle of the cookie is my favorite part, a bigger cookie = more middle.

Let the baked cookies rest on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

This cookie dough freezes really well (as do the cookies). I usually double the recipe and freeze either portioned dough balls or the baked cookies. Doubling the recipe also makes it easier with the bags of chips because you don’t need to measure out ½ of each bag, just dump them both in the bowl.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1st post and tomatoes

Almost everything that happens in my home happens in the kitchen. We do everything here: cook, eat, relax, work on art projects and puzzles, talk, plan, use our computers and watch TV. By "we" I mean my husband, Justin, our three and a half year old daughter, Charlie, and our almost five month old son, August. On a good day the space is, for the most part, orderly. But on most days it is somewhat chaotic and cluttered. While my goal is to one day fall more on the organized side of the scale, I have come to terms with my current reality. My excuse for not tackling the clutter is that I prefer spending my time on the floor with the kids or in the kitchen cooking something (or if I have a spare few minutes alone, watching something on TV that would most likely cause my husband to ask, “are you really watching that!”). When it comes down to it, what is more fun, baking cookies with Charlie or folding her laundry? To me the answer is obvious -- cookies.

Even though I usually place cooking and baking in the fun column, sometimes my cooking and baking project list gets a bit long. It flirts with becoming yet another thing on my have-to-do list and I am in that predicament right now. I am overwhelmed and up to my eyeballs with tomatoes. I'm not exaggerating; we are overrun with tomatoes. I have no idea how it happened, but this year, with five different tomato varieties, I grew hundreds of tomatoes. We ate them straight of the vines, with basil and mozzarella, in salads and added them to everything from sauces to lentil soup. For every one we ate, two more would be ripe and be ready to eat the next day. I am the only one in this house who likes the perfect little Sungold tomatoes, so I bought one plant start this past June. Thankfully I only bought one. I have eaten my weight in Sungolds. For a few weeks I was bringing in a piled-high 8 to 10 inch bowl at least every other day, if not everyday. The plant itself grew so large that it completely filled and grew out of the 6 by 4 foot raised bed that it was planted in.

But then came the end of September and I had to pull the vines from the garden, a sad day as it signaled the true end of summer. (I love fall, but this year's summer was way too short.) Even though we ate a lot of the tomatoes, when I pulled the vines out, I realized that we had only picked and consumed about a quarter of what actually grew. The remaining three quarters were anywhere from almost ripe to very green. A couple years ago my mother told me that tomatoes can continue to ripen off the vine, if they are kept stem side down in a cool place. They will also ripen faster in a paper bag with a banana.

The remaining tomatoes are finishing their ripening in our garage. As they ripen, I bring them in to join the tomatoes on our counters. Yes, counters, plural, there is a sheet pan on the island, but also a large plate, a large bowl and a large colander full of tomatoes on my back counter. I have roasted about ten sheet pans of sliced larger tomatoes and have made two giant pots of tomato sauce.

While there isn't anything much better then eating a tomato straight off the vine, a great tomato sauce is pretty close. One yummy recipe that I came up with is a very basic roasted tomato sauce (I had to do something with 10 sheet pans of roasted tomatoes). And the fact that it is really easy to make, makes it even better. This sauce is also the kind that can be tailored to your own taste. If you want extra heat, add cayenne pepper or chili flakes. If you have extra fresh thyme on hand, toss it in. Add some white wine and a few capers and it pairs up well with halibut. This is one of those sauces that is always a little different each time it is made, but it is always yummy, which is a huge reason why I love it. Because of its flexibility, I have made a giant pot of the most basic version and have stored it away in the freezer. That way I can pull out just what I need, when I need it and adjust the flavor to match the rest of the meal.

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted tomatoes:
Slice tomatoes horizontally.  Slices should be no more than 1/4 inch thick.
Lay each tomato slice on a greased, parchment paper-lined sheet pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast the tomato slices in the oven at 250 degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes.  Roasting is complete when the tomato slices are shriveled and beginning to brown, but before they burn.

In a sauce pan, over medium heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
Add minced garlic -- 1 clove for each sheet pan of roasted tomatoes -- and saute until lightly browned.
Add the roasted tomatoes.
Add 1 tsp Herbs de Provence for each sheet pan of roasted tomatoes.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer until sauce reaches desired consistency. Feel free to puree the sauce with a hand blender or food processor if a smoother texture is desired.
Add fresh basil (optional) just before serving.

We love this sauce over pasta, chicken, pork, spaghetti squash, and as a pizza sauce, but it is great with just about anything, even on toast.

This is also a great way to deal with tomatoes from the grocery store that aren't as flavorful, especially in the dead of winter. Here in Seattle, tomatoes end up traveling a long way to get here in the winter months and have little to no flavor.


Roasted Tomato Sauce (with fresh basil)