Saving Summer: Roasted Red Peppers

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School has started, and the weather lately has been decidedly fall-like. But don’t let the cool breezes fool you: this is prime time for peppers and other height-of-summer vegetables. You’ll find piles of sweet bell peppers at the market right now.

No one ever minds eating them raw (plain, or with hummus or yogurt dip, etc.) but if you’ve got an hour or so you can char them in the oven, slip off the peels, and stack them in freezer-safe containers to brighten the grey winter days.

In the last few years, I’ve scaled back some of the cooking and preserving that I do every summer. One thing that I never miss, though, is restocking my freezer with roasted sweet peppers. Like my parents did when I was growing up, I make pots of sauce for pasta all year round. We always freeze a container or two from each batch for later. My mom, my dad, and I have each developed our own individual stamps on the sauce we make. My dad favors a heavier dose of dried oregano. My mom often makes meatballs, but neither of them put meat in the sauce. I always use crushed fennel seed and a chunk of the roasted red peppers from the freezer.

You can roast peppers very easily in the oven or even on the grill. (I am partial to the oven method myself.) I lay the peppers out on a cookie sheet – plain, no oil, just clean peppers – and turn the broiler on. Periodically (say, every 5 minutes) I peek to see if they are getting charred, and using a set of oven-safe tongs I turn the peppers over so that all sides get roasted and the skins start to bubble up.

Once all of the peppers are roasted, use tongs to put them into a bowl and cover it with a large plate to steam for a few minutes. Remove the plate. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, you can slip the skins off and pull the stem out (if needed). I usually do that and pile them on the cutting board, where I can portion them into containers for the freezer.

There is plenty of advice out there for roasting peppers, so check out your options.

What can you do with your roasted peppers? Here are some ideas:

Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Tomato and Pepper Soup

(Lots of soup ideas out there)

Or…add to your favorite pasta sauce!

Enjoy.

 

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Saving Summer: Aronia Berries

It’s late, late August…so I might be getting a wee bit nostalgic already for summer foods. I know they’ll soon be gone.

This photo is a snapshot of a berry syrup I made. It’s also sitting in front of bowls containing two other ephemeral pleasures: fresh peaches and tomatoes.

Aronia

I have come to appreciate the joy that comes from “seasonal mindfulness” (I made that up…it means enjoying those summer treasures in the moment, without obsessing over saving them for later). But sometimes on a cold, grey day, you just want to be reminded of the best of summer foods. Because canning is time consuming, I have never really tried it. I usually stick to things I can freeze (roasted tomatoes or peppers) that things that will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, like quick pickles, sauces, etc.

Last Saturday I was (easily) talked into buying two cups of local aronia berries, which I’ve had in jam form before (made by a local farmer and sold at the Thanksgiving Market). But I decided the quickest thing I could make with this amount was a sauce on the stove.

Aronia berries are really tart, and I had a handful of blueberries in the fridge that were about to go bad, so I tossed those in the saucepan, too. The recipe I used also calls for lemon, but I only had lime – it turned out great!

It only made a small amount but it’s really lovely – not overly sweet, and the touch of ginger and vanilla adds depth. I’m interested in the medicinal qualities of ginger, plus I like the taste, but you could easily leave it out. I also strained the sauce, but you could keep it chunky.

I’ve been spreading this on toast this week, but you could also put it on plain yogurt, on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.

I’ll be looking for more aronia berries at the market next week!

The Freezer Chronicles: Quesadilla Edition

I’ve been working on prepping more freezable meals for this busy fall season; some tested recipes, some soups and sauces, and some total experiments. This experiment is so tasty, that I just had to post the recipe!

I’ve made breakfast burritos for the freezer before, with egg & cheese, sausage and egg, and some with rice. These were intended to be really meaty, hearty dinners, so I started with a rough estimate of amounts of each ingredient, calculated the nutritional information, and started prepping — and then adjusted as follows.

Beef:
Starting with 2# of 90%/10% ground beef, cook in a skillet (cast iron is excellent for this), with no added fat. When it’s nearly all cooked, add a packet of of your favorite taco seasoning (I used Ortega, which is supposed to be a packet for 1# of meat, but ok as I didn’t want these super spicy). Mix in well, and cook until browned. Turn off the heat, scoop the meat into a bowl and weigh it (for portioning later) For what it’s worth, it lost 4 oz in cooking (1# 12 oz. cooked), and I calculated the nutritional information (using Calorie King) based on the cooked weight.

Sauteed Vegetables:
After cleaning the grill pan, heat with 1 T. olive oil on medium-high, and add 1 medium yellow onion, chopped. Once the onion starts to soften a bit, add the peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Or you can do them all at once, but I like my grilled onion a little more caramelized. When they’re done (nice and brown on the edges), dump in a bowl, and decide whether to weigh or measure or just eyeball it later. I recommend doing one of the two, so that you distribute everything evenly. Then repeat with the mushrooms, but without adding any more oil to the pan. Note: before you add these to the tortillas, you may want to drain the vegetables, as they’ll release some liquid while they wait.

Assembly:
I used medium-sized tortillas — they were labeled for burritos, but they’re not the giant burrito wraps. I think they’re 8″ in diameter. See, my intention had been to make burritos, but that was a big FAIL — there was just too much stuff to wrap up. Oops! So my sister had the brilliant idea to just fold in half and call them quesadillas. Brilliant! They’re stuffed full, but they actually hold together really well as fold-overs.

First thing is to spoon out some refried black beans, and spread onto half the tortilla. You can weigh each spoonful, or just eyeball it after the first couple. Then add 4 oz of the ground beef, 1/2 c. of the sauteed vegetables, and 1 oz. of the shredded cheddar cheese. Spread everything out as much as you can; it’ll make it easier to close.  I found it worked well to have one small bowl for the meat and one for the cheese, and just pre-weigh a portion of each before starting on the next tortilla.

Carefully fold in half, trying to keep everything inside. Wrap tightly in cellophane, place in a large freezer bag, and freeze. That’s it!

 Ingredients Protein   Carbs  Fat  Calories
4 oz ground beef (90% lean) 30 0 7.4 194
2.25 oz refried black beans 3.2 9.6 1.3 58
1 oz shredded cheddar 6.5 1.1 9.8 120
1/2 c. sauteed mushrooms, onions & peppers  1 4.2  8.4  13
tortilla 5 30 5 190
totals: 44.7 40.7 23.5 562

To thaw and warm:
Unwrap each quesadilla (this is important – don’t microwave your saran wrap!) and defrost in microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes on 50% power (your microwave may vary on times). Once thawed, place in a hot skillet until it’s slightly crispy, before carefully flipping to repeat on the other side. Don’t rush this part; the crispy tortilla is one of the best parts. We’ve enjoyed ours served with some chopped lettuce and tomato and cilantro, and sour cream.

The nutritional information above might make this recipe look rigid, but you can make yours however you’d like, to meet your needs. Use ground turkey, or chopped chicken, or eliminate the beans if you don’t like them. And 1 oz of cheese isn’t a lot, so you might want to bump that up, or bring down the amount of the ground beef (it’s a beefy recipe!)

If you make them with variations, let us know on our facebook page!

 

The Eight Best Tomato Dishes You’re Not Already Making

  1. Mediterranean Baked Feta w/ Tomatoes – Smitten Kitchen
  2. Tomato and Corn Pie (hurry, before the corn’s gone!) – Smitten Kitchen
  3. Chicken with Herb-Roasted Chicken and Tomatoes and Pan Sauce – Epicurious
  4. Tomato Tarte Tatin – 101 Cookbooks
  5. Golden Tomato Sauce – 101 Cookbooks (what a great use for those yellow/orange tomatoes!)
  6. Roast Tomato Soup – 101 Cookbooks (make and freeze, and mid-winter you’ll be delighted at the summer flavor!)
  7. Roasted Tomato Basil Pesto – Oh She Glows (a really nice light-in-oil-but-rich-in-flavor pesto)
  8. Tomato Butter Toast – Epicurious (yes, you read that right: TOMATO BUTTER)