Friday, October 05, 2007

Lessons Learned

What I learned today

Tomato Lesson #1
Tomato sauce made with really fresh tomatoes (ones grown in someone’s garden) really is way better than anything you can buy, or even make with excellent canned tomatoes. As I mentioned, I had these tomatoes sitting around that were just giving the fruit flies something to feast on, so this morning at 8 a.m. I dug out my food mill, ran the tomatoes through it, and cooked them down.

All I can say is, WOW. The resulting sauce was sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted (leaving out the jarred sauces that are sweetened with sugar—and now I see why, since it’s clearly to compensate for crap tomatoes), and not the least bit acid. It needed nothing—no herbs, no onion, no olive oil, not even salt. I’m sure I’ll add all those things when I use it as a pizza sauce, or a pasta sauce, but it was pretty darned good just plain.

Tomato Lesson #2
It takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce. I had maybe a dozen of varying sizes, and I started with probably a cup of tomato puree, and it cooked down to maybe a third of a cup. I have new respect for those 28 ounce cans of tomatoes on the grocery store shelf.

Tomato Lesson #3
You can’t make sauce out of green tomatoes the way you can out of red tomatoes. As I was cranking the food mill this morning to push the red tomatoes through it, I happened to think of all the green ones that I know aren’t going to ripen between now and winter. I went over and picked an armload of them, and brought them home to push them through the food mill.

This is really, really hard. The skins aren’t the least bit soft, and I cranked on four tomatoes for probably fifteen minutes and only had about 2 tablespoons of puree in my bowl. I’m not done yet—I might try cooking them down a bit in some olive oil and then running them through the food mill and see if that works. Or I might just give up on green tomato sauce, dig out my copy of Fannie Farmer, and see if there’s a recipe for green tomato pickle.

Baking Powder Lesson
It’s super easy to make baking powder. I kind of might have guessed that, but today I made it. Now I need to find out if things made with homemade baking powder are better than those made with commercial baking powder.

Spice Lesson
None of my spices are more than fifteen years old. Most people don’t have to do any research to discover this, but I did. Anyone who does things like keep ancient bottles of Liquid Smoke needs to do the research. There’s this ad—which you may have seen—in which McCormick is trying to let you know that you may have some seriously old jars and cans of their spices hanging around. Obviously they want you to run out and replace them as soon as you realize how old they are. Anyway, the two ways they give you of identifying their older spices are that they’re labeled as being from “Baltimore, MD” and/or that they’re packaged in a tin (with the exception of black pepper). So I went through all my jars and they all say “Hunt Valley, MD” on them. I must have gotten rid of the really old ones.

Camera Lesson
I really, really want a digital SLR camera for Christmas. My little point and shoot number just isn't going to cut it. Fortunately, I already told Santa what I wanted.

Job Lesson
I think I need to get a new job. Something where taking all the fresh tomatoes I picked in my cousin’s garden and running them through a food mill, then cooking the puree down into sauce, actually counts as work. I need a job in which going through all my old jars of McCormick spices and reading the labels to see if they say “Baltimore, MD” or “Hunt Valley, MD” is an employer-sponsored activity. I need to get paid to find out if biscuits made with my homemade baking powder are any better than those made with commercial baking powder. It would help if writing about it was part of the package too. While there are jobs like that out there, I’m afraid they’re not going to bring in enough at the outset to pay for the new house, the daycare, the electric bill. So maybe that will just have to wait.

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