Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How To Can Thick-Crushed Tomatoes From Your Garden Or Farmer's Market

How to can your garden tomatoes.

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Time to Can Tomatoes
I have a beautiful crop of tomatoes this year. It's so big that it would take every jar in my house to can them, so I'm going to cook them down until they are very thick.

I use every type of tomato in my garden to get a nice combination of acidity and flavor. This year, I was lucky enough to find New Zealand paste tomato plants at our farmer's market to add to the mix. They grew well, they have very few seeds, and they are enormous! I will definitely save seeds from this one for next year.

A 12-ounce New Zealand paste tomato
New Zealand paste tomatoes on the vine

How to Can Thick-Crushed Tomatoes

A large Water Bath Canning pot.
A 5 1/2 quart non-reactive Dutch Oven
Pint canning jars with lids and bands
Lemon juice (1 tablespoon per pint of tomato sauce)

It's hard to say how many jars you'll need per pound of tomatoes because it will vary on the water content of the tomatoes and how thick you want the sauce to be .

Yesterday, I made 4 pints of thick, crushed tomatoes from 15 pounds of tomatoes. Here's what I did:

Wash and core tomatoes.
Cut an X on their bottoms.

Boil for 1 minute or until skins start to curl.
Peel off the skins.
Cut the tomato horizontally.

Squeeze out the seeds and juice into a bowl.
You will strain and save the juice for soup later.

Place the tomatoes in a large, non-reactive pot.
Do not use an aluminum pot or cast iron.
I prefer my enameled Le Creuset Dutch oven.
Crush them with your hands until they are broken up.

Simmer, uncovered, on medium low heat until it thickens. This could take several hours. Add salt if desired. 

While the sauce is simmering and reducing, wash your pint jars very well.  Place the lids and caps in a pot of boiling water. 

Bring a large water bath canning pot to a boil.

Notice how much the sauce has cooked down.
You are now ready to can.

Place 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice in every pint jar.

Fill to within a quarter inch of the top.

Wipe the rims clean.
Put on the boiled lid and cap.
Screw firm but not too tight.

Place in boiling water for 35 minutes.
Water should cover jars by 2 inches.
Remove carefully using a jar lifter and place on a towel.

Let the jars cool on a towel.
Label with the date and store in a dark, cool, cabinet.

What about that Juice?
Remember that big bowl of juice and seeds you have from the initial squeezing of the tomatoes? My 15 pounds of tomatoes yielded 4 pints of tomato sauce but there was also 3 pints of juice I didn't want to waste. So I strained out the seeds, and saved it. 

Strain seeds and save the juice.

Use in soups, cook with veggies (it's great for zucchini), or drink it. Refrigerate or freeze for later.

And don't forget to save your favorite seeds for next year. Once you have fermented and dried them, store them in the refrigerator.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ha - I Knew It!
Cracking Your Knuckles Is NOT Bad For You

Though annoying for those around you,
cracking your knuckles is not harmful.

Bad Habit or Not?
If you've been around me for more than 30 seconds, you might notice that I have a habit of cracking my knuckles. My grandchildren have been so impressed by the ease in which I can do this, that they themselves have mastered this skill. When they visited last week, I observed them cracking not only their fingers, but all 10 of their toes - a feat I have yet to accomplish. My heart swelled with pride.

Now you are probably saying, "what a terrible thing to teach your grandchildren." Not so fast.

Years ago, while having my back cracked at the chiropractor, I asked what actually was happening and why it was good for me. He went on and on about  how cracking lowers the pressure which allows fluid to enter between the joints, blah blah blah. "So", I said, "cracking my knuckles must be good for me too since I'm essentially doing the same thing.!"

He was taken aback for a while, then paused, and with a big "hmmmm", he said, "I guess so." I took that as a big YES, do it all you want no matter how much it annoys everyone around you.

So this morning, when I read an article online referencing a study done by Dr. Szabo, a hand surgeon at the UC Davis Medical Center and Dr. Robert Boutin, a radiologist at UC Davis, to see what was causing the "pop" and if knuckle cracking led to hand problems, I was very interested to see the results.

After studying the ultrasounds of 400 knuckles of both knuckle-crackers and non-knuckle-crackers, the knuckle-crackers were found not have any hand problems and had no difference in laxity or grip strength than those who did not crack their knuckles. More encouragement to continue my habit!

There's More to my Story
Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had terrible arthritis in their hands. Their joints were swollen, their fingers were crooked and disfigured, and they were in constant pain. I worried my entire life that I would suffer with this same condition and not be able to play piano, guitar, and all the other things I enjoy doing that require healthy hands. 

But my mother and grandmother were not knuckle crackers! Maybe it's luck, but at 68 I don't have any of these problems. 

So I just wanted to share this tidbit to all of you fellow knuckle-crackers out there and to others who are erroneously telling their spouses and kids to stop cracking their knuckles because it's bad for them. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Shaved Cucumber Salad with Lemon Dill
Less Than 50 Calories Per Serving

Use a mandoline to thinly slice cucumbers.

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How Slicing Makes a Difference
How a vegetable or fruit is sliced can make a big difference on its texture and even its flavor. My daughter was here this week and when I asked her to make a side dish with the garden cucumbers I just picked, she made this beautiful salad.

Although this recipe has few ingredients, the thinly shaved cucumber slices give it an elegant presentation. Its tangy lemon dill dressing coats every little slice and makes a great low-calorie summer side dish. If you are a fish eater, this lemon dill salad pairs perfectly with grilled wild salmon.

A mandoline is used to slice the cucumbers 

To cut the cucumbers this thin, you will need a mandoline slicer. Please be careful when using this tool and ALWAYS use the guard, although it's tough to do when cutting these thin cucumbers. This is what happened to me last year when I didn't take my own advice while making dehydrated apple slices!

Be super careful when using a mandoline

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Shaved Cucumber Salad with Lemon Dill
Raw Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 6 servings or more]

2 English or 8-inch, tender garden cucumbers, with skin
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Wash the cucumbers but leave the skin on. Carefully slice on a mandoline using a thin setting.

Be VERY careful not to cut your fingers.
My daughter is not using the guard in
this picture despite my pleas.

Mix up the lemon juice and oil and pour over the cucumbers. Season with the dill, salt, and pepper. Let the cucumbers sit in the dressing, in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes and then serve.

Per serving: 46 calories, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g cholesterol, 31 mg omega-3 and 358 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 1 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, and 196 mg sodium.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Julienne Cut French-Style Green Beans Are Easy To Make With Flat Romano Green Beans

French-style green beans with tomatoes, garlic and basil.

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Romano Green Beans
I love these flat green beans - they are one of my favorites to cook and grow. This year I ordered Johnny's seeds - Northeaster OG Pole beans, online. I don't think it's too late for you to plant them. In fact, I will start a second crop in a week so that I'll have more beans in the fall. 

These pole beans are growing up my hog wire fence
My daily harvest with 10 plants started from seed

French-Styled Green Beans
I love the look and texture of julienne cut, French-styled green beans but they are very difficult to make. It's so hard to julienne a round green bean that most people avoid making French-styled green beans. But when you start with a flat bean, it's a LOT easier.

Today's recipe uses Romano green beans, tomatoes, fresh basil, and garlic - all from my garden! Hopefully you have some of these in your garden or available at your local farmer's market. 

This recipe is very low in calories (less than 60 calories) and a great dish to make if you are watching your weight. 

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French-Style Green Beans with Tomatoes and Basil
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 4 to 6 servings]

Medium saucepan for blanching and 10-inch frypan with cover.

12 ounces flat, Romano green beans
1 large or 2 small tomatoes (~9 ounces)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. 

Clean the green beans and trim the tops. If they are very long (8 inches or more), cut in half and place them on a cutting board.

Cut the long beans in half
Thinly slice the beans vertically, being very careful not to cut yourself and set aside.

Cut the stem top off the tomatoes and place in boiling water until the skin starts to loosen, about 60 seconds. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and let cool to the touch. Do not pour out the boiling water - you will be using it to blanch the beans. Keep the heat on the water. 

Peel the skin off of the tomatoes and dice, retaining all the juices. Set aside.

Place the julienned beans in the boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain the beans.

Heat the oil in the frypan on medium-low heat and cook the garlic until fragrant, about a minute or less. 

Add the blanched beans to the pan and toss in the oil and garlic. 

Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, the fresh basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook a few minutes until the beans and tomatoes are the desired texture.

Cover and cook until beans and
tomatoes reach the desired texture. 

Serve as a side dish as is or over a grain. Doug and I ate the entire recipe over rice for lunch with a sprinkle of Go Veggie Vegan Parmesan Grated Topping.

Per serving (4): 58 calories, 3 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 57 mg omega-3 and 352 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, and 296 mg sodium.

Per serving (6): 39 calories, 2 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 38 mg omega-3 and 235 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, and 197 mg sodium.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Instant Pot Kale And New Potatoes
Low in Calories And Low in Fat

Potatoes and kale make an easy side dish in your Instant Pot

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Potatoes and Kale
I am starting to harvest my potatoes - see my post, How to Grow your Own Potatoes.
Since I still have lots of lovely kale in the garden, I thought I'd make a recipe using kale and my tender new potatoes.

Sliced Magic Molly and Pinto Gold new potatoes.
Studies show a link between the consumption of purple potatoes and the reduction of diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

Here's a quick recipe using my Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker.               

                                 *                                *                                    *

Instant Pot Kale and New Potatoes
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 6 to 8 servings]

Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker

1/2 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1/2 pound de-ribbed, thinly sliced kale
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water

Place a third of the sliced kale in the Instant Pot. Place 1/2 of the sliced potatoes over the kale, spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

Place another third of kale and the rest of the potatoes in the pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

Layer the kale and potatoes

Place the remaining third of the kale in the pot and drizzle with olive oil. (Oil increases the ability to absorb the carotenoids.)

Pour the water over the kale and potatoes.

Hit the MANUAL button and set for 3 minutes. When it is done, release the pressure immediately and carefully remove the cover. Test to see if the potatoes are cooked. If not, just let the cover rest on the pot for another minute.

Serve while warm.

Per serving (6): 54 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 84 mg omega-3 and 137 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 1.6 g dietary fiber, and 18 mg sodium.

Per serving (8): 41 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 63 mg omega-3 and 103 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, and 14 mg sodium.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

10 Things To Do With Cucumbers

Raw Cucumber and Radish Salad with Lemon Dill Dressing.

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Preparing for my Cucumber Harvest
Yesterday I picked the first cucumber from my garden. I'm actually surprised that I got to eat it since my friend and neighbor, Pam, has been carefully monitoring and hovering over the plant for the last few weeks! But this is a very prolific plant so there will be lots more to come and  soon I'll be begging people to come get them.

Cucumbers are my "go to" diet food in the summer. When I need a snack, I just peel a cucumber and munch away. A small cucumber is only 16 calories and is a very good source of vitamin C and K and a good source of B vitamins such as B6, folate, and pantothenic acid as well as some important minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. It's also a good source of dietary fiber.

Here are 10 Things to do with Cucumbers

#1 Salad
The most common way to use a raw cucumber is in a salad. Here are a few recipes you can enjoy:

Italian Vegan Antipasto Salad
Crunchy and cool summer salad

#2 Sushi
Cucumbers make a great ingredient in any kind of sushi, whether it be in traditional fish sushi or one that's vegan. For a Veggie Sushi Roll recipe with Ginger-Tahini Sauce, download my eBook, Health Begins in the Kitchen.

Veggie Sushi Roll from my eBook

#3 Smoothies
Raw cucumbers are great to put into a smoothie. It gives the smoothie a nice texture and provides all the dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals listed above. Try the recipe for Green Chia Seed Blast.

Green Chia Seed Blast, inspired by VegeNation

#4 Raw Soup
Cucumbers are a nice, crunchy ingredient for a raw gazpacho or Avospacho Soup

Avospacho Soup

You may also want to try this raw Creamy Vegan Garden Cucumber Soup.

Creamy Garden Cucumber Soup

#5 Pickles
I've often written about the importance of eating fermented foods. Here's a recipe for making Probiotic-Rich Fermented Pickles.

Fermented Pickles

# 6 Cucumber Tea Sandwich
Cucumber tea sandwiches are just a simple sandwich with thinly sliced English cucumbers with cream cheese and a sprinkle of fresh dill on white bread. A healthier version of this would be to use Kite Hill's Vegan Cream Cheese Style Spread made from a cultured almond milk. And you can also upgrade the bread to one with whole grain. 

Of course, thinly sliced cucumbers make a nice addition to any sandwich!

A great non-dairy substitute for cream cheese

#7 Base for Hors D'Oeuvres 
Making hors d'oeuvres? Instead of crackers, use slices of cucumber as the base. Your gluten-sensitive guests will appreciate it!

Cucumbers as a gluten-free base for hors d'oeuvres.

#8 On your Eyes
Cucumbers contain compounds that reduce the puffiness and lighten dark circles around the eyes. The classic picture of a person at the spa always includes someone relaxing with cucumber slices on their eyes.

Picture from LifeCell products

#9 Cucumber Water
For delicious, hydrating water, just throw a few slices of cucumber in your water. I drink a lot more water when it has a little flavor! And when you are serving guests, a few slices of cucumber in the water pitcher makes your water look a bit fancier.

# 10 Salsa
Cucumbers can provide a bit of crunch to your salsa. Make a simple mango salsa with 1 sliced Manila mango, a finely diced small, peeled cucumber, a diced avocado, 2 tablespoons of red onion, a chopped jalapeño, 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro all tossed with a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Salt to taste and serve with healthy chips.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Growing Chamomile Tea

Grow, dry, and enjoy a cup of chamomile tea.

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Plant Tea in your Herb Garden
About 6 weeks ago, I started my herb garden. I went to the nursery and bought about a dozen different young starts. In the mix, I bought some German chamomile. It's a hardy, fast-growing plant and, if you've never grown your own tea, this would be a good one to start with.

Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita).
Its daisy-like flowers contain many
healing and therapeutic substances.

Chamomile Benefits
German chamomile contains substances that promote relaxation and decrease inflammation. As a tea, it helps reduce anxiety and many people take it at night to help them relax so that they can fall asleep. It is also used by some for digestive system issues and menstrual cramps. Chamomile is often found in creams used for skin conditions, such as eczema.

Once the little yellow and white flowers bloom, you can pinch or cut them at the very top of the stem and place them on a screen or cheese cloth and dry naturally.

I use my Excalibur Dehydrator and place the flowers on the dehydrator screen with another screen on top to keep them from blowing away. I dry the flowers on the lowest heat setting until they feel crunchy, about 10 to 12 hours. If they are still pliable, they are not ready.

Flowers on a dehydrator screen
Flowers weighted down with another screen
A bowl of dried chamomile flowers

Another way to dry them, is to just hang up a big branch. I have this pretty statue in my kitchen that holds enough to make a few cups of tea. It's quite decorative :-)

Hang a branch or the entire plant to dry.

Make tea by steeping a few teaspoons of dried flowers, or more depending on the desired strength, in boiling water for several minutes. Strain and enjoy.

Or place the dried tea in a tea filter bag and submerge the bag in boiling water. This prevents having to strain the tea.

No need to strain the tea leaves
when you use a T-Sac Filter Bag

German chamomile should be avoided by people with allergies to ragweed, daisies, and other asters. It also should be avoided for two weeks before having surgery as it may interact with anesthesia.

Although chamomile tea is good for soothing the tummy, something women in their first trimester of pregnancy would appreciate, studies as to the safety of drinking chamomile tea during pregnancy are inconclusive. So use caution and talk to your healthcare provider.