The Frost is on the Pumpkin

The frost is on the pumpkin and tomatoes are off the vine. Tonight we’re expected to have the first real freeze of the year. My cherry tomato vines have been by far the most prolific producers in the garden, but I grew them from seed and they got a late start.

That means the harvest began late. In August it started to pick up steam. Even today, you can see tiny yellow blooms mixed with a host of tomatoes. In anticipation of the freeze, I pulled most of the green tomatoes off the vines – 185 of them to be exact. Now the question is…

What can I do with green tomatoes?

While I didn’t want to leave them outside to freeze, I will preserve some in my freezer. If they were full size, I would wash them, remove the stem, and slice them before placing the slices in layers separated by wax paper or plastic freezer wrap. I can follow the same process for the smaller cherry size or I can quarter them.

Once they’ve been frozen, the tomatoes will be mushy and/or slimy. They won’t be suitable for a salad but they’ll be great for other things. If I want some for frying into a bite-size appetizer, it will be best to slice them. If I’m going to use them in salsa or pesto, quartering will work fine.

But before I begin the process of preserving, there’s no reason not to enjoy a few right away. Using a cup of quartered green tomatoes, a firmly packed cup of fresh arugula, a half cup of walnuts, a fourth cup of olive oil, a clove of garlic, and a fourth teaspoon of salt, I can create a scrumptious pesto. The lemony notes of the green tomatoes balance the peppery bitterness of the arugula. There’s no need to add cheese so this is a great lower fat, dairy-free pesto option.

Although salsa verde calls for tomatillos, it can be made with green tomatoes. They’ll need to be roasted, preferably charred slightly, and the rest of the ingredients remain the same – onion, cilantro, lime, salt plus some kind of pepper like jalapeño or serrano. My neighbor is willing to share the overabundance of serrano peppers she grew, so that will be my choice.

If the freezer is full, you may want to give some away. Pesto or salsa in a jar makes a great holiday gift. I like to include a card or label listing all the ingredients so it’s easy for anyone with a food sensitivity or allergy to identity a potential problem before they consume the gift.

For those with very sensitive tummies, green tomatoes may not sit right when eaten raw. They contain the toxic alkaloid tomatine. While you’d have to eat pounds and pounds of raw green tomatoes for the toxin to harm you, it could cause tummy upset and/or a headache for some.

Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. Nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant can contribute to inflammation and make some people with autoimmune disease suffer with related aches and pain. If you can’t tolerate potatoes, you may also want to avoid tomatoes whether green or ripe.

On the flip side, if you can tolerate them well, green tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants and at least one study has shown they inhibit human cancer cell lines of the stomach, colon, liver, and breast. They also contain vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and minerals along with fiber.

While I’ve been talking about unripe tomatoes, there are some varieties that are green when ripe. These are not common in the stores or gardens I frequent but don’t be surprised if you run across one somewhere.

I feel fortunate to have so many healthy, tasty tomatoes at my disposal. I just learned that some of my crop will be used in pozole next door tonight. And I now have serrano peppers awaiting me on my porch. It seems like its time to retrieve them and get back in the kitchen so I can finish some salsa before there’s frost on the pumpkin tonight.

Scaling Back Thanksgiving

Here are some tips for scaling back Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is such a great time to embrace extended family! For years, I hosted a Saturday-after dinner for 26 relatives who live nearby. It started as a Hamming it Up celebration and continued through a year when I burned the ham and another when my stove was broken. It was the only time of year the whole group got together. Your family may enjoy similar gatherings. This year, many of our traditions will change as we scale back in order to be safe.

None of us like giving up the traditions we love. We don’t even like putting them temporarily on hold. At this moment, my family is experiencing a reminder of why a different plan may be necessary this year whether we like it or not. My father’s youngest sister died a few weeks ago. Now two of my cousins who attended her funeral are sick with COVID-19.

Exposure is one of the risks we must weigh as we determine the number of this year’s invitations. While this is a hard reality, it doesn’t have to mean the menu is peanut butter sandwiches even if you’re only joining the family via Zoom. Luckily, I’ve prepared one-and-two-person Thanksgiving meals as often as large ones, so I am familiar with techniques for enjoying familiar flavors at a smaller scale.

When planning meals, I like to think a few meals past the event. What will be good served as leftovers? What do we enjoy so much I need to prepare extra helpings? What can easily be repurposed into other dishes? Can I share any leftovers with elderly neighbors or friends? Answering these questions helps me determine whether I need to alter a recipe or consider a replacement.

On a normal year, I make dressing that starts with two recipes of cornbread. This is a family favorite, so we often eat more than one serving each at the main meal. Even so, it feeds eight and still leaves leftovers. If there will only be four people at the table, I cut the recipe in half. If there are only two, I substitute rice pilaf.

Turkeys come in many sizes. If you anticipate that the smallest whole bird will leave too many leftovers, consider a turkey breast. For one or two people, I opt for Cornish hens. Some years these are hard to come by so it’s smart to shop early.

I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes, but not candied yams. That means, I usually opt for baked sweet potatoes with a little salt and butter even when I have a crowd. If you want the candied yam experience for one without lots of prep time, consider topping a baked sweet potato with butter, brown sugar, and a dollop of marshmallow crème.

If you prefer a little brown crunch on your marshmallows, you can treat a baked sweet potato like a twice baked potato. Once the potato is done, gently remove the inside from the skin. Mix in butter and brown sugar. Return to the skin. Top with marshmallow halves. Place under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow browns.

For a couple, sautéed fresh green beans is a faster and easier preparation than a casserole. If that doesn’t seem special enough, green bean bundles are another great option. I also like apricot glazed green beans from time to time. They’re fast, easy, and special all at once.

If you are only serving one or two people but still want a casserole, here’s an easy one that can be made in about 10 minutes:

Spinach and Rice

3 tbsp butter

1/4 cup diced onion

2 Minute® Ready to Serve White Rice cups

1/2 cup drained canned spinach

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

Place butter and onion in a 1-quart microwaveable casserole dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave.

Cook each cup of rice separately per package directions. Add rice, spinach, and half of the cheese to onion and butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Top with remaining cheese and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Serve hot.

If baking rolls from scratch sounds like too much trouble, frozen gluten-free Brazilian cheese rolls may be an option. First, and most importantly, they’re delicious! Some are available through grocery pick-up and delivery. In my city, there’s a bakery that makes these. They sell them baked or frozen delivered by multiple services.

Even if the crowd size is reduced, you may want to keep the desserts large and cut back the number of choices. Pie is always a special treat, but I serve all sorts of desserts for Thanksgiving. I’ve made personal size orange cakes, panna cotta with sweet potato topping, and cheesecake. I also like banana bread, pumpkin bread, and iced pumpkin cookies. If you want to eat dessert over a long period of time, making cookie dough and freezing three-fourths, one-half, or one-third of it for the holiday and saving the best for later can help you resist the temptation of eating more than you plan in one sitting.

Some areas are still experiencing periodic shortages. Allowing more lead time and having some backup recipes will make the holiday less stressful as you scale back Thanksgiving.

I’ve focused on adapting traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but many of us will have more freedom to shift gears and enjoy nontraditional menus this year. Whether you choose clam chowder or chili, hot dogs or shrimp, prime rib or neck bones, enjoying your selection with gusto is the recipe for a successful Thanksgiving holiday!

Brazil Bites

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cabbage, Cabbage, Cabbage

Cabbage, cabbage, cabbage. That’s not really the word I wanted to type, but it’s the one I’ll go with. Maybe I’m thinking about slaw. I have some pork butt ready to cook very slowly until it falls apart in my BBQ sandwich…covered in slaw.

Whatever the reason, I seem to have cabbage on the brain. I have some Brussels sprouts in my refrigerator. They look like tiny cabbages. Let’s talk about them.

As a kid, I hated Brussels sprouts. Now, I love them. Most of the time, I keep them simple, blackened in a cast iron skillet. But sometimes, I switch things up a bit.

I get excited when I can find wax beans. Put them with Brussels sprouts and carrots then add a Thai chili kick. You’ve got a great side dish!

Wax Beans and Carrots with Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6

1 lb fresh wax beans
3 carrots
1 cup baby Brussels sprouts
8 slices bacon
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 Thai chili peppers, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and prepare wax beans by removing stems and strings if present. Wash carrots and slice in eighth inch thick rounds. Wash the Brussels sprouts. Trim off ends with a paring knife, and then score the stem end with a small crosscut. Remove any loose leaves.

Boil wax beans in lightly salted water for approximately 10 minutes. Add carrots and continue to cook for 4 minutes. In a separate pan, boil Brussels sprouts in salted water for 5-10 minutes depending on size. Remove vegetables from heat and drain.

Fry bacon in 4 quart sauté pan until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Once drained, crumble the bacon.

Add onion and garlic to the bacon drippings in the skillet. Sauté onions until clear. Add peppers and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the garlic and add the wax beans, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Salt and pepper.

Top with bacon crumbles and serve hot.

I guess a more appropriate title than Cabbage, Cabbage, Cabbage could be Brussels, Brussels, Brussels, but then you might expect a travelogue.

Confusion aside, I’ll leave you with this recipe. Hope you enjoy!

Dinosaur Hunt Snack Mix

I’ve been hosting lots of backyard dinosaur hunts that require dinosaur hunt snacks. For the next one, I’m serving gluten-free snack mix. I’ll also have a make-your-own s’mores station.

If your grandkids are like mine, they LOVE dinosaurs. Not only that, they can pronounce all of those impossible dinosaur names: Diplodocus, Parasaurolophus, Ankylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus. How do they do that?

In this era of distanced visits, a dinosaur hunt can be a fun way to get together and keep connection. Some grandkids like to know there will be constant feature they can count on, but there also needs a bit of novelty to keep them interested. This week, I’m changing up the food to include snack bags filled with cereal mix.

Like sausage balls, I’ve tended to only make this during the holidays. Recently, I was playing with recipes for college students and ended up with a microwave version that’s really good! It has salt, crunch, and takes only 10 minutes to make. Now I’m going to have to force myself not to make it all of the time.

Here’s the recipe:

1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 cups Rice Chex™ cereal
2 cups Corn Chex™ cereal
1 cup Kix® cereal
1 cup gluten-free pretzels
1 cup mixed nuts (optional)

In large microwave-safe bowl, place butter, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. Heat in microwave on high for 1 minute. If butter is fully melted, stir ingredients together until fully mixed. If butter is not melted, microwave in 30-second increments until it is.

Once spices and butter are mixed, add Rice Chex and Corn Chex. Mix making sure to spoon plenty of the spiced butter up from the bottom of the bowl. Add Kix and pretzels and mix again. Return bowl to microwave and cook on high for 6 minutes. Stop the microwave every two minutes and stir the mixture. Allow to cool.

When I’m making this for little ones, I leave out the nuts. Also, word to the wise, don’t be tempted to go for a can of fancy nuts. I did that last Christmas and I was not happy. I missed the peanuts!

I know I’m not the only one trying to navigate distanced visits. You don’t have to do a backyard dinosaur hunt to get together, but carrying some snack bags filled with a homemade treat along on any adventure is a great way to remind the family of memories you share.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”