Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine

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Making Use of What You Have

This weekend was an interesting, fun, and productive weekend for me – not just because the Clemson Tigers won (and are ranked #4!) and not just because the Patriots won (although not in the fashion I hoped they would) – but also because I made use of some things I had – and that was a great, fulfilling feeling.

I don’t like letting things go to waste (a refrain I am sure you’ve heard all too often on this blog), but I think being resourceful, making use of what you have, is fundamentally important to personal happiness on one level and to the world on another.

How is it fundamentally important to my personal happiness?  When I make use of things I already have – food, clothes, home furnishings, or anything at all – it typically saves money and is practical, which in turn enhances my sense of independence and self-sufficiency.  These feelings all contribute to making me happy.  I think it’s important to the world in the sense of conserving and using resources in a responsible manner – and no, that’s not a statement about climate change or global warming.  It should be simply common sense about what is good for all of us.

But I’ll stay off my soapbox and instead tell you what I made use of… a ton of basil, garlic, tomatoes, pine nuts, onion, and more.  You guessed it – I spent the weekend making tomato sauce, which I’ve frozen for use over the winter (or whenever I need it), and pesto, some of which is frozen and some refrigerated.

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

My herb garden was nearly synonymous with a weed garden before this weekend, with the basil and oregano growing wild, so I decided to pick up some tomatoes at the farmer’s market nearby and make homemade tomato sauce for future pasta nights.  This idea grew quickly into making homemade pesto as well, because I knew I had much, much more basil than I could possibly use in tomato sauce alone.

One of three bushels of washed basil occupying counter space...

One of three bushels of washed basil occupying counter space…

Both are simple, and if you have an herb garden and/or vegetable garden, this is a great way to turn less-than-beautiful (but perfectly nutritious) tomatoes into a future meal and store all that glorious basil so you can make use of it when the fresh stuff isn’t growing right outside your door (not to mention, store-bought pesto is quite pricey).

For my tomato sauce, I began by cutting up one onion and dicing some fresh garlic.  In a large pot, I sauted the onion over medium high heat until translucent and added the garlic.  I had purchased between 15-20 tomatoes, and I cored and quartered them.  Some people like to peel and seed their tomatoes too – I don’t do this, because it’s a lot of effort and the seeds don’t bother me.  I also leave the skin on for its nutritional benefit.  I added the tomatoes to the pot, with about a 1/4 cup  of tomato juice and a big pinch of salt.

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For best results, you want to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are quite broken down, as shown in the image below.  I added about another cup of tomato juice at this point – and I wish I’d had about a tablespoon of tomato paste.

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Once your tomatoes look like this, remove from heat and let the liquid cool off. While it was cooling, I chopped up some fresh basil and oregano and added them.  Once cool, I took out my immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools), and blended until I had a nice texture.

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Then I packed it up in a couple of quart-sized freezer bags (setting aside some for a spaghetti sauce this week) and popped them in the freezer… a nice comforting addition to a future winter meal!

Ready to freeze!

Ready to freeze!

Making pesto is a much shorter process.  I made one batch with pistachios and one with pine nuts, because pine nuts are more expensive than some other nuts, and I like the pistachio flavor.  I’ve also heard of people using walnuts as a replacement.

Take your basil, garlic, olive oil, your nut of choice, as well as a little salt and pepper, and process in a food processor (or blender, but I find the food processor much easier).

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Ironically, about 6 months ago, my food processor wasn’t working.  Rather than look up the warranty right away, I lazily stuck it back in the cabinet intending to look for the warranty at some future time (which never came).  But this weekend, one of my biggest delights was when I pulled it out of the cabinet thinking, ‘what the heck… I really don’t want to use my blender, maybe it will work..” and it did!

The end results are below.  I was really pleased with both pestos and the flavor of the tomato sauce.

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Are you doing any freezing or canning to make your garden’s bounty last through the winter?  Any other tips for making use of the things you already have?

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Weekly Recipe: Mediterranean Chicken Salad

Brace yourselves for an onslaught of salad recipes!  There is something about these early days of summer that makes me crave a crisp, refreshing salad (and it has nothing to do with the beginning of bathing suit season).  Frankly, I should be eating more salad and other leafy greens year round, but my own early-summer cravings, in addition to my husband’s request that we eat a bit lighter (hmm, do you think I make too much pasta?), led me to peruse my Maine cookbooks in search of some delicious, exciting salad recipes.  They didn’t disappoint.

If you’re thinking, ‘a Mediterranean Chicken Salad recipe from Maine? Yeah right,’ you do have a point.  I pulled this recipe from my Maine Home Cooking cookbook, under the Modern Maine Cooking section.  In an introductory paragraph, Sandra Oliver acknowledges that many of the recipes in that section are a reflection of outside influences, both international and national.  Maine home cooks, like cooks elsewhere, want to experiment at home with the recipes they’re able to try at restaurants.  The following recipe serves 3 to 4 people.

You’ll need:

  • a whole chicken (cooked), breasts and a thigh
  • 1 big fistful of green beans
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • a dozen black olives, pitted and chopped
  • handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • dried oregano
  • finely minced parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • washed and torn lettuce or baby greens

Because Nick and I certainly don’t need to consume an entire chicken between us (and I’m not a big fan of salad leftovers – in my opinion, the greens just don’t keep well), I poached a couple of chicken breasts in a broth with onion, several peppercorns, and some white wine.  After it was cooked, I shredded it for use in the salad.  I also think a rotisserie chicken would be a delicious and speedy answer for cooks who would rather not undertake cooking the chicken themselves.

The fixings...

The fixings…

Pull the meat from the bones, cut into bite-size pieces, and put them into a bowl.  Snap the beans and blanch them in hot water or cook until tender – your choice (I simmered mine until they were slightly tender, but retained a little bit of crunch).  Add them to the chicken.  Sprinkle capers on to taste, add the olives, slice the tomatoes in half (if you wish), and add them.  In a small jar, shake the olive oil and lemon juice together and dribble over the salad to taste.  Sprinkle on some dry oregano, parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Let rest at room temperature.  Serve the salad on the lettuce or greens.

Pretty and delicious!

Pretty and delicious!

This salad was every bit as good as I imagined it would be when reading the recipe.  Personally, I love the caper and lemon flavors, and with the addition of chicken, it was a light but filling meal that really hit the spot.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

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Weekly Recipe: Chicken Touraine

This recipe for Chicken Touraine gave me the opportunity return to the cookbook that is still my favoriteRecipes from the Maine Kitchen, by the Cancer Community Center.  This is another great example of a recipe from this cookbook that enabled me to use up some ingredients (sour cream and mushrooms, specifically) that would have otherwise gone bad.  I halved the recipe, which is for 6-8 people, and it made dinner for two, two nights in a row.

As I was cooking, I became intrigued by the name – Touraine.  It had the sound of a dish with a history, and so I dedicated a bit of time to research.  I didn’t find a single source for cohesive, definitive information, but I did find enough bits and pieces to logically assemble them myself.  On the most basic level, there is a breed of poultry historically raised in the Touraine region of France – the Geline de Touraine – and it follows nicely that this dish took its name because it was originally made in Touraine with this type of chicken.  The Geline de Touraine was nearly wiped out in World War I and again in World War II, but the dedication of breed enthusiast Jean-Baptiste Martin before and after World I, and of other poultry hobbyists after World War II, saved the Geline de Touraine.

The Touraine region in France (which is bordered by the Maine province to the north) has a long and colorful history, and today is known for its viticulture and the beautiful chateaux that are popular tourist attractions.  Tours is connected to Paris by the TGV (high-speed rail), which takes less than an hour, making the region popular for those who work in the capital but prefer a different lifestyle.  And now, to return to the business of making the dish…

You’ll need:

  • 2 lbs. chicken pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 can (32 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon flour
Chopping onion... with my glass of wine handy.

Chopping onion… with my glass of wine handy.

Brown the chicken in butter and oil, and remove and keep warm.

Browning the chicken.

Browning the chicken.

Brown the onion, then add tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Add chicken and simmer an additional 20 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook 10 minutes.  Combine sour cream and flour and stir into the stew.  Heat thoroughly.

Preparing to dig in...

Preparing to dig in…

Recommended side dishes are crispy French bread and a simple salad. (Personally, I very much enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay with it).

While I made this stew in the springtime, I think it would be a great fall or winter dish because of its hearty nature.  I added a few shallots, just because I had them and was a little short on onion.  I can’t judge if they added or detracted from the dish, because this was my first time making it, but I will say it was delicious.  I devoured every bit of my serving and went back for more!

Happy Friday, all!