Showing posts with label garden tomatoes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label garden tomatoes. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Transform Tomato Peels into a Tasty "Sun-Dried" Tomato Spice by Cleo Coyle

My pop, Tony Alfonsi, was born November 29, 1929, exactly one month after Black Tuesday, the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States. Needless to say, Dad was a Depression era baby. He never had to preach principles of economy to me. He lived them—which meant I learned them by osmosis. Consequently, "waste not" has been a part of my philosophy for a very long time. (It’s also the basis for a whole range of global cuisines, but that’s another post.)

As for this post…

It's one I promised you last week when I showed you how to make Meatless Italian Tomato Sauce from fresh tomatoes. If you missed that post, you can jump to it now by clicking here.

Peeling and de-seeding fresh tomatoes takes your sauce up a level in quality. It also leaves you with a big ol' pile of tomato skins and peels, but you don't have to discard them. Today's recipe will show you how to make tasty use of them...

Cleo Coyle's
Tomato Flakes

To download this recipe in a PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Sun-dried tomatoes bring great flavor to so many dishes. That bright, tangy taste is concentrated beautifully in these easy-to-make tomato flakes.

Cleo Coyle, veggie
dehydrator, is author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries 
You can toss the flakes onto sandwiches and wraps, stir them into soups, stews, and veggie dips; add a few tablespoons to a meatloaf (in place of tomato paste); or flavor boost your salads, pastas, burgers, omelets, and pizza. Best of all, it's a great use for tomato skins and peels that you might otherwise discard. The insanely easy instructions are below. So waste not with joy! ~ Cleo

Step 1: Start with the tomato peels (or skins) that you have left over from cooking sauce from scratch or other uses. (For instructions on how to easily remove tomato skins, see my recipe post from last week by clicking here.) Place parchment paper on a half-sheet pan and brush the paper with olive oil. Spread out the tomato peels in a single layer. 

Step 2: Bake in an oven preheated to 225 degrees. F. After 30 minutes flip the peels over. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes for a total cooking time of about 1 hour. The peels are done when they turn crisp like potato chips—but you don’t want them to turn dark brown so check them near the end of the cooking time.

Step 3: When they’re done dehydrating in the oven, place the dried peels in a food processor, blender, or spice grinder (a coffee grinder with a blade) and run the machine in short bursts or pulses until they form flakes. (Do not over-process.) Store the tomato flakes in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container. For longer life (about 2 months), I keep mine in the refrigerator.

Eat with joy!

~ Alice Alfonsi
(Cleo Coyle)

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Learn about my mysteries here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 
To learn more, click here. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to Make Meatless Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes: A post for my Dad (Tony Alfonsi) by Cleo Coyle

I swear this 2-hour meatless sauce will fool anyone into thinking it was simmered for 6-hours with meat. The rich depth of flavor is amazing and well worth a Saturday afternoon making it the way the "old timers" did. Even if you make it only once in your cooking life, the experience is one you'll never forget.

For those of you who've made pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes, you know the very smell of the sauce cooking is like nothing else on earth. With all my heart, I wanted to experience that little piece of heaven again to bring back some very sweet memories of my father, Antonio "Tony" Alfonsi.

Dad went into the hospital a week after Father’s Day and never came out again. He passed away on June 27 and we laid him to rest July 3rd at the age of 83. 

Dad was born a poor boy, the son of an Italian mounted police officer and his wife who emigrated here from Italy. But Dad didn't need money to lead a rich life with plenty of family and friends who loved him. 

He was a tough guy with a tender heart who served in the Army Air Corps then worked for years in a Pittsburgh area steel mill...
My Pop, Tony, with his mother Grazia.
(You can see the steel mills in the background.) 

My Father and Mother,
Antonio and Rose Alfonsi

For over 30 years, Tony was a faithful husband to my late mom, Rose. He raised two daughters with her: one a medical doctor (and assistant professor), Grace; and the other a journalist and New York Times bestselling author (yes, me, Alice, aka Cleo). 

As one of his nurses said to him in the last few months of his life, "You did good." I think so, too, and count myself very lucky to have been his daughter.

My sister, Dr. Grace Alfonsi, during her
time serving as Community Health Director
in Bethel, Alaska. 

During the Depression, my father's father kept his large family fed by working a small farm from which they sold produce. Every spring, my dad helped plant 2,000 tomato plants for his family, so he had no problem tending the 100 or so tomato plants he sowed for our own little family every summer.

Fresh pasta sauce was part of that yield, which is why I'm dedicating this post to my father. My husband and I also dedicated one of our Haunted Bookshop Mysteries to him, as well as our 13th Coffeehouse Mystery, Billionaire Blend, the book we were writing when he passed away. 

Finally, I'd love to tell you how the Chianti in this picture got into this recipe, but that’s another story (thank you, Maria)! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the recipe. May you cook it with love and make lifelong memories of your own...

Eat with (everlasting) joy,

Alice Alfonsi,
who writes The Coffeehouse Mysteries
as Cleo Coyle with her husband Marc Cerasini

8 pounds (about 23) peeled and de-seeded
fresh tomatoes will cook down to about 1 quart (4 cups),

which is what I use in the sauce recipe below...

Cleo Coyle's
Meatless Italian Spaghetti Sauce 
from Fresh Tomatoes for my Father...

To download this recipe
in an illustrated PDF
 document that you can print,
save, or share, click here.

What kind of tomatoes should you use for this recipe? While Roma (aka Italian plum) tomatoes are traditionally used for sauce, you can use any kind for this recipe. Whether you grow your own, pass a farm stand with big baskets for sale, or simply see a summer sale at your grocery, you can make this sauce out of any tomatoes you find or even mix the varieties--as long as they're ripe, you will eat with joy! 

~ Cleo (Alice)

Makes about 1-1/2 to 2 quarts
(depending on your thickness preference)


8 pounds ripe garden tomatoes

   (about 20 to 25 tomatoes)
5 celery ribs
2 carrots
1 large white onion
1/3 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves (curly or flat-leaf)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried basil (or 3 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade.)
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of your favorite red wine (I’m using Chianti this go-round)

1-4 cups vegetable stock (in a pinch, simply use water)

Step 1- Prep the fresh tomato base: The taste of fresh summer tomatoes in this sauce is truly amazing, but you must first properly prepare the tomatoes. The process of peeling, de-seeding, and pulping those little round orbs may sound difficult, but it’s very easy—and once learned, the techniques can be used in a lifetime of cooking. See my instructions at the end of this recipe.

Step 2 - Prep the veggie aromatics: Roughly chop the celery, carrots, parsley, and onion. Add them to a food processor with the olive oil and pulse until very finely chopped—but do not puree or liquefy.

Step 3 - Add the spices and ignite: Add this veggie mix to a large pot with the spices (garlic powder, fresh or dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and pepper) and sauté (while stirring) over medium heat for about 10 minutes to release the flavors. Be sure to stir to keep the mixture from burning.

Step 4 - Add tomato pulp, wine and simmer: Add the quart of tomatoes that you have peeled, de-seeded, and cooked down into pulp (see instructions at end). Pour in the wine and simmer for 1 hour, stirring every so often to prevent scorching. After 1 hour, the mixture will have thickened into a beautifully condensed and very flavorful sauce. Now all you need to do is thin it out a bit...

Step 5 - Finish with stock (or water): To thin out this very thick sauce, stir in 1 to 4 cups of vegetable stock (or water). Continue cooking and stirring for another 20 to 30 minutes. If you like, use an immersion blender to smooth out any remaining chunks before serving. (We do!)

Depending on your own taste, continue adding more stock (or water) and/or cooking down until you get the consistency (thinness or thickness) that you prefer. 

Storing: This sauce will stay fresh about 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

How to Prep Fresh Tomatoes for Sauce 

Peeling and de-seeding tomatoes will remove bitterness and unwanted textures from your sauce. Because this step brings your sauce to a higher level of taste, it’s truly worth it—and it’s very easy to do. To watch a chef from the Culinary Institute of America perform this very easy process, click the arrow in the window below and watch the YouTube video.



1 - Peel your tomatoes: Remove stems and shallowly core as shown in my photo. Slice a small X at the bottom of each tomato. 

Place a few tomatoes at a time into a pot of simmering (or boiling) water. After 15 to 30 seconds (no more) remove immediately and drop in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. 

Using your fingers, gently peel the skin off the tomatoes. (You can save the skins to make a delicious condiment "sun-dried tomato flakes," click here for that recipe.) If you have any trouble with peeling a tomato, simply place it back in the boiling water for another 15 seconds and repeat the process. 

2 – De-seed your tomatoes: Cut the tomatoes in half--make sure you cut it as shown, crosswise, along its equator. Using a small spoon, gently dig out the seeds and discard. (You will not get every single seed out, and that's okay, just get as many as you can and you'll improve the sauce flavor.)

3 – Pulp your tomatoes: Place a large pot on the stove. Using a clean hand, roughly crush each peeled and seeded tomato over the pot and toss inside. Cook down the tomatoes over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring every so often to prevent scorching. Continue mashing the tomatoes with a large spoon as they cook

Cook until the excess water has evaporated and you are left with tomato pulp. 8 pounds of tomatoes will give you about 4 cups (1 quart) of tomato pulp. 

While the tomatoes are cooking down, begin the Meatless Spaghetti Sauce recipe, starting with Step 2, and when you're finished, be sure with joy!

A daughter may outgrow your lap,
but she will never outgrow your heart.
I love you, Dad. Rest now and
I will see you again...

~ Alice Alfonsi
(Cleo Coyle)

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me now, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 
To learn more, click here. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Best Salsa I Ever Tasted. Yes, EVER! A snack attack remedy from Cleo Coyle via Nurse Judy Mac

Yes, I do realize that saying something (anything) is the best ever, EVER, is hyperbole. But trust me, today's recipe lives up to my hype. The recipe is not mine, but comes from a follower of this blog: Judy McIntosh, aka "Nurse Judy Mac," which is what her patients call her.

Nurse Judy McIntosh: 
"This is me at Don Pablo's 
for my birthday last October. 
I like the Don's food, but I'd much 
rather have my own salsa!" (Cleo agrees.)

You can read more about Nurse Judy in her fun, funny, (and inspiring) bio below the recipe. (She went back to Purdue at age 32 for her nursing degree and went back for her Master's at age 52.) 
     As for her salsa, Marc and I have tasted many versions of salsa fresca over the years: restaurant pico de gallo, homemade, bottled. This beats the de gallo out of them. It's so good that you'll want to eat it with a spoon, but use tortilla chips for the very best Rx to a snack attack there is.
     Thank you, Nurse Judy, because of you, Marc and I are most definitely eating with joy! ~ Cleo

Fun Foodie Trivia

According to Wikipedia, the term "pico de gallo" is Spanish for "beak of rooster," and at least one food writer claims the name came from the way it was originally eaten, with thumb and forefinger, which meant reaching for the condiment looked like the pecking of a rooster. Others say the name could be a simple reference to the rooster-red color or the minced texture of the sauce, which resembles bird feed. 

P.S. The winner of the official FDNY T-shirt will be announced on this blog at 11:45 PM Wed. (9/19). To see the original post, click here - and thanks to everyone who entered!

Nurse Judy Mac’s 
(Best Ever!) Salsa

Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries
A note on the recipe from Cleo: With beautiful, ripe, end-of-summer tomatoes so plentiful (and football season upon us), I hope today's post comes in handy for you. As mentioned above, it came to us via Judy, already canned for the winter, and that's a wonderful way of preparing it, in large batches that can be saved and eaten over the year or given away as gifts (see Judy's note below)...and eat with joy! ~ Cleo

Nurse Judy McIntosh,
who does not wear the
sombrero on duty,
or so her patients claim.
A note on the recipe from Nurse Judy: I am an experimenter in the kitchen, trying this, trying that, and developing some recipes that I am proud of. This salsa recipe is one of them. I don't like hot (even mildly hot) peppers and I REALLY don't like cilantro, but I love garlic and onions and more garlic. The salsa tastes wonderful fresh and just as good when canned. I hope you like it as much as my family, my friends, and I do. I have a friend who's always begging me for salsa. Her annual birthday present is 6 jars of salsa. She takes me out to lunch, I give her salsa! I will tell you that as good as the salsa is canned, the fresh will have you eating it with a spoon. I know because I end up doing it all the time! Enjoy! ~ Judy Mac

Judy Mac's Salsa Recipe

To download a PDF version of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes about 3 quarts (6 pints) of salsa


3-4 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled 
       (Note: Judy says she gets the best results with the Roma variety. 
       You'll need 3-4 pounds of fresh tomatoes. Use the ripest you can find. 
       Fresh tomatoes will give you the best tasting salsa, but in a pinch,
       you can use top quality, 
canned whole tomatoes.)

4 fresh bell peppers (1 each green, red, orange, yellow), 
        seeded and cut into chunks

1 extra large or 2 large sweet onions, peeled and cut into chunks
        (Note: Judy uses Vidalias)

1/2 to 1 cup diced garlic 

White vinegar (1 cup or more, to taste)

Salt (1 teaspoon or more, to taste)


Step 1 - Scald fresh tomatoes in boiling water until skins start to split. Carefully remove very hot tomatoes from the water and place in a colander and under running cold water to make peeling easier. Cut out the stem end and transfer tomatoes to a bowl. Let sit and allow clear juice to separate from the fruit. (Judy drains and saves this juice for soups or broths by freezing.) Repeat the draining of the tomato juices 2 more times to concentrate the flavor.

Step 2 - Using your food processor's pulse mode, process the cooked, peeled tomatoes until you have the desired texture for your salsa, whether chunky or smoother. Pour the results into a large bowl.

Step 3 - Process peppers and onions, separately, with pulse mode until you see the pieces chopped into the size of small peas. (Note: Do not over process or you’ll end up with pepper/onion soup!) Pour into your large bowl with the tomatoes. Add garlic (adjust to your own tastes) to bowl and stir until well mixed. 

(Judy does not add cilantro or hot peppers to her salsa, however, if you'd like to add these ingredients, process them and place them into the bowl at this stage.)

Step 4 - As Judy says, "This is where you finish the salsa according to your personal taste." Start with 1 cup of the white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the salt, add to the salsa and mix thoroughly. Taste test. Add more vinegar in small amounts until you get a small "bite" of vinegar when you taste the salsa. Adjust salt according to personal taste.

Canning/Jarring the Salsa: 

Method One, Fresh Packing: Fill sterilized quart or pint canning-quality (Mason) jars with salsa to 1/2-inch of top of jar, wipe edge clean of any salsa, put new (sterilized) canning jar lids and rings in place and finger tighten the ring. Place in refrigerator. As the salsa chills, the jars will seal and stay "canned" until the seal is broken and the lid is removed. This is fresh packing.  

Method Two, Hot Water Process: If you'd rather not lose space in your fridge to jars of salsa, Judy suggests that you "hot water process" the jars of salsa in boiling water. You can then store the Mason jars at room temperature indefinitely as long as the lids remain safely sealed. To read more about the process of properly canning/jarring salsa, jump to this Wikihow site page by clicking here.

Awesome Guacamole: 

Judy's final note: "You can take out some of the salsa base before you add the vinegar and add it to fresh avocados with lime juice for an awesome guacamole. Another way to do this is with the canned salsa: simply drain out the excess juice, add lime juice (I prefer Key limes), and avocados."

About Judy

Born in Arkansas with a Mamaw that could cook an old shoe and make it taste wonderful! Learned to cook early out of necessity because the cooking gene skipped my mom. She could paint, sing, sew, quilt, and swing a hammer with the best but she just could NOT cook! I went to Purdue University to become a veterinarian and met a dark haired young man under a piece of mistletoe at a Christmas party. Our first kiss was 30 minutes long! So, of course, we eloped, two and one half months later, over Spring Break, 38-1/2 years ago. (That first kiss is why we always have mistletoe up at Christmas!) 

John and Judy McIntosh

Fast forward three kids, lots of cooking, growing gardens, going back to Purdue at age 32 for nursing, cooking, working, back to school for Master's at age 52, two granddaughters, more cooking, more working, and here I am.

~ Judy

Judy asked me to add
this very kind note...

(Thanks again, Nurse Judy! ~ Cleo)

"I discovered Coffeehouse Mysteries with On What Grounds in the fall of 2003 and fell in love. A book based on the love of coffee! I inhaled the first book and began buying (gasp) whole bean coffee and grinding the beans and discovering what fantastic coffee tasted like. Since that time I have bought every book the minute it became available, buying new varieties of coffee, cooking new recipes, and waiting impatiently for the next Coffeehouse Mystery. 

"I've passed the books to my daughter and my mother, taken fabulous new coffees to work to educate the taste buds of night shift nurses who had become used to drinking coffee that had the smell and consistency of old tar. Along the way I have converted a lot of nurses to what REAL coffee tastes like and I will never drink generic coffee again. Life is much too short to drink bad coffee! And I still wait impatiently for the next new Coffeehouse Mystery so I can roam the streets of New York and learn to love new coffees and new recipes."

Your biggest fan from Day One

Nurse Judy Mac

A Brew to a Kill: A Coffeehouse Mystery
Now a national bestseller in hardcover

To see the recipes in my latest
culinary mystery, click here.

Read with joy!
~ Cleo

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

To get more recipes, enter to win
free coffee, or learn about Cleo's books, including
her bestselling 
Haunted Bookshop series, visit her online coffeehouse: