Friday, August 29, 2014

Another far-too-long hiatus

I know, I know. I promised my faithful readers of this blog that I was going to be better about posting regularly and yet there’s yet again been an interval the length of a bible between this post and the last. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that there’s been a gap of a season. Last time I wrote here summer had yet to begin, now it’s about to fade into autumn. All I can do is apologize. Excuses are not warranted and just won’t cut it. I was just too busy.

However, that’s not to say I haven’t been thinking about food and doing lots of cooking. With summer’s bounty in its procession from early radishes, baby lettuce, asparagus, to mid-summer’s beans, peas, cherries and berries, to what’s currently available: corn, tomatoes, peaches and potatoes, we have been enjoying being outdoors eating food that is at its freshest. Our garden this summer has provided amazing lettuce, tomatoes (beefsteak, cherry and San Marzanos), and carrots. We’re about to dig up some potatoes (our big experiment this summer) and dig into our row of swiss chard. The only bummer was the fact our tomato plants produced so abundantly that the weight of the fruit slid the vines right down the poles. Clearly, this will have to be dealt with next year since the plants suffered and could not be pulled up again without completely severing the vines.

And speaking of tomatoes, we’re about to begin processing. We’ve already processed about 4 liters-worth of chopped tomatoes. Sauce will come in two weekends when our loyal crew assembles for another enjoyable day on the patio, talking, slicing, boiling and grinding until the fruits of our labour are finally resting in hot jars, after which we’ll sit down to a communal feast. It’s always one of the best days of summer.

But getting back to chopped tomatoes…

We use a lot of them over the course of the year, not only for pasta dishes like amatriciana, but also in soups and stews. Last year we used two bushels of San Marzanos – the best choice because of flavor and few seeds – and for Vicki and me (the only crew that day) it was a long slog. Why? Because once the skins were removed , they had to be chopped by hand. I did most of this because I’m faster with a knife, but trust me, it gets pretty tedious and hand-cramping.

I was surfing through (where I’ve bough professional cooking gear like our sliced and vacuum sealer) and low and behold, I ran across choppers. This is a professional piece of kitchen gear, very sturdy with a body made of cast aluminum and stainless steel. You can dice mountains of vegetables in no time (with they’d had one at the National Club when I worked there), and while it’s not something we’ll use every day, it looked like it would be a godsend when we’re doing our yearly chopped tomatoes and chutney. So I plunked down money for one with a 1/4” razor grid (you can get different sized inserts).

Yesterday, we used it for the first time on some San Marzanos we’d picked earlier in the week and which didn’t look as if they’d make it to the weekend when we plan to do the bulk of our processing. Let me tell you, the chopper works like a dream. I chopped 4 liters-worth of tomatoes in about 1 minute (and I wasn’t going top speed). By hand, it would have taken 15 minutes or more.

Those professional cooks really know what they’re doing when they suggest a design for something, which is what happened here, I’m sure.

So, if you’re interested, below is a photo and a link, so you can check it out. I have to say it’s a great kitchen tool, a bit pricey perhaps for some tastes, but built to give you years of service and replacement blades and parts are readily available. It cleans very easily and quickly. What’s not to like?

A late review of the chopper’s first use to chop 3 bushels of tomatoes yesterday: It worked really well. Because we were processing so many tomatoes, we had to stop and clean the pusher a few times. They got clogged with some of the strands where some tomatoes weren’t completely ripe at the top. A butter knife and some running water fixed that up quickly and easily.

Also, because tomato juices get sticky, you have to keep the two slider poles clean. I eventually got tired of wiping them off, so I used some oil. One of the suggested oils to use is mineral oil which I couldn’t find, although I know we have some. I used some olive oil and that seemed to work fine, although I still had to wipe off the poles now and then.

Cleaning the whole unit was not difficult. You’ve got to respect those razor blades, though, and move slowly and deliberately! The unit is heavy, being cast aluminum, and you don’t want it to slip while you’re holding it in soapy water. Ours did, and even though it just nicked the tip of one finger, I got a pretty good cut. It’s best to let it air dry.

All in all, we’re very happy with this purchase. It will last for many years, so for us the cost is worthwhile. We also used it to dice some eggplants and a Spanish onion as part of our dinner prep, and it was a breeze.