cooking it soul-ar style

meatless mondays
on notes from maggie's farm

©from maggie's farm 2011
did i mention it's hot outside?  it's baking!  we've had 34 days over one hundred degrees out here and my normally abundant energy levels have been severely compromised.  i begin to wilt, oh, about five minutes after leaving the gloriously air-conditioned confines of my home.  my nanny goat climbs the milking stand in what appears to be slo-mo, with an incredulous, you want what from me? attitude. as soon as the coast is clear, the dogs run straight for the livestock water trough, jump in, and just stand there.  ten minutes into the day's chores, and i'm looking to see if there's room enough for me, too. 

©from maggie's farm 2011
and even though the bounty from the gardens has slowed (they don't like the heat anymore than I, it seems), there is still a lot of goodness overflowing the bowls and pails that litter the kitchen tables and floors around this time of the year.  but who wants to cook?  who wants to stand over a hot stove?  who wants to heat the kitchen with the oven?  not me!  especially on monday, when it's time to pick up the mess we've made over the weekend, and do the laundry.  i'd like to do something healthy, not heavy, easy, and heat-free! i've turned to soul-ar cooking!  (and we'll get to why it's not simply just solar cooking, after the recipe)

©from maggie's farm 2011
soul-ar style roasted tomato, mushroom, and olive couscous with rosemary

©from maggie's farm 2011
gather fresh tomatoes (we used a beautiful bunch that serendipitously ripened together), whole green olives (we used some imports), mushrooms (we used baby bellas), rosemary (fresh from our garden--it thrives in this dry heat), enough couscous for two or more (which is about a cup, in our case), olive oil, kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper.

©from maggie's farm 2011
maybe a little parmesan, for good measure.

©from maggie's farm 2011
prepare an aluminum sheet pan by lining with foil.  slice tomatoes, pit olives and halve (or leave whole and leave the pitting until sun roasting is completed), slice mushrooms.
©from maggie's farm 2011
lay in a single layer on on your sheet pan.  salt tomatoes, only.  grind pepper over all.  lightly crush rosemary leaves in the palm of your hand to release oils, and scatter over tomatoes and mushrooms. drizzle olive oil over all.

©from maggie's farm 2011

frame tray with rosemary twigs, to rest glass dishes upon when covering vegetables.  this will allow steam to escape, and keep any pesky flies out.

©from maggie's farm 2011
and place glass baking dish (or dishes, as necessary) over the pan, to make your quickie little solar oven. situate your setup on a surface in the sunniest part of your porch or patio.  we upped the ante by moving our stainless steel prep table to the front porch, in the most direct sunlight. 

©from maggie's farm 2011
life gives you lemons? (read scorching heat!)  make lemonade! (read solar oven!).  your heat and sun exposure will give this whole proposition variable cooking times, however as an estimation, for us, 10am-4pm sun-roasted our veggies beautifully. 

©from maggie's farm 2011

prepare couscous according to directions.  we warmed the 1 and 1/2 cup water on the porch in a stainless steal bowl, just hoping for a belated girl scout badge.  we added our 1 cup of couscous and let it soak until liquid was absorbed, then grated parmesan cheese and tossed it in with a fork.  at dinnertime, we tossed our sun-roasted veggies with the couscous, and dinner was on.

©from maggie's farm 2011
so, you ask, what makes all this 'soul-ar', instead of simply solar?  well, a few things. 

first--it's good for the soul.  conserving a little of your own energy, as well as the environment's--that's a good thing.  gets you in touch with nature.  makes you realize just how much you can create with your very own two hands, and not much of anything else. 

secondly-- you can expend of some of that reserved energy on something a lot more fun.  like soul.  soul music!  bop around the house doing the rest of your monday housekeeping to the sweet, sweet sounds of stevie, wilson, patty, sly, and the rest of the gang.  it's the best way i know of making a whole lot of fun of what could be a whole lot of drudgery. (lemon/lemonade, remember?)

thirdly--it's going to save me a little time.  time that i'm going to spend, today, at another of my favorite 'soul-ar' enterprises.  if you're in the austin area, maybe you'd like to join me, there. 

hoover's soular foods trailer and garden
it's the newest baby of hoover alexander, of hoovers restaurants fame, in austin.  anything hoover touches has to be delicious.  case in point--my favorite weekend breakfast in austin, served at both locations: 
i can't wait to see what they have on the food trailer menu today.  be sure to follow the links above for directions. if you get a chance to stop by, tell them from maggie's farm sends our best--our readers!
stay cool, friends. literally.

happy (day after) bastille day!

freestyle friday

i'll admit it.  i am a shameless francophile.  all things french. french food, french music, french language, french art, french fashion, french architecture, french literature, french cinema. french fries.  i think it may come from my younger days, with nose buried in book, hiding my awkwardness from the world.  i was not margaret christine in oklahoma, texas, arkansas, or louisiana (we moved around a bit).  i was babar's buddy, tintin's traveling companion, madeline's mate, the little prince's pal. 

as i grew older, i was absorbed in fitzgerald's tender is the night, and snuck a copy of henry miller home from the downtown library.  thank goodness my mother wasn't a reader. i couldn't finish it.  it was scandalous.  i blushed when i returned the book to the librarian.  those french were a randy bunch.

and then i moved on with the expatriates-imagined myself the contemporary of the fitzgeralds's, twain, stein, joyce, hemingway, james, then spent time with the beat poets as they lazed about paris--baldwin, kerouac, et al.  but the clencher was a movie i once saw about isadora duncan that i remember to this day.  let's just say i never wear silk scarves with the top down and leave it at that.

i spent the afternoon honoring bastille day in my own way, the way i would like to spend every 100+ degree afternoon, in a dark, cool theater sunk in a chair with the iced coffee i snuck in, (don't judge, i buy the six dollar popcorn, but if i get that and the drink, there goes the utility payment for the month--and of course the french wouldn't be suckered into it, you know....) solo, watching woody allen's newest, midnight in paris.  it is quite good.  i recommend it for anyone who enjoys 'nostalgic thinking', france, literature, art, or owen wilson.  but that wasn't enough.  not enough french to satisfy.  so as i enjoy a leisurely breakfast of croissant, jam, and cafe au lait,  i thought i should hardly let the weekend of bastille day pass without mention of some of my favorite french themed sites and sights on the web.  i thought you might like to daydream along with  me for a bit. 


and my favorite,

there's scads of delicious french food being shared in the blogosphere.  a few of my favorites out there are: 

on bastille day proper, saveur magazine shared recipes for twenty french desserts that i think you'll like.  just looking satisfies my sweet tooth, however this weekend i have a little surprise for my sweets-loving, hardworking farmer man, and he is going to dancing a little jig when he sees it. i prepared

la côte basque's dacquoise

and he better get home from austin in short order if there's to be any left for him.

from saveur magazine,

2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/3 cups finely ground hazelnuts
1 1/4 cups finely ground almonds
9 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream
3 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature
1 lb. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
3 tbsp. coffee extract
2 cups sliced almonds, toasted

1. For the meringues: Preheat oven to 250°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and draw three 8'' circles on paper. Sift together powdered sugar, hazelnuts, and almonds into a medium bowl, pushing lumps through sieve, then set aside. Put egg whites in the clean bowl of a standing mixer and whisk on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and whisk whites to soft peaks, about 2 1/2 minutes. Gradually add sugar while continuing to whisk, then increase speed to medium-high and whisk until whites form medium-stiff peaks, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer whites to a large bowl and carefully fold in 1/3 of nut mixture at a time with a rubber spatula. Divide meringue between parchment circles and gently spread out evenly. Bake in middle of oven, rotating positions hourly, for 4 hours. Allow to cool.

2. For the ganache: Heat cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, add milk and bittersweet chocolates, and let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth and set aside until thick enough to spread.

3. For the buttercream: Combine 1/3 cup water and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it reaches 250° on a candy thermometer. Put egg whites in the clean bowl of a standing mixer and whisk on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and whisk whites to soft peaks, about 1 1/2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar while continuing to whisk, then increase speed to medium-high and whisk until whites form stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Carefully pour syrup into whites, whisking until cool, about 10 minutes. Add butter, bit by bit, whisking constantly until buttercream

4. To assemble: Spread 1/3 of buttercream over each of 2 meringues. Spread ganache over remaining meringue. Layer meringues, placing the one with ganache in the middle. Spread remaining buttercream on sides of cake, then cover cake with almonds and refrigerate at least 5 hours. Before serving, dust cake with powdered sugar, if you like.

this week's words that inspire us:

~ The journey is the reward. ~
chinese proverb


image credits
title image, alicia bock, images used to create montage courtesy of , final image courtesy of paris hotel boutique .


wordless wednesdays

©from maggie's farm 2011

©from maggie's farm 2011

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©from maggie's farm 2011

©from maggie's farm 2011

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©from maggie's farm 2011
 see you tomorrow, for fresh tomato vegetable juice cocktail, and a delicious michelada,
on thirsty thursday, notes from maggie's farm.

storing fresh tomatoes

tips for tuesday

©from maggie's farm 2011
have a windfall crop of tomatoes?  are they ripening on you but you've got a life and you can't quite get to the canning the whole 30 pounds yet?  or maybe it's just one tomato you're dealing with.  the one that you got at the farmers' market.  you know.  the heirloom.  the four dollar heirloom.  well, dozens, or one, if you only have a few minutes on your hands, your best bet is to freeze them whole.

©from maggie's farm 2011

©from maggie's farm 2011

©from maggie's farm 2011

©from maggie's farm 2011
freezing does alter the texture of tomatoes.  while they will not be suitable to use as you would a fresh, raw tomato, they can be used for cooking, sauces, salsas, and juices.  juices!  on thirsty thursday this week, we'll use your tomatoes-that-have-been-frozen-whole to make a delicious tomato cocktail juice, and then we'll use it in a regional cocktail, a micheladaand maybe some nachoes to go with, who knows?

below, you'll find some additional information on preserving tomatoes, courtesy of what's cooking america, for you industrious types. 
don't you just love tomato season?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat more than 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. More than half this amount is eaten in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce.
Technically a tomato is a fruit, since it is the ripened ovary of a plant. In 1893, the supreme court ruled in the case of "NIX vs. HEDDEN" that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables.

There are more than 4,000 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from the small, marble-size cherry tomato to the giant Ponderosa that can weigh more than 3 pounds.

Purchasing Tomatoes

Go Local if possible: Tomatoes don't become more flavorful and develop adequate flavor unless allowed to ripen on the vine. They will change color and soften, but the sugar, acid, and aroma compounds are locked in once the fruit is taken off the vine. So, choose vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably locally grown, because the less the tomatoes have to travel, the more likely they were picked ripe. Seek out locally grown tomatoes whenever possible. They may not be as "pretty" as store bought, but beauty, of course, is only skin deep.

Selecting Tomatoes: Select tomatoes that are firm, glossy, smooth, plump, heavy for their size, and free of bruises. Avoid tomatoes that are overly ripe and soft.

Fragrance is a better indicator of a good tomato than color. Use your nose and smell the stem end. The stem should retain the garden aroma of the plant itself - if it doesn't, your tomato will lack flavor and, as far as I'm concerned, will be good only for decoration! Remember - If the tomato smells fresh and tomato-y, they will taste that way too!

Since fresh tomatoes are summer fare and off-season tomatoes are rarely flavorful, substitute canned Italian plum tomatoes in cooked dishes. Cook for ten minutes to reduce the liquid and enhance the taste.

Storing & Ripening Tomatoes

Storing Ripe Tomatoes: NEVER REFRIGERATE FRESH TOMATOES! Cold temperatures make the flesh of a tomato pulpy and destroys the flavor. Always store tomatoes at room temperature stem-end down. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.

How To Ripen Tomatoes: To ripen, place green or unripened tomatoes in a brown paper bag and place in a dark spot for three or four days, depending on the degree of greenness. The bag will trap the fruit's ethylene gas and encourage ripening. Do not put tomatoes in the sun to ripen - this softens them.

Preparing Tomatoes:

The Right Knife: A serrated knife makes slicing through the skin easier. This way you don't inadvertently mash your tomatoes when slicing. If you are using a straight blade, make sure it is very sharp.

To Seed or Not To Seed: If the seeds and skins won't be noticeable in a dish, keep them in. If you are making a smooth sauce, you can always strain out the seeds and skins later as the skins and seed will add flavor.

The flavors of a tomatoes are not just in its flesh, as the skin has a slight bitterness, while the flesh contributes the sugars and amino acids, and the jelly and juice surrounding the seeds contribute acidity. However, the seeds and surrounding jelly will contribute liquid to the dish you are using it in, which can make uncooked dishes, such as salsa, too watery. The tomato skins also have a way of curling up into tough little bits when they are cooked.

How To Seed Tomatoes: Cut them in half lengthwise, then use your fingers to scoop out the seeds. Give the tomato a gentle squeeze to remove any stragglers. NOTE: You can also strain out the seeds and use the liquid and jelly in your recipe. In that case, scoop the seeds into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices.

Preserving Tomatoes

Freezing Tomatoes:

The simplest way to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them whole. Just rinse them, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and freeze overnight. When frozen, put them in a freezer bag and return to the freezer. To use, remove from bag and thaw. When thawed, slip the skins off, and use in your favorite recipes.

Peel the tomatoes, puree them in a blender, and then strain them through cheesecloth or a coffee filer to drain off the excess tomato water (this can be used in soups). Freeze the pulp in ice cube trays. When frozen, store the frozen cubes in a freezer bag.

Roast halved tomatoes with olive oil and herbs before freezing.


see you tomorrow for wordless wednesday.  it's all about food.

freestyle fridays

©from maggie's farm 2011
the early bird may get the worm, but it's the mouse that gets the cheese.
jeremy paxman, british journalist

i love cheese.

there really is no way for me to express my love for cheese adequately.

i milk a goat twice a day, every day of the year, just so I can have cheese.

some people sneak store-bought candy into the movies.  i sneak in cheese.

on my husband's never ending list of things i might like as a gift, it always ends with 'if all else fails, buy cheese'.

i'd rather have cheese than chocolate.  anytime.  if i must choose.

sometimes i wake up in the middle of the night, drink a glass of water, and yes, have a piece of cheese.  then i go back to bed and sleep like a baby.

when i'm sad, mad, glad, happy, snappy, peppy, perky, bored, curious, busy, relaxed--cheese goes with 'em all.

if you are aware of a cheeseaholics anonymous, point me in that direction. 

several cheese companies send me christmas cards. no, really.

it's just that bad.

and the most fabulous way to spend a day, for me, is to learn to make...more cheese.

©from maggie's farm 2011
that's just what i did last saturday.  i attended my second cheese-making workshop at a wonderful place, homestead heritage, home of brazos valley cheese.  i spent the day with nine other like-minded cheesy peeps, along with two wonderful instructors--rebekah and rebecca-- dos rebekahs, immersed in cheese.  heaven.

©from maggie's farm 2011
from the homestead heritage website, 

Our Traditional Crafts Village showcases a community of craftsmen who have returned, not to the past, but to the enduring values exemplified in handcraftsmanship. True craft requires more than skill: it expresses the craftsmen's care and concern, their personal investment in everything they do. You can visit the shops of our crafts village, watch our craftsmen work, even attend classes to learn craft skills and, in all this, experience with our craftsmen the joy and fulfillment of returning to craft, the art of work.

©from maggie's farm 2011
for a good look at the community, check out our wordless wednesday post, road trip.  the name of the school in the community is the ploughshare institute of sustainable culture.  classes are offered in a variety of disciplines: agricultural skills, kitchen skills, fiber craft, woodworking classes, and traditional skills like sewing, quilting, and more.  (I want to take them allllllll).  i have taken the soft cheese making class, and this class covered hard cheeses.  the classes themselves are small, and with each class i've taken, the instructors have offered a lot of individual attention, and taken the time to answer every question thrown their way.  they've even sent us away with armfuls of cheese, and their personal email and cell phone numbers. the staff is always so pleasant, and it's very obvious that they love what they're doing, and believe you will be successful with the skill as well. this is hands down the best

©from maggie's farm 2011
cooking class program in which i've participated.  the community is only a little over two hours from home, so it's a day trip for me, but there have been class members from all over the country.  whenever i need a little 'sustainable life' motivation, i enjoy heading out to homestead, where i learn a little, enjoy a lot, and get back in touch with what it is i love to do so much, create.
in saturday's hard cheese class, we learned to make colby, pepper jack, monterrey jack, gouda with caraway, chipotle cheddar, and parmesan cheeses. and the whole way home, i meditated on what i was going to create with my cheese.  kind of like a junkie on the way home with her fix.  i was a little shaky.  mouth watering.  eyes glazed over.  i was a cheese-jonesing sight.  my cheesy imagination was working overtime.  cheesy wheels-a-turnin'. this is what i came up with:

grown up grilled cheese:
chipotle cheddar, tomato, tasso, with basil, on homemade ciabatta, served with from maggie's farm peach chipotle preserves

©from maggie's farm 2011
start with:

a handful, each, of grated chipotle cheddar, and colby jack. 

two ounces of tasso, shredded. (for more info on tasso, visit the following link: what is tasso?.  you may want to substitute speck ham, prosciutto, pancetta, smoked thick slice bacon, or even salt pork, trimmed and fried) 

tomato, sliced thickly (about 1/4"), lightly salted and left to drain for a few minutes, to express a little juice.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 loaf ciabatta bread.  with knife parallel to cutting surface, split loaf in half lengthwise, and cut into sandwich sized squares. 

©from maggie's farm 2011
and butter, of course.

preheat broiler. 
on one slice of bread, layer one cheese, and tasso.  on the other slice, the second cheese and sliced tomatoes.  place under the broiler, and toast just until slightly melty and edges browned.  like this.

©from maggie's farm 2011
already heaven. but don't stop there. sprinkle the basil atop and assemble two sides into your almost- ready incredible sandwich.

melt a knob of butter over low heat in a skillet. (i use my trusty little cast iron, the perfect size for just one sandwich).  melt one tablespoon from maggie's farm peach chipotle preserves in butter.  turn heat to moderately high, until just sizzling.  place sandwich in pan and weigh it down (you can use a brick covered in foil, or just a heavy can, if you have one.)  monitor browning. (stoves are variable, but i left it on the first side for five minutes.) turn, weigh down. toast an additional five minutes or so, or until browned to your liking and deliciously melty.  this is where it really gets good.

©from maggie's farm 2011
spoon some of that peach chipotle elixir right on top.  and plate that baby up.

©from maggie's farm 2011
a few notes:

1. you may notice i've already taken a bite.  it's part of the quality control process. 

2. you may notice some incredible melty cheesy stuff on those few chips. don't let this distract you from the righteousness of the sandwich, but i learned how to make real queso!  not cheez whiz.  not velveeta.  you're going to want to come over, now, aren't you?

3. you may notice the lone star, light.  well, i'm on a diet.

this week from maggie's farm

what we harvested this week: tomatoes!, okra!, peppers, green beans, cream peas, kale, swiss chard, beets, green onions, red onions, sweet onions, shallots, garlic, zucchini, summer squash, spaghetti squash, eggplant, melons, a few eggs (chickens and ducks are on strike--too darned hot.  i concur.), oregano, rosemary, parsely, mint, tarragon, basil, chives, garlic chives, thyme, and of course, goat milk.

what we produced this week: peach chipotle preserves, peach chipotle with amaretto preserves, deli rye bread with caraway, ciabatta, five blog posts, several photo shoots, and queso.  queso!!

what we tackled this week: the carport (thank you!),  all those bloomin' weeds,  a road trip, a 3-dog, 3-mile hike or two (actually 3), recipe categorization (see it? right there on the right side?  it's in progress.) and, joyfully, hard cheeses.

what we are thankful for: we are thankful that, in the midst of a horrific heat wave and drought (i am not exagerating.  i am understating.), and annual rate hikes, we still managed to reduce our electric bill over the same period last year. nifty. it can only be because of divine intervention, i'm sure.  (cause i am a woman of a certain age and i am going to have my cool house, by hook or by crook)

words that inspire us: 
anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. anyone who keeps learning stays young.  the greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.
--henry ford

©from maggie's farm 2011
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