Oven-Baked Heirloom Tomato Sauce

*This is a repost from several years ago when the lovely Jessa wrote our recipes.

I’ll start this off with an excuse and an apology – I’ve pinched a nerve in my neck and am stuck in bed with a ridiculous contraption of pillows, blankets, rolled-up towels, hot water bottles, ice packs, and painkillers trying to keep me motionless and (somewhat) pain-free. But it’s not working.

Typing is about the worst thing for me to be doing now (small arm/neck/shoulder muscles and all that), so with very little back-story or fanfare, I present to you one of my new favorite recipes, adapted from a method I saw on a TV show a while back (Good Eats, recipe by Alton Brown): an oven-baked tomato sauce perfect for pasta, pizza, eggplant parmesan…the possibilities are endless.

And right now, so are the tomatoes. I got these for $1.00/lb at the Alemany Farmer’s Market here in town, and have been waiting for this moment to start making (and putting up) tomatoes for the loooong dry spell of $7.99 heirlooms (or worse, NO heirlooms!) that is likely just around the corner.
Stupid fog. I can’t wait until my garden is putting out more than the occasional Sungold.

All the herbs are from the back yard – my favorite secret weapon? FRESH (not dried) fennel/anise seed straight off the plant. It grows wild everywhere around here, and these little seeds are full of delicious, deep flavor and a lovely crunchy green texture (I find the dry ones a bit chewy if not ground up).
I promise to make up for this terse post once I’m back on my feet; by then I’ll have gone so stir-crazy I’ll probably cook for several days straight just to feel sane again!

Oven-Baked Tomato Sauce (makes about 3 c.)

10-12 good-sized ripe tomatoes (San Marzanos and Romas are best, called “paste tomatoes”, but any thick-walled heirloom will do OK too. You just want to find the highest meat-to-seed/water ratio you can get)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp olive or sunflower oil
a few sprigs each of your favorite herbs (I like oregano or marjoram to be the main flavor, with backups of lemon thyme, basil, and a hefty teaspoon full of fresh fennel seed)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c sherry or white wine
1 bay leaf
Wash and half the tomatoes, scooping out a majority of the seeds and gelatinous goop, but leaving any meaty inner-walls intact. Place them face-up in glass or pyrex casserole dishes. Sprinkle with the herbs, alliums (onions and garlic), and salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil, and put them in a 325 degree oven for around an hour and a half.

Once that time has elapsed, there may be quite a bit of juice in the bottom of the pan. Turn your oven to broil, and leave the oven door ajar for a good 20 minutes to boil away and condense the moisture.

Once the tomatoes are in less than a half-centimeter of juice (or you’re bored and don’t want to wait any more), transfer everything into a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender to process everything into a smooth-ish paste. If you are averse to skins, you can run it through a food mill to remove any seeds/skins/lumps instead of blending. Me? I like the skins and am not fond of food mills.

Once fully blended, pour the mixture into a pot and add some sherry, wine (red or white), or vodka to open up the sauce and give it a little oomph. Also add a bay leaf, and any additional spices (hot pepper flakes, more fennel seed, more salt?), and simmer to cook off the alcohol.
Serve this sauce hot over pasta or in a lasagna, simmer fried spicy mini-meatballs in it for an amazing party snack, or spread it over your (homemade, of course) sourdough pizza dough and top with ridiculous amounts of mozzerella cheese.

Tom’s Spicy Tomato Sauce

Tom and I’s first date he made me dinner at his apartment. It was a simple yet tasty dinner but I was most impressed that not only that he could cook but also that he enjoyed it. One of his best dishes was spaghetti sauce from scratch. Everyone who ever tries it raves about it.

Over time his recipe has improved. Fresh herbs and homemade sauce from our garden replaced the commercial sauce and dried herbs. The season really depends on all that we put in it. During the winter we don’t have peppers, zucchini, or eggplant available. So instead we just add more onions and mushrooms.

The secret ingredients in this sauce are the hot sauce and the sugar. Tom didn’t really want me to share, but then why would you make this recipe if it was just so-so?  The hot sauce adds some heat along with some extra acid. We generally like to use Tapatio. I think Tabasco would be too vinegary for this sauce though.

  • 4 c tomato sauce
  • 1 c tomato paste
  • 1/4 c red wine
  • 1 c water
  • 1lb sausage, removed from casings or ground meat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 zucchini, cut in half and sliced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small eggplant roughly chopped
  • 1 bell pepper chopped
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbs Hot Sauce
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh Thyme
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh Oregano
  • 1 Tbs sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

1. In a hot dutch oven over medium high heat add oil and then sausage. Break up sausage while it cooks. Add garlic, herbs and hot sauce and continue cooking until sausage is browned.
2. Deglaze with the red wine.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetable are tender and the sauce has thickened.
4. Serve over fresh pasta or add to a lasagna (I’ve been known to eat it on it’s own).

Makin’ Yogurt

I love yogurt. I try to eat it every day. The problem is, if you buy it, it can get pricey. So I did some online research and found a great way to get my daily yogurt for a fraction of the price.

What you will need:

1 gallon of milk (any type of milk you want to use)
1 cup of yogurt with live and active cultures – later you can use the yogurt you’ve made as a starter
Thick bottomed pot (large enough for 1 gallon of milk)
Candy thermometer
Sterile canning jars
Ice chest

Heat milk in pan to 120 deg F stirring constantly
Combine some of the heated milk with the yogurt and mix until smooth. Add mixture into the hot milk.
Put mixture into sterile jars and seal lids. Place the sealed jars into an ice chest filled with hot water that is between 110-120 deg F.
Leave overnight in ice chest or until gelled. Place jars in the refrigerator.

That’s it.
The texture will be different than what you buy at the store because it doesn’t contain gelatin, modified corn starch or other added gelling agents. If you want a thicker, Greek style yogurt you can strain it. Place a large coffee filter in a colander, put the yogurt in the filter, place colander over a bowl and place in fridge. Leave overnight.

You can add fruit to the bottom of the jars or mix in sugar and vanilla extract for flavoring.

Making Peanut Butter

Have you ever thought something was crazy hard to make and easier and cheaper to just buy? And then did you realize it’s the exact opposite? That happened to me with flour tortillas (not to mention they taste soooo much better homemade) and now with peanut butter. When we decided to give peanut butter a go, I could not believe how simple it really was. Of course, this can happen with most nuts, which can greatly reduce the cost. The only tool you really need to make peanut butter is a food processor.

A good rule of thumb is 1 cup of nuts will become 1/2 cup of nut butter. I start with salted dry roasted peanuts.

Basically just turn on the processor.

As the oils in the nuts get released the peanuts will start to look like butter. It will form a large mass but it’s not done. At this point it’s difficult to spread.

The lump will break apart and the peanut butter will become smoother and more easily spread. You can add more salt if you want, or just leave it as is.

That’s really all there is to making peanut butter.

Green Tomato Lemon Marmalade

Cook down halved or quartered tomatoes

We were given a slew of green tomatoes. Last week I picked out the ripe ones and made pizza sauce.Now what to do with all the green ones? We did make some fried green tomatoes, but that didn’t even make a dent in them. At first I wanted to make a chutney but a friend of ours gave us some lemons (and some canned items) for helping her cull an injured chicken she had. I love to make marmalade, but it wasn’t quite enough lemons to do that so I came up with the idea to do a green tomato lemon marmalade.

Mill the tomatoes to remove seeds and skins

OK, so I have to be honest, I don’t like this marmalade. You do have to take that with a grain of salt though because I don’t like tomatoes very much. For the most part it does actually taste good, but for me I get this really strong zinc taste from it. That same taste you get when sucking on a zinc lozenge when your sick. No one else that’s tried it can taste zinc though. They all really like it, so I’m posting this because you can’t take my word on it.

Zest the lemons

 You will need a couple of specialized tools to help speed things up. First, you’ll need a food mill. Otherwise you can seed and skin the tomatoes the old fashioned way. Also, I highly recommend getting a zester for the lemons. This really helps making long, thin strands of zest for the marmalade. Otherwise you’ll need to carefully cut the zest away from the white pith and then slice it really thin. You don’t want to include the white pithy part of the peel because that is what will make the marmalade bitter.  Oh, and now that I’ve got myself a candy thermometer I can’t believe I went so long without it. So get one if you plan to make a lot of preserves.

Supreme the lemons

So what you need:
6lbs of Green tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs lemons
3/4 cup of sugar per 1 cup of liquid

1. Half or quarter the tomatoes and throw them into a pot. Bring them to a boil and let the tomatoes cook down. Once they are soft run them through a food mill to remove the seeds and skins.
2. While it’s cooking down, zest your lemons, cut off the white pith and outer membrane, and remove the pulp from the membrane (supreme).
3. Add everything together and then measure out how much you have. Add the sugar.
4. Cook down until your preserve has reached the gelling point at 220 deg F.
5. Ladle into sterile jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Pizza Sauce

I have to apologize for not posting much this past week. We’ve been crazy busy and I just haven’t had time to write. Hopefully this coming week will be a bit calmer.

Halved tomatoes

If we can save time it’s a bonus for us. Yes, I freely admit that I sometimes use a bread machine to save time, but I also know how to make bread by hand and sometimes I do. We’re so busy all of the time with the animals, garden, events, friends and family that half the time I don’t know how we have the time to do anything else.

Cooked down tomatoes, skins, seeds and all

Friday nights are pizza nights around here. Other than making the crust, the sauce is what can take the most time. It also seems a waste to open a quart of tomato sauce to make a cup of sauce so this year we decided to go ahead and can sauce. We put the sauce in 8 oz jars which end up being the perfect amount for one large pizza. It cuts our kitchen time in half by having these little jars.

Adding cooked tomatoes to the food mill to remove skins and seeds

I nearly wasn’t going to be able to post this recipe because we no longer had any tomatoes but Tom’s boss gave him two buckets of green tomatoes (green tomato recipe coming up next week). In that bucket there were quite a few red ones, actually more than I expected so I was able to make 12 more jars of it and finally make a post.

It doesn’t really matter how many tomatoes you have to do this because it can be multiplied or divided how you like.

If you process a lot of tomatoes I highly recommend investing on a food mill. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to do it’s job. Using a food mill really saves us a lot of time while making the sauce (Yay! more times saved!). You don’t need to skin and seed the tomatoes first. Just simply half or quarter the tomatoes and throw them into a pot. Bring them to a boil and let the tomatoes cook down. Once they are soft run them through the mill to remove the seeds and skins. This also makes the sauce smooth. If you don’t have a mill go ahead and skin and seed them first. Put them in a pot and boil them down. In batches, blend the tomatoes until smooth or use an immersion blender.

For ever 4 cups of tomato juice add:

1 Tbs course sea salt
1 Tbs choped basil
1 Tbs chopped oregano
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp chopped rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer down the sauce and herbs until it reaches the desired consistency. This, of course, is a personal preference but can take over an hour depending on how much sauce you have. While it’s simmering prepare your jars and to each 8 oz jar add 1.5 tsp lemon juice. Ladle sauce into jars and then process in a water bath canner for 35 minutes.

Got Apple Peels and Cores? Make Jelly!

I spent all day today processing apples from our trees. After I finished peeling and coring them I ended up with a pretty substantial pile of apple bits. It would be a shame to just throw them out so I decided to use them for all they were worth. I was originally thinking of making them into apple cider vinegar but I didn’t really have a container I could use for that. Instead I decided that I’d make jelly out of them. Since you generally just throw out the fruit when you make jelly it kind of seemed appropriate to use the unusable parts of the fruit to start with.

What you will need:
 Apple peels and cores
1 Tbs lemon juice for every 2 cups of liquid

1. Put the peels and cores in a large pot. Add water until you can see it just under the top layer of fruit. Bring to a boil.
2. Boil fruit, uncovered, until it is soft. Strain liquid into a new pot.
3. For each cup of liquid add 3/4 cup of sugar. Add lemon juice and bring to a boil. Watch it carefully so that it doesn’t boil over.
4. To check consistency: put some ice in a bowl. Scoop up a small amount of liquid with a spoon and place the spoon on the ice to get it to cool quickly. Turn spoon sideways. If the liquid has jelled onto the spoon and doesn’t appear syrupy then it is done and ready to can. If you have a candy thermometer, you want the temperature to be 220 deg F.
5. Ladle hot jelly into sterilized jars. Put on sterile lids and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Hot Sauce to Blow Your Socks Off

We love all things spicy. REALLY spicy. I was pissed when Sriracha changed their formula and became milder. That shit was the bomb and now I have to slather it on my food just to get some heat. We go through Tapatio like it’s going out of style. It’s only taken about a month for me to go through half a large bottle of it at work. Only I use it for maybe 4 meals per week. We have hot sauce on eggs, pizza, soup, and salad. I put cayenne in hot chocolate and flourless chocolate cake. Yes, we LOVE spicy.

We’ve been fairly unsuccessful growing hot peppers. The summers just don’t get warm enough. Our jalapenos arrive sweet. But Esperanza gave me a tip this year and it worked like a charm. She told me her grandfather’s secret of getting hot peppers. Plant a habanero with your other hot peppers and they’ll pass their magic onto them. Hot diggity dog, we got hot peppers – and lots of them.

We’ve been using them as needed in dishes, but I wanted to make sure to preserve some other than just pickling them. I searched for a great hot pepper sauce recipe. I thought I had found one. It didn’t say anything about it being a hot and sweet sauce but I should have known that it would be as I dumped an equal amount of sugar into the vinegar. I ended up cooking it down so far that it turned into more of a hot pepper jam than a sauce. While it’s really tasty, it wasn’t really what I wanted.

I wanted a vinegary concoction that had great flavor but wasn’t sweet. I looked quite a bit and never really found any that I liked. Another problem I was having was that I had a TON of peppers and most hot sauce recipes didn’t really convert well as they were based on volume measurements rather than weight measurements.

I decided to wing it and I’m really glad I did. This came out fantastic while also being incredibly hot. You can, of course, mix in sweet peppers so it’s not as hot. I used some sweet peppers like Red Marconi and mild peppers such as Anaheims, but I mostly used fish, Fresno, habanero, serrano, Thai Dragon, Kung Pao, and Aci Sivri varieties.

The secret to a really good hot sauce, and actually any good condiment or pickle is to always add a touch of sweetness. Not so much that it would be considered sweet, but just enough to cut the acid. This was one thing I found missing in most of the recipes I came across. While you can use regular sugar, I like the deepness of brown sugar for this sauce.

1 lb peppers – mix of hot and sweet depending on the amount of heat you want
1 c cider vinegar
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs brown sugar
5 cloves of garlic – pressed

1. With gloves on, cut off stems of peppers and run through food processor until the juices begin to release. Put puree into a heavy stock pot.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and over medium high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Using a stick blender, puree even further until there are no more lumps.
4. Fill hot, sterile, 8 oz jars leaving a 1/2″ head space.
5. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Quince Rose Hip Jelly

I probably chose the two most difficult fruits to find commercially to combine into one jelly. Rose hips are available, but they are generally dried, and difficult to remove the seeds from. But if you’re lucky enough to have a quince tree and rugosa roses this is a fantastic way to combine them into a deliciously bright jelly.

I was excited this year when my rugosa roses started producing hips. The bright orange and red balls that show up after the flower petals fall off are renowned for their high Vitamin C content and are popular for teas. They are also good as a stand alone for jellies, but because the fruit has little naturally occurring pectin in them, you have to add commercial pectin. Rose hip jelly also requires gallons of hips to make a relatively small amount of jelly. Being that this was our first year of getting hips from our two rugosa roses, I knew that I wouldn’t have enough to make a full on jelly.

As it turns out our quince tree went gang busters this year and it’s only in it’s second year. Quince also has a lot of natural pectin in it and since the fruit is generally more woody than other pome fruits, cooking it is usually required.

It became apparent that these two fruits would be a lovely combination. All I had to do was wait for the quince to ripen. In the meantime I picked the rose hips while they ripened and froze them. I found that freezing them made them a lot easier to clean when it was time to make the jelly. You want to make sure to remove the tannic seeds from the rose hips or the jelly will become bitter. With the frozen hips you simply thaw them, tear off the sepals (petal like structures) and squeeze out the seeds. The fresh hips proved a little more difficult and I ended up with seeds everywhere.

What you will need:
 5 lbs Quince fruit, peeled, quartered, cored and sliced
1 lb fresh rose hips, seeds removed
2 Tbs lemon juice

1. Put the quince and rose hips together in a large pot. Add water until you can see it just under the top layer of fruit. Bring to a boil.
2. Boil fruit, uncovered, until it is soft. Strain liquid into a new pot. Save fruit for other uses if you want.
3. For each cup of liquid add 3/4 cup of sugar. Add lemon juice and bring to a boil. Watch it carefully so that it doesn’t boil over.
4. To check consistency: put some ice in a bowl. Scoop up a small amount of liquid with a spoon and place the spoon on the ice to get it to cool quickly. Turn spoon sideways. If the liquid has jelled onto the spoon and doesn’t appear syrupy then it is done and ready to can.
5. Ladle hot jelly into sterilized jars. Put on sterile lids and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Mayonnaise – from Scratch

If you have chickens you probably have a good supply of eggs. One of the many things you can make with them is homemade mayonnaise. When I was in high school there was this guy from France that was staying with us. He thought it was so strange that Americans bought mayo and kept it in the fridge when it was so easy to make fresh. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier called lecithin. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients of processed food you might be more familiar with soy lecithin, which is also a emulsifier. After learning more about soy, I’d much rather use the lecithin in my hens’ eggs.


1 egg
1 tbs lemon juice
1 cup light flavored oil (don’t use olive oil as the flavor is way too strong. We use safflower oil)
salt to taste
any spices or herbs to taste (optional)


1. In a bowl whisk the egg with the lemon juice.

2. While whisking, slowly add oil in a steady stream until the mixture thickens.

3. Add salt and any herbs or spices to taste.

Because mayo has a fairly high acidity, it doesn’t harbor bacteria very well. Store it in your refrigerator and use it within 5 days.

I also like to add a clove of garlic and chili powder or hot sauce.