I signed up for Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog contest this weekend. It’s a huge competition with multiple challenges, great publicity and a big old cash prize at stake. After each challenge, hundreds of participants will be cut. I have to clue you in on something. I am a secretly competitive person. And a perfectionist. What this boils down to is that I usually don’t compete unless I know I can win. Clever and super mature tactic, right? That is what makes this such a huge departure for me. There is a massive amount of food blogging talent involved in the competition and I have no idea where I stand in this crowd. This is scarier than playing Boggle with my Grandma. But for once, it doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong. The competitiveness? It’s there. It’s on like Donkey Kong. I care big time. More importantly though, I’m on a mission to become a better blogger for all of my readers because you folks make blogging so much fun. That’s why I’m diving in head first.
This post is my first entry in the competition. The Challenge, “Ready, Set, Blog!” is for me to distill the essence of who I am as a food blogger in one post. I have discovered I have a marked tendency to get sappy when I have to talk about what motivates me. But it’s food AND family! How could I not?
On September 20th, Foodbuzz will open the competition up to popular votes from the public-at-large. I’ll let you all know when the vote opens up just in case you want to throw your support behind little ol’ me. Whew. Thanks for coming along on the ride.
“Love is the only cure for irritability, for irritability is only another manifestation of self-centeredness. And love that takes a man outside himself and centers the focus of his attention on the well-being of others is its only cure.”
A major proverbial switch flipped in my brain the first time I read that. The mega-life changing kind of switch that makes you look at just about everything differently. We’re talking epiphany, people.
I realized food and family are both utterly dependent on love to thrive. And I’m not talking about all hearts and flowers and goo-goo eyes all the time. I mean the real love; the love described by Granville Walker. The love with arms that hugs the scared four-year-old climbing into bed in the wee hours of the morning. The love with legs that keeps you walking alongside and balancing a child’s bicycle even though your back (and arms and neck) are all aching. The love with spine that reminds you that when you’re saying “absolutely not” to them banging that yellow jacket nest with wooden swords that you really do want the best for them. The love with hands that crafts the food that goes beyond mere sustenance to keep them all going….
I told you it was an epiphany.
Since you’re here, I’ll assume that you don’t view food as a simple necessity. You -like me- think of food preparation far beyond the basic calories in vs. calories out. If it was as basic as that, with no emotion or art attached, we’d all be walking around like Charlton Heston in ‘Soylent Green’ before his epiphany. Food is a creative outlet, sensuous pleasure, science experiment, math formula, historic treatise and cultural study all rolled into one. And like it or not, the food we make speaks volumes about who we are and how we view life and love.
In food, much as in life, the best things come with a good head-start and a healthy dose of patience and selflessness. Sundried tomatoes have long been a staple on most food-lovers’ shelves. They command a premium price at even the lowest quality and are sometimes pumped and plumped with odd additives and preservatives that are both unnecessary and undesirable. We can easily make them at home using the simplest and healthiest ingredients possible without sacrificing any of the flavor and convenience of the store-bought counterpart. And it doesn’t hurt anything at all that you can make a far superior product for a much lower price tag.
The key, as with all food preservation, is to start with the best produce you can buy or grow. There’s not much to be done to the tomatoes before drying, but -oh!- the possibilities when they’re done. The favorite mode of consumption around these parts is to shake a handful from the jar, insert directly into the mouth and chew. If that’s a little too country-cousin for you, we have more options; serve a bowl full -as is- along with thin slices of good cheese as finger food at a party, soak in warm water for 30 minutes before draining (save that liquid for adding to soups or stews!) and tucking into pizzas or sandwiches or pasta, or stir into polenta or risotto for bursts of intense tomato flavor. In short, use these anywhere you would use a store-bought sundried tomato.
Living where I do, using the sun to dry tomatoes is a sketchy proposition at best. We just don’t have enough hot daylight hours to accomplish the task before mold sets in to ruin our efforts. That’s where creativity comes in to save the day. While a dehydrator is certainly more convenient, don’t let the lack of one stop you. Your household oven can do the job admirably.
This is so worth your time, effort and love. Oh, it is so worth it.
For a photo-free, printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here!
Home “Sun”dried Tomatoes with Basil and Garlic
- 4 cups cherry tomatoes of any variety. Using a blend of types will give you beautiful variations in color and shape.
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, preferably Genovese, washed and very thinly sliced (otherwise known as chiffonaded basil.)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt or sea salt
Wash your cherry tomatoes, examining them for bad fruit or soft spots. Trim away any soft spots and remove any stems. Halve all of your cherry tomatoes. If you have any particularly large cherry tomatoes, quarter them so they will be the same size as the others. The more uniform your pieces, the more evenly they will dry. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a cutting board and sprinkle with the Kosher salt, chiffonaded basil and minced garlic. Press the garlic and basil gently into the tomato halves.
…And here you need to make a decision. If you have a dehydrator, use the first set of instructions. If you do not, use the second set of instructions to dry your tomatoes.
Transfer the tomatoes, cut side down, onto your dehydrator trays. Do not overcrowd or they may not dry well. Some garlic and basil will fall from the tomatoes; this is expected. When all of your tomatoes have been arranged, scrape the basil and garlic that remains on the cutting board evenly over the dehydrator trays. Dehydrate for 6-12 hours (at 135°F if your dehydrator has an adjustable thermostat) or until they are very shriveled. They should be rather leathery and remain slightly pliable when warm but they should not be at all moist when you use a fingernail to dig into the centers. When they reach this stage, allow to cool before transferring to an airtight container for storage. stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, these should be good for up to one year. Stored wrapped in foil and then in a resealable plastic bag, they will remain delicious for up to 18 months.
Oven Dehydrating Instructions
Preheat your oven to 130-140°F. On some ovens, this will be the “keep warm” setting. If your oven does not go this low, you will need to use your very lowest setting, prop the oven door open by about 4 inches, set a small fan near the opening to keep air circulating, and reduce the cooking time (watching them carefully for scorching) for the most even results.
Line a baking sheet (or two, depending on the size) with foil. Arrange the prepared tomatoes cut side down on the foil-lined sheets. Scrape the basil and garlic that remains on the cutting board evenly over the tomatoes. Dehydrate for 6-12 hours or until they are very shriveled. They should be rather leathery and remain slightly pliable when warm but they should not be at all moist when you use a fingernail to dig into the centers. When they reach this stage, allow to cool before transferring to an airtight container for storage. stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, these should be good for up to one year. Stored wrapped in foil and then in a resealable plastic bag, they will remain delicious for up to 18 months.