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Hi, I'm Pam Mehnert

As Outpost's general manager, Pam's work keeps her at the office, in meetings, or in front of her computer more than a simple 40 hours each week. However, her passion as a foodie has driven her to take on this challenge for the culinary experience of...
Pam Mehnert

Week 24 - Boxed Mix Not Included

A Year of Inconvenience
For one year, I'm making everything from scratch and forgoing convenience foods. Join me on my journey! By Pam Mehnert on October 5, 2010
I’ve been looking forward to the cooler weather for a few weeks now mainly because I’ve been craving the comfort foods of fall and winter. You know what I’m talking about – those savory saucy dishes you throw together in a large pot on the stove – the fragrance of which slowly seeps into every pore of you home. Ahh yes, I do love me a good slow cooked stew every now and then. And the best part of it all is I can now start to use up some of the foods I preserved over the past month or so – mainly those tomatoes.

Living many days of the week from the fast lane (aka long work days), slow cooking used to mean creating a dinner from “scratch” that was made with a can of tomatoes and a box of Spanish rice mix – seasonings included. This time, however, I’m on my own using only basic ingredients and creating my own seasoning. To be honest, I’ve been most worried about making chili, something that’s relatively simple to do yet I know can taste somewhat different each time I make it. While I’m pretty confident about the basic ingredients and seasoning, my recipe calls for adding cans of chili beans (already seasoned), along side of other canned beans (already cooked) at the end. That combined with the unique flavor that you get from roasted canned tomatoes I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to make a batch of chili.

So I made up a few recipes over the past week using some of the tomatoes I’ve either frozen or oven-dried this summer. The oven drying was incredibly easy, in fact I love the end product so much that as long as I have a good supply of summer tomatoes, I don’t picture myself buying the sun-dried version all too often.

Here is the recipe I followed for oven-dried tomatoes. I used the tiny Roma and yellow pear tomatoes we planted in our friend’s garden. It’s true I had expected the Roma to be large enough to turn into tomato sauce, but that would have happened only if I had paid closer attention to the “size” specifications on the tag when I bought the plants.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

1. Tomatoes, sliced in half
2. Garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
3. Fresh Rosemary
4. Olive Oil
5. Kosher Salt

You don’t need specific measurements here for making these tomatoes. No matter how many you start with, the end result should be shriveled-up tomatoes filled with flavor. Spread the tomatoes out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Disperse your cloves of garlic among the tomatoes. (How many you add depends on how many you will want to flavor the tomato oil when you put them in jars.) Drizzle olive oil over your tomatoes and garlic until they glisten. Sprinkle them all with salt and as much fresh rosemary as you’d like to season.

Put the tomatoes in a 225° oven and let them dry out for 3-4 hours. The amount of time in the oven will depend on the size of your tomatoes. They should look dried, but not to the point of hard and crusty. I actually had mine in the oven for two and a half hours, then turned the oven off and went to bed. In the morning they were perfect.

Take the tomatoes, garlic cloves and any rosemary left on the baking sheet, and put it all into a canning jar(s). Fill the jar with olive oil and refrigerate. Now start thinking about how you’re going to use them, such as on pizza, in slow-cooker recipes, or as a great flavor to other oven roasted dishes. I’ll share one of my recipes using the dried tomatoes in a bit.

I made Spanish rice last week from scratch – my first time without adding the box of rice and magical seasoning mix. I have to admit I was quite pleased with myself as I was really guessing on the quantity of ingredients. But the flavor profile in the end was even better than what I was getting from all of those years of using a boxed mix. I feel like I need to try making it again and write down what I’m doing before I share the recipe on my blog. So all of you have to wait – or better yet share your recipes with me.

Now back to the oven-dried tomatoes. I’ll leave you this week with a recipe I’ve been making on and off for years, usually with different ingredients each time. I really love it with the oven-dried tomatoes and potatoes in the same pan as the roasting really imparts some amazing flavor to the chicken as well as the rest of the dish. This was also my last chance to use some of the fresh basil from the garden before the October frost started to dry up the leaves.

Chicken Mediterranean With Potatoes

3-4 chicken breasts (either with skins or boneless and skinless)
4-6 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into wedges
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1 cup olives (I like using both Kalamata and green)
½ cup roasted tomatoes
Olive Oil
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

Starting with the chicken breasts, place them in a roasting pan and surround them with the sliced potatoes. Layer the onions, roasted tomatoes and olives on top of the chicken and potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over the top of everything, and top with seasonings (fresh basil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper all to taste).

Roast everything at 375° until the chicken is done (170° on a meat thermometer) which takes about 40 – 50 minutes.


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