Slow Cooker Heirloom Tomato, Basil, and Garlic Sauce

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I love love love heirloom tomatoes, but I loathe loathe loathe that their season is so stinkin’ short. As I’ve been wanting to make tomato sauce from scratch for quite some time now, I figured, what better way to prolong heirloom tomato consumption than in the form of a delicious sauce? Add some basil and garlic as the other main ingredients, and mouth-watering flavor is guaranteed.

So what are heirloom tomatoes, anyway? What makes these tomatoes so special, aside from their short season and delectable taste, is that their seeds date back to at least 50 years ago. Often, this is in the form of the seeds being saved year after year by generation after generation. Furthermore, there are so many glorious varieties to choose from. For this sauce, I selected five different varieties to ensure complex flavor, as each variety brings a slightly different flavor profile to the mix.

Although I certainly don’t know all the varieties by name, I can at least break some of the flavor profiles down for you by using color as a guide:

  • Green: sweet, spicy, aromatic
  • Yellow: dense, meaty, low acidity
  • Orange: sweet, beefy, dense
  • Red: creamy, sweet, dense
  • Purple: sharp, mildly spicy, juicy

To learn more about the specific types of heirloom tomatoes and how they are best served, check out this post on the Whole Foods blog. In the meantime, try out this yummy sauce before it’s too late! While it will obviously taste amazing on pasta in any form, I served it with stuffed peppers. (Recipe for those babies to come soon!)

Note: This recipe yields two quarts (2 large mason jars) of sauce.

What you’ll need:

  • 5 lb. heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/2 a Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste

What you’ll do:

  • De-stem the tomatoes and slice an X onto their bottoms
  • Next, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and place the tomatoes into the boiling water
  • Meanwhile, fill a large mixing bowl with ice water
  • When the skins of the tomatoes begin to peel off (2-5 minutes depending on the variety), remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and transfer to the ice water; once cool, remove them from the ice water and peel the skins off
  • In as many batches as necessary, run all the tomatoes (minus two) through a food processor or blender, and then, transfer to a slow cooker
  • Chop the remaining two tomatoes and add to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients
  • Cook on high for 3 hours

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Purple Pizza Eater

See what I did there? I sure hope so.

Anyway, I was first inspired to make this flatbread when I spotted purple bell peppers at Whole Foods. Having never seen them before, I wanted to incorporate them into a meal that would showcase their lovely purple hue. Given my track record, are you really surprised that doing so resulted in yet another flatbread?

Once I realized how many tasty veggies happen to be purple (handpicked eggplant from Linvilla Orchards, baby beets, and red onion, to be exact), I decided to throw them onto the flatbread as well. Add some baby kale “marinara,” melt-in-your-mouth cheeses, and garden herbs into the mix, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a delicious, rustic flatbread perfect for the months nearing the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

Disclaimer: purple peppers, the sole inspiration for my perfectly purple meal, turn a translucent, off-white color once sautéed. Oh, the irony.

PART 1: THE DOUGH

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package Fleschmann’s Pizza Crust Yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. grape seed oil

What you’ll do:

  • Combine warm water and yeast in a small bowl; stir and allow to sit for 5 minutes
  • In a large bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt; mix together with a whisk
  • Add yeast mixture and grape seed oil to the large bowl; mix with a hand mixer until the dough forms
  • On a well-floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed
  • Form the dough into the shape of a disk

PART 2: THE BABY KALE “MARINARA”

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of raw baby kale, packed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste

What you’ll do:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor
  • Blend until smooth

PART 3: THE VEGGIES

What you’ll need:

  • 3 baby beets, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 an eggplant, sliced
  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt
  • 1 purple bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 a red onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. grape seed oil

What you’ll do:

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F
  • Place the beets and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and allow to soak for about 20 minutes
  • Place the eggplant slices onto a baking sheet, brush their tops with olive oil, and add salt and pepper as desired; bake in the oven for 10 minutes
  • When 10 minutes elapses, remove the baking sheet from the oven, turn the eggplant slices onto their other sides, and brush their tops with additional olive oil; add the slices of beets to the baking sheet, add salt and pepper to both the eggplant and beets as desired, and bake in the oven for an additional 15 minutes
  • Meanwhile, sauté the peppers and onions in the grape seed oil until soft

PART 4: THE FLATBREAD

What you’ll need:

  • Dough
  • Baby kale “marinara”
  • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • Prepped veggies
  • 5 oz. log of goat cheese
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped

What you’ll do:

  • Turn the oven up to 425ºF
  • Spread the dough onto a greased baking sheet, and then, spread the baby kale “marinara” onto the dough
  • Next, sprinkle the mozzarella over the “marinara,” arrange the veggies pictured, and crumble the goat cheese on top of the other ingredients
  • Bake in the oven for approximately 12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown
  • Lastly, sprinkle the fresh herbs over the flatbread, cut into slices, and enjoy!

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Assateague Island

As part of staycation with my mom and brother, Chris, we drove down to Assateague Island for a few days. Since the rest of our days prior to this journey were spent on day trips, I suppose this portion of our week cannot technically be considered staycation, as we stayed on Chincoteague Island for two nights… but just go with it.

Anyway, for those of you have never been, Assateague Island National Seashore is absolutely beautiful. It is most known for its wild horses and immaculate beaches, and those two reasons are exactly why we went. The northern two-thirds belong to Maryland, while the southern one-third belongs to Virginia. This was the first time any of us had been there, so after exploring both territories over several days, I now have a handful of tips that I’d like to pass along to anyone interested in going.

Most importantly, wear mosquito repellant and reapply frequently! We had been warned that the mosquitos are bad, but it’s no joke. As irritating as these little buggers are, you have to keep in mind that they inhabit the island because of all the marshes, and a huge reason why the island is so beautiful is because of these marshes. Also, said marshes make for a bird watcher’s paradise. What I’m essentially trying to say is that, in my humble opinion, the pros (beauty everywhere!) certainly outweigh the cons (mosquitoes!).

The memo that we unfortunately did not receive is that Assateague Island is HUGE! We learned the hard way, by “hiking” 7 miles. In flip-flops. I highly recommend sticking to driving or biking. Although walking from the park’s entrance to its beaches seems doable while looking at a map, trust me: it’s not. There are various parking lots throughout the park, each strategically located near various beaches and walking trails. Believe me, your time will be better spent driving from trail to trail and beach to beach, as it will allow you to see so much more during your stay.

Now, in terms of the two territories, they are quite different, so I’d like to outline some of these differences for you.

We stayed on Chincoteague Island, which is across the bridge from the Virginia portion of Assateague Island, as camping on the Virginia portion of the island is not allowed. Also, compared to the Maryland side, there are much more marshes and a lot less beach. However, there is one main beach that is lovely, as both the beach and the bay can be viewed simultaneously. It is particularly breathtaking during sunset, and in our case, moonrise. We happened to be there on the night of one of this summer’s supermoons, so we were fortunate enough to see a spectacular sunset and moonrise all in one night. As a food person, I feel inclined to warn fellow foodies that the food and beverage on Chincoteague leaves something to be desired. Aside from an amazing BBQ joint and eatery called Woody’s, complete with eclectic and funky decor, you can expect mediocre (at best) seafood restaurants. And, to be fair, there are several adorable ice cream shops on the island as well. As for the horses, those on Chincoteague aren’t exactly what I’d call wild. They are owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, and are gated off, meaning that they can only be viewed from extremely far away.

On our way home from Chincoteague, we stopped by the Maryland side of Assateague. Different from the Virginia side of the island, this side allows camping. There are many RVs that are essentially beachfront, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me. Also, this side of the island has beaches on beaches on beaches. Because there are less marshes on this side than the Virginia side, there are significantly less mosquitoes, but trust me, they still exist. We were super excited to find out that the horses on this side of Assateague, managed by the National Park Service, are indeed wild. The horses were all over the island, from camp sites to beaches to everywhere in between, and there were several instances in which I was standing just several feet away from them. They are so majestic and it was a privilege to see such gorgeous and resilient creatures right before my eyes.

While our experiences on both territories of the island were wonderful, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that if I were to do it again I’d hands down camp out on the Maryland side of Assateage. In any event, it was an awesome little getaway with my momma and brother bear, and it is one that we have been trying to do for a while now. While there are many national parks in the United States, there are few national seashores and I’m happy that I’m now able to check that endeavor off of the ole bucket list. Below, please enjoy some of my favorite shots from our journey!

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Summer Vegetable Quesadillas with Pico de Gallo and Avocado Crema

How’s that title for some Spanglish?

This meal was made during staycation with my mom and brother, and it featured some of the aforementioned produce that Dan and I picked at Linvilla Orchards prior to me heading to my mom’s for the week. I love to cook seasonally; thus, purple bell peppers (more to come on those guys), zucchini, and summer squash were the stars of my summer vegetable quesadillas, with the addition of Vidalia onion and portobello mushrooms. Of course, the pico de gallo was made with cilantro from my mom’s garden, as well as perfectly-ripe tomatoes. I also decided to throw some avocado crema into the mix because, quite simply, everything is better with avocado.

The beauty of quesadillas is that their contents can be easily tweaked depending on what’s in season at the time in which you’re making them. Plus, they’re so dang simple to make and so dang scrumptious to eat that they’re definitely one of my go-to meals year-round. However, I have to admit, “Winter Vegetable Quesadillas” certainly doesn’t have as nice of a ring to it. ;)

Note: The recipe provided yields four quesadillas.

PART 1: PICO DE GALLO

What you’ll need:

  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 a Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste
  • 1 sprig of fresh cilantro

What you’ll do:

  • Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl
  • Spoon into a medium-sized serving bowl and garnish with the sprig of cilantro

PART 2: AVOCADO CREMA

What you’ll need:

  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste

What you’ll do:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor; blend until smooth
  • Spoon into a squeeze bottle (to create funky designs on the quesadillas) or a small serving bowl (to spoon a generous dollop onto each quesadilla)

PART 3: SUMMER VEGETABLE QUESADILLAS

What you’ll need:

  • 1 summer squash, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 purple bell peppers, sliced (If you can’t find this variety, any variety will do. I got mine at Whole Foods.)
  • 1/2 a Vidalia onion, sliced
  • 3 large portobello mushroom caps, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grape seed oil
  • Cracked black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste
  • 8 whole wheat tortillas
  • 2 cups Mexican cheese blend
  • Grape seed oil or coconut oil spray
  • 4 sprigs of fresh cilantro

What you’ll do:

  • Combine the peppers, onions, and grape seed oil in a large frying pan; sauté over medium heat until the peppers and onions begin to soften
  • Add the squash and zucchini; sauté until the squash and zucchini are cooked through, yet still have a slight crunch to them
  • Stir in the mushrooms, black pepper, and salt, and sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through; remove the pan from heat and set aside
  • For each quesadilla:
    • Allow a large frying pan to warm over medium heat for about 2 minutes
    • Spray the pan with either grape seed oil or coconut oil, and assemble the quesadilla in the pan by layering in the following order: 1 tortilla, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 cup of the vegetable mixture, another 1/4 cup cheese, and another tortilla
    • Cook with the lid on for approximately 2 minutes, or until the bottom layer is golden brown
    • Remove the quesadilla from heat, respray the pan, and flip the quesadilla on its other side; again, cook with the lid on for approximately 2 minutes, or until the bottom layer is golden brown
    • Place the quesadilla onto a serving dish, cut into quarters with a pizza slicer, and garnish with pico de gallo, avocado crema, and a sprig of fresh cilantro
    • Using the remaining ingredients, repeat the previous four steps three more times

P.S. Recipe for my guacamole, pictured below, to come soon!

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Glen Onoko Falls

Today, my staycation with my mama and brother came to a close. I can’t wait to share some of our amazing adventures and delicious eats with you! First up on our list of adventures was this past Thursday, when we headed to Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe, PA. I can’t believe it took me so long to check this place out! This rather trecherous trail, with an 875 foot elevation gain, is part of Lehigh Gorge State Park. Despite the challenge associated with this trail, the views and the scenery make the trek well worth it, as there are stunning waterfalls everywhere you look. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes and know that you’ll feel like a million bucks once your hike is complete. Check out some of my favorite shots below!

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