Roasted Tomato Sauce: the Easy Way

Roasted Tomato Sauce: the Easy Way

When I shop for groceries, I typically careen around the store, barely pausing to toss things in the cart (especially since I am usually running on borrowed time before the sacred nap). Here at the grocery stores in Nova Scotia, however, there is one thing that will always bring me to a screeching halt: that bright pink sticker screaming “50% off for quick sale”.

Because boy, am I a sucker for a sale.

When I first discovered this little phenomenon, I just bought things willy-nilly, believing that I was absolutely saving money in buying a carton of juice that had to be drank up that day, or a box of cookies that had to be eaten in one sitting, but then I realized all I was doing was bingeing. Sales will wash your brain out for you like that. But while there may not be value in buying half-price, nearly expired cookies and juice, there definitely are some savings to be made in the produce section. 

My biggest weakness on the produce sale rack is tomatoes. I cook with tomatoes a lot. A TON. I usually have a stockpile of canned tomatoes on hand, but there have been some rumblings about canned tomatoes containing a high concentration of BPA as it is leached from the can’s lining. Despite Health Canada’s conclusion that this exposure is not harmful, I’m a bit squeamish now, and I figure it’s always better to cook with the real deal instead of canned stuff anyway, if you can help it. Fresh tomatoes can be pricey, depending on the season and the type, so buying them half-price really tickles my thrifty bone (which is closely related to the funny bone, in case you were wondering). 

You can save tomatoes for later by either canning or freezing them, and since I haven’t delved very far into the potentially scary world of canning, I mainly stick to freezing. It’s pretty foolproof. You can blanch, peel, then freeze them whole or diced, or you can cook them into a sauce and freeze that. Either way, not a ton of work.

I bet I lost a few of you at the word “blanch”, though. And to be perfectly honest, if this was the only method of preparation available,  I’d have lost a whole lot of tomatoes to spoiling and sheer laziness by now. While my way does cook the tomatoes into a sauce, prep time takes about five minutes before and five minutes after, and you don’t have to fuss around with tomato skins — which, aside from being really annoying, irritate the heck out of my hands. I use the resulting sauce to make homemade pizza, but I think it would be equally delicious tossed with pasta. The other great thing about this “recipe” is that it doesn’t have set measurements, so it’s the easiest thing in the world to customize, and you can follow it with any amount of tomatoes at all. (In the interest of energy saving, you’ll probably want enough to fill a baking dish/cookie sheet at least, though. This is about four or five.)

So you have four or five tomatoes and you want to make sauce. Here is the complete list of things you’ll need to make…

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Tomatoes – Any sort of tomatoes at all will work. Something a little more fleshy, like a beefeater or a roma tomato will work best, though, insofar as the sauce won’t be as watery in the end
  • Spices of your choice – I like to use dried thyme and oregano, salt and pepper, and fresh basil if I have it.
  • Sugar – Just enough to take down the acidity of your tomatoes.
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic 
  • Rimmed baking sheet or dish – If you are using a metallic baking sheet, make sure to line it with a silpat or parchment paper as the acidity of the tomato juice can react unfavorably with some materials, making for bitter flavor.
  • Immersion blender – A regular blender, like the kind you use for smoothies, or a food processor will work here too.

So what you wanna do is:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300° and line your baking sheet. If you’re using a glass casserole dish here, just get it out of the cupboard.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half. Place them cut side up on the baking dish.
  3. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re using tiny tomatoes, like grape ones, you can just add a drop to each half, but if you’re using bigger tomatoes, it might be easier to put about a tablespoon of oil in a cup and swipe some onto each half with a basting brush. Me? I’m lax and just dribble oil over them all.
  4. Season each tomato with a pinch of dried thyme and oregano, some salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Alternatively, if your tomatoes aren’t overly acidic, you can leave the sugar out and add it at the end once you’ve tasted if you think you need it. I like pizza sauce to be a little bit sweet, so I do put about a pinch of sugar on the toms before they hit the oven. 
  5. Put them in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a few cloves of garlic and throw them onto the baking dish with the tomatoes. Peel them if you want to, but you can also just squish the roasted garlic out of the peels at the end, which is what I do. How many you use is up to you: You love garlic and you’re making a whole tray of tomatoes? Add half a head. Roasted garlic is much more mild in flavor than raw garlic, remember, so you can be a little more generous here than you might normally be. Set the timer for 30 more minutes.
  6. When it’s all done roasting, throw the tomatoes and now-peeled garlic into the blender/food processor/bowl and blend them all up. If you have fresh basil, tear a few sprigs into the mix before you blend. Taste it to be sure it doesn’t need more salt or sugar and add some if it does. Try not to eat it all out of the blender. 
  7. Freeze it up! Because I use my sauce for pizza, I usually freeze the sauce into about 1/2 cup portions for convenience. You can also just pour it into a ziplock or a freezer-safe container big enough to hold it all, if you like. 

And that is all there is to it. 

Making your own tomato sauce is great because cooked tomatoes have a ton of health benefits which come from the phytochemical lycopene, the levels of which are boosted considerably the longer the tomato is cooked. Lycopene has the antioxidant properties that apparently reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, as well as lower cholesterol levels. (Source: Livestrong.com – The Health Benefits of Eating Cooked Tomato Products) Cooking it yourself out of real live tomatoes means that you get to control the bad stuff, like salt and sugar, and you can make it taste exactly the way you want it to. Something that I very mindlessly poured out of a can for many, many years is really not that hard to make, when all is said and done.

And it means I get to buy sale stuff and gloat to myself over my savings. 

– Joc

 

 

Bookshelf From a Dresser

Bookshelf From a Dresser

How to Turn a Dresser Into a Bookshelf

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf

 

Do you have an old dresser with drawers that don’t really work or that’s just old and ugly? Do you need more bookshelves? Well I’ve got the solution for you! This project is quick, easy, and cheap. My favorite kind.

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf
I call this color uglyish brown

This dresser was left behind by the previous tenants in an old apartment I lived in about 10 years ago. I used it as it was for years and then about 5 years ago I painted it brown. I didn’t really know what I was doing then and it sure wasn’t the prettiest transformation you ever saw but it served its purpose.

Enter Pinterest.

I saw a photo on Pinterest of old drawers being used as wall shelves and thought it was really cute. I still plan to do that with the drawers left over from this project but a bookshelf for Charlotte’s books was priority. Her books are her favorite things to play with and she sits on her little rug and “reads” them for most of the day. That means, of course, that I pick them up a million times a day. The bookshelf I was using was open all around which made it really frustrating trying to stand up all the books. It drives me crazy. I plan to put it in her room eventually with the drawer wall shelves above but for now (she’s only one) I like her to play in the living room where I can see her.

The added bonus to this bookshelf is the drawer I left at the top. I use it for all the unsightly old books that she doesn’t use or are too grown-up for her.

Here’s how I did it.

Supplies:

  • paint (I used leftover wall paint but wood paint would be more durable)
  • primer
  • protective finish (I used Minwax Polycrylic in Clear Satin)
  • paint brush, foam roller, and foam brushes
  • MDF, wood or particle board for the shelves
  • 4 L-brackets per shelf plus screws (1 inch are fine)
  • level
  • more screws for bottom shelf

Method:

First you’ll want to take out the drawers and remove the tracks and anything else that may be attached to the inside of the dresser. You can leave a drawer at the top like I did or just take out all the drawers. It’s up to you! If the wood has a shiny finish or old chipped paint you’ll need to sand it a bit. Make sure the dresser is free of bumps or chips and rough up varnished surfaces with sand paper so the paint will adhere.

Measure the inside width and depth of your dresser and cut the shelves to fit. A good tip that I learned from my hubby is that you can usually have them cut your wood for you right at the hardware store which saves you a lot of trouble and mess and makes it way easier to transport home! Just be sure to measure two or three times to make sure you don’t arrive home with the wrong size and therefore wasted wood.

Attach the shelves to wherever you’d like them to go using the l-brackets, screws and a level. Make sure the shelves are level side-to-side AND back-to-front. This is important. I like to attach the brackets to inside of the dresser first, sit the shelf on them and then screw them to the shelf making sure the shelf front is flush with the front edge of the dresser.  On my dresser there was a bit of a ledge on the bottom that I was able to screw my bottom shelf to but you may need to either use some l-brackets for yours or you can just use small strips of wood as braces since they will be hidden by the apron of the dresser.

Fill in any holes leftover from the drawer slides with wood filler or drywall composite for a more polished look. (I’m not going to lie, I’m lazy and skipped this step.) If you’re using MDF or particle board you should probably fill in the front edges of your shelves before you paint them too. (I also lazily skipped this step.) Sand the edges if you used wood.

Turn a dresser into a bookshelf
Priming almost done!

Paint the whole thing (including your drawer) with one or two coats of primer then one to three coats of paint with the foam roller and/or paint brush. The inside will most likely be bare wood so you’ll especially need the primer here, otherwise the paint will soak right in and be wasted. Let dry between coats according to the instructions of your particular paint.

Using the foam brush (or the type of brush recommended for your protective finish) apply a few coats of protective finish, allowing it to dry for a couple hours between coats. You may want to change out your hardware on the top drawer too. When I refinished this dresser the first time, I spray painted some old brass kitchen cupboard knobs. They’re chipped a bit but I decided to just keep them. I think they go with the shabby chic sort of rustic look I have going on. (Some may also call that laziness.)

Once  it’s all completely dry put your drawer back in and you’re done! Happy re-purposing!

I hope this post helps you get some more attractive life out of a tired old piece of furniture. I get great amounts of satisfaction out of it myself. I’d love to see your before-and-afters too!

-Tracy

Homemade Natural Toothpaste

Homemade Natural Toothpaste

How to make your own natural toothpaste

 
Homemade Natural Toothpaste

Of all the things in my life that I have switched from commercial to natural, toothpaste has been the most challenging.

I really wanted to make the change because of all I’ve read about how bad commercial toothpaste is for you. It’s said that it also doesn’t allow your teeth to heal themselves, which they are apparently capable of doing, just like your bones. Commercial toothpastes often contain glycerin as a texturizer/sweetener/preservative that supposedly coats your teeth and therefore prevents them from remineralizing by way of your saliva. And then there’s the whole Fluoride debate. While Fluoride has been proven to help prevent tooth decay it is also toxic if ingested in large quantities and therefore, in my opinion, not something to mess around with. Another common ingredient in toothpaste is Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) which is a surfactant used in many detergents and soaps to make them foam. There’s so much badness connected to this chemical that I’m not going to get into them all here except to say that I avoid it wherever possible. This is a difficult task given the fact that it’s added to most soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, toothpastes, mouthwashes and thousands more products that come in contact with your skin. I’m continually trying to find ways to cut it out of my life.

My other big motivation is my 11.5 month old daughter who now has 5 teeth. I don’t know about you but I find it terrifying that the instructions on the tube warn heavily against letting your baby swallow the toothpaste and to use no more than a pea-sized amount. Why risk it??

Your toothbrush does most of the work in cleaning your teeth. Where your toothpaste comes in handy is in eliminating bacteria that causes gum issues and bad breath. The good news is that killing bacteria is easy and you don’t need an entire lab’s worth of chemicals to do it. My recipe uses coconut oil as the base. Not only does it give the toothpaste a great texture but it also naturally has anti-bacterial properties. Perfect! 

The second main ingredient is baking soda, which is not surprising since baking soda has 100 million uses and is made of magic. Baking soda is great for cleaning your teeth because it removes plaque, whitens, and deodorizes. I have heard multiple people make skeptical noises about baking soda, believing its abrasiveness will erode your enamel, but according to the RDA scale, baking soda is a low abrasive. It has a rating of 7 where most commercial toothpastes fall anywhere between 35 and 200, and apparently anywhere from 150 upwards is considered “harmful”, so it looks like you’re pretty safe in the erosion department when it comes to baking soda.

The rest of the ingredients are sort of optional but I really recommend them because, honestly, baking soda tastes pretty terrible. This is where the challenge with homemade toothpaste comes in. Because we’ve all grown up expecting toothpaste to taste overwhelmingly minty and sweet, the switch to the salty flavor of baking soda is a tough one. It takes a bit of brain-wrapping for sure. I definitely struggled with it in the beginning and my first few batches of toothpaste got a bit out of hand from all the things I added trying to “fix” the taste. Let me save you a lot trouble (and supplies) by saying it will never taste as minty fresh as a tube of Colgate but that’s OK. Stop trying to “bend the spoon”; bend yourself instead. (I’ve watched The Matrix too many times.) Once you train yourself to appreciate the science of cleaning your teeth and all the good that nature has to offer, you start to become accustomed to the taste and stop thinking you need crazy chemicals and artificial flavors to feel normal and clean.

Are you sufficiently motivated to toss your tube of “chemical paste” now? Not yet? Did I mention this homemade natural toothpaste is way cheaper too? An added bonus, I think. Now let’s get on with it!

Natural Toothpaste Recipe

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Coconut Oil, in solid state (room temperature)
2 Tbsp Baking Soda
5-10 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil (Or more to taste) 
5-10 Drops Liquid Stevia (Or more to taste)

*You can make this recipe in any size. Just use equal parts of coconut oil and baking soda then add essential oil and Stevia to taste.

Directions:

Mash the coconut oil and baking soda together with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.

Store at room temperature in a small jar or icing bag. 

 
Homemade natural toothpaste

And that’s it. Super easy, super affordable, super healthy.

Like many homemade healthcare products, the lowered level of convenience can be an adjustment but you do get used it. You may find it simplest to just keep it in a small jar and scoop it out with your clean toothbrush (or a popsicle stick if you think dipping straight into the paste with your brush is yucky). Or you can try keeping it in an icing bag which would work more like a conventional toothpaste tube.

Homemade natural toothpaste

I haven’t tried any flavors besides mint yet but I hear cinnamon essential oil is good in it too. I’m wondering what flavors would be good for kids. Maybe vanilla and/or orange? I’ll post an update when I try them out.

So what do you think? Do you like this recipe or is it too big of an adjustment for you and your family? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

-Tracy

 

 Sources:

http://artistta.blogspot.ca/2011/04/closer-look-at-glyerin-and-whether-its.html

http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/oral-care/products/fluoride-free-toothpaste.htm

http://docakilah.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/why-natural-toothpaste-is-better-than-your-regular-toothpaste/

http://www.md-health.com/Brushing-Teeth-With-Baking-Soda.html

http://www.levysmiles.com/faq/best-toothpaste