Q: How do I make dried tomatoes at home?
A: Since you likely have an abundance of tomatoes right now, oven-drying is an easy way to make use of them.
The technique is often used by professional chefs, but it's simple enough for you to do at home. All it requires is cooking tomatoes at a low temperature for several hours. The process removes excess moisture and concentrates flavors, making the tomatoes silky and chewy.
Oven-drying works on any type of tomato, but keep these tips in mind: Small ones such as cherry or grape tomatoes can be cut in half of left whole; plum tomatoes should be cut in half, and large ones can be cut into 1⁄4-inch slices (for crisper pieces, slice them even thinner).
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; if the tomato slices are very thin, use a nonstick baking mat. Place the tomatoes, cut sides up, about 1⁄2 inch to 1 inch apart. Sprinkle on any herbs you'd like, such as basil or oregano, and some salt and pepper. (If the tomatoes are lacking in sweetness, you can even sprinkle them with a little sugar.)
Cook until the juices stop running and the tomatoes have shrunk a little. Small tomatoes will cook in about an hour; large ones may take up to four hours, but you can cook them as long as you'd like, depending on the texture you're after. Keep in mind that the longer you dry them, the more intense the flavor will be.
To store, let cool completely, and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two months.
Making an amaryllis bloom
Q: I have a potted amaryllis. What can I do now to coax it to bloom again?
A: Amaryllis are winter-blooming bulbs with red, pink and white flowers that make them great for adding natural holiday cheer to your home. To ensure that an amaryllis will bloom year after year, it's important to re-create the bulb's natural cycle, including the conditions that make the South American flower comfortable in a North American home.
In late August and early September, cease watering the plant and place it in a cool, dark closet. (This reproduces the arid conditions that the bulb thrives in.) At the end of October, remove the plant from the closet and cut off any wilted leaves near the top of the bulb. Water the plant once thoroughly, and place it in a sunny window. Don't water it again until you see signs of new growth. At first budding, begin to water it regularly and you will likely be rewarded with gorgeous blooms in time for the winter holidays. After the flowers fade, cut them off at the base. Then water and fertilize the plant regularly to keep the leaves green and recharge the bulb for next year's flowers.
Choosing an area rug
Q: What size should an area rug in my living room be?
A: Follow these rules of thumb for a classic look: Get a rug large enough to accommodate all furniture, while allowing for 4 inches to 1 foot of bare floor on all sides, and at least 3 feet of bare space wherever traffic flows through the room.
Often, however, a standard-size rug, a beloved family heirloom or a relic from a previous home will not quite fit into your new living room. In that case, too small is preferable to too large; you don't want the rug to look like a failed wall-to-wall carpet. Place your furniture's front legs on top of the rug. As long as the rug runs under the seating, it is big enough. Otherwise, it can be a tripping hazard.