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Sunday, 8 September 2013
How to Make and Can your own Marinara Sauce
Topic: Garden

If you are overloaded with Roma (plum) Tomatoes and have always wanted to try making your own marinara sauce and canning it—today's blog is the step-by-step way to do it!

I am assuming you have no preconceived notions about this-- so, it is written step-by-step. 

How to Make and Can Marinara Sauce

  1. Pick and wash a counter-top full of Italian plum tomatoes. This recipe will start with 12 quarts of skinned and seeded tomatoes and juice. You'll ultimately have about 8 + quarts--think of it as 7 quarts for the canner and some for immediate use.  

    Discard any tomatoes with bruises that have mold or caused breaks in the tomato skin or have an obvious rotten area. Don't just cut off a rotten part, if it's bad, it's bad throughout so discard the whole tomato.

  2. Start by skinning and seeding the tomatoes. For this you will need to boil a pot of water (and you'll be working in batches, so repeating this step over and over until you have all the tomatoes done). Make a cross hatch slit on the plump side (bottom) of the tomato. 


    Drop a batch of prepped tomatoes into the boiling water for about 2 minutes to scald the skin. Remove the tomatoes into a large bowl of ice water. 


    Working over a plastic lined garbage can or large bowl, take a tomato in your hand, slide off the skin and gently squeeze the tomato until most of the seeds are expressed into the waste receptacle. Put the rest of the tomato pulp and juice right into a food safe, sanitized container until you're done with all of them. (Note--see how these large square, measurable containers come in handy? I got them at Sam's Club). 


    You DO need to remove ALL of the skin, but you MAY leave some seeds. Keep working in batches until you have 12 quarts of juice and pulp. Your final amount after cooking and reducing will be just over 8 quarts. ( So if you want less, start with 6 quarts and use half the amounts below to yield 4+ quarts.)

  3. Add ½ cup of olive oil into a stock pot and about 8 LARGE cloves of garlic, minced. Cook through and then add all of the tomatoes, pulp and juice.

  4. Add ½ bottle (750 ml. Size) dry red wine.

  5. Stir in the following ingredients, adjusting seasonings to your taste preferences.

Some people like fennel seeds, others prefer fresh herbs. For me, I want this to be all about the tomato.

  1. Check the starting volume on your pot.


    Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. You will be cooking this down until the volume reduces by about 30%, And it will take hours, but the house will smell amazing. Stir the pot intermittently. Definitely remove any errant skin that might have gotten in the pot. The wine, cooking, and stirring will break up the tomato pulp. But if you want, you can use an immersion hand blender or a masher to break up any stubborn clumps.



  2. Once reduced, take some out to a small bowl. It should be a nice consistent, and plump sauce, and not separate into any layers. If a watery level separates from the pulp, it needs more reducing. Make any last taste adjustments in seasonings now.



  3. Meanwhile, prep your canning jars by sanitizing the jars in a dishwasher and keeping them in the heated unit until use.

  4. Heat the new lids and rings in boiling water to basically heat through. See photo below.

  5. Get the canning equipment ready. Set the holder on top of the boiling water bath.


  6. Ladle marinara sauce to within ¼ inch of the lid, using a canning funnel to keep product in the jar. Apply lid and ring to a finger tight closure, not super tight. EXTRA marinara sauce that will not be canned, can be cooled and placed into freezer containers and frozen for use within the next 6 months or refrigerated for use within the week.

  7. Load the canning holder with six jars, lower into the boiling bath. Load the center 7th jar in the middle. Add water if needed to cover the jars 1 inch above the lid with water.


  8. Process for 35-40 minutes. Shut off heat. Leave in another 5 minutes.

  9. Using the jar remover, carefully remove the sterilized jars to a toweled counter-top. When cooled, they can be labeled, dated and stored. Yes, they will ping and the middle of the lid will indent in this process. (That is, if you press on the middle, there will be no “give”)


  10. Yep, a lot of work—but what a gift to friends or yourself !

Posted by Karen at 15:42 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 8 September 2013 15:59 CDT
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Saturday, 31 August 2013
Lard Pie Crust--A country classic indulgence
Topic: Recipes

OK...this is how it went down...

I was in my kitchen looking at the last pile of peaches. We'd already taken bushels to work, I'd made peach jam twice, once for birthday gifts, and another 14 pints for gifts. My sisters had made hefty Peach Shortcakes for a family reunion dessert.

I still had peaches. Then, I remembered...my husband loves peach pie. I could make him a peach pie and another one to bring to work. Wouldn't that be a great way to use the last several pounds and end this Peach Madness?

So, I went to my pantry to get the ingredients for crust and that's when I saw it...the box of lard.



On a mad impulse earlier in the year, I saw LARD on the shelf at a grocery store and it jumped into my cart. I let it stay there, thinking, well, maybe someday I'll try the classic country pie crust, and that calls for lard. Yesterday was the day. Once I saw the box of lard on my pantry shelf, I knew I had to do it. (You just can't be a farmer's wife and not make a lard pie crust--even a wanna-be farmer deserves that much, and after all, he was spending the day baling hay while I was in the ktchen...)

Lard Pie Crust (let's just call it what it is!)

This recipe is simple and will make TWO, DOUBLE CRUST 9 inch Pies

1 lb. Lard

4 & ½ cups of flour—and more flour for the rolling surface and rolling pin.

Sprinkle of Salt

½ cup ice water, more as needed to achieve texture.

Using a large bowl and large fork or pastry blender, work flour and lard together until lard is broken up and well distributed, so that the flour mixture looks crumbly throughout. Sprinkle the water over the surface and work in until larger clumps of crumbles form, adding small amounts of water where needed. It's enough when the crumbles can stick together when you grab a handful.

Divide dough into 4 parts. Prep work surface with additional flour and flour your pin. Now go to work. This dough is easy to work with. Roll out bottoms and place in 2 pie pans.

Add filling (here you can choose your own fruit filling recipe because it isn't about what goes inside!).

Roll out tops and position into place.

Here's where you get tricky—trim edges and flute. I like to go around the pie edges with my left index finger on one side and right thumb and index finger on the other and make a curvy fluted edge. Others like the fork tine edge where you compress the edges with a fork.

Next, make venting holes in the top crust with a paring knife.

Finally, decide if you want to do an egg wash or (my preference) take a pastry brush with a little milk over the top surface and then sprinkle with a little Demerara Sugar.

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 50 minutes.

Finally, pull from the oven, Reserve one pie and make sure you give away the second.



Because this indulgence should be portion-controlled and infrequent! But, then finally finishing the peach mound is a cause for celebration, isn't it?




Posted by Karen at 08:46 CDT
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Thursday, 29 August 2013
Holidays and Harvest
Topic: Garden

You are looking at mountains of tomatoes, loads of peaches, unmeasurable stacks of peppers...

Your fingers resemble a painter's- full of vegetable stains and strangely wrinkled.

Can anything keep you soldiering on, pushing forward with your plans to preserve Summer, while still dealing with outdoor heat indices over 100 and no let up in sight?


First ask yourself this question. What do the next  pictures have in common with all those vegetables and fruits you still see cloning on your countertops? 





Answer. The holidays! Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas will all need special FOOD to be prepared. And the raw materials for those holiday dishes are sitting in front of you on your kitchen counter right now.

So, I'm asking you to get through the rest of this Harvest with a new goal in mind...

Think of everything you are preparing NOW, as a prep for a holiday meal LATER.


For example, here are a bunch of sweet banana and baby bell peppers, cleaned, sliced and blanched, then rinsed with icy cold water and draining, being ready for packaging in freezer bags.



They'll defrost in the future and be sauteed for use on beef sandwiches before trick-or-treating. Another bag will be chopped up and included in a cornbread to eat with chili on a Halloween or Fall buffet. Or maybe that cornbread with diced peppers will end up in a Turkey stuffing!



I know you're canning tomatoes, but why not make a batch of your best marinara sauce today and FREEZE it for the holidays? Can't you just imagine serving a wonderful lasagne with this sauce as a dinner before a Christmas play or recital? 

Last, but not least--remember how everyone LOVES food gifts at Christmas? Why not make a batch of your best jam while you have all those over-ripe peaches in front of you? Can you see a jar of peaches paired with a loaf of homemade bread or a beautiful cheese?



I hope these ideas will keep you soldiering on with that harvest in front of you! Don't give up! Think of everything you do today as contributing to less work during the holidays when we all have so much to do and when what we cherish most--time with our family--is such a precious commodity! 


Posted by Karen at 17:47 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 29 August 2013 18:12 CDT
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Thursday, 22 August 2013
Science 101: Symbiosis
Topic: Education and Values

Symbiosis—remember this from your Science classes? -It's the concept of two organisms co-existing, for the benefit of each. A “win-win” situation in life!

I recall learning about fungi and plants and similar biologic relationships as examples of symbiosis. But it's really much more interesting than fungi on a tree.

"Mutualism is any relationship between individuals of different species where both individuals benefit. In general, only lifelong interactions involving close physical and biochemical contact can properly be considered symbiotic. Mutualistic relationships may be either obligate for both species, obligate for one but facultative for the other, or facultative for both. Many biologists restrict the definition of symbiosis to close mutualist relationships "(source: Wikipedia)

This is probably an easier subset of symbiosis to understand because, if we simply observe the natural world around us, we see many examples.

However, we need to be aware of our role in the natural world, and our need to fulfill our role in nature. I took these pictures this afternoon,simply by looking in the yard and fields around the farm house. Your examples may be seen on a walk to the park or nature center, or in your own garden. LOOK closely at the natural world around you. Walden Pond was actually very small by our standards today and yet, what did Thoreau relate to us that is still relevant today?

 “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” 

― Henry David Thoreau

For some examples, look below and answer the question: Who are the participants in these four examples of symbiotic mutualism?







1.  The picture of the horses and guinea fowl may be confusing—but they're a great example of the mutualism symbiotic relationship. Guineas eat ticks and insects that would otherwise infect the horses. They also like the weed seeds in the horse pastures. So how lucky are those horses who have guinea fowl free-ranging with them!

2.  Next is the picture of trees with cattle sleeping under the canopy of shade trees. That one's easy, too. The trees provide shade from the hot sun for these black Angus who clearly need to be out of direct sunlight in the Summer. The exchange win for the trees? Cow paddies, of course—the best fertilizer. And cows don't disturb trees or harm their bark.

Next—YOU are a party in these relationships.

3. Butterflies need butterfly bushes and similar plants that are planted by HUMANS to exist. It takes literally generations of butterflies, each moving along their part of the route, to complete a full migration. And only your deliberate planting of butterfly habitat can help their multi-generational migration because pesticides and habitat elimination threaten their existence. In many geographic areas, humans are the only key to their continued existence.

Your benefit from butterflies? You can answer that, can't you?

4. Hummingbirds—ditto as butterflies. You must provide, if you can tune into your intrinsic response to nature's call. And, I believe you can understand this if you simply take the time to observe the details of your surroundings outside the confines of your house. So, take a walk and OBSERVE. Be a scientist.

It's fun!

It's important.  

Posted by Karen at 21:44 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 22 August 2013 21:47 CDT
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Sunday, 18 August 2013
The Amazing Armenian Cucumber
Topic: Garden

The AMAZING Armenian Cucumber

The Armenian Cucumber is a garden delight with which you should acquaint yourself!




Why? Because this is quite the versatile item! It is a member of the muskmelon family, growing on a vine—like melons and squash. So you don't have to trellis it like regular cucumbers—thank goodness for that! One plant is highly productive and the fruit grows to 24-36 inches in length. And, trust me, just one Armenian cuke will make a couple of huge salads.

They're easy to prep for use.

Wherever you use a regular cucumber, you can substitute the Armenian cucumber! Its flesh is like a cucumber's and its flavor is kind of like a cross between cucumber with melon overtones. Yum!

Below you can see it in a crisp salad, simply sliced thin and dressed with a vinegar & oil dressing-salt, pepper, a sprinkle of sugar and lots of dried dillweed.!




This weekend, my sister grated it for an Indian grated cucumber salad called Raita. See it in the bowl alongside the Chicken curry and Kale with tomato dish? This is usually simple grated cucumber with yogurt (or sour cream) , salt and pepper. She kicked it up with some sliced jalepenos, too.



I've used a standard recipe for Freezer Pickles and substituted the Armenian Cucumber for a standard cucumber with great results.

And it is delicious just eaten as crispy slices! 




Posted by Karen at 16:01 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 18 August 2013 21:47 CDT
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Thursday, 15 August 2013
Super-Meat Loaf with Simple Sides
Topic: Recipes

Super-Meatloaf “





We are certainly deep into the productive time for vegetables and herbs. And, I know you've made your share of chopped salads, zucchini breads and pestos--maybe even started canning those tomatoes and making sauces and relishes.

How about “fortifying” your main courses with vegetables, too?

Here's an idea for making classic meatloaf into a “Super-Meatloaf” just be integrating chopped vegetables into it!


Makes 2 large meatloafs, 1 for dinner tonight for 6

and one to bake and refrigerate for sandwiches

First, saute together in olive oil, the following combination of diced vegetables until softened:

1 medium onion, 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 cup of zucchini, 4 oz. chopped mushrooms

(now, of course you can substitute green pepper or sweet banana peppers and omit what you don't like)

Combine the following together in a large bowl:

4 lbs. Grass fed beef, ground

2 large, farm fresh eggs

½ cup quick oats, uncooked

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

½ cup prepared barbeque sauce or ketchup

Add the cooked and drained vegetables next. And finally add fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste.

Divide into 2 loaves and bake together in a large roasting pan at 350 degrees about 1 & ½ hours. Check the internal temperature to assure it's thoroughly cooked to 160 degrees, remove pan and allow to stand at least 5 minutes before removing loaves from the pan—it will continue to heat the internal part of the loaves an additional 5 degrees.

One for dinner, the second—refrigerate for sandwiches tomorrow!

About the Sides:

Tomato Salad: just fresh mixed tomatoes, fresh basil, balsamic drizzle, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roasted New Potatoes with garlic and onions were tossed in olive oil, baked on parchment paper with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese at 400 degrees about 20 minutes.

Kale Greens -mixed Russian red and curly blue were wilted in a sauté pan in a small amount of olive oil and splashed lightly with lemon juice, salt and pepper.


Posted by Karen at 12:03 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 15 August 2013 13:49 CDT
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Sunday, 4 August 2013
Ancient Grain and Contemporary Garden meet in a Salad
Topic: Garden

Your Challenge: You're asked to bring a salad to a Summer event--

Maybe it's a picnic under the stars during an outdoor concert--


Or, a garden luncheon with the girls--


Or a backyard casual neighborhood potluck and grill-out--


Your Inspiration: Your backyard herb and vegetables

Your Back-up Resources: Your pantry

No worries...

You are ready to go with a substantive salad if you build around a base of grains or legumes. So, always try to keep basic dried grains like quinoa, couscous (bulgar wheat) and rice, or legumes like lentils and beans, readily available in your pantry. Though remember that beans may need to be canned if you don't want to start your prep with start soaking a day ahead.


Here's my addition to a backyard grill party for a crowd just yesterday.


Couscous Salad

4 cups couscous, cooked, chilled, make sure you fluff it with a fork before chilling, even toss a little olive oil in it so it doesn't form a clog.

Chop together a mixture of seasonal vegetables right from your garden:

Zucchini, seeded tomatoes, onion, green pepper

Chop some fresh herbs: Mint is classic with couscous.

Add the vegetables and chopped fresh herbs to the salad. Feel like some chopped olives or capers or pimento? Go for it!

Whisk 1/4 cup  lemon juice and 1/4 cup olive oil together and mix into salad.

Add 8 oz feta cheese crumbles.

 Salt and pepper to taste, add more lemon juice if needed.

Toss again and put into a serving bowl, Chill until your event.








Posted by Karen at 13:58 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 4 August 2013 13:59 CDT
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Tuesday, 30 July 2013
Homemade Granola
Topic: Recipes


Sometimes you just need some nuts and seeds to offset all the fruits and veggies you've been eating. Granola is a great breakfast cereal or “yogurt -topper” to do just that. It's a great homemade food gift as well.




Here's a recipe to make 4 quart glass jarfuls for sharing and leftovers for your personal use! As always, you can create your own flavor combinations by changing the spices, swapping out vanilla extract for another (almond?), using different nuts and seeds, and using different dried fruits in the last step. I like to think that the recipes I write in this blog are suggestions or starting points—in a process of creative evolution. Certainly you know that what's in the blog has been built upon a foundation of recipes and knowledge shared with me by others before me—no one works in a vacuum—especially in the kitchen! We have a history of mothers and sisters, aunts and grandmothers, teachers and friends who all contribute to what you place on the table or grow in your garden.





Prep 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the following in a large mixing bowl:

42 oz. carton of Old-fashioned oats (the large cylinder size)

¾ cup sunflower seed kernels

¾ cup chopped walnuts

2 tbsp. flax seeds, freshly ground

1 tsp. Cinnamon

Melt in a small saucepan:

1 stick of butter

6 oz. of peanut butter

6 oz. of honey

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

Combine melted ingredients with dry in the large bowl.

Distribute the granola between the 2 baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, remove from oven and turn the granola to toast the other side of the dry ingredients, using a spatula or large flat spoon. Return to oven and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the whole tray is dry and toasty.

Remove pans, cool, return to the large mixing bowl and stir in the contents of a 5 oz. bag of dried cranberries or equivalent raisins or other dried fruit mixture. Pack in zip lock bags or in Mason glass jars and store in a cool dry pantry.

Posted by Karen at 21:59 CDT
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Thursday, 25 July 2013
Three Types of Kale and Two Super Easy Recipes
Topic: Garden
More Summer Color from the Garden
A few weeks ago, I posted a picture showing the three types of kale I have growing in my garden: Russian Red Kale, Blue Curly leaf Kale, and the dark-green Italian Kale.
Here they are to remind you.



 All of these varieties are interchangeable in recipes. If you look back to the posts before my garden was growing, you'll see some recipes for Sweet and Savory kale and for a Salad with baby kale.
This post will give you two very easy recipes to use kale in--
BUT,  I also want to remind you: KALE can readily be chopped and tossed into soups, stews and quiches-- Try KALE cooked with other vegetables for a potent vegetable stock--and, of course, KALE is great when sauteed with other veggies and herbs in olive oil and garlic, thinned with a bit of pasta water and then tossed together for an amazing Pasta Primavera.
Today's recipes are:
Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Prep kale leaves by immersing  in cold water in a pre-sanitized sink or large bowl--and spinning or patting dry with paper towels.  (See earlier posts on how to pick and clean greens for more details.)
Remove coarse stems, chop leaves into rough strips.  
Heat 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped in 3-4 T bsp olive oil.
Add about 6-8 cups of chopped kale leaves.
Toss to coat with oil and saute until limp.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Simply--very good and seen on the plate below at 10:00.


Now focus your attention on the item at 2:00 on the plate above. 
Here's the easiest recipe you'll ever get from me.
Scalloped Potato and Kale Casserole 
Prep fresh kale leaves as above,  to yield 1 packed cup of chopped kale leaves.
Open a box of Scalloped Potatoes, 4 serving size.
Follow directions on the box, adding kale leaves.
Prep a, 8x 8 Pyrex baking dish with spray oil. Bake the entire mixture together at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
I promise you the following:
  • no one will complain about the presence of kale
  • no one will leave any on their plate
  • everyone will think it was the best potato dish they ever ate
  • everyone will think you made it from scratch.
And, indeed, until your OWN potatoes are ready to harvest, box potatoes might be healthier than any "fresh" potato you buy at the store. At least the dehydrated potatoes in the box are not treated with chemical growth retardants like "fresh" commercial potatoes are. And this recipe can easily be doubled--I've even quadrupled it for a large party. (Yes, this is the potato dish I served on Bastille Day).
Of course, you can make this same dish with your freshly harvested potatoes soon enough! 

Posted by Karen at 09:19 CDT
Updated: Friday, 26 July 2013 15:56 CDT
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Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Spinach (any vegetable!)Quiche
Topic: Recipes
The Amazing QUICHE !
What a great culinary concept--vegetables, cheese, and eggs in a single crust pie shell, 

I started by making an olive oil single crust--

As you know pie crust is basically : Flour, some fat,  and ice water.


Great crusts are made with vegetable shortening or lard--or, in this case, olive oil. Olive oil works especially well for savory crusts which is the idea with a quiche.


So, I used: 1 cup of flour, about 1/2 tsp of salt--tossed together in a bowl. Then, added 1/4 cup of olive oil and used a fork to distribute this so the oil and flour mixture resembled lots of little grainy crumbles. Then, I added 2 tbsp of ice water and tossed again with the fork, sprinkling additional ice water with my fingers until the blend was now larger crumbs that would stick together if handled with your fingers. Once its at the stage where you can actually form a ball of dough that won't fall apart, you're ready to roll it.

 Then, use a floured surface and floured rolling pin and roll your dough into a circle a bit larger than your pie pan. Use a spatula, slide it under the dough, fold over to a half circle, lift and place inside one half in the pie pan. Then, unfold the other half. You did it! Trim off excess and crimp a crust. I use thumb and index of my right hand, with index finger of my left hand and run around the rim of the pie pan, making a curvy scalloped edge.


Filling: I used about 1 cup of chopped, cooked and throughly drained spinach--if using a small box of frozen spinach, then defrost, drain and press out excess water.


Top that layer with 6 oz chopped or grated cheese--I used Swiss.I also added a couple slices of cooked and crumbled bacon.

Place 4 eggs in a  2 cup measuring cup--whisk these and add milk to make a 2 cup mixture of egg and milk. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg (your choice of spices). Whisk together and pour over the spinach and cheese.

 Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

 Here's what you get.





Now--get creative and use up all of your other veggies in the garden in your next quiche--tomatoes, peppers and mozzarella? Swiss chard, onion and gouda? Tomatoes, onion and feta? Assorted fresh herbs?

Whatever you want!!!  



Posted by Karen at 21:14 CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 24 July 2013 21:25 CDT
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