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Sunday, 15 September 2013
Freeze Greens now for Winter use later
Topic: Garden

Find yourself with a little extra time this week?

You might want to look at those abundant greens you have in the garden and then consider what you'll be looking at in another couple of months. Harsh weather followed by frost is what I'm seeing in my mind's eye—and that 2013 garden will quickly become history.

While we have a little pause in the heat, how about harvesting some greens and prepping them for freezing? You might even make a side dish for the holidays while you're at it!

I started one cool morning, by picking a basket full of Red Russian kale and a second basket full of curly blue Kale—I also grabbed a bunch of fresh sage because it looked so tempting.

Start by cooling and washing the greens in a sanitized sink, with a generous, cold water immersion rinse.

Then, decide what you'll do with them

For the Russian Red... I decided to blanch and freeze individual packets.

First, slice out the central, stiff stem, and rough-cut the leaves into halves.

Get a pot of water boiling.

Drop the leaves into the boiling water & cover, boiling for 2 minutes on the clock.

Meanwhile get a large colander ready, into which you'll pour your pot of water and kale.

Have a second large bowl or sanitized sink ready with an ice bath and immediately plunge your colander full of kale leaves into the ice water. The process of short-term boiling follwed by immediately chilling down is called blanching and , if you'll note--it brings out the beautful colors in product that is blanched.

When throuoghly cooled, drain, then layer into quart sized freezer bags.



Squeeze out all the air until the packets are flat, then zip-lock.

Stack and freeze on a freezer shelf.

This freezer bag size is perfect to pull out and use as a layer in a vegetable lasagne or steamed and sprinkled with lemon juice for a “bed” under a nice grilled salmon filet dinner or surrounding a roast on a platter, or (my favorite) layered with potatoes in a potato-kale casserole.

This idea would also work very well with Spinach or Swiss Chard. Smaller-sized bags of chopped, blanched greens of all types are also great to open and toss from the frozen state directly into stews and soups for added nutritional punch, or defrost and use in omelets and quiches. So make up some of these, too! 

For the curly blue Kale... I decided to cook it down and freeze it for a side dish for the holidays—maybe as an accompaniment to a holiday ham?

After cleaning, I removed stems and rough chopped the de-stemmed leaves.

In a large pot, I sauteed 3 cloves of minced garlic and the now-chopped-up bunch of fresh sage leaves, in olive oil. I then added a 10.5 oz can of chicken broth. Once heated, I started adding the cut up kale leaves, adding more as the layers cooked limp, stirring the leaves with the chicken broth. That large basket of kale quickly cooked down. Finally I seasoned the now-much-smaller volume of cooked kale with salt, pepper, some red pepper flakes, and added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and 1Tbsp of brown sugar—just enough acid and a touch of sweetness to counteract the bitterness inherent in cooked kale.

After it's done cooking, then freeze the kale and all the juices in a freezer container, label and tuck away in the freezer to pull out when the snow's flying.

Posted by Karen at 15:06 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 September 2013 11:44 CDT
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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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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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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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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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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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Saturday, 6 July 2013
More on Purslane and a Peek at the Garden
Topic: Garden

More on Purslane and a Peek at Garden Progress


Last week I showed you the “before” salad and forgot to insert a picture of the salad “all jazzed up” with herbs and purslane So, to take a step back:

Before—basic tossed salad:



After—the fresh herbs- basil, cilantro and purslane are added and tossed thoroughly (40 times, remember the rules?)





I'd like to show you how that looks on the dinner plate—roast pork, quinoa with spinach and carrots, and the lovely herb, lettuce, tomato and onion salad.

Now, back to the garden check at about 6 weeks post seeding...



I mentioned that purslane might be a good “cover crop”--and why not? They seem to have taken hold around the squash plants. And, as we discussed last week, there's no reason to weed something as healthy as purslane. Notice my beautiful summer squash. And the purslane, see it growing between the squash plants?


Here are my multi varieties of kale greens and next to be written about.




Posted by Karen at 21:11 CDT
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Sunday, 30 June 2013
Purslane in your Garden???
Topic: Garden

Good Afternoon on this beautiful sunny (for a change) Sunday:

I am busy making Sunday dinner which is, of course, including a tossed salad. Here's a photo of the usual tossed salad most of the year—greens, maybe tomato and onion and a vinegar and oil dressing- right?? And if you're lucky the greens are varied and coming from your own garden.



But now it's the time of the year where we can also forage the garden for edible herbs to kick this salad up a notch and –below you'll see that I went to the garden and snipped some fresh herbs to chop into the salad.




I know you'll recognize the parsley, cilantro and basil...but did you wonder about the herb in the lower left corner? Here's a closer view...



It's purslane, not specifically cultivated in a nice row in the garden, but growing among it's friends and between the blocks in the garden dividers—some might refer to it as a weed, but I'm starting to consider it a cover crop!

It goes by the name of PURSLANE!

Oddly, though it grows like a weed, we don't begin to appreciate that it's probably the most nutritious herb out in our garden.

Below are a couple of references for your reading. (Now get out there are reconsider your viewpoint. Pick and USE this so-called weed if you're lucky enough to find it growing in your yard!)

Purslane - Weed It or Eat It?

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture

Is it a weed or a wonderful taste treat? Purslane is cursed and curried all at the same time. For most of us, it comes as an unwelcome guest. Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is probably in your garden right now but not because you invited it to dinner.

Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. Many cultures embrace purslane as a food.

Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. They look like baby jade plants. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. It is closely related to Rose Moss, Portulaca grandiflora, grown as a "not so weedy" ornamental. Check out U of I's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification website for some great pictures of purslane.

Purslane is an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. You may find that fact either depressing or exciting.

If you are trying to control purslane the number one rule is don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. Again depressing or exciting. Running a tiller through purslane is called purslane multiplication.

Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poorest arid soils. A rock driveway is nirvana to purslane. It's succulent characteristic makes it very drought tolerant. Purslane prefers the fine textured soils of seedbeds as in vegetable gardens or open soil areas in paths. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep. Tilling brings seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may again help to control it. Since it germinates in high soil temperatures also means it doesn't appear until June when preemergent herbicides may have lost their effectiveness.

Now if you are in the "if you can't beat 'em than eat 'em" category, you won't go hungry this year. There are plenty of purslane plants out there and I'm sure your neighbors would love to share theirs with you. If you are a connoisseur, you can also purchase purslane seeds for the cultivated forms for better flavor and easier harvesting. They tend to grow more upright than the wild types.

With purslane aficionados the preference is in eating fresh young plants, and especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Use purslane in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye. Purslane can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. It tends to get a bit slimy if overcooked. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Seeds are also edible.

Before grazing in your yard be sure to wash the purslane thoroughly and make sure it is free of any pesticides. As with any new food, don't over indulge. For recipes go to http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html .

Here's another excellent article on purslane and nutritional value.


Have a great time re-considering your attitude towards this so-called weed!

Posted by Karen at 13:29 CDT
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Saturday, 29 June 2013
After the rain
Topic: Garden

Have you ever taken a moment to walk 10 feet into your garden after a rain and just stop and look around? Not up into the sky miles away--but directly at the objects in front of you.

Observe the impact of nature in those several seconds of transition from the end of a thunderous downpour through the silent, frozen state before the flowers unfold and straighten again...






And before the coleus unfurl and fly their colorful flag-leaves?





And notice how the firm baby pears look so determined in position along with their much larger leaf partners...




And how the baby apples almost smile through their freshly washed faces...





But look especially closely after a thunderous downpour and you'll see something nature might have wanted you to miss...especially if you're a potential predator!!!




Against the brick wall, there is a fledgling bird who was unceremoniously ejected from its nest and down into origins of the Boston ivy vines. I propped a couple of pear tree branches that had also gotten blown down, over the area--to conceal the bird from the next batch of potential predators who would be out of the house behind me--the four dogs. I don't fear the Shepherds who have no interest in little birds, but I have two Yorkies, one of whom would probably bring me this little birdie back as his version of a present!


With the weather we've been having this Summer, you'll likely have the opportunity in the next few days to have a thunderous downpour...Nature is inviting you to look right in front of your nose and right under your feet. Next time, don't look at the sky to see the next batch of weather, but just within a ten foot range to share a different viewpoint.

Posted by Karen at 11:07 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 29 June 2013 11:17 CDT
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Saturday, 8 September 2012
Quick Garden Reminders
Topic: Garden

It's Fall--so plant something!

It may sound counter-intuitive, but I'll bet you have already started to buy Spring floral bulbs for planting in the next few weeks. So it shouldn't be unexpected to think about other bulbs, would it?

So, let me remind you that this is also the time to plant GARLIC BULBS.

Plant the individual cloves of garlic in prepared soil, tips up. They will develop into garlic next year, that you can harvest after it blossoms in July of next year.


Here's a great link for assistance


but suffice it to say, plant the cloves before your first frost so the garlic can develop roots, which--for many of us--means thinking about it in the next couple weeks.  We will have a hard frost by October 15th at Harvest Hills Farm.

Have you thought about the other planting opportunities

Lettuce, spinach--


These can be planted in planters, close to the house--whether you are in rural American or right in the heart of a city--the short time-to-harvest--and preference for cool weather, make lettuce and spinach perfect for a later harvest--you might even harvest your own greens for Thanksgiving if you're lucky!!!

Posted by Karen at 12:00 CDT
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