Category Archives: cooking

Asparagus For Dinner

Dinner is probably the most common time to eat asparagus and it always goes well as a side dish – lightly steamed, roasted, sautéed, grilled, topped with butter, olive oil, sea salt, hollandaise sauce or cheese – even pickled or raw and tossed in a salad – I’m not sure you can go wrong with fresh asparagus. Last week I shared a recipe for using asparagus at breakfast and today I am going to share with you another way I cooked our freshly picked asparagus this week.

Asparagus – Split Pea Soup

If you already have favorite recipe for split pea soup by all means use it – just cut up a big bunch of asparagus and add it to the pot as the soup cooks. If you don’t have a recipe for pea soup here is how I made it. Disclaimer: I usually don’t use exact measures when cooking – I am a pinch of this, shake of that, taste as you go along type of cook.

1 bag of dried split peas

a good size bunch of asparagus

5 or more carrots

1 onion

1 pound of beef smoked sausage

several cloves of fresh minced garlic or two about teaspoons of garlic powder.

about 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

add salt later if needed – the smoked sausage will add some salt and you don’t want to get to much

I always soak the peas in water over night. The next morning I drain the peas and put them in the crockpot. Add enough water to just cover the peas. I then cut up the asparagus, carrots, onion, and sausage and put them in the crockpot. I add the garlic and black pepper and put the lid on. I start it out on high for at least an hour to build up the heat. Then I turn it to low and let it cook. After a few more hours I check to see if the peas have become mushy. (At this point you can also taste it to see if it needs more salt or pepper and add them as needed.) If the peas are still hard I put the lid on tightly and turn it back up to high for another hour or so. Once peas have become mushy I leave the lid partially covering the pot so any excess water can cook off and the soup will thicken. If at any point the soup is too think just add some more water. When the soup is the desired consistency dish yourself up a bowl and enjoy!!! 🙂

I almost forgot – the first time I made this I put it all in a cast iron Dutch oven and cooked over an open fire at the farm. It does make a nice campfire dinner.

Dump Cake Recipe and Changing It Up

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I wanted to make a fruity dessert yesterday so I decided on an old family favorite. I remember my mom making this when I was a teenager and then telling me the recipe when I was a young mom. It’s such an easy recipe I don’t know if Mom ever had it written down, but I know I never did.

This has got to be one of the simplest and most delicious desserts you will ever bake so here is the recipe.

Dump Cake

1 can cherry pie filling

1 can crushed pineapple

1 yellow or white cake mix

1 stick butter melted

Directions –  Spread the cherry pie filling in the bottom of a 13×9 inch (33×23 cm) pan. Pour the crushed pineapple evenly over the cherry pie filling. Sprinkle the cake mix evenly over the pie filling and pineapple. Pour the melted butter over the cake mix as evenly as possible. Bake at 350 degrees F (176.7 C) for 30-40 minutes until top starts to brown.

Since I didn’t have any canned pie filling or pineapple on hand, I decided to change the recipe. What I did have was some of our home grown fruits that I had frozen when they were in season. I started with about 4 cups (946.35 grams) of  frozen strawberries and 1 1/2 cups (354.88 grams) of frozen rhubarb. I put the strawberries and rhubarb in a sauce pan and added 1 cup (236.58 grams) of sugar and 1/3 cup (78.07 grams) of corn starch. I slowly heated this until it came to a boil and became thick like pie filling. I then poured this into my 13×9 inch (33×23 cm) pan, topped it with a yellow cake mix and melted butter, and baked it just like the recipe above. This dessert can be eaten either warm or chilled. It is delicious either way.

While this may not have been as simple as the original recipe the home grown fruit made it extra delicious.

Note to my friends and readers around the world – I have added metric conversions by using online conversion charts and can only trust their accuracy. I have also rounded the numbers up to the nearest 100th and I am not sure if this gives you a close enough measurement. This recipe does not really need to be exact, but if the measurement does not seem right to you might want to do you own conversion.

Thanks for reading.

 

Making Tomato Sauce

I have been asked several times by friends how I make tomato sauce and I usually answer “cook it, cook it, cook it, and when you think it is ready, cook it some more.” Making a thick tomato sauce takes lots of time.

There is, however, much to do before you get to the cooking part and that is what I want to address today. To start with there are many, many varieties of tomatoes and although I do like to start with a paste tomato, Amish paste or roma’s, you can use any type of tomatoes for making sauce. Along with Amish paste I use any tomatoes that are ripe and will not be eaten fresh in the next day or two. I will even throw cherry tomatoes into the mix rather than see them go to waste.

In addition to taking a lot of time to make tomato sauce it also takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce. It takes approximately 5 or 6 lbs. of tomatoes to make 1 quart of tomato sauce. So don’t be shocked when that shopping bag full of tomatoes ends up providing only a couple of spaghetti dinners for the family.

Now before you “cook it, cook it, cook it” you must first turn those tomatoes into juice and the are many ways you can accomplish this. I will share some of the methods I have used over the years including the steps involved and equipment required. If you have never made your own tomato juice or sauce keep reading.

When I first started making tomato sauce I did not have some of the equipment that I use now days so I used what I had on hand to juice the tomatoes – a blender. With any of these methods I start by washing the and any tomatoes that have rotten spots are discarded. When using the blender after washing the tomatoes I remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes. This is done by putting the tomato in a pan of boiling water for about a minute then immediately putting the tomato in a bowl of cold water. For this step I placed the tomatoes in a blanching basket or a wire basket that sits inside the pan of boiling water, then to remove the tomatoes from the pan I simply lift the basket by the handle and dump the tomatoes into the cold water. If you don’t have a blanching basket you may be able to use a metal colander or even just put the tomatoes in the boiling water and lift them out with a slotted spoon.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to hold I cut out the core of the tomato with a paring knife and then the peel of the tomato will slip right off. I then cut the tomato in half horizontally and scoop out (some of) the seeds. I don’t worry too much about removing all of the seeds because my family really doesn’t mind having seeds in their tomato sauce.

I then cut what is left of the tomato into small pieces and put it in the blender and blend it into juice. At this point I could of pour the juice through a sieve or fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds that remain. The juice is now ready to be cooked into sauce.

Over the years I have acquired some equipment has made this task easier. The first piece of equipment is this simple and inexpensive food mill. I’m sure I paid less than $20 for it several years ago when I purchased it.

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This food mill will sit on top of various size pans or bowls but must be held in place with one hand while turning the crank with the other hand.

When I use this food mill I wash the tomatoes, cut out the core, cut them in quarters and cook them until they are soft. Once they are soft this food mill will easily remove the skins and seeds and turn the tomatoes into juice.

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I use the medium blade and it does tend to get plugged up quickly. When it gets plugged up I need to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the blade (the pulp is part of the juice) and empty the seeds out of the top part of the food mill. The seeds are fed to the chickens later.

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While this method does not require blanching and removing the skins, it does take time to cook the tomatoes before juicing them. Once the tomatoes are cooked the skins break down easily and are mostly turned into pulp adding to the thickness of the tomato sauce. I tend to use this method when I am working with smaller batches.

When I am working with larger batches – a bushel or a shopping bag or more full of tomatoes, I use another piece of equipment that I have acquired in recent years.

It is another type of food mill or juicer. I actually have two of these, one was given to me by my mother and one was given to me by my father-in-law. Both of the models I have are very old and also very functional. Similar models are still produced today but they are quite pricey.

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My biggest problem with using this food mill is that it is designed to clamp to a counter top. Our home, however, was not designed with this kind of equipment in mind. The clamps will not fit over the lip on our countertops. In order to use this food mill I have to clear off this stand alone shelf that normally houses my food processor, nutri-bullet, and most of my stoneware baking dishes and move it to a location where I can clamp the food mill onto it and be able to crank the handle. I also have to set a chair next to the shelf to hold the pot that the juice runs into. Rearranging all this furniture can be a pain in the you-know-what so I usually only use this food mill if I am making a big batch. Once the food mill is set up the process goes pretty quickly. I just wash the tomatoes, remove the core and cut them up. I put the cut up tomatoes into the hopper and turn the crank and the food mill separates the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds.

I am certain that there are other methods that could achieve the same results and depending on the equipment that you have available you will figure out what works best for you.

Once your tomatoes are turned into juice it is time to cook the juice into sauce. You will be cooking the water out of it. I bring the juice to a boil then let it cook uncovered over a medium or medium-high heat until it is reduced by approximately 2/3rds to 3/4ths as the sauce gets thinker it may be necessary to reduce the heat even more to prevent scorching. Depending on how much juice you are reducing this cooking will take anywhere from several hours to a whole day. Since smaller amounts take less time to cook it may be wise to split a large batch into smaller pots to reduce the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking I stir it occasionally, as it gets thicker I stir it more often to make sure it does not scorch. When it gets to the point where about 1/3 of the amount I started with remains in the pan I reduce the heat and I start watching it more closely. When the sauce is cooking for a while without being stirred the water will rise to the top, if the layer of water covers the entire top of the sauce I keep cooking. If less than 50% of the sauce has a thin layer of water on it the sauce is probably thick enough for me.

How thick the sauce should be is really about personal preference and how the sauce will be used. For instance if the sauce will be used in a pasta or rice dish where it is mixed in and the water can be absorbed into the rice or pasta a thinner sauce might be appropriate, but if the sauce will be put on top of pasta the remaining water will drain through the pasta and run off the plate, so a thicker sauce is what you want.

I hope that you find this post useful if you intend on making your own tomato sauce. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section on this page, and if you like what you have read please feel free to share it.

 

 

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

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Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.

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He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.

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I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.

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I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.

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When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

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Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two. https://www.todayshomeowner.com/scarecrows-in-the-garden/

Using Garden Veggies – Two Recipes Worth Sharing

‘Tis the season of vegetables fresh from the garden, so I thought I’d share a couple of recipes that I made last week that we really enjoyed.

The first one was made with yellow squash. Generally it only takes one or two yellow squash plants to produce enough squash that you can eat it every day. More plants will have you sending it home with friends and family or the delivery man, and when no one shows up at your house you might resort to leaving a few on the doorsteps of random strangers and rushing off before you are caught.

With the yellow squash coming on fast and furious, and with no visitors in sight, I decided to look for new recipes for yellow squash. An internet search led me to this recipe.  http://diethood.com/garlic-parmesan-yellow-squash-chips/

I decided to make this (or something similar) as a side dish for our dinner one night. The ingredients were simple –

Yellow Squash cut into 1/4 inch slices

About 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 cup Parmesan Cheese

1 cup bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned bread crumbs)

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

I put the olive oil in one bowl and mixed the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and garlic powder in a second bowl. I dipped the squash slices first in olive oil coating both sides, then in the bread crumb mixture.

At this point my instructions vary from the original recipe. Rather than a metal baking pan lined with parchment paper, I placed the slices in my 9×13 Pyrex  baking dish. Since I didn’t know if my Pyrex could handle the 450 cooking temperature, I set my oven at 350. I baked them for about 15 minutes flipped each one over and baked for another 15 minutes.

These didn’t turn out crispy like the original recipe, nor did I want them to. Since they were a side dish we would be eating them with a fork not as a finger food. The breaded yellow squash was a delightful side dish.  When my husband repeated several times how good it was and went back for a second helping, I decided this recipe was a keeper and good enough to share with you.

Swiss chard is another garden vegetable that is very prolific. We start picking the green leaves when they are young and tender and they continue to grow back throughout the summer. We sauté them with garlic, use in stir fries and soups and eat raw in salads. If we try to give swiss chard to friends or neighbors they often reply that they don’t know what swiss chard is or have never eaten it. We describe it as being like a hardy spinach. That’s what trigger this next recipe idea.

We do like a good spinach artichoke dip but we don’t grow spinach. I decided to find a good recipe for spinach-artichoke dip and substitute swiss chard for the spinach. I started with this recipe   http://www.food.com/recipe/spinach-artichoke-dip-1209 . I read the reviews and suggestion’s for changes that people made then I came up with this recipe.

1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

10 oz. fresh swiss chard finely chopped

1 can artichoke hearts drained and chopped

8 oz. cream cheese softened

2/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

several garlic cloves minced equal to about 2 or 3 teaspoons

about 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

I mixed together the first 5 ingredients in one bowl and mixed the last 5 ingredient in a second bowl. Then I mixed the two mixtures together. I put it in a one quart casserole dish and baked it at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

We ate this with tortilla chips. “That’s really good” was my husbands response. He was right. “I’m not sure I will ever want to order spinach dip at a restaurant again” he said. We both had seconds and left overs were eaten the following day with lunch. Can you make it and freeze it he asked me last night, and I am planning on doing just that later this week. Obviously this is another recipe that I want to keep around, and in recording it here I have accomplished that and shared it with you as well.

If you decide to try either of these recipes please let me know what you think by leaving your comments on this page, and if you have a recipe that is worth sharing I would love for you to do so.