I found these delightful self-watering containers at a local hardware store. I always begin the growing season with the good intention for watering my plants regularly. Slowly but surely, as the season moves into the hot and sticky months, my intentions are quickly forgotten and my garden begins to fade. I’m hoping these little babies will help me find success this year.
Today we had the pleasure of experiencing our first honey harvest. Our bees have been busy visiting fields of clover and Queen Anne’s Lace over the past several weeks. After watching hours of video focused on harvesting honey and rendering beeswax, we finally took a leap of faith and carefully extracted the liquid gold produced by our very own bees.
Here’s a step by step look at the process:
We carefully swept the bees off of the short, capped honey frames to prepare for extraction.
We set up the extractor and a screened sieve to remove the honey and filter out the wax and other unwanted items. A clean and organized area is imperative. We had buckets of soapy water with sanitizer and tarped surfaces in the extraction area.
After the extractor does its work (we have a hand crank version), the gate can be opened to pour unfiltered honey into a clean, food-safe bucket. The sieve and filter will take out the impurities.
We cleaned and sanitized our honey containers prior to setting up our bottling station.
The filtered honey is ready for bottling. We used 12 and 16 ounce jars. We wanted to try a mixture of plastic and glass jars.
We were able to bottle 12- 12 ounce, 12- 16 ounce, and 2- 4 ounce jars. What a delight to get so much honey from just 8 short frames.
I order a few different labels from Amazon to finish off the process. I think I’ll order a set of more personally printed labels for next year.
Now, it’s time to render the filtered wax to make our own beeswax blocks for future projects.
This past week we took the opportunity to leave the bitter cold of the Midwest to fly down to our favorite vacation spot. As Disney Vacation Club Members, we frequently visit the land of Mickey and Minnie to enjoy the warm southern breezes and bright Orlando sunshine. Our visit is most relaxing as we love to grab a cold drink and visit the pool, hang out on the deck while reading the latest novel, use the boat system to travel to various hotels and marvel as we view the beautiful flowers and unique shrubbery. We try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. “Been there, done that…” is my motto. As our children were growing up, we always made a few trips to the parks. These days, I’d much rather sit back and relax.
The DVC homes are spacious and bright. They have all of the amenities of home. Most nights, I cook in our beautiful villa, other nights we take a short ride to a neighboring hotel to enjoy a meal or dinner show. This year we enjoyed the Ohana dinner show at the Polynesian Hotel. Another evening was spent sharing a meal at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. One of the appetizers served during the “storybook” dinner at Artist Point was a mini vessel of winter squash bisque. The garnish; a “lollipop” marshmallow stick. What a delightful treat. We had a fun night celebrating with Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and the Wicked Queen.
Arriving home, the Chicago winds were incredibly cold and the icy rain was pouring from the heavens. Running from the courtesy bus to our car in the economy parking lot, The rain had soaked through my clothing and I was, once again, freezing. I really wanted to turn around and jump back on the flight to return to the warmth of Orlando. I decided then and there that I would make a trip to the grocery store and purchase ingredients to make a big pot of Spicy Butternut Squash Soup to warm our bones and remind us of our last evening in Disney World.
This recipe is certainly not the same as Disney’s version, but it is a favorite. I add lots of ground black pepper to balance the sweetness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. Garnish with pine nuts, walnuts, maple syrup, or pumpkin seeds.
Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
2 large butternut squash (seeded and roasted)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup chopped shallot (about 2 medium shallot bulbs)
1 tablespoon salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¾ – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Lots of ground black pepper, to taste
4- 5 cups chicken broth (or water mixed with chicken base)
½ – ¾ cups half & half
In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until. Add the chopped shallot; stir and cook until the shallot has softened and begins to turn golden in color. Add garlic; stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add butternut squash, maple syrup, brown sugar, nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour in chicken broth. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cool slightly before using an immersion blender to cream the soup. Stir in half & half and serve immediately.
During the Christmas holiday, I assembled quite a few casseroles to feed the army of family members that were home for the holidays. Many of these recipes had their fair share of carbohydrates nestled throughout. I, on the other hand, try to watch my carb intake as I always seem to have severe migraines when I consume refined sugar and loads of carbs. This recipe is quite simple to assemble and chocked with flavor. A bit of Frank’s hot sauce added to the egg mixture is a welcome addition to the recipe. A few teaspoons add a hint of flavor. If you like a spicy egg dish, feel free to kick up the heat by doubling or tripling the sauce. One other trick, try to seed and core the tomatoes before dicing them. This helps eliminate a soupy casserole.
The serving sized squares are compact and great as leftovers. Super for breakfast lunch or dinner. Serve along side a cup of yogurt with granola, a field greens salad, or a few hash browned potatoes.
Farm House Breakfast Squares
1 pound breakfast sausage
12 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream or half & half
1 ½ cups cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 medium green pepper, diced
½ cup onion, chopped finely
1 medium tomato, seeded and cored
In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the breakfast sausage for about 10 minutes, breaking apart with a spatula, until fully browned. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9” baking dish, set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half & half, and hot sauce. Add the pepper, onion, tomato, and cheese; whisk thoroughly. If desired, set aside a few veggies and a bit of cheese for garnish.
Pour the egg mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle cooked sausage evenly over egg mixture distributing all ingredients. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes or until center is set. Cool slightly and cut into serving sized squares.
Optional: Garnish with a bit of cheese and leftover chopped veggies. Salt/pepper to taste.
This is one of our absolute favorite pickle recipes. I make them year round, using pickling cucumbers during the growing season and English cucumbers during the winter months. Recently, I started adding a mild spicy pepper to the jar for an added kick. When making pub burgers, potato salad, or a vegetable tray, these pickles are always a great accompaniment to the dish.
Garlic & Dill Refrigerator Pickles
Note: The ingredient amounts listed in this recipe are for a single one quart jar. Make as many quarts as you like by doubling or tripling ingredient amounts to fit your need.
3-5 pickling cucumbers or 1-2 English cucumbers per jar
1 mild flavored pepper, sliced
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup vinegar
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dill seed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon whole pepper corns
2 crushed fresh garlic cloves
Several small sprigs of fresh dill – to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Prepare jars by washing in warm soapy water. Also, wash rings and bands; let air dry.
In a medium saucepan combine water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Heat on high, stirring until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Turn off heat; cool completely.
To prepare cucumbers; wash, trim ends, and slice to desired size. Crush garlic and add to jars with dried spices and fresh dill. Firmly pack cucumbers and pepper slices into jars, leaving about an inch of headspace.
Add cooled liquid to jars until the spaces surrounding the cucumbers are filled, leaving 1 inch head space. Place the jars in the refrigerator and let sit for 5 to 7 days; each day giving the jars a light shake to redistribute the spices. After 7 days, enjoy the crispy crunch of these delicious pickles. These will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
My daughter recently called to ask if I could share an easy appetizer recipe as she needed to assemble a quick item for a coworker’s going-away party. She had already looked through the recipes on my blog and couldn’t find one that she could easily make ahead of time and store in the fridge. My mind quickly turned to a simple recipe that I used to make when our children were young. I made this recipe for our annual St. Patrick’s Day Party when we lived in the southwest Chicago area. The yearly parade (and party) was always a fun event for all of the Irish families living in the neighborhood. Slices of pumpernickel cocktail bread are loaded up with a spiced cream cheese mixture and a thick slice of fresh cucumber. A quick sprinkle of dill adds a layer of flavor. Drawing the tines of a fork down the side of the cucumber before slicing, adds a unique design to the appetizer.
Cucumber Finger Sandwiches
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (.7 ounce) package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
1 (1 pound) loaf sliced pumpernickel party bread
2 English cucumbers
2 teaspoons dill weed or dill seed
Mix cream cheese and Italian salad dressing mix in a bowl until well blended. Draw the tines of a fork down the sides of the cucumber before slicing (Make sure to pierce the skin of each cucumber.) Spread cream cheese mixture atop pumpernickel party bread and top each slice with a cucumber slice. Sprinkle with a light dose of dill weed or dill seed.
While gathering produce during my weekly shopping trip, I noticed an abundance of beautifully colored bell peppers piled high in the sale bin as I entered the store. I realized that it had been a very long time since I had made stuffed peppers so I went through a mental checklist of all of the ingredients I would need to make the dish for our Saturday night meal. When picking peppers for this recipe, I was careful to select large, wide, flat-bottomed peppers that would sit nicely in my baking dish. As luck would have it, ground beef was also on sale, so I purchased several pounds of the 93/7% mixture. I love to stock up on versatile meat options, bring them home and divide them into meal-sized portions for the freezer. This allows me to have plenty on-hand, when needed. Here’s how I divided things up:
2 lbs kept for the stuffed peppers
2 lbs were made into hearty hamburger patties, placed in freezer safe container
2 lbs were mixed with ingredients to make 2 meatloaf bricks and wrapped in foil
2 lbs were used to make simple chili without beans, packed into freezer safe bags
(I usually add beans to the chili meat once I reheat later.)
Carefully labeling everything, I used a permanent marker to date and identify the items enclosed. I also bought several pounds of fresh, boneless, skinless chicken for other future meals. I divided each large family pack into 4 freezer bags with 4 chicken breasts in each.
I always feel so accomplished when I have a productive day assembling meals that can be cooked with very little effort during the busy week. These delicious peppers were gobbled up quickly with a few left over for weekday lunches.
I’m ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Colorful Stuffed Peppers
6-8 large bell peppers
2 lbs ground beef
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (5.6 ounce) package Knorr seasoned rice and pasta blend (chicken or beef flavor)
1 1/2 cups of water
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove and discard the tops, seeds, and membranes of the bell peppers; set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the beef until evenly browned; drain. Mix in Italian seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, diced tomatoes (with juice), seasoned rice package and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 20-25 minutes to cook rice. Remove lid, turn off heat and let cool slightly. Spoon equal amounts of the mixture into each hollowed pepper.
Fill a 13X9” baking dish with about 2”of water. Arrange peppers in a baking dish with the hollowed sides facing upward. Tightly cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake 35-40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the peppers are slightly tender. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle each pepper with sharp cheddar cheese before serving.
As the summer sun ripens a delicious array of fruits and vegetables, I make sure that nature’s bounty takes center stage at the kitchen table. Living in the Midwest, we have so few months during the course of the year where we can have locally grown foods literally sitting at our doorstep. Backyards, gardens and farms throughout the county have the opportunity to produce foods situated in patio pots, raised beds, trellising on garden fences and planted in rows along county roads.
As I was mowing the lawn last week, I spied the beginning of a few delicious looking pears that I can’t wait to harvest when they are ready. My grapes are coming along nicely. I have gathered and prepared several generous heads of romaine lettuce, lots of sweet peppers, and fresh herbs. Nothing compares to the flavors of fresh picked fruits and vegetables that accompany family meals carefully prepared from scratch.
We’ve also started raising bees as a hobby and as a source for our own golden delicious honey. Planting patio pots with wild flower seeds and leaving our land as natural as possible will provide them a source of food as well.
This morning I made a batch of granola clusters to accompany many of the fruits that I grew or purchased from a local farm. A dollop or two of plain yogurt finishes off the dish. (The peaches aren’t quite in season yet so I suppose, there are a few things in the dish that I am hopelessly awaiting as the season continues to bring us an abundance of delicious and nutritious delicacies.)
Here’s to bright warm days and unpredictable summer rains… This is definitely one of my most favorite times of the year.
Honey Granola Clusters
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, whatever you prefer)
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, whatever you prefer)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or line a 11 x 17″ baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved and oil is well incorporated. Add in the oats, nuts and dried fruit; mixing well.
Pour the oat mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it out into an even layer, firmly packing the oat mixture into the baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through cooking. Remove from oven and let the granola cool at room temperature for at least one hour.
Use a small spoon to scoop up the granola off of the baking sheet using the spoon to break the granola into clusters. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.
Make these ahead of time; cover them to store in the fridge for a few hours.
I’m always looking for a “silver lining” when I’m inconvenienced or when things just don’t seem to be going my way. Recently, I found that silver lining in a major road construction project that closed a through-fare that I frequented on my daily jaunt back and forth to work. Because of the construction, a detour took me down a winding country road that was quite scenic as the fall landscape was beautiful. Tucked in among the oak trees and farm land sat a roadside farm stand that was bursting at the seams with an abundance of cool weather vegetables, plump ripe tomatoes, and an assortment of peppers. The entire front yard displayed a sea of beautiful orange pumpkins where families strolled to pick out a few of their favorites. I had my eyes on the butternut squash as I pulled my vehicle to the side of the road. Hand written prices were scrawled on a mini chalkboard that was propped up against the old wooden flat bed wagon. A tin can was laid out for patrons to square up their bill and honestly leave the amount due. It was like a blast from the past. I was thrilled to have found this quiet piece of paradise alongside the road construction and the hectic traffic of the day.
Arriving home, I searched the web for a delicious looking recipe where I could use my butternut squash. I stumbled on this salad in a jar recipe and immediately gathered the ingredients I would need for the colorful dish. I chose this recipe because of the maple syrup in the dressing. We tapped our trees this past spring and I wanted to use our own maple syrup with the other dressing ingredients. I made a few slight changes to the recipe… Instead of pepitas, I used sunflower seeds and instead of the quinoa, I used couscous. I used a container of field greens for the salad mix. This is a delicious recipe that I will be sure to make again. Here’s the link for this “Fall Mason Jar Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing”…
Another school year begins…
Our daughter is beginning her clinical year up in Evanston, IL. Once again, we loaded up all of her belongings to move her into a cute little apartment, not far from the “Purple Line” in a beautiful part of town, just outside the Northwestern University campus. The cool breezes off the shores of Lake Michigan have made for an unseasonably cooler summer.
After settling her into the apartment, we walked into town to find a local place to eat lunch. We spotted an adorable restaurant called The Farmhouse-Evanston. The menu touted local foods, brews, and seasonal fare. With a chill in the air, the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich sounded wonderful. My daughter ordered it without hesitation. All through the meal, she raved about the creamy soup and hearty, three-cheese sandwich.
After returning home, I was inspired to make a big pot of flavorful tomato soup for the family. What a treat. This recipe makes enough to serve the whole clan with extras to pack into containers for weekday lunches.
…Outstanding soup! Don’t forget to garnish with pieces of garlic toast, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil.
Creamy Tomato and Basil Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large white onion, chopped
2 (28 oz) cans San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water
3 teaspoons chicken soup base
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup half and half
6 – 8 large fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasonings
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, don’t over cook. Add onion; stir and cook until translucent.
Add the two can of tomatoes with juice, chicken base, water, and sugar. Bring to a low simmer. Cook uncovered, for 12-15 minutes. Add the half & half, basil, Italian seasonings, salt and pepper.
Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Serve immediately with a hearty grilled cheese sandwich or a fresh salad.