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.
As I was preparing for a weekend get together with some out-of-town visitors, I picked up a tray of precut vegetables to serve with ranch dip for a poolside snack. The tray included an assortment of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and snow peas. While the vegetable tray was a big hit among our guests, having other sweet and delicious snacks left me with a few extra vegetables when it was time to clean up. …No worries, as I could always use the left overs for a big summer night pasta salad. In fact, using the precut veggies can really save time in the kitchen. Searching the fridge for other left over ingredients, here’s the impromptu recipe that I pulled together:
Summer Night Pasta Salad
1 pound fun-shaped pasta
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, sun dried tomato mix)
1 (16 ounce) bottle Marzetti Sweet Italian Dressing, or to taste
2 cups tomatoes, diced (sprinkled with a little salt, optional)
2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped broccoli
1/2 cup chopped carrots, optional
6 ounces precooked summer sausage, chopped
1 cup mozzarella cheese
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente, rinse under cold water and drain. Whisk together the Italian seasoning and Italian dressing.
In a large salad bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, and sausage. Pour dressing over salad; toss. Sprinkle with mozzarella and refrigerate overnight.
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.
When strawberries are in season, I usually try to make several batches of fruit leather for my family. Rolling strawberry fruit leather on wax paper strips makes for a delicious, nutritious, summer treat.
On my daily drive home from work, I pass a local strawberry farm so I usually stop by to pick up a few buckets of fresh berries. There are lots of recipes for fruit leather, many encourage the addition of sugar and lemon juice. For me, I’d rather find the sweetest, freshest berries possible, pulse them in a blender, and pour them into trays to dehydrate. Simple and sweet, a pure delight. Here’s what I do…
Start with sweet fresh berries… Mine are freshly picked
Dry at 135 degrees for 4-8 hours. Using your finger, press to make a small indentation in the fruit leather. It should not be wet or sticky. It should be tacky. Check in a few areas around the fruit leather disk. Peel the disk off of the silicone sheet while still warm. Lay on a sheet of waxed paper.
While I used 6 cups of strawberries, here are a few adapted recipes recommended by Nesco Dehydrators:
3 cups applesauce
3 cups strawberries
Or, try mixing:
2 cups applesauce
2 cups bananas
In a blender, puree all ingredients. Pour onto Solid Fruit Roll Sheets.
Place on dehydrator trays. Dry at 135º F for 4 to 8 hours, or until leathery.
Remove from sheets while still warm. Let cool, slice and wrap.
Roll and store in dark, dry, cool place or in freezer.
I was recently asked to do a food demonstration at a local county fair. I thought it might be fun to showcase some of the new home food preservation products and make some lemon and strawberry jam. I bought a bag of lemons, some sugar, pectin and fresh strawberries for the occasion. A few portable appliances were easy to load into the back of my car and plug into the electrical outlet at the Home and Family Arts Building. I had a blast making jam for all of the folks visiting the fairgrounds. I was happy to answer questions and drum up some new found interest in canning. If you have never preserved food or if you’re looking for a fresh new way to can fruit with ease, check out some of the new items on the market and get busy canning nature’s bounty!
Sprinkle in the pectin…
Add the crushed strawberries…
A fresh additon… lemon zest
Time to give this a stir…
Add sugar and bring to a rolling boil… This is an amazing little appliance. Portable, electric, and easy to clean… Small batch canning is highlighted with this jam and jelly maker.
Getting ready to process…
Set to “canning mode”…
Lemony Strawberry Jam
Check out the recipe at the link below. Follow the recipe exactly as written. This is a must when preserving foods. No substitutions, unless directed. Always use reputable, tested recipes for home food preservation.
This past holiday weekend was mild and breezy…the perfect opportunity to head up the road to a local farm to purchase some plump, ripe blueberries. The trip was inspired by my niece who had been “baking up a storm” to celebrate her mother’s (my sister’s) birthday. My sister celebrates her birthday on Independence Day so her daughter prepared a few festive goodies for the occasion. After seeing a few pictures of the table setting for the party, I was inspired to uncover our vintage Mustang convertible and take a drive down the country road to pick up a five-pound box of freshly picked berries. This is one of my favorite pie recipes as it is super simple, made with fresh, bright flavors and ingredients. There is nothing like sharing a piece of blueberry pie after dinner on a Sunday evening with the family before starting another busy work week.
Blueberry Pie with Oat Crumble Topping
1 pre-made pie crust
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
5 cups fresh blueberries
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
6 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Press the pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ pie plate. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and flour, lemon zest and lemon juice. Gently stir in the blueberries. Carefully, pour blueberry mixture into the pie crust.In a medium bowl, stir together the brown sugar, oats, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix in butter using a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Spread the crumb topping evenly over the pie filling.
One of my co-workers sent me a text the other night. She wanted to know if she might be able to successfully dry some of her sour cherries in the oven. Her cherry tree had produced a bumper crop of fruit and she was creatively thinking of ways to preserve the bounty. I quickly suggested she borrow my dehydrator as it is super easy to dry fruits and vegetables in this portable unit. In return, she offered me some of those beautiful sour cherries. I felt like one lucky girl!
I quickly pitted, chopped and bagged the fruit to put in the freezer as I wasn’t quite sure what I would make with them. Cherry pie filling… sour cherry jam… muffins … scones? I settled on Iced Sour Cherry Muffins. What a great choice as these muffins are tart and sweet, packed with a good dose of sour cherries. The recipe only needed two cups worth of fruit so I froze the rest of the cherries for another day, another recipe. I used some of the batter for muffins and the rest for a small loaf of quick bread. Again, I am one lucky girl!
Iced Sour Cherry Muffins/Quick Bread
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup orange juice
⅔ cup canola oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 heaping tablespoon orange zest
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups sour cherries (pitted and chopped)
2 tablespoons brown sugar and cinnamon instant oatmeal (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If making muffins, line pans with paper liners or use silicone muffin cups. If making quick bread, spray small loaf pans with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl mix together buttermilk, orange juice, extract, canola oil and egg; mix well. Next, add the orange zest, flour, sugar, and baking powder; mix well. Carefully fold in the cherries, just until combined. Scoop batter into muffins cups about ¾ full. Sprinkle with instant oatmeal mix (optional).
Bake for 25 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. (If making 7×3″ loaves, fill and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.)
Let rest for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing.
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk or orange juice
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ingredients and mix well. If glaze is too thick, carefully add extra juice or water (a 1/2 teaspoon at a time) until mixture is smooth and creamy. Lightly drizzle glaze over cooled muffins.
As the spring season ushers in warmer temperatures, I am focused on the blossomed plants that will soon produce ripe, succulent berries. My last year’s supply of Bumbleberry Jam is running low so I am hopelessly awaiting the opportunity to pick fresh berries and the prospect of an abundant canning season.
There is nothing sweeter than a freshly baked scone or a slice of whole grain bread slathered with creamy butter and a heaping scoop of Bumbleberry Jam. We also enjoy pairing the jam with a hearty helping of extra crunchy homemade peanut butter to assemble the classic PB&J. Oh, it’s all so berry delicious!
Below you will find the link for this incredible jam. Always remember that using a reputable source for canning recipes is imperative. Some of these sources include the National Center for Home Food Preservation, University Extension Websites, and Ball or Bernardin Recipes. These organizations have thoroughly tested recipes making sure to focus on food safety guidelines.
It’s relatively simple to make jam. Follow the directions exactly as written and you’ll end up with a safe, delicious product. Most jam recipes require an abundance of crushed berries…
Then you’ll often need some pectin and sugar…
You’ll need a large pot to mix all of your ingredients together according to the directions…
After processing the jars in a water bath canner for the recommended time, you’ll let the jars sit to cool for 12-24 hours…
The Bumbleberry Jam recipe can be found here:
Ball has a recipe for Mixed Berry Jam that tastes delicious as well. Here is the link:
The first day of fall has hit the Midwestern region and it seems that gardens are producing a bounty of veggies that need to be picked and processed before the cooler temperatures set in. Once again, a few local growers were kind enough to share an abundance of beautiful produce that was beyond what they could consume. I was thrilled to see a small bag of assorted hot peppers in the mix. The orange, red, and green, color combination would make for a beautiful display in canning jars. Because I would only have enough to fill one large jar, I decided to make refrigerator pickled peppers rather than canning them with a water bath method. This is a quick and simple way to make the great tasting flavor of the peppers last as they sit on the refrigerator shelf and marinate in the sweet and spicy vinegar solution. Use these peppers to top an Italian salad or to add some flavor to a grilled sandwich. Simply delicious!
Sweet and Spicy Pickled Peppers
2-4 cups sliced peppers
2 cups white vinegar
1⅓ cup water
1 tablespoon canning salt
2 tsp sugar
Canning jar(s) with tight fitting lid(s)
Wash jar(s) with warm soapy water; air dry. Pack the sliced peppers in jar(s). Set jar(s) aside.
In a saucepan, combine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar completely. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour mixture over the peppers making sure they are completely covered. Twist on a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator. As the peppers sit, the flavors will develop. Store refrigerated for 4-6 weeks.
Well, it’s that time of year again! Ready for the picking are clusters of deep purple grapes hanging off of the vines in my back yard. While the last couple of years have brought bumper crops to our lot, this year’s pickings have been a bit slim. This didn’t stop me from making a few of our family favorites…flavorful grape juice and grape jam.
There’s no greater satisfaction than to grow and process your own produce. Several years ago I planted two Concord grape pods and they have grown to cover a large open area with a plentiful bounty of fruit. Fresh air, rain and sunshine nourish the plants throughout the summer months until the gorgeous fruit are ready for picking. I don’t water, fertilize, trim or fuss. This is my kind of gardening! The reward for leaving the plant to do what it naturally does; lots and lots of grape jam and juice that will last throughout the year.
Above is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book published by Alltrista Corporation.
Here is another method that produces similar results…
Homemade Concord Grape Juice
TO EACH STERILIZED QUART JAR
2 cups washed and cleaned concord grapes
1/2 cup sugar
In sterilized jar place 2 cups grapes.
Add 1/2 cup sugar.
Fill with boiling water leaving 1/2″ headspace.
Seal jars at once with 2 piece lids. Process in water-bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove from canner and let sit for 24 hours. Remove metal lid-bands, and label with date and contents. Let juice stand 3 to 4 weeks before using. (The longer you let it sit, the greater the concentration.) Strain juice from grapes and use juice. Refrigerate after opening.
For a great tasting homemade Grape Jam, try this Ball Blue Book recipe…