Archive for the ‘Preservation’ Category

When I told folks I was going to make my own homemade baby food..they laughed. “Yeah, we will see how much time you have for that after the baby comes…” It’s mind over matter people!

Well, if you were to come on over to my house and see the bags of baby food I made over a year’s times for my son- you would be impressed. I was always experimenting with new combinations of flavors and textures.

I choose fresh vegetables mostly (shopped at local farmers markets), and the fruits and vegs that are high in pesticides typically, I purchased either locally or frozen.

If you are unsure about the differences in homemade baby food compared to the jarred stuff- just make a batch of sweet peas.  I used this example the other day for a Parents As Teachers baby food cooking class I put on.  I made sweet pea puree and showed how brightly colored the peas were. The jarred stuff looked like a brown-green color and I’ve never known a baby to like peas. Well, mine did, it was one of his favorite foods as a baby and as a toddler.I’m also made sure Caston had an adventurous palate by incorporating things like avocado, salmon, pumpkin, butternut squash and even kale. I think kids are picky eaters bc they aren’t shown how fun food is!  By making your baby’s own food, you can show them the adventures of the food pyramid and the farmers markets is a great place to start.  And, don’t fret…just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that all market are closed.  There are many communities that offer winter markets.

If you are interested in making your own baby food check out these resources:
Baby Center
Wholesome Baby Food

Cookbook: So Fresh

Once a week I took about an hour and made a couple batches of baby food and froze the food in ice cube trays and some freezer cups. Then, when ready to use some of the food pull out only what you will need (yeah- no waste) and you can either thaw overnight in the fridge or microwave in a bowl.

I whole-heartily believe this is the best food for your baby….no preservatives and additives just fresh and healthy food!  Give it a try, you won’t be sorry.

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Pepper Jelly

I’ve posted some recipes for pepper jelly in the past and given a couple of great marinades to use this diverse treat. But, I know folks are always searching for new ways to use pepper jelly, so I thought this post from Serious Eats would do the trick.

1. Spicy PB & Jelly: Bring a little spicy style to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

2. Spiked Monte Cristo: Mix equal parts mayo and pepper jelly, spread evenly over two slices of bread, layer smoky ham or turkey with Swiss or Gruyere cheese. Dip finished sandwich into lightly beaten eggs seasoned with salt and pepper, lightly brown in a buttered skillet, cut in half and enjoy.

3. Simple Stir-Fry: In a skillet, sauté chicken slices in canola oil, add a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies, season with teriyaki sauce and crushed red pepper and finish by swirling in pepper jelly until melted.

4. Glazed Honey-Drunken Salmon: Simply mix together bourbon liquor, honey, melted butter and pepper jelly until evenly incorporated. Spread over salmon, and cook until done.

5. Mediterranean Turkey Burgers: Mix together ground turkey, melted butter, dried sage and pepper jelly, season generously with salt and pepper, and throw on the grill.

6. Sweet and Sour Pork: Cube pork into 1/2-inch cubes, and brown in a skillet with oil. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together pineapple juice, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and pepper jelly until smooth. Add mixture to a few minutes before removing pork from skillet, stir, simmer and serve.

7. Spiced-Up Vinaigrette: In the bottom of a large salad bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, grainy mustard and pepper jelly until emulsified. Add lettuce, tomato and other salad ingredients to bowl, and gently toss to coat.

8. Fish-n-Dip: Mix together equal parts horseradish sauce with pepper jelly; serve this dip alongside any deep-fried fish for a uniquely tangy and spicy bliss.

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The soup that will warm your soul

When the leaves begin to turn shades of rust, orange and yellow I get inspired by one simple dish that can always be turned out in a short time in my kitchen.

Tomato Bisque is a perfect combination of local tomatoes, onion, basil and some freshly chopped chives from my herb garden.  And, don’t fret – local tomatoes can still be found at local markets and if you are lucky some growers also grow hydroponic tomatoes.

This is a recipe that will become one of your favorites this fall – I assure you!

Tomato Bisque
1 med onion-thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
4 large tomatoes, stewed in Italian seasonings
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Croutons and Parmesan Cheese for garnish

In heavy saucepan, sauté the onion in butter for 5 minutes.  Add tomato, bay leaf, brown sugar, basil, cloves, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes.Remove bay leaves and cloves. Puree rest. Strain if you want a very smooth soup. (I like the little pieces of tomato) Add cream, milk and heat well, do not scald.

Serve sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and croutons.

Stewed tomatoes you ask?  Here is a simple way to stew and can your own tomatoes.

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Homemade Apple Butter

I remember watching my grandmother make homemade apple butter in her farm kitchen.  It would take all day, but it was well worth the work!  She used her Crock Pot to slow cook the mixture, which she said made the taste even better.

She and I would make a trip to a market or a local orchard to pick up our apples and pay a visit to a couple of her lady friends, which she would always have extra apples for.

Local apples will start showing up at the farmers markets and roadside stands soon…so be ready!  This is a perfect recipes for those of you wanting to try your hands at making your own apple butter this season.

Local Apple Butter
5 1/2 pounds of local apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped
4 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a slow cooker place apples.  In a bowl mix the sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples in the slow cooker and mix well. Cover and cook the mixture on high for 1 hour.  Then, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 hours, stirring about every 2 hours.  Uncover the slow cooker and continue to cook for one more hour and whisk the mixture well.

Spoon mixture into canning jars or freeze.  Enjoy all season long!

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French Pumpkins at the farmers market

The nip in the air is intoxicating!  Fall is trying to make an appearance and I welcomed it wholeheartedly.

With fall brings a new array of garden vegetables to the farmers markets, things such as butternut squash, pumpkins, acorn squash, apples and a lot of the same items you see pop up in the spring like spinach, broccoli, cauliflowers, kale and others.

I always welcome fall with open arms and embrace the new season of foods that my local farmers provide.  But, remember each market is different so don’t go to your local market and expect to find all of these goodies.  What will be available at your market depends on the farmers that planted fall gardens this summer or have access to grow in high tunnels.

When I think of fall, I am reminded of the smell of pumpkin pie fresh out of the oven.  My mother taught me to make homemade pumpkin puree from the French pumpkins my father grew in his garden.  I can honestly say that I’ve never bought canned pumpkin and plan on never having to.  Making puree is simple and stores perfectly in the freezer.

If you are a new mom, be sure and make extra pumpkin puree for your little one.  Pumpkin will taste similar to squash.  I would add a little cinnamon to my son’s pumpkin puree to make it even more special.

Making Your Own Pumpkin Puree
I grew up in a family where we grew our own pumpkins in the garden. My dad always bought heirloom seed and planted a French variety pumpkin that made the BEST pumpkin pie.

We would grow our pumpkins, puree them and measure out a specific measurement of puree then place in freezer bags and freeze the puree until we were ready to use it. That way all we would have to do is go the freezer, thaw the pre-measured pumpkin and add it to our recipe.

Personally, I do not like ANY canned pumpkin. I tasted others pumpkins pies made with the canned stuff- and I will pass on dessert!  Maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment eating my own processed pumpkin, I don’t’ know. But I know there is a major taste difference in canned vs. processed. It’s a fairly simple process to actually process your own pumpkin puree also. I think many folks think it’s a very complicated and time consuming process – not so!

First, pick out a small sugar pumpkin. Not the large Jack-o-Laterns you see in fields or for decoration. Those types of pumpkins have a very fibrous flesh and are not as sweet tasting as the smaller varieties. The smaller variety only weighs about 4-8 lbs, has a good stem intact and needs to have no soft spots of blemishes.

You can find these smaller cooking pumpkins at farmers markets, specialty stores and sometimes even grocery stores.

To make your puree:
Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, remove seeds (but save them, they make excellent garnishes for dishes and are great toasted) and stringy fibers, and place cut-side down on a greased baking sheet. Add about 2 cups of water to the baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F until the pumpkin is soft to the touch. You may have to add a bit of water throughout the cooking process.

Scoop out the pulp and puree in a food processor until smooth. You may have to add a little bit of water in the food processor or blender to get the mixture to puree smoothly. Cool before using or storing in freezer bags.

I like to pre-measure all my puree in freezer bags. This way it’s very easy to go to the deep freeze and pick out 1 cup 2 cups, ect of measured pumpkin puree.

To celebrate the turning of the season here’s a simple soup that will warm your soul this winter!

Pumpkin or Butternut Squash Soup
2 tbs. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
3-4 cups sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 whole butternut squash)
3 cans (14.5 oz. each) chicken broth
½ c. honey
½ tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
½ tsp salt
1 tsp. pepper

In large pot, melt butter, stir in onions and garlic. Cook and stir until browned (5 minutes). Stir in carrots and celery and cook until tender (5 minutes.) Stir in potatoes, squash, chicken broth, honey, and thyme. Bring to boil and simmer for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Place mixture into a food processor and mix till smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and season with salt and pepper.

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Pepper Jelly

My mother and I make Jalapeno Pepper Jelly every year to give to friends during the holidays.  Straight out of our garden we pick  peppers and prepare the kitchen for jelly making.  This takes quite a bit of time, but is worth the wait.  You can find the recipe we use here.

Most folks only know one way to consume this delicate and spicy jelly- with cream cheese and crackers.  Yes, that is one of my favorite ways as well, but there are a lot of other options to be aware of.  Such as using the jelly as a marinade or basting sauce for pork and chicken.  Pepper Jelly is perfect with grilled meat – give it a whirl this weekend.

You can find many local farmers selling Pepper Jelly at area markets, made from peppers from their own gardens.  Ask your farmers what their favorite way to use Pepper Jelly is- I bet they can provide a wealth of knowledge.

Here is one of my mother’s favorite recipes that uses her homemade jelly as a baste.

Jalapeño Pepper Jelly Glazed Chicken with Corn and Zucchini
Recipe from 1997 Gourmet

6 plum tomatoes (about 1 pound)
1 pound zucchini
1 cup packed fresh coriander sprigs
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 cups fresh corn (from about 3 ears)
2 tablespoons jalapeño pepper jelly
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 pounds chicken cutlets
2 tablespoons cream cheese

Prepare grill.

Seed and chop tomatoes and cut zucchini into 1/2-inch pieces. Finely chop coriander. In a heavy skillet cook onion in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, corn, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

While corn mixture is simmering, prepare chicken. In a small saucepan melt jelly over moderate heat, stirring, and remove pan from heat. Stir in lemon juice and chili powder and divide jelly mixture between 2 small bowls (to prevent the potential contamination caused by uncooked meat juices). Pat chicken dry and brush with jelly mixture from 1 bowl. Season chicken with salt and grill on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals until just cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side. With a clean brush, coat chicken with jelly mixture from other bowl.

Stir cream cheese into corn mixture until melted and stir in coriander and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve corn mixture topped with chicken.

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Heirloom Tomatoes from the Farmers Market

It’s tomato season and farmers markets are busting with colorful arrays of tomato varieties.  I’m going to be sharing secrets to finding the perfect tomato and I’ve got a tomato dish that is simply delish.

How to Buy Tomatoes
-Don’t worry about tomatoes with weird shapes. Even cracked skin is okay, but leaking juice and soft spots are not.
-Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size.
-Smell Tomatoes should smell earthy and tomato-y, never musty or flat
-Taste This is where farmers market shopping really pays off – you can often taste the tomatoes before you buy them.

How to Store Tomatoes
Treat tomatoes gently. Heirloom tomato varieties, in particular, tend to be quite fragile. So don’t pile the tomatoes in a bag where their weight will squash one another, and always pluck vine-ripening tomatoes off their vines (or the vine stem off them) to avoid having the sharp vines poke holes in your precious cargo. But above all never refrigerate tomatoes (one of the biggest mistakes many make). Temperatures under 50° turn tomatoes mushy and mealy.

Now that we know how to choose tomatoes and store them properly – let’s get cooking!

One of my go-to’s in the kitchen for an easy recipe is always homemade tomato sauce.  And, making your own homemade sauce is simple and healthier- as the canned and jarred stuff (which is okay for a substitution occasionally) is full of added preservatives. 

1.) Get Your Tomatoes Started
Both large and small tomatoes work great for sauces – like beefsteak and plum.  First, you will need to remove the skins of the tomatoes.  The easiest way to do this would be to par boil them.  On the bottom of the tomatoes, cut an “X”.  Then, place the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds or until the skin begins to come loose.  Remove the tomatoes from the water and place in an ice bath (large bowl of ice water).  Once the tomatoes have cooled, remove the skins and chop the tomatoes.

I make a couple batches of par boiled tomatoes and then freeze the cored, peeled tomatoes to cook sauce in the winter as well.  This will allow you to savor the tomato season year-round.

Classic Tomato Sauce

2.) Your Seasonings
When it comes to seasonings I like to say recipes are just “roadmaps” to guide you, but that you don’t have to follow.  I typically add onions, garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil – which are tomato sauce basics. But, feel free to also add parsley, thyme,red wine,  fennel seed and even bay leaf.  I also try and use fresh herbs from my garden, but remember if you use dried herbs use less because the dried version is much more potent.   Want some more zing to your sauce, then try a couple shakes of red pepper flakes.

Saute the onions and garlic, then add the par boiled tomatoes and roasted 3 roasted carrots.  (Yes, carrots.  I always add roasted carrots to my sauce.  I have found it makes a richer tasting sauce.) Add the other ingredients of your choice and cook on medium for about 40 minutes, until thickened.  I puree my sauce in a blender for a smoother sauce, but you can leave in chunky.

Season with salt and pepper.

3.) Store Your Sauce
I freeze my sauce in gallon freezer bags and I also can my sauce throughout the summer.

Savor tomato season year-round with your own homemade tomato sauce.  Check out your local farmers market for a variety of tomatoes to get you started!

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Start with a platter full of local veggies

Over the weekend I pulled out a recipe that I couldn’t wait to try – Pasta Primavera!  I got online to Food Network and printed this great summer time recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. 

This recipe is packed pull of veggies found at your local market.  I added the juice of one lemon for an extra punch.  For leftovers we added some grilled chicken to the mix for a complete meal.  Enjoy!

Pasta Primavera

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a large heavy baking sheet, toss all of the vegetables with the oil, salt, pepper, and dried herbs to coat. Transfer half of the vegetable mixture to another heavy large baking sheet and arrange evenly over the baking sheets. Bake until the carrots are tender and the vegetables begin to brown, stirring after the first 10 minutes, about 20 minutes total.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss the pasta with the vegetable mixtures in a large bowl to combine. Toss with the cherry tomatoes and enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve immediately.

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Eggplant is one specialty crop that gets overlooked at the market.  Most consumers know one way to cook these delicious produce- deep fried.  But, there are many other avenues to travel down when searching for eggplant recipes.

Before you run out to your local market to purchase eggplant, there are a few tips I want to offer.

Eggplant Season: Mid-July through September.

Growing:  Eggplant lives off hot weather and sun, yum yum!

Expectations:  Pick ‘em with firm, shiny skins and resilient flesh for freshness.  Smaller, younger eggplants like you find at the market have thinner, edible skins, & smaller seeds, unlike the big purple-black ones, which have to be prepped to cut their bitterness, concentrated around their larger seeds.

Nutrition:  Eggplant is high in fiber and low in calories.  It has a fair amount of potassium, anti-oxidants, and low amounts of a variety of other nutrients.

Storage: Keeps a week in the fridge if in an open plastic bag – it needs some air, but the bag will keep it from drying out, too.

Why buy it local: Variety!  There are wide array of colors and lengths of eggplant at the farmers market.  Be sure and ask your farmer about the varieties they offer.

Preparation Tips:
– If your eggplant is the large classic kind, you should salt it to leech out the alkaloids that cause bitterness.  Cut into ½ inch slices or cubes, and sprinkle with salt all over.  Let sit about an hour, then rinse well and squeeze to remove extra water.  This is not needed for little eggplant varieties, which are much lower in these unpleasant compounds.

– Salting also helps prevent excess grease absorption during cooking, by compressing the little pockets of moisture which also pull in the fats.

– With the big kind, you may also want to peel it if it seems tough.

Ways to Cook Eggplant
– Roasted (My favorite): For whole little ones, pierce a few times with tip of a knife to vent steam, & place on tray in 350 oven for around 30 minutes, until very soft.  For big ones, cut in half, salt as above, & place cut-side down on oiled baking sheet & bake longer.  Or grill ‘em- so worth the smokey flavor.

– Stir-fried: The little ones work best.  Slice & add to a heated oiled skillet.  Stir frequently over high heat until well browned (try mixing with quartered mushrooms & splash of soy sauce).

– Fried-fried: Cut in ½ inch thick slices, & salt & squeeze your eggplant well for this one.  Heat half an inch of oil in a skillet until very hot (but not yet smoking), and gently slide in eggplant. Don’t crowd the pan, or they’ll be soggy. Turn a few times until well browned and tender.

Eggplant Spread

Eggplant Spread
4-6 roasted small eggplants, skinned and minced
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
Handful of chopped clinatro
2 T olive oil

Warm oil in skillet and cook onion until soft and lightly browned.  Stir in garlic add eggplant pulp.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, lemon juice, cumin and clinatro.  Perfect served with pita chips.

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Grilled peaches from the Christian County Farmers Market

Nothing spells summer like fruit.  And if there is one fruit that symbolize the heat of the summer- it’s peaches.  There are two major types of peaches: “Freestone” and “Clingstone”. Freestone peaches have flesh that slips easily away from the pit. With Clingstones the fruit clings to the pit!

How to tell if the peaches are ripe?

One thing to keep in mind is that once a peach is picked from the tree the fruit will not ripen any further, they only soften.

Softness: unless you like your peaches very firm, pick your peaches with just a little “give” when gently pressed. Peaches at this stage are great for eating, freezing and baking.

Odor: It should smell sweet and ripe!

I’ve picked up some peaches here at the market from a local orchard that are perfectly ripe.  I’m going to be grilling peaches today- one of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy in the taste of the summer.

I grilled up peaches from Ozark Mtn. Orchard in Highlandville, Mo., today at the Christian County Farmers Market and consumers raved about this simple dessert.  My family loves to throw some peaches on the grill while the coals are still hot, plate the peaches and then top with vanilla bean ice cream.

Fresh from the Farm

Grilled Peaches
4-5 peaches
1 stick of butter
Sugar, optional
Vanilla Bean Ice cream

Slice peaches in halve and coat with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon.  OPTIONAL- sprinkle with sugar.  Grill until soft, about 3 minutes per side.  Top with ice cream.

When you come home from the market with a peck of peaches try spreading the peaches on towels and separate any damaged fruit immediately.  Put a couple of days supply into the fridge, wash and cut the others and freeze them up to savor the peach season.

Head on out to the market today and enjoy the sweetness of the season.

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