Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Friday, September 28, 2007

Potato Cheese Soup

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Continuing the comfort food posts this week...

When I worked in the mall during college, my favorite lunch was when Marie Callender's had their potato cheese soup available. Oh, it was good! Years later, after living away from Marie Callender's for many years, Google comes along, and lo and behold...there is a knock-off version of this recipe available. Now, is it really their recipe? Probably not, but it sure is tasty & is near the top of my comfort food list.

Marie Callender's Potato Cheese Soup

On medium low heat in a 3 quart sauce pan sauté:
4 TB Butter
½ C Finely Diced Yellow Onion

½ C Finely Diced Celery

2 Cans Chicken Broth (14.5 oz)
1/4 C.Water

4 C Finely Sliced and Diced Potatoes (peeled)

Place on medium low heat and cook until potatoes are very soft and tender.

When potatoes are done add:
4 Chicken Bouillon Cubes
Cook until cubes have been dissolved.
Mash the potatoes slightly, leaving most of them in chunks.

Reduce heat and add:
2 + 1/4 C. Half and Half *
4 TB cornstarch (more if still runny)*

Stir mixture, and add:
8 oz Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese**
Stir until cheese is completely melted and dissolved into mixture.

1/2 tsp. Sugar*** 1/4 tsp. White Pepper

Let soup simmer very slowly for 20 - 30 minutes taking care not to let soup scorch. When ready to serve, garnish with shredded cheese and maybe a little parsley.

Can be doubled and frozen.

* Try using 2 C Half & Half, and less cornstarch. I find the consistency is a little better. Also, I recommend whisking the cornstarch with a little bit of the half & half (like 1/4 C of it) and then adding that smooth mixture to the pot. It won't get clumpy. I use Land O' Lakes fat free half & half.

** I added a bit more cheese, just because it was leftover from the block.

*** I skip the sugar.

I also add chunks of ham to this recipe. At Easter time I always have a lot of cooked ham leftover. I chop it up, and vacuum seal it, adding it to dishes like this later in the year.

Anyway, if you try making it, let me know what you think!

Added on 10/6/07: Last night I got out one of the frozen bags of soup. It thawed very quickly (about 20 minutes) in a sink of hot tap water. I poured the soup into microwave proof bowls, and heated it up. I was a wee bit worried that it might have a grainier texture after freezing. I honestly couldn't tell the difference between the just-made batch and the frozen batch. So, I'll be making more of this one.

Pinwheel Flank Steak

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I have a tried and true marinade for flank steak, so I've been in a rut with this cut of meat. Trying to cook out of the box (literally!), I tried this new recipe from Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer.

Though the cookbook doesn't come with pictures, three things drew me to it: 1) great reviews on Amazon, 2) the recipes list single & multiple ingredient lists, and 3) the dinners looked tasty! This is the first recipe I've tried from the book. (It's hard when my "To Try" cookbook of clippings & computer print outs has at least a hundred recipes in it!!)

I made this recipe in triplicate, because I was fairly certain we'd like it (we did).

Pinwheel Flank Steak (single recipe)

Pound to a 1/2" thickness*:
1 beef flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds

Combine marinade:
2 C red burgandy wine (I used a big ol' bottle of Gallo)
1/2 C finely chopped green onions
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Pour the marinade over flank steaks, and marinate for 3-4 hours.

Fry until almost done, but not crisp**:
1/2 lb. bacon

Combine the rest of the filling:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 C minced fresh parsley
1/4 C finely chopped onion***

Remove the meat from the marinade, and score the steak on both sides.**** Spread the filling over the meat, and add the strips of bacon lengthwise on the steak. Roll up the steak, starting with the shorter end. Tie with a cotton string at 1/2" intervals.***** Place the steak in a freezer bag, along with a little of the marinade.****** Remove as much air as possible from the bag.

To cook:

Partially thaw the steak. Cut into 1 1/2" slices, and lay flat until completely thawed. Use toothpicks to hold it together if necessary. Grill over medium heat (5-7 minutes per side) or until desired doneness.

*Yeah, that didn't happen. I pounded with all my rheumatoid arthritic might. It was about 3/4" thick, and worked just fine.

**I like my bacon crispy and done. So I cooked it completely, and crumbled it into the mixture. It worked fine. Next time, I would still cook it completely, but I would keep it in whole strips.

***My onion was from my freezer stash. See those white clumps?? Those are the frozen onion pieces.

****OOPS! Forgot to do this step.

*****Don't get too hung up on how you make your ties. It will work out.

******You have to realize this is from a freezer cooking cookbook. If you want to eat it the same day, I recommend putting it in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so, as it will be more solid for easier slicing.

My notes: My favorite way to prepare flank steak remains with my tried and true marinade from San Francisco Encore. However, this was a nice change of pace. It has a nice presentation, and I'd definitely make it again. I'd add a bit more garlic, but I tend to add a bit more garlic to nearly everything.

The cookbook also lists a Fresh Mango Salsa to serve with the pinwheel steaks. I did not make the sauce, but will list the recipe:

Fresh Mango Salsa

In a non-metal bowl, combine:
1 large ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/3 C finely diced red onion
3 Roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 1/2 t finely minced garlic
1 1/2 T fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T finely grated lime zest
1 small jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded, and minced
1/4-1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t sugar (or to taste)

Cover tightly, and chill from 30 minutes - 4 hours.

Just before serving, add:
2 T fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Comfort Food: Rice Pudding

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I'm the only one in my house who likes it, so it's not something I make very often. But when I'm not feeling well (like now) comfort foods really make life more bearable. Last night I made potato cheese soup (will share that recipe later), and today I made rice pudding.

I've tried many rice puddings, and my favorites are those that are baked like a custard, with the dish placed in a pan of boiling water.

<------Larger pan has about 2" of boiling water in it

Rice Pudding

4 eggs, slightly beaten
½ C sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups milk, scalded*
1 - 1 ½ C cooked rice
1 tsp vanilla

Mix ingredients, except nutmeg. Turn into a buttered, bowl shaped baking dish. Sprinkle nutmeg. Set bowl in a shallow pan of boiling water and bake at 325 for 1 - 1 ½ hours** or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

*I use fat free milk.

**Today, the recipe was done after 1 hour, 10 minutes of cooking. Usually the top has some cracks/splits in it, so I didn't think it was ready. But, when I jiggled the pan (another test to see if it has set) it was pretty firm. When the knife came out clean, I was sure!

Here's another recipe that I really like. However, I haven't made it in years because I rarely have heavy cream in the fridge, and I never ever have vanilla beans handy! If you do have these on hand, and want a killer rice pudding, I highly recommend this recipe:

Rice Pudding (Country Living, May 1992)

In 2 quart saucepan, heat to a boiling:
1 C water

Add, and cook for 10 minutes:
½ C rice
½ vanilla bean, split
1/4 tsp salt

Add and cook over very low heat until rice is tender:
2 C milk

Preheat oven to 350º.
Lightly butter a 1 ½ quart shallow baking dish.

In small bowl combine:
1 C heavy cream
½ C sugar
2 large eggs

Fold into the rice mixture. Remove the vanilla bean and pour rice mixture into buttered baking dish.

Sprinkle top of mixture evenly with:

Place baking dish in a larger baking pan.
Pour boiling water into the large baking pan to a depth of 1". Bake 30-45 minutes or until pudding is firm and top surface is golden brown.

Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate, covered, to serve chilled.

Oh, and I learned that someone else in the house likes it as well....the dog. The dog who finished off the bowl while I was taking pictures. *sigh*

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Freezer Log

Pin It My freezer space is limited to two top-freezers; one in the kitchen, and one in the garage. All summer I've been cramming stuff in there willy-nilly. It was so chaotic that every time we opened the freezer door packages of food would tumble out.

So, one shelf at a time, I pulled EVERYTHING out and took inventory. I divided the freezer space into six sections:
  1. Inside top: Pre-made meals
  2. Inside bottom: Fruits & veggies
  3. Inside door: Vegetarian foods
  4. Garage top: Premade meals, cheese, & misc.
  5. Garage bottom: Meat
  6. Garage door: Misc.
Looking at my freezer inventory log, I'm AMAZED at how much is actually in there. I won't get specific, but here's a condensed version of the log:
  • 21 packages of veggies (peppers, corn, onions, etc.)
  • 29 packages of fruit (berries, rhubarb, peaches)
  • 5 packages of nuts
  • 9 packages of cheese
  • 50 packages of meat (steaks, chicken breasts, sausages, hot dogs, cooked bacon, ham, etc.)
  • 41 packages of pre-made meals (serving sizes are about 4-6 people each)
  • 16 misc. packages (pesto, chicken broth, tomato paste, etc.)
One of my friends recently said that in an emergency, she's coming to our house! That would be long as the emergency is not a power outage. In that case we're limited to tomato sauce, jam, applesauce, peaches, pears, and bad salsa.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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The picture on the cover of my new "Cover and Bake" cookbook was calling out to me. After deciding that I would make it for our meal exchange in October, I decided that I actually needed to TRY it before feeding it to four families!

No from Cook's Illustrated haven't failed me yet. And this time was no exception. I chose "Baked Macaroni and Cheese" from this cookbook, despite having about a dozen of their Mac 'n Cheese recipes to choose from (2 from this book, and many others from past issues).

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
(Cover & Bake)

<-------The ingredients.

The recipe (which I doubled, and split into three pans; one for last night, and two to freeze):

Cook until al dente: 1 pound elbow macaroni

While that is heating up/cooking, add to a large (6 qt. +) pot, and heat (on medium) until melted:
6 TB unsalted butter

Add to the butter:
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Cook for about 30 seconds, and add:
6 TB (3/8 C) flour

Stir constantly until golden.

Slowly whisk in, and bring to a simmer:
1 3/4 C low-sodium chicken broth
3 1/2 C whole milk

Cook until large bubbles are on the surface (about 5-8 minutes). Remove pot from heat.

Mix in:
16 oz colby cheese, shredded
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add the drained pasta to the cheesy sauce, and stir until well-mixed.

Pour into a 9 x 13" baking pan and sprinkle with:
4 slices of sandwich bread, which have been crumbled in a food processor

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden on top, and bubbling on the edges.

To freeze: Prepare the recipe as stated above, but do not add the bread crumbs. Make sure to line the baking dish with heavy duty foil before adding the macaroni and cheese. Cover the dish and freeze overnight. When completely frozen, turn the dish upside down to remove the food/foil lining. Vacuum seal or wrap in Saran Wrap/foil and place in the freezer. Upon taking the food out of the freezer, unwrap and remove any plastic wrap. Place the foil lined food back in its original pan, and thoroughly defrost. Bring it to room temperature before placing in the oven. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs at this point.

Family/neighbor reviews: Katie said I could definitely make this again....her highest compliment. My friend, Tara, who is part of my meal exchange group, was a bit leery when I told her I was thinking of making mac 'n cheese next month. She swore no one in her family would eat it. She was so skeptical, I made sure to add, "It won't be from a box; it'll be home-made!" Still not sure, I brought a small bowl of it to her last night. Let's just say it was eaten quickly, and I was given full approval to make it for the meal exchange!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


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In the mail today was a package: three cookbooks from Cook's Illustrated. From time to time they email me about bargains. This time I took them up on it. Several of their older (3-5 years) publications were available for 1/2 price, AND they were throwing in a book (Restaurant Favorites) for free. Shipping was only $3.95, so I went shopping.

Cover & Bake, and American Classics were the two I ordered. Both had great reviews on Amazon. I'm looking forward to making one of the mac 'n cheeses for next month's Meal Exchange. I think October is a great month for a comfort food/casserole.

Entree Vous Premade Meals & Black and Yellow Argiope Spider

Pin It Those are the top key words people are plugging into Google, which lead them to this little blog. The first group must really be searching deep, because *I* don't find this blog when I search for those words!

Despite having one teeny tiny post and picture on the common garden spider, my blog shows up on page 1 of Google when you search for "Black and Yellow Argiope Spider." Huh. Considering there are oodles and oodles of websites featuring this spider (with a whole lot more information than I provide) I don't understand why this blog is on page 1 for that search. Boggles my mind.

What else are people searching for when they find my blog? Kid friendly ground beef recipes (I have one), freezer meals (I have several), potstickers (a great one with a fabulous sauce), batch cooking (a couple posts), and other misc. (usually food) terms.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cajun Curry Chicken

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I found this recipe from a magazine many years ago. I wish I could remember which one, but back then I just clipped the recipe, not keeping track of the source. Anyway, it's been a favorite of ours for a long time because 1) it's quite tasty, 2) it's very easy, 3) the sauce freezes beautifully, and 4) I usually have the ingredients on hand.

You can make it as spicy as you'd like, depending on how much cajun/curry seasonings you add.

Cajun Curry Chicken (Better Homes & Gardens)*

Mix the ingredients in a baking dish. Add the chicken pieces, and mix so they are all covered by the sauce.

1/3 C honey
3 TB water
3 TB dijon mustard
2 TB margarine
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes. Serve chicken and sauce over hot cooked rice.

Note: This sauce freezes well. If you like REALLY spicy foods, you can add up to 1 more tsp of Cajun seasoning and up to 1 more tsp of curry powder.

I've frozen the sauce separately, and with the chicken. Both work fine!

Sometimes I add chunks of red, yellow, orange, and green peppers to the pan. Onions are a good addition as well. When peppers are on sale at the end of the summer, I stock up on them. I store them chopped in the freezer. They're not good fresh (they get mushy), but taste just fine in cooked recipes like this one, or in a stir fry.

*Added on 9/23/07: Thanks to Kathy who clued me in to the source for this recipe!!

Late summer garden

Pin It About this time of year I seem to run out of steam when it comes to the garden. But this is not the time to just sit back and wait for spring! No...if I do that the weeds will overtake everything and plants I don't want to go to seed (Lemon Balm, anyone??) will spread to their heart's content. My usual garden plan is to fill a grocery bag of weeds/clippings a day. It takes me anywhere from 5-30 minutes to do this. If I keep up with that, my work is really quite easy.

Since school started back (2 weeks ago) I have been neglecting my yard duties. So I spent a couple hours working out back on Saturday. I cut back the Lemon Balm plant to the ground (2nd trimming for it this season). Also cut back: the Alaska Shasta Daisies. I WISH these would re-bloom. But no matter how much I dead-head, I never get them to last very long.

The sunflowers have lasted quite a while. They started blooming in mid-July, exactly two months ago. Next year I vow to plant more, as they really are quite cheery! I've been cutting many of the top-heavy old heads off of them so they 1) look neater, and 2) don't droop so much. But now I'm going to let several go to seed for planting next spring.

I stopped watering my pots a couple weeks ago as well. I know they would still be looking great, but I just simply ran out of energy for them. Sadly, I have tons of little drip system hook-up spots all over the yard. I REALLY need to figure out how to hook up the drip systems to the system I had installed 3-4 years ago. I even have a fancy-schmancy timer for it all. My goal for this fall/winter is to get it all hooked up so I can actually use it next year. (HA! That was my goal for last winter...instead I painted the family room!)

Speaking of family rooms, here is the view from our windows. This is one little bright spot in the yard that still looks pretty decent.
And this is just to the left of it, my shade corner that finally filled in this year.

Bargain bowls

Pin It With all the large quantity cooking I've been doing, I've found myself running low on large bowls. I'm always trying to make do with something too small, or just not right. I've been keeping my eye out for some inexpensive bowls, and today I hit the jackpot. At the store-that-will-not-be-named-because-I've-promised-Brian-I-will-never-
shop-there-if-and-when-we-get-a-Target-or-Costco-in-town, I found these:

6 qt. bowls for just $1.44 each. Bargain. I snapped up four for future projects. Now they just need to find a home.

In Search of a Great Salsa...

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For years now I've wanted to find a great salsa recipe. There are so many recipes, but the ones I always seem to try have been total losers. So this year, I decided, would be the year I find a great (not just good) salsa recipe. Even that can be canned.

Here's what I knew we liked: hot peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic. We like both tomatillos (which are the base for salsa verde) and tomatoes as a base. My favorite commercial tomato based salsa is Herdez Salsa Casera, which I've had since childhood. I have fond memories of sitting out on the beach in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico with tortilla chips and a can of Herdez (back then it was about 20¢ a can from Mexico). Just recently Brian and I found a total winner for Salsa Verde: Safeway Select's store brand! We brought it camping, and knocked the socks off of other food connoisseurs with this salsa. So, if this search for the ultimate salsa recipe bombs, thankfully, these two winners are readily available at the grocery store!

To start my quest, I found 10 recipes that looked good. Some were from the web, and some were from the Blue Ball Book of Preserving. Next I went produce picking! Unfortunately Draper's Farm (so close to my home...on Baker Creek Road, just west of Hill Road) had a dismal crop of tomatoes this year, and didn't have any available to pick (last year I think their prices were only 25 or 30¢/pound!). So I headed out to Bernard's Farm (Highway 18, between McMinnville and Sheridan), which also has peppers to pick. (I went a little overboard on the pepper picking and still have a BUNCH of chopped peppers leftover!) ALL my peppers and tomatoes came to just $19! It really pays to pick your own.

At home, I got everything ready...

The recipes basically had the same ingredients, so I thought I'd move quickly, canning all nine recipes in one day (I wasn't making complete recipes of each...just 1/4-1/2 of each). I picked on Friday, prepped the peppers, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes on Saturday. After all the prep work, I was done for the day! Thankfully Sunday's calendar was clear. Sadly, three recipes seemed to take up most of the day. On Monday I made two more (salsa verdes), ending up with five to try, rather than nine. My kitchen was a total pit for 3-4 days, and my dining room table covered (still is, as I'm determined to do 1-2 more salsas and some applesauce soon!) with canning jars and supplies.

Chopping the peppers was an ordeal. Thinking that the pepper guts (AKA the seeds/membranes) would make them too spicy, I did remove the insides from all the peppers, reserving them just in case. In the end, I had WAY too many peppers. The hottest pepper most recipes called for were jalapeños or "hot peppers". I was worried that the habaneros I'd picked would be too hot, so I settled for some jalapeños mixed in with other "hot" peppers that upon tasting were hotter than jalapeños, but milder than habaneros. (Yes, I tasted each pepper to determine it's hotness.) Next time I will not gut the peppers, but simply de-stem and chop. That will save me tons of time!

The results? Sadly, 2/3 tomato based salsas were WAY too sweet for our taste. None were spicy enough. The one with that was most promising is callled "Traditional Salsa", although it needs a bit more heat. Next time I'll make sure to use hotter peppers. It has potential. The others though...well, hopefully some of my friends will like sweeter, milder salsas because I have a LOT of those on hand!!

Now, on to finding a great salsa recipe....I've invited some friends to come over at the end of the month for a salsa tasting party. Each family is to bring a home-made (doesn't have to be a canning recipe, as many don't can) salsa and the recipe. We'll have some Mexican food for dinner (I'll make enchiladas) and try all the salsas. Hopefully I'll find a winner from that lot. If not, we still have Safeway and Herdez!

Here are the recipes I tried:


8 cups tomatoes, peeled and diced – may use three 28/29 oz. cans tomatoes,
well drained, (diced if whole); I added one 15 oz. can
diced tomatoes with roasted garlic & onion
2 ½ cups diced onion
1 ½ cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced hot peppers*
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. canning salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
29 oz. can of tomato puree
1 ½ cups tomato sauce

Mix everything together in large saucepan. Bring slowly to boil; boil gently for ten minutes (or less – be sure onions & peppers remain somewhat crisp).
At this point you could cool, refrigerate & use without canning if desired.
Pour into hot jars, cap with hot rings & lids.
Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yield: 7 to 8 pints.

MY NOTES: Too sweet, very mild. (The Blue Ball Book suggests 15 minutes of processing for all the other salsas, so that's what I did as well. *I used 1/2 of my "hot pepper mix" and 1/2 jalapeños. (Is sugar one of the ingredients that you can omit without disturbing the ingredient proportions in the canning recipe? I wasn't sure, so I didn't mess with that.)


We get about 40 pints of a lovely medium heat salsa with this recipe doubled... family & friends absolutley love it. For hotter than medium salsa, leave more seeds in peppers. I do not use a food processor - we do everything by hand because we love chunky salsa.

10 pounds (~20 cups) tomatoes
4 green, 2 red, 2 yellow & 2 orange peppers
6 med/large onions
~20 jalapeno peppers (about 1/3 with seeds)
2 banana peppers (remove seeds)
4 chili peppers (remove seeds)
4 tbsp. (~6 cloves) crushed garlic
4 small cans tomato paste
2 cups vinegar
8 tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. paprika
8 tbsp. sugar (can use less if desired)
8 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 tsp. dried oregano

Chop all veggies and combine in large, heavy bottomed stock pot. Mix together tomato paste and vinegar and add to veggies. Add all remaining seasonings. Stir frequently and bring to a boil over med - high heat. Simmer x 30min (or longer for thicker salsa). Put in 500mL jars. Process in hot water bath x 20min.

MY NOTES: Still sweet, but not as sweet as the first two. I used half of the recommended sugar. Mild.


7 cups diced seeded peeled cored tomatoes - -- (about 5 lbs. or 15 medium)
6 green onions -- sliced
2 jalapeño peppers -- diced
4 garlic cloves -- minced
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup vinegar, 5% acidity
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 drops hot pepper sauce

Prepare Ball brand or Kerr brand jars and closures according to manufacturer's instructions.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Carefully ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim clean. Place lid on jar with sealing compound next to glass. Screw band down evenly and firmly just until a point of resistance is met -- fingertip tight.

Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner. At elevations higher than 1,000 feet, boil 2 additional minutes for each additional 1,000 feet elevation.

This recipe yields about 4 pints.

Source: Ball's website:

MY NOTES: Better than the three above. Still mild, but a better overall flavor. Not as sweet. I liked the taste of the green onions. Needs to be spicier (use hotter peppers in place of jalapenos).


Recipe by Mary Victoria Parker
Yield 5 pints

5 cups chopped tomatillos
1 1/2 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
1/2 cup seeded finely chopped jalapeños
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 tbsp oregano leaves
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil. then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes at 0-1000 feet altitude. 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet

MY NOTES: Knowing I like things a bit hotter, I switched the peppers around, adding more jalapeños than the milder long green chiles. This one has potential. I only had a quick taste of it, as there wasn't any left over from canning. But it's not bad....


From Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving

5 1/2 C of chopped, cored, husked tomatillos
1 C chopped onion
1 C chopped seeded green chili peppers
1/2 C white vinegar
4 TB lime juice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 TB cilantro
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Prepare canner, jars, and lids.

In a large sauce pot, combine the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, and gently boil for 10 minutes. Stir frequently.

Ladle the salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rim, and center lid on jar. Screw band down. Process 8 oz. jars and pints for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, and remove jars.

MY NOTES: Of all the salsas I made this weekend, this one seems most promising. I'll let you know if I still feel the same after our salsa tasting at the end of the month.

Still to try making: From Blue Ball Book: Jalapeño Salsa, Peach Salsa (my mother-in-law wants some of this). And then I want to try my friend, Margy's Lime Salsa which we made last year. I think it will be better than any of the above tomato based salsas if I use hotter peppers than last year. I also have been wanting to try my friend, Heidi's canned salsa. She swears by it, so I'm eager to see if it's to our liking as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Teeny-Tiny Circle Band-aid and the Very Sharp Knife

Pin It So, for quite some time now, I've realized that my knives were simply not cutting it (literally). I had a set of Pampered Chef knives that I got as a half price host gift a few years ago. I got the set because I had been really pleased with the one knife I had bought from them a few years prior to that. However, the set I got was different from the previous set. It was supposed to be better...a better grip so your hand couldn't slip and slide and cut itself. The self-sharpening case had to be squeezed to sharpen the blade (a task which strained my wrists, so I'm not sure if I was squeezing tight enough...that could have been the problem). The former style of knives sharpened easily each time they went into the case. That particular knife continues to be one of my favorites. We keep it in the camper, but recently I've been sneaking it into the kitchen when I needed a sharper blade.

So, when I was going through my Cook's Illustrated magazines, their reviews of knives caught my attention. For the past two years they have been recommending the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife. It's at the top of their list, along with knives I've coveted (but put off buying) for years: Wüsthof and Henckels. And the price? From Cutlery and More, it was only $22.95!! With prices like that I also *splurged* on the 4" paring knife ($11.95). And to sweeten the deal, I found a 10% off coupon by using code SJ10 when I placed the order! (Shipping was reasonable too, at $4.95.)
The order was placed on Thursday, and the knives were in my hot little hands Monday. Sweet! I quickly opened the box, grabbed a tomato (which only my serrated bread knives and designated camper knife will cut) and chopped it up. I was impressed.

In a giddy mood, I was washing the chef's knife when.....SLICE.....I found out how sharp those knives were! The blood was gushing. I grabbed a paper towel (next time use a wet cloth...the dry ones were killer to take off the wound) and put pressure on the cut as I announced we were on our way to the emergency room! (We took a few moments to gather books, homework, etc.) and off we went.

Halfway through my visit, my friend, Jen calls and learns of my location. Ironically she sliced her finger a few days ago (MUCH, MUCH worse than mine). She came to be with my while my husband took Katie home. Friends are good!

While she was with me, I became aware that my "gushing" wound really wasn't as bad as I'd thought. I was half hoping I would need a half-dozen or so stitches to justify the trip to the ER. Sadly (or gladly???) the doc lifted the flap and said I needed a band-aid. (Earlier, with the gushing blood, even he, the medical doctor, thought it *might* need stitches, as he couldn't tell how deep it was. )

OK...a band-aid. I was partly glad that was all I needed, but of course bummed that I wasted 3 hours, and God-only-knows how much money to be told I only needed a band-aid. To make matters worse, the nurse gave me a circle know...the teeniest, tiniest band-aid in the box. I actually did ask for a larger one. You know, so I would have something to show for my pain; a big ol' bandage of honor.

I got the circle band-aid.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jerk Style Chicken and Island Rice from Cooking Light

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Today was my turn to cook for our meal exchange. I decided to make Jerk Style Chicken and Island Rice from Cooking Light (May 2004). My sister recommended the recipes to me, and they are YUMMY!! (5 star reviews on MyRecipes). You can make the chicken mild-hot, depending on what you do with the jalapeños.

First step, as always, was gathering the ingredients. The photo below shows the ingredients for the chicken (pretend that olive oil is in the pic too!).

Jerk Style Chicken

In a blender I mixed:

1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeño pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion

There was plenty of room in the blender to multiply this recipe by 4.

For the jalapeños, I cut out nearly all the membranes and seeds. I didn't want this to be too hot, as I was making it for families with children. I did, however, save the jalapeño innards, chopping them up separately. I placed them in a bag and gave one to each family in case they chose to add it to the chicken marinade. For dinner tonight our family made the marinade without adding the spicy parts...just to see how hot it was without the seeds/membranes. It was a medium hotness. To make it mild, I'd put in fewer peppers (more like 1 TB...I put in about 2 TB per recipe). If you like it hot, though, add the "extras"!

A lime zesting tip: The tool to the right is completely useless. See the lime on the right? It took me sooooooo long to scrape all that off. And I left too much good stuff on the lime. See the tool to the left? The microplane grater zested the lime to the far left. (I kept going and did the rest of the lime.) I'll be tossing out the tool on the right. (Although it does have a little blade to make curlies out of skins. But when have I ever done that??)

Once I had it all blended, I poured 1/4 into each bag. Then I put 10 thin boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces in each bag and sealed them shut. Into the fridge they went.

Nutritional Information: CALORIES 169(29% from fat); FAT 5.4g (sat 1.1g,mono 2.5g,poly 0.9g); PROTEIN 26.1g; CHOLESTEROL 84mg; CALCIUM 25mg; SODIUM 287mg; FIBER 0.8g; IRON 1.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 2.6g

This part of the dinner was complete. All they had to do was stick them on a grill and cook until done. Easy!

For free
zing: Simply blend all of the marinade ingredients, pour into a freezer bag, add your chicken, and place in the freezer.

Onto the Island Rice....

This complements the Jerk Style Chicken, so I included it in the exchange. I told the ladies that it was part of the main dish, but it's really a side. We only exchange main dishes, but sometimes a side dish fits the main dish so well, that it must be included. (Chili and cornbread come to mind). This was one of those times.

Island Rice

Bring 2 1/2 cups water to a boil.

Add the following:
  • 1 C uncooked, long grain white rice
  • 1/2 C chopped dried pineapple (I prefer smaller pieces of this)
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp grated lime rind
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Cover the pot, reduce to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes (no peeking!). Remove from heat and add the following:
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 TB chopped green onions
  • 2 1/2 TB fresh lime juice
Mix it all up and serve hot.

If you have a rice cooker, add the water, rice, pineapple, butter, lime rind, and salt to the rice cooker. Cook it just like you would white rice (on mine...I cover the pot, and move the switch to "cook"). When it's done, stir in the remaining ingredients.

Nutritional Information: CALORIES 171(9% from fat); FAT 1.8g (sat 0.8g,mono 0.4g,poly 0.1g); PROTEIN 2.7g; CHOLESTEROL 3mg; CALCIUM 26mg; SODIUM 117mg; FIBER 0.5g; IRON 1.6mg; CARBOHYDRATE 35.4g

When I made the rice, I doubled the ingredients and made it in two larger pots. It worked just fine!

Here is what each family took home:

Monday, September 3, 2007

20+ meals in 3 1/2 hours

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So my post from yesterday motivated me to make some meals "assembly" style.

I chose chicken as a base, because the hand-trimmed chicken was on sale at Albertsons. I LOVE the hand-trimmed chicken. Before this discovery, I spent many hours chopping off all the gunk from the boneless, skinless chicken breasts: the tendons, fat, thick icky parts, etc. Last year I did a cost comparison. I bought chicken breasts for $1.89/lb. After I trimmed all the gunk off, I re-weighed them, figured out the cost, and realized it was nearly exactly the same as I would pay for the sale priced hand-trimmed chicken (2.99/lb.). So I quickly ditched buying the bargain breasts and now wait until this particular chicken is on sale.

My plan was to choose four recipes*, shop for the ingredients, set out on the counter all the supplies/ingredients, do a little prep work, and then...fill the bags assembly style!

Here are the plans, complete with step by step instructions and recipes. The first two are pretty much complete, while the last is more like a "Meal Starter"....there is a bit more work to do when it's time to cook them. But most of the work will be ready in the bag!


Cajun Curry Chicken (CCC)

Mix the ingredients in a baking dish. Add the chicken pieces, and mix so they are all covered by the sauce.

1/3 C honey
3 TB water
3 TB Dijon mustard
2 TB margarine
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes. I often place red, green, and yellow peppers in the dish as it cooks. Serve chicken and sauce over hot cooked rice.

Note: This sauce freezes well. If you like REALLY spicy foods, you can add up to 1 more tsp of Cajun seasoning and up to 1 more tsp of curry powder.

Grilled Herbed Chicken (San Francisco Encore) (GHC)

8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

½ C olive oil
½ C lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
1 TB rosemary, fresh & chopped
1 TB tarragon, fresh & chopped
1 TB sage, fresh & chopped
1 TB oregano, fresh & chopped
1 TB chives, fresh & chopped

Marinate at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. While grilling, brush frequently with the marinade.

Kung Pao Chicken (KPC)

Small Bowl:
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 TB sherry
2 TB soy sauce
1 TB white wine vinegar
3 TB water

Medium Bowl:
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 TB cornstarch
1 TB sherry
1 TB canola oil

Chop: 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Place them in the medium bowl and let sit until ready.

Have ready in 3 small bowls:
4-6 chile peppers
½ C peanuts

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp crushed garlic

2 whole green onions, chopped
Chopped stir fry veggies (peppers, carrots, peas, baby corn, etc.)

Heat wok. Add 1 TB canola oil.
Add peppers & peanuts. Remove promptly.
Add 2 TB oil.
Add garlic & ginger. Stir.
Add chicken mixture until opaque.
Add peppers, peanuts, green onions, & any other stir fry veggies.
Add small bowl of sauce.
Cook until mixture thickens.


All measuring cups & spoons

  • honey
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • cornstarch
  • sherry
  • white wine vinegar
  • canola oil
  • cajun seasoning
  • curry powder
  • pepper
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • soy sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • lemon juice
  • margarine
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh Tarragon
Herb Garden:
  • fresh chives
  • fresh oregano
  • fresh sage
  • fresh rosemary

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 TB rosemary, fresh & chopped
  • 1 TB tarragon, fresh & chopped
  • 1 TB sage, fresh & chopped
  • 1 TB oregano, fresh & chopped
  • 1 TB chives, fresh & chopped
Chicken: The Kung Pao Chicken takes about 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts per recipe. The other marinades make enough to season/coat 6-8 boneless, skinless breasts per recipe. When I prep my chicken breasts, I actually slice the breast in half, length-wise, so they are a little thinner. This way they tend to cook a little quicker, whether it's in the oven or on the grill.

To figure out how many chicken breasts you'll need, plan on 6-8 for each marinade recipe, and 3 for each Kung Pao Chicken recipe.

Tonight I made 3 CCC (18 thin breasts), 3 GHC (20 thin breasts), and 3 KPC (3 breasts chopped into bite sized pieces) recipes. This took a total of 21 skinless, boneless, chicken breast halves from the store.


Wanting to be like the meal assembly stores, I wanted to drop my freezer bags into buckets. I looked around my home, and couldn't find anything practical. So I searched the aisles at the big store (nameless because I hate shopping there, but you can find nearly everything...) with no luck. I found some glass, stainless steel, & ceramic canisters, but they were pretty pricey. As I was leaving the store, I saw a huge display of Sunny D drinks in plastic jugs. The jugs would be PERFECT, I thought. And, at only $2 a bottle, it was a steal. The "juice" inside was an added bonus. The jugs were going to be used immediately, so I poured two of them into my neighbor's juice containers, and one into my own. (The fourth is still full as I just used three today.) After discarding the liquid inside, I cut them up and came up with this:

I lined the buckets with zip-loc style bags. I'd recommend using freezer bags (they are heavier and better for freezing) unless you'll be vacuum sealing them in the end.

Then, one recipe at a time, I simply started adding the ingredients to the buckets. THIS was the fun part! Plop, plop, plop...within minutes I had three meals...then six...and more! COOL!! There were a couple times when I lost track of how many teaspoons I'd added. That was when the handy-dandy kitchen scale came in handy. I simply weighed the buckets, and if the one in question was a little low, I added more.

Grilled Herbed Chicken (San Francisco Encore)
½ C olive oil
½ C lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
1 TB rosemary, fresh & chopped
1 TB tarragon, fresh & chopped
1 TB sage, fresh & chopped
1 TB oregano, fresh & chopped
1 TB chives, fresh & chopped
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Cajun Curry Chicken
1/3 C honey
3 TB water
3 TB Dijon mustard
2 TB margarine
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Kung Pao Chicken

Quart bag 1:
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 TB sherry
2 TB soy sauce
1 TB white wine vinegar
3 TB water
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Quart bag 2:
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 TB cornstarch
1 TB sherry
1 TB canola oil
chopped chicken from 3 breast halves

(Because the KPC is in two smaller bags, I placed quart sized bags into plastic containers that I had on hand. The two smaller bags went into a larger bag to keep them together. There are still some steps to follow when making the dish, but this prep work will really make the rest much easier.)
Soon after I had 11 bags of meals ready for the freezer. Each bag will provide 2 meals for our small family, plus some leftovers for lunches. I started at 2:30 (getting out all the ingredients) and was cleaned up by 6 p.m. In fact, we had friends over for dinner and we were ready for them!

*Originally this post included a fourth recipe, "Chicken with Gloppy Marinade." The "20+" meal total includes the meals from this recipe. While it is a yummy dish, it wasn't a good freezer meal. The sauce came out way too salty, and the texture just wasn't right.