Archive for the 'Cooking Recipes' Category

Zesty Black Bean Garden Soup or Salsa

August 7th, 2010

I think I’m a foodie…  not only do I enjoy eating food from around the world, but it’s really fun creating new experiences, especially from the garden!

There are few things as rewarding as creating food for the table from vegetables you’ve grown.  With this recipe you can include many garden favorites, and make enough to have year ’round.

After a particularly bountiful summer in 2009 full of ripe garden tomatoes,  I came up with a new recipe for a soup or salsa dipping relish that includes black beans, corn and jalapeno and green peppers.   I’m not sure how I stumbled my way  there, but it’s really good!

Better yet it was pretty simple to make- just dice and blend up a bunch of veggies and can them. Not difficult really-the most cumbersome aspect is making room for some large pots, and boiling the sealed jars for a while.  If you’re not into canning for the pantry shelf, you can still use this recipe by letting it cool and putting in the fridge, or freezing for storage.

Personally, I love looking at jars of canned veggies and other treats from the garden- especially during those long winter months!  Nothing like thinking about the garden to perk you up on a snowy day.

Here’s the garden vegetable ingredients I used for this recipe:   20-25 ripe medium tomatoes, or the equivalent, blended up, 5 half-ripe red, green and orange tomatoes- diced, 3 jalapeno peppers and 4 green bell peppers- all diced, one cucumber diced up (without the seeds), one or two diced medium onions, two ears of cut corn (or 2 cans of corn), and two cans of black beans (rinse and pour the water off).

Ingredients for the sauce: 1 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of vinegar, a half cup of sugar, up to 1/4 cup of garlic powder depending on your taste, and then healthy dashes of salt, white  and black pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley flakes, sage, oregano, cumin, ancho chili powder,  paprika, tumeric, two tablespoons of yellow mustard, a half cup of molasses, two tablespoons of BBQ sauce(!) of your flavor, a quarter cup of soy sauce, and a little dash of extra seasoning or spices of whatever you like to taste.

And what’s a dash anyway?!  Maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon?

Here’s how I put it together: I chopped the 25 tomatoes and blended with half the jalapeno, green peppers and onions as a thick foundation.   I don’t peel the tomatoes- some folks might want to.  I find that when chopped and blended, there isn’t much skin- and it doesn’t bother me if it’s there.   Same with the other veggies.

Bring the foundation base slowly to a low boil, mixing the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, barbecue sauce and mustard, molasses and soy, and then reduce and simmer for 20-30 minutes while adding the remaining spices and seasonings. Let that simmer for a while to really mix the flavors, and use the time to prepare any other veggies you haven’t got to yet.

Then add the rest of the diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans and corn.   Let it simmer for another 30-40 minutes, cooking down the veggies. Then right before pouring into the jars and canning, add 2-3 more diced tomatoes and 2-3 more diced green, orange or red peppers for color. These will remain a little less cooked and give the garden salsa/soup a firmer texture.

Remove from the heat and and ladle into jars… carefully, it’s hot!

Process for 40 minutes in a water bath or pressure canner for safe long-term storage (or not if you’re going to put in the fridge and eat sooner).

It made 11 pints and came out as a zesty garden soup or salsa… delicious warm or cold and not too spicy.   I call it zesty to keep the “taste temperature” down a bit so more folks can enjoy it.

For a delicious meal, throw some tortilla chips in bowl and pour your Zesty Garden Soup over the top, cover with a favorite cheese… yum!   The 9-year old boy loved it so much he had two bowls… it’s already a family favorite with his grandma, aunts and uncles, and they remember it at all the holidays with chips for dipping!


The tomato plants are on the decline now, but I hope we still have another round of tomatoes for sauce and more cooking adventures. Just what you need to do in the August heat, right?! :)

Speaking of cooking, another blackberry pie made the rounds… I really love pie, and surprisingly I really enjoy making them!

This time I used a “pie bird” for the first time.  Saw it at a local farm store and thought I’d give it a try.   Pretty cool… you just stick it inside the pie when you fill it, and pull the top crust gently down the top. The ceramic bird helps vent the steam and keeps the pie filling from bubbling over.

Have a great week!

Summer Gardening, Picking Blackberries and Eating Weeds!

July 14th, 2010

Sometimes it seems difficult to keep up with everything, not to mention writing and sharing pictures.   The days pass with so many changes and it’s hard to share them all.   So rather than several shorter posts, I’ll catch up today with a long one!   Yesterday I started making a “to-do” list… that was a mistake! Think I need to make a “Would like to do” list” and a “Whenever I get around to it” list.  Come to think of it, I’ll throw in a “Definitely should not do” list as well!  Somehow my brain keeps these lists as thoughts floating around, crossing some off, adding others.

Some days my thoughts are efficient and organized, stepping with vigor from one to another.  Other days it’s simply managed chaos, flecks of needs interspersed with wants, smiles and muttering and usually enough desire and concentration to get the job accomplished.

Then I take a break, have a cup of coffee or three glasses of water (sometimes both…) and sit out by the barn.  Maybe a Coke now and then!  I might look towards the water and see the wind blowing on the pond, letting thoughts and cares take form and move around like the little waves… and  looking closer I can almost see shapes and movement.   Light dances across the water and the wind makes the waves look like chocolate and reminds me of the richness of my coffee… it looks inviting.

Then I begin again, but not without taking a few pictures along the way.    Near the bee hives I see what looks like the underside of a Black Swallowtail butterfly hanging on a poke plant.   I try to get closer and it flies away…

Later it’s time to make the rounds in the garden.  This is a strange year- the potatoes wilted early and died, but not before yielding a nice bounty of fresh young tubers for the summer.   The tomatoes are all suffering from wilt and black-spot, so I need to cut off the diseased leaves and try to save the plants.  If that wasn’t enough we’ve taken over 20 tomato worms off the plants!  They appear like magic… you pick off a few one day, and the next day there’s more.   They are kind of pretty looking…

Don’t be fooled however, that green worm is a monster!  These little guys can really chomp a tomato plant back in a matter of hours it seems.  Well sometimes they’re little- yesterday I took one off a plant as thick as my thumb and as long as a finger!   Since I really love tomatoes, they’ve just got to go.  I don’t till the garden soil, but that may be something I’ll start next year as a strategy for disrupting the life stages.   This site has a nice description of the life cycle of the tomato hornworm moth and larva.  The moths are beautiful, and even look like hummingbirds when in flight around flowers.   But the green worms are not long for the garden.  Fortunately the chickens really love them… bleck!

Otherwise the garden is coming along okay.  The beans are not as prolific this year- something is munching their leaves too.   We’re trying to keep things natural and organic, but I haven’t stayed ahead of the critters.   How sad is that- beans are a no-brainer!  I may plant some more.    The boy did plant some sweet corn a couple of weeks ago and it’s coming up nicely.  Hopefully we’ll have some for the table in late Septemember…

The cucumbers are doing great however, and they taste wonderful as a fresh salad, especially with tomatoes, and a little vinegar and oil for seasoning.   I saw a recipe I’m going to try that had chopped mint leaves in a cucumber salad… maybe tonight!   And carrots… they look kind of like weeds sometimes (meaning they get picked inadvertently!).  But we packed so many in the row when planting seeds that we’ve been pulling a few to make room for their growth.

After the garden it’s back to work, or a different kind of work anyway.   Cutting and trimming the grass and weeds!   A weekly cycle in the warm season.

Do you use a weedeater or trimmer?   It’s a wonderful invention and a great help around the property,  but they sure are noisy, smelly and finicky.   I know… bad for the environment, they use gas and oil, blah, blah, blah.  I do care about the environment and do the best I can.  It’s often a tradeoff… and unless you know of some really fast automatic scissors to trim acres of weeds that don’t use a mower,  there’s not many options.

Oh, I have a small electric trimmer too.  Works great for about 10 minutes in very light grass- the boy uses that to help out, and goes through several NiCad batteries very quickly, which over the years lose their charge and are also an environmental problem in terms of disposal.   I have a half-dozen cordless electric tools that I love, but they are not for long-term heavy-duty use.   Good for quick, light work and for a city or suburban yard, but not for hours of trimming on a rural property.  It  can literally takes a few days to trim the places that need it around here.

Often I just let the grass and weeds grow in many areas, and then trim them once or twice a season.  The pond’s dam is one example, which is nearly an acre of tall grass and weeds  such as queen anne’s lace right now.  That’s a tradeoff too because the landscape will soon turn to woody shrubs and then trees.

Leaving the grass uncut also fosters erosion in many places because it shades out turf at the lower levels.    A good carpet of grassy turf keeps water from tearing up the ground when running downhill… and we have a lot of hills leading down to the pond.   Like many things in life, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit, putting thoughts and good intentions into practice is not so simple.

I’ve had a half-dozen different makes and models through the years, and there are few things more frustrating than trying to pull-start a weed trimmer that simply won’t run.    Or getting new line put on the spool… sometimes the line feeds out, and sometimes it’s a mess.  How does it tie itself in knots?!

But they really get the job done pretty well if you need to trim a lot of grass.  One of my favorites in terms of reliability is an inexpensive Bolens brand from Lowe’s.   I found it quite by accident after one that I had for two decades finally stopped working.  Well, the fuel lines are all messed up and I can’t find a part to fit it yet.

That favorite old weed trimmer was an IDC model 500 Supreme (tan casing at left in pictures), and I was never able to find another one like it.  Until last fall.  Turns out that IDC was bought by Ryan… and then Ryan/IDC was bought by Ryobi, which was later bought by TTI out of Asia, and apparently some aspects of the design now have a Bolens brand on them.    Consolidation in the business world, go figure.

The particular design that I like has a combination of light weight and motor/line strength that works very well for most grass and weeds.  And it just keeps on running.   My old IDC model ran for almost twenty years… on the same spark plug!   The funny part is that I remember paying $69 for that IDC model way back in 1989.

How much did I pay for this Bolens model last summer?   Yup…  $69.    From an inflation perspective, the new trimmer is far less expensive.   The build quality is still pretty decent- and as you can see in the pictures, it is nearly the same exact design.   The new one handles about the same and seems just as light and reliable.    Heck, I may even get another one as a spare since I really like this model.

If money were no object, a trimmer with the Stihl brand would be awesome.  I have a Stihl chainsaw that is amazing, but their products are pretty steep in cost.  For the chainsaw, safety is a big factor so I wanted something the industry uses and that would last.   I don’t think you can go wrong with a reliable inexpensive weed trimmer however.   And let’s just say I don’t recommend the brand whose name is synonymous with its purpose of being a weedeater.   I’ve got three of those in the barn that have been finicky and problematic for a lot of folks, not to mention heavy!

Our other activities over the past week included picking more blackberries!  Hooray!  The boy loves to pick them, but isn’t too thrilled with the stickers.  I think you get used to moving around in a briar patch if you take your time.   He’s not convinced… but he likes to eat them!

They are really good though- as long as you get the sweet ones.   I kind of like a mix of sweet and tart, so I don’t mind picking some that aren’t quite ripe yet.  The pinkish one’s will fill our buckets another day…

After a good hour we had nearly two quarts of berries.   We had some fresh for ice cream and the rest go into the freezer.

I have learned that there are cake people, and pie people.  Sure we all eat some of both at times, but honestly?  I’m a pie person… I just love pies of all kinds, especially berry pies.   Something about the juicy, sweet and tart flavors all combined.   We finished this one off last week, but I’m going to make another!

In a month or so we’ll have some grapes maturing, and this year I’d like to make a Concord grape pie.   I’ve made jelly and jam from the grapes, but never a pie, so that’s on the “to do” list.   I did plant some wild plum on the property, and I hope I get to see them bear fruit … I’m always looking for other wild edibles.   Some folks have wild grape or muscadine on their property.  We have them but I’ve never seen any substantial berries, or perhaps the birds get to them first.

So here’s a large muscadine vine I pulled down from a walnut tree this week.  They grow so vigorously that they can tangle a tree in a season or two, and eventually the tree’s growth is impacted.  This one was close to thirty feet up the tree, and had grown for the last few years- so I cut the vines at their base, and towed it en masse across the pond dam to the burn pile.   I looked reeeally closely to make sure there was no poison ivy in the mix!  I keep a pile of branches and dead woody vegetation for burning during the wetter seasons.  Maybe I should plant and cultivate a muscadine vine.

One of those “whenever I get around to it” items on my list is cutting the pond’s dam.   I hope to cut it soon, and as the grass dries out in the summer heat it will become lighter and easier to cut.  It’s not a job I really enjoy because of how steep it is, but it really does help keep the dam in good shape.    We did clear off some cattails near the base of the dam yesterday…  they look nice, but you really don’t want them growing abundantly.

The ground can become too wet and marshy if you let these types of plants grow, and then they attract the types of animals that start burrowing in places you don’t want them too (like a dam!).   Each year we have a few of them, but make sure to take them out.  Water seeps from down from the land bordering the dam, and a little bit near the base.    It’s been that way for at least twenty-five years, but I like to keep it trimmed each year.  Stay tuned…

So this week’s project included spending a few days with weed and brush cutters going around the perimeter of the pond.    First I went around cutting the woody plants and trees that always try to grow, and then I use that weed trimmer to cut down the taller grass and pond weeds.   It helps to keep the banks relatively clean, or else those shrubs and trees really get a foothold.  It’s a lot more work to cut down trees and brush, and I’m not letting a single cattail take root!   Perhaps I just like a more open look… it just seems more relaxing :)

One of these days I’d love to get a used sickle mower… it would hang off the tractor about seven feet or more with a long row of teeth, and then simply cut around anything you wanted it to (like the pond!), or under fence rows, etc.    Of course the only problem with more tools, motors and gadgets is that you have to store them and maintain them… and more junk is not what I need right now :)   Well this was a little longer than I planned… thanks for coming by especially if you’ve read this far.   Now it’s time to head out and fix something.  Have a good week!

Jam and Jelly Skies in Summer

August 28th, 2008

The past few days have started a fun-filled week of outdoor activities, fresh air and just good ‘ole fashioned country living.   Which translated means getting a lot of work done and not writing on the blog nearly enough.  But it seems many of the trees have been shedding branches this summer, so it’s been round-up time for the big burn pile.  Next time we get a good day or two of rain, we’ll think of burning some brush.

Catching up with the grass and garden is also part of the mix, and we’re seeing what may be the last of the hot summer days this week.

But what is it about a beautiful sunset that fires the imagination?  Cutting the grass in the evening the other day I watched the sky turn to dusky orange, pink and purple.  For a brief moment the pond and the sky are almost one, glowing with color.

Sunset at Fox Haven © Fox Haven Media - 2008

Which reminds me of the colors of elderberry jam and grape jelly.  Those Concord grapes from a few days ago?  I decided to mess up the kitchen and they’ve already been converted to delicious, gooey jelly.  Beautiful purple and very grape tasting, with a little tart flavor to go with the sweet.   Here’s a bowl of concord grape juice after cooking only 3 pounds of those grapes down for about 20 minutes.  It’s so neat to have something from the yard turn into something you can use in the future.

Homegrown Concord Grape juice ready to make jelly

But even better is the Elderberry jam, at least I think so.  From the middle to late August, the elderberry plants are full of fruit, with heads or corymbs of purple-black berries.  It’s a strange little berry that doesn’t taste very good by itself.  Some folks believe the berries are toxic if not cooked first.  Never made it before, but after learning about elderberries I thought it would be a neat experiment.  I combined the elderberries with a little of the Concord grapes and the flavor is wonderful.   I’m no expert with jam or jelly, but it seemed to turn out pretty well.

Corymb of fresh Elderberries

Where did I get the elderberries?  Some were found on our property, but even more from driving the countryside and spotting a bush here and there.  Today I even spied a few full heads of berries off a main road (one used for this picture!), and I had to park quite a ways down and walk back.  I just couldn’t let them be wasted… so there I was, feeling guilty walking past several country houses, standing in a roadside ditch cutting off heads of elderberries.

I know the folks driving by wondered what in the heck I was doing. And yes, these are little berries, not much larger than BB’s.  How do you get them off?  It takes time with a fork or nimble fingers (which will turn purple in a short while).  One of the easiest ways is to freeze the whole bag full of the heads of elderberries.  Then bring them out and the berries pop off much easier, as well as much more “bug free”!  But although tedious, the end result is worth it.

There are many types of elderberry around the world, and a few that are too toxic to eat.  Even our local Sambuca nigra can be toxic if one eats the leaves or stems, and some say the raw elderberries are toxic as well.  As I said, the berries don’t taste very good fresh, but when made into jam or jelly it becomes very special.

Dad making Elderberry jam and Concord grape jelly

So I cooked 2+ pounds of elderberries down for about 20-30 minutes, and then combined them with pressed Concord grape juice from about a pound of grapes.   Of course both the elderberries and grapes went through a food mill after cooking them down in order to remove the seeds and skin, resulting in the juicy, pulpy mix above ready to make jam or jelly.  Some recipes use cheesecloth or something to strain the cooked berries to a clear juice, but I love the pulpy mix in the jam or jelly, so the food mill helps retain a thicker mix.

Homemade Concord Grape jelly

And look how much jelly that same juice has made!?  I’m amazed what you can do with a few pounds of grapes.  Homegrown and homemade from the garden in less than a week.  Not sure I can see doing this very often however, as it’s a messy business.  But the family enjoyed eating the grape jelly after helping to pick, stem and make it.And it’s Oh so good!  Just a little tart and yummy sweet combined, awesome for toast or biscuits.

The grape jelly set beautifully within in a few minutes, but my first time at making it meant that the elderberry jam is a little thin still and hasn’t set quite yet.  And I even made it twice to try and get it to set!  Think it needed more sugar, but I was trying to keep the sugar content as low as possible.  No matter, as we’ll use it for syrup or a health tonic.  Some believe elderberry juice can help ward off cold or flu and serves as an immune booster.

There is a product I like called Sambucol which is an Israeli-developed elderberry syrup that has been shown to have anti-viral effects for flu.  It’s not cheap, and who knows if it really works. But they make a good argument for the health effects, and maybe those old-timers knew something we didn’t about elderberry syrup and wine?  Elderberry was also revered as a magical plant in 17th century Britain and Europe.  They say that fairies live and play around elderberry plants and that on the Isle of Man every house has an elderberry nearby to ward off evil spirits.   Around here those fairies must dance a lot to avoid getting run over by cars with all the elderberry plants on the roadside! ;)  But most of the literature involves the medicinal aspects, and apparently a host of folks use the early summer flowers as a tonic or for herbal teas.

I don’t know much about all of that or the health aspects, but the jam sure has a unique flavor and if it’s even remotely healthy that’s good enough for me.  As with the grapes, I need to find a wine-making mentor…  and that will be whole ‘nother matter!  Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Time for Pickles… Yum!

August 19th, 2007

A few years ago I started canning… trying to bring back a lost art, at least for me! More importantly, it was a way to use the abundance of vegetables we could grow in the garden, and keep some of that wonderful warm season foods for the winter.

So the journey began while making a batch of pickles from the garden cucumbers.  They turned out pretty tasty, but a little soft.  This year we have an abundance of cucumbers again, and I did some more canning last week.  Our garden is a work in progress… mostly the progress of weeds!  But the cucumbers and tomatoes are very forgiving.  Oh, and the jalapeno peppers have grown like crazy, so I canned a few jars of those too.

Aside from almost passing out when I got too close to the simmering broth, it went pretty well.  Pickles are probably the easiest… which is good for a beginner like me.  Now we have a bunch of jars for winter.  But I would love to learn how to can more vegetables, and maybe next year will get a pressure canner.  I’ve been a little hesitant to do the pressure canning yet, but we’ll see.  I love canned beans and stewed tomatoes, so that’s my goal for next year.  But the pickles sure look good!

Somewhere I read that grape leaves help keep the pickles crisp, so we threw in a leaf in each jar, and added some fresh dill and garlic seasoning with the mix.  The 6-year old helped with filling the jars…  he loves pickles too!  Do you can your vegetables?  And is it hard to really put up a variety for winter?  I’d love to hear from those of you who do a lot of canning!

Home grown cucumbers made into pickles!

Your Own Cellar?