Roasted Eggplant–a how-to guide for easy roasting, freezing and preparing

Eggplants Growing in a Container--Nubia VarietyHere in Southern Wisconsin, eggplant has enjoyed a great season but it is nearly at an end.  Get to the farmers market before it is all over–you still have time –and buy some beautiful, large American or Italian varieties.  Get a bunch—think 2 large eggplants per dish. Roast and freeze them now and for the rest of the year, you’ll be able to whip up some amazing tasting dishes lickety split using locally grown eggplants.  Baba ganoush is one of my favorite roasted eggplant dishes but so many world cuisines use this beautiful, meaty, veggie in so many creative ways. (Skip to the end for some inspiration and motivation to get you to the market.)

About: Eggplants come in many shapes and sizes, with the exception of Hmong Red and African varieties bred to be bitter, they all have a similar mild taste and meaty texture.  While any variety can be roasted, the fleshier Italian and American varieties work best.

How to Roast Eggplants: Charring the skin of the eggplant imparts a rich, smoky flavor to the flesh—an essential flavor to any roasted eggplant dish.  Eggplants can be roasted in a 400° F oven, but it takes an hour or more if the eggplant is large. Also, the skin doesn’t blister enough to create a strong smoky flavor.  Try one of the following methods instead:

Eggplant Roasting on the Grill

Grill Method 

  1. Place whole eggplant on a hot grill.
  2. Char each side of the eggplant for about 8 minutes; turn with metal tongs—about 30 minutes altogether.
  3. Once the eggplant is charred evenly, place in a bowl and cover with a plate or a non-reactive pot with a lid to steam. Allow the eggplant to steam and cool—at least 15 minutes.
  4. The eggplant should be completely caved in on itself and the flesh soft. Peal off the charred skin.  If there are a lot of seeds, remove some.  If the flesh does not seem to be completely tender, finish cooking in the microwave. Discard the liquid; it may be bitter.Eggplant Roasting & Steaming

Oven Broiler Method: Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead, place eggplant on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler.

Stove Top Method: Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place eggplant directly on the grate of the stove top and turn gas to high.  This only works with gas stoves.

Storing in the Refrigerator: Roasted eggplants will keep for 3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags Eggplant--Roasted in Freezer Bags






Storing in the Freezer:   Eggplant cannot be canned or dehydrated. You could peel, blanch, and freeze fresh eggplant, but why bother as it looses its texture and has a bland flavor.  Instead preserve it by storing roasted eggplant in sealed freezer bags; the difference between fresh and frozen roasted eggplant is indistinguishable. NOTE2 lbs. fresh eggplant yields about 1 cup roasted.

  1. Place 2 large, roasted and peeled eggplants in a freezer bag. (about 1 cup)
  2. Press flat removing all air.
  3. Label and date.
  4. Place stacked bags in the freezer.  They will keep for a year or more.

Cooking Methods:  Roasted eggplant is served mashed—from roughly chopped with a lot of text to a fine puree. Try pairing it  with various seasoning and spices for a great dip, spread, or sauce.  Add some stock and cream and you have a soup.

Add 1 cup roasted eggplant with the following seasonings:

  • Japanese: 1 Tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon mirin; garnish with 1 stalk green onion finely chopped
  • Korean: do the same as Japanese and add one small clove garlic mashed to paste and 2 teaspoon Korean chili pepper or 1 teaspoon paprika and a pinch of cayenne
  • Mediterranean: one small clove garlic mashed to paste, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 2 Tablespoon chopped mint or cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Greek: juice of half a lemon, one small clove garlic mashed to paste, 1 Tablespoon mince oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Pickling Spice–How and Why to Make Your Own

Homemade Pickling Spice--In a Jar

If you’re reading this, I assume that you pickle.  And if you are already committed to that old-timey homesteading endeavor, you might as well take the next step, and make your own pickling spice too.   Yes, it is worth it:  making your own takes very little time;  ensures a fresher product than the ready-made pickling spice you find at the supermarket; allows for combinations of spices that you choose; and costs much less.

For the freshest product sold at the best price, go where you’ll find a high volume of sales.  First stop—the Indian grocery store.  India is home to the Spice Coast.  You‘ll find nearly every spice that you need here sold for a song.  Allspice, the rare New World spice, can be purchased at local Middle Eastern or Caribbean Mom & Pop shops. Lastly, dill seed is reasonably priced at the supermarket or try a Jewish or Polish grocery store.

To really get in touch with your pioneer roots, try growing some of the spices. I plant dill every year and it just goes to seed eventually.  I collect some seeds to use in pickling spice and the rest just replant themselves—the perfect lazy gardener specimen. Like dill, cilantro also goes to seed quickly.  I collect all I can though I usually have to buy some too.  I guess we eat our cilantro too fast to make enough seeds. Lastly, I  buy the chilies from the farmers market and dry them on newspapers or in paper bags.

Once you have purchased or dried all of your spices, transfer them from bags to jars or containers with tight fitting lids.  I recycle peanut butter jars and the like for this purpose.  Storing spices in a jar keeps them fresher and makes them easier to handle. Just be sure to label them with the spice and the date.Storing spices in recycled containers

The recipe below is what I use during the fermenting process for cucumber but it may be used in fresh pack pickles too.  I usually triple the recipe and that lasts 1 season of pickling.

Pickling Spice
Recipe type: Herbs & Seasonings
  • 3 T mustard seeds
  • 6 Mediterranean bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 - 6 dried red chilies, crumbled
  • 1 T whole allspice berries
  • 1 T dill seed
  • 1 T coriander seed
  • 1 T whole black peppercorns
  1. Mix and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

This is a flexible recipe so I let the girls do the measuring and mixing completely.  No knives, no fire, what could go wrong?

Homemade Pickling Spice--girls measure and mix

Working as a team without my instructions. Just reading the recipe!

Homemade Pickling Spice--girl crushes bay leaves

Crumbling bay leaves–perfect activity for little hands.

Homemade Pickling Spice--cutting the dried chilies

Using scissors to crumble the chilies–probably should have had her use gloves as we had an itching eye incident. Oops.  Good thing it happened to the tough kid.

Girl Holds Homemade Pickling Spice

Ready for pickling.

For more information and recipes on pickling and fermentation see the following links:

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Vanilla Lime Spirited Cherries

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Child Picks CherriesFive years ago I bought a little self-fertilizing dwarf sweet cherry whip from Jung’s nursery – a variety called Black Gold Sweet Cherry.  Gardening with edibles is my passion; unfortunately my yard is less than ideal for such a hobby.   The word “postage-stamp” comes to mind when describing it.  In addition to its limited size, a large maple and a north-facing growing space limit sunlight.  Despite these challenges, I have (in my humble opinion) managed to create a fairly pleasing landscape with a number of edibles.  Over the years I have had some epic failures in my edible gardeniGirl Picks Cherriesng adventures but also some smashing successes.  This sweet cherry tree is the latter—a prolific producer of sweet cherries in a tight space with sub-optimum sunlight.

Hands Full of CherriesWe picked a record 6+ pounds of cherries this year from this little tree. The unprecedented bounty caught me by surprised and sans a cherry pitter.  Cherries have a short shelf life.  No way to eat them all fresh and no desire to pit even 3 pounds with a paper clip.

Canning in syrup without pitting seemed the obvious choice. Canning with the pits has some cons.  The pits dictate that you must eat them out of the jar as is—no future cherry pie or jam making as you could with frozen.   On the pro side, canning with pits adds a lovely almond flavor to the cherries.  If I use them as garnishes in drinks then I don’t think anyone will be overwhelmed with the nuisance of pit spitting.  Olives have pits.  Fresh cherries have pits.  People can deal.

And since I’m using the preserved cherries in drinks, why not throw in a bit of booze with the syrup— spirited cherries.  Given my intractable pioneer sentiments, I normally wouldn’t waste my precious cherry crop on such a frivolous food enterprise.  “Do we really need spirited cherries to make it through the long, cold winter?”  (This is the way my mind works, people—obsessive compulsive utilitarianism).  But, actually I do need these to make it through the winter, and they will serve a purpose because back in January, at the Tosa Ladies Book Club annual planning meeting, I volunteered to host our Christmas Party.   I have had the privileged of being a member of this book club for 10 years and I know from experience that a few of those gals take their cocktails very seriously.  Spirited Cherries shall serve as the foundation and inspiration for the required holiday cocktail.  I’m thinking Manhattans or Cherry Lime Rickies, but I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile,   I’m off to Door county to pick more cherries  so I’ll have plenty of cherries for cocktail recipe testing.   My new Oxo cherry Pitter arrived in the mail and I’m itching to use it.

Spirited Cherries for Canning--The Ingredients

Spirited Cherries
Recipe type: Food Preservation
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 3 - 3.5 pints
  • 3 pounds cherries, washed only (do not remove stems or seeds)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup brandy (vodka or rum)
  • ¾ cups bottled lime juice
  • 1-2 vanilla beans
  • Optional Additional Spices--1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise flower, or a few cloves
  1. Wash all canning jars, lids and screw caps. Place the jars in the hot water bath canner and simmer. Place the lids in a smaller sauce pan filled with water and keep those at a low simmer too. Set screw bands aside on a dry towel.
  2. In a non-reactive medium pot, add sugar, water, brandy, and lime.
  3. Make a slit length-wise down the vanilla bean. Scrape out the sticky seeds and place in the pot along with the vanilla bean pod. Add any other spices if desired.
  4. Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.
  5. Add cherries and bring to a boil again--boil for 1 minute longer.
  6. Remove from heat and pack hot cherries and syrup into sanitized, hot jars. Leave ½ inch head space.
  7. Remove bubbles with a skewer, wipe rims with a damp cloth and place lids on jars. Tighten screw bands to finger tip tight and place in the canner making sure the jars are under water by at least an inch.
  8. Place lid on canner and bring to a boil. Start timing at boiling--15 minutes( at 1000 ft altitude or less)
  9. Once time is up, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Time for another 5 minutes.
  10. Remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 12 hours at least.
It takes about 1 pound of cherries to fill a single pint jar.

*You may substitute lemon juice for lime, however be sure to always use bottled and not fresh for canning recipes as the acidity level of fresh varies too much.


Wash the cherries but leave the stems and pits.


Spirited Cherries--preparing the syrup

Bring the water, sugar, lime, brandy (or other spirit) and vanilla beans and pod (plus any additional spices) to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  This is the syrup.

Spirited Cherries--heating on stove for hot pack

Add the cherries to the syrup and bring to a boil again, boiling for about 1 minute.

Laddle the hot cherries and syrup into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process pints for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes.  Spirited Cherries

See my instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning if you need instructions.

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How to Freeze Strawberries

StrawberriesIt is strawberry season, and once again, you got carried away at the u-pick farm and the farmers market. Or maybe it was just me. (The kids each wanted to pick their own flat, and I couldn’t deny them the pleasure, could I?) Household members (one in particular not pictured here) accuse me of food hording all through Wisconsin’s short growing season particularly with fruits as sweet and ephemeral as the strawberry. So while the season is here for 3 or 4 weeks in June and early July, we indulge in fresh and the extras we freeze.  Freezing offers the quickest and most simple way to preserve them, and it allows us to eat local strawberries all year long.

Frozen strawberries can be eaten as is.  My kids think this is the best treat ever–like a popsicle–and sometimes prefer this to a fresh berry.  You can also add them to smoothies; they bake up beautifully in pies and cobblers.  It is also a good idea to freeze berries before preserving them in other ways.  Frozen berries make a superior quality jam with fewer floaters than jam made with fresh.  Freezing berries pasteurizes them; this is an essential step in making fruit leathers with a longer shelf-life as freezing kills any bugs or eggs. With so many uses and freezing this easy, let the berry hording begin.

Steps to Freezing Strawberries–Individual Quick Freeze Method (IQF)

  1. Clean the fruit.
  2. Remove the stem.
  3. Spread the fruit so that the pieces are not overlapping on cookie sheets and freeze.
  4. Once frozen, place in freezer bags or containers and label.  They will keep in a deep freeze for up to a year.

This yields individually frozen fruit which you can use in any portion you want later–a single berry or a quart.  All berries freeze well using this method.  You may also freeze rhubarb like this.  Simple chop the rhubarb first before laying it on a cookie sheet.

Quick Pack Methods: You can simply dump the clean and de-stemmed fruit in a bag in the portion you desire–pint, quart etc. You can even mix in a little sugar. They will freeze as a mass. Not as flexible for later use, but the job gets done even quicker.


Use a spatula to transfer the frozen berried from the cookie sheet to the freezer bag.

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If the kids picked the berries, why not have them freeze them too?


Always use “freezer” bags, not “storage bags”.  If you don’t over stuff them you can stack them neatly in the deep freezer.

If you don’t have a deep freezer (and I suggest you get one if you want to eat locally grown food as much as possible) you can transform these into fruit leathers and store them on a shelf.

Click on the links for these frozen strawberry recipes:

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Tomato Loki Curry–South Indian style Bottle Gourd

It has been just about 2 months since we returned from Kerala, India to visit the man’s family where we ate curries and saucy dishes like this one morning, noon, and night.  I have recovered from the deluge and can once again embrace curry. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. This South Indian vegetarian curry is simple with just a handful of ingredients, but the flavor is tremendous.    After his dal, this recipe is the second most requested in the man’s small arsenal of old family favorites.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

The star ingredient is calabash or bottle gourd squash.  As a vining member of the squash family, calabash goes by many names– cucuzza in Italy, opo in China, loki in India to name a few.  In fact, citizens from virtually every country and culture have a name and a use for this delicately flavored, silky textured vegetable which tastes and acts a lot like a zucchini or cucumber.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Bottle Gourd BirdhouseAmericans use it too, but instead of eating it, we like to dry it, paint it, and turn it into a birdhouse that we sell at a craft sale.  I bought the one pictured here about seven years ago at a farmers market in Cleveland.  The paint has faded, no bird has ever resided here, but it is a birdhouse nonetheless.   In defense of crafters everywhere, turning it into a birdhouse isn’t such a far-fetched notion as humans the world over have for 100’s and 1000’s of years used the dried gourd to make bowls, pitchers, and even musical instruments.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--opo in the Chinese marketI have never seen calabash at a supermarket, but Indian or Asian grocery stores with a produce section carry it.  No Indian or Asian grocery nearby?  No problem. This recipe works just fine with cucumber.  (Yes, you can cook a cucumber!)  But I admit I prefer the texture of the bottle gourd. So if substitutions won’t do and the Indian grocery seems too far, try planting some.  You still have time.

I have a tiny garden which I plan meticulously as space is at a premium.  I have grown both zucchini and bottle gourd in the past and have decided that only bottle gourd is worth the effort and space.  Calabash produces just as many squashes as a zucchini plant and any recipe calling for zucchini can easily substitute calabash.   The difference lies in that imperative to pick it.  Let a zucchini go and you have a giant watery squash best suited for the compost pile.  Let a calabash get carried away you you’ve got yourself a fine birdhouse.

Tomato Loki Curry--South Indian style Bottle Gourd
Recipe type: Vegetarian Main dish
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
Make this instead of a simple cucumber and tomato chopped salad, serve it with dal and rice, and you have a complete meal.
  • 1 medium bottle gourd (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and diced in ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ t cumin
  • 1 t salt
  • ⅔ cup yogurt
  • 2 T oil--coconut oil is best
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 – 2 whole dried chili
  • 10-15 curry leaves* (optional)
  1. In a medium sauce pan, add diced squash and ½ cup water--the squash doesn't have to be fully submerged.
  2. Stir in turmeric, paprika, and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam squash until it become slightly translucent--about 5 minutes.
  3. Next add the tomatoes. Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes until the gourd becomes completely tender and the tomato cooks down. Do not let the curry dry out. It should remain soupy; add more water if necessary.
  4. Remove curry from heat. Add about ⅓ cup of the hot curry liquid to the yogurt and stir until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the curry and gently stir.
  5. In a separate small sauce pan, heat coconut oil over a medium-high flame. Add mustard seeds and dried chili pepper and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Next, toss in curry leaves, fry 10 more seconds and remove from heat. This is called tempering the spices. Pour this oil and spice mixture over the curry and serve.
Curry leaves come from the curry tree (a relative of the neem tree). It is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The leaves have a smokey, aromatic flavor unlike anything I've tasted before. They are used a lot in west-coast and southern Indian cooking. I have only found fresh curry leaves at the Indian grocery store. (Don't bother with dry or frozen as the flavor is greatly diminished). If you find them, treat them like a bay leaf--they are a flavoring agent and people generally don't eat them. If you can't find them, try using a bit of smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

Cooking with Kids: Studies show that kids tend to eat what they cook, even never-before-seen veggies like calabash.  They also love to use tools.  The peeler is a good first-step “sharp” to teach your kids to use properly.Start with a good quality peeler–one that doesn’t have a fully exposed blade–like this Oxo.  Show your child to move the peeler away from her hands and body and go slowly.  This is my just-turned-5 year old peeling a bottle gourd squash while she listens to Led Zeplin.  That’s just how we roll here in the local global kitchen.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Peeled Squash

Peel squash and scrape out the seeds.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Simmering Loki in Spices

Simmer the squash for 5 minutes in a bit of water with turmeric, paprika and salt.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Cooking Tomatoes Down

Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them down–about 10 minutes.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--mixing in yogurt

Add some of the hot liquid to the yogurt, mix well, and stir it back into the curry.South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--Tempering Spices

Temper the mustard seeds, dried chilies and curry leaves in coconut oil.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry--add tempered spices

Pour the oil and tempered spices on top of the curry and serve.

South Indian Bottle Gourd Squash Curry

Serve hot or at room temperature. I like to serve it with dal, Basmati rice, a bit of yogurt and onion chutney.  Click on the links for these recipes.


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Croutons…when life gives you stale bread


I am hopelessly frugal, particularly when it comes to food.  My Berkley, California friend theorizes this impulse originates from my past life experiences.   “Perhaps you lived through the Great Depression or you toiled through several lifetimes as a feudal peasant.”  “Or,” I suggest, “perhaps I was just raised with hard-to-shake, conservative, Midwestern Lutheran values where waste is akin to sin.”  Aren’t California people funny?

My frugal impulse compels me to recycle and reinvent leftover foods.  Croutons are an example of this impulse in action.  About once a week, I make a pot of soup for dinner and serve it with “home baked” (see my note below) whole grain, artisan bread.  I can’t bear to see the half-eaten loaf go moldy.  And truly, no-one wants to eat it after the first day when it has gone stale. When life gives me stale bread, I make croutons, which we occasionally sprinkle on our salads and soups, but more frequently eat straight up—a crunchy, savory, superior snack alternative to potato chips.

Croutons--sliced stale breadMaking croutons couldn’t be easier.  Cut the bread into even cubes. (Cutting is easier when it is slightly stale).   If you only have a bit of bread, allow the cubes of bread to air-dry for a few hours in a wide, shallow container before storing them covered.  (Stale bread rarely molds)  Repeat this process—adding more and more bread cubes to the container and allowing them to dry a bit—until you have enough stale bread to justify making a batch of croutons.

Want to be even more frugal?  Make the croutons when you are already making something else in the oven.  Throw them in at the last 5 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow them to bake with the residual heat.  This isn’t a precise baking recipe after all; we are just crisping them up a bit.


The Ingredients;  Here I have some stale loaves of Italian bread leftover from an event.

Croutons--what to do when life gives you stale bread
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6
I like to use whole wheat but I will transform any unwanted leftover bread to croutons and do so weekly.
  • 3 cups slightly stale bread sliced into ½ inch cubes
  • ¼ t fine salt
  • 3 - 4 T good olive oil
  • ¼ t good garlic powder
  • ½ t Italian dried herbs,crumbled and rolled)--sage, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme are all nice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the croutons and toss.
  3. Sprinkle salt, garlic powder and herbs over croutons and toss again to distribute seasoning evenly.
  4. Place on an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes--until crisp and lightly golden.
  5. Once cooled, store in a sealed container. It will keep for several weeks.


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Toss diced bread with herbs and oil in a large bowl.

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Get every last bit of seasoning.

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Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.

Cooking with Kids:  I cut the larger hunks of bread into thinner manageable slices, which the kids finish off by cutting it into individual cubes. They also measure the oil and spices, and toss them with the bread in giant bowl with a giant spoon or better yet, their little hands.

*How to Make “Homemade Baked” Bread I posted this on Facebook as one of my Tuesday’s Cooking Tip, so you may have read this if you are a follower. Local Global Kitchen Facebook Post 1/21/14:  “If your supermarket has a bakery that sells upscale baked breads, most likely they are buying them from a wholesale bakery. The loaves arrive mostly baked and completely frozen. The supermarket then does the last few minutes of baking in their oven so it seems like hot, fresh baked bread when you buy it.  Instead, buy the frozen loaf yourself (just ask the lady behind the counter) and store it in your own freezer. When you want it, pop it in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 350 F. Viola! You have hot “home-baked” bread which can turn even a lowly soup dinner into a gourmet meal.  Be sure to buy the whole wheat and keep a couple loaves in the freezer at all times.”

Try the croutons with these other recipes:

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Slow Cooker Chili con Carne

What to eat after 28 days in a row of subfreezing temperatures?  What do we crave after endlessly enduring one of the coldest winters on record?  What food could possibly cheer our Midwestern hearts in the wake of an artic polar vortex collapse that shows no sign of recovering?  Chili, of course!

A one-pot meal cooked in the slow cooker, nothing beats chili for cold-weather comfort food and convenience.   Because upwards of 6 hours has passed since I completed all the chopping, cooking and cleaning, by the end of the day it almost feels like someone else cooked a meal for me.  Seeing that simmering pot of hearty, savory, goodness after a day of work and an evening of schlepping kids to practices brings on feelings of relief, satisfaction and pride all at once. “Hell, yes.  I am Supermom.  I can do it all and still serve delicious and nutritious meals.  “Yeah!”  Fist pump.

Besides whipping up a delicious and nutrition meal, the other part of that “pride” comes from the fact that this recipe makes use of the locally grown foods I spent the summer preserving.  Even if you didn’t preserve them yourself, most likely you have them stocked in your pantry already.  This plant-based recipe includes meat but less than 2 oz. per serving. With less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef provides a  healthier option to corn-finished meat.  Black beans and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) easily trade places with the meat for a vegetarian alternative.  Serve it with cornbread or whole wheat pasta (both whole grains) and top it with a bit of grated cheese, minced onion, or sour cream  The kids and the man cheer when they see chili on the table and so do I (along with a fist pump.)

Awesome Chili Con Carnepuree the beansI spent 2 years on this recipe changing ingredients and tweaking measurements in an attempt to find just the right flavor and texture to please everyone in the family. (The entire staff of the Food Network might have been an easier crowd to please.)  I have discovered a few secrets in my quest to invent the perfect chili recipe which I shall now share with you. Use grass-fed beef; it gives the dish a fuller, meatier flavor even though each serving contains less that 2 ounces of actual meat. Hard apple cider provides umami and a subtle sweetness while cutting the acid in the tomatoes.  Pureeing the beans adds a creamy, substantial texture. Smoked paprika imparts a deep, rich layer of flavor.  If you don’t can your own tomatoes, try using fire-roasted canned tomatoes; they add to the smoky flavor.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Slow Cooker Chili con Carne
Recipe type: Main Dish--Meat
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 cups
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
  • I ½ T canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cup)
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color, fresh or frozen
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 t salt
  • ¼ t black pepper
  • 2 T of good chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pint jar crushed tomatoes or 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 12 oz. bottle hard apple cider
  • Grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Minced red or white onion
  • Chopped cilantro
  1. Brown the meat in a skillet. Remove cooked meat to a colander lined with paper towels and allow to drain of grease.
  2. Meanwhile, clean the skillet of beef fat and add canola oil to the pan, heat over a medium flame and cook onions and peppers until the onion becomes transparent—about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.
  3. To the slow cooker add the cleaned and drained pinto beans and 1 cup of water. Use an immersion blender or hand held masher to completely purée the pintos.
  4. Next add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker—meat, veggies, tomato and cider. Cover and cook on low for 6 – 8 hours or high for 3 -4 hours. Skim off any oil that rises before serving.
  5. Serve on top of whole wheat pasta or with corn bread on the side. Garnish.
If you don't have the time or a slow cooker, this can be made in a pot on the stove top simmering for 1 - 2 hours.


Chili con Carne--Ingredients

Ingredients Deconstructed: Peppers freeze so easily and cook so nicely that I can’t remember the last time I bought a pepper from anyone besides a farmer—that explains why they’re covered in frost.  I spent most of September canning tomatoes—no small task—but they cook down better than commercially canned tomatoes which contain a firming agent, and of course, they taste better. I buy my chili powder from Penzey’s or the Spice House.  The grass-fed meat comes from Whole Foods.  I used to buy it directly from a farmer but we eat so little meat it didn’t make sense.  If I have my act together, I cook big batches of dry beans and freeze them in 1-cup portions.  They cost less and taste better but canned beans are just fine in a pinch.

Chili con Carne-- sauté onions

Like most home cooks, I cook while I prep.  Start sauteing the onions on medium heat with a bit of salt while you chop the peppers.  Chili con Carne--sauteing aromatics

Indian dishes frequently require the cook to saute the spices.  It is a technique called tempering.  I tried it in this recipe, and I think the Indians might be on to something. It really does release more flavor. Chili con Carne

Eight hours later.

Cooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure all of the spices for this and any recipe.   Children, big and little, love smelling, discovering and eventually identifying spices. Measuring is also a good way to apply math skills.  After years of coaching and training, my own kids have finally learned to read and distinguish between a tablespoon and the various teaspoons.  In the process the second grader at least has gained a pretty good understanding of fractions—two ¼ teaspoons equals one ½ teaspoon—that sort of thing.

My children also like to “chop” the garlic.  Get a cutting board, a sturdy flat-bottomed dish (I use Corelle) and a garlic press, and have the children follow these steps:

  1. Remove the appropriate number of cloves from the garlic bulb
  2. Place cloves on the cutting board, cover with the plate, and press slowly crushing slightly
  3. Set the plate aside and remove the garlic skins.
  4. Crush cloves one at a time in the press and use a butter knife to cut away the crushed garlic from the bottom

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Grilled Caesar Salad

Though a unanimous favorite, our family reserved the Caesar salad experience for dining out. Somewhere in the long ago, I had heard that Caesar salad required a raw egg in the dressing.  The thought of eating raw eggs gives me a food-safety anxiety attack and home-pasteurizing eggs seems like too much effort for too little reward.  So I had lumped Caesar salad into the category of hullabaloo-cooking and never even thought about making it at home.

But recently I have revised my opinion. I owe this change of heart to my salad-loving, lunch-time bistro companion and best friend, Marcia, who ordered a grilled Caesar salad on one of our lunch-time excursions. One taste and we both agreed that the flavor of the charred leaves added an exciting new element to this already tasty classic.
She liked the grilled Caesar so much that she began making it at home…a lot.

Grilled Caesar

After a brief tutorial and poo-pooing my reservations, she convinced me to give it try.  The smoky charred flavor juxtaposed to the tart lemony dressing and sour salty capers; the elegant  presentation with a deceptively simple preparation; the ability to eat the salad with your hands like a slice of pizza (a winner with the kids), and the complete removal of eggs from the recipe—all of these reasons have me making this salad at home now too…a lot.Grilled Caesar--Ingredients

Grilled Caesar Salad
Recipe type: Salads & Dressings
Cuisine: America
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 servings
The dressing stores well in the fridge for a few months. If you make it in the quantity listed below, you'll have plenty leftover, making Grilled Cesar Salad a possibility even on busy week nights.
  • the juice of 2 lemons (about ⅓ cup)
  • 1 t anchovies in oil
  • ½ t sugar
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 t mayonnaise
  • ½ salt
  • ¾ cup good rapeseed or olive oil
  • ½ t powdered garlic or one whole garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 hearts of Romaine
  • oil
  • 1 T capers
  • 1 cup croutons
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  2. Combine the juice, anchovies, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mayo, salt, and powdered garlic (if using), and with an upright or immersion blender on high speed. Slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to blend on high until the dressing looks creamy and completely emulsified.
  3. If you are using fresh garlic, add the crushed clove after emulsifying and allow it to infuse its flavor in the oil for 6 - 24 hours before fishing out and discarding. Don't leave the garlic in the dressing as it can be a breeding ground for botulism spores.
  5. Heat grill (I use a caste iron pan grill) over a medium flame until the grates are hot.
  6. Meanwhile, slice the clean heart of Romaine in half vertically. Brush the cut side with a bit of oil and place firmly on the hot grill,
  7. Allow to char for 30 seconds to a minute.
  8. Remove immediately, dress, garnish and season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Grilled Caesar Salad--the dressing

Grilled Caesar--Grilling Romaine and Making Croutons

Nutrition & Storage:  Remember, of all the fruits and vegetables, greens are the most nutrient dense.  You should eat greens (or “leaves” as my husband calls them) every day—cooked or raw.  Of all the salad greens, Romaine is not only among the most nutritious but also the hardiest.  It stays fresh in the fridge longer than more tender varieties. Wash them, spin them dry, and store them in a salad spinner.  I like this OXO. It’s kept my Romaine crisp and fresh for 2 weeks or more stored like this.

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How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin Mash (Winter Squash Puree)

Pie Pumpkins

Pie Pumpkins

A month after the regular farmers markets closed for the season, I spied my pile of winter squashes sitting patiently, expectantly on my pantry floor.  They could probably wait unharmed another month or more, but with Christmas and a family-dinner-pumpkin-pie-commitment just days away, I thought that I should tackle the task of transforming them into pumpkin mash before the last-minute holiday frenzy begins.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

When I first started preserving, I preferred freezing to canning or drying.  Freezing takes little time or effort and poses no food safety threat.  However, after years of the kids (actually me) accidentally leaving the freezer door open or losing valuable goods in the frosty depths only to be discovered years later covered in freezer burn,   I have turned to canning and drying whenever possible and  reserve freezing for those veggies that strictly require it.  Because canning pumpkin puree cannot be done safely in your kitchen even with a pressure canner, winter squash has become one of those few veggies that get frozen.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash

Carnival Squash

Carnival Squash

Pumpkin mash is a “must” for me as it enhances the texture and moisture of nearly all sweet  treats made with whole wheat flour.  If you remain unconvinced about the necessity of pumpkin mash because you still use white flour to make sweet treats, read this and then come back here for your pumpkin mash tutorial. Not into sweets? Pumpkin puree has other applications besides pumpkin pie and sweet treats.  You can slip it into all kinds of soups, stews and sauces to thicken them and secretly add more veggies to your diet.  I have a great squash soup recipe which requires mash.  I shall post it soon.

How to Freeze Pumpkin Mash:

  1. Choose an appropriate winter squash: pie pumpkins, hubbard squash, and butternut are all good choices.  Avoid large jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the flesh is too tough and stingy. Smaller squashes like acorn, carnival, and delicata have a good texture and flavor but have too little flesh to make it worth the effort.
  2. Wash the squash and peal the skin if it is a squash with smooth delicate skin like butternut, but leave it intact if it is tough-skinned like a hubbard. (Pealing isn’t necessary, it just makes mashing the cooked squash less messy).
  3. Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.   Cut into smaller manageable hunks if necessary—the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks. If it is a large squash like a blue hubbard you may have to work a bit to get it open.  A farmer-friend of mine shared her technique with me, “Toss it down the basement stairs.  It cracks the squash wide open, and it is fun.”
  4. **Cook the squash until extremely tender with one of the following methods:     Oven:  Place hunks or halves in a baking dish.  Then fill the dish with about an inch of water.  Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 1 -2 hours—until the flesh is tender.       Roaster:  Cook in a counter-top roaster at 350 F with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to make sure that  the water doesn’t evaporate.     Crock Pot:  Cook about 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low—with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom.     Stove-top: Steam or boil smaller chunks for about 30 – 40 minutes.       **For each method, cook time may vary depending on the size of the hunks of squash.
  5. Once tender set it aside and allow to cool. Tender flesh is important—a little over- cooked is okay but a little under-cooked is not.
  6. Drain excess water. Use a spoon to scrape cooked flesh from the skin if it was not already pealed.
  7. Mash flesh with a potato masher or fork right in the pan or pot—no need to dirty another dish.Pumpkin Mash--freezing
  8. Scoop out one cup portions onto plastic wrap or freezer paper.
  9. Wrap mash removing all air.
  10. Freeze wraps in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  11. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and label.  It will keep for 1 year.Pumpkin Mash--Frozen Individually in 1 cup Portions

Miscellaneous Winter Squash Information

Yield:  about 1 cup of mash for every pound of butternut

Cooking: In pancake and waffle recipes, you can substitute about half of the milk required with pumpkin mash.  1 cup of pumpkin mush replaces 2/3 cup of milk.

Storing: Thin skin squashes like butternut can last up to 3 month and thick skinned squashes like hubbards can last up to 6 months if stored properly

Avoid washing the squash if possible until ready to cook. However, if you must, wash winter squash in 1 gallon of cool water with 1 teaspoon bleach.  Dry thoroughly and keep in a cool dark place like the basement. Do not allow the squashes to touch one another. Do not store near apples.


Pumpkin Mash--child measuringCooking with Kids:  Food preservation can be hot and heavy work, but this tasks is the exception.  Involve the kids all of the way through the process.   Takes the kids to the market with you to buy the squashes–ask the farmer about the varieties available so you and the kids can learn about them at the same time. (You can still get squash from the Winter Farmers Market, by the way).  Have the kids wash the outsides of the squashes, scrape out the seeds, and later they can mash and measure the cooked squash.  Nothing is more fun to a little kid than mashing mush with their bare hands.  Also don’t forget my farmer-friend’s technique.  If you get a giant hubbard squash, the kids can also chuck it down the basement stairs for fun.

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Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan

I discovered this delightful dish in a cozy little tapas restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston.  After one bite, I decided that I would try to replicate this recipe at home.  Later research revealed that the dish is called Espinacas a la Catalana and has been prepared in the Catalan region of Spain for at least 150 years.  I guess the appeal of the dish seems unremarkable in light of the fact that Spaniards have been vetting it for more than 150 years.Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Further research revealed that the number of recipes for Espinacas a la Catalana is equal to the number of Catalonians. While additional ingredients varied—lemon, tomato, wine, honey, paprika, and apples to name a few, the fundamental ingredients remained constant:  spinach, raisins, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic.  I tried several variations and this is the one we all liked best.  However, if you are like me and tend to cook creatively, please share the results.


Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Ingredients

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts—Espinacas a la Catalan
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 - 8 servings
  • 8 oz. spinach* (8 – 10 cups)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ t kosher salt
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 3 T golden raisins, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or sherry
  • ¼ t sugar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 T spoons)
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Swish spinach in a cold water bath until all grit has fallen away. Spin leaves in the salad spinner until dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and salt; sauté until the garlic just turns golden being careful not to burn—about 1 minute.
  3. Add pine nuts, raisins, sugar, and wine. Cover and allow raisins to plump and soften—2 minutes. Remove lid and reduce wine.
  4. Whisk in lemon juice until heated and incorporated fully.
  5. Add spinach, turn off heat and toss in the pan until all of the leaves are coated and slightly wilted. Add pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.
*If you use young and tender spinach, you may use the stem and leaf. However, if you are using more mature spinach, remove the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Spinach with Raisins Collage

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts--Tossing

Cooking and Eating with Kids:  I wilted the spinach ever so slightly due to the kids’ preference.  They willingly try salads so I told them that this was a wilted salad. If, on the other hand, I had told them that these were cooked greens, well, I can assure you that my ears would have been met with a chorus of wails and the battle over taking a single bite would have ensued.     Ask any political strategist, and they will tell you a good spin can change the minds and hearts of the people. I encourage you to use this strategy when feeding your kids something new.  Tell them it is really something they have eaten a million times before–in this case salad.  Once they have adopted it as an acceptable food you can start varying it slightly, like calling it by its real name.

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