Perfect Popcorn–Herb Buttered & Beyond

As I wander down the snack aisle of the supermarket, I marvel at the ingenuity of the food industry.  They have managed to take popcorn–a healthy, cheap, easily accessible, easily stored whole grain snack food—and transform it into a highly processed, expensive, unhealthy food.   Not long ago, Americans made popcorn from scratch on their stove tops for all sorts of occasions—family movie night, holiday treats, slumber parties and after school snacks.  Making and eating popcorn represented togetherness and celebration.  Now we buy popcorn that we nuke in the microwave to eat in bags while we watch TV alone.

Let’s reclaim the American popcorn tradition. Consider the following:  Popcorn kernels cost anywhere from $0.08 to $0.15 an ounce compared to microwave popcorn which starts at about $0.30 an ounce.  It takes 1 minute of prep time and 4 minutes of cook time to make about 2 quarts of popcorn on the stovetop.  The average microwave popcorn bag take approximately 3 minutes of cook-time.  Popcorn from scratch tastes better. Do a taste comparison with your family if you don’t believe me.  Moreover, if you buy popcorn from a local farmer or from the bulk food section, your packaging can be nil compared to bagged, wrapped and boxed microwave brands.  Lastly, only 3 ingredients are required to make stovetop popcorn. On the other hand, even the most “natural” of microwave brands contain preservatives and ingredients like “palm oil” whose production is destroying the rainforest.  (My big girl told me that rainforests are cut down to make room for palm oil plantations).

So at the end of the comparison we find that microwave popcorn saves us 2 minutes of time and a pan to wash.  True, you must give your full attention to the 5-minute cooking process while making stovetop popcorn, but I don’t consider this a disadvantage because it’s fun especially with the kids. So if you value good flavor, your health, orangutans (whose numbers are diminishing due to the devastation of the rainforest), your money, your family, then make popcorn  from scratch and make the world a better place.  Who knew popcorn could do all of that?!

Perfect Popcorn with Herb Buttered Topping
Recipe type: Appetizer or Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 - 10 cups
Perfect Popcorn is the basic popcorn recipe and delicious all on it's own. This isn't a fussy recipe. Using a wok concentrates the heat and reduces cooking time but it is not essential. The main thing is to keep shaking and have a pan with a lid that allows steam to escape.
  • ½ cups popcorn kernels
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil or any oil with a high smoking point--vegetable, corn, coconut, peanut, etc.
  1. Use a large pan of wok with a relatively lose fitting lid so the steam can escape. (If you don't have a lid, you can cover the pan with tinfoil and poke a few holes in it).
  2. Add the popcorn, salt, and oil to the pan or wok, cover with a lid, and cook over a high flame shaking the pan back and forth constantly.
  3. Continue shaking until the popcorn slows in popping—about 3-5 minutes depending on the type of pan.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully stir in any salt that has accumulated on the side. Eat as is or top with favorite topping.
HERB BUTTER TOPPING: 2 Tablespoons melted butter; ¼ cup chopped dill or other herbs; Drizzle melted butter over popcorn and toss. Sprinkle chopped herbs over popcorn and toss again. (TIP: Don't melt the butter with the herbs or they will clump). MORETOPPING IDEAS: - Parmesan cheese - Cayenne pepper and sugar - Soy sauce - Garlic powder - Balsamic vinegar - Cinnamon and Powdered Sugar - Garlic powder and Paprika - Melted butter or margarine - Garlic powder and paprika - Chopped fresh herbs - Powdered Sugar and Cocoa - Tabasco - Brewers yeast (a Milwaukee favorite)

Cooking With Kids:

The girls made this entire recipe.  I just supervised or rather, refereed.

My big girl chopped the dill with kid scissors, chopping and measuring enough to fill ¼ cup.  Meanwhile the little one measured the popcorn, oil and salt into the wok.


One melted the butter while the other made the popcorn.

Finally, enjoying the fruits of their labor.


Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop. So if your popcorn won’t pop maybe it’s too dry.  Try filling a quart jar 3/4 full of popcorn.  Add 1 tablespoon of water and shake until it is absorbed.  Store in a cool place.  A few days later, the popcorn should pop.

Potato Leek Soup

If you have never made potato leek soup, you are missing out on the culinary equivalent to a warm and fuzzy pair of slippers. The unpretentious leek and the lowly potato combined, create a soup whose flavor is greater than the sum of its parts.  Serve it with warm, whole wheat bread and a simple green salad and you have a great weeknight meal. Your only regret will be that you did not make this sooner.  If you didn’t stock up before the end of regular market season, locally grown potatoes and leeks can be found now through early spring at the Winter Farmers Market.

Potato Leek Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 5 servings
This recipe is very flexible and easy to double or half. In general, just use a 2:1 ratio of leeks to potatoes. Add more or less cream as desired.
  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 3 medium all purpose potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (1.5 lbs)
  • 5 - 6 large leeks (about 6 cups chopped)
  • 1½ t kosher salt
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • ½ t white pepper
  • 1 cup half and half (optional)
  • Chives for garnish (optional)
  1. Cut off the root-ends and green stems of the leeks. Slice the white portion vertically and separate the layers. Swish the layers in a cold-water bath so that grit falls to the bottom. Roughly chop the cleaned leeks into ¼ inch bits.
  2. In a large pot, melt butter on medium heat.
  3. Add the leeks with salt to the pot and sweat them until they become soft--about 6-8 minutes. Be careful not to brown the leeks.
  4. Next add stock, chopped potatoes, and white pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer covered for 15 minutes or more until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Turn off heat and add half & half if desired. Blend to desired texture with an immersion blender. Season to taste. Serve warm in bowls and garnish with chopped chives.

Cooking with Kids:

If you have a fussy eater on your hands, just call it potato soup.  Potatoes are an easy sell, even to the most vegetable adverse child.   My purely anecdotal data suggests that you have an 85% chance of them loving this soup at first slurp even if they fall into the category of extreme food neophobe.  Have them eat it a few times before you subtly introduce the whole name and the show them the leek.

If you want them to cook with you, have them do the prep work.  I don’t know about you, but that’s why I had kids. (Well, not really, but it’s a perk).  Kids can peel the potatoes and cut them it into chunks. This isn’t precision work; give them a steak knife and directions for keeping the knife away from fingers.  My children also enjoy washing the leeks.  Once clean, they use scissors instead of a knife to cut the leeks into ¼ inch bits.

Sesame Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Canned “yams” smothered in marshmallows—the mention of the dish sends a chill up my spine.  They were a staple of my childhood Thanksgivings and for years I was convinced that I hated sweet potatoes.  I know many Americans especially Midwesterners who share this experience, and consequently  despise the sweet potato rejecting it in all forms.

But this dish with its complex sweet, spicy, and nutty flavor and creamy, crunchy texture convinced me to re-examine my opinion of the orange tuber.  In fact,  I have insisted on cooking these for family and friends on a single-woman crusade to change the minds of the many Midwesterners who share a sad and checkered past with those “candied yams.”  Just like Sam-I-Am I feel such joy when their eyes open wide in surprise and delight to at last discover that “They do! They do like sweet potatoes.  And they would eat them on a boat.  And they would eat them with a goat…”


Sesame Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6
  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 T neutral oil, canola or grapeseed
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t chilli powder
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into even 1-inch cubes.
  3. In a bowl, toss all the ingredients together until the potatoes are evenly coated with oil and spices.
  4. Lay potatoes on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn the potatoes and roast another 15 minutes or until done.
  6. Serve immediately.

Cooking with Kids:

Have the kids mix and measure.  I also have the kids peel the potatoes…supervised of course.

Cauliflower Soup

Warm meal in one bowl

What could be better than soup

                                                   On cold autumn nights

I wrote a haiku about soup.  Need I say more about my affection for the dish?  And really, can anyone dispute the perfection of a soup meal—satisfying, simple, flavorful, full-o-veggies, and cheap to boot.  Each year from November to April, I unilaterally declare Wednesdays “Soup Night” but no-one here complains about this particular dictatorial edict.  They love soup too.

I suspect some of you are thinking that you too love soup, but are not the biggest fan of cauliflower. To confess, I never feel enthusiastic about cauliflower either. That is, until I cook it, taste it, and remember that the bland, white color belies its actual sweet and nutty flavor which is sweeter yet as we have experienced a few light frosts. This recipe showcases that subtle sweetness if you are careful not to over-cook it.  Remember, cauliflower belongs to the cabbage family and will smell unappetizingly sulfurous if cooked to mush.  Past experiences with stinky cauliflower may be the origin of your hesitation.  Hestitate no more and try it.  You can thank me later.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cauliflower Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 cups
Potatoes and a roux give this soup a thich rich texture without the fat. No need to bother with cream or cheese.
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup chopped)
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 stalk of celery with leaves, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • ¼ t white pepper
  • 3 cups stock
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 T sake or dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small head of cauliflower cut into small florets (about 8 cups or 2.5 lbs)
  • 1 T mince fresh parsely
  • ¼ t mince fresh thyme or tarragon
  1. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter slowly over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot, celery and salt; sweat the veggies slowly (about 5 minutes)stirring occassionally until they are soft and transparent. Reduce the heat if the veggies begin to brown.
  3. When veggies are nearly done, add the minced garlic and cook another minute until fragrant.
  4. Next, add 2 T of flour; stir continuously for another minute creating a roux--a flour-butter paste coating the veggies.
  5. Next add the stock, milk, and all remaining ingredients except the parsely and thyme. Bring to a boil and reduce heat.
  6. Simmer for 15 minutes or until florets are cooked but firm.
  7. Turn off heat, stir in herbs, and partially purree with a masher of immersion blender.
  8. Serve with warm, buttered bread.

In our house, soup night comes with a side of rustic, whole grain bread bought from the bakery and warmed in the oven. (This is a weeknight meal and I am certainly not about to start baking bread.) Spread with butter, warm bread completes the meal and serves as the perfect medium for sopping up every last drop of soupy goodness.

Preserve it:  Cauliflower is in season. Buy a few extra heads and freeze it for soup. Cut it into florets, soak in salted water to clean and remove insects, then blanch in a large pot of boiling water a pound at a time for 3 minutes—place florets in the boiling water, return the lid to the pot, and start timing immediately.  If you add more than a pound at a time, the temperature will drop too low.  After 3 minutes, promptly remove and place in ice water. Drain and arrange florets on cookie sheets and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place florets in freezer-safe bags and date. I prefer this method so that the florets are individually frozen, and I can take from the bag the quantity I need.

Cooking with Kids: This recipe lends itself to all sorts of activities for kids, but then it won’t be a quick meal. Never include your kids in the cooking process if you are pressed for time–everyone will become angry and frustrated. I know this from experience. So if you have ample time, have the kids do the weighing and measuring—an excellent, hands-on math application. I always have my girls harvest the herbs and mince them with their tiny kid-scissors. I also have them peal the garlic clove with their nimble little fingers and then pushing it through a garlic press. My little assistants jump at the chance to use any gadgetry.


Because exploring ethnic grocery stores remains one of my favorite past-times, I feel fortunate to live in a city as ethnically diverse as Milwaukee.   I love ethnic food adventures so much, that 2 years ago for Mother’s Day, my husband drove me all over Milwaukee’s South side so that we could investigate all of the Greek and Turkish grocers.  We took turns going in the stores while our girls slept in the back seat.  It was nap time.

Milwaukee’s South side is rife with immigrant-owned mom and pop establishments.  Although we have fewer on the North side, a few gems exist.  El Pueblo, a Puerto Rican/Caribbean specialty store just down the street from my house, is one such gem. It was here that I discovered sofrito in the freezer section.  After asking, the owner explained that sofrito is a seasoning made with tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs.  Sofrito is a constant of Puerto Rican cuisine added to various dishes like beans, eggs, rice, and meats.  I took it home; I tried it out; I loved it, and thought, “I can make that.”  And so I did with all locally-grown ingredients of course.  After researching and testing many recipes I came up with my own.

Recipe type: Condiment & Seasoning
Cuisine: Latin American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 cups
Sofrito can be made with green or red peppers. I prefer the red for sweetness and color. When red peppers come into season, make a large batch of sofrito--enough to last the entire year--then freeze it. I add it to beans for a quick delicious side dish. I also like to add it to Latin inspired soups and sauces.
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cups onions, minced
  • 3 cups red and green bell peppers, minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juice
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 t black pepper
  1. Chop or process ingredients in a food processor and combine.
  2. Place sofrito in freezer safe bags, removing all air.
  3. Date and label.
  4. Freeze sofrito flat in the bags so that it is easy to break off frozen chunks as needed.
  5. Fresh sofrito will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Cooking with Kids:  I make sofrito with a food processor. The kids are in charge of pushing the button. They love this task. The processor is a noisy, electric machine with a button and a sharp blade. Nothing could be more irresistible to a little kid

Pizza on the Grill (or in the Oven)

Pizza…what a wonderful concept.  It’s a complete meal on a piece of flat bread. While I love ordering out for pizza, there are limitations. A few years ago, our favorite pizza spot burned to the ground (Pizza Man) and we haven’t found the perfect replacement. Moreover, I haven’t found a pizza place in Milwaukee that makes a tasty, thin, whole wheat crust.  White crust made with refined white flour is junk food, and I prefer to save my junk food intake for sweet treats.

This pizza crust is 100% whole wheat but doesn’t taste that way, and really, isn’t that the goal?  “Pizza on the Grill” brings zero complaints at mealtime, and it couldn’t be faster or easier to make, even when the kids help.

Grilled Pizza
Recipe type: Meals on the Grill
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 1 pizza serves 2 people
This no-sauce pizza is a great way to use small portions of vegetables you have left over in your refrigerator. My favorite combination is simply sliced tomatoes topped with olive oil, chopped basil, wilted spinach, and thinly sliced gorgonzola or fresh mozzarella. Don't pile on the ingredients--the crust is too thin to hold up.
  • 650g/5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • ⅓ cup vital wheat gluten (optional)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 t salt (or 3 ½ t kosher salt)
  • 1 ½ t quick-rise yeast
  • 3 T + 6 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 + ½ cups luke-warm water
  • 5 t chopped fresh herbs (optional)
  1. MAKING THE DOUGH: Using a mixer, food processor, or simply by hand, mix/pulse the flour, (gluten), sugar, salt, (herb) and yeast to combine.
  2. While mixing, slowly add 3 T olive oil and 2 cups water until it forms a course ball—about 4 minutes. Slowly add the ½ cup of water if the dough ball doesn’t readily form.
  3. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes then mix another 2 – 4 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple and tacky—not sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a smooth clean surface and divide into 6 equal pieces. Gently round each piece into a ball and rub each ball with olive oil.
  5. Drizzle each with 1 t olive oil and use immediately. Or store each ball inside a freezer bag and drizzle 1 t olive oil in each bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal.
  6. If freezing, store the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before placing it in the freezer. Stores frozen for 3 months.
  7. MAKING THE PIZZA:Have all of the topping prepared and ready to go.
  8. Using a large cookie sheet or cutting board, turn the ball of dough in your oiled hands letting gravity slowly stretch the pizza crust thin. Once you reach the near approximate shape and thickness, place on the lightly oiled cutting board and finish shaping with your hands. It will not be perfectly round; it’s artfully rustic. Do not use a rolling pin.
  9. Gently transfer the dough to a heated clean grill--medium high heat. Cook about 2 minutes and then flip using a large spatula and tongs. Immediately place your toppings after flipping. Cook the other side of the crust for another 2 minutes.
  10. With tongs and a spatula, slide the finished pizza back to the cutting board, slice, and serve. You may want to tent with tin foil if you are making a few.
FAVORITE TOPPINGS: Toppings can be raw, sautéed or grilled. They can be left-over side dishes from the night before or toppings grilled just before the pizza crust was started. Use your imagination. However, it is essential to have them ready to go.

Favorite Toppings:

  • Cheese, grated, sliced or shaved—Parmesan, mozzarella, and goat

  • Fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced

  • Fresh herbs, chopped

  • Fresh red onions, thinly slices

  • Banana peppers, thinly sliced

  • Roasted red peppers

  • Spinach, wilted

  • Arugula, wilted

  • Zucchini, sautéed

  • Garlic, roasted

  • Caramelized onions

  • Cooked sausage

  • Sun dried tomatos, pesto or rehydrated

  • Pesto

Grill Tip: Heat and clean the grill grate completely before cooking.  I use a pair of metal tongs and a wadded up piece of aluminum foil.  Cheap and works like a charm.

Pizza for a Crowd/Pizza made by Kids: You can lightly cook both sides of the crust on the grill with no toppings and place on a cookie sheet.  Add toppings later and heat under a broiler in the oven.  I use this method when cooking for a large crowd or as a safe way to involve the kids in making the pizza.

Oven Alternative: When it’s absolutely too cold or raining outside, just use your oven.  A pizza stone  works nicely.  A cheap one is fine–$10 – $15 is the most you should spend.  In fact for years, I used an untreated $2.50 stone flooring tile leftover from a bathroom renovation project.  Place the pizza stone in the oven and heat for 25 minutes at 450F.  Once the stone is hot, you can cook the crust the same as you did on the grill. If you don’t have a pizza stone, a cookie sheet produces a fine pizza crust.

Preserve it:  Freezing the raw dough and the cooked ingredients can make this a near instant meal.  If you have the freezer space, grill all of the crusts at once and freeze them in freezer storage bags.

Cooking with Kids: I include them in every part of the preparation.  To make the dough, big girl does the measuring and little girl does the adding and mixing.  Once the dough is prepared, we weigh the entire dough ball in grams, divide by 6 and big girl measures them out while little girl rolls them into balls.  The girls add their own toppings only when we finish them in the oven.


Deli-Style Kosher Dill Pickles–The Full Ferment

Revised on August 7, 2014:

Deli-style Kosher Dills, like the ones you get at any respectable delicatessen, are a “must” on my list of foods to make and preserve. Since gherkin cucumber season is winding down, I’ve got to get to the farmers market early to make sure I get enough.    Twelve pounds of gherkins will get my family through a winter of  “Sandwich Night Wednesdays”  plus the occasional packed lunch with a few more quarts to give away to those friends and families who prize pickles as much as I do. If you have attempted the Half Sour, be brave and take that next step— Deli-style Kosher Dills.   It’s actually quite easy— time and microbes do most of the work.  For a quick overview of the fermentation process, check out Fermentation Pickling Primer. Currants and leavesI add currant leaves to my kosher dills while they ferment.  Not only do they impart a unique and wholly enjoyable smoky flavor, but currant (grape and sour cherry) leaves also contain an enzyme which keeps the cucumbers crisp as they ferment.  If you don’t have a currant bush, grape vine or sour cherry cherry tree, ask your farmer.  Currants grow everywhere in Wisconsin.  In my postage stamp garden, I have 7 currant bushes.  They grow with little care and in the shade, which perfectly suits my gardening style and garden.

DIRECTIONS FOR FERMENTING PICKLES–DELI-STYLE KOSHER DILLSDeli-style Kosher Dills--Ingredients Equipment for Pickling

#1–Gather all the ingredients and equipment:

Ingredients for Fermenting

  • About 3 ½ lbs. pickling cucumbers (3 –5 inches), blossom ends removeBlossom-Endd
  • 6 large sprigs of fresh dill
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 T pickling spice
  • About 12-15 currant or sour cherry leaves (Optional)

Ingredients for the Brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 3/4 heaping cup salt
  • 1/2 cup vinegar (5% acidity)

Equipment for fermenting

Equipment for Fermenting Pickles

  • 6 quart vessel– The picture above shows other vessels I like to use when fermenting more or less cucumbers. Any non-reactive container is fine.
  • Food-grade seal-able plastic bag (like a Ziplock storage) large enough to keep cucumbers submerged

#2–Scrub cucumbers and shave off the blossom-end with a knife or scratch off with your nail (See picture above).  The blossom-end contains enzymes which may soften the cucumber. Deli-Style Kosher Dills--Soaking cucumbers in an ice water bath

#3–(Optional) Soak the cucumbers in an ice water bath for 6-24 hours to maximize crispness.  This isn’t absolutely necessary, but if they are straight from the garden or farmers market, it does help to remove the field heat and keep them crisp.

Deli-style Kosher Dills--Preparing the brine and ingredients #4–Prepare a 5% brine solution–4 quarts water + 3/4 heaping cups canning salt + 1/2 cup flavorful vinegar (optional).  Thoroughly mix until the salt is dissolved.  Add a portion of the brine–about 1 quart–to a strong, food grade plastic bag and seal. I use 1 gallon Ziplock freezer or storage bag. This is your weight to keep the pickles submerged.

Weighted pickles with a brine filled bag #5–Add the cucumbers, dill, garlic spices and leaves to the vessel with the 3 quarts of remaining brine. Place the sealed bag of brine on top of cucumbers making sure that all of the cucumbers are completely submerged. It is necessary to keep them submerged so they are in an anaerobic environment.  Fermentation and lactic acid can only occur in an anaerobic environment.

#6–Check pickles every few days skimming off the white scum.  The pickles should be ready in about 2 weeks (no more than 4).  You’ll know they are done when they are a uniform olive green and taste like a pickle.Deli-style Kosher Dills--fermentation complete

#7–Remove the pickles from the brine and rinse off any yeast.  Strain the brine twice: First in a colander to remove spices and herbs. Second, through a coffee filter to reduce cloudiness. Store pickles in the brine in the refrigerator; they should keep for about a year.   (See directions for canning the pickles below).

Cooking with Kids: I let the kids do most of the work with making pickles. It’s perfect for them.  It involves lots of washing, water, mixing and measuring.  Other than measuring the correct amount of salt, this isn’t precision work, nor does it involve knives or fire.  I also let them skim off the yeast and mold over the 2 – 3 weeks it takes for the pickles to ferment.  They especially love this task for unknown reasons.  I’m guessing the “Yuck Factor” plays a role or maybe it is just the miracle of witnessing something appear from seemingly nothing.


If you want to can them for long-term pantry storage, read on.  You may also want to click on the  link for a quick tutorial in Hot water-bath can.

Deli-Style Kosher Dill Pickles


STEP 1–Gather all your ingredients and canning equipment:

Ingredients for Canning

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • Crushed red pepper flakes or whole hot pepper (optional)
  • Mustard seeds (optional)
  • Sprigs of fresh dill
  • Fermented pickles
  • Filtered brine or freshly made brine—¼ cup salt : 2 quarts water : 2 cups vinegar (5% acidity)

Equipment for Canning

Boil the brineSTEP 2–If you have not done so, filter brine through a coffee filter. Next, boil for five minutes. If you do not like a cloudy brine, you may make new by combining ¼ cup salt : 2 quarts water : 2 cups vinegar (5% acidity) and boiling this for 5 minutes. I sometimes use a combination of fresh and fermented brine. Pack pickles into clean hot jarsSTEP 3–Meanwhile, pack pickles into clean, hot, canning jars along with 1 – 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced and ¼ t crushed red pepper or 1 t mustard seeds and fresh dill. Pour Hot brine

STEP 4–Pour in hot brine over the pickles leaving ½ inch head space. Use a hot-water bath to can the pickles; process pint jars for 10 minutes, quart jars for 15 minutes. canning canned deli-style kosher dills

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Freeze Peaches & Make Fresh Peach Lemonade

Peaches grow best in sub-tropical climates, not here.  I know a few farmers with a few trees, but the harvest is hit or miss.  Happily, this year was a hit.  With our balmy, seemingly endless-summer, which felt more like the South of France than Southeast Wisconsin, peach-tree growers experienced a bumper crop.

Hooray, because eating a fresh, tree-ripened peach is a small slice of summertime heaven.  Second to that, a properly preserved tree-ripened peach surely beats a rock-hard, off-season grocery store peach any day of the week.  So while the season lasts, eat them…and preserve them.  Options remain endless—syrups, pie filling, even pickles.  I prefer to freeze them mostly, but I also make peach fruit leathers and peach butter, neither of which can easily be found at the supermarket. I do follow a strict rule and never can peaches.  Canned peaches conjure memories of bad times like junior high school lunch or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.


Step 1: Blanch and Remove the Skins

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Add whole peaches no more than 8 at a time to the boiling water, cover with lid and time for 3 minutes.  Start timing immediately. Don’t wait for it to return to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the sink, create an ice-water bath.
  4. After 3 minutes, remove peaches with a slotted spoon and place the fruit in the ice-water bath to cool as quickly as possible. This is called blanching, and it stops the activity of the fruits’ enzymes thereby preventing browning.
  5. Once cooled, the skins should slip off easily.
  6. Cut into wedges or halves removing the pit.  I sometimes skip the knife and just use my hands depending on how I will use the fruit later.
  7. Next transfer the cleaned fruit to another large bowl of ice-cold water which has been acidified with lemon juice—¾ cup lemon juice to 8 cups water. The lemon water is an additional safe-guard against browning.  Leave the cleaned peaches here until you are ready to pack and freeze them, and do not dump the water out at the end.  You can turn it into a Peach Lemonade. I’ll show you how.  Read on. (Crushed ascorbic acid/vitamin C will also do if no lemon juice is on hand, but you won’t be able to experience the peachy lemonade).

Step 2: Choose a Freezing Method

Wet Pack Methods:
1.  Sugar Pack
Sprinkle desired amount of sugar over the peaches as you layer them in the freezer-safe storage bags or containers. I use about 1 tablespoon sugar for every 2 cups peaches. Let it set at room temperature for about 5 minutes before freezing it.  This allows the sugar to bring out the peach juices.  Leave ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.
This is my preferred method—great results with less work.  I pack them in 1-cup or 2-cup plastic containers, and use them in my packed lunches or for after-dinner treats all through the winter.  The kids love them.
2. Honey Syrup Pack
Honey syrup is much simpler to make than simple syrup with sugar and water.  You don’t have to make it in advance as it doesn’t require cooking and cooling. Moreover, it has more sweetness with fewer calories. The syrup will be easier to make if the water and honey are warmed slightly.
  • Very Light Honey Syrup—4 parts water: 1 part honey
  • Light Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 1 part honey
  • Heavy Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 2 parts honey

Again, pack the peaches in desired proportions in freezer-safe containers leaving ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.

Dry Pack Method:
Blanch and remove peach skins and pits. Cut into wedges, place on a cookie sheet and set in freezer.  Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe storage container. I can easily remove the number of frozen wedges that I want anytime.  This method is great for storing peaches which you will later bake.  I also like to throw these into smoothies and of course I use them to make Peach Lemonade.
“No time–Freeze now, Prepare Later Method”:
Use this method when you’re really pressed for time and the peaches are on the verge of spoiling.  Put the entire peach in the freezer. That’s it. Transfer it to a freezer bag if you’re planning on leaving it there for more than a few days, otherwise, it will start to shrivel. You can later run the peach under warm water and the skins will slip right off.  I use these peaches to make fruit leathers or peach butters.  This “No time” method works for tomatoes too. 

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Peach Lemonade
Recipe type: Beverage
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: About 2 quarts
Why waste even a bit of peachy goodness? I think of this as my reward after an afternoon of processing and preserving peaches.
  • Lemon water used to hold the cleaned, blanched peaches (about 8 cups)
  • Lemon juice as needed
  • ¾ - 1 cup sugar
  1. Take the lemon water that the clean peaches were floating in awaiting processing and place it in your blender or if you have an immersion blender, transfer it directly to a pitcher. The water will be a peachy-orange color with small bits of peach flesh floating in it.
  2. Add sugar and blend thoroughly in your blender.
  3. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if needed.
Because of the peach bits, it will be a nectar consistancy. Add a whole, clean peach (no skin, no pit) if you'd like an even thicker nectar. This will also work if you want Peach Lemonade on a day you don't want to process a batch of peaches. Ingredients 1 - 2 peaches sans skins and pits ¾ - 1 cup sugar ¾ cup lemon juice Directions Blend in your blender, adjust for flavor, and serve.

Cooking with Kids:  Let your kids help with removing the skins and pit.  I also let my girls spinkle in the sugar while I layer the fruit in containers–just measure out the sugar in advance or have them. They also love to use the blender.  What kid doesn’t like using a noisy machine?  Lastly, the kids must participate in adjusting the taste–great sensory exploration for the little ones and an opportunity to describe flavor for the older ones.

Tip: I want to give a shout out to Tree Ripe.  Long before I knew that we would get a bumper crop of peaches, in late June I headed to the parking lot of the Ace Hardware in West Allis to buy peaches off the back of a truck arriving straight from Georgia.  I bought 70 pounds of peaches. I know GA isn’t exactly local, but it directly supports farmers, and Georgia is closer than California, and I can’t live on apples only.  I also bought 10 pounds of MI blueberries.  If you live in the Midwest check Tree Ripe out.





Springtime Frittata

A meal made with fresh eggs from my favorite farmer, Bob, couldn’t be easier not to mention delicious. I’m not certain why I don’t do it more often. Of all the egg dishes, the frittata or flat omelet reigns supreme welcoming any left-over bits or odd & end veggie I have in the fridge.

A frittata is simply the Italian version of the flat omelet. A flat omelet cooks in a skillet and is not folded. It is instead finished by flipping completely (a sometimes messy affair) or placing under a broiler. Other cuisines use flat omelets. In Spain they have the tortilla made with eggs and potatoes (different than the Mexican tortilla made of corn or flour) and in Persia they have a flat omelet called a kookoo.

Every time I make this particular combination, people gobble it up and ask for more. It is perfect for spring as it makes the most of the veggies available early in the season. Serve it with a simple salad of greens or a chopped Italian salad in sticking with the Italian theme. You’ll have a complete meal in less than 30 minutes.

Springtime Frittata
Recipe type: Main Dish, Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 slices
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 oz. bacon, finely chopped
  • 5 cups fresh spinach, chopped—about 8 oz.
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, cut into ½ inch chunks—about 3 cups
  • ½ cup green onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t pepper
  • Olive oil if the pan needs more oil
  1. Wash and chop new potatoes leaving skins on. Boil or microwave until just tender—about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, salt, pepper and cheese in a large bowl.
  3. In a 12 or 14-inch non-stick or caste iron skillet, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat until crisp.
  4. Next, add the spinach to the same pan; cook until barely wilted.
  5. Next toss in the cooked potatoes, green onions (and olive oil if necessary). Add in the egg mixture and stir with a rubber spatula evenly distributing the ingredients.
  6. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until the egg sets on the bottom and begins to set on top.
  7. Place under a broiler on low for 3 - 4 minutes until golden (watch it closely) or flip into another heated skillet. Cut into wedges and serve hot or cold.

Cooking with Kids:

My kids love to crack eggs.  They are not necessarily good at it, but it fills their little hearts with such joy.  How can I deny them the experience? Even though it sounds scary, teach your kids how to crack eggs and let them try. As long as they are standing over a table and given a very large separate bowl to fish the shells out of, why not.  They can also be placed in charge of whisking.  Again, don’t forget the large bowl.  Remind them, “One hand holds the bowl, one hand whisks.” If you’re near my kitchen on a day we’re making frittata, you’re bound to hear, “God gave you 2 hands, please use them both.” Over, and over, and over.



Garlic Scapes

They look like art—a sculpture of inviting green.  Available only in farmers markets and gardens for a few weeks in June, their ephemeral nature and rarity only adds to their allure. If you are like me, you will spy them in the market and feel compelled to buy them even if you have no clue as to what to do with them.

More than vegetative art, the scape is the flowering stalk of hard neck garlic.  Young tender stalks grow in beautiful curlicues, but as they mature, the stalks straighten and dry and the flowering bulb turns to seed.  To direct the plant’s energy away from making seeds and towards producing a large, flavorful garlic bulb, the farmer removes the tender edible scape.  Viola! My most coveted springtime treat with a taste nearly  identical to garlic with a fresher, milder, more herbal quality.

What to do with it once you’ve brought it home? Well you could chop it up and add it to stir fry or perhaps pickle it, but I suggest  that you make Garlic Scape Paste and add it to everything you would have added garlic…and then some.

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Garlic Scapes
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
  • 1 bunch, about 14 scapes, flowers removed and stalks coarsely chopped
  • ⅔ cup oil (olive, canola, grape or safflower are good choices)
  1. Remove the flower portion of each scape as it can be bitter. I like to save them and use as a garnish.
  2. In a food processor, add scapes and pulse until finely minced.
  3. Next, slowly pour in the oil while processing.
  4. Transfer paste to a glass or plastic jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  5. Paste will keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks. Add to recipes as needed. You can also freeze it.

Preserve It: 
Buy a few bunches at the market, make it en masse, and freeze. Place paste in a freezer bag, press flat removing as much air as possible, label and seal.  If you freeze it flat on the shelf, you can break off bits of garlic scape paste as you need it as long as it lasts.  Even if freezer real estate is an issue for you, put this on the A-list.  It is a tasty time saver-—better-than-minced-garlic-flavor-at-the-ready.

Cooking with Kids:

Have your kids help with the prep by using scissors to remove the flowers, and cut the scapes into chunks for easy processing.  They are also very good at pushing buttons…I mean for the food processor.