Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Pickle Project: Day 3- Scum

Pickle scum on top of the pickles, Day 3 of the 14 day pickling process.
On Days 1-7 of the pickling process, there's not much to do but turn the pickles once a day to keep "scum" from forming on the top.  I thought this would mean skimming off the scum, but apparently it's enough to just stir the scum back into the pickling juice.  Yum.  It seemed kind of gross to me at first, but I've been eating these pickles all my life so who am I to question the recipe that my mother and grandmother and who knows how many generations of women before them had all used without any ill effects.  I would learn to stir the scum of my pickles back into the mix.
My mom shows me how to gently stir the pickles with her hand, Day 3 of the 14 day pickling process.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Many Uses of Lettuce

There are many ways to use lettuce, but I suspect we find more than the average family.  In addition to putting lettuce in salads,  on sandwiches, and eating it straight out of the garden, we also use it to make the occasional baby-doll hat.

The Pickle Project: Day 1- The Recipe for 14 Day Pickles

                                                    14 DAY PICKLES (Also called ICICLE PICKLES)
by Linda Lutz

Supplies and Ingredients
A  stone jar (crock) that will hold 3 to 5 gallons
2 gallon cooking pot 
10 pounds small cucumbers with few seeds..(Japanese or pickling cucumbers)
8 pints of white sugar  
1 tablespoon of powdered alum
1/8 cup, plus 1 teaspoon of pickling spices
2 cups of Morton’s regular salt (not iodized)
Canning jars (Pints, quarts or half gallon)
Canning lids and rings
Canning jar funnel

DAYS  1-7:  Cut cucumbers in chunks 3/4 inches thick to make 2 gallons of sliced cucumbers.

Place in a stone jar (crock).  

 Pour 1 gallon boiling water over cucumber chunks in which 2 cups regular not iodized table salt is dissolved.

 Place a plate over cucumbers to keep them submerged in salted water.

 Let stand for one week.  Stir each day with hands.  (If you forget to stir it every day, you might have to skim the scum off the top.)

NOTE:  Do not count the first day as "Day 1".  "Day 1" begins 24 hours AFTER you put the sliced cucumbers in the crock and add the salt water.

Day 8:  Drain salt water from cucumbers.  

Pour 1 gallon of hot tap water over cucumber chunks and drain again.  Wipe any scum from sides of jar. 

 Pour 1 gallon boiling water over  cucumbers chunks.  (It is important to do steps 8 - 14 at approximately the same time of day so you have a full 24 hours between steps.)
Day 9:  Drain and pour over cucumbers 1 gallon boiling water in which 1 Tablespoon of alum has been dissolved.

Day  10:  Drain off alum water and pour over 1 gallon boiling water.

Day 11:  Drain carefully.  Remove cucumbers chunks from stone jar and dry jar with a towel to  remove all liquid.
Make syrup:

  • Heat 2 quarts apple cider vinegar in a large pot.
  • Add 8 pints (16 cups) sugar 
  • Add 1/8 cup plus 1 tsp pickling spices
  • Heat to boiling.
Pour hot syrup over cucumber chunks.

Day 12:  Pour off syrup into a pan and reheat to boiling. Pour reheated syrup back over cucumbers.  

Day 13:  Pour off syrup into a pan and reheat to boiling.  Pour reheated syrup back over cucumbers.

Day 14:  Pour off syrup into a pan and reheat to boiling.  Pour reheated syrup over cucumbers.

Let set in stone jar at least 24 hours before canning pickles.  (Grandma Willie kept her pickles in the crock and never canned them.  She just put a towel over the top of the crock so the bugs wouldn't get in them.)

Canning Pickles:
Thoroughly clean canning jars by putting in dish washer or wash with soapy water and rinse with hot water.  Leave canning jars in dishwasher til ready to use to keep jars warm or let hot water set in jars until ready to pack “pickles” in jars. 

Drain syrup from pickles and heat to boiling.

Pour water from jar or remove one from dishwasher.  Pack jar with pickles.  Repeat until all the pickles in the crock have been transfered to canning jars.

Pour boiling syrup over each jar of pickles until it reaches ½ inch from the top of the jar. Using a plastic knife or spatula, run down side of jar to remove air bubbles. 

Wipe mouth of jars with damp cloth to remove syrup.

Meanwhile, pour boiling water over flat jar lids and let set for 5 minutes.  Remove from water and place on jar.  Screw jar ring on tightly.

Let set undisturbed for 24 hours.   A pinging noise will indicate sealing.  

After 24 hours, you can check for proper sealing by pressing on the top of each lid.  If the lid bends and you hear a noise, the jar is not properly sealed.  You can still eat the pickles, but they should be kept in a refrigerator.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Pickle Project: Cutting the Cucumbers

Washing cucumbers before slicing them for 14 Day Pickles, June 27, 2010.
Now that we had the cucumbers and the crock, the hard work of making pickles could begin.  This was our official "Day 0" of pickle making.  The most confusing part of this process is trying to understand the fact that you start on Day 0 and don't get to Day 1 until 24 hours have passed.  This is very unclear in the recipe, which I will post tomorrow.  I don't know why it works this way, but both of my parents seemed baffled by my lack of understanding so I figured I should just go with it.

My mother and I carefully washed all the beautiful cucumbers we'd bought from Mr. Vue and picked off all the bits of stem that clung to the ends.  Once the cucumbers were clean, we cut them into perfect 3/4 inch slices.  
The perfect size for a pickle is 3/4 of an inch.  
My mother told me I should always start cutting the cucumber at the small stem end, not the large bottom side.  That way, if you end up with uneven slices and have to throw away part of the cucumber, you're throwing away the larger, less desirable end of the cucumber.  

After helping my mom slice 19 pounds of cucumbers, I realized two things.  

1.  My mother has an amazing capacity to slice cucumbers into evenly sized pieces, while wasting very little of the cucumber.

2.  It only takes about 10 pounds of cucumbers to make the 2 gallons of sliced cucumbers we needed.  Not the 19 pounds we bought.

So we recalculated the amounts and decided we would make a batch and a half.  We're going to have a lot of pickles this year.

Pouring cucumber pieces into the crock.
Once you put all the cucumber pieces in the crock, you have to cover them with salted water.  I hadn't looked at the recipe up until this point, so I haven't listed it here, but I'll post the complete 14 day pickle recipe tomorrow.  For today, all you need to know is that you have to dissolve 2 cups of non-iodized salt in 1 gallon of water for each gallon of cucumber slices in your crock.

We dutifully boiled 3 cups of non-iodized salt in 1 1/2 gallons of water and poured it over our cucumber slices in the bottom of the crock.  After that, just top the mixture with a plate and put the crock in a cool, out of the way place.  My crock of pickles is under my kitchen table, covered by a large, fluffy bathroom towel to keep the kids and the cat out of it!

The Pickle Project: Buying Cucumbers

"Japanese Shorts" at Vue's Farm Fresh, June 27, 2010.
Once I'd gotten the crock, the next step in the Pickle Project was to find the right cucumbers.  I'd seen pickling cucumbers at the Tuesday farmer's market in Pasadena, but I wanted my mom to help me pick them out and she wasn't due to arrive from Virginia until later that day.  So I waited.

On Thursday, we went to the South Pasadena farmer's market, but nobody had pickling cucumbers.

On Friday, we went to the Eagle Rock farmer's market, but nobody had pickling cucumbers.  I was beginning to despair.  After all, Daniel had only agreed to lend me the crock for 14 days and I was now three days over my time limit.  I dodged Daniel's calls for several days.

On Sunday morning, we went to the Alhambra farmer's market and as my daughter would say, "BINGO!", we found the perfect cucumbers.

Mom and I took a full loop around the farmer's market to check out all the cucumbers we could find before returning to the first stand we'd visited.

The owner of the stand, Mr. Vue, was very knowledgeable and seemed pleased when we told him we'd looked at all the cucumbers at the farmer's market and decided that his were the best.  Mr. Vue nodded and  proudly showed us the palms of his hands, which were rough and had obviously done their share of hard work.  He told us that his hands were the hands of a farmer and that he'd picked these cucumbers himself just that morning.  My mother, in turn, showed him her equally rough hands and said she too had the hands of a farmer.  Mr Vue and my mother had reached an understanding.  Although Mr. Vue's cucumbers were normally priced at $1.50 a pound, I asked him what the price would be if we bought all the cucumbers in the bin.  Mr. Vue did some quick accounting in his head and came up with a very good price... 75 cents a pound.  Sold.

Just as we were getting ready to help bag the cucumbers from the bin on the table in front of us, Mr. Vue waved us off and pulled out an even fresher batch of cucumbers from his truck.  In the end, we bought 19 pounds of "Japanese Shorts" from Mr. Vue.  We excitedly took our cucumbers to the car and went back to get the rest of our fruits and vegetables for the week.  As we looked over the peaches from the stand around the corner from Vue's stand, we realized that Mr. Vue was coming towards us holding a giant bag of Chinese broccoli.  He told us he wanted us to try it and refused any payment.  I guess Mr. Vue knows the look of a potential dedicated customer when he sees one.  The Chinese broccoli was delicious.  Thanks, Mr. Vue!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sugar Bowl Tragedy

The moment of impact.  Evidence of "The Sugar Bowl Incident" or "The Case of the Deadly Spaghetti Container".
I haven't had much luck with sugar bowls in my house recently and I blame it on the spaghetti container.  A few weeks ago I was working away on my spaghetti and meatball recipe when the spaghetti container fell out of the cabinet, crashing down on the sugar bowl and breaking it into pieces.  The really weird thing is that I had been taking photographs of a plate of meatballs on my kitchen counter just before the accident happened, and I'd set the camera down next to the sugar bowl.  When the spaghetti container fell, it must have broken the sugar bowl and then bounced onto the camera, tripping the shutter just as sugar erupted from the broken bowl.  So here it is... evidence of the deadly deed.

I mentioned this accident to my mother and she said, "That's what happened to me when I broke your last sugar bowl when we were visiting!"  Needless to say I was a little surprised.  That spaghetti container was out to get me and my sugar bowls.  And I was mad.

The first sugar bowl had belonged to my Great Aunt Francis and I'd been using it for years, knowing that I live in earthquake country and that at any moment it could bite the dust in The Big One.  My Great Uncle Kermit had brought the sweet little sugar bowl back from Japan during World War II and I loved it.  But I figured it was better to enjoy it while I could than to dig it out from a dusty closet when I'm old and hand it over to one of my daughters.  Or worse... have them fight over it when I'm dead.  So I used my little sugar bowl on a daily basis and thought of my Aunt Francis.  And when it was broken, I said goodbye and unearthed the Russell Wright combination sugar bowl/creamer.  It was shiny and black and very modern.  Not at all like my Aunt Francis' porcelain sugar bowl with its pretty fruit and flower pattern around the rim, but just as nice in it's own way.  And then the spaghetti container got it too!!!

I no longer use the spaghetti container, which has been banished to the far reaches of the upper cabinet over the refrigerator.  (My friend Luca says this is a mistake because the spaghetti container will corrupt the rest of my kitchen equipment.  I hope he's wrong.)  My husband now keeps the sugar for his coffee in a tiny tupperware container.  And I'm on the lookout for my next sugar bowl.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Pickle Project Begins

Daniel's 5 gallon crock in his front yard.
Anyone who has ever made pickles knows that you need to start with a really big crock.  And since I didn't have one, I called on my friend Daniel Marlos, who owns two kitchen tools I wish I had-- a giant cooking pot and a 5 gallon crock.

I'd asked Daniel if I could borrow the crock about six months ago and he had agreed to lend it to me when the pickling cucumbers were in season.  But now that the time had come, he'd had second thoughts.

Daniel is a man who doesn't mince words and I knew he meant it when he said, "Come over now if you want it.  You made me want to start pickling things, so you'd better come get the crock before I change my mind."  I picked up my keys and ran out the door.

I had also been promised a PLT when I arrived and I was hungry.  A PLT is Daniel's version of a BLT, but made with pancetta instead of bacon.  It was his way of honoring the first ripe tomatoes of the season and I knew better than to miss this.

Daniel's volunteer tomato plant in side yard.
Daniel's first tomatoes came from a "volunteer" tomato plant in his side yard and it was a very large plant, especially for one that hadn't been given the loving care that the tomato plants in his garden received.  Daniel is a committed gardener, and he tends his garden as he does most things-- with gusto.  Some might call it obsession.  Whatever it is, it works.

When I got to Daniel's house, he pointed me to the crock and handed me a Fuller brush I'd given him when he moved into his house years ago.  I spent a few minutes cleaning out the crock, which had been unused for five years and was in desperate need of scrubbing.  Daniel left me to my task while he went into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the PLTs.  I cleaned the crock as well as I could, and hurried inside to reap my reward.

I was not disappointed.  I love a BLT, but I have to say, a PLT is even better because the pancetta doesn't slide off the sandwich the way bacon can.  Daniel had assembled all the makings of our PLTs on his kitchen table and the display was so beautiful that I couldn't resist taking a photograph of it before we dug in.  Delicious.  I hope the pickles are just as good when they're ready to eat.  And of course, Daniel will get the first jar.
The makings of a delicious mid-afternoon snack at Daniel's house, June 23, 2010.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Annabel Loves To Cook

Even a pretend kitchen holds great appeal for my little Annabel, especially when she can get a moment away from her older sister.  The girls had a good time exploring in the vintage kitchen in the basement of the Autry Museum of the American West and Annabel especially loved the oven.  Until she got her finger stuck in it.  But even then, she still wanted to play in the kitchen.  She just stayed away from the oven.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Zucchini of the Season

Our first zucchini, June 20, 2010.

Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables and I was very excited to spot our first tiny zucchini of the season.  I never have much luck with zucchini, but perhaps my luck is finally changing!

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wasted Chicken... I'm So Irritated!

Yesterday was a busy day.  It's was my stepson's birthday and I was running around cleaning, going to the grocery store, and taking care of two little ones.  In the frenzy, I left a bag of groceries in the car overnight.  Did it contain dry goods?  A loaf of bread?  Cans of fruit for my youngest daughter?  NOOOO... it was the roasted chicken I bought yesterday to make my life easier today.  

I discovered the oversight this morning as I was sorting through the party leftovers and trying to figure out what I had planned to serve for dinner tonight.  Today is my big "work day" and I knew I'd need an easy dinner for this evening.  I'd planned ahead and bought a roasted chicken and a bag of new potatoes.  We also had tomatoes from the farmer's market and although I wasn't sure what I'd make, I knew I had the fixings for a simple and delicious meal.  That is, until I realized that the chicken was NOT in the refrigerator.  I frantically sorted through leftover pizza boxes and containers of chopped celery and cheese, hoping the chicken was buried under the pile.  And then I realized... the chicken must be in the car.  Sigh.

I ran out to the car in my slippers and found the poor bird festering away in the trunk.  I was tempted to take a photograph of it, but I thought that might annoy me even more.  So no photo.  And no more wasting time by writing about the subject any further.

I don't know what we'll have for dinner tonight, but it certainly won't be chicken.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My "Dad's" Garden

Zucchini, corn, and tomatoes in my father's garden.
This morning my dad sent me a series of photographs of his garden and although I've seen his garden many times over the years, I was still pretty impressed.

Truth be told, this is not just my dad's garden.  It is my parents' garden.  They started it when my grandparents moved in with them and my grandmother needed something to do once she left the farm she had lived on for over 50 years.  My parents' backyard was too small to plant a garden large enough to occupy my grandmother for any length of time, so they bought an empty house lot down the street and planted a large garden.

The garden is divided into two parts... one for vegetables and one for flowers.  The vegetable garden is my father's domain.  Of course, my mom does a huge amount of work watering, picking, cleaning, and canning the vegetables that come out of it, but it is still under my father's ultimate control.

The cutting garden at the front of "the lot" belongs to my mom and she uses it to grow flowers for flower arrangements. The flower garden up at the house is for show, but this is where she grows the bulk of her cut flowers.  It's a wild little garden and it's not meant to be pretty, although I like the strange mixture of plants that flourish there at different times of the year.  It's the place my mom can grow plants that aren't necessarily attractive in and of themselves, but produce beautiful flowers.

My parents' vegetable garden, June 17, 2010.
My parents occasionally have turf wars, and it always cracks me up.  I hear stories like, "Your father dug up the green beans yesterday because he was tired of picking them, but I wasn't done with my canning!" or "Your mother wants me to extend the fence around her garden, but she doesn't use all the flowers she already grows, so I'm not in any hurry to do it".  I don't know why I find these stories so hilarious.  Maybe it's because "the lot" is such a good metaphor for my parents' marriage (although I'm sure they'd both be horrified by this idea or any discussion of their "relationship".)  Their garden is well-tended, fruitful, and a little crazy, but in an amusing and creative way.

For years my parents have raised a lot more produce than they can eat themselves and they always share their garden's bounty with neighbors, friends, relatives, and the occasional "varmint", as my father calls the creatures who eat his vegetables.  The gift of produce smoothes the way with difficult neighbors and encourages visits from friends and family... especially during tomato season.  It's amazing to see how much comes out of their garden and how much they get out of the process.  I only have space for a tiny vegetable garden in my yard, but every year I find myself digging out a new little patch to grow just one more row of tomatoes or a few cucumber plants.  These experiments don't always work out, but they do give us all something to talk about and get my family out into the yard, working together and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let's Hear It For Green Beans!

The first green beans of the season, May 23, 2010.
Green beans have been one of our great gardening success stories of the season so far.  We haven't had a large crop, but we have had enough that Violet can go pick a few green beans every couple of days.  She now loves green beans, which she wouldn't touch before we started growing them.  And she even has contests with her brother Ben to see who can eat green beans the fastest!
Violet picks green beans in our tiny garden plot.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rotten Pumpkin, Gross!

Bye, bye, pumpkin!  
Well, it finally happened.  We had to say goodbye to the last of our Halloween pumpkins.  This one outlasted the others by a good six months, but nine months after we blew out the candle in our Jack-o-lantern, we bid a fond farewell to our last uncut pumpkin sitting on the window ledge.  I was sad to see him go since he had lasted so long, but Violet enjoyed seeing the rotten underbelly of the pumpkin.  I believe she yelled, "Squishy!  Gross!!" when she saw it.  Then she went to run in her "meadow", which is what she calls the four-foot square of clover growing in our front yard.  Life goes on...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bye, bye loquats...

The last of the loquats in our backyard, May 14, 2010.
After a delicious harvest season that lasted for almost two months, we finally had to say goodbye to the loquats in our back yard.  Although there are a few shriveled fruits still hanging sadly from the tree, I had to convince my daughter Annabel that she could no longer eat her newly discovered favorite food.  This is a hard thing to explain to a one year-old, especially when she can still see fruit taunting her as it dangles from the branches over her head.  Luckily, the fruit has stopped falling to the ground and she can't climb trees yet, so we're pretty much over the hump.  But I'm looking forward to the arrival of zucchini season.  I have a feeling zucchini bread will make a nice consolation prize.
Loquat tree in our backyard, May 14, 2010.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Radishes, Take Two

Violet checks out the radish crop.
 After the Great Radish Debacle that took place during our first radish harvest, I decided that I would not ruin the fun of letting my daughter pull up radishes for the rest of the season.  The poor little guys have gone to seed now, but we had great fun harvesting them over the past few weeks.  And we will definitely plant more as soon as we get the chance.

Violet picks radishes from our planter by the side door, May 15, 2010.
Radishes from our garden, picked on May 15, 2010.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Heart-Shaped Chocolate Chip Muffins

The other day my three year-old daughter said to me, "Mommy, I'm bored!".  I hear this phrase from her regularly and my own mother believes it's karma at work, so I try to be sympathetic.  I remember what it was like to feel at loose ends and know that if only my mother would put her mind to it, she could think of something amazing to entertain me.  So I did my best.

Me:  Do you want to do art?
V:    No.
Me:  Wanna do a puzzle together?
V:   No.
Me: Want to play in the sandbox?
V:   No.
Me: Uh... how about making chocolate chip muffins?
V:   Yea!!!

We had a winner.  I asked Violet to go to her pretend kitchen and find my Grandmother's tiny heart-shaped muffin tins.  I let the girls play with them, but we'd never actually cooked with them before and I don't know why I thought about it now.  Violet seemed confused, but obeyed.  She was back in a flash and proudly handed me her muffin tins.  We washed them out and made our batter.

I poured the batter into the muffin tins and thought of my grandmother and how much she would have loved watching the proceedings.  My Grandma Willie never got to meet Violet, but I know she would have enjoyed cooking with Violet, just as she had with me.  She would have loved Violet's sense of humor, her sweet smile, and most of all, her love of unusual words and phrases.  Violet plays around with words and entertains herself by using words in interesting ways, just like my grandmother did.  A few days ago she said, "Mom, I had an INCREDIBLE day today."  When I asked her what made her day incredible, she told me a long story involving flying bears, beautiful princesses, and free candy.  Clearly, she understands what "incredible" means.  And this happens every day.  Sometimes she sings songs using her new words and last week we started playing a "word of the day" game.  Recent words of the day include "exuberant", "Antarctica", and her favorite, "Bingo!", which I explained means "You got it!"  or "That's right!".  She likes to use this expression whenever somebody does something to her satisfaction, like when her father guesses that she wants ice cream for dessert.  Bingo!

My grandmother and I also had our own special word game.  When I'd come home from college, my grandmother would try to think of a word or phrase I'd never heard before and "casually" sneak it into a sentence.  I think the game started accidentally, but we continued playing for the rest of her life and we always pretended that it was not a game, but a naturally occurring event.   I looked forward to the moment in each visit when she'd come up with some crazy new idiom.  One of the first times we played this game, we were discussing my mother's test results from a recent doctor's appointment.  She said,  "Oh, I was standing gander."  I acted shocked, only partially acting, "What does THAT mean?  I've never heard that one before!"  She gave me a sly smile and coyly respond, "Really?  Oh, that's just an old country expression.  I can't believe you don't know that one!  Standing gander means you're waiting for something to happen.  Like in the old days when a man would stand around pacing and  listening at the door, while his wife was having a baby in another room."  At some point later in the visit I'd find a way to work the expression into another conversation with her.  I can't remember how I used the phrase "standing gander", but I remember that it was a tricky one.

It was always fun to see my grandmother and we continued this game over the phone once I moved to California.  My daughter Violet gets the same pleasure out of using words to entertain others and although I'd never considered the similarity between my daughter and my grandmother until we started making our muffins, it seemed so obvious now.

As the heart-shaped muffin tins went into the oven, I thought about how lucky I was to have known such an amazing woman and how lucky I am to have the chance to raise a little girl who is so much like my grandmother in this way.  And I silently thanked my mother for giving me the cast-aside muffin tins that made this wonderful revelation possible.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Spaghetti and Meatball Recipe

I'm working on a new recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and this past weekend I tried it out for Sunday dinner. I thought they were pretty good, but I have a feeling I'll still keep tinkering.  Here it is so far.  I'd love to hear from you if you try it out!!

Recipe by Susan Lutz copyright 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs is a classic Italian Sunday dinner meal.  I have several recipes for meatballs and "gravy", as my Italian friends refer to it, but this is my favorite and it’s based on verbal instructions I received from several Italian-American friends.  (None of them have a written recipe!)  My friend Jena never cooks her meatballs before dropping them in the sauce because that's the way her mother always did it, and she says it helps keep the meatballs tender.  She’s right, and I love this method because it’s so much easier than frying or baking the meatballs first.  If you make the meatballs from ground turkey, you don’t even have to skim the fat off the top of the sauce.

I start this recipe by preparing the meatballs first.  If ground meat is on sale, I will make a double-recipe and freeze them uncooked.  I take them out of the freezer the day before I want to make my next batch of spaghetti and meatballs and drop them right into the sauce.  Couldn’t be easier.

Ingredients for Meatballs
  • 1.25 pounds ground meat  (I like to use ground turkey with 3 percent fat, but you can also substitute ground beef with the same fat content)
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup onion, grated on the large-hole side of a box grater
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • ½ cup finely grated Pecornino Romano  or Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley (or 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Instructions for Meatballs
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients and stir until just mixed together.  Do not overmix.

Roll meat mixture into small meatballs, approximately 1-inch in diameter.  Place on tray or cookie sheet in a single layer until you’re ready to use them.  I make them just before cooking the sauce so I leave them on the counter, but you can also make them ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Ingredients for Sauce and Pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, grated on the large-hole side of a box grater
  • 4 cloves of garlic, run through a garlic press or finely chopped
  • 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup of red wine
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley (or 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon Iodized salt)
  • ¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • ¼ to ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil
Instructions for Sauce and Pasta
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally until lightly browned.  Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute, being careful that it does not burn it.

Add tomato paste and thyme and stir over medium heat for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. 

Add chicken stock, red wine, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Gently drop meatballs into the sauce and stir.  Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for at least 1 hour, or until meatballs are no longer pink in the center and cut easily with a fork.

The longer the sauce cooks, the better it will be.  If using ground beef for the meatballs, you may need to skim the fat off the top of the sauce before serving.

To serve, cook spaghetti according to package directions and place in large serving bowl.  Spoon hot sauce and meatballs over pasta and stir.  Tear basil into small pieces and sprinkle on top, along with the grated Parmesan cheese. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How Our Garden Grows

The humble beginnings of our garden two weeks after planting, May 15, 2010.

We planted our garden at the end of April this year because we wanted to host our annual Easter egg hunt before putting our tender young plants in the ground.  It worked out pretty well, except for the fact that the slugs ate all our lettuce seedlings, just as they began to sprout.  (Note the giant hole in the foreground of the photograph above.)  The green beans, tomatoes, and zucchini are all growing nicely.

Our main garden plot, May 23, 2010.
Four weeks after planting, our garden was a very happy place and we were ready to harvest our first green beans.  But we still hadn't found time to replant the lettuce.  I've done that now, but I haven't had time to take a photo of it yet.  

We also planted tomatoes in a new spot behind the garage.  They seem very happy there and I hope to have a bumper crop this year!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mommy Needs a Break!

Tim's Sunday dinner, hot off the grill, May 16, 2010.
Ok, I admit it.  A couple of weeks ago I snapped.  Making Sunday dinner for my family became too much for me with everything else we had to accomplish that day and I had a major breakdown.  I was ready to order pizza when my dear husband took it upon himself to prepare Sunday dinner.  He sent me away to "take a little rest", as my daughter would say, and whisked the girls away to the grocery store with him.  When he came back, he barred me from the kitchen and next thing I knew, a delicious hot meal was waiting for us all.  He grilled chicken thighs on the bbq and boiled new potatoes, which he knows I love.  He even made a salad, which I hate to do, and added a sprig of fresh thyme to each plate.  It was a great meal, a much needed break, and a good reminder that I don't always have to do everything by myself.