Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Zucchini Lasagna

We're always excited to find new ways to use our garden produce. I shared these yummy zucchini muffins last week in case you missed them and they are superb. Today I'm excited to share this delicious Zucchini Lasagna recipe given to me by Kim, my hair stylist and good friend. She grows a beautiful garden and has shared many awesome gardening tips and ideas with me. She told me about this lasagna at the end of last gardening season and I never got a chance to make it. I texted her this year begging for the recipe when my zucchini came on in full force. She was kind enough to share the basic ideas with me and I adapted it using on my own spaghetti sauce and a few ideas I read about from the web. 

One of the wonderful things about this recipe is the fresh Mexican ricotta cheese. Mexican ricotta is different than regular ricotta in that it has a wonderful firm texture without a lot of liquid. If you can't find the Mexican ricotta (I think you can actually make it too, but I usually buy mine at a Mexican market near my home) you can use regular ricotta or cottage cheese. If I was making this with regular ricotta or cottage cheese I would probably buy a little bigger container than 16 oz. and leave it for a little while in a fine mesh strainer to strain out some of the extra liquid. Then measure out 16 oz. and use as directed in the recipe. 

This is a delicious lasagna and we've really enjoy eating it this harvest season. It's light but filling and packed full of flavor. I made it for my dad who is Celiac and has to eat gluten free and he loved it. My husband has commented a time or two of eating this that you really don't miss the lasagna noodles or even notice you're eating zucchini until you look at the color. I hope your family enjoys it too. Thanks Kim for sharing an awesome recipe!

Zucchini Lasagna
Printable Recipe

*Serves 6-8

2 small-medium zucchini (no monsters please)
sea salt
1/2 - 1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, turkey sausage, Italian sausage, etc. I usually only use 1/2 lb. when I make this with the quinoa sauce)
1 recipe Homemade Spaghetti Sauce with Quinoa (or a 28-oz. bottle of spaghetti sauce of your choice)
16 oz. ricotta or cottage cheese (I use fresh Mexican ricotta cheese. It's called Requeson.)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 Cup fresh parsley, chopped or 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1/3 - 1/2 Cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
3 Cups grated Jack or Mozzarella cheese or cheese blend

Slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips 1/8" to 1/4" thick. I usually use a mandolin slicer to do this so they are all fairly evenly sliced. Sprinkle zucchini strips lightly with salt and let drain in strainer for about 30 minutes while preparing the sauce (This is an optional step. I've made it without draining the zucchini and it's still very good, just more runny than if you let the zucchini drain first). Brown meat in large saucepan. Drain and discard grease. Add sauce ingredients and let simmer until done according to the recipe or if using bottled spaghetti sauce just heat until warm. While sauce is heating, combine ricotta cheese, black pepper, salt, parsley and Parmesan cheese in medium bowl and mix until combined. Set aside. Dry off zucchini strips with paper towels until no or little moisture is left.

Preheat oven to 350 F. When ready to assemble lasagna, add about 1/3 - 1/2 cup sauce to lightly cover the bottom of a 9x13" baking pan. Lay out the zucchini strips without overlapping to cover the pan. Then add a 1/3 of the remaining sauce and the ricotta cheese mixture on top. Lay out another layer of zucchini strips on top of the riccotta cheese mixture and press down lightly. Then add 1/2 of the remaining sauce and sprinkle with grated jack or mozzarella cheese. Lay out the rest of the zucchini strips and then add the remainder of the sauce and grated cheese.

Bake lasagna in preheat 350 F oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Once cooked, let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*Note: This lasagna can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking.

*Recipe Source: Adapted from a recipe shared with me by my friend Kim.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fresh Zucchini Muffins

I don't know about you but school is sneaking up on me way to fast. All to soon the rush will be here again and questions of "What's for breakfast?", "What's for lunch?", and "What's for snack?" will plague me every day times two. Sometimes thinking up creative answers to those questions is difficult. My first grader won't even eat a sandwich so that throws some extra fun into the school lunch mix this year. 

In my efforts of late that alternate between freaking out and trying to prepare for those inevitable school days just around the corner, I ran across this recipe that I started perfecting last year but never finished before I ran out of the zucchini harvest. Well I'm happy to report that my zucchini harvest is back in full swing so I've completed the task and this recipe is wonderful in it's perfected state. Delicious, moist, and light. Healthy, hearty, and sweet. These tender morsels of yumminess are just the thing for an easy breakfast, lunch or snack. 

But before you take the same path I did, I have to warn you. Don't even think that making a double or even triple batch of these yummy muffins and freezing them will somehow make it so you have frozen muffins when you need them during a hectic school day. Not a chance. These things have disappearing properties that are amazing. I haven't scientifically figured out how that works yet, but trust me it's true. Consider yourself warned. 

Fresh Zucchini Muffins
Printable Recipe

*Makes 12 muffins

*Note: These muffins freeze well so go ahead and make a double or triple batch!

1-1/2 Cups Wonder Flour
1/2 Cup Quick Oats
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1-1/2 Cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini's, grated)
1/2 Cup honey
2 eggs
1/3 Cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350 F. Grease 12 muffin tins or line with crinkly paper cupcake liners. In a medium bowl whisk together Wonder Flour, quick oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine grated zucchini, honey, eggs, canola oil, and vanilla. Stir well to combine, then add the flour mixture and mix until barely combined. Be careful not to over-mix or you will end up with dense muffins.

Fill muffin tins with about 1/3 Cup muffin batter. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 25 minutes or until muffins turn golden brown.

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Friday, August 8, 2014

Frugal Friday: Kitchen Tip/Tutorial - Freezing Fresh Green Beans

I can't believe that summer is almost over! The garden is producing like crazy and in case you missed it, last week I shared a tour of my lovely garden sanctuary. People often ask me what we do with all of the food from our garden because it's a lot more than a family of four can eat when it comes on in full force. I spend a lot of my time this time of year preserving the garden harvest so that we can eat it all year round. Since I'm not a huge fan of canned green beans (and I don't think they are very nutritious), I usually preserve the green beans by freezing them. And they are wonderful. Home frozen green beans are so much better than those you buy from the store because you can pick and freeze them at the peak of their ripeness so they will be tender and yummy when you use them later in the year. Green beans are definitely one of the prized harvests from the garden and today I'm going to share a step by step tutorial on how to freeze them so you can do it easily yourself.

How To Freeze Green Beans
Printable Tutorial

Step 1: Pick or buy fresh young and tender green beans. Do not use tough or overripe beans for freezing or you will be disappointed in the results. Fill up a large steamer pot with water and heat to boiling. While water is heating, wash and trim ends of beans. Cut beans into lengths 2 inches or more or leave original size (longer cuts are the best quality).

Step 2: Once the water has started boiling, place beans in steamer basket (being careful not to over
crowd) and cook for 3 minutes. Start the timer immediately after placing beans in boiling water. This is called blanching. Blanching is important in freezing most vegetables because it's stops the enzyme action, which can cause a loss of flavor, color, and texture.

Step 3: When 3 minutes is up, remove the beans from the boiling water and immediately place in cold ice water to stop them from cooking anymore.

Step 4: When beans have cooled completely (about 5 to 10 minutes), drain water. 

Step 5: Pack beans in freezer bags, label, date and place in the freezer. Frozen green beans should last at least a year in the freezer.

Growing your own food and then preserving it is a wonderful way to save money and be frugal with your resources. What about you? Did you grow a garden this year? What's your favorite thing growing right now?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chocolate Wafers (Honey Sweetened)

A few weeks ago my oldest son and husband decided that they would start a challenge to see if our whole family could not eat any sugar treats, sugar drinks/soda, or candy until school started. School was 30 days away at the time and I of course though. Duh! Of course I'll do that with you! :) It's been two full weeks and I've been amazed at the stuff my kids have passed up: donuts, candy bars, lemon meringue pie (that was a bit hard for yours truly...), and TONS more junk. They have done soooo well! And don't worry...it will all pay off. At the end of 30 days we will have a special adventure trip (I think it involves fishing on a floating device of some sort) as the reward.

So have I noticed a difference? I have. I love watching the effects of my family becoming more healthy. I know for myself I feel better. More energy. I get more done. I feel invigorated. I have more patience. Healthy is great. And I really am hoping that at the end of the 30 days my kids will be better prepared to make wise decisions about the sugar treats they take into their bodies instead of just eating every treat that comes around.

So what about you? Have you tried anything like this in your family? I've been so pleased with how it's turned out. We still enjoy treats. Just treats with no sugar. And there's so many wonderful treats like that out there. One of our favorites this summer has been watermelon. It's so delicious. 

Today I'm going to share another of our newly discovered honey sweetened treats (with no processed sugar). These are the chocolate version of these vanilla wafers that I discovered last year. We still love the vanilla version. They are so yummy. And these chocolate wafers. They are so good and not hard to make. They will make the perfect school lunch or after school snack when school comes around too. Hope you enjoy them!   

Chocolate Wafers (Honey Sweetened)
Printable Recipe

*Makes 12-13 dozen wafers

1/2 Cup butter
1/2 Cup raw honey
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Cup wonder flour
1/4 cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 325 F. In a medium mixing bowl cream butter and honey together until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and mix well until combined. Add wonder flour, cocoa powder, sea salt, and baking powder and mix until smooth. Spoon mixture into a zip-lock sandwich bag and zip the top. Cut off a tiny bit of the corner and pipe the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet in nickel sized blobs about 1/2" apart. Bake for 8 minutes at 325 F. Then turn off oven and let sit in oven for another 5-10 minutes. Be sure to watch carefully so they don't burn. Remove from oven and let cool until crispy and then remove from pans to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough, reusing the parchment paper. Cool completely and then store in an airtight container. They should fresh for a couple of weeks, but I doubt if they'll last that long.

Recipe Source: Adapted from this vanilla wafers recipe

Why not try the chocolate AND vanilla wafers together? I may have done that...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Garden Update 2014

I decided that it's time again for me to share with you our sanctuary. We've spent a lot of time this year in the garden and it has paid off. It's such a wonderful place. There's just something about a garden that soothes the soul, awakens the senses, and provides a feeling of tranquility like nothing else does. I hope you're ready for a WHOLE LOT of pictures.

Welcome to our garden!
View from our patio.
New this year you will see the drinking fountain which comes in super handy with thirsty boys!

Walking through our grape arbor you will notice this lovely new hibiscus flower.
One of my other favorite new additions this year.
Another angle of the grape arbor
Looking back towards the house
A row of tomatoes. We use a lot of carpet and black plastic to keep the weeds down.


Pole Beans and Cucumbers

Rows of Corn


Brussel Sprouts


Beautiful Squash Flower
The sunlight one beautiful spring morning in the garden
Beautiful flowers
Now entering through the bush arch into the orchard


Resting place...
And last but not least....I want to share our new pets. This year we got six baby chicks that we raised. Turns out one was a rooster so he had to go, but we found his replacement hen this week. AND...They just started laying eggs a few days ago. So much fun! 

"Golden" a few days old

A few weeks old

Almost full grown

It is quite possible that hugging a chicken might be the best therapy known to mankind

That concludes our garden tour. I hope you enjoyed it. 

Until next time, bye bye!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canning Sweet Relish

We've been enjoying this sweet relish for years. Most barbecues at our house include a jar of this delectable condiment and it's just not the same without it. We also love this sweet relish on sandwiches, it really sends them over the top. If you've never had a home canned sweet relish in your life you are missing out. Don't even bother with the store junk because it doesn't even stand a chance of comparison. And guess what else is so awesome about this recipe? You can make it with either cucumbers OR zucchini! That's right zucchini. And we've made it both ways and there really isn't a lot of difference in the final product. It's just. Plain. Awesome.

Oh and look at these jars. Aren't they stunningly beautiful? There's something just gorgeous about jars of home canned anything.

Aren't they beautiful?
Before I share the recipe let me just remind you that if you're new to canning, please read over the points from the canning introduction post that I posted a few years ago (and was newly updated just today!) before you begin. Canning unlike cooking requires a bit more scientific precision. Don't change the amounts or cooking times. Spices can be added or taken out to your liking.

First a few tips for relish canning success:

  • Always use good quality produce. Freshly picked is always best and will give you the most nutrition bang-for-your-buck. For best results, use cucumbers or zucchini that are small and tender (not those giants that have gotten away from you). 
  • Be especially careful for this recipe that your jars don't tip once you put them in the water bath canner. If they do, simple pull them out and wipe the rims again and carefully place them back in the canner. This recipe contains tiny seeds that may get caught under the seals of the lids causing them not to seal. If this happens, the contents of the jars can either be reprocessed or you can stick the jar in the refrigerator to be used within a few weeks.

Sweet Pickle Relish
Printable Recipe

*Makes 6-8 pints

*Note: For safety, do not change the quantities any of the ingredients.

1 Quart chopped cucumbers or zucchini (about 4 medium)
2 Cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
1 Cup chopped sweet green pepper (about 1 medium)
1 Cup chopped sweet red pepper (about 1 medium)
1/4 Cup salt
3-1/2 Cups sugar
1 Tablespoon celery seed
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
2 Cups cider vinegar

Combine cucumbers or zucchini, onions, green and red peppers in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand 2 hours. Drain; rinse and drain thoroughly. Combine sugar, spices and vinegar in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Add drained vegetables; simmer 10 minutes. Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean. Adjust lids and process according to times below (based on your current elevation).

*Note: For best success, make sure your jars do not tip once they are placed in the water bath canner. I've noticed that tipping can often cause the little seeds to find their way under the jar lids, making it so that the jars don't seal.

Processing Times:
10 min (0-1,000 ft) 15 min (1,001-3,000 ft)
20 min (3,001-6,000 ft) 25 min (6,001-8,000 ft)
30 min (8,000-10,000 ft)

Recipe Source: Slightly adapted from Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Monday, July 21, 2014

Make Something Monday: Slime!

How's your summer going? We've been having a lot of success with our summer plan. Of course things are never perfect, but there's been a lot of fun filled activities that everyone's enjoyed. We got this idea for homemade slime from a trip to the library actually. In one of their programs they made this for the kids to touch and as soon as we got home we had to whip up a batch ourselves. I love it because it's so easy to make, in fact my 6-year old made it himself with just a little help. He's spent many happy hours playing with this since. Hurray for cheap fun!

Homemade Slime
Printable Recipe

*NOTE: Hopefully it goes without saying by the ingredient list, but this is a NON-EDIBLE recipe. It's simply for play. 

1 tsp. Borax (can be found in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores)
1-1/2 Cups water, divided
1/2 Cup Elmer's Glue
3-4 drops food coloring, optional

In a small bowl, mix 1 tsp. borax in 1 Cup water until borax is dissolved. Set aside. In another larger bowl mix together 1/2 Cup water and 1/2 Cup Elmer's glue until well combined. Add food coloring (if using) to glue mixture and mix again. Now pour borax/water mixture into Elmer's glue mixture and stir. You should start to see some separation and you'll notice the slime starting to form. Once this happens pick up the slime with your hands and move back and forth in your hands over the bowl until extra water drips off and slime has firmed up. Now it's time to play. Have fun!

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Do you need other ideas for activities this summer? Check out this post full of summer fun ideas. Happy Summer!

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