“Toe-mate-Os” or “Toh-mat-Os”…? Garden Planning Excitement!

It’s garden planning season!! One of my favorite things to do is to go through our seed catalogs and pick our lucky victims for planting in the upcoming year 🙂 We really love and have used Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds  since we’ve first started growing our own food about 5 years ago. This company has so many unique offerings and are 100% organic and GMO free, something my husband and I think is very important. I always get really excited about my tomatoes, I LOVE them and am always ready and willing to change the varieties up each season. Last year we planted a “Blueberry” variety from Baker Creek that were absolutely amazing, in addition to some San Marzanos and Striped Romans (good for canning, freezing, and slicing). This year I was lucky to find a small organic non GMO tomato farmer in Pennsylvania who I ordered all my “babies” from. As an added bonus the farm is called Happy Cat Farms !!! For a girl who loves her cats and tomatoes it was love at first glance 🙂

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Happy Cat Farm Tomatoes!

Since our garden is fairly small, these are the varieties I’ve chosen. 

1. The Lloyd E. Frey– This is a great tomato for slicing. If you love beefsteak tomatoes, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with the flavor, texture and juiciness of this fella!

2. Sweet Pea– These tomatoes are VERY teeny tiny, the size of a pea! Why am I excited about something so small? Well, these little guys are the perfect addition to salads, a dish I enjoy almost every single day. They may be little, but they pack a nice sweet punch 🙂

3. Reigart– These medium sized tomatoes are GREAT for freezing and canning. Yes, you can freeze tomatoes and let me tell you, they are awesome to use in soups, stews, curries and sauces when you’re craving the flavor of freshness over the long winter months.

Peppers!

Peppers!

In addition to the awesome tomatoes, I’m also pretty excited about these peppers. I’ve never planted the Corno Di Toro Rosso peppers but have heard they are a great and sweeter alternative to bells, especially great for pan frying due to the thinner skin.

Each year my husband and I plant Shishito Peppers. OMG are they amazing! They are tiny little peppers that when simply sautéed in butter with salt are the most amazing little treat you can have. They are a sweet, slightly smokey, very mild pepper that grows amazingly well and produces a significant yield when pruned properly. I would recommend these to anyone who loves a good pepper, even just one plant can give you a good amount to enjoy.

Homemade Garden Markers.

Homemade Garden Markers.

Lastly, my very talented sister in law made my husband and I these really unique garden markers for christmas. She hand fire etched each name of the plant onto the wood and soaked them in linseed oil to help seal and protect. This is such a great idea that will add a great look to our garden, and the smell of the linseed oil will deter little critters from the plants 🙂 Win win!

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Fresh Concord Grape Freezer Jam!

Yummmm, have you ever smelled fresh concord grapes?! The smell is just amazing. So when my husband and I were at a local farmers market this past week I just could not pass up getting some fresh and delicious concord grapes. Of course the first thing I thought of making was a fantastic jam 🙂 Heres the recipe!

What you’ll need:

5 lbs of fresh concord grapes (you can always adjust the proportions to your liking)

A blender

A sieve

Freezer safe jars

One pot for boiling and one bowl for the grape skins

1 small bowl to mix sugar and pectin

1/3 cup water

2 Tbs of instant pectin

1/3 cup sugar x2 🙂

Fresh concord grapes :)

Fresh concord grapes 🙂

First wash your grapes, then de-skin each grape. The easiest way to do this is to detach the grape from its stem and pop the grape out. After you have the “naked” grape place the grapes in one bowl (I used the pot I boiled them in) and the skins in another. This is the most tedious and time consuming part of the whole recipe. This might be a good time to invest in some child labor, or husband help 🙂

Naked grapes...ohhh la la.

Naked grapes…ohhh la la

Grape skins

Grape skins

Cover the grapes (not the skins) in about 1/3 cup of water and boil for 5 minutes.

While the grapes are boiling place the grape skins in a blender or food processor and get them as smooth as you can, once they are smooth add 1/3 cup of sugar to the skin mix and blend just a tad more and set aside

In a small bowl mix together the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of instant pectin and set aside

Mash the boiled grapes through a sieve so the meat and juice of the grape separate from the seeds. Toss seeds when you’re all finished.

So you have your grape juice, your sugar/pectin mix and your skin puree, right? Ok…so now mix them all together and place into freezer jars. Let them cool a bit before putting the caps on, otherwise pressure will blow them right off…no one wants exploding grape jam all over the place right?!

And there you have it friends….concord grape jam ready to freeze 🙂 Enjoy!

Hot diggity concord grape jam :)

Hot diggity concord grape jam 🙂

Canning? Don’t Waste Those Tomato Skins!

I LOVE tomatoes and luckily this year we got a really great yield from our garden! We planted san marzanos, striped romans, and blueberry tomatoes (seriously a variety you must try if you love sweet goodness)! This year my husband decided to can a simple sauce instead of making something fancier. It made more sense to do something simple that we could open and add stuff to as we used it. He also froze the san marzanos whole and as a result we had a bunch of skins leftover. This got me thinking…what could we do with the skins? Well, read on to find out!

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A mix of our san marzano and striped roman yield.

So what did I do? I dried them and made tomato flakes! These flakes add a deep, earthy and sweet flavor to anything they are sprinkled on. I’ve heard they taste amazing on ice cream adding a subtle sweetness and helping to compliment flavors such as vanilla. Read on for step by step instructions…..

Step One: Pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. After the sheet is lined place the tomato skins on top. Don’t add anything else just the tomatoes.

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Step Two: Place the tomatoes inside the pre-heated oven and use a dishtowel or oven mitt to prop the oven open to help in the evaporation process. Make sure none of the towel is dangling in the oven otherwise you risk it catching on fire. Keep tomatoes in the oven for a good 90-120min checking the crispness every so often.

Step Three: Take out the tomatoes 🙂 When the tomatoes are done they will be very crispy and crumble to the touch. Taste one, you’ll be surprised at the sweetness!

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Crisp and crumbly tomato skins.

Step Four: Crumble!!! This can get messy…but its fun. You can put gloves on if you don’t want tomato crumble all over your hands. If you want the flakes to be more like a powder you can put them in a food processor to your desired consistency.

Tomato flakes!!

Tomato flakes!!

Step Five: Package them up to enjoy later! 🙂

Finished tomato flakes in a simple canning jar.

Finished tomato flakes in a simple canning jar.

Thats all, till next time….!

Fresh Blueberries All Year Long!! Yes Please :)

Blueberry season here in NY is sadly winding down. However you can have yummy peak season blueberries all year long if you freeze them 🙂 We are so lucky here to have a blueberry farm right here in our backyard that is pesticide free-Childs Blueberry Farm. Just an FYI blueberries are one of the most heavily pesticide sprayed crops around, so if you have the option to buy organic its definitely worth the extra money-who really wants their blueberries with a side of pesticide? If you live in the WNY area please read more about Childs blueberries. So how does one freeze blueberries without smooshing them? Follow these incredibly simple steps to find out 🙂

Step One: Purchase freshly picked ripe blueberries

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Childs blueberry stand at our local farmers market.

Step Two: Using the container the blueberries came in, place in the freezer until frozen. When they are done, they will feel like little marbles.

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Frozen blueberries ready for packaging.

Step Three: You’ll need a few freezer bags or a vacuum sealer machine (if you choose to pack them airtight). Place blueberries in bag leaving about 1.5in at the top of the bag, be careful not to let them thaw. If you’re using a food saver simply seal the bag airtight using the vacuum. If you’re using freezer bags get as much air out as possible and seal. Then place the blueberries back in the freezer and remove later to enjoy frozen or thawed. 🙂 

Freshly frozen blueberries. Yum.

Freshly frozen blueberries. Yum.

Step Four: Enjoy all year long 🙂

Garden Happenings

Summer is in full swing here and so are the visitors to my garden!  Both the good and the bad. First the bad….mites…what I think is the two spotted spider mite-yuck! First noticed these little buggers two years ago in my garden up front after I saw them crawling on my lawn furniture.  Now they are in our back garden and again, I only noticed them after I saw them crawling on our furniture during a windy day. Have a feeling the host plant may be our tomatoes. If anyone has any organic solutions that have worked for you, please share in the comments!!!  I want to at least reduce the population so I can sit outside without them crawling on me. Ick. I know how incredibly hard they are to eliminate though.

Ok now onto the good visitors! Earlier in the season I noticed multiple baby praying mantids in the garden. This made me incredibly happy because these are the good guys!  They eat mites and aphids and not to mention they are so cool to watch:)

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Baby mantid on my hydrangea earlier this year.

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Bigger mantid trying to make its way up the side of my house. Hummm I wonder whats up there? 🙂

I also noticed this funky little bee early in the morning one day. What caught my attention was the neon green coloring. So of course I googled it and what I discovered was that it is called a sweat bee, interesting. They are nocturnal bees that are generally attracted to the by products of perspiration hence the name the sweat bee.  Although this little guy was more interested in my cone flowers more so than me. Perfect!

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Sweat bee on cone flower.

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Sweat bee on coneflower. Notice the bright green coloring and the very yellow legs! Very cool to watch.

My husband and I harvested our first round of shishito peppers a few weeks ago, and since then have harvested at least three more batches. If cared for and pruned correctly these peppers just keep on giving. They are also amazingly delicious, not spicy and easy to prepare. Just put them in a skillet with a little bit of butter or oil, salt and pepper and pan fry them till the edges are slightly charred. Enjoy them by grabbing the stem and plucking the pepper off.  These are a great appetizer and the aroma they give off smells like fresh buttered movie style popcorn!!

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Beautiful shishitos…oh how I love you.

Heres something fun….these crazy little finches visit my feeders everyday. Each of them has such a personality. There are a few birds that decide to eat upside down when the feeder gets low. It cracks me up every time!

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Mr. Finch on the right hanging on for dear life just so he can eat some nyjer seed!

Lastly, one afternoon I was sitting outside and noticed a beautiful orange fluttering. Initially I thought it was a red admiral butterfly (I had been seeing tons of them lately) but as I watched it land I quickly realized it was a monarch!! Just beautiful. Since then a number of different monarchs have been visiting my flowers for the sweet nectar. They really love my zinnias!

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Monarch butterfly visiting my potted zinnias. Just look at that incredible design. Nature amazes me sometimes.

Till next time….

Paleo Pumpkin Custard Cups

Are you looking for a dessert that is quick, easy and nutritious?  Can’t be true right?  Nope, it’s true!! These pumpkin cups are amazing. You MUST try them. Pumpkin is a great source of dietary fiber and pure maple syrup (not the fake kind) is loaded with over 50 compounds that help regulate blood sugar, decrease inflammation and even help ward off cancer forming cells. Im not saying that you should chug pure maple syrup everyday, but you may want to consider replacing table sugar and other sweeteners for it (of course, if you are diabetic please consult your practitioner first). My mother in law first introduced me to these scrumptious desserts a few months ago and since then i’ve made countless batches tweaking the recipe each time till I found the best balance of flavors. Here it is 🙂

Paleo Pumpkin Custard Cups

1 can pumpkin

1 can coconut milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger powder

1 tsp cinnamon (you can add more if you really like it! I usually do.)

2 eggs

pinch of salt

*You will also need 4 or 5 small ramekins and a baking pan big enough to fit the ramekins in.

 Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

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 Mix away!

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Place ramekins inside baking dish and fill with the pumpkin mixture. After the ramekins are full, fill the baking dish with an inch of water. This helps to not dry them to a crisp in the oven 🙂

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Place in the oven uncovered and bake for 90 minutes. Keep in mind cooking times may be less if you have shallow ramekins. When they are done they should  be somewhat firm to the touch and have a very small amount of browning on top. I like to shave a little bit of maple sugar on top right before serving-yum! They can be served hot or cold. Enjoy!!

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