Strawberry Apple Fruit Jam

– johanna | June 29th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Snacks

“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.” Although to my Grandmother Jepson’s house we had to go a round a lake and pass farm lands of south central Florida. On the way home from our Sunday trips we would stop off at a Dairy Queen that marked the halfway point from Grandmother’s house and ours. We stretched our legs while snacking on blizzards and dipped ice cream cones.

Casa De Fruta has become our halfway from the coast of California. I think we look forward to the fresh strawberries and cherries more than anything else. It is a nice little tradition to carry over from childhood. I made sure to buy an extra flat of strawberries to make strawberry jam with. This recipe uses tart sweet apples and lemon juice in the place of pectin.

Source: Ball, Complete Book of Home Preserving (c. 2006)
5 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, stem and blossom ends removed, cores intact, chopped coarsely
1 lemon or lime, unpeeled, finely chopped
8 cups halved hulled strawberries
5 1/2 cups granulated sugar

In a large deep sauce pan, combine apples, lemon and enough water to prevent sticking. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, partially cover and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until mixture is very soft.

Working in batches, transfer mixture to a fine sieve. With the back of a spoon, press the mixture through the sieve to yield 2 cups applesauce. Discard skins and cores.

Prepare canner jars and lids by cleaning jars, rings and lids in hot soapy water. Line a large pot with a rack to ensure the jars do not touch the bottom of the pot. Simmer the jars and lids (it is necessary to heat the rings) until ready to use. Do not boil.

In a clean large sauce pan, combine applesauce, strawberries and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Boil stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and mounds on a spoon, about 20 minutes. (Test the jam by pressing the back of a spoon into the mixture. Cool slightly. When you pull a finger through the jam the area should remain clear.) Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Remove jars and lids from the water bath. Place on a clean towel. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace by adding more jam. Wipe rims clean. Center lid on jars. Screw on lids.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Cover. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool. Make sure the lids are sealed by pressing in the center. If they click they are not sealed. Press the lid down and wait another 10 minutes. If a lid does not seal store in the refrigerator to use right away.

-This type of jam is meant to be soft and loose.
-Stephen does not like whole clumps of strawberries in his jam so I mashed them a little while cooking to make them a bit smaller.

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Cheap and Tasty: Skillet Tamale with Polenta

– johanna | June 26th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

Skillet Tamale with Polenta

One of the first questions I am asked after someone finds out that I am from Southern Florida is, “so did you have alligators in your backyard?” No alligators but we did have a family of peacocks down the street. And by the way, there is a single peacock down the street where I live today on the other side of the continent. When I hear it call I am reminded of the days as kids we roamed the back alley behind our house trying to spy the birds and their eggs.

Florida today has become a melting pot of many cultures. Even the dynamics of the small agricultural towns have traces of a diverse population of people and foods. One of my favorite Southern breakfast foods is grits. It is similar to cream of wheat but a little grainier. It must be an inherited trait as most transplants cannot stand grits. Polenta is the Italian version of grits. They are both made of ground corn simmered in water until set. Grits are most commonly eaten as a side with breakfast while polenta may replace rice in main dishes. Polenta is also enjoyed baked or fried similar to a piece of bread.

Source: unknown
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 14-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 3-oz. can chopped green chiles
1 package (3-4 tablespoons) taco seasoning mix
Salt and Pepper
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup polenta
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 C. shredded cheddar cheese

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, place the olive oil and onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef and brown; drain the fat.

Stir in the tomato sauce, black beans, water, green chiles and taco seasoning mix. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

Prepare the corn muffin mix according to package directions. Drop small spoonfuls of batter over the meat mixture in the skillet; don’t worry if there are some small uncovered places. Cover and cook over medium heat 15-17 minutes until the batter is cooked through.

Sprinkle the mixture with the cheese and green onion. Re-cover and cook 3-4 minutes over low heat until the cheese melts.

Serves 4-6.

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Lemon Orzo with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

– johanna | June 23rd, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

Lemon Orzo with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

Orzo is a type grain often times referred to as Orzo Pasta. Depending on the market it is either shelved with the pasta or the rice. Or you can readily find it in the bins of a health food market. All my small town grocery store offered was a box of Orzo with a season packet similar to those boxes of Rice-a-Roni.

Lemon Orzo with mushrooms and pine nuts is one of my favorite side dishes. I love the excitement the lemon lends to this light fresh dish.

Source: Rachael Ray
1 pound orzo
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 2 lemons, plus grated peel of 1 lemon
Two 6-ounce packages sliced white mushrooms

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orzo until al dente; drain and return to the pot. Stir in the pine nuts, parsley, lemon juice, lemon peel and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; season with salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over high heat until rippling. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 7 minutes. Divide the orzo among 4 plates and top with the mushrooms.

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Cherry Breakfast Cake

– johanna | June 22nd, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Treats

Cherry Breakfast Cake

A couple of weeks ago we took the kids to an annual blueberry festival at a local farm. The kids enjoyed plucking ripe blueberries and cherries, munching a few along the way. The highlight of my day was Mason’s dirt streaked face. Evidence he had the time of his life crawling through tunnels made of bales of hay.

Once home I reserved enough cherries to freeze for this cherry cake. It is easier to remove the pits from thawed cherries. Just squeeze and they pop right out.

Source: Rachael Ray
4-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Two 10-ounce bags frozen cherries, thawed and drained

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, using your fingers, combine 3 cups flour, the brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix in all but 2 tablespoons butter until large crumbs form; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the egg and the buttermilk.

In a medium bowl, stir together the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, the granulated sugar, baking powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the egg mixture and stir to form a thick, smooth batter. Fold about a third of the reserved crumb mixture into the batter; spread evenly into the prepared baking dish.

Scatter the cherries over the batter; sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top. Bake the cake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for about 20 minutes before serving.

Replace cherries with favorite fruit.

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Making Time for the Family: Good Morning Hello’s

– johanna | June 21st, 2009


The curtain opens on a bed, two people lost in dreamland. All of a sudden three little children come bursting into the room and pounce on the unmoving bumps hidden under the covers. Laughter ensues as the kids are tackled with tickles and kisses and pillows tossed in the air. The scene ends with mom and dad snuggling under the covers with their contented kids.

This scene is often played out in commercials or family movies but in our house it is more like a dangerous expedition into the unknown confines of a bear cave. Instead of a playful pillow fight our children are met with grunts and a mom and dad mulling over who’s turn it is to start the day at 6:00 in the morning.

I suppose we could enforce a habit by giving the kids a clock instructing them not to leave their rooms until a designated decent time. Or plug a nightlight into a timer to go off at an appropriate hour. But then I think about the other night when our five year old declared that he was too old for goodnight kisses. Soon our little ones will be competing to see who can sleep in the latest and I will be on the receiving end of the groggy grunts as I try to pry them out of bed for school.

So we try our best to muster up a smile and a polite good morning. We lift the covers to surprised angelic faces as they crawl in bed with us wiggling with refreshed energy. We trade mornings allowing the other to sleep in for a few more minutes.

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Clarifying Honey

– johanna | June 20th, 2009



I went to make some whole wheat banana scones one day but discovered the honey was crystallized. My brother mentioned how to clarify honey once.

Crystalized Honey

Heat the bottle in a pan of simmering water until the honey begins to separate.

Crystalized Honey after heating

Pour the honey through a sieve to separate.

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Chili Beef Stuffed Zucchini

– johanna | June 18th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Chili Beef Stuffed Zucchini

How well do you know your kids? When I was a kid I often stayed at my best friend’s house. A few times I had the unfortunate pleasure of being there the nights her mom served stuffed baked tomatoes. As a kid I thought that was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. I would have rather ate dirt. Of course today my tastes have changed drastically and I love stuffed peppers and tomatoes. However, the challenge still remains…how do we encourage our children to eat these healthy options we place before them.

Child expert after expert agree repetition without pressure is the only way to motivate our children to take that first bite. The rule at our table is you have to at least try it. If they still hate it then no worries. I always make sure there is something on the table that the kids do like. It could be pasta, salad or fruit. When I make chili beef stuffed zucchini I also make a few stuffed potatoes for the kids (the heat toned down a bit). They still have to try a small bite of zucchini. One day they will be a believer.

Source: Rachael Ray
4 zucchini (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup jarred pickled jalapeño chiles, finely chopped
One 8-ounce bag Mexican-style shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°. Arrange the zucchini cut side up in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add 1/2 cup water to the dish, cover with foil and bake until the zucchini begins to soften, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and cumin and cook, breaking the meat up, until just browned, about 4 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomatoes and pickled jalapeños.

Uncover the baking dish, pour off the water and season the zucchini with salt. Fill with the beef mixture and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

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Chicken and Corn Chowder with Sweet Potatoes

– johanna | June 17th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

Chicken Corn Chowder

The combination of sweet potatoes and muffin mix was the deciding factor in trying this version of corn chowder. Surprisingly the soup was light with a hint of sweet.

Source: Cook’s Country
serves 6-8
3 cups whole milk
1 cup yellow corn Jiffy muffin mix
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 quarts chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 ” cubes
2 sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
3 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

Mix milk and muffin mix in bowl until well combined.

Meanwhile, heat butter in large pot over medium heat until foaming. Add onion and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, cumin and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, chicken and sweet potatoes. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until sweet potatoes are just tender, about 8 minutes.

Stir in milk and muffin mixture and simmer until soup thickens, about 10 minutes. Add cheese and corn and cook until cheese begins to melt, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

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Watermelon, Feta and Grilled Shrimp Salad

– johanna | June 16th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

Watermelon Feta and Grilled Shrimp Salad

This salad is by far one of my favorite summer dinnertime passions. I love seafood. It is one food Florida offered plenty of while the valley of California does not. While I lived in Texas a friend of mine would drive to the coast about an hour away to bring back fresh shrimp. The night before my departure we enjoyed a shrimp feast of grilled jumbo shrimp and boiled shrimp on ice. These days I like to keep some in the freezer for special occasions.

I used frozen cooked shrimp thawed in cold water. I added the oil, salt and pepper to the drained srimp then let sit for about five minutes. Since it was already cooked I added the shrimp to a hot skillet for 1-2 seconds tossing to heat through. Cooking the shrimp any longer would have resulted in tough dry shrimp.

I also omitted a few ingredients from the dressing. I loved the lime juice and honey by itself. It tasted sweet and tangy without the weight of the oil.

Source: Adapted from
Serves 4
1 pound shrimp, peeled and devined (21-25 shrimp)
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp Kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp honey
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups mixed salad greens
8 seedless watermelon wedges
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high.

Toss shrimp with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Lightly spray grill or grill pan with olive oil spray, and cook shrimp about 2 minutes per side or until just cooked through. Transfer shrimp to a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together lime juice and honey (see variations for alternate dressing).

To serve, place 1 cup greens on each of 4 plates and top with 2 melon wedges, onion slices, feta, about 6 shrimp each and a drizzle of dressing. Serve immediately.

The dressing originally included a 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

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Peanut Butter Marshmallow Bars

– johanna | June 15th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Peanut butter marshmallow bars

A friend of mine and I were discussing how our mother’s helped wipe away our heartache with chocolate and a movie. My friend has carried on that tradition with her teenage daughter as I will one day with mine. I certainly am not suggesting downing a carton of ice cream every time life turns a little sour. But, it was in that tender moment, however; after a break up when my mom took the time to run to the store for ice cream and a video game that I felt more like a girlfriend than a daughter. I think as a teenager it was nice to know that my mom was human. She suffered with me that night and it meant the world to me.

Salted nut bars may not be ice cream or have chocolate in them but they are dreamy. They are crunchy, salty an sweet all rolled up into one tantalizing treat.

1 pound peanut-butter sandwich cookies, coarsely crumbled
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 cups peanut butter chips
2/3 cup light corn syrup
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups dry roasted peanuts
2 cups rice krispy cereal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13X9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Pulverize cookies in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter; process until crumbs clump together. Press crumbs into prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes or until golden.

Melt peanut butter chips, corn syrup, butter and vanilla in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth, about 5 minutes. Spread 1/2 cup of peanut mixture over crumb base.

Top with marshmallows and return bars to oven. Bake until marshmallows puff, about 2 minutes, then remove from oven. Do not let marshmallows turn brown or else they will become crunchy.

Toss peanuts and cereal with remaining peanut mixture to coat. Drop spoonfuls of the topping over the marshmallows, then spread with a spatula (sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking). Cool bars before cutting.

-Substitute chocolate chips for the peanut butter chips or mix some in with the rice cereal and nuts.
-Replace the 1/2 cup layer of peanut butter mixture with caramel topping.

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