Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't want to hear about freezer meals? Move on...

Freezer meal, freezer meal - blah blah blah.  I know.  You are tired of hearing my proclaim my love of them.  Well - that's not going to stop any time in the near future.  Freezer meals save my sanity.  They cause my daughter anxiety.  What?  Why are we mixing all these ingredients up?  I want my noodles boring and plain without any possible ounce of flavor on them.

Um… I mean… Bronwyn isn't a huge fan of casseroles.

I want to pack my freezer with meals that I want to eat.  I want to open the freezer door and say "oh wow - what are we having tonight!" instead of "ugh… I guess we'll have that tonight…"  wah wah….  More wow less wah.

I saw this recipe and figured it was pretty easy and simple.  The original recipe calls for a 9x13 dish - but I split it up into two 8 x 8 pans.  I also think there is a mistake on the amount of tortellini.  It says 2 - 20 oz packages… I think it probably should say 20 oz total - but I did the 40 and it worked out pretty well.

My casserole size is starting to need some work.  Considering Nicholas has his 96 percentile weight to maintain - he eats a lot.  Bronwyn?  Well, she eats what we make deals with her on, and then us… there's very little left.  I'm testing out square containers and deeper rectangles - I'll let you know what I find that works.  I'm sure you'll love to hear more about my crazy freezer meals.

Easy Cheesy Baked Tortellini

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 (25.25 oz) jar DeLallo Marinara Pasta Sauce
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 (20 oz) packages refrigerated cheese tortellini
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
Freshly chopped basil, for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook and additional two minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until spinach wilts and shrinks down. Stir in the pasta sauce and diced tomatoes. Add the oregano, dried basil, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil. Stir and season with salt and black pepper, to taste.

3. Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Add half of the tortellini to the dish and spread out evenly. Top with more sauce, just to cover the tortellini. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella cheese over tortellini and sauce. Next, sprinkle 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese over the mozzarella cheese. Add the rest of the tortellini to the dish in an even layer. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the top. Garnish with fresh basil, if desired.

4. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil from pan and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Note-this pasta dish freezes well. Split into two 8 x 8 foil pans to freeze.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yeah, no.

Tomatoes - their seeds are so tiny and when you plant them you think... how on earth will these grow fast enough to give us any amount of fruit in the summer.  Well... get a few packs of seeds and give it a try.
Well... When Andy planted just a few of the plants I'd started I felt annoyed.  I had worked so hard on growing those babies for him to plant only a couple of what I started?  Pffft!  Whatever.
Fast forward to now - when the rain knocked down our massive plants, cages and all - and we have ZERO hope of getting those suckers to stand up since they are so heavy laden with fruit.  Oh my yes.  So about those few little plants?  Well Andy sure picked some winners.  We also had a few that reseeded from last year.  Bonus tomatoes!
I tried a few different varieties, the most prolific currently being these sweet little yellow tomatoes.  Awfully cute.  I made a bunch of salsa with them then wanted to try my hand a tomato pie.  I saw the recipe and from the pictures it looked tasty.  Thought it would use some of our tomatoes and basil too.  It did that!  Also a crust that has been in our freezer and clearly been abused.  Thankfully I thawed it and mushed it back into shape.
while I'd like to share my recipe - I'm not going to.  You see it didn't really turn out that well.  The recipe called for mayo and stupid me I included it.  We aren't super fans of mayo in cooked/baked items... unless it's a chocolate cake.  It just gives it a weird tang.  So... I leave you with these pretty pictures - until I can find a recipe for a winner tomato pie.
Side note.  I blame Dan Quayle for my ALWAYS typing tomato and potato with an extra e on the end.  Right?  Ugh.  Thank goodness for auto-correct - can we auto-correct my brain?

Side Note!  Abby - this is not your recipe!  This was the original one I tried…. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Cross-Stitch Christmas - Yuletide Traditions

I know it's hard to imagine Christmas when the leaves haven't even started to change color, try thinking up a Christmas design in the spring a year before it's even ready for the world to see.  Not the easiest thing to do.  I was honored to be asked to be a part of "A Cross-Stitch Christmas - Yuletide Traditions" - a new book by Craftways.  This was one of the first patterns I designed where I did not see a stitched version before sending it to the publisher.  I had to wait over a year to see the finished stitched product - and how fun and whimsical it turned out to be.

These little critters are all hanging around the Christmas tree.  I love how they added buttons and some fun edging to the edge of the design.  How fun to be a part of this great book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ipema Family Canning Exchange 2016

It's starting to feel more like Fall in Chicago and for my family, that means our Annual Canning Exchange.

My rules are simple.  Show up with something in a jar - you are in the exchange.  M&Ms, peanuts, jelly, jam, whatever you want.

We had our exchange last week and as always it was wonderful.  As you probably have read in previous blog posts, my favorite part of these exchanges are the stories.  I love hearing how each person came up with their recipes, the struggles, the fun, the flops, all of it.  Love it.  We start with one jar, pass it around, each person takes some, the maker gets a chance to say what it is and her story.

This year was much like past years, plenty of laughter and love shared between us.  I thank God for these women in my life - they are wonderful role models in my life and am thankful they all put up with my crazy.  Also seeing my Gram with her family is just where she likes to be.  I'm so thankful she is still active enough to participate and enjoy the time together.

From Left to right:
Top: Sweet and Savory Dressing Bottom: Mango-Raspberry Jam
Top: Walnut Pesto
Bottom: Grandma's Apple Sauce
Garlic Infused Oil
Top: Dried Dill
Middle: Strawberry Zucchini Marmalade
Bottom: Copycat Hidden Valley Ranch Mix
Top: Church Peanut Butter
Bottom: Cherry Jubilee Ice Cream Topping

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Saucy Saturdays at Cedar Road... (seemed like that would work... nope...)

Two years ago we had an abundance of tomatoes I had the 'great' idea to make pizza sauce.  I bought a package mix from the store and got busy!  The problem  I encounter was it never thickened up - the package mix said not to cook it too long, so I had hope that some sort of magic would happen once it was in jars and on the shelf.  I'm sure you are as shocked as I am that no actual magic happened.  Serious?  What the heck?

Fast forward to this year - an abundance of tomatoes is an understatement.  I wanted to make pizza sauce again but was afraid of that package mix.  You see, anytime I wanted to use the sauce?  I'd grab two jars, then cook it on the stovetop until it reduced enough to actually be like pizza sauce.  What a pain in the butt.  This time, I found a recipe that seemed pretty simple - but something else about it struck me.  There was some information about tomatoes.  The suggestion was that even if you picked your tomatoes fresh that day - freeze them.  What?  Yes - freeze them.  Here's why… One of the struggles with tomatoes is the massive amount of juice in them.  So when you are trying to make a sauce that is somewhat thick - you have to cook it until it's killed to get the juice out.  Guess what freezing does?  I have no idea… but when you thaw the frozen tomatoes - all that extra liquid - melts away and you are left with just the meat of the tomato.  It's like magic.  See… there's magic in this sauce!  Unlike the recipe maker - I am not worried about seeds and skins.  I used my immersion blender to smooth the sauce out.  Also, it's not very red since I mostly used my yellow tomatoes.  

I love being able to can and preserve food from the abundance of our garden.  With just a few simple ingredients you can make something special.

Psst Barb!  I think this one is gluten and dairy free!!!

Home Canned Pizza Sauce

Yield: Makes 7-8 pints or 14-16 half-pints
22 lbs. tomatoes, fresh or whole frozen
3 c. chopped onions
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c. olive oil
2 Tbl. dried basil
1 Tbl. dried oregano
1 Tbl. dried thyme
1 Tbl. black pepper (or to taste if you're not as much a pepper fan as we are)
1 Tbl. sugar or honey (or to taste)
2 Tbl. salt
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
bottled lemon juice or citric acid: 1 Tb. lemon juice OR ¼ tsp. citric acid for EACH pint and 12-oz jars; ½ Tb. lemon juice OR ⅛ tsp. citric acid for EACH half-pint jars

To prepare tomato puree from frozen tomatoes: (assuming they were cleaned and cored before freezing) leave to thaw 24 hours; drain accumulated juices and put through a strainer to remove seeds and peels.
To prepare tomato puree from fresh tomatoes: wash, core and halve tomatoes; heat to boiling (I use a 12-qt. stockpot and a 6-qt. soup pot for 22 lbs); put through a strainer to remove seeds and peels.
Make the pizza sauce: in a 12-qt. or larger stockpot cook onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion softens, 5-10 minutes. Add tomato puree and all the seasonings (basil through pepper flakes), bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for about 30 minutes, uncovered. Process with an immersion blender to make a smoother sauce (or carefully blend in batches).
Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until sauce reaches desired consistency (reduced by ¼ to ⅓), usually an hour or two, depending on if you started with fresh or frozen tomatoes. Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking (if you have a thin-bottomed stock-pot, stir more often to prevent scorching).
To can: add the lemon juice or citric acid to each clean, warm jar, fill jar with sauce leaving ½-inch headspace and attach lids and rings until fingertip-tight. Place in canner rack and repeat with remaining jars to fill canner (keep sauce and jars warm, as you will need to do a couple canner loads when using half-pints).
Process both pints and half-pints for 35 minutes in a boiling-water canner (find more details in our Canning 101 steps found in the recipe index).
Remove to a towel-lined surface and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours before checking seals, labeling and storing in a cool, dark place.

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