Jumbo Stuffed Shells

The boys and I love anything Italian, and while I usually make lasagna when I need a recipe for lots of people, I decided to make stuffed pasta shells last night instead. The ingredients are basically the same, but it gives a fun presentation when I use the shells.

This recipe is one I just “throw together” without a recipe, so the amounts given are just an estimate. Feel free to vary the spice amounts to your family’s tastes. I ended up with 34 stuffed jumbo pasta shells. I almost didn’t get a picture of them either – the boys and their friend simply devoured them.


Jumbo Stuffed Shells

1 package jumbo pasta shells
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1 small container ricotta cheese or small-curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
One jar good marinara sauce (or use homemade)

Cook pasta shells according to package instructions. Set aside.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef and Italian sausage until no longer pink. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, eggs, chopped spinach and spices. Add the drained, browned ground meats. Stir until well combined.

Stuff the meat and cheese mixture into each pasta shell. Place in a greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Pour the marinara sauce evenly over the pasta shells. Bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling in the shells.

Fresh Apple Cake

Our little apple orchard really produced this year. We have four remaining apple trees left after a big wind storm a few years back: Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Jonared and Gala. I primarily like to make apple pie filling with them, and Kevin likes to dehydrate a bunch – good for snacking.

Today I decided to make a fresh apple cake. Mom used to make one that had a rum-flavored sauce, but I’ve long ago lost the recipe for the sauce. This cake is good as is or with a caramel sauce (either homemade or store bought), whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter (not margarine), at room temperature
2 eggs
6 apples, cored, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until well blended. Add the eggs, and mix well. Stir in the grated apple.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients. Add to the wet ingredients, and mix just until combined.

Pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Serve warm with caramel sauce, whipped cream or ice cream.

Quick Caramel Sauce

6 tablespoons butter (not margarine)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

In a small saucepan, melt butter and sugar over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the evaporated milk, and stir constantly until the sauce is the desired consistency.

New England Clam Chowder

Fall is my favorite season. The leaves are turning beautiful colors. The garden (and most of the canning) is done for the year – and it’s soup weather. Soup is probably one of my most favorite things to make. It can be a specific recipe, like the New England clam chowder below, or it can be a catch-all of leftover vegetables and meats from dinner the night before. It can be something quick on the stovetop, or I can have a stew cooking low and slow all day in the crockpot. The possibilities are endless.

While French onion soup is at the top of my list for soup, my absolute favorite would have to be clam chowder. Not Manhattan-style clam chowder, but the creamy, thick version of New England clam chowder. If it’s on the menu when we eat out, I order it. I could eat it every day. I don’t make it often at home, but when I do, the recipe from A Family Feast is the one I like to use. Since we live in the Midwest and don’t have access to fresh clams, I’ve modified the recipe to how to make it using canned clams.

While this recipe was a little thinner in consistency than I like, the flavors were terrific. Next time I make this, I’ll add a little more flour and develop the roux more to help thicken the soup.


New England Clam Chowder

10 ounces canned chopped clams
3 cups bottled clam juice
1 ounce salt pork, diced
1 1/2 ounces bacon, diced fine
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced 1/2-inch thick
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Black pepper
2 cups heavy cream
Butter for serving

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, cook diced salt port and bacon over medium heat until rendered and the pork fat pieces are slightly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, and melt.

Add celery, onions, garlic and half the potatoes, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Stir often. Add the flour, and cook for another minute.

Add the 3 cups of clam juice, the rest of the potatoes, thyme and bay leaf, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the heat. Discard the bay leaf, and add the chopped clams and cream. (If making the chowder ahead of time, don’t add the cream until you’re ready to heat and serve.)


Season the chowder with freshly ground black pepper as needed, and heat to serving temperature. Additional salt may not be needed if you use the salt pork (or if you use fresh clams).

Serve with a dollop of butter over each portion and oyster crackers on the side.

Yield: 4 servings

Peach Dump Cake

It was a beautiful evening yesterday to watch the supermoon lunar eclipse in eastern Iowa. It had been cloudy most of the day, but it cleared off, and the boys and I watched the amazing show. I’d never seen a full lunar eclipse before, and we had the perfect front yard to watch it – 7 miles outside city limits with no outdoor lighting. The sky was spectacular.

The boys wanted something sweet for dessert – okay, I wanted something sweet for dessert last night, but I wanted it to be quick to make so we could get outside for the eclipse. I’d made peach pie filling last week, so I thought about making a pie, but my pie crust skills leave a lot to be desired. I decided to make a peach dump cake instead. It’s easy, fast, and there usually aren’t any leftovers.


Peach Dump Cake

2 cans peach pie filling (I used 2 quarts of homemade filling)
1 box cake mix (any flavor you wish but white or yellow cake mix works best)
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Place the peach pie filling in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the dry cake mix evenly over the pie filling. Pour the melted butter evenly over the cake mix.

Bake the cake for approximately 50 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the top is browned and the filling is bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Elderberry and Rosehips Tincture

I’ve been reading blogs, Internet articles and books regarding herbal medicine. A majority of modern pharmaceuticals have their roots in some type of plant or plant property. We hear about nasty viruses on the news (H1N1, bird flu), but modern medicine is finding it harder to treat infections due to drug resistance, and medications don’t do anything to treat viruses. Being the avid medical nut that I am, I decided to do some research to see what types of herbs, plants and essential oils work to treat colds, flu symptoms and viruses.

I’ve found several places online to order quality dried herbs, and my orders have been arriving this week – it felt like Christmas 🙂 So far I’ve ordered from Bulk Herb Store and Apothecary Shoppe. Mountain Rose Herbs is another great source I’m looking forward to trying.



I’ve seen multiple different recipes on the Internet regarding elderberries and their benefits for cold and flu symptoms. WebMD talks about how elderberries can reduce flu symptoms by 50 percent and that the berries may have benefit against H1N1. The berries boost the immune system, fight inflammation and reduce swelling. Many varieties of elderberries are toxic, but Sambucus nigra is the variety used in medicinal remedies.

For my elderberry tincture, I also added dried rosehips. Rosehips contain vitamin C, which is always helpful during cold and flu season. Dried rosehips contain less vitamin C than fresh, but dried is what I had on hand. Making a tincture is really easy, although it takes time, so make sure you give yourself a few weeks to let the tincture develop before you need to use it.

Elderberry and Rosehips Tincture

1/2 pound dried elderberries
1 ounce dried elder flowers
6 ounces dried rosehips
Vodka (You can use rum, whiskey or even Everclear – must be 90 proof)

In a large glass jar, add the dried elderberries, elder flowers and rosehips. Add vodka to completely cover everything. Secure jar with a lid, and shake the mixture to completely soak the dried ingredients. Leave in a cool, dark place for 4 to 6 weeks to allow the tincture to develop.

After letting the tincture sit, strain the liquid through cheesecloth or a coffee filter, reserving the liquid and discarding all the dried berries. Pour into clean, sterile dark glass containers that have lids. Store in a cool place.

To Use Tincture:  Take 1 teaspoon of elderberry tincture 3 times a day when you first start to notice symptoms of a cold or the flu, and continue to take the tincture until symptoms are gone. Dilute the tincture in 8 ounces of water for easy drinking, or mix the tincture with a bit of honey (preferably raw local honey).

Canning 101: Sweet Honey Corn Relish

On a visit to my stepdaughter’s a few years ago, I first tasted corn relish. That in itself is an amazing feat, considering I live in Iowa where corn is found everywhere in the summer. Since then, I’ve been on the hunt for a tasty corn relish that I could can and enjoy during the winter when fresh sweet corn isn’t available.

I found this corn relish in one of my canning books, The Pickled Pantry: From Apples to Zucchini by Andrea Chesman (available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions), where I’ve found several delicious pickle and relish recipes. This one is a hit too.

The recipe says you’ll end up with 5 pints. I followed the recipe exactly and got 7 pints.



Sweet Honey and Corn Relish

8 cups raw corn kernels (from 10 to 12 ears)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups honey
3 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5%)
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon pickling or fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ClearJel

Combine the corn, onions, green and red bell peppers, 1 cup of the honey, 3 cups of the apple cider vinegar, celery seeds, salt and cayenne pepper in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the honey.

Stir together the ClearJel and the remaining 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar until smooth. Stir into the corn mixture, and boil gently until thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and add more honey if desired.


Ladle the hot relish into clean, hot pint-sized canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, and seal.

Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours. Do not open for at least 6 weeks to allow the flavors to develop.

Yield:  5 pints

French Onion Soup

Soup is probably one of my most favorite things to make, and French onion soup is one of the best. It’s easy to make, and I cook it on low in the crockpot for several hours until ready to finish in the oven and serve.

I got this recipe from my Dad. Years ago when I was in grade school we took a vacation to Canada and ended up eating dinner in a restaurant in the old section of Montreal. As I remember, Dad loved the French onion soup so much he wrote to Bon Appetit to get the recipe, and I’ve used it ever since.

There are hundreds of recipes out there for French onion soup. This one is very basic and simple, but it’s absolutely delicious.



French Onion Soup

3 large sweet white onions, thinly sliced
8 cups beef broth (homemade is best or use a good quality beef cooking stock)
1 stick butter (not margarine)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dry vermouth
French bread
Grated Gruyere cheese

In a crockpot, add the beef broth, and turn the crockpot to low.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced onions, and cook slowly to caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally. You want to develop the flavors and sweetness of the onions, but you don’t want them to overbrown.

When the onions are nicely caramelized, add salt and pepper to taste and the sugar to the onions. Stir until well combined. Add the flour to the onion mixture, and cook until the flour is nicely browned (as if making a roux).

Add the dry vermouth, and stir until the liquid is evaporated.

Add the onion mixture to the beef broth in the crockpot, scraping everything from the pan. Cook on low for 5-6 hours.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Ladle the soup into ovenproof individual serving crocks. Place a slice of French bread on top of the soup, and cover the top of the bread with the grated Gruyere cheese. Place the soup crocks into the oven, and bake for approximately 7 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

Canning 101: Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

When my sons were visiting their grandparents, they had dinner with friends of the family, and Shirley made a red cabbage salad. My boys were in hog heaven and asked if I could get the recipe (which I did – and it’s awesome).

When going through my canning books, I stumbled across a recipe for red cabbage with apples that is really close to Shirley’s recipe. This is an easy way to have a side dish ready to go when you’re making pork or lamb for supper – all you have to do is open the jar, heat it through and serve.
red cabbage
Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
4 1/2 pounds red cabbage
1/3 cup pickling salt
5 1/2 cups red wine vinegar (5%)
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds (about 4 to 5 medium) tart apples
1 3/4 cups (2 medium) chopped onions
Remove and discard bruised outer red cabbage leaves. Quarter, core and slice cabbage 1/2-inch thick. In a large bowl, toss cabbage with pickling salt until well combined. Cover, and let stand in a cool location for 24 hours. Rinse cabbage, drain and dry thoroughly on several layers of paper towels for 6 hours.
In a large stockpot, combine red wine vinegar, brown sugar and black pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer gently for 5 minutes, or until the brown sugar dissolves. Keep liquid hot while filling jars.
Just before filling jars, peel, core and shred the apples; treat to prevent browning. In a large bowl, toss together the red cabbage, apples and the onions.
Pack into prepared hot pint jars, and pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Yield: 7 pints

Canning 101: Pickled Marinated Mushrooms

One of my goals with this blog is to keep track of recipes I’ve already tried or that I want to try but haven’t gotten around to yet. This marinated mushroom recipe is one I haven’t tried yet, but I love pickled mushrooms. I have so many different canning and preserving books and recipes, and I don’t want to try to remember where I put the recipe when I’m ready to make it.

This recipe comes from The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler. This book contains multiple terrific-sounding preserving recipes that I’m itching to try, but this marinated mushroom recipe caught my eye first. The book is available on Amazon (both the print and Kindle versions), and it’s one I highly recommend to both newbie canners and seasoned canners alike, as it has a wealth of preserving information, not just canning but other various methods such as how to cure meats, fermentation, salt curing and more.

ETA: I made the recipe today, and while the recipe says it makes 7 half-pints, I ended up with 14 half-pints. I followed the recipe exactly, but perhaps the mushrooms I used were larger than the recipe author’s. Just wanted you to know you may end up with more than 7 half-pints.




Pickled Marinated Mushrooms (raw pack only)

5 1/2 pounds small, whole button mushrooms
6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
2 quarts water (or as needed)
1 1/2 cups olive or salad oil
2 cups white vinegar (5%)
6 tablespoons finely chopped onions
3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper or hot chilies
2 3/4 teaspoons oregano leaves
2 3/4 teaspoons dried basil leaves
2 3/4 teaspoons pickling salt
21 black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, cut in quarters

Select fresh, unopened mushroom caps less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Wash in several changes of water until no more grit remains. Trim stems, leaving 1/4 inch attached to the cap.

In a saucepan, combine mushrooms, bottled lemon juice and water to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Drain mushrooms.

In another saucepan, combine mushrooms, olive oil, white vinegar, onions, red bell pepper or chilies, oregano, basil and pickling salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep mixture hot while filling jars.



Before filling a hot jar with mushrooms, add 3 black peppercorns and 1 piece of garlic to each jar. Evenly distribute mushrooms and oil-vinegar brine between the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Process mushrooms in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

Makes 7 half-pints

Canning 101: Vanilla Bourbon Peach Jam

After making some peach pie filling, I still had quite a few peaches left, so I decided to make some jam. Last year I made a peach honey jam, which was delicious, but I like a variety of different jams in my canning cupboard. I found this recipe on Sarah’s Joys blog, so I thought I’d give it a try. Delicious!

The recipe calls for 8 cups of peaches. I had 12 cups of peaches left after making pie filling, so I made 1 1/2 the recipe below – with the exception of the bourbon. I left the bourbon at 1 tablespoon, as it’s added simply to enhance the flavor of the vanilla, not to have a strong bourbon presence.



Vanilla Bourbon Peach Jam

8 cups peeled and chopped peaches
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 vanilla bean (or 1 to 2 teaspoons good vanilla extract)
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon good bourbon (optional)

Put the peaches, lemon juice and 2 cups sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds, and place in the pot along with the empty pod halves. (If using vanilla extract, add this to the peaches instead.)



Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. If using, add the bourbon. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, or until thickened to desired consistency.


Ladle hot jam into prepared jelly jars, discarding the vanilla bean pods. Process jam in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

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