Saturday, August 30, 2014

THANK YOU!!! ~ 1000 Pageviews

We'd like to take a moment to thank everyone for taking a few minutes out of their day to visit our blog! Overnight, we reached, and surpassed the 1000 Pageviews milestone in just 10 short weeks! We hope you'll also continue to read, retweet, share, like and favorite our Facebook and Tweets, too. What a great way to end the summer :) We really appreciate it!

Thank You,
Carrie, Brian, Brittney, PP, Lil Doggie, Deenis, Baa Sheep, Giblets, Drumstick, Specker, Pecker, Nosy, Dumpster, Athena, Venus, Pepper, Funky, Penny, Chili, Ginger, Caramel, Fudge, Cookie, Cream, Mrs. Edwards, and the Guineas.

Friday, August 29, 2014

RECIPE: Carrie's Homemade Chicken Soup

This savory soup is a favorite around Lil Raisin Acres, Brittney even requested it for her birthday dinner! It's especially popular during the dark, cold winter cold and flu season. 


10 c. Chicken Broth
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup*
1 can Cream of Celery Soup*
2 Carrots, chopped
3 Stalks Celery, chopped
1/4 c Onion, chopped
2 Chicken Breasts, diced
2 c. Egg Noodles
1/2 tsp. Basil
1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp. Rosemary
1/4 tsp. Parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

*Substitute store-bought condensed soups with THIS recipe to avoid sodium and preservatives.


Combine broth and cream soups in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add carrots, celery, onion and herbs, and boil for an 15 minutes. Add noodles and diced chicken. Return to a boil, and cook for and additional 10-12 minutes or until noodles reach desired consistency. Makes 12 servings.

HOW TO GROW: Tomatoes (Lycopersicon Esculentum)

We've saved the best for last! All week long, we've been discussing how to process and preserve our tomato harvests. If you enjoy the idea of making your own delicious "from scratch" meals from homegrown tomatoes, why not try growing your own? It's a lot easier than you might think! Here is a beginner's guide to starting, growing, and saving seed from your own plants!

Tomatoes are annual plants all over the United States, meaning they do not over winter and grow back the next year. They are usually started indoors and planted out a week  after the last frost date in your USDA Hardiness Zone.

Most home gardeners these days purchase started plants from a local nursery or home improvement chain store. But, did you know there is a huge variety of tomatoes available out there that may be easily grown from seed! From yellow cherry tomatoes, to pink paste tomatoes, to white slicing tomatoes, there is a plethora of choices out there!


Starting tomatoes from seed is actually relatively easy. They should be started indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost date in your USDA Hardiness Zone. For example, here in South East Michigan, ours is around May 10th. Click HERE to find yours by zip code.

First and foremost, start with quality seeds. A good packet of seeds should have at least an 80% germination rate, or perhaps even higher depending on what type of vegetable it is. That is, 4 of 5 seeds you plant should begin to grow. Lil Raisin Acres grows open pollinated heirloom varieties only, from which we can reliably save seed and expect a similar tomato plant to come up next year. We recommend purchasing seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. They have an impressive catalog of interesting choices.

After purchasing your seeds, you will need a container with a transparent lid and some type of "soil" to grow them in. Any plastic container with a transparent lid will do. For a first time seed starter, or someone starting only a few dozen seeds or so, I would recommend a seed starting kit. We often use Jiffy Seed Starter kits, readily available at home improvement or chain department stores like Lowes or Meijer for around $7. They consist of a tray with transparent lid and "peat pellets" made from Canadian sphagnum peat moss , which expand upon contact with water. You can purchase replacement pellets or mix your own seed starting medium and reuse them year after year!
Various seed starting containers including Jiffy kits,
Dollar Tree Mini Greenhouses and Instant Soup Containers
Once we have our containers prepared as directed, it's time to plant seeds! For tomatoes, we generally put 2-3 seeds in each pellet/cell to be sure we get at least 1 viable plant in each one. Plant the seeds about 1/4" deep and cover well with soil. After dispersing your seeds, immediately put the lid on and tape it shut.

Place your seed containers in a sunny, south-facing window. They should get all the sunlight they need there. If you do not have a sunny south-facing window, you can put them in an eastern window, but they may not fare as well long-term. Another solution would be to hang "grow lights" above the mini greenhouses. There's a great tutorial HERE

Optimal germination temperatures for tomato seeds is around 80 degrees. Somewhere between 7 to 10 days later, you should see tiny tomato plants start coming up. The mini greenhouse lids should NOT be removed until several of the seeds have sprouted to keep in moisture and warmth. Once the majority of your seeds have sprouted, remove the lid. The soil should be kept slightly damp, but NOT wet. We use a spray bottle to lightly mist the soil surfaces each morning. Over watering leads to unwanted fungi growth that can kill your seedlings. 

Once the first true leaves appear (the second set of leaves the plant gets after emerging) you may begin to fertilize your seedlings with diluted fish emulsion fertilizer. 1 part fish emulsion to 20 parts water, once per week. (Be warned! It has a stench worse than death, but is the best there is out there for use on organically grown seedlings in my opinion.) Over fertilizing may result in "burning" and killing the seedlings.

After your plants have gained their second set of true leaves, you will need to thin them down to one plant per pellet/cell. Choose the seedling with the strongest looking stem, not necessarily the tallest one. Use a pair of scissors to carefully clip them at the soil line. Do NOT pull them up, as it may damage the root system of the seedling you've chosen to keep!


As your seedlings mature, they will require more water. If your plants look a little "droopy" it's a sure sign they're not getting enough. You may also begin to fertilize them with a little stronger blend of  1 part fish emulsion to 10 parts water. As the plants get taller, raise your grow lights if you're using them. For optimum growth, you will need to transplant them into larger containers, such as recycled cottage cheese containers, cut off milk jugs, or even red solo cups!

About 2 weeks before your last frost date, begin setting your young plants outdoors for "hardening off". Start with only one hour per day and work your way up by adding an hour per day to 10 hours. Bring them in at night, as there is still danger of frost which will definitely kill off tender tomato plants. Also, bring them indoors in case of high winds or heavy rain. Continue to fertilize them weekly.

A week past your last frost date, it's time to plant them outdoors. We always wait an extra week to be absolutely sure there's ZERO chance of a freak frost (although with recent obscure weather patterns, it's anyone's guess...). The soil where you will plant them should be well worked, and may be dressed with well aged manure for fertilization.

Plant the tomatoes in FULL SUN, 36" apart in rows 36" apart. If  you live in a dry area, plant them in a shallow depression so that rain may pool near the roots. Water heavily after transplanting. You may also wish to mulch around your plants to prevent weed growth and retain moisture. Tomatoes grow best if they are secured to a stake or caged. As they begin to grow taller and set fruit, the stems can potentially break, killing the plant or at least severely limiting your tomato harvest.

Continue watering your plants as needed. A good soaking twice a week is a good rule of thumb, whether by rain or by watering can. You will want to remove any "suckers", which are secondary branches that begin growing in the crotches of the main branches and the stem. About 8 weeks after you plant them out, you will notice tiny yellow flowers growing on your plants. Each of these buds, assuming they are all pollinated, will become a tomato! Don't remove or otherwise disturb them!

As buds begin to develop into tiny tomatoes, you will want to begin watering them more often, as tomatoes are about 95% water! If you see a heavily laden branch beginning to bend as though it will break, you can secure it to the cage or an additional stake.


Anywhere between 65 and 90 days, depending on the varieties of tomato you planted, you will have ripening tomatoes on your plants. Use heavy duty scissors or pruning shears to cut the tomatoes from the plants, as you do not want to damage the plant if there are other tomatoes still growing on it. Store your tomatoes at room temperature. They should keep for about a week or so, depending on variety. Paste and cherry tomatoes last longest in my experience. For optimum flavor, they should be processed as soon as possible after harvesting if you intend to can, freeze or dehydrate your harvest.

Tomatoes are interesting in that you can harvest them a few days before full maturity, and they will continue to mature indoors! I recommend this method if you're in an area where varmints or nuisance insects are a problem (we harvest early here due to rabbits and grasshoppers).


Only save seed from fully mature fruits of healthy plants. You should choose the best tasting and nice sized tomatoes for seed saving. In order to save tomato seed, you must first "wet-process" ferment them to remove the gelatinous sac surrounding them.

Simply slice in half and squeeze/seeds into a transparent glass mason jar. Add a enough water to just cover them. Use a piece of cheese cloth or other light, breathable fabric and fasten it in place with a jar lid ring or rubber band. Place the jar of seeds in a sunny window. Each evening, remove the cloth and stir the contents. It will admittedly gain a "funky" odor as part of the fermentation process. The process is complete when you see a good layer of "scum" on the surface of the water.

Carefully remove the layer of scum from the surface. There may be a few seeds, too. Discard those, they are "dead" and will not reproduce. Pour remaining contents in a fine mesh strainer and thoroughly rinse the seeds of all debris.

Spread seeds out on a piece of wax paper in a single layer in a well ventilated area for roughly a week, stirring them up every couple days to ensure even drying. They should slide across the wax paper easily when they are completely dry.

Store your dry seeds in a labeled envelope in an air-tight container (I use a Rubbermaid shoe box) in a dark, cool, dry place. They should remain viable for several years under proper storage conditions.

And that is all there is to it! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

RECIPE: Spicy Venison Chili

As harvest season begins to draw to a close the days grow shorter and cooler, bringing in both deer hunting season and tailgating season. Here's a great way to utilize those home canned tomatoes and harvested meat and please guests at the same time. This chili can be made ahead in large batches and frozen.

Chili has been frozen and thawed after 6 months. 


3 lbs. Ground Venison
1 Large Yellow Onion, chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, minced**
2 Cans Chili Beans
2 Cans Chili Beans in Spicy Sauce*
2 Qt. Home Canned Tomatoes with Juice, diced
1 6 oz. Can Tomato Paste
3 Stalks Celery, chopped
2 Green Peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 Bottle of Beer (We use Miller Genuine Draft)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp. Tabasco Sauce**
4 tsp. Beef Bouillon Granules
1/4 c. Chili Powder
1 Tbsp. Cayenne**
1 Tbsp. Cumin
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

* Use plain chili beans for mild chili
**Adjust amounts by half for mild chili
+You may substitute venison for any ground meat- beef, turkey, chicken etc.


In a large pot, brown venison together with onion and garlic. Drain any excess grease. Add all other ingredients to the pot, mix well and cover. Simmer chili for about 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. May be served topped with shredded cheese, if desired. 

To freeze, simply fill freezer safe containers with cooled chili, leaving about 1/2" head space. Stores well for about 6 months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Continuing on with "Tomato Week", we present another method of preserving your harvest! Dehydrating is probably the simplest way to preserve tomatoes. Dehydrated tomatoes are surprisingly versatile, too!

Preserving tomatoes through dehydration is extremely simple. They take up less storage space per pound, and are excellent for outdoorsmen who wish to make their own dry mix meals.


Paste tomatoes are recommended, but any variety can be used. The juicier, the longer they will take to dehydrate. You may wish to use screen inserts for easier removal and clean up.
  1. Thoroughly wash tomatoes before processing. 
  2. Slice tomatoes 1/8" thick. Too thin, and they will be near impossible to remove from trays, too thick and they will not dehydrate evenly.
  3. Arrange slices in a single layer on dehydrator trays leaving a sliver of space between each slice to allow for air flow.
  4. Set dehydrator to 130 degrees for approximately 16-20 hours, depending on type of tomato.
  5. They are done when they feel dry to the touch, and just slightly pliable. It is imperative all moisture is removed, or they are liable to mold.
Dehydrated tomatoes can be stored in jars in a cool, dark, dry place. Recycled pickle jars are just fine. They may be stored for a longer period of time by adding a food safe Oxygen Absorber into the jar. Mylar bags or vacuum sealed packets will work as well.

To reconstitute dried tomatoes, simply submerge the slices in warm water for about 10-15 minutes. Use as you would fresh tomatoes in recipes. Not recommended for topping sandwiches and burgers.


Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti Sauce can also be dehydrated. In order to dehydrate sauce, you will need "Fruit Roll Sheets" or parchment paper.

  1. If you are dehydrating chunky spaghetti sauce, process in a blender until smooth.
  2. Place Fruit Roll Sheets or parchment paper into dehydrator trays.
  3. Spread a thin layer of sauce upon each sheet as evenly as possible. Roughly 1/16" thick.
  4. Set dehydrator to 130 degrees for about 10-12 hours. About halfway through, turn the tomato leathers over to facilitate even drying. When it is done, tomato leather should be dry to the touch, and a tad pliable. 
  5. When it is done, tomato leather should be dry to the touch, and a tad pliable (much like "Fruit Roll-Ups snacks"). Peel leathers from sheets and process in a blender until powdered. 
Dehydrated sauce is stored in the same manner as raw dehydrated tomatoes (see above).

To reconstitute sauce, pour 1/2 c. hot water over 3 Tbsp. powdered sauce. Use reconstituted tomato sauce as you would canned sauce in recipes. Tomato powder can also be used as-is in homemade soups and sauces.

If you're an outdoorsmen looking for recipes for DIY dry mix meals, there are 83 pages worth in "The Dehydrator Bible " by MacKenzie, Nutt and Mercer. Some examples include: various pancakes and oatmeals, soups, chili, pasta and rice dishes. 

We use the Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-75A. When purchasing a dehydrator, be sure it has an adjustable thermostat.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RECIPE: Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce

Continuing with our tomato theme this week, we'd need to make something from all that tomato puree we've made with our food mill, right? Naturally, homegrown tomatoes make for some excellent pasta sauce!


1 Yellow Onion, chopped
6 Cloves Garlic, minced
3 lbs. Mushrooms, sliced
1 Green Pepper, diced
18 c. Tomato Puree
3 Tbsp. Beef Bouillon
3 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1 Tbsp. Basil
1 tsp. Cayenne
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp. Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste


Combine ingredients in a large stock pot, simmer uncovered for 90 minutes, or until thickened to desired consistency. Fill sterile pint jars with hot sauce. Process in a pressure cooker for 20 mins at 11 lbs. pressure.

Makes about 6 pints of home canned sauce.

Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: Norpro 1951 "The Original" Sauce Master and 1954SS Salsa Screen

Processing a large batch of tomatoes for canning salsa, sauce, or juice or apples for sauce and cider can be a daunting, time consuming task. With the help of the Sauce Master, you can cut processing time by half or more!

Click to view product on
When planting 50+ paste tomato plants every spring, you can certainly expect hours and hours of work in the kitchen, hanging over boiling stock pots full of thickening sauce and steamy hot bath canners. That's the least of it! In the past, the vast majority of man hours were consumed peeling, seeding, and chopping before processing even began. Not anymore! We purchased our Norpro 1951 "The Original" Sauce Master, along with the Norpro 1954SS "The Original" Salsa Screen attachment, last summer in anticipation of a huge tomato harvest. It has been one of the best kitchen aid investments we've made!

The Sauce Master comes equipped with a standard fine mesh screen and spiral, which is designed to handle tomatoes or apples. When using it to process tomatoes, the Sauce Master separates seeds and skins from pulp and juice. Simply rough chop the them, throw them into the hopper and crank the handle. Apples will need to be peeled, cored, rough chopped and simmered. I recommend the Norpro Apple Master for large batches of apples. Peels potatoes, too!.

Assembly is easy, even for those of us who aren't mechanically inclined. The base, table clamp, crank are made from heavy duty metal. Screens are constructed of chrome-steel. The hopper, plunger, spiral and sauce chute are constructed from plastic. The Sauce Master includes a detailed Assembly/Instruction and Recipe Manual. Click here to view it as a PDF file, and examine construction.

It is fairly easy to operate, although the processing goes much more quickly if one person fills the hopper and plunges, while the other cranks. The smaller you chop the tomatoes, the slightly easier it is to crank. You will find it easier to crank while using the Salsa Screen , as it has much larger holes through which the pulp and some of the seeds can pass through. Some people blanch and remove skins first, we didn't. You may also find yourself occasionally having to tighten the table clamp with rigorous cranking.

Speaking of the Salsa Screen , I highly recommend purchasing it if you intend on making salsa or chunky applesauce. The standard screen creates puree, which I personally find to be great for Spaghetti Sauce, but not so much for a good dipping salsa. We were very pleased with the texture of the finished product. Additionally, you may purchase a Berry Screen , Pumpkin Screen , and a Grape Spiral for making jams, juices, and pie fillings.

In action, using optional Salsa Screen.
I will be honest in saying there are a few drawbacks, the first being the mess. There's really no way around a mess with large batches of tomatoes, but it's imperative that you remember to chop the tomatoes before stuffing the hopper, or the screen/spiral will clog. It is quite sloppy to remove, clean, and reattach it after you've begun processing. Secondly, be vigilant of the seeds and skins. They have a tendency to fall into your sauce/juice bowl if your receptacles aren't positioned well. The Norpro Sauce Master II corrected this design problem by adding a small, elongated guide attachment where the seeds and skins are deposited. It also helps to use a short, rectangular receptacle (glass baking dish works well) to collect the sauce/juice. It can be tricky attempting to wedge a large mixing bowl under the sauce chute.

BOTTOM LINE: 4 of 5 Stars. An absolute necessity for large batch processing of tomatoes for salsa, spaghetti sauce, and juice. I would, however, recommend going with the Norpro Sauce Master II with the improved seed/skins elimination attachment for ease of use.

Friday, August 22, 2014

RECIPE: Cream of... Soup Base

I think perhaps it'd be impossible to calculate the number of recipes calling for "Cream of (insert chicken, mushroom, celery, etc. here) Soup". But, what if you don't have any on hand, or wish to avoid the high levels of sodium and food preservatives in store-bought canned soups? By simply using the main ingredient of your choice, the applications for this simple recipe are endless! 


2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Small Onion, Diced
1/2 c. *Main Ingredient, Diced
1/4 c. Unsalted Butter
1/4 c. White Flour
1 c. Whole Milk
3/4 c. *Chicken Broth
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

*Main Ingredient Suggestions: Mushrooms, Celery, Chicken, Asparagus, Broccoli, Potato
*Chicken Broth may be substituted with Vegetable Broth for Vegetarian/Vegan diet.


Sautee garlic, onion, and main ingredient in olive oil, set aside. Melt butter in pan over medium heat, whisk in flour until smooth, and cook for 2 minutes. Add broth, milk, and sauteed main ingredient. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*This recipe makes an amount equivalent to one 11.25 oz can of unprepared condensed national brand soup for substitution in recipes. Add an additional 1 1/3 c. milk to prepare soup as a stand-alone meal. May be frozen for later use.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HERBAL MEDICINE: Sage (Salvia Officinalis)

The other day I was on the phone with a friend of mine, and asked her if she'd like some of our surplus Sage. Although many of our crops did poorly in this cooler-than-usual, drought-like summer, the Sage I had planted last year grew into what I can only describe as a "bush". Naturally, our conversation floated towards Thanksgiving in all it's Sage flavored glory... But did you know that Sage can be used medicinally? It's benefits go well beyond well seasoned meat!

Sage, a member of the mint family, is native to the Mediterranean region. It is named for the Latin word "salvia", which means "to heal". It was first used as a meat preservative in ancient Rome, but by the 10th century some cultures even believed Sage held the key to human immortality! Throughout history, as trade lines expanded, many cultures came to prize Sage for it's healing abilities. It is used by Native Americans in purification and protection ceremonies.

Antiperspirant, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, antioxidant, digestive aid, diuretic, mild hormonal stimulant. The active ingredients in Sage include: camphor, cineole, flavonoids, pinene, rosemarinic acid, salvene, tannins, thujone, and fresh leaves contain Vitamins A and C.

Most often taken as a tea to soothe sore throats and break a fever, as a gargle for irritated gums, or used as a poultice on wounds and insect bites. Sage Tea has also been known to aid in the treatment of menstrual and menopausal issues, and to help reduce breast milk when weaning.

Sage Tea: Pour 1 c. boiling water over 1 tsp. crushed dried leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. Do not strain before drinking. A dash of Lemon Balm and Rosemary can be added for flavor and for stress relief.

Sage Gargle: 1 c. boiling water, 2 Tbsp. Sage, 1/4 tsp. salt. Steep Sage in boiling water for 20 minutes. Strain out the bits of sage and add salt. Gargle for sore throat or irritated gums.

Sage Poultice: Mix a small amount of dried Sage with a few drops of warm water until a paste forms. Either apply the paste directly to the affected area, or wrap paste in a muslin cloth and hold it to the wound.

Sage is a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. It is generally grown from seed sowed indoors under lights or outdoors in early spring, or from cuttings from established plants. Seed germination, depending on soil temperature, is roughly 10-14 days. Soil should be kept moist, but not completely wet. If growing indoors, use a spray bottle to distribute water lightly. Plants should be transplanted about 18 inches apart, in direct sunlight. They are drought resistant and should be fine with just a good weekly rain. Sage can be grown in a container with proper drainage and brought indoors for the winter in cooler climates.

Simply harvest leaves  from stems in mid-summer before the flowers bloom for peak flavor. Never harvest more than 2/3rds of the leaves from the plant. You can either dry the leaves by hanging them in small bunches in a dry, ventilated area away from direct light, or using a dehydrator set to 95 degrees. They can be frozen by packing ice cube trays with chopped leaves and pouring water over them. This method is only recommended if you intend to use it in soups and sauces.

*SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Should be avoided as a medical treatment by pregnant and nursing mothers. Concentrated sage oils are toxic. DO NOT ingest.*

***All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.***

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RECIPE: Zesty Salsa

This salsa was a big hit at holiday parties this past year. Just the right amount of tang vs. zing! 

I originally found this recipe in the instruction booklet that came with my Presto Pressure Canner. I tweeked it by specifying jalapeno peppers, and adding Tabasco for an extra kick.


10 c. Tomatoes, peeled/cored/seeded/chopped (about 6 lbs.)
5 c. Green Peppers, chopped/seeded (2 lbs.)
5 c. Onion, chopped (1.5 lbs.)
2 1/2 c. Jalapeno Peppers, chopped/seeded (1 lb.)
1 1/4 c. Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. Cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp. Salt
1 tsp. Tabasco

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring salsa to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle hot salsa into jars leaving 1/4" headspace. Process in a hot bath canner for 15 minutes. Yields 6 pints.

*For larger batches, we use a Norpro Sauce Master with a Salsa Screen attachment to process the tomatoes. Simply rough chop the tomatoes, throw them in the hopper, turn the crank and DONE!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RECIPE: Bean N' Cheese Enchiladas

Mexican cuisine is one of our favorites! Here's a quick and simple enchilada recipe I've developed over the years. You can certainly add or reduce spices to suit your own tastes.


1 can Refried Beans
1 c. Shredded Cheese (Mexican or Mild Cheddar)
Mild Peppers- dash of jar liquid
1 tsp. Onion, minced
1 Tbsp. Frank's Red Hot
1/2 tsp. Cumin

Mild Peppers- 3 Tbsp. Pepper Rings
4 Burrito-sized Flour Tortilla Shells
1 c. Shredded Cheese
10 Minute Enchilada Sauce *See Below*
Sour Cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine filling ingredients thoroughly. Take tortillas and divide the filling equally among them, placing filling in the center of each. Roll up each shell and place them side by side in a 9x11 baking dish. Pour Enchilada Sauce evenly over enchiladas, sprinkle remaining cup of cheese over sauce, and top with mild pepper rings. Bake on 400 for appx. 20 minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted. Serve with sour cream. Serves 4.

Can be served topped with lettuce, green onion, and tomato if desired. Spanish rice makes a nice complementary side dish.

*Mild peppers can be substituted with Jalapenos, Red Hot can be substituted with Tabasco, and/or add a tsp. of Cayenne for additional heat!

Ten Minute Enchilada Sauce on

RECIPE: Pickled Eggs

When you've got 15 laying hens, there are times there is an over-abundance of eggs. This recipe was a hit with the husband. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.


12 Eggs, boiled/peeled
4 c. Vinegar
1 Small Onion, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, whole
1/3 c. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Pickling Spices
1/2 tsp. Black Peppercorns
1 tsp. Dill Weed

Fill a sterile quart jar with eggs. Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Pour boiling brine over eggs, secure with a new canning lid, and process in a hot bath canner for 15 minutes. Makes 1 doz eggs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Always Be Prepared!

Nearly 6" of rain fell on parts of the Metro Detroit area this afternoon, causing multiple freeway closures and prompting a flood (pun intended) of reports of waterlogged basements on social media.

Flooding in Woodhaven, MI. Courtesy Miranda Seal.
After several weeks of absolutely no rain, it was made up for in spades all over southeastern Michigan with a torrential downpour that lasted several hours. While us out here in the rural cornfields of Lenawee County had plenty of thirsty plants to quickly soak it up, friends and family living back in my suburban hometown near Detroit did not have the same luck. Reports of completely gutted basements are coming in from friends and family all over the downriver area. State Police were strongly urging motorists to stay off the highways, stranding some folks at their workplaces. It sounds like utter chaos! (EDIT: 11:55P Two local Hospitals, Oakwood and Wyandotte, have closed their Emergency Rooms due to flooding as well!)

Which brings me to my topic, Emergency Preparedness. With the rise in popularity of the overzealous "Doomsday Preppers" show and conspiracy theory websites, comes a certain amount of potentially dangerous backlash. That is, the thought that only "crazies" waiting on a a ridiculously improbably catastrophe of epic proportion "hoard supplies". While throwing out the baby with the bathwater, some folks set themselves up for personal crisis should a localized event like a natural disaster occur.

There are an untold number of "preparedness" websites out there boasting that their (insanely overpriced) products will get you through hell or high water, but really, a good place to start planning is the good old American Red Cross. They suggest a 72 hour mobile evacuation kit for each member of the family, as well as a 2 week supply of food on-hand in the case you are home bound, and give a detailed list of items to have on hand. There are individual instructions and suggestions for specific events such as hurricanes, blizzards, and other area specific natural activity. It's very important to know what potential problems may arise in your own local area. Obviously, blizzards aren't a concern in San Francisco, but earthquakes certainly are!

As for ourselves, for example, we know that in our immediate area we may be snowed in at any time during the winter due to drifting. So, we tailored our Emergency Kit to include warming items such as a kerosene heater with several containers of fuel, extra blankets, socks, hats, mittens and hand warmers in case of power outage during blizzard conditions. We also extend our food and water storage to 30 days over the winter months. We have to be especially vigilant with our water supply, as we've not yet installed a manual pump for our well. This includes extra bags of feed and hay bales for the animals.  Our animals use roughly 4-6 gallons of drinking water a day alone! Don't forget your pets and livestock!

It is imperative to be ready to care for yourself and your family in the case of an unexpected event, as we've seen in recent years in the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. My grandma (who I learned my gardening, cooking, and food preservation skills from), lived through the Great Depression and has held onto their WWII ration cards all these years. She has often spoken of making due with what you have, and the importance of self-sufficiency. Some advice is truly timeless...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

BOOKSHELF: The Backyard Homestead

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THE BACKYARD HOMESTEAD: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre

Edited By Carleen Madigan

*Eat from the garden year-round with fresh veggies and homemade preserves.
*Make omelets from eggs laid by your own chickens.
*Pick fruits and berries from your back door.

The Backyard Homestead is a good resource for beginner and intermediate level homesteaders, or those contemplating a move to the country and starting a simpler lifestyle. Within it's 367 pages is basic information concerning growing vegetables, herbs, and fruits, as well as caring for your own livestock for meat, milk, and eggs. Everything you'd need to know to eat your own homegrown food year-round!

The book opens with "The Home Vegetable Garden". Starting from planning your garden, to starting seeds, to DIY plant supports, to harvesting, and finally seed-saving and preserving, the entire life cycle of the plants are touched upon. A good basic foundation is presented, including a "Vegetables A to Z" section giving specifics for various common vegetables. The information presented is more than enough to get a new gardener headed down the right path to success.

As far as preserving, hot bath canning is touched upon briefly, with no mention of dehydration. If you're looking for books specifically concerning food preservation, I'd recommend The Dehydrator Bible: Includes over 400 Recipes for dehydration information, and Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving concerning pressure canning.

The second section, "Backyard Fruits and Nuts", gives basic information about several different types of fruits including strawberries and which to choose for your climate, choosing and caring for various berry bushes, choosing and raising grapes for wine and preserves making, and suggestions for deciding what varieties of fruit and nut trees will work best for your orchard. Proper pruning of all bushes, vines and trees is covered. There are even wine and cider making directions!

The "Easy Fragrant Herbs" section covers very basic cultivation of 32 common culinary and medicinal herbs, and although includes some tea and vinegar recipes, doesn't touch much on the medicinal applications of those herbs. I've found The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs and The New Healing Herbs: The Essential Guide to More Than 125 of Nature's Most Potent Herbal Remedies to be valuable reference guides if you're looking for in-depth information about specific plants, both cultivated and wild. Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use provides an excellent introduction and overview to beginner herbalists on how to administer various forms of treatments, as well as information on 24 common herbs. It includes 124 medicinal recipes, too!

"Homegrown Grains" was of particular interest to us. We are currently purchasing corn and hay for our animal feed. It would be nice to supplement some of that with homegrown product! We've never attempted to grow grains ourselves, other than a few stalks of corn (with little success). There is a planting chart, which will certainly come in handy. The chapter focuses on corn and wheat, and covers properly drying corn, threshing wheat, using a grinder and bread and pasta making. Many of the questions I've had regarding wheat growing were answered. Growing hops and barley for home brewed beer was a welcome surprise at the end of the chapter!

After the plants presentations came "Poultry for Meat and Eggs". It's important to select breeds suited to your purpose. Meat breeds are larger, and often produce less eggs than laying breeds. This section does a fairly good job at covering the common chicken breeds in the US, although there is no mention of climate hardiness. Raising turkeys, ducks and geese are also referenced here. Collecting and preserving eggs is thoroughly discussed, but home butchery of meat birds is left out. Collection of feathers for down is touched upon, though. There are plans included for building a small portable suburban-type chicken coop that will house 2 or 3 birds, but would recommend doing a thorough web-search before settling on a design.

"Meat and Dairy" section is what you'd expect- Goats, Sheep, Cows, Rabbits and Hogs. Interestingly enough, there were no plans presented for building a basic shelter or fencing for the animals. Breed selection for meat or milk is covered, as well as proper milking technique and safe milk handling etiquette. Making various cheeses and butter is touched upon.  If you're interested in specific cheese making recipes, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses is a great guide.

Again, home butchery is vastly under-represented, simply covering how to cut the meat and package it for freezing or for smoking after you pick it up from the slaughter house. There are plans for a simple smoke house, and recipes for sausage and jerky.  If you're looking for an in-depth guide to livestock, I'd look elsewhere. There are many very specific books available out there for the type of animal you're interested in raising. For the stouthearted, there is the Home Butchering Handbook: A Living Free Guide (Living Free Guides).

The final chapter, "Food from the Wild" lightly touches on beekeeping, foraging for wild edibles, and gathering maple syrup. Very basic information is presented. Again, I'd look for specific reference guides for these particular subjects. Especially concerning wild edibles. A good reference guide with color photos that is tailored to your specific area is the best choice. There are indeed plants out there than can make you very sick if you make an identification mistake!

In the appendix, there are several web resources given, as well as further reading suggestions (some of which I have already mentioned!) on various specific subjects. As of writing, I have not reviewed them all yet!

Over-all, I would HIGHLY recommend this book to BEGINNERS, and to intermediate gardeners looking to expand from a simple vegetable or herb garden to a larger scale, self-sufficient homestead. It's a good starting point. People who've been homesteading for a while will probably already be familiar with much of the information presented here. However, it'd be a great book to have on hand to lend should a visitor become interesting in what you're doing, too!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Comment below!

Monday, August 4, 2014

DIY HD TV Antenna

Like droves of others, we recently cancelled our subscription TV services. While many are opting for Netflix, Hulu+, and other on-demand streaming services, they're not an option for folks living in rural areas on satellite internet services with restrictive download limits. We didn't want to invest hundreds of dollars on an antenna to simply watch the news, either... 

Brian searched around the internet, and using commonly found materials, built this DIY antenna which receives network signals from both Toledo and Detroit! Our satellite provider had only aired Toledo stations. This obscure looking creation picks up 15 different analog and digital HD channels with excellent sound and picture clarity!


2x4" board
4 metal coathangers
12 washers
12 wood screws


The instructional video Brian used can be found here:
He added the washers himself for stability and 2 extra receivers.

The antenna can be directly connected to the TV indoors, but our aluminum siding interfered with signal reception. Brian ended up taking it outside and hooking it up using the previously installed satellite cable! It's admittedly not the most attractive looking device, and fortunately, hiding it in a bush doesn't seem to affect it's signal strength!

By doing away with satellite TV service and installing this simple device built from scrap materials, we're now saving $79 per month we paid for "Extended Basic" service!

Friday, August 1, 2014

HERBAL MEDICINE: Honey Ginger Lemon Tea

This tea can be drunk cold or hot as a general wellness tea, or sipped hot for cold, flu, and upper respiratory ailments.


1 c. Boiling Water
1 Tea Bag (black or green tea)
1/8" Slice Fresh Ginger
1/2 tsp. Raw Honey
1/2 tsp. Lemon Juice

Combine ingredients in a coffee mug, cover, and steep for 10-15 minutes.


GINGER: Anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, antioxidant, immune-boosting, decongestant. It's anti-inflammatory properties soothe a sore throat. Proteolytic enzymes contained in ginger stimulate circulation, and aid in joint and cartilage repair. Can aid in soothing an upset stomach, including motion and sea sickness!

RAW HONEY: Anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, immune-boosting. Honey contains antioxidants, proteins, minerals and other compounds to strengthen the immune system. Anti-bacterial properties fight off organisms that cause respiratory infections, while antimicrobial actions soothe a sore throat. Natural sugars contained in honey help boost energy levels. Heals cuts and burns when applied topically, too!

LEMON: Anti-bacterial, antiviral, immune-boosting. Lemons contain calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, limonene and other substances that strengthen the immune system and fight infection. It's also a mild laxative and digestive aid.

***All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.***

***Honey should never be given to babies less than 1 year old per National Honey Board. They haven't developed a tolerance for a particular strain of bacteria called "Clostridium botulinum".***