Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

You may be familiar with making your own pumpkin puree, but butternut squash is another favorite of mine.  I make some every fall and freeze in 15 oz containers (so it translates well for recipes that use a 15 oz can).  I use it to make sauces, like this one, or gnocchi (you can follow the recipe for the pumpkin gnocchi, just sub out the butternut).
Butternut squash has a great texture and mouth feel so it makes a wonderful sauce without needing to add milk or cream.  This is such a quick and easy recipe, and having the squash made ahead of time makes it ridiculously easy.


8 oz (or a pound if you like) bacon lardons (you could also use chopped bacon, or panchetta, or omit entirely)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T fresh sages, very finely minced
15 oz butternut squash puree
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (something with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce works best)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy.  Drain and set aside.
Remove all drippings but a light coating in pan.  Add garlic and sage and saute until fragrant.
Add squash and chicken stock to pan and cook for 5-10 minutes over medium to medium high heat until reduced slightly and thickened slightly.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, add pasta and toss to combine.
Top with Parmesan cheese and reserved bacon.

NOTES: To make this without any meat, just use a tsp of olive oil to saute the garlic and sage.
If you have fresh butternut squash, peel, seed, and cube it.  Add about 2 1/2 cups to pan instead of the puree along with the chicken stock.  Cover pan and cook through, then puree.  Proceed again per recipe.

DIY Smoked Bacon


I love a good kitchen experiment.  This takes kitchen experiments to all new level though.  If you’ve never had homemade bacon you have no idea what you’re missing.  It makes bacon from the store seem so wrong and inferior.  It is really very easy and while it takes some time you don’t have to do much during the time.  If you don’t have a smoker yet I don’t know what better argument there is than homemade smoked bacon :)

I like to cut the pork belly into manageable sizes, since it makes it easier to cure them in ziplock bags and also when it comes time to slice it later on.  The rub amounts are for each pound of pork belly, so adjust accordingly.  I did half of mine in brown sugar rub, and the other half in the peppercorn herb rub.  We go back and forth on which we like better and I honestly can’t tell you which is better!  Next time I might try adding a little maple syrup as well.  You can play around with the seasonings, just be sure to use the right amount of tenderquick, as that will keep bad bacteria from growing.  You can use pink salt, but you need to be careful when using that, as too much can actually be lethal.  I feel like tenderquick is a little safer for a home kitchen.

Pork belly, rind on

1 T Morton’s tenderquick
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

1 T Morton’s Tenderquick
1 tsp sugar
1 T crushed black peppercorns (Using the side of a chef’s knife, press down to crack)
1 tsp garlic powder (or 1 crushed garlic clove)
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 crumbled dried bay leaf

Place pork belly in a shallow pan and rub all sides with rub.  Place in a ziplock bag with any remaining rub.
Refrigerate for 7 days, turning ever day to redistribute the rub and any liquid.

After 7 days it’s time to rinse the rub off.  You don’t want to skip this, as the bacon will be too salty if you don’t.


After you have rinsed the pork belly, place it on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 2 days.


Time to smoke!  Hot smoke, rind side up, for about 2 hours (we used a mix of hickory and cherry) or until it reaches 150 degrees.
If you don’t have a smoker you could bake it in the oven at about 200 degrees on a rack set over a rimmed sheet.  But for optimal flavor, we’re going to smoke. :)


Above is what the rind side looks like when done, below is rind side down:


Trim the rind off.  Unless you want rind-on bacon, then you would leave it on.


Cool, then slice in desired thickness.  It’s easiest if you slice with fat side down.

You’ll want to cut the ends off to get nice neat slices.  But you don’t want to waste any!  So cut the ends into 1/2 inch cubes, or lardons.  You can throw these in a freezer ziplock and they won’t freeze together solid.  You can pull out however much you want at a time.  These are great for chili, cook until crisp to top baked potatoes, salads… pretty much anything you want to taste amazing.

To store the bacon I weigh out half pound amounts, wrap in butcher paper and freeze.

Tea by the Sea


This summer we had a “Tea by the Sea” for my daughters and few of their friends (and the moms).  It was such a fun way to end summer.  These ideas would work well for a mermaid type birthday party as well.

I kept the invites simple, printed on vellum and ripped the sides, attached to brown paper using some washi tape.


My girls had alot of fun making each of their friends a mermaid clothespin doll.  We used them as a napkin ring and they each got to take theirs home.

We kept decorations simple since we had made so much fun edible things.  just a few shells and such we had around the house.

For the kids I made “Mermaid Lemonade”.  Mix lemonade and blue Hawaiian punch.  ( I also had hot herbal tea for the moms).

I made pink seahorses using pink candy coating and a seahorse chocolate mold, then attached them to a pretzel rod dipped in blue candy coating, then sprinkled some sprinkles and pearl candy around them.

And of course coral reef candy.  Make it yourself using the recipe here.

Smores Starfish, recipe found here , and some cookie clams made with cookies, frosting, and candy pearls.

I’m not the best at decorating sugar cookies, but the kids didn’t care!

And of course the sandcastle cake went in the middle of the table


And the teeny cupcakes disappeared very fast!

Sea Glass candy, recipe here

Seafoam (also called honeycomb candy) recipe here

Lime mousse, recipe here. I served this for both the kids and adults.

Fairy bread, of course.  A must for every tea party.   Cut bread with an octopus cookie cutter and spread with frosting or softened butter and coat with sprinkles. I mixed a few colors in with blue and added some candy eyes.

Using some mini croissants we made crabs cutting the mouths from marshmallows and the candy eyes with “glued” onto marshmallows with frosting and put on toothpicks.  I put ham and cheese around them so the kids could make them how they wanted.

For the moms I made some tea sandwiches.

And I frosted some of the cupcakes with plain frosting and put a chocolate shell on top instead of the gummy candy for the kids ones.

And lots of sweets to go around!


It was a fun day! I wouldn’t be surprised if we do it again next summer!


Quick Sea Glass Candy


While microwave hard candy tends to get chewier faster than regular, it is incredibly quick and easy.  Perfect for a quick Sea Glass candy for a “Tea by the Sea”!


1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
candy flavoring and coloring, if desired
powdered sugar for coating
For sour candy, add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp citric acid when adding the candy flavoring

Mix the sugar and corn syrup together in a 4 cup microwave safe glass measuring cup.
Cover snugly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes on high.
Carefully remove the plastic wrap, stir quickly and place new plastic wrap on measuring cup.
Microwave on high for 3 minutes 30 seconds.  Carefully remove plastic wrap and stir.
After boiling has ceased stir in desired coloring and flavoring if desired. (about 1/2 tsp of candy flavoring is enough)
Pour onto greased cookie sheet (I like to line it with a silicone mat) or pour into candy molds.


Cover with a piece of parchment paper and break into pieces.


Toss with powdered sugar.  Store in an airtight container.



For the seaglass candy I made 3 batches, one plain, one blue, and one green then mixed all together.
Recipe source: LorAnn Oils


Smores Starfish



One batch of marshmallows, I used my recipe found here
chocolate or candy coating for dipping
graham cracker crumbs (I actually used leftover cookie crumbs from the sandcastle cake)

Make the mashmallows but spread into a baking sheet instead of a 9 by 13 pan.  Just spray the pan with nonstick coating such as Pam, don’t coat them in the powdered sugar mixture.
When set cut into stars with an oiled cookie cutter.  I had a starfish cutter but a plain star is fine.


Dip into melted chocolate or candy coating and drop into cookie or graham cracker crumbs, spooning the crumbs to coat the top as well.  Place on a silicone mat or wax paper to set.

Don’t throw away those marshmallow scraps!  Use them in hot cocoa, or make the best rocky road you’ll ever taste.
Cut into chunks and put in a bowl with some peanuts and cocoa nibs (or your choice of nut).

Add melted chocolate to coat and spread on a silicone mat or wax paper.  Let chocolate harden then cut into squares.

Sandcastle Cake


We had a “Tea by the Sea” before school started for my daughters and a couple of their friends and of course we had to make a sandcastle cake! It was so easy and fun.


Cake, 9 by 13 pan
Cookies or graham crackers, I used danish butter cookies
Sanding sugar or granulated sugar, optional
4 sugar ice cream cones
Mini marshmallows
Bamboo skewer and chewy candy for flag

Process cookies in a food processor until fine crumbs.  Mix in some sanding sugar for some sparkle if desired.  Set aside.
I cut my cake like this: I ended up using the 2 larger squares and 2 smaller squares instead of 3 of each.  These are for the 2 main sections.
And the 4 circles are for under the cones.


Stack the 2 larger squares, then center the 2 smaller squares on top, using frosting inbetween each layer.
Frost the outside and coat with the crumbs.  Start adding your mini marshmallow border on top.
Pinch a little corner of the mini marshmallow and coat in frosting then roll in crumbs.
Put a circle of cake at each corner and frost and coat sides with crumbs.  Top with a sugar cone (I found it easier to frost and crumb coat them first).
If you want a flag, roll out a chewy candy and cut one out, then poke a skewer thru one end.  Place in cake.

I also baked some cake in tiny condiment cups (You can find them at restaurant supply stores like United Grocers Cash and Carry).  They made the cutest teeny cupcakes.  I frosted them and topped with some gummy sealife, chocolate sunflower seeds and sprinkles.  If you’re local you can find them at the amazing candy store Candy Babel.
Sprinkle some crumbs around them on the plate for sand if desired.


Canning Journal



I’m so excited to have this done!  I couldn’t find what I wanted online allready so I made my own and wanted to share with you all too.
In my great grandmother’s journal she would record all of her canning and I remember as a kid finding this amazing to read.  (Since they were farmers the numbers were pretty big of course!)  As a newlywed I wanted to carry this on so I tried to keep track, with mixed results every year.  So I’ve finally made a binder to keep it in with my favorite recipes in sheet protectors as well.  I know I’ll remember since it’s all together and handy.  I love looking back and seeing what I’ve accomplished all recorded.  It’s also helpful when trying to remember which recipe I used when I made something we just loved.
I made a few options for the cover page since I thought all the images were so perfect and couldn’t decide and both artist’s agreed to let me use their artwork.
And plenty of links for other helpful things to add in as well!
I’m making a few for gifts for canning friends and found the cute mason jar cookie cutters at Cost Plus World Market to tie on as well.    Hope this comes in handy for you all as well!


A few options for the cover page:
From Art by Amanda Hillburn:
Watercolor jar canning journal cover (Thanks Amanda!)

Or this one using images from Aimee at Twigg Studios:

Hand painted canning journal cover   (Thanks Aimee!)


canning journal

Or if you’d rather the title was food preservation journal.

And some other handy things to have in the binder:

This Ball Produce Purchase Guide is so handy to have in sheet protectors and easy to find instead of sifting through my canning books.


Dating a Ball Jar, Logo history  just for fun.  I have some of my Grandmother’s old jars and I have been shocked to realize how old some of them are!  Even more amazing is how good of condition they are in and to think how many times they’ve been used!

And of course print off some of these cute labels and have on hand in a pocket:

Adorable “Canned with Love” labels

Super fun labels that you can make into shrinky dinks!

And if that’s not enough, here’s a link to a ton more labels and tags

Smoked Pork Chops

I think this is my new favorite BBQ recipe.  We tried smoked pork chops awhile back from a good butcher and ever since we’ve wanted to try making them.  While it does take some time, most of it is hands off and easy.  By brining the chops overnight they’ll stay very moist, even after cooking for over 3 1/2 hours.  You could skip the rub part but it adds great flavor.  I make my own BBQ seasoning and I’m sharing that with you today.  I found myself reaching for the same blend of spices when making BBQ so I finally started mixing up a bigger batch of it and keep a jar on hand.
You could make these even a few days ahead of time, then throw on the grill or even in a skillet when ready to serve.  They are smoky and sweet and the perfect thing for the trickle of summer left!

Smoked Pork Chops

6 pork chops (You could really use any kind, just bone in and 3/4 to 1 inch thick)
Apple wood for smoking

8 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns

1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Smoky BBQ Seasoning*

Make the brine: In a medium pot, heat 4 cups of the water with the sugar and salt to a simmer to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat and add the garlic, bay, and peppercorns, along with 4 cups ice water.  Make sure it is cold before adding the pork chops.  (I use a plastic container from a restaurant supply store for brining, but even a bowl will work.  Preferably taller, not too shallow, since you want to submerge the chops.)
Use a plate to weigh down the pork chops to completely submerge them.  Cover and put in the fridge to brine overnight.
In the morning, remove the chops from the brine and lightly rinse with cold water to remove excess salt.  Blot dry with paper towels and place the chops on a wire rack over a baking sheet.  Place in the fridge for at least a few hours to dry.  This develops the pellicle, that tacky outer feeling that allows the smoke to adhere better.
Mix together the rub ingredients and rub on both sides of the chops.  30 minutes before you are ready to smoke soak the wood in water.
Hot smoke for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until internal temperature is 160 degrees.

*Smoky BBQ Seasoning
1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 T brown sugar, optional
2 T garlic
2 T toasted onion powder
2 T kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder (add more for a spicier seasoning)

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

I don’t know about you all, but it’s been a bit crazy around here.  ”Back to school” in our house looks different than the staged photos everyone is taking for their kids first day of___.  I am usually scurrying around with last minute projects and re-organizing our classroom.  Hence the shortage of posts lately!  I’ve also been canning up a flurry (I have something fun to share soon for canners!)  So simple meals have been on the list lately and this one totally saved the day last night.  Quick and yummy.  You could totally make this ahead of time, just wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to bake.


10 (9 inch) flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups chopped onion, about 1 large
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp chili powder (more if you want it spicy)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cooked and shredded (about 4 cups)
2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
For topping: diced tomatoes, sliced green onions, chopped avocado

Use a drizzle of oil to brown tortillas in a skillet over medium to medium high heat, adding another drizzle of oil as needed (not necessary but does give the tortillas a more crisp texture.)
When tortillas are done, using the same skillet, add another drizzle of oil and saute the onions until softened.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or until fragrant.  Set aside.
Mix the sour cream, chili, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper together in a small bowl.
Spray a 9 by 13 inch pan with nonstick spray and place 2 tortillas in the bottom, overlapping to fit.  Spread with about 3 T of the sour cream mixture.
Top with a quarter of the chicken (about 1 cup), a quarter of the onions, a couple tablespoons of cilantro, then about 3/4 cup of the cheese.
Repeat 3 more times.  Top with remaining 2 tortillas and spread with remaining sour cream mixture and shredded cheese.  Reserve the remaining cilantro for sprinkling on after baking.
Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or cheese is all melted and hot throughout.
Top with remaining cilantro, tomatoes, green onions, and avocados.  Serve with extra sour cream and salsa if desired.

Home Canned Spaghetti Sauce and Salsa

I’m in a canning frenzy here.  I had loads of misc tomatoes, cherry, sungolds, romas, all kinds from the garden.  I haven’t canned salsa or spaghetti sauce before and when a friend shared the recipe she uses I knew I had to try it.  She is a master food preserver and when she says it’s a tested safe recipe I know that doesn’t mean she waited 10 minutes after feeding her husband before serving it.  (like my Grandma did!) I did alter the amounts of peppers and some seasonings after clearing that it would be safe.  If you want it hotter, you can adjust up to the maximum listed.  I’m totally hooked and will be canning loads more next week!  The salsa is a mild on the heat with my adjustment with the peppers, but a little smoky and perfect.  The spaghetti sauce is a little smoky as well with the addition of paprika.  You can add that last and see if you like it better.  I don’t know if I liked it better with or without.  Both are so good!  I look forward to opening up jars of summer this winter!
Once again, I won’t get into canning basics, but if you aren’t up to date on current safety techniques, please review at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  And of course you could freeze this if you don’t can.

Makes about 6 pints

8 cups tomatoes
2 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper (I like yellow, orange, or red) (MAXIMUM 1 1/2 cups)
1 jalapeno, finely chopped (MAXIMUM 5)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp black pepper
2 T dried cilantro
2 T dried oregano
2 T canning salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup bottled lime juice (You can’t use fresh in canning, it doesn’t have the required acidity level to be safe)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
16 oz tomato sauce
16 oz tomato paste

To prepare the tomatoes you can use your preference for peeling.  I spread my tomatoes in a single layer on baking sheets and roasted at 350 degrees for 15 minutes for cherry tomatoes, 25 to 30 minutes for romas.  Let cool slightly then run through a food mill.
Combine all ingredients in a pot and whisk to combine well.  Whisk frequently and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Let boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Fill pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Spaghetti Sauce
Makes about 6 pints

8 cups tomatoes
2 cups finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper (I like yellow, orange, or red) (MAXIMUM 1 1/2 cups)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 T canning salt
2 T dried basil
2 T dried oregano
1 T fennel seeds
2 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
16 oz tomato sauce
16 oz tomato paste

To prepare the tomatoes you can use your preference for peeling.  I spread my tomatoes in a single layer on baking sheets and roasted at 350 degrees for 15 minutes for cherry tomatoes, 25 to 30 minutes for romas.  Let cool slightly then run through a food mill.
Combine all ingredients in a pot and whisk to combine well.  Whisk frequently and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Let boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Fill pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

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