From The Garden: Home-Squeezed Lemonade!

Let me just start out by saying… if you have never had homemade lemonade (and we’re talking from fresh squeezed lemons) you are missing out my friend! If all you’ve ever known of lemonade is CountryTime, you have my sympathies. I grew up with a lemon tree in our backyard and have fond (or perhaps only partially fond) memories of picking and juicing bag after bag of lemons for a Saturday work project. And, okay, although the labor may not be anyone’s favorite part, the reward is so worth it. So for those who have never had the experience, it’s time to be edumacated (uh… that’s Texan for ‘educated’) in the deliciousness of homemade lemonade.

To make fresh-squeezed lemonade, clearly you’re going to need some fresh lemons. We currently have two lemon trees in our yard, but both are pretty young and still in the ‘not really producing much yet’ phase (although we were actually able to use two lemons from our trees that had actually turned yellow and were ready for the pickin’! I cannot wait until these trees produce in large quantities!). Fortunately, however, we have some good friends with a mature lemon tree that produces lemons like crazy and they were kind enough to share some with us. (Thanks Browns!) 🙂

So the process starts with picking the lemons, but since that was already done for us, we moved right on to the juicing phase. Cut the lemons in half and then juice, juice, juice those babies until they have no more juice left in them. (Note: an electric juicer is TONS of help when doing any substantial amount of juicing, although not necessary as you can read about below.)

Add child labor whenever possible.

Pour the collected juice into a jar…

and ta-da! You’ve got freshly squeezed lemon juice that is just BEGGING to be made into lemonade. 😀 (P.S. Just refrigerate or freeze any lemon juice that will not be used right away.)

Fresh Homemade Lemonade

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • approximately 2 quarts of water

Directions:

  1. In a 2-quart pitcher, add your lemon juice and sugar.
  2. Add enough water and ice to make 2 quarts. Stir. Enjoy.

{Note: These amounts are based on personal preference. If you like your lemonade a bit more tangy, use more lemon juice. If you like it more diluted, use less. More sweet, more sugar… you get the idea. This is just a starting point. Also note that different types of lemons (or different levels of maturity) will produce different flavors. So depending on the type/maturity of lemon you’re using, you may end up varying your amounts as well.}

So here’s my funny lemon juicing story… just to keep life real: We have an electric juicer (as you can see from the pictures above), and I put it together to go ahead and use to juice all these lemons. I tried to juice the first lemon and it wouldn’t work. No motor noise, nothing. I’d only used it a few times before and couldn’t believe it was already broken! ‘Piece of junk’ I’m thinking to myself. So my girls and I juice all our lemons by hand. I disassemble the juicer, and then I remember we’ve got two lemons on our tree, so I run out to grab those to add to our spoils. I come back in and put the juicer back together, and this time I notice a little notch in the top that looks like it’s maybe supposed to line up with the seed catcher part. Hmmm… so I line them up, and badda-boom badda-bing, it works! I couldn’t believe we juiced all those lemons by hand due to my user error. (I seem to be pretty good at making extra work for myself based on user error.) DOH! Well, it was a good arm workout anyway. 😀

What’s From The Garden? Refrigerator Pickles!

We have gotten a WHOLE LOT of cucumbers so far from our garden, so I’m trying to figure out some good ways to use them. My first thought was to make some homemade relish, but I need bell peppers for that (which I don’t have enough of those growing yet), we’ve done home canned pickles before and they have just sat on our shelf because we’re not huge pickle eaters (unless it’s on a burger or something) and then I remembered my grandpa’s canned pickled cucumbers from my childhood. My grandpa was an avid gardener and one of my favorite things he made was homemade pickled cucumbers. They taste more like a cucumber than a pickle, but with a hint of dill and a hint of sweetness to boot. At this memory I immediately knew what I wanted to do with ALL my cucumbers! However, Grandpa passed away a few years ago, and my mom was out of town so I couldn’t get the recipe from her. So I checked online and found something similar. This isn’t exactly the same as Grandpa’s (it doesn’t have any dill in it… which I’m sure I could have just added) and these aren’t canned either, you just keep them in the fridge. I like the fridge option for easiness, but I also want to can some as well so I can keep them on the shelf. So anyway, here’s a great recipe for you to enjoy and I promise to share Grandpa’s as well as soon as I can get my hands on it! 🙂 And if you’ve got some cucumbers growing, you have GOT to try these. They are so refreshing and delicious. But caution, you can easily sit and eat a whole jar at a time! 🙂

Homemade Refrigerator Pickles

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Ingredients:

  • approximately 2 quarts of thinly sliced cucumbers (about 6-7 cucumbers)
  • 1/2 to 1 whole onion, thinly sliced (depending on how much onion you like)
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt (or regular salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup vinegar

Directions:

  1. Slice your cucumbers and onions as thin as you can. (I used my 2-quart drinking pitcher to hold the cucumbers so I’d know when I had two quarts. :))
  2. Place the cucumbers and onions in a large bowl and cover with ice cold water (add 8-10 cubes of ice). Add the salt and stir to combine. Let stand for about 2 hours.
  3. Drain the water. Then add the sugar. Mix the sugar until the cucumbers are evenly coated (I just use my hands).
  4. Add the vinegar and mix.
  5. Spoon it all into mason jars (a canning funnel definitely helps) or some other airtight container and let it sit in the fridge for approximately 24 hours. Note that there will not be enough liquid to cover all the cucumbers initially, so just divide the liquid as evenly as possible among your containers. And as it sits, the cucumbers will make their own juice and eventually they’ll be full almost to the top. You want the cucumbers in liquid if possible, since that is what will enhance the flavor as they sit.

And that’s it! Easy right? Next time I think I’ll definitely add some dill, and maybe some ground mustard seed. But I like these the way they are too. Hope you enjoy! Happy Gardening!

What’s For Dinner? Green Bean Chicken Alfredo Casserole!

This yummy little dinner is one that I came up with after watching a roommate in college make a similar concoction. If you can use fresh tomatoes and green beans from the garden (oh, okay… or from the store too), then by all means do. Otherwise, the canned alternative works wonderfully as well.

Green Bean Chicken Alfredo Casserole

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pint canned chicken
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp McCormick’s Grill Mates Montreal Chicken seasoning
  • 1 (15 oz) can green beans, drained (or about 1½ cups fresh beans, cut up)
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced, seasoned tomatoes (whatever you favorite seasoned kind is), drained (or 1-2 large tomatoes, diced)
  • 1 jar of your favorite alfredo sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups (8 oz) fresh grated mozzarella or parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Cook your pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, drain and rinse your canned chicken. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add your chicken. Sprinkle the grilled chicken seasoning over the chicken and saute for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Drain the cooked pasta and transfer it into 9 x 13 baking dish. Add the chicken, green beans and diced tomatoes into the dish and give it a stir to evenly distribute the ingredients.
  4. Pour the alfredo sauce over the top and lightly mix it in (just enough to get the sauce settled into the pan). Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top according to taste and then layer with the cheese (if using).
  5. Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are warmed through. Enjoy!
  6. Serves 6-8 people.


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What’s For Dinner? Southwestern Quinoa Salad

Ever since I learned about Quinoa I’ve been looking for some good recipes that incorporate it. Really you can use Quinoa just about anywhere you would use rice or couscous. However, I wanted some recipes that really made it shine. This is a good one. It’s so light and refreshing. I’ve listed it as a dinner, but you could easily use it as a lunch and I also love to eat it just as a snack throughout the day! It doesn’t get much more healthy than this, so eat guilt-free to your heart’s content!

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of Quinoa
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • juice from 3 limes (about 3 Tbsp)
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • a dash of cayenne pepper (or ground chipotle chili powder)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (or 4 cloves, minced)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grilled chicken tenders, about 2 per person (optional)

Optional Ingredients From The Garden:

  • 1-2 bell peppers (any color of your choice), diced
  • half a red onion
  • ¼ cup cilantro

Directions:

  1. In small pot, combine the quinoa, water, bouillon, and salt. Bring to a simmer and then turn heat to low and allow to cook for roughly 30 minutes (or until water is absorbed). Fluff lightly with a fork and allow to cool.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the lime juice, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, vinegar, olive oil, and garlic. Whisk together.
  3. In another bowl, combine the black beans, corn, and any of the garden items you have available. (They’re optional because this is a shelf stable meal without them. But if you can get/grow them, they add a whole lot to the dish! So try not to omit them.)
  4. After the quinoa has cooled, combine it with the black bean mixture. Pour the dressing over the top and mix it in thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
  6. Optional addition: You can also add some grilled chicken to top this off beautifully. However, since quinoa is a complete protein on its own, you don’t need the chicken for protein purposes. It would only be for the sheer pleasure of your palate. 🙂 I like to add the chicken… especially if I’m serving this as the main course. 🙂 If you’re using this in a time when you’re living off your food supply, you could also just use canned chicken. Just saute it up with some grilling seasoning first. Enjoy!

What’s For Dinner? Hawaiian Haystacks!

This is a deliciously satisfying and fun dinner. Everyone can get involved in creating their own meal! And even better, there’s no limit to what you can put on these bad boys. If you’ve got it in the cupboard, there’s a good chance it may taste good on this! So don’t be a chicken, and just load these with all the great goodness you can think of. Enjoy!

Hawaiian Haystacks

Download Printable Version
Rice Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups Rice
  • 1 can Chicken Broth, plus 1 cup water (or 3 cups water + 2 bouillon cubes)
  • A dash of Salt

Chicken Gravy Ingredients:

  • 1 pint Canned Chicken
  • 1 can condensed Cream of Chicken soup*
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth (or 1 cup of water/milk + 1 bouillon cube)
  • A dash of Garlic Powder
  • A dash of freshly ground Black Pepper

Topping Options:

  • Pineapple Tidbits (this is our favorite)
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Corn
  • Chopped Bell Peppers (if available, or from the garden)
  • Celery (if available, or from the garden)
  • Green Onions (if available, or from the garden)
  • Peas (frozen or from the garden)
  • Chow Mein Noodles
  • Shredded Coconut
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Anything else you can think of!

Directions:

  1. Start by cooking your rice. Cook according to package directions, but use chicken broth instead of water and add a dash of salt.
  2. While the rice is cooking, go ahead and prepare your chicken gravy. In a small pot, combine the chicken, cream of chicken soup, chicken broth, garlic powder, and pepper over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low to simmer and keep warm until your rice is done.
  3. Finally, prepare your toppings. Chop up any veggies that need chopping, slice up anything that needs slicing. Put them all out in little individual bowls for everyone to be able to grab at. You can use spoons if you’re the sanitary type, but we’re a ‘hands-in’ type of family. Unless, of course, we have company over. Then we bring out our manners. 🙂
  4. To Serve: There’s no right or wrong way to serve these, but traditionally, you put a pile of rice on your plate, top it with the chicken gravy, and then throw on as many toppings as your little heart desires.
  5. Eat and enjoy!! Serves a family of 4. (In the picture above, the chicken gravy is doubled… it was WAY more than we needed. :))

Note: If you need to increase the serving amount just double the chicken gravy recipe (with the exception of the chicken), and then increase your rice based on the following rule: 1+2=3. That is to say, 1 cup of uncooked rice + 2 cups of water = 3 cups of prepared rice. You’ll want approximately 1 to 1½ cups of prepared rice per person for this meal. So for a family of 6, you can use 2 cups of rice, plus 4 cups water/broth to equal 6 cups of prepared rice, etc.

*For a gluten-free recipe, be sure to use gluten-free cream of chicken soup. Everything else is safe (except the Chow Mein noodles in the toppings list.)

What’s For Snack? Healthy Green Smoothies!

Alright… I’m fudging a little bit on this one. I don’t make this from ‘food storage’ items because I try to use completely fresh for these ingredients. BUT, each of these ingredients could be stored in your freezer, or you could grow some of it in your garden, so you could make it from food storage… so I say it still counts. 🙂 But the main reason I want to share this recipe with you is because it is a delicious way to get TONS of healthy vitamins and nutrients into your diet… and your kids’ as well! My kids actually request this smoothie… green and all! We just made the fact that it’s green part of the fun. Lately we’ve been having it just about every day. And it’s so simple to make! You’re gonna love it! And seriously… these really are good. I’m not the kind of person to just blend something and drink it just because it’s healthy. So for all you skeptics out there who I know are going to turn up your nose the minute you see ‘spinach’ on the ingredient list, try it at least once! You’ll never taste a more delicious way to sneak vegetables into your daily diet. 🙂

Healthy Green Smoothies

Ingredients:

  • 1½ to 2 ripe bananas (the more ripe, the sweeter this will be)
  • 1 to 1½ cups of fresh pineapple chunks (you can use frozen, or even canned as well)
  • 2 to 3 cups fresh spinach (I use baby spinach leaves)
  • water to preference (however thick or thin you want it), but 1½ cups is probably a good estimate.
  • ice* (about 6 cubes)

Directions:
-Add all the ingredients to your blender and mix until smooth! It’s that easy!
-Makes  2-4 smoothies, depending on the size of your serving.

*Tip: Be sure that if you’re using fresh ingredients you add the ice. One of the keys to making this enjoyable is to make sure it is nice and cold. A warm smoothie just doesn’t cut it. 🙂 But if you’re using frozen ingredients you can do without the ice.

Photo courtesy of cari-fit.com

What’s For Dinner? Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Salad

What a name! But what a dish! This is a new favorite of mine. I found two different but similar recipes for this dish, but wanted some of what each had to offer. So I combined bits and pieces and came up with this recipe. It’s totally shelf stable with the exception of if you are adding fresh vegetables (which are ones that can be commonly grown in a garden), but it would be just fine without the veggies as well. I definitely wouldn’t complain in a food shortage crisis! 🙂 Another bonus to this meal is that it can be served warm or chilled. So it’s a great make-ahead meal if you’d like as well. Anyway… ENJOY!

(And aren’t you so proud of me? I remembered to take a picture!!) 😀

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Salad

Download Printable Version
Ingredients:

  • 3/4 to 1 cup Asian Sesame Dressing, divided (I used Ken’s Steakhouse light version)
  • 1 pint canned chicken, in small chunk size pieces
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter (creamy or chunky works)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp crushed or ground red pepper (more or less depending on your spicy preferences)
  • 8 oz (1/2 a 1 lb box) angel hair pasta (or thin spaghetti)

optional ingredients to add, if rotating or if you have a garden with them… 🙂

  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed, and sliced
  • 1 cup slivered carrots (I like the matchstick kind you can buy at the store)

Directions:

-Cook pasta as directed on the package and drain. Rinse with cold water (if serving cold). Set aside.
-While the pasta is cooking, toss the cooked chicken chunks with about ¼ cup of the Asian Sesame Dressing (enough to fully coat all the chicken) and set in the fridge to chill (if you’re serving cold).
-In a separate bowl, mix the remaining dressing, peanut butter, honey and red pepper.
-In your serving bowl, dump in the pasta, the chicken mixture, and the peanut butter mixture along with any remaining ingredients you are using. Mix lightly till all the pasta is covered with the sauce.
-Serve warm or chill in fridge for 4-8 hours before serving. Serve with soy sauce, if desired. (I like it the way it is, but hubby likes it with the soy sauce.)
-This will make about 4 main dish meals, or 6-8 side dishes. It can easily be doubled to make about 8 main dishes or to take to a potluck or something. ENJOY!

(adapted from EverydayFoodStorage.net)