Alley's Recipe Book
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Canning Tomatoes - total time 2 hours


Canning tomatoes is like storing a little bit of summer and getting to open it up again when the ground is covered in snow.  It is also pretty easy to do.  As long as you have a large pot, some mason jars, and lots of tomatoes... you can do water bath canning.  Tomatoes are high enough in acidity that it doesn't require being canned in a pressure cooker.  There are only a handful of things you can can this way, and even with high acidity, you still need to be careful and follow every step.  You're not putting the preservatives and additives that food producers use in their canning process.  So follow the steps and make sure your kitchen is nice and clean before starting!

Weekly Menu & Preserving Summer's Bounty


As much as it pains me to think about it... the end of summer is near.  Don't get me wrong, I love autumn with the crisp air, the beautiful colors in the trees, the bonfires, hiking and camping... so many great things.  But.  I love summer more!  It also means summer harvests are coming to an end as well.  That can often mean there is more produce on our counters and gardens than we can eat.  There are several ways to easily preserve these fruits and vegetables so you can bring them out again during the dead of winter to unlock some of those memories of summer in the soul warming meal.

This is the easiest way to save fruits and vegetables for a later date.  You can cook them first or freeze them as they are.  I love to freeze fruit!  You can easily use them in smoothies or bake a dessert or add them to muffins or pancakes.  I always freeze some berries and peaches from the summer... just peel and cut up your peaches and spread evenly on a baking sheet, freeze, then transfer to a freezer ziploc bag.  Same goes for berries, although you can skip the peeling and chopping part!  

I also like to freeze corn, both cooked and uncooked.  I cut some ears in half and toss them into a freezer bag.  I'll boil or steam those later as a quick side.  Then I'll roast several ears on the grill, cut off the kernels, freeze them on a baking sheet, and then into the freezer bag they go.  Those kernels will end up in soups and stews.  I also freeze uncooked peas and green beans.

This method saves room in your freezer and can really be store anywhere in your house giving you flexibility and the ability to store a LOT of food.  Ever since I learned how to do water bath canning (which requires a high acidity), I have been "putting up" enough tomatoes to make home made sauces and soups all winter long (I have eight jars so far and my tomato plants are still going strong).  I'll share the steps to can tomatoes later this week.

I also pickle cucumbers and peppers in water baths.  The vinegar makes it possible to can these without using a pressure cooker.  

Now that were stocked and ready for fall vegetables, lets move on to this week's menu...

mexican stuffed shells
zucchini soup
asian meatballs with rice and edemame
enchiladas of some sort
ordering food in while canning a lot more tomatoes!

Eggplant Manicotti - total time 1 hour

It is eggplant season... and if you're like me, eggplant is one of those vegetables that you don't use often.  There aren't a lot of recipes out there for eggplant.  At least not like there are for zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, or other home garden vegetables.  Outside of eggplant parmesan and ratatouille, it can be difficult to find something to make for dinner.  And if you have a bumper crop of eggplant (or just want to try something different) that can be a problem!

One thing you will find with all eggplant recipes... it calls for "sweating" the eggplant.  If you have had eggplant before and didn't like it, maybe it tested bitter, it is probably because they didn't take the time to sweat the eggplant.  Essentially it is just letting salt remove some of the moisture from the eggplant before cooking it.  The larger the eggplant, the more important this process is.  If you pick your eggplant young or select some of the smaller asian varieties, you can get away without it, but miss an opportunity to really add some flavor with the salt.

This recipe uses sauteed eggplant essentially as noodles.  You could do steps one through two and make a number of noodle dishes, like lasagna or slice into strips for spaghetti.  I always felt eggplant seemed like an Italian vegetable and this may be why!  The eggplant noodles take on a buttery flavor and the filling is creamy and garlicy.  This will be a new summer recipe staple at our house!

Eggplant Parmesan - total time 1 hour


The first time I gave up meat for Lent, I thought it was going to be difficult to find enough recipes to keep from getting bored.  That part ended up being pretty easy.  It was eating at restaurants that ended up being complicated.  If there were any vegetarian options, it was usually limited to something super cheesy and probably pretty unhealthy, which seems like an oxymoron... unhealthy vegetarian.  Most menus (at the time) didn't have vegetarian selections, so I would ask the waitress for something without meat.. and they would always give me a blank stare and then ask me if I wanted a different kind of meat instead.

Now when I go out to eat at restaurants, I notice there are more vegetarian sections in the menus... and they usually have more than one item listed... and some of them are actually healthy and not loaded with cheese.  I'm not sure if I am just noticing it more frequently now because I am looking for it more often, the restaurants I go to now are more likely to have vegetarian, or if it really is a trend (probably helped by Meatless Mondays).

So back to that first time going meatless...  We were welcoming a new associate to our team and went to this family run Italian restaurant.  It was a Friday during Lent and the only vegetarian item on the menu was eggplant parmesan.  Nearly everyone at our table ended up with this dish.  It made me wonder if everyone really liked eggplant parmesan or if there had been other meatless dishes would there have been more variety at our table.  And really, why weren't their more vegetarian options at an Italian restaurant?!  There are so many to choose from... baked raviolitortelini soupgnocchibaked broccoli alfredomanicotti... just to name a few.

I haven't had eggplant parmesan since that day, not because I don't like it, actually I do really like it.  There are just so many recipes out there!  So, with it being eggplant season, I decided to make this vegetarian Italian classic.

Weekly Menu


After going to the Tomato Festival that I mentioned yesterday, I noticed a lot of red in my garden.  Look at all the tomatoes!  This has to be my largest single harvest of tomatoes yet (not to mention some more over-ripe maters I had to throw out) including the largest tomato I have ever grown!  This brandywine variety is producing some huge fruits, thanks to the very rainy July this year.  But until this week, all of the ripe tomatoes have cracked and burst before I could pick them (also thanks to the heavy rains).


There was no way I could eat all of these tomatoes... so I canned them.  More on that later.  But I was really excited to stock the summer away to enjoy again during the dead of winter in something warm and comforting.

So this week we have a little bit of mismatched travel in our schedules.  It is making it hard to plan dinner for the week since we'll only both be at home one, maybe two, nights this week.  

eggplant rolls
pan ravioli
jerk chicken and mexican corn on the cob
eggplant parm
turkey burgers
kale chips

Fried Green Tomatoes - total time 15 minutes


It is Tomato Festival time in my town this weekend.  A little bit of rural fair fun close to the city.  And there is a little bit of history behind it too.  Down the street from where they set up the festival every year is where Alexander W Livingston grew the first hybrid tomatoes through hand selecting which plants to cross pollinate to encourage beneficial traits.  He would select plants based on their disease tolerance, fruit flavor, shape, and color to create the "perfect" tomato plant.  Bees have been cross pollinating flowers since the beginning of time, but this was the first time humans involved themselves in the process.  Just like how some siblings can have a trait, like blue eyes, while the other siblings do not... it took many attempts to get the desirable traits from multiple plants to come through in one plant.

So, as we celebrate tomatoes in the "birthplace" of the commercial hybrid tomato, our tradition is getting fried green tomatoes at the festival (which we did today!).  But some times you have some green tomatoes at home, especially right before the first frost, and it is very simple to fry them up at home too.  If you have some meaty ripe tomatoes, those will fry up just as well.

Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms - 35 minutes

It seems like mushrooms are a love it or hate it kind of food.  I'll put myself in the "hate it" group, but my husband is definitely on the "love it" side.  I can't get over the texture.  But he loves it on pizza, in pastas, on sandwiches, pretty much on everything... except anything that I cook, since I won't eat them.

These crimini mushrooms were available in our Green BEAN Delivery order, so I thought I would give them another shot.  I think it is good to occasionally try the foods you think you hate because your tastes can change.  (Remember the first time you drank beer or wine?  If you never tried it again, you probably wouldn't be drinking it now!)

Well, I still hate mushrooms.  But my husband enjoyed these stuffed mushrooms.  So if you're in the "love it" group, or even if you're in the "hate it" group like me... give this recipe a try!

Weekly Menu

We're back from a week on North Carolina's beaches.  It was a ton of fun and very relaxing spending time with my husband's family.  We swam, collected hermit crabs, flew kites, kayaked to a ship wreck, spotted some sand sharks, gazed at the stars, and ate a lot of good food!  Each family had a day of the week to cook dinner for everyone in the house.  On our night I made some guacamole, fish tacoschicken and sour cream enchiladas, and zucchini enchiladas using local flounder, tomatoes, and zucchini.

Here are a few pictures of the beach!  We had to trek a good way through the dunes to get to our daily beach spot... it was beautiful though.  There were several sea turtle nests on the beach and a couple of them hatched while we were there... just not while we were actually by the nests... oh well.

On our way back home, we stopped in Raleigh to check out the city.  Despite several BBQ meals throughout the week, we decided to eat at The Pit for some real Carolina barbecue.  While driving through the mountains we saw some of the Perseid meteors streaking across the sky.  After all of that time in the car, we finally crashed in our bed.

Now that we are back home it is time to get back into a cooking routine.  Here is what is on tap for this week's meal plan...

broccoli stuffed chicken with salad
mexican zucchini soup
shrimp spaghetti

Poptails - total time 2.25 hours

Beach vacations always call for some cold, boozy drinks.  The forecast is 90s and sunny on the beach this week... so I'm thinking those cold drinks need to be frozen!  Before we left, I test out a couple poptail recipes... popsicle cocktails... yummy!  Just a few ingredient mixed with some booze make some really tasty frozen treats.

I experimented with four recipes... a yogurt mudslide, blackberry cheesecake, banana Nutella, and piƱa colada.  All were pretty tasty... but I picked two to make at the beach this time.  And the winners are yogurt mudslide and banana Nutella (the two with chocolate, I guess that isn't too surprising).  (For more ideas go to endless simmer.)

The instructions for all four poptails is the same... blend all the ingredients together, pour into popsicle mold and add popsicle stick, and freeze for about two hours (depending on your popsicle molds and freezer).  All ingredients listed below will make about eight popsicles...

Clarified Butter for Crab Legs - 10 minutes

clarified butter for crab

I love trying new things in the kitchen (and in life).  So when I saw crab legs on sale at the grocery store, I figure this would be a great opportunity to experiment with cooking crab at home.  Previously, every time I have used crab in a recipe it was always from a can.  Since we are trying to get away from processed foods (there is something wrong with meat lasting five years in a can when cooked meat only lasts a few days in the fridge), I wanted to see how easy working with fresh crab could be.

Turns out nearly all crab legs from grocery stores or even seafood mongers are already cooked!  Crab catchers typically boil and freeze them on the ship to ensure freshness.  So really, you just need to reheat them or thaw and enjoy cold.

I decided to steam my crab legs after they thawed (steam for just 7-9 minutes).  To go with the crab, I made some clarified and seasoned butter... the best way to eat crab is by itself with a little butter to get the full flavor.  It is so easy and ready in a few minutes.


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