Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Yesterday, neighbor and friend Yogita (Hi, Yogi!) helped me harvest a TON of green beans.  After I foisted half of them off on her, I was left with a half-ton for our household. Since we are still eating the TON of green beans BFF Laura (Hi, Laura!) helped me pick on Saturday, this batch had to be preserved. But how?

Freezing!  While this would have been a good opportunity to can some beans, I decided to go with the freezing option as it is easier and quicker.  Time is of the essence when you are working with just-picked produce--you want to process it as quickly as possible to retain the freshness. 

Step One: Wash and prepare the beans. Throw the ends in the old-ice-cream-container-turned-compost-bin-storage.  Boil a pot of water and prepare an ice bath.  Have tongs and freezer bags handy.  Stand in awe of the giant zucchini in the background.

Step Two:  Place green beans in the boiling water. Leave them in there for a minute or two, but no longer. You do not want the beans to cook all the way, just to get really hot really fast.

Step Three: Remove the beans from the boiling water and immediately place them in the ice bath. The point of this is to stop the cooking process.  Something magical AND scientific happens here, but I'm not sure what it is because I am neither a magician nor a scientist. I just know that this is an important step and you can't skip it.

Yes, the beans are cooling in the bottom of a salad spinner. It was already used, and I didn't want to dirty up another pot/bowl. That's just how I roll.

Step Four:  Place the cooled beans in a freezer bag, squeeze out all the air, and throw them in the freezer. 

Done! Green beans are preserved, and we'll be enjoying these delicious bits of summer sometime in January or February.  That's usually when I need summer the most.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Manda Monday--100 fans!

Woohoo! It's finally happened! I've reached 100 fans on facebook, and I have to tell you, this has done wonders for my Monday morning outlook. What a great way to start the week!

Now, as promised back in May, one random fan is getting two dozen custom-decorated sugar cookies. And that lucky duck is....
...Michelle Devon!  Come on down!

Michelle, when you have a moment, send me a message/email so I can get your info.  And thanks to everyone for reading this blog and following along on facebook and twitter.  I heart you all bigtime!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waste not

Just like Martha Stewart, I abhor waste.  Wasted time, money, effort, all bothers me.  I try to make things last for as long as possible, and I hate to throw anything out.  For example, take a look at all of these shampoo and conditioner bottles. 

Some bottles contain enough product for one or two more uses, but they're all at the point where it's impossible to get it out of the container.  Others have more product in there, but I stopped using it because its companion shampoo/conditioner was all used up.  I like to be on the same page with my shampoo and conditioner, you know?

Anways, check out the Lotion Saver from the Container Store.

These bottle couplers allow for easy transfer from one bottle to another.  It took a day or two, but now I have everything condensed into their appropriate bottles.  Amazingly, a small bit here and there combined to make over 7 ounces of shampoo and about 5 ounces of conditioner.  That's enough product for a whole month, and to think that all of that would have gone to waste...sniffle.  Now, I have a super-crazy concoction of shampoos and conditioners made from all different consistencies and scents.  Doesn't that sound fun?

Of course, I always did a have a crazy idea of what "fun" is.  I hope it bodes well for my hair!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Manda Monday--So close!

Back in May, I mentioned I'd bake some custom sugar cookies for a lucky fan when I reached the magic 100 number on facebook.  And I'm almost there! I only need two more fans before I draw a name at random...become a fan at The Martha Initiative on facebook.  Already a fan?  Suggest to your friends that they become fans, too. Then, if they win instead of you, they have to share their cookies with you. 

And, for all you tweeters, I'm on Twitter as well.  I've been tweeting some crazy stuff lately ("I need to start wearing pants more often, especially to the office") that you don't want to miss out on.  Good times!


Remember last week when I blogged about Martha's zucchini recipes?  I was able to give the Salmon and Zucchini Baked in Parchment a try.

I modified the recipe a bit in that instead of using butter I used butter-infused olive oil, and instead of baking it in parchment I grilled it in foil. 

Overall, this was really good.  The lemon flavor was a bit strong, but I'm not sure if it's because I put too much lemon juice in or because I'm not used to having lemon on my zucchini and therefore could really taste it.

I will say that zucchini and salmon in foil on the grill is one of the simplest and quickest meals you can make. It was a breeze!  If you're looking to change up your grilling repertoire before summer ends, give this one a try.  Happy Monday!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Homemade pasta sauce

After weeks of anticipation, I finally had enough Roma tomatoes (plus a few others) ripe at the same time to make pasta sauce.  If you've never made your own sauce before, then I strongly encourage you to give it a try.  The sauce is sweeter and richer than anything from a jar.  I used only three ingredients with this's amazing how little can do so much!

Here's how you do it:

1. Pick and wash a bunch of tomatoes.  You'll need 30 or so Roma tomatoes to make enough sauce for one box of noodles.

2. Boil a large pot of water.

3. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.

4. Cut a small "X" in the bottom of each tomato.  No need to make the cut too deep--it just has to pierce the skin.

5. Carefully drop the tomatoes into the pot of boiling water. As they heat up, the skin will begin to pull away from the tomato where you made the X cut.

6. When you see the skins start to peel back, carefully take the tomatoes out of the boiling water and place them in the ice bath. This will cause the skins to almost completely separate from the tomato for easy removal.

7. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the stem core and the skins.  Save those for your awesome compost bin.

The above steps are an ongoing process: put some tomatoes in the boiling water, remove them, put more in, work on the tomatoes in the ice bath, repeat.  This goes on until you have a nice pile of peeled tomatoes.

8. Heat up some olive oil in a large pot.

9. Add the peeled/cored tomatoes to the olive oil. Crush them a bit to release the juice and let them warm up. 

10. After the tomatoes have cooked down a bit, start running them through a food mill. 

The food mill crushes the tomatoes and separates the 'meat' from any leftover skins and seeds. Some seeds might make it through, but that's okay.

Be sure to scrape off the bottom of the mill--you don't want to miss all the great stuff hanging there.

At this point, what you are left with doesn't look too promising.  Don't be discouraged!  Tomatoes are 95% water, and this needs to simmer down in order to thicken up. 

11. Return the red glop to the pot, and simmer it for 2-3 hours.  I added some fresh basil at this point, but naturally forgot to take pictures. My bad.   Simmer the sauce down and once it thickens up, it's ready to add to the pasta.  Delicious!

Because I am not completely Martha-fied, I used boxed Barilla noodles.  One day I'll learn to make my own pasta noodles, I swear!  This batch of sauce was just right for one regular box of fettuccine noodles.

To liven up your sauce, feel free to add onions, garlic, oregano and more at the simmer step.  After your sauce is done, you can eat it immediately, save it in the fridge for a few days, freeze it or can it for enjoyment months down the road. 

I'll be making some more sauce in my immediate future, as another round of Roma tomatoes are ripening.  Happy saucing!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Martha Monday--Zucchini galore!

My zucchini plant has done well (despite the fact that I've never grown it before), which shouldn't surprise me because zucchini is like the cockroach of the does well whether you want it to or not.  I've heard tales of how prolific zucchini is, but I'm still shocked at how fast those things grow!  I'm picking at least two each week, and that's just off of one plant. Amazing!

This summer, I've had plenty of sauteed zucchini (this is how I prefer it as a side dish) and I've given some away, but now it's getting hard to keep up with my plant's output.  To use a bunch up at once, this weekend I made a double batch of Martha's Zucchini Spice Bread

I made a regular size loaf for the TMI household.  Note: the recipe calls for baking it 1 hour and 10 minutes, but I burnt the sides with that amount of point is: start watching it at the 50 minute mark.  I also made four mini-loaves for friends and neighbors. 

Then, because I still had grated zucchini left, I made Martha's chocolate-zucchini cupcakes.  Yum!

Of course, even though I only have one zucchini plant, I am still swimming in it. There's a huge zucchini waiting for me at home, and here's what I plan to do with it:

This is Martha's Salmon and Zucchini Baked in Parchment.  My plan is to modify the recipe a bit by wrapping it in foil so it can go on the grill. 

And, with any leftover zucchini I might have, I'll give these Zucchini Nut Bread Cookie Sandwiches a try:

I'm guessing those two recipes can be done with the ginourmous specimen that's on my kitchen counter right now. But for tomorrow's zucchini, and the zucchini from the day after that, I'm going to give these Sweet Zucchini Cupcakes....

With all this zucchini on my hands, you might wonder if I'm tiring of it.  Not all all!  In fact, next year's garden plans call for THREE zucchini plants.  Zucchini for everyone!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Almost there

After years of planning and months of relatively hard work, I think I'm becoming a bona fide gardener. 

I've been getting cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes for a few weeks now, but take a look at this huge tomato and cantaloupe! Isn't that awesome?  I have to tell you, when I picked this stuff on Wednesday night, I was beyond proud.  Beyond!  Finally, after years and months and weeks and days and nights, I was mastering the "Gardening" aspect of becoming just. like. Martha. Stewart.  I had arrived!

I mean, tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchini aren't that hard to grow, but I was really impressed that I had gotten a cantaloupe out of my Midwestern garden.  Melons normally need more constant warmer temps to do well.  But there I was, with a huge, juicy melon!

I cut into it yesterday morning, intending to eat my fill of over-the-top yummy melon...only to taste the blandest piece of yuck ever to disguise itself as a cantaloupe.  Seriously, this thing was awful! 

You can only imagine what this did to my self-esteem.  I went from omg-I-am-JUST-LIKE-Martha-Stewart-because-I-have-mastered-gardening elation to holy-crap-this-is-a-bona-fide-disaster depression with just one bite.  I don't know what went wrong.  You can tell from the picture that it was a tad overripe--I probably should have picked it a few days earlier--but that shouldn't have affected the flavor that much.  The melon I grew had NO sweetness or even flavor to it...the texture said melon, but the taste said "bland butt."  Not cool, Garden, not cool!

Fortunately, before I broke out the xanax and curled into the fetal position, my huge tomato redeemed me.  Seriously, it was that good. It was like the biggest piece of juicy vegetable/fruit/candy ever.  This tomato completely restored my belief that I am, in fact, a gardener.

We grilled up hamburgers last night, and a slice of this tomato was bigger than the burger.  THIS is how hamburgers are meant to be served...THIS is why I will grow my own tomatoes from now until as long as I am possibly able. 

My plan for the weekend is to whip up a batch of pasta sauce from my roma tomatoes and bake some zucchini bread from (what else?) my home-grown zucchini.  Hopefully both endeavors will turn out fabulously, and I can put the horrific cantaloupe episode behind me.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Martha in the news

I found this bit on CNN's entertainment page yesterday:  Martha Stewart Rides a Harley.  Motorcycles are not my thing, but maybe I'll relax a little when I'm 70 years old.

I'm glad to see that Martha was wearing the necessary safety gear and riding an American-made bike.   The last sentence of the article certainly made me sit up straight:  "Her ties to the biker community apparently aren’t new; there’s a 2005 thread on the Harley Davidson Forum titled “is Martha Stewart sexy??”"

Awesome!  Now I can add my love of Martha Stewart to the list of things that I have in common with the biker community:

1. The love of Martha Stewart
2. Hair that looks like it's been blowing around in the wind all day.

I might need to put some more work into this list. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Martha Monday--Martha's "Ultimate Fan" sweepstakes

Martha is having an "Ultimate Fan" contest exclusively on facebook, and the winner will receive a once-in-a-lifetime Martha Stewart fan experience. This includes a trip for two to see The Martha Stewart Show LIVE in New York City, round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations, lunch for two at one of Martha’s favorite BBQ restaurants, and two complimentary facials at Mario Badescu Skin Care Salon.

Martha's Ultimate Fan....HELLO!?!  Look no further, Martha, I'm right here!

Of course, if you think you are Martha's Ultimate Fan, you can enter the contest, too. 

To enter, go to the Martha Stewart Facebook Fan Page by September 26th, select the Sweepstakes tab, “Like” the page if you are not already a Fan, and complete and submit the Official Entry Form.
All entrants must be 18 years or older, and entries are limited to one per person. See the complete rules

Friday, August 5, 2011

ReStore in Aurora

Have you heard of ReStore?  Run by Habitat for Humanity, ReStores are located throughout the US and Canada, and sell reusable furniture, household goods and building supplies.  We are in the market for an entertainment center, so we headed to our local ReStore in Aurora last weekend.

This was my first time at ReStore, and I was surprised by the amount of everything they had! Need a couch? Choose from over thirty available.  Interested in kitchen cabinets?  They must have had over 200 there. 

Donations come from individuals, building companies, restaurants, offices and more. All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity, which is a great cause.  And bonus! All this stuff has the chance to find a new home which keeps it out of landfills.

The Red Lobster up the road was remodeling.  Hmmm, I wonder what they did with all of their old booth seats and tables?

Many of the building supplies are surplus and therefore brand new.  The Aurora ReStore had a great selection of lighting...everything from lamps to fixtures to chandeliers. 

I noticed some really nice antiques at ReStore. There were several bedroom sets and desks that were clearly very old but still in great condition.

We didn't find anything to suit our needs for an entertainment center (I have a particular style/function in mind), but the kids were excited to find the antique cradle and rocking horse. 

I found this great buffet that would be perfect for the foyer.  Big Guy, can you hear me?

I was really impressed with my local ReStore, and I'm sure I'll be back soon (quite possibly for that buffet).  Do you have a ReStore near you?  What's your go-to place for inexpensive furniture?