Slow Cooker Tomato Jam (Ketchup)

As I mentioned in my last post, fall is a stressful time for me.  Besides starting school off on the right foot, I am trying to preserve as many fall fruits and vegetables for winter as possible.  Being crazy, I bought 10(!) boxes of tomatoes last weekend.  They were turned into 48 wonderful quart bottles of whole canned tomatoes, 7 quarts of beautiful spaghetti sauce, 10 quarts of amazing creamy tomato soup and 8 pints of homemade tomato ketchup.  I have to share this recipe with you, and then I have to find more tomatoes to make more ketchup — this is the kind of ketchup you eat with a spoon, no french fries required.

Slow Cooker Tomato Ketchup

16 cups tomatoes, crushed, drained well and then pureed

2 heads garlic, peeled and crushed

2 large onions, chopped fine

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon



Blanch, peel and quarter tomatoes.  Thoroughly drain them in a colander.   (The better you do this step, the better the ketchup will be.  Try to drain all water from the tomatoes.)  Puree in a blender, then measure puree to get 16 cups.  Place in slow cooker with garlic and onion.  With lid off the slow cooker, cook on low (depending on how close you want to watch it) for about 12 hours.  I cooked on high for about 3 hours, then turned the pot to low and went to bed.  In about 8 hours, the sauce had reduced by nearly half.  When the sauce is reduced, add spices, sugars, and vinegar.  Cook 3-4 more hours to allow to reduce more completely.  During this time, you may want to put the lid on the pot, propped open with a wooden spoon.

When the sauce is thick, taste and adjust seasonings.  Ladle into clean pint jars, top with lids and rings, and process in a hot water canner for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before checking seal and storing.

This tomato jam was wonderful on this sandwich, accompanying the cream cheese spread.


First Fruit of Spring: Rhubarb

Suddenly, rhubarb season is upon us.  After a winter of canned, frozen, or sad imported fruit, rhubarb gives our taste buds the jolt they need to know that spring is really here.  My darling husband was able to go pick rhubarb from his mom’s large patch this morning.  Rhubarb is a huge, beautiful plant.  The leaves are inedible, and the stalks look like celery.  They are very sour, but mixed into sugary desserts they are delicious.

We like to cut up and freeze rhubarb to have during the winter as the main fruit in our Breakfast Cake, to make rhubarb muffins, and even to throw into smoothies.  We also love stewed rhubarb with strawberries as a special breakfast treat with Greek Yogurt.

To freeze rhubarb, rinse well and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices.  We put it into freezer bags in 2 cup measures, because that is how much our favorite recipes call for.  Later, it can be used without thawing in many recipes, including the Breakfast cake.

Today, though, I made a batch of stewed rhubarb with strawberries.  I will serve this for breakfast with vanilla Greek yogurt, and it will be like dessert for breakfast with a secret batch of healthiness thrown in!

Stewed Rhubarb

Makes about 4  cups

Clean and chop enough rhubarb to make 2 cups chopped

Clean and quarter one pound strawberries

Place in saucepan together with 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer until the rhubarb has completely come apart to make a sauce with chunks of strawberries floating in the sauce.  Add honey or sugar to taste (you will need 1/4 to 1/2 cup.)  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Serve hot or cold.

I hope you can try this recipe and enjoy the first fruit of spring.  I would love to hear about your favorite rhubarb recipe in your comment.  Have a great day!

A Mexican Feast: Molotes and Tres Leches Cake

Inspired by a desire to try the Pioneer Woman’s Tres Leches Cake recipe, I planned a Mexican feast for last weekend. As a sort of side note to this post, I want to refer you to an excellent post I just read about kid’s cookbooks.   I absolutely agree with this article, that kids can learn to cook from any book that inspires them to work toward making good food an important part of their lives.  I think the Pioneer Woman cookbooks do this, and are especially excellent for kids to use because the photos show how each step should “turn out.”  In addition, every recipe I have tried from these two cookbooks has turned out wonderfully.  As you can see, we added a fruit salad to the side of our Tres Leches cake to make it more authentic.  It was a big hit, and I strongly recommend you try it today!  Eden followed the recipe step by step.  It was her first time making a sponge cake, and it turned out wonderfully.

To accompany the cake I made a wonderful deep fried concoction called in Spanish Molotes but which my family calls affectionately, “salsa cars.”

Originally inspired by the Rick Bayless cookbook, I attempted this recipe without having eaten them before, but soon thereafter was describing the dish to a friend from Oaxaca.  She couldn’t believe that I knew the dish, saying they were a “plato tipico” from her country.  She soon invited us to eat them at her home, and sure enough, I had made molotes myself!  In fact, I still use the Rick Bayless recipe with some alterations, because her recipe did not include the mashed potatoes and the dough was not as tender.

If you have not tried patting out corn tortillas before, this is a good recipe on which to make the attempt, as it doesn’t matter at all if you leave them quite thick, or if they do not turn out round.  Also, the dough is a little more forgiving than regular corn tortilla dough.

This recipe makes 14 molotes, enough for a hungry family of 4, but stretched to fit our family of 6 with beans, lettuce and vegetables on the side.


makes 14

2 potatoes, boiled until tender and then mashed.

2 cups masa harina


1 teaspoon salt

1 pound queso fresco

Oil for Frying

Boil and mash the potatoes, and then put them in a mixer bowl with the masa harina, salt and start with about 2 cups water.  Add enough warm water as you beat the ingredients together to make a very soft dough — like a soft cookie dough.  As the ingredients mix together, take an old plastic grocery bag and cut out two circles about 8 inches in diameter and wash with soapy warm water.  Dry thoroughly.

Take a big spoonful of the dough, roll into a ball, and pat out into a circle on the plastic bag circle.  You should make about a 6 inch diameter circle.  Cut a 1/2 inch by 3 inch rectangle of queso fresco and place in the center of the dough circle.  Fold the circle in half and pinch the edges together.  Using wet hands, pat it into a torpedo shape and place on a plate covered with plastic wrap to wait while you make the rest of the molotes.

Heat the oil at a depth of about one inch to 350 degrees (I don’t use a thermometer, I just test for sizzle by dipping the edge of one of the molotes into the oil.)  Fry the molotes a few at a time, turning after about 2 minutes.   Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel.

Serve as shown in the photo, with refried or pot beans, sliced lettuce and salsa.

I consider trying new cuisines an important part of our homeschool.  We love getting to know a little about peoples and cultures by trying new foods.  Is that something you enjoy?  Please leave me a comment.


Kitchen How-To: “Healthy-fying” a Recipe

I often make substitutions in recipes to make them healthier.  Instead of butter, I will substitute some applesauce.  Instead of all white flour, I substitute half whole wheat, or a combination of other whole grain flours.  A few days ago, however, I did a major reworking of a favorite breakfast recipe, and thought that the results would be worth describing to you.

The recipe I was reworking came originally from a Rachel Ray magazine, Cherry Breakfast Cake.  I have made the recipe for several years, using cherry or rhubarb for a fruit layer between a cake layer and a very buttery streusel topping.  The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups butter and 2 cups sugar, making it very rich and delicious.  I guess the real problem with it is that we like to eat it for breakfast, and the original recipe had nearly 1000 calories per serving.  Not only that, but none of us could eat just one serving, so we ended up with a 1500 calorie breakfast that left us starving by 10:00.  I guess we could have tried will power and self control, but I decided to try lightening the recipe instead.  The resulting recipe was about 750 calories per serving, and the oatmeal made it more filling, making it a little more reasonable breakfast treat.

Here are some of the substitutions I made:

  • whole wheat flour and oatmeal for white flour
  • decreased sugar substantially (1/2  cup)
  • substituted applesauce for melted butter, and then mixed them together before using them

I was able to use home canned cherries for this cake, so they were very lightly sweetened.  I would not use cherry pie filling for this recipe.  Instead, substitute frozen sweet cherries, blackberries or blueberries, thawed.  I also like to use frozen rhubarb (I freeze this myself every spring.)  Rhubarb requires some sugar to make it palatable.

Here is the adjusted recipe:

Cherry Breakfast Cake

For streusel topping:

3/4 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup smooth applesauce

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together butter and applesauce, remove 2 Tablespoons to a medium bowl for making the cake batter.  To the remaining butter mixture add sugar, flours, and oatmeal mixing with your fingers to make a crumbly topping.  This forms very large crumbs, much stickier than a standard streusel.

For the  cake batter:

Reserved 2 Tablespoons butter/applesauce mixture

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup white flour

1/4 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.  Fold about a third of the crumb mixture into the batter.  Spray or butter a 9×13 baking dish and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spread the batter into the bottom of the baking dish.  Thoroughly drain 1 quart sour cherries and spread on top of the batter.  With your fingers, sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the cherries, breaking up large clumps.  Bake the cake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.  We like this in a bowl with a little milk or cream.

This reworking of the recipe was a success, although I made the mistake of telling my family that I had done it, and some of them complained that it wasn’t as good as the “real thing.”  I think they’ll forget what the “real thing” tasted like when I make this next and don’t remind them!  It made me feel a lot better to serve a healthier treat breakfast.

Do you make substitutions in recipes to make them healthier?  What is your most common change?  Please leave me a comment.

Kids in the Kitchen: Pizza is a Vegetable Night

Pizza is a great meal for kids to learn to make.  In fact, I think pizza ought to be in your weekly meal rotation.  Why?  It’s a perfect vehicle for lots and lots of vegetables; it’s a one pot meal on a cookie sheet; everyone loves pizza!  Once you learn to make the dough, the only trick is deciding what to top it with this time.  Brett is our chief pizza dough maker, and this is the recipe he likes:

Pizza Dough

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1 cup warm water

1 1/4 cups cold water

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

5 1/4 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  In a mixing bowl, place all ingredients except reserve about 1 cup of flour.  Mix to combine.  If you are using a stand mixer, allow it to knead into a soft dough, adding remaining flour as needed.  Otherwise, turn the dough onto a well flour counter and knead for about 5 minutes, adding additional flour to make the dough smooth but not tough.  Allow dough to rise for one hour in well-oiled bowl.

Grease a pan for the pizza.  I like thick “Pizza Hut” style crust, and I use a jelly roll pan.  This recipe could easily make two pizzas if you use round pizza pans or like thin, crispy crust.  Without completely deflating the dough, divide it and spread it onto the prepared sheet(s).  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Good crust depends on a hot oven.  Allow to rest while you prepare toppings.

Some of our favorite toppings:

  • pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes
  • potatoes (thinly slice and parboil, spread over the pizza with a drizzle of olive oil and salt)
  • carmelized onions with parmesan
  • alfredo sauce, chicken and red bell peppers
  • tomato sauce with ham and pineapple
  • tonight’s meal was homemade pizza sauce with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, onions, and fresh mozzarella
  • pepperoni with a sprinkle of parmesan

When the toppings are spread on the pizza, put in the preheated oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Kids in the Kitchen and Family Breakfast

Do you appreciate the opportunity you have every morning to eat a meal with your family?  As longtime homeschoolers, we sometimes laugh when we hear campaigns to eat “one meal a day as a family,” since we nearly always eat 2 meals together as a complete family, and the kids and I usually eat 3 meals together every day.  Sometimes breakfast can be the unsung hero of family meals, though, as members of the family get busy through the day but are able to meet together in the morning for at least a few minutes.  Why not find a few minutes of family time in the mornings instead of sleeping to the last possible minute, gulping down a little cold cereal and going to work?  It will put a smile on your face that will last all day.

I am prejudiced about breakfast, because it is my favorite meal.  I would gladly eat breakfast (and yes, for me that includes oatmeal and porridge) three meals every day.  I love hot cereals, and love finding new combinations to make and new recipes to share.  Here is one Max and I made the other day:  Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes

This recipe could easily be mixed up the night before, leaving you only the cooking process in the morning.  It makes a very stiff batter, and they take quite a long time to cook — about 4 minutes per side.  This would be a great recipe to get out the big griddle or two pans so that you can cook several at once and begin eating while the rest are cooking.

Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes (adapted from Mark Bittman)

2 cups pre-cooked and cooled oatmeal (I just made double the day before and saved it)

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup rolled oats (uncooked)

1/3 cup chopped almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1/2 cup milk (or a tiny bit more)

1/3 cup raisins

Honey and brown sugar for serving

Mix together flours, oats, almonds, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl.  In a large bowl, combine egg, milk, cooked oatmeal, and raisins.  The cooked oatmeal is a little stuff, so a kid might need some help mixing.  Then add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, making a stiff batter.  Max read and gathered all the ingredients, did all the measuring, and began the mixing, but needed a little help finishing up.  Add a little more milk to get to stiff batter stage if necessary.  Cook on a well-oiled griddle until set on each side.  Bubbles don’t come up through this batter as much as through ordinary pancake batter, so you kind of have to watch for the sides to set.

While the pancakes are still hot from the grill, coat with brown sugar or honey and serve.  We liked both, with brown sugar slightly topping out honey in the taste tests.  The original recipe included apricots and ground cardamom, neither of which were ingredients in our pantry this morning.  I am sure they would be good as well.

Hope you enjoy your family breakfast!  Do you have a favorite breakfast recipe?  Please leave a link in your comment!

Homeschool How to: Managing the kitchen

Some time ago, a friend was visiting for a play date in the afternoon with my kids.  As she spent the afternoon with me, I cleaned up the lunch dishes and began making dinner.  She commented, “You must feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  You have to make breakfast, lunch and dinner every day!”

The truth is, when you are at home with the kids all day every day, sometimes the cooking does get to be a chore.  For me, it is not so much the cooking as the ideas that become a challenge.  I don’t want to feed my kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, although I don’t mind it once a week.  I want to include vegetables and fruits, and I want lunch to be fairly quick.  So coming up with ideas for lunch is an important part of my homeschool management.  This winter, we have been eating lots of soup for lunch.  When I make the soup, the kids can make cornbread muffins or potato rolls to go along with the soup if there is time, or we can toast a loaf of store-bought bread if there isn’t much time.  Soup, with bread and fruit beside it, is a quick, healthy lunch for my family.

This Sunday, Shandy took Max on his “date”, and since Daddy wasn’t home, that means everyone else gets leftovers for dinner!  Lucy and I took advantage of our lazy afternoon to make 3 different soups for our lunches this week.

(Sorry, Iphone pictures — Daddy had the good camera.)  From left to right, we made sweet potato coconut soup, spicy cauliflower soup, Thai fresh pea soup, and blueberry baked oatmeal for Monday morning breakfast.  I chose these recipes because they had relatively few ingredients, similar cooking times, and didn’t require too much intensive effort.  Multi-tasking on recipes is difficult enough.  If any one recipe is also difficult, then the multi-tasking doesn’t work very well.

We started with boiling the rice and spices for the fresh pea soup, and then Lucy helped out by cutting up the cauliflower while I sauteed the onion and carrot for the cauliflower soup.  Meanwhile, we cooked the sweet potato for the sweet potato soup.  The recipe  calls for a baked sweet potato, but when yams were on sale last month, I bought lots and we peeled, chopped and froze them.  So I just boiled one quart size bag of the sweet potatoes until they were soft.

Lucy helped keep track of where we were in each recipe, and we worked really hard to put the right spices in each one!  After all, Thai spices and Indian spices are quite different.

An important lesson Lucy learned during the cooking session is “mise en place”, having the spices prepared and measured before starting to cook.  This is especially important in doing more than one recipe at a time, or preparing a recipe with many different ingredients used in succession.  I usually don’t cook this way, but if I am making Indian food I always do this.


This cooking project took only about an hour and a half, we enjoyed good company, and are well prepared for the week ahead!  Hope enjoyed your weekend as well!

Sweet potato curry soup


2 sweet potatoes, baked or cooked completely

1 can coconut milk

2 teaspoons sweet yellow curry

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.  Taste for seasoning.  If I was making this for just adults, I would add a sprinkle of cayenne.  The soup may be refrigerated until ready to serve.  Heat thoroughly and serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Kids in the Kitchen — Breakfast Baked Oatmeal

We eat hot cereals 5 or 6 mornings a week.  We made this decision as both a healthy and frugal way to feed our growing family.  Now we buy cold boxed cereals only on special occasions.  We figure that to feed our family of six with the cold cereals we enjoy costs around $8, while a meal of oatmeal or farina porridge (Cream of Wheat) costs about $3 (including the milk for breakfast.)  We buy oatmeal, farina and 9 grain rolled cereals in 50 pound bags, while we buy bulgur, polenta and 5 grain cracked cereals in bulk at the local grocery store.

Besides being good for our checkbook, the hot cereals are lower in sugar and higher in fiber, and they encourage us to eat more fruit, because we nearly always put some fresh or dried fruit with them as sweetener.  Oatmeal is eaten with applesauce, raisins and brown sugar.  Farina is usually plain with milk, but I am waiting to try some with raspberry jam.  Polenta is good with honey or a little homemade maple syrup, and bulgur is WONDERFUL with butter and honey.  Recently, though, we discovered baked oatmeal, and this has become a breakfast treat that we serve often when we have just a little more time in the mornings.

Max helped me make blackberry baked oatmeal today, following this recipe.  Shirts are not required for baking, but an apron is!

Shirts are required for breakfast.

Our other go-to recipe came first from the Tasty Kitchen website, but has received some tweaks since then.  Here it is:

Peanut Butter or Nutella Baked Oatmeal


3 cups oatmeal or 9 grain rolled cereal

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup peanut butter or Nutella

2 whole eggs

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 pan.  Mix all ingredients together until well blended.  Spread evenly in the pan.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

We serve this with milk, and have added chocolate chips to the peanut butter oatmeal for an especially rich breakfast.

Hope you enjoy your day!  We have had an excellent day — finally some sunshine!  I got out for my 12 mile run at 2:00 this afternoon.  The sun was shining and it was hot at 36 degrees.  Hard time for a run, but a great way to enjoy the day.

Kids in the Kitchen — Chocolate Cake

We had friends over for lunch on Saturday. We spent the morning in the ministry, so we wanted something hot and yummy to come home and eat.  I made beans and ham with a ham hock my mom gave me last week, and we stirred up some cornbread to go with our beans.  But Lucy made the dessert that saved the day.

Besides cornmeal muffins, Lucy likes to make chocolate cake.  I have been making this chocolate cake recipe since I was Lucy’s age.  We called it “Busy Living Chocolate Cake”, and it is wonderful for when you have unexpected guests or come home with guests because it bakes up very quickly and there is no fussing with the frosting.  Instead, the frosting practically melts into the top of the fudgy cake.  This cake is wonderful warm or cold, with vanilla ice cream or without.  I have since found this recipe on the Blue Bonnet margarine package, and in the Pioneer Woman cookbook.  A great recipe lives forever.

Busy Living Chocolate Cake

Makes a 9×13 sheet cake

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

½ cup margarine or butter

¼ cup oil

¼ cup cocoa

1 cup water

½ cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour and sugar and set aside.  In a small saucepan, stir together butter, oil, cocoa and water.  Bring to a rapid boil over medium high heat.  Remove from heat and stir into the flour/sugar mixture.  Beat well.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.  Pour into a greased 9×13 cake pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove to a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing.


½ cup margarine or butter

¼ cup milk

¼ cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar

In the same small saucepan, stir together all frosting ingredients except the powdered sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Add the powdered sugar, and using a spoon or a handheld mixer, beat the frosting until smooth.

When the cake is cooked, pour the frosting evenly over the top of the cake, allowing it to soak into the middle and down the sides of the cake.  It may need a tiny spread to cover the whole cake.  Don’t eat it all – just a taste for the cook.  Cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Hope you enjoy your weekend!

Kids in the Kitchen — Fresh Rolls for Dinner

I have read several blog posts lately discussing the difficulty of making homemade bread – especially whole wheat bread.  While I agree that it may be difficult to make whole wheat bread with a good texture and that stays fresh, I also know that just about any hot fresh bread will make your dinner a winner.  That is why Max and I wanted to share with you how we make fresh dinner rolls starting at 4:00 p.m. and ending with a lovely buttered roll with our soup at 6:00.

Quick Homemade Dinner Rolls


2 cups water (warm)

2 Tablespoons butter (melted)

1 Tablespoon honey

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

About 4 cups flour (use any combination of whole wheat and all purpose flour you like.  We used white this time.)


Mix together water, butter, honey and yeast.  As soon as the yeast is dissolved (about 3 minutes) begin adding flour and the salt to make a very soft dough.  When the dough is workable, turn it out onto the  counter to knead it.  Kneading is a skill that takes some practice to keep from getting very sticky!  Basically, use the tips of your fingers and your fingers to turn and fold the dough, pushing it away from you with each turn.  Add some flour, but not too much.  Dough that is very stiff is hard to work, and does not taste as yummy!

After kneading for about 5 minutes, you should have a smooth ball of dough.  Pinch off smaller balls (about walnut size) and put two of these balls in each cup of a greased muffin tin.  Set near the stove where your soup is simmering away.  Allow to rise for as long as you can.   If dinner is at six, you have until 5:30.  Near that time, preheat oven to 450 degrees.


Bake raised rolls at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned.  Turn out of your muffin tin and serve with butter and your hot soup.  I think even soup from a can would taste good with these rolls, but if you would rather have something else, see the Vegetable Beef Soup recipe that I am going to post tomorrow that Max and I made to go along with these!


Hope this puts a smile on your face!  Do you have a favorite quick dinner bread recipe?  Leave me a link or a recipe in the comments, please!