condiment, Main dishes, Recipes

Dried Tomato Skin Rub and Pulled Pork


I have about a pint of powdered dried tomato skins, a by-product of canning tomatoes this summer.   I know some people thought I was nuts for saving, drying, and grinding the skins you have to peel off the tomatoes for salsa, sauce, and canned tomatoes.  But I have learned that these dried tomato skins pack quite a flavor punch.  I’ve been using them in chip dips, soups, and sauces.  Now, I’ve added them to a homemade pork rub which produced beautifully-seasoned pulled pork cooked in the crock pot.   Of course, the rub is still very good without the tomato skins.  Why wouldn’t it be with all that wonderful spice!

Pork Rub (with Dried Tomato Skins)

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher or coarsely-ground sea salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (see note below)

2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (see note below)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix well and rub on dry meat.  This rub would be good on spare ribs or chicken, as well as the pulled pork recipe below.


Easy Pulled Pork

4-5 lb. pork shoulder, pork tenderloin, or pork loin roast (see note below)

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)

2 cups chicken stock

Rub all sides of pork with seasoning mix (above).  At this point, you can rest the pork in the fridge for up to 12 hours to get the most flavor out of the rub.  Or, you can start cooking it right away in the crock pot.  Because this big hunk of meat takes so long to cook in the crock pot (8-12 hours), the rub gets into the meat nicely during cooking.  When you are ready to cook your pork, proceed as follows.


Place onion and garlic in bottom of large crock pot, pour in chicken stock, add a few drops of liquid smoke if desired (be cautious, it’s strong) and place rubbed pork on top.  Cover and cook on high for about 8 hours; on low it may take up to 12 hours.  Cook until the meat is falling off the bone or shreds easily with a fork .  Remove meat from crock pot.  Rest, covered loosely with foil, until steam is no longer rising from meat.  While meat is resting, make sauce.

Barbecue Sauce

Pour the liquid, onions, and garlic from the crock pot into a medium-sized sauce pan.  Add 1 cup of ketchup or 1 ½-2 cups of tomato sauce, 1/3 cup of molasses or 1/4 cup of brown sugar (adjust sweetness to your taste), 1 tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and bring to boil over high heat.  Lower heat to produce medium boil and reduce sauce until it reaches desired consistency, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  It should thicken to a gravy-like consistency but not be too thick to pour.

Pull rested meat into shreds with two forks.  Pour sauce over meat or serve sauce on the side.

Notes:  I have listed cayenne pepper here, but of course, if you are heat-sensitive, you can omit it or use less.  I actually didn’t use cayenne.  I used a hot pepper mix that Theresa, my son-in-law’s mother, gave me.  She buys two varieties of very hot peppers in the market in Kaduna, Nigeria, boils them, dries them in the sun, and grinds them to powder.  She gave me a half-pint of this stuff, and I love it.  It is very hot, hotter than cayenne, but very flavorful.  I intend to try her technique with my habaneros I’ve been ripening on the cut bush in the laundry room.

Also, I listed hot smoked paprika, which I just discovered in bulk at the WinCo store in Reno.  I’ve heard about it for years, but it isn’t easy to find, and it normally isn’t cheap.  It’s quite affordable at WinCo.  I love the flavor it gives, but you could easily substitute plain paprika and add just a drop more of liquid smoke, if you wish.

You can make pulled pork with boneless pork tenderloin or loin roasts, but the best cut of pork for this dish is a pork shoulder roast (also known as butt).  Bone-in is best because the meat has more flavor when cooked on the bone.  The long, slow cooking time tenderizes this tougher cut of meat and allows the fat to cook all the way out, producing a tender, flavorful, and juicy dish.  This dish can also be cooked in a large Dutch oven or turkey roaster with a tight-fitting lid.  Bake at 325 degrees until meat is tender and pulls apart with a fork.  It will take slightly less cooking time in the oven, so keep checking for desired tenderness.

The rub mix gets into the liquid in the crock pot as the meat cooks, so there is no need to add more salt or pepper to the sauce when you use the cooking liquid as the base of your sauce, unless you are a salt fiend.  This produces a medium-hot barbecue sauce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Nigerian pepper mix on left, tomato skins in center, finished rub on right.

We enjoyed this dish so much the other night, I’m planning to cook it again on New Year’s Eve for the family get-together.   I normally take pictures of the finished food, but after smelling this pork cooking all day, we just couldn’t wait to dive into it.  I served the pulled pork and sauce with sourdough rolls, baked beans, and coleslaw, but on this New Year’s Eve, we are having a feast of Nigerian food, prepared by my son-in-law, Solomon, and his mother, Theresa, with help from Amy and me.  I think the pork will go well with the Nigerian dishes, and hopefully, I’ll have some Nigerian recipes to share with you all at a later date.  Happy New Year, everybody.


Science Experiment: Homemade Ginger Ale

Update:  December 21, 2014

I’ve updated again!  For making, feeding, storing, and maintaining your ginger bug, scroll down.  For the best ginger ale recipe and fermentation method, please click on Ginger Ale Update.

Update: February 21, 2014

I’ve been experimenting with the ratios and mixtures and fermenting times, and so far, my best result has been with my Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe given below.  I made some more with this mix this week, with only one alteration (I used only 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger in the hot mix with the sugar and water), and I ended up with the best batch ever.  I fermented it for 3 days by the heater, so it was nice and warm, and then when I had lots of small bubbles for a day and big bubbles for two days, I put it into the fridge without opening the jug.  I was using the glass gallon juice jug in the pictures below.  That seems to be the ideal container.  I chilled the jug in the fridge for a day before opening it, and I had so much carbonation when I opened it the next day, it sounded like a bottle of store-bought soda that had been shaken and then opened.  It didn’t spew, though!  I strained off a glass, and it had so much carbonation, it sat there and fizzed in the glass like a store-bought soda.  The flavor was delicious, gingery but not overwhelmingly so like some previous batches have been.  I’m so pleased with the recipe now, I wanted to share my update with you all.

I should also mention that I’ve been experimenting with how the ginger bug reacts after being stored in the fridge.  I’ve gone ten days between feedings, and my bug still seems healthy.  I always take it out and let it warm up for a few hours before I feed it, then let it sit overnight to work before I stash it in the fridge.  I have also noticed that it does just fine when I feed it only a tablespoon of raw sugar with a tablespoon of water occasionally if I am building up the volume of my bug before making a batch of ginger ale.  I did this when I was running low on ginger, and since it looked like there was plenty of ginger in the jar, I figured all the bug probably needed was a little sugar to feed the yeasts.  That seems to be the case.  I will continue to do this, feeding my bug every other time with just raw sugar and water, because I find that it becomes a little too strong with ginger otherwise.  End of update!  Original post (with Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe below) follows.

Original post:

As some of you know, I’ve been learning more about fermenting and culturing foods lately.  I’ve made yogurt and apple scrap vinegar for years.  Now, I’ve moved on to homemade ginger ale.  And it’s pretty darn good.  Dennis liked it, and while he’ll eat anything, he’s a bit picky about beverages, so his is an important endorsement.

I followed another blogger’s process (Wellness Mama), but I, and others, found the written directions somewhat confusing.  It was necessary to scroll through all the comments and read the contributions of followers to figure it all out, so I’ve decided to write the process down myself, using what I’ve learned about fermenting other foods, and hopefully making it clearer for myself and for a few other folks who want to try making their own fermented beverages.

Now, why make your own ginger ale rather than buying it?  For one thing, you won’t be getting any high fructose corn syrup in your homemade ginger ale.  You can sweeten it with whatever you like if it’s not sweet enough for you as is.  Secondly, because it is naturally fermented and carbonated, it contains some probiotic material that is good for your gut.  And finally, it contains real ginger, which has long been known as a healing agent, particularly good for stomach troubles.  And, I would add, it’s kind of fun to make.  Well, if you’re into food-related science experiments like me.

This is a two-step process.  First you have to make what’s known as a ginger “bug.”  I assume it’s called a bug because it is actually alive.  (Mmwha-ha-ha-ha . . . translation:  evil laugh.)   All the bug is, really, is an environment to keep the beneficial bacteria responsible for fermentation alive and well.  After you have the bug going, and it’s thriving, you’re ready to make ginger ale, another step in fermentation that produces the bubble and fizz of carbonation.  Oooh, fun stuff.

You need some containers, one for the bug, and one for the ginger ale.  For the bug, a quart glass jar is fine.  You need some nylon tulle, some breathable fabric, or a coffee filter (just as if you were making vinegar) and a big rubber band off a bunch of broccoli to hold your breathable fabric or coffee filter on the mouth of your jar.  For the ginger ale, you need a bigger jar.  Contrary to the original instructions from Wellness Mama, a half-gallon jar will not work.  The liquids add up to more than two quarts.  If you have a gallon-sized glass juice jug, or something between a half-gallon and a gallon, that will work.  You need a jar or jug with a tight-fitting lid to capture the fizz.

Ginger Bug

In your clean quart jar, combine:

2 cups of water

2 tablespoons of grated or chopped fresh ginger root (peeled if not organic)

2 tablespoons of sugar

You can use whatever sugar you have on hand.  I used raw sugar, and it worked very well, but others say you can use white table sugar; some recommend adding a teaspoon of molasses for color, flavor, and minerals if white sugar is used.  Sugar feeds the organisms on the raw ginger that create fermentation.

A word on water.  Some folks use filtered or bottled distilled water, and I would do this if I had chlorine in my water.  I have hard well water, and it worked just fine.

Cover your quart jar with the breathable material, secure it, and place it somewhere warm. My kitchen was cold when I started the bug, so I kept it near the heating stove, where it stayed about 78 degrees.  A warm, not hot, temperature encourages the growth of yeasts, etc. in your ginger bug.  If it’s cold, you’re more likely to get mold than fermentation, and you’ll have to throw it out and start over if you get mold.  Mold does not taste good.  This is what it looks like when you have the bug going.


Now, every day for five days, add 1-2 tablespoons of grated or minced ginger root, 1-2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1-2 tablespoons of water to your bug, stirring well.  Some folks say you shouldn’t use a metal spoon, but this is just silly because you use a metal knife or food processor to chop the ginger.  Stirring with a metal spoon isn’t going to harm your bug, but if you are worried about it, by all means, use a wooden or plastic spoon.  (I wouldn’t use a silver or iron spoon, but who uses spoons like that to stir things like this anyway?)  The thing to remember is to use the same proportion of ginger to sugar to water each day.  Cover the bug, put it back in its cozy spot, and go on about your business.  In a day or two, you should start to see some foaming or bubbling, maybe hear a little hissing, see a little fizzing when you stir the bug.  That means your bug is fermenting, and all those little organisms (bugs) are growing.  Yay!  After five days of this, you are ready to make ginger ale.  (When you have used some of your ginger bug for ginger ale making, you need to add back ¼ cup of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped ginger to the bug before storing it.)

But first, it is important not to let your ginger bug sit at room temperature more than about 5 days after it starts to ferment, because it could start to turn to vinegar (move from alcoholic fermentation to acetic fermentation) after that time.  If you want to hold your bug at readiness and not make ginger ale right away, you can put a tight lid on the jar and stash it in the fridge indefinitely, as long as you take it out and feed it once a week.

To feed your ginger bug, bring it out of the fridge, bring it to room temperature, add a tablespoon of minced/grated ginger, a tablespoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of water.  Let it sit out at least 8 hours in its cozy place, then it can be refrigerated again.  If you are using your ginger bug after resting in the fridge, take it out 8 hours before you want to use it to make ginger ale, feed it, and let it sit and get warm and active before adding it to the ginger ale ingredients.  Now, here are the directions for making ginger ale.

Homemade Ginger Ale

In a large sauce pan, heat:

2 tablespoons of grated or minced fresh ginger root (peeled if desired or if not organic)

½ cup sugar (raw/demerara, organic, or if white sugar is used, add 1 tablespoon molasses as well)

½ teaspoon sea salt (kosher salt is fine, and I don’t imagine that plain table salt would adversely affect the ginger ale)

3 cups of water (filtered or distilled if you have chlorinated water or if you think the mineral content of your water would produce a nasty taste)

Simmer for about 5 min. to dissolve sugar and infuse the water with the ginger.


5 cups of cool, filtered water (if filtering is necessary)

½ cup fresh lemon or lime juice or combination thereof

½ cup ginger bug

Make sure the water/sugar/ginger mixture is cool before adding ginger bug.  (You don’t want to cook the bugs!)  Mix well.  Pour into large jug and cap tightly.  (Again, a half-gallon jar will not work.  With 8 cups of water, ½ cup of juice, ½ cup of ginger bug, you have at least 9 cups of liquid, and that won’t fit in a half-gallon jar.)

Put this tightly capped jug in the warm, cozy place, and let it sit.  If your ginger bug has fermented properly and is active, the ginger ale should begin to bubble within a few hours.  Here’s what mine looked like (my second batch).


Let it sit until bubbles just begin to diminish.  At this point, it’s ready to drink.  Chill the jug well before opening.

Now, here’s what’s going to happen when you open the lid on your ginger ale.  Just as with commercial sodas, there will be a loss of carbonation as soon as you open the jug.  I got a big hiss of escaping gas when I opened the lid on my gallon juice jug.  I tried to tighten it back down, but the gas kept escaping.  For this reason, it’s best not to open your ginger ale until you are ready to drink it, and then to pour it quickly through a strainer (so you aren’t chewing little bits of ginger, but save the ginger because you can use it in your next batch of ale) into glasses loaded with ice and whatever else, if anything, you want to put in the ginger ale (various kinds of alcohol spring immediately to mind) and drink it up right away.  If there is any left over, pour it off straight away into a smaller bottle and cap tightly.  It will not be as fizzy when you open it, but it will still taste good.  Here’s what my first batch looked like after I strained it off out of the big gallon juice jug.  (I saved the ginger and put it in the second batch with some additional fresh ginger to feed the fermentation.)


It should be stored in the fridge, where it will keep indefinitely.  If stored at room temperature, it will eventually become alcoholic.  (Yeasts + sugar + time = booze.)

I should say a few words here about sweetness.  This stuff is not sweet.  It was not sweet enough for my son and husband until I stirred about a teaspoon of raw sugar into it.  It was sweet enough for me as is, and very refreshing.  But when I wanted something a little sweeter, I stirred about a half teaspoon of raw sugar into mine.  I also tried it with a little Splenda, which I use very sparingly these days, and it was quite good.

Because I wanted to see if I could produce a batch that would be sweet enough out of the jug for the family, I altered the recipe a bit.  Wellness Mama’s instructions add that you can adjust the volume of the recipe by using a ratio of ¼ cup sugar per 1 quart of water and adding ¼ cup ginger bug for each quart of water used.  I followed these directions for increasing the volume of my second batch but doubled the sugar and kept the amount of lemon/lime juice the same, since the first batch was very acidic.

Sweeter Ginger Ale

Simmer for 5 minutes:

1 quart water

4 tablespoons minced ginger

1 cup raw sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt


2 qts. cool water

½ cup lemon or lime juice (I used about ¼ cup lemon and ¼ lime juice)

¾ cup ginger bug

Mix well and pour off into gallon jug; cap tightly.  Let sit in warm place for 2-3 days.  Chill and strain before drinking.

I should note that this mixture bubbled up very quickly, producing a lot of carbon dioxide the very first day, but was not as fizzy as my first batch when the jug was opened.


Given my experience with making vinegar (which also ferments), I believe it was the added sugar in this mix that caused a faster fermentation.  I also think that for great fizz, the mixture should have been drunk immediately, rather than chilled and stored for two days, as I did.  It’s also possible that the cap on my jug released carbonation.  I am using a glass gallon-sized apple juice jug with a metal, screw-on lid.  A bottle with a bail closure and rubber seal on the stopper might work better to contain the carbon dioxide.

These ratios produced a slightly sweeter ginger ale that no one needed to add sugar to, and everybody liked.  My son-in-law, who was born and raised in Nigeria, says he grew up drinking something very similar.  He was particularly appreciative of my homemade ginger ale and wants me to make it again for New Year’s Eve, when his mother and nephews will be visiting with us.

Wellness Mama cautions against over-fermentation to prevent the bottle from exploding.  Frankly, I think this is highly unlikely unless the bottle was made of very, very thin glass and the lid were truly air-tight.  This stuff would be more likely to blow the lid off.  However, I also think that if a jug is going to blow its lid, it’ll be because it doesn’t hold enough space for the gas.  When that space is full and gas is still being produced, it has to exhaust somehow.

I liked my first batch of ginger ale made following Wellness Mama’s directions, but we all liked the second batch best, made with more sugar and less lemon/lime juice.  I think it would be fine to eliminate the citrus juice altogether, and just add a twist of lemon or lime to the glass before drinking.

For my next batch, I think I’ll start with the original instructions, double the sugar, reduce the water by one cup, eliminate the citrus, and see if it will almost fill but not overflow a half gallon jar.  I’m curious to see if I will get more fizz from an almost full jar when it is opened.

At any rate, I’ll have fresh, homemade ginger ale for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  How fun is that?  For this nutcase food nerd/amateur scientist, it’s pretty darn fun.


Desserts, Recipes

Christmas Cookies

This week’s post is a Christmas cookie story.  But more than that, it’s a story about families, and it’s the story of traditions.  Hang with me, and there will be some recipes in it for you.

Christmas means, among other things, Christmas cookies.  For our family, there are two kinds of Christmas cookies: gingerbread and sugar cookies.  These are two old-fashioned cookies whose goodness, for me, never goes out of style.

I usually make crisp gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree.  They smell good, taste great dipped in coffee like biscotti, and because there is no butter or egg in them, they keep until well after the tree comes down, if there are any left.  After the cookies are rolled, cut, and on the cookie sheet, I poke a hole in the top of each cookie with a straw, so it can be threaded with a ribbon and hung on the tree.  These cookies will perfume the room with spice and give an old-fashioned look to our tree.  For the tree, I don’t decorate them, because I don’t want bits of icing or sprinkles falling on the floor, and besides, I like the way they look, plain, among the brightly-colored ornaments.


If I want to give them away or put them in the cookie jar, I’ll let the kids ice them or sprinkle them with colored sugars or candy sprinkles.  It turns out that my son-in-law, Solomon, loves spicy gingerbread, so the grandkids and I made them especially for him this Christmas.


Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments

(makes about 4-5 dozen medium-sized cookies)

¾ cup dark molasses

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cold water

5 tablespoons shortening

3 ½ cups flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour can be used)

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat molasses, sugar, water, and shortening.  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Dough will be relatively stiff.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours to firm dough.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll dough ¼ in. thick on floured board (do not use whole wheat flour for rolling).  Brush off excess flour and cut with floured cookie cutters into desired shapes.  Place about 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheet.  For tree ornaments, use a plastic straw to cut out little holes in tops of cookies.  If you are decorating with colored sugar or sprinkles, shake these over the cookies and press lightly into dough.


Bake until firm, when no indentation remains when touched, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool on rack before frosting, if desired.  (I don’t recommend frosting before hanging on the tree, for reasons mentioned above, but that’s up to you.)


I am not a professional baker, nor a photographer, just a pretty good cook.  So I don’t claim these are the prettiest cookies you’ll ever see.  But they sure taste good!  (My daughter-in-law, Tori, says that I make things taste good, and she makes them look good, and that’s the truth of it.)


The other cookie we always make is a sugar cookie.  This recipe comes from a neighbor and good friend of my mother’s, Marge Darby.  My brother and sister and I played with and went to school with the Darby kids, so their family is always there in my memory whenever I think about my childhood.   My mother loved these cookies, and one day, she sent me over to the Darby house to copy down the recipe.  I must have been 8 or 10 years old, as my awkward printing in the original copy attests.


Since I wrote this recipe down nearly 50 years ago, it’s the one always used in our family.  I have tried others, but they just don’t stack up to this one.  Both Marge and Mama have since passed away, but I think of them each time I bake these cookies.

About a year or so ago, the oldest Darby boy, Tom, contacted me via Facebook.  We’ve been sharing memories and stories ever since, so when I got the sugar cookie recipe out in preparation for this holiday season, I thought I’d take a picture of it to show to Tommy.  I was sure he’d get a kick out of it, but I had no idea it would mean as much to him as it did.  (For his reaction, see Tom Darby’s blog.) Just this past week, he baked the cookies he remembered from childhood.  And he gave us a little more of the recipe’s history. Tommy says, “As far as I can recall they came from my Grandma on my Dad’s side. They were in a cookbook put together by the Women of the Fort Dodge (Iowa) Lutheran Church which was published sometime between the end of the Great Depression and World War II.”  That’s a recipe with a lot of history and tradition behind it, and they are the best sugar cookies I’ve ever tasted.

Sugar Cookies

4 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening, or butter, or *oleo  (see note below)

3 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon hot water

Sift flour and sugar and salt together into bowl.  Cut in fat, add nuts and mix well.  In center of flour mixture add 3 beaten eggs and vanilla.  Add soda dissolved in hot water.  Mix thoroughly.  Roll thin, cut and shape.  To roll out cookies, use half powdered sugar, half flour.  Place two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.


Notes:  For those who don’t know, oleo refers to oleomargarine. It became popular or widely-used during the food rationing of WWII. A friend of mine remembers mixing the yellow coloring into the margarine to make it look like butter. I grew up using margarine for everything, but of course I don’t use it any more. However, for this recipe, I usually use half shortening and half softened butter.  I like the flavor butter gives, but all butter makes the cookies spread awkwardly and lose their shapes.

I always chill the dough for an hour before rolling—this makes them easier to roll, and it also helps them keep their shape while baking.  Keep the dough in the fridge and cut off smaller pieces to work with until it is all rolled and cut.  Thin means about 1/8th inch, and this thinness helps keep them crisp, but you have to watch them because they will burn quickly.

Also, using half powdered sugar and half flour to roll out the cookies is key.  Plain flour (as I learned through bitter experience) just doesn’t taste as good.  I often use whole wheat pastry flour in the cookie dough, but it should be noted that to roll out the cookies, you need to use white, all-purpose flour mixed with the powdered sugar.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, about 6 dozen, depending on what size you make them.  I often cut the recipe in half.

I used to decorate these cookies with a standard powdered sugar icing, but then I discovered edible paint, and that was what my children liked to do, and now my grandchildren enjoy painting the cookies as well.  (Some years, they get really creative.  This year, we baked between 10 and 15 dozen cookies, so they kept it basic!) I keep a set of cheap paintbrushes in the kitchen for this purpose and just run them through the dishwasher when we are done.

Edible Paint:

Separate two eggs.  Beat the yolks with a fork, then add 1 teaspoon of water and mix well.  Divide into several cups or dishes.  Add different food colorings to each cup, mix well.  After the cookies are rolled out, cut, and on the cookie sheets, use clean paintbrushes (run them through the dishwasher if they’ve been previously used on watercolor paints) and egg yolk paint to color the tops of the cookies.  As they bake, the paint will harden into a glaze.  They are really pretty, still taste great, but don’t deliver the sugar shock like icing does.  You can still taste the cookie, and believe me, these cookies are worth tasting.  As for how they look, they remind me of stained glass windows.  This seems somehow appropriate for both Christmas and Easter cookies, which is when I usually bake them.


One of the best things about the holidays, for me, is the traditions we have made and keep alive through the years.  These are individual, to some extent, to each family, and I’d love to hear about your Christmas traditions, especially if you have a recipe to share.  Happy holidays, everyone.


Main dishes, Recipes

(Bear) Sausage-stuffed Acorn Squash

Enough with the turkey already!  I’m working on new ways to use the four boxes of winter squash my garden produced this year.  I love all the old ways I use the squash, but I like to play in my kitchen.  This is my latest endeavor with acorn squash.  The Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed it.  I used our bear sausage, but you could use any ground sausage mix, although I would recommend going fairly lean with this one, as the squash will absorb any fat released from the sausage.  I only used one squash for Dennis and me, but I wrote the recipe for four people.  Just decrease the proportions by half if you’re empty-nesting like us, or double if you still have hungry teenagers at home.

Sausage-stuffed Acorn Squash

(serves 4)


2 large acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed

1 lb. ground breakfast sausage*  (See note)

½ cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped green, red, or yellow bell peppers (optional, and you could certainly add other vegetables)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup milk

½ cup plain bread crumbs OR oat bran* OR gluten-free almond flour bread crumbs

2 tablespoons dehydrated veggie flakes (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to your taste)

¼ teaspoon black pepper (or more to your taste)

Pinch of red pepper flake (optional)

Olive oil

Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender.  Set aside to cool.  Rub squash cavities with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix ground sausage, egg, milk, bread crumbs and seasonings.  Mix in sautéed vegetables. Line a pan large enough to hold the squash with foil.  Arrange squash halves so they will sit level.  (Ball up aluminum foil to use as wedges if needed.)  Fill squash cavities with meat mixture and smooth into mounds.  Brush sauce (below) over meat mixture.  Bake uncovered for 60 to 75 minutes at 375 degrees, or until meat juices run clear, and flesh of acorn squash is tender.   If desired, brush tops of meat with leftover sauce 15 minutes before end of cooking time.


¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix together.  Brush sauce on meat.


Notes:  I use breakfast sausage in this recipe because it is commonly flavored with sage, fennel seed, and red pepper flake, all of which go well with the semi-sweet squash.  (Acorn squash is the least sweet of the winter squashes, in my opinion.)  Our bear sausage is very lean.  If I were using pork sausage, I would look for the leanest mix I could find or cut it with a lean meat like ground turkey.  Alternatively, to get more fat out of a higher-fat sausage mix, you could brown the sausage, drain it and cool it, then mix the other ingredients into it before filling the squash cavities.  If I were doing it this way, I would also precook the squash before filling it by roasting in a 400 degree oven for about 30 min.  Then after filling the squash, reduce heat to 350 and bake until set and sauce is caramelized.

Before I decided to eliminate gluten and grains as much as possible from my diet, I discovered, quite by accident, that the best binder for meatloaf and meatballs is oat bran.  Bread crumbs are the traditional binder for ground meats, but they can make for a tough loaf or ball.  I’d been trying to increase fiber while reducing net carbs for a long time, so I turned to oats, but I found that whole oats affected the texture of the meatloaf and made it somewhat chewy.  So one day when I went to the pantry to grab the oatmeal jar for meat loaf, I spied the oat bran jar.  And I thought, hmmm.  Well, why not try it?  I used the same amount of oat bran as I would use of oatmeal, which is about 1 ¼ cups to 2 lbs. of meat.  And I’m telling you, after that first attempt, I would never go back to either oatmeal or bread crumbs, because the oat bran binds perfectly and produces an incredibly tender meatloaf or meatball.  And it adds more fiber than bread crumbs.  Try oat bran in your next meatloaf or batch of meatballs, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, now that I’m trying to eliminate gluten from my diet, I’ve been using almond flour bread crumbs.  I save the heels (which are small) of the almond flour bread in a bag in the freezer and then dry them when I have enough to make it worthwhile at 170-200 degrees in the oven on cookie sheets.  When they’re dry, I pop them into the food processor and pulse until they are in crumbs.  Then they go back in a plastic bag and into the freezer, ready to go for the next dish.

I served these sausage-stuffed acorn squash with a salad and a helping of kale and chard, the last from the garden.  What a way to get your veggies!


Desserts, Leftovers, Main dishes, Recipes

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Green Turkey Enchiladas and Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

Most of us have a favorite way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.  I’m freezing my leftover stuffing to use later this winter with the Cornish game hens I have in the freezer.  I usually make turkey soup, but yesterday, it occurred to me that I have all that green tomato salsa verde that I made earlier this fall, and why not use up the leftover carved turkey in some green enchiladas?   I hadn’t tried the sauce yet, and since I just picked another box of green tomatoes out of the greenhouse, I might want to make more of it.


I made two pans of enchiladas, one with gluten-free tortillas for me, and one with flour tortillas for the rest of the family.   And they liked it quite a bit, so I might be making more salsa verde this week.


I chopped three or four cups of leftover turkey, both white and dark meat, into bite-sized pieces.  This made six gluten-free enchiladas for me, and ten regular enchiladas for the family.  I had cheese already shredded in the freezer, so I used what I had, which was white cheddar.  My favorite cheese for green enchiladas is pepper jack, but Monterey jack is also good.  I lined my pans with foil because I plan to put any leftovers into the freezer for a quick, heat-up meal on rushed days.  The foil will allow me to lift the cooled enchiladas out of the pan, so I can wrap them with more foil and plastic for a tight seal.

Green Turkey Enchiladas

(makes 8-12 enchiladas)

1 pkg. medium-sized flour tortillas (12)

3 cups chopped turkey, light or dark meat or mixed

2 cups blended salsa verde (1 pint jar)

1 cup chopped onions

1 small can sliced black olives

2 cups shredded cheese

1 cup chunky salsa verde

Spray the bottom of a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or oil it with a pastry brush) and spread a generous spoonful of sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Reserve a quarter cup of sauce for spreading on top.  Mix the rest of the sauce in a large bowl with the turkey, onions, chunky salsa verde, and olives.  It’s easiest to mix the cheese in at this point as well, reserving a quarter cup for the top.  What you end up with doesn’t look that tasty, but it will be, I promise.

Starting at one edge, place 3-4 tablespoons of the turkey filling mixture along the edge of the tortilla.  Roll it up and place it seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have used all the filling mixture (you may have leftover tortillas).  Paint the tops of the enchiladas with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with reserved cheese.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until enchiladas are bubbly and cheese is melted and golden brown.


Serving suggestions:  Top with sour cream, more of the chunky salsa verde, chopped avocado, pico de gallo.  Black beans with garlic and lime make a nice side dish.  With a green salad, you have a complete meal.

This dish was a hit with the family.  We finished the meal with a recipe of my daughter’s, a pumpkin pie milk shake.  The first time she made this, she included the pie crust from the leftover pie, but we have since decided it’s better without the crust, so we make extra custard now specifically for this dessert.  We first used homestyle vanilla ice cream, but last year, we discovered that Dulce de Leche ice cream adds depth.  You can turn this into an adult drink with the addition of a shot per serving of the alcohol of your choice.  Rum, bourbon, or brandy are all good choices.  Of course, you can always just eat the pumpkin pie as is!

Amy’s Pumpkin Pie Milk Shake


(makes about 4 one cup servings)

1 quart  of Dulce de Leche ice cream

1 cup milk

1 cup leftover pumpkin pie custard

whipped cream (optional)

Blend all ingredients together and pour into glasses.  Garnish with whipped cream.

Later this week, I will make turkey soup out of the pan drippings in the fridge and the two carcasses in the freezer.  If you’ve got a good recipe for using up Thanksgiving leftovers, I’d love to hear it.