Category Archives: Garden

{In the Garden} Heirloom Tomato Tart

I wait all year for my heirloom tomatoes to become ripe. From the smell of the plants to the funky shapes and colors of the tomatoes themselves, I love everything about them.

However a week or so ago, I went out to pick the first ripe one only to find that some critter had taken a nice big bite out of it already. GASP! I figured it was a fluke…until it happened again and again. Every afternoon I would check my tomatoes to see what would be ripe in the morning and every morning the newly ripe one would be compromised. Was it a squirrel? Rabbits? My dog, Lena? The creature was smart enough to only eat the ripe ones. This was war and not one I planned to lose.

I still haven’t figured out the culprit but my battle tactic has been to cage my plants with chicken wire. So far it seems to be working and I’ve been able to harvest a pile of gorgeous tomatoes to make this Heirloom Tomato & Three Cheese Tart and an all-fresh batch of our favorite Heirloom Tomato Soup. I’ve heard tales of pepper-vinegar sprays, dog hair, coffee grounds, netting and more deterring animals as well but haven’t tried them.

Have you had issues with garden thieves? How do you prevent animals from eating your tomatoes? What worked or didn’t work for you?
heirloom tomatoes
heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato & Three Cheese Tart
Tart Shell
1 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
1 C ice water
1/s tsp vinegar

1/2 C low-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 C half & half
4 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
pinch salt
pinch black pepper
1-2 heirloom tomatoes
1-2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
handful basil, chiffonade
drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375. Combine ice, water and vinegar in a bowl and set aside. In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Cut in small balls of shortening, spreading them throughout flour. Spoon in 2-3 Tbsp of vinegar water and use a pastry cutter or your hands to work into a dough. Add more water, one Tbsp at a time until dough holds together but is not too sticky. (Tip: If you overdo it with the water, just add a sprinkle more flour to dry things out). Use your hands to push dough into an 11×7 tart pan, working dough evenly up the sides and flattening evenly across the bottom.

In another small bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, half and half and parmesan cheese until creamy and well-combined. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour filling over dough. Bake for 10 minutes to just set filling. Remove from oven and layer tomatoes and goat cheese on top. Bake for another 30 minutes. Cool slightly and top with basil and a light drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.
heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart
heirloom tomato tart

More Tomato Recipes: Summer Fest

We’re participating in‘s Summer Fest summer vegetable recipe round up with lots of other great food bloggers! Check out these other tasty-looking tomato dishes with the rest of your garden bounty:
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Seared Chicken with Cherry Tomato Pan Sauce
What’s Gaby Cooking: Zebra Tomato and Burrata Crostini
Zaika Zabardast: Balsamic Roasted Tomato-Basil Ice
And Love It Too: Healthy Lunchbox – Garlic Tomato Basil Pesto Bruchetta
Chez Us: Roasted Tomato Sauce
Daily*Dishin: Refreshing and Rustic – Tuscan Bread Salad
Glory Foods: Fresh Tomato Salsa
Dishin and Dishes: Tomato Tart Tatin
The Purple Cook: Eggplant Parmesan Caprese Salad
I Am Mommy: Tomato Crudite
Cooking With My Kid: Gluten-Free White Bean Chive Cakes with Heirloom Tomatoes
FN Dish: Easy Tomato Appetizers
Add a Pinch: Simple Caprese Salad Skewers
Sweet Life Bake: Salsa Cruda
Virtually Homemade: Farfalle with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Bacon and Shaved Romano
Dixie Chik Cooks: Tomato, Basil and Olive Bruschetta
The Sensitive Epicure: Yemista – Greek Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers with Potatoes
Mooshu Jenne: Sun Burst Tomato Pasta
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Book Club, Tomatoes and a Recipe for Chicken Provençal?
Cooking With Elise: Tomato Parmesan Biscuits
From My Corner of Saratoga: Cooking from the Garden – Bruschetta Pizza
Fritos and Foie Gras: Tomato Terrine
Creative Culinary: Fresh and Savory Tomato Pie
Big Apple Nosh: Caprese Salad/Tomato Carnage
Spices and Aroma: Quick and Easy Paneer Curry
Zaika Zabardast: Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Breakfast Rolls



Filed under Appetizers, Garden

{In the Garden} Peonies

Just thinking about peonies makes me swoon. I’m a sucker for any fresh flowers but these huge frilly blooms are my favorite. Mine usually make their big appearance at the end of May or beginning of June but with this year’s cold spring they’ve just finally arrived.
heirloom peonies

Telling Stories with Flowers
They were the first plants I put in when we bought our house, with its then non-existent landscaping. I’ve since packed five peony plants into my small city backyard but those first two were heirloom variety plants that have been in my family for five generations. You don’t usually think of plants as family heirlooms but it’s such a fun and beautiful way to keep the spirit of a family going.

Since peonies played a starring role at my wedding, my third peony was a wedding gift that blooms every year around our anniversary. As nice as china and colanders are, plants can be a gift for a special occasion that really can keep giving.

pink peonies

Transferring Peonies
As with most perennials, the best way to grow peonies is by dividing and transferring them from an existing plant from a friend or family member, like my heirloom varieties. Not only is this free (!) but it’s the fastest way to get large lush plants with lots of flowers.

You want to transfer them in early fall so that the root systems can establish before spring. Use your hands to separate out a section of an existing plant and then use a straight spade to carefully make a clean cut through the plant base. Dig deep to get all of the roots out and transfer as soon as possible to the new location. Examine your new plant to locate the “eyes” of the peony (see here).  They will be 1-2 inch pinkish sections at the bottom of the stalks just above the root base or 1-2 inch pinkish cones sprouting from the root base.  When you place the plant in the ground, leave about 1 inch of the eyes showing above ground.  Cover the rest firmly with soil.  Water well.

Do you love or hate peonies?  Do you have a special plant story? Please share!


Filed under Garden

Planting a Shade Garden

Ever since we moved into our house, I’ve had dreams of walking down our stone path to the backyard with colorful bursts of flowers spraying in all directions. Besides planting a few hostas here and there, I don’t have much experience with planting in the shade. I decided this year is the year. So here is what I am working with:

My husband and I started by ripping up all of the ground cover. Helpful for soaking up water and keeping the soil moist, but not the look I want to go for. I am sure we will be working to get rid of this completely for years, but for now, we have this:

And if you are paying extra special attention, you’ll notice our newest edition in the back. Our  brand new, eco-friendly, garden-loving, sewer-helping rain barrel! I’ve been entertaining the idea of getting a rain barrel for awhile now. I love the thought of using the wonderful rain water that would otherwise fill the gutters, and pool in the small dip in our yard. Using it to water our plants and herbs sounds like a much better idea, so we buckled and bought the Fiskars Rain Barrel. And so far so good!

So now that my rain barrel is in place and my ground cover is ripped up, I will make the trek to the garden shops this weekend to pick out my shade plants. This side of my house faces northeast and is bordered by some large oak trees. The plants toward the front of the garden get some sunlight throughout the day, but anything planted toward the wall, sees almost no sun. I’m more interested in planting perennials so I only have to plant one time rather than planting and replanting every year.

I want to create depth by having some taller grasses and ferns in the back, interspersing colors throughout. Here are some species of plants I’ve found that I am going to try incorporate in my dream shade garden:

From left to right, clockwise, Astilbe Fireberry, Lilyturf, Lungwort, Coral Bells. (

Ultimately, I want to create a look similar to this: &

And out I go to start the process. If anyone has any suggestions on great shade perennials, I would love to hear them! I will post my pictures once my garden is in full bloom. What is your garden project this summer?


Filed under Garden

Butternut Squash Ravioli

While digging through my freezer the other day, I came across some pureed butternut squash that I made and froze last fall.  It has almost been 6 months, so I needed to use it up!  I got an idea to try and recreate one of my favorite Milwaukee dishes, Butternut Squash Ravioli from the amazing restaurant La Merenda.  They are tender, sweet ravioli topped with melted butter and a crushed, crunchy almond cookie.

I love the taste of simple, pureed butternut squash, so I wanted to keep the filling basic so the squash would be the standout flavor.  I decided to try out wonton wrappers instead of fresh pasta, which worked very well.

Warning:  This recipe is incredibly delicious but quite time consuming!  It took me about 1 1/2 hours from start to finish.  I will say that I think the outcome is worth the effort, but this is not a 30 minute meal!

Butternut Squash Ravioli

1 cup pureed butternut squash (I roasted mine and blended it with a small amount of water to reach a good consistency)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2-3 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan
dash of nutmeg
1 egg
1/3 cup butter
1 package wonton wrappers
1 almond biscotti, crushed

Start by making the filling.  Blend the pureed squash with the ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Mix in a tiny bit of nutmeg and then place in the refrigerator to allow it to cool down.

Place  your chilled wonton sheets on a cutting board and cut into a circle either by using a biscuit cutter or top of a wine glass or mug as your guide, cut out about  36-48 evenly shaped circles.  Set aside.

In  a seperate small bowl, whisk the egg.  Also, grab a cookie sheet and generously sprinkle with corn starch.  This will prevent the ravioli from sticking to the cookie sheet.

Now, you are finally ready to assemble your ravioli.  Start with one circle and place a small teaspoon sized dollop of the butternut squash mixture in the center leaving a good boarder around the edge.  Be sure not to overfill or you might have a hard time sealing them.  Dip your finger in the egg and completely coat the outside boarder.  Top with another circle and press all edges until the ravioli is sealed.  Then, with the edge of a spoon, go around the ravioli, pressing down to be sure they are sealed up tight.  (This will help prevent them from opening when they are placed in the boiling water.)

Continue this process until you have used up all of the squash mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  In a separate pan, melt 1 /3 cup of butter and allow it to slightly brown, being careful not to let it burn.

Once your water has reached a rapid boil, gently place your ravioli one at a time.  I only boiled about 5 at a time to prevent them from sticking together.  (Tip: Gently stir once you place the ravioli into the water to ensure that they do not float to the bottom.  If this happens, they might stick and possibly burst open.)  Watch carefully, after about 3 minutes they will begin to float to the top.  Once this happens, they are done.  Take out each ravioli with a slotted spoon and place directly into the melted butter.

You can either let them all sit in the butter and soak it up, or dip them in the butter and place in a serving dish.  If you do not dip them in butter the ravioli will stick together and will be difficult to separate.

Continue this process until all of the ravioli are cooked.  Plate and top with the crushed almond biscotti.

One bite and I was in heaven, the delicate wonton wrappers really allowed the butternut squash to shine in this recipe and the addition of brown butter just enhanced the flavor.  The best part is the crunch of the biscotti, it adds just a tiny bit of sweetness.

Now, I am sure some of you are wondering why I spent all that time cutting circles out of the wonton wrappers.  I did some trial and error with this to see which shape would cook up the best.

First I tried to leave them whole, but the ravioli seemed a bit too large and were much more delicate, making them prone to breaking while in the boiling water.

I also made triangle shaped ravioli, leaving the wonton sheets whole and just folding them in half.  This worked pretty well too, but I just preferred the round shape.

My whole family ate these up and enjoyed every bite.  They all agreed that they are definitely worth the effort.


Filed under Cook, Garden, Main Dish

Corn Salsa

It is the middle of February and I am desperately missing fresh, homegrown produce after this long winter.  During the summer months I love making salsa with things that I grow in my garden and this week I got a craving for some fresh, homemade salsa.  However the fact that my garden is currently under 10 inches of snow means that I need to look elsewhere.

This corn salsa strays from a typical tomato based salsa, but it is full of flavors and tastes fresh from the garden.  Just what I needed!

Corn Salsa

4 cups frozen corn, cooked and cooled
1 green pepper, diced
2-3 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 small red onion, diced
juice of one lemon
juice of one lime
3-4 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste.

Toss all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Eat with chips or use to top tacos,  quesadillas or even a crunchy salad with chipotle ranch dressing.

Think Spring!


Filed under Appetizers, Cook, Garden

Buttercup Squash

Two weeks ago, three buttercup squash arrived in my CSA box. And for two weeks, they have been sitting on my counter. For some reason these little green and brown winter squash intimidate me.

Last night for dinner I decided it was time to use them up. I sliced, seeded and roasted them with a bit of brown sugar and butter. They were absolutely divine! The texture was incredibly rich and indulgent.  I almost felt like I should have been eating it for dessert!

Roasted Buttercup Squash

2 medium sized buttercup squash
olive oil for brushing
2 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the squash in half and remove all of the seeds and stringy insides.

Brush the inside with olive oil and place them flesh side down on a rimmed cookie sheet.  (I would avoid using a flat cookie sheet because the squash might release some liquid as they cook.)

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the middle begins to soften. While it is cooking, mix the softened butter with the brown sugar.

Remove the squash from the oven and flip over so that the flesh is facing upwards.  Place in a baking dish and coat the inside with the brown sugar and butter mixture.

Cook, flesh side up, for another 20-30 minutes until fully cooked.

The squash can either be served in the skin, or scooped out and mashed.


Filed under Cook, Garden, Sides

Preserving & Canning 101

Canning is hot right now. Maybe it’s just that I’ve paid more attention to it after taking several canning classes this summer but regardless, I would say it’s “trending”…and for good reason.  What’s not to like about tasty jams or pickled goodies that let you enjoy summer all year round?  And while grocery stores are full of canned goods, I think there’s something smart and charming about preserving your own garden (or farmer’s market) goodies to keep or to giveaway.

“Preserving” covers canning, freezing and drying…so you don’t have to can to preserve your goods. Freezing and drying are less complicated than canning but they also limit your options. If canning is something you’re interested in, I would highly recommend finding a local class or a good book.  To whet your appetite, I conned my local instructor, Annie Wegner Lefort, into sharing her top preservation tips. As a Master Food Preserver, Annie really knows her stuff and has tons of great locally-sourced and preservable recipes on her own blog:

Annie’s Top Ten Food Preservation Tips (in no particular order):

1. Use a tested recipe and stick to it: pH levels are particularly important with hot water bath canning. Use a tested recipe to guarantee a safe, shelf-stable product.
2. Use Quality Produce: Garbage in = garbage out. Don’t use canning as a last resort to save something that’s overripe. Don’t want to lose it? Try freezing instead.
3. Preserve what you can consume in a year: Though home-canned items can be perfectly good 18 months or even two to three years after canning, they’re best in the first 12 months. When people relied on preservation instead of grocery stores, they preserved what they could reasonably eat before the next harvest.
4. Keep everything at a constant warm/hot temperature when processing: The biggest culprit of broken jars in the canner is that they were too cool going into the hot water bath. Keep your jars, food product, and water in the canner at a similar warm or hot temperature as you work.
how to make homemade jam
5. Vent properly when canning: Especially if you have a gas stovetop, be sure to open windows and vent when the cans are processing. It’s tempting to crank the A/C when canning, but if your flame happens to go out during processing (because of water splashing out of the kettle), this can eventually cause a buildup of noxious gas.
canning jam
6. Preserve the abundance of the season: When fruits and vegetables are plentiful, they should be most affordable. That’s the time to buy by the bushel. If you put in the work ahead of time you’ll have your larder stocked with local foods all winter.
7. Plan ahead for gift-giving: People love homemade gifts and almost nothing gets more oohs and aahs than the gift of preserves. They make instant host gifts or can be bundled with a favorite recipe and baked goods for a special gift basket.
8. Stock up on other ingredients: Keep an eye on store fliers for sales on vinegar, spices, sugar, etc. as well as canning supplies. Not only will you save money, but you’ll have everything you need on hand when the preserving bug hits.
9. Before you try a new recipe, think about how you’ll use it: I love to try new preserves, but if I have no immediate use for them they might sit in my pantry for years. Think about turning pickled beets into instant borscht or adding salsa to chili.
10. “Canners do it in groups”: Many hands make lighter work and this couldn’t be more true with preserving. It can be a lot of work (though well worth it), so gather some friends to pick, pare, and preserve (and sip a little wine!). Or can on your own, but consider which friends make the best salsa, pickles, etc. then swap the final products.

Canning Party

My friends, Colleen and Lizzy, and I took that last point to heart and recently held a mini canning party to make a double batch of fruit jams.  I love fruit jams because they’re great on toast, in plain yogurt, over ice cream and more. I dressed up the results with labels, pretty ribbon and rustic fabric scraps so that they’re giveaway ready.

canned jam as gifts

Next up, I planning on tackling Annie’s Bruschetta in a Jar recipe (see pg 17 of the Sept virtual issue) and some apple and pumpkin butters for fall!

More Preserving Resources:
So Easy to Preserve – we used their Blueberry Spice jam recipe
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
US Dept of Agriculture Complete Guide to Home Canning & Preserving
Canning & Preserving with Ashley English (who also has a great blog)
Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center Preservation Courses


Filed under Cook, Garden

Easy Pesto Salad

Ever since “secret ingredient: basil” a few weeks ago, I’ve been on a serious basil kick…mostly to the tune of this super easy pesto salad since it also uses up my garden tomatoes too. Now homemade pesto is not some revolutionary new dish but it’s just so tasty when the basil is fresh. Plus, it works great as a main dish with chicken or a crowd-pleasing BBQ/tailgate side dish and can easily be frozen for a little taste of summer come winter.
Pesto Ingredients
The pesto purists out there will probably scoff, but I prefer to use almonds instead of pine nuts in my pesto because of their health benefits and the fact that the leftovers can be used in more dishes.  Also, when I make this I don’t actually measure the ingredients, so take these estimations as a starting point for creating pesto to your taste.  I prefer my pesto to not be too oily but you can make it just the way you like it!

Easy Pesto Salad
2 C fresh basil
1/4 C (+) slivered almonds
1/4C (+) parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4C (+) olive oil
1/2 – 1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 pkg bocconcini (mini mozzerella balls)
1 C grape tomatoes
1 lb pasta (cavatappi or penne shape)

Wash and dry basil. In a small food processor (I use the 3 C size) add 2/3 of the basil leaves, almonds, parmesan, garlic and half of the olive oil. Pulse several times to break down items and blend well.  Add in salt and pepper and the remaining basil leaves.  Pulse again and drizzle in remaining olive oil until pesto is getting smooth and the oil consistency meets your taste.  If you accidentally add too much oil, add more basil and/or cheese and pulse again to soak it up.

How to Make Pesto

Cook pasta to al dente in boiling water. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes in half.  If you can find the itsy bitsy mozzarella balls, simply leave them as is.  If they’re slightly larger, like the ones pictured, slice them in half or quarters.

Drain noodles and rinse with cold water.  Put pasta in a bowl and mix in pesto sauce.  Add tomatoes and mozzarella.  Stir gently until pesto is coating everything well. Taste it.  If needed, sprinkle lightly with salt to bring out flavors, stirring salt in throughout. Serve warm or cold.

Pesto Salad


Filed under Garden, Main Dish, Sides

Pretty in a Pot

The April showers have brought in the May flowers! I was so excited to get out in the sunshine this week and finally start to work on our garden. After hours of wandering aimlessly (in a good way) around the local garden center, my husband and I came home with the first of many rounds of flowers, shrubs and veggies to plant.

The past two years, my attempts at planting annuals alongside our front walkway have failed. I blame the failure on the poor soil, not my gardening skills, and I plan to keep it that way. I decided to ditch trying flowers alongside the bushes this year and bought a pretty pot to decorate the entryway to the front door.

I purchased a 15″ diameter ceramic pot in bright blue. Since the container is fairly tall, I didn’t want to waste too much potting soil, so I placed an empty plastic pot from one of the other shrubs we planted at the bottom of the large pot and placed potting soil around it. When potting plants, make sure to use potting soil and not garden soil. Potting soil is much lighter and not as moist as garden soil. You can tell the difference when you lift the bags.

When planting, I followed the rule that Better Homes & Gardens calls “Thriller, Filler, Spiller.” To create some height and depth to your pot, I purchased a tall Spike. I placed Zinnias in Profusion Orange and Profusion Cherry as well as Sorbet Orange Delight Violas and Red Picotee Dianthus to fill the pot and add color. I couldn’t resist planting Jade, one of our favorite succulents for the season, in the front of the pot. For the “Spill” I added Snowstorm Giant Snowflake (Sutera cordata) and Vinca.

To get your desired arrangement, lay your plants in the pot in their containers before planting them. I’ve placed some river rocks over the top of the pot to help with drainage. You can also add other decorative rocks or mulch. I’ve set this pot up to thrive in partial shade. When picking out your flowers and plants, make sure you read the labels. Lots of great information exists on that small little insert, including height, conditions and tips.

I can’t wait to watch as my pot grows and bursts with color throughout the summer! I will keep you updated as they bloom.

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Filed under Garden

Obsessed with: Succulents

After my trip to LA, I’ve had succulents on the brain. I’m in love with their plump little leaves and the funky, exotic vibe they lend to both indoor and outdoor landscapes.

For those of you with black thumbs, these little beauties are a perfect houseplant because, unless you stash them in a closet, they’re nearly impossible to kill. All you need is a well-draining pot and light!

Succulents love bright light indoors or full sun outdoors that replicates their natural environment of African deserts or Alpine rock ledges. They naturally retain water (the term succulent literally means “full of juice”), so you don’t have to water them often. Regular rain outside or once every few weeks inside should do the trick.

In the succulent family, cacti are certainly the poster child, but these are some of my new favorite varieties:

Also known as Hens and Chicks or Jovibarba (Jupiter’s Beard), sempervivum are easy to identify by their pretty rosette shape.  Highly adaptable and frost resistant, they make for a lovely coffee table plant and work equally well as a low-growing filler along the edges of raised garden beds.

Sempervivum succulent, Hens and Chicks

Succulent rock garden

Sometimes called the “money tree” or “friendship tree” (and who couldn’t use more of both), Jade plants work well on window ledges or patios and can be pruned like a bonzai to control their size.  They can produce small pinkish white flowers like the plant below and can easily be divided by clipping off just a small branch…perfect for sharing with friends! My friend Anne just picked one up at the farmer’s market last week so I may be stealing a cutting of hers once it gets going!

Jade plant, Money tree, Friendship tree

Sedum come in a wide variety of shapes, colors and styles ranging from mid-size flowering shrubs to mat-like stonecrops.  Flowering shrubs like this one below are hearty in cold weather and produce masses of burgundy flowers that are pretty fresh or dried.  They also divide and transplant well so check with your gardener friends to see if you can snag a clump.

Sedum foliage

Aloe Vera
Not just something that comes in a bottle dyed green!  Aloe vera plants can be grown at home and their leaves snipped to treat wounds, burns or sunburn.  Just double check that it’s the aloe vera that you’re getting since some aloe species can be poisonous.

Aloe vera plant, Succulents

Non-HAP Photos: Jade plant and Aloe plant


Filed under Decorate, Garden