Jen’s Whole Garden (Almost) Summer Sauce

My summer sauce recipe is here! This recipe is great for your body, nearly any vegetable could be added for extra color or vitamin, and it can be added to so many dinner menus. For example: Italian Tortellini Soup (listed under garden recipes), pizza or marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, topping for chicken Parmesan, tomato based curry, butter chicken, beef stew, lasagna and homemade tomato soup. The recipe just adds extra goodness to every recipe (Thanks reader, Kathy for reminding me to add example recipes).
I want to be honest and up front about this recipe–it is not exact and flexibility is needed. You can add more or less of something for taste or thickness. Also note this recipe is not for the faint of heart in the kitchen. It is time consuming, but the end result will delight all year long.


2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups onion, roughly chopped

5-8 cloves of garlic, finely minced

4-5 sweet peppers or 2 bell peppers any color, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped

1-2 spicy peppers, seeded and diced (jalapeño, serrano, etc.–this is optional depending on your heat preference)

1-2 medium zucchini, grated (about 4 cups)

5-6 large carrots peeled and grated (about 3 cups–you can use any variety, but I use purple carrots because of the beautiful rich red color they add to the sauce when mixed with the tomatoes. If you use orange carrots, but be warned that the color of your sauce will not be as beautiful. We eat with our eyes too!)

1 red beet peeled and grated (optional, a way to add a red color if you use orange carrots)

2 cups chopped spinach (optional)

2 can (12-ounces) tomato paste (add one more if needed)

30-35 tomatoes (all varieties welcome, I use whatever is ripe. I grow paste tomatoes and they add a nice thickness. If you are buying these, look for Romas.)

Note: Tomatoes must be peeled and core removed. My preferred method is to cut them in half, place them on a cookie sheet in the oven on broil. Afer 5-8 minutes, remove the tray and slip off the tomato skins.

1-2 tablespoons coarse, kosher salt (to taste)

1 teaspoon black pepper

3-4 tablespoons dried italian seasoning (to taste)

2 cups chopped fresh basil (to taste–I like a lot)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of baking soda (add when sauce is complete and finished cooking down)
Note: This will help the acid level of the sauce to be lower and not so difficult to digest.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook all ingredients for 1-1 1/2 hours. Stirring occasionally with a potato masher. When cooked down and has a thick sauce appearance remove bay leaves and blend with a stick blender. You can use a regular blender but please just buy a stick blender. It is an awesome kitchen tool. The blender will just be a big mess.

Add the baking soda, stir and let set for 5 minutes. Cool for a couple of hours. Then freeze. I freeze the sauce in regular quart size freezer size ziplocks. I lay them flat in the freezer so they freeze in a way that will fit nicely standing up in my freezer. I make some in smaller bags for toppings.

Harvested vegetables for Jen’s Whole Garden (Almost) Summer Sauce 

Next week I will be sharing my recipe for a sauce I use all year long in soups, spaghetti and as a topping for anything that tastes great with a garden vegetable sauce. I call it Jen’s Whole Garden Summer Sauce. It’s name comes from being able to use so many summer garden vegetables all at once in one delish sauce. It is almost the Whole Garden in one sauce. Great news, it is also good for your health and kid’s will eat their vegetables because it tastes yummy and doesn’t look like vegetables. No, I am not sneaking in kale. 

I am in the middle of making the sauce, school shopping, cub camp and swim team so this week I share the harvested vegetables each one from our garden and late tonight they will create a simmering sauce. I can smell it already. Let the work begin!

Freezing Raspberries that maintain their pre-picked appearance.

After returning from our summer adventures, we have spent a lot of time in the backyard picking raspberries. Our nieces were visiting us last week and happily they joined us in the raspberry picking task. The morning after we finished, I was delighting in my annual summer treat of raspberries with cream when one of our nieces wanted to know what I was eating. I replied, “Only heaven in my mouth!” She wanted to try it too, and after some reluctance in that first taste, she readily agreed with my declaration. If only we could have fresh raspberries all year round that weren’t so expensive to buy!

Well now, wait a minute! We can’t have them perfectly fresh but I can share with you the Midnight Gardner’s genius in how to freeze raspberries so they nearly taste and look fresh throughout the fall and winter months. He tutored me one day when I was complaining about my frozen raspberries looking like raspberry mush while those he had prepared looked liked they had just been picked. Here is his great advice:

How to freeze raspberries that maintain their pre-picked appearance:

Supplies needed:

Fresh Raspberries 

Salad spinner

Cookie sheet (with a rim around it, ideally)

Freezer paper

Room for the cookie sheet to rest flat in your freezer


Pick or buy raspberries. Place approximately 2 cups of raspberries in the basket of a salad spinner and fill the salad spinner with water so that it fully covers the raspberries. To wash the raspberries move the basket up and down in the water. Empty the water from the spinner and repeat this step several times with clean water. Thourghly rinse the basket of raspberries. Now for the gentle step that preserves the raspberry appearance–gently spin the raspberries in the salad spinner. This will extract water from the fruit without crushing it. Place the spun raspberries onto the cookie sheet covered with a sheet of freezer paper. Wash more if you have them, but don’t crowd the fruit. Place the cookie sheet into the freezer. After a few hours, or once the raspberries are frozen, use a metal spatula to loosen and place them in a freezer safe storage bag. Repeat.

Alternate additional task: the Midnight Gardener wants the fruit to freeze as quickly as possible, so he places an empty cookie sheet in the freezer earlier in the day. This way, when the fruit are ready to be placed on the sheets, they begin to freeze very quickly.

Recipe: Radishes harvested a-plenty. Now how to use them?

During this past weekend Keepsake Collector harvested all of our radishes. Here is a small sample of the harvest. This variety is French Breakfast. Did you grow radishes? How was your harvest? IMG_6488

Now that we have so many, what to do with all these radishes? Radishes are enjoyed in salads of course but did you know that they can be made into their own side dish, used in any slaw or roasted in the oven with olive oil, kosher salt and a splash of lemon juice? For example, look at this surprising recipe for Roasted Radishes and tell me what you think.

If I could eat Latin American food every day, I would be very happy. I just love it! I haven’t always felt this way, but the Midnight Gardener and I have lived in Mexico, Costa Rica and South Florida, and I just fell in love with nearly all foods from these regions. The food served there is so fresh, robust and earthy.

The combination of lime, cilantro, and a little kosher salt is amazing, and surprisingly, when you add radish and a few other ingredients to these flavors, the result is an added kick of delight to the overall taste. Try sliced, raw radish as a garnish for the savory pork and hominy soup called Pozole, to homey Black Bean Soup, or the stew of beef, bacon and and beans known as Carne En Su Jugo. Even more simple, sliced or julienned radishes make a fantastic topping for any taco.


The radish is a true Latin Food enhancer. Please give it a try! Take it a step further by making this great recipe for a Radish-Cilantro Taco topping:


½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

6 radishes, trimmed, washed and diced

4 green onions, chopped

1 small avocado, diced

1 teaspoon fresh jalapeño, seeds removed, if desired, and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 half of a lime, juiced.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Combine all ingredients and mix. Add lime juice, kosher salt and pepper to taste. Increase the amount of jalapeño if you would like to turn up the spice. Allow the flavors to combine for 30 minutes. Serve with any Latin Foods. Delicious with tacos!


The photo “Fish Tacos with Radish Salad and Salsa Verde” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Never Boil Another Egg Again!

Perfect Steamed Eggs

Yes I know eggs don’t grow in gardens but they do come from chickens, that live on farms, where gardens grow. Oh, well I just had to share this recipe because it is still close to Easter right and my enjoyment of hard boiled eggs increased immensely after I received this recipe.

One day I was outside weeding in my front garden beds when my neighbor Jim stopped by to give me the best hard boiled egg recipe ever.  When I read the title I was surprised because it said, “Best Steamed Eggs.” I was intrigued. I tried it and I haven’t boiled an egg since. Steamed eggs turn out tender, with no grey edges around the yoke every time. They are so easy to peel the shells just slide right off. Just follow this simple recipe.


10 eggs, salt & pepper to taste. (That’s it!)

Fill a steamer with around four cups of water and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling place ten eggs inside the steamer, cover with a lid. Next, set a timer for 14 minutes. When the timer finishes immediately pour the hot water out of the bottom of the steamer. Then fill the steamer with cold water enough to cover the eggs. Let the eggs chill in the water for 5 or so minutes. Finally, crack, peel, sprinkle with salt & pepper and eat. Perfect every time. If you want fancy steamed eggs use a sprinkle of crystal salt.

Adapted from a recipe given to me by my nearly 85 year old neighbor Jim. Thanks, Jim!

Italian Tortellini Soup

I am going to start this page by sharing an award winning soup recipe. Italian Tortellini Soup. Award winning you say? Yes that is right, award winning!  The office where I used to work holds an annual soup competition. Employees prepare entries and each office selects their favorite soup, and sends the winning employee to the regional soup cook-off. This recipe was my office’s winning soup and at the region competition it was declared the overall regional winner. Great recipe! My supervisor was so delighted when my recipe won that she and another co-worker plastered my wall with pictures of soup cans. It brightened the office for a couple of weeks.

Where did the recipe come from? We had a neighbor who had Italian family roots, and she shared this soup with my family. We loved it. That was about 10 years ago. I’m glad that I asked her for the recipe. She gave me a copy of her family’s cookbook, The LaFrance Family Cookbook. You’ll love all the healthy garden produce that is the highlight of this recipe.

(I have a little secret–over the years I adapted the recipe to simplify the preparation and to take advantage of the bounty of my summer garden all year long. I now make the recipe with my own homegrown tomato sauce, which makes it extra delicious. I’ll share the adaptation soon, it is not included in the recipe below. What follows is the inspirational recipe that was given to me.)

Italian Tortellini Soup


1 lb. Italian sausage (bulk or remove the casings)

1 cup onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 2 cans diced tomatoes)

5 cups beef stock or canned beef broth

1-8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 large zucchini, diced

2 large carrots, thickly sliced

1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced

½ cup of 100% grape juice

1 tbsp. dried oregano

1 tbsp. dried basil (or 3 tbsp. fresh)

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

8 – 10 oz. fresh cheese tortellini (results are also good with frozen tortellini)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Fry the Italian sausage in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl.

Remove all but one tablespoon of sausage drippings from the Dutch oven. Add the onion and the garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté until translucent. Return the sausage to the Dutch oven. Add the stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, grape juice and the herbs / spices. Simmer on low until vegetables are tender.

Add the tortellini to the soup and cook a few minutes until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with a sprinkle of with Parmesan cheese.