Harvest Creations: MamaCasz’s Slow-Roasted Zesty Salsa

Waiting for the tomatoes to ripen this summer was painful, but now that they are here, it was worth the wait.

Waiting for the tomatoes to ripen this summer was painful, but now that they are here, it was worth the wait.

The very first garden I had all on my own was a container garden I had while living in military housing. My kids loved eating salsa – they still do. So we had a few containers to grow tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, cilantro, and jalapenos.  In fact, when people email me, or stop me at the farmer’s market and talk to me about wanting to start a garden, I tell them to have something in mind they can make fresh, as well as preserve, like my aforementioned salsa garden, or a spaghetti sauce garden, etc.

This year was a year of waiting for the tomatoes to turn. It was weird since the heat was good and lots of sunshine. But it just took forever for them to ripen. Next year I’ll move where the tomatoes are and see if that helps. But once they came in, there was a ton of salsa to can.

Prepping the tomatoes is the hardest part. However, I’ve discovered that if you slow roast the tomatoes, you don’t need to worry about the fuss of blanching, cooling, and that messy water bath boiling. The recipe calls for about six pounds of tomatoes. I like to have a variety. Alright, truth is the garden determines what kind of tomatoes you have – Earliana, Roma, Goldenboy, Indigo Rose…the list of tomato varieties is long (look for a blog post later on how to decide what you should plant next year). But, the taste of the salsa is always a bit of surprise because of the combination of tomatoes. That does not mean you can’t have one kind of tomato in your batch.

Much like tomatoes, what kind of peppers go in the salsa is decided by the garden, too. My latest batch had a combination of Poblano, Ancho, and green Bell peppers. You just need to make sure that you have about two pounds. Many folks like to peel the skins off of the peppers. I have found that I pick my peppers kind of quickly and the skins don’t get too tough. However, you may peel after roasting very easily, if you so desire. Again, I don’t bother with this. Those who get my salsa haven’t complained.

Many folks seed the hot pepper portion of their salsa – not liking how the seed either make it too hot, or gum up how the salsa looks in your mason jar. We’re all about the seeds in our family. They make it extra spicy and we love spicy around here.

Roasting tomatoes is easier way to peel them.

Roasting tomatoes is easier way to peel them.


6 pounds of tomatoes, washed and cored

2 pounds of sweet peppers, stemmed

1 ½ pounds of onions, peeled, quartered

1 pound of hot peppers, stemmed

1 Cup fine chopped fresh cilantro

6 cloves garlic

3 tsp salt

½ cup lime juice

¾ cup Apple Cider Vinegar

Cooking spray or oil for roasting pan


Two shallow roasting pans

Food Processor or Blender

Big non-reactive pot

Water Canner

7 pint jars with lids and rings


Measuring pounds of produce can be hard. So, for your ease, you should have 10 cups of tomatoes, 5 cups of onions, 5 cups of sweet peppers, and 2 1/2 cups of hot peppers, for this batch. Do note this image is from a non-roasted recipe, but demonstrates how much ingredients you should have.


Heat the oven to 450° degrees. You’ll need to low roasting pans (cookie sheets with edges works well, too). Spray the pan with cooking spray or lightly grease with your favorite oil. Wash your tomatoes and remove any blemishes and the core.  Do note that if part of your tomato harvest is tomatillos, they don’t need to be peeled or cored; just take the dry husk off of them. Put all the tomatoes on one roasting pan.

Roasting tomatoes is easier way to peel them.

Roasting tomatoes is easier way to peel them.

Put the sweet and hot peppers, garlic cloves, and onion on another prepared roasting pan. Roast until all the vegetables have browned and the juices from their slow roasting flow in the pan. I have found this is about 20 to 30 minutes, although, sometimes the peppers take a bit longer. Don’t be afraid to have them get brown. I sometimes turn the veggies half way between, but this is not necessary and sometimes can be messy. Your choice. While the veggies roast, prep your jars and water canner. When the vegetables are done roasting, remove from oven and let the cool a bit. If you choose to peel your tomatoes and peppers, do so now after they are able to be handled safely.

After pulsing gently, part of my sheet of roasted peppers, onions, and garlic looks like.

After pulsing gently, part of my sheet of roasted peppers, onions, and garlic looks like.

Then pulse to desired consistency in blender or food processor. We like our salsa a bit chunkier, so I don’t blend it too much. Just a dozen pulses or so. Put the pulsed veggies into a big pot (non-reactive). Add the cilantro, salt, lime juice and ACV. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Scoop the salsa into the hot jars until you’ve filled them with just a 1/4 inch of headspace. Fit on the lids, hand-tightening the rings (don’t over tighten) and process in the water bath canner for 15 minutes. Remember the timer starts only after the water is fully boiling. When the time’s up, remove the jars and place them on a cooling rack or towel with at least one inch space between them so they can cool off.

Everything in the pot, it looks so good.

Everything in the pot, it looks so good.

I like to make sure that my salsa sits in the pantry for a month before eating. Sometimes, my measurements are off and I have excess from this recipe (as you get used to making it, you’ll experiment with combinations of tomatoes, peppers, onions and the like), and the family gets some right away. Any excess I put in a fridge storage container – but it never lasts long. Use this in recipes or for eating with chips. It’s so flavorful and colorful, you’ll want to make sure your pantry is stocked to the breaking point with this yummy item.

Slow-Roasted Zesty Salsa. Yummy!

Slow-Roasted Zesty Salsa. Yummy!

What’s your favorite salsa recipe? How do you use your salsa?

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Harvest Creations: Gardening To Do for October

Things are still growing, but they are slowing down mightily.

Things are still growing, but they are slowing down mightily.

A little more on time this month – but not much because the past two days have all about tomatoes. The tomato plants have done their time. I got four buckets of green tomatoes that have been wrapped in newspaper and stored in the larder. Of course, this is after three or four harvests of ripe tomatoes that went in our bellies or made into tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, bbq sauce, and salsa.

I'm apparently keeping Ball Mason in business this year.

I’m apparently keeping Ball Mason in business this year.

This weekend will be devoted to harvesting and processing sunflower seeds. This upcoming baseball season we won’t need to buy seeds at all. They will all be from our harvest. We’re very excited about that.

Farewell tomatoes; hello sunflowers and brussel sprouts.

Farewell tomatoes; hello sunflowers and brussel sprouts.


The month of September saw a renewed battle between farmer and pest. I lost an entire broccoli plant to cabbage worms, as I also lost one cabbage plant, too. This despite treating diligently with Bacillus thuringiensis (known at your garden center simply by Bt). They also took out two of my collard greens. But I have as many collard greens in my freezer as my family can handle. So I’ve been using the mature leaves of the remaining collard greens to feed my chickens or share with neighbors and friends.


Finishing the new flower bed will finally happen this weekend. As our neighbor sold their house, we’d like this bordering project done before the new people move in. Radishes, parsnips, and winter lettuces have been planted. Winter cabbage crop is being tended.


Propigating will also happen this weekend, as we had to aquire some coir for our proigation pots. Funny thing, they didn’t have it at the nurseries or garden center. We had to find it at the pet store in the lizard section.


Six entire shelves are filled with goodies I've preserved (canned) from my little microfarm.  Shelves hold 6-deep pints and 5-deep quarts.

Six entire shelves are filled with goodies I’ve preserved (canned) from my little microfarm. Shelves hold 6-deep pints and 5-deep quarts.

My October list looks much like my September one, but will include more “clearing” of done plants, for sure. So glad the weather forecast looks like it will cooperate for this weekend. Lots to do; lots to do.


October to do:


  • Continue to harvest, preserve harvest
  • Pest Control (as necessary)
  • Weed (this is important so that the spring we have less weeds)
  • Mulching with fallen leaves as available
  • Tend to new growth of winter plants (cover when temps drop too cold)
  • Continue pulling “done” plants and put compost down
  • Finish Propagating plants (strawberries, blueberries, honeysuckle, lavender, and cuttings from neighbor’s fruit trees)
  • Finish shade plant bed along south-side, north-facing fence
  • Firewood moved
  • Greenhouse plans
  • Plant successive spinach to overwinter, cover with mulch
  • Prune Roses, Blueberries
  • Plant spring-time bulbs in between lillies, irises, and peonies bed (new bed along driveway).
  • Plant garlic
  • Go through and find volunteer plants and move to appropriate spot (I have volunteer pansies, snapdragons, lupine, and other stuff I need to move to appropriate places).
  • Compost, compost, compost

What I’ve learned:

  1. Less collards, more broccoli
  2. No Russian Red Kale. I’m the only one in the family that enjoys it, the chickens aren’t too keen on it, neither are the ducks, and the neighbors don’t really want it either
  3. Better trellis system for peas and beans
  4. More artichokes; one less zucchini (three plants are plenty)
  5. One pumpkin vine was perfect
More artichokes, less zucchini

Artichoke flower as a reminder: More artichokes, less zucchini


How is your garden faring at the end of the high growing season? Have these little blog posts been helpful for you?

Not to be forgotten, the brace and the flock are still busy producing yummy eggs.

Not to be forgotten, the brace and the flock are still busy producing yummy eggs.

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Book Review: SHOTGUN GRAVY by Chuck Wendig



Like a blast of pellet in the face, SHOTGUN GRAVY explodes right from the get go and you want to follow around Atlanta Burns as if she’s the Bonnie to your Clyde. This book is a 4-star thriller on my virtual shelf.

This novella has been out for a long time (since 2011, to be exact), and I’ve read it twice now – my first foray into the ebook world. So, I blame that for making me take so dang long (my slow reading pace aside), as my reading time normally involves a hard-copy book. I’m not a luddite, I just prefer it the old-fashioned way. Regardless, once I did read SHOTGUN GRAVY, I sped through it; turning pages faster than Ms. Burns shotgun of justice.

There’s something darkly satisfying in this story – your inner dorky teen exalts the protagonist for doing the things you sometimes wish you could have done when you were a teen. If you’ve somehow forgotten your teen years, read this so you understand that it’s hard to tell a teenager “It Gets Better” when they are in the midst of a bad bully culture. If you’re the parent of a teen, reading this may well help you understand well why your kid is so frustrated with the hierarchy of high school culture and the ignorant parents that allow it to endure.

Don’t be scared that SHOTGUN GRAVY is all doom and gloom, though. Wendig has a great way with words (if you don’t follow his blog TerribleMinds this might be news to you), so there’s humor and a true-to-reality glimmer of hope. I would say that teachers of teens, parents of teens, as well as every teen and adult around should read this book.

Without giving it away, the ending leaves you not only wanting more, but knowing that blasting back at bullies is just as hard as taking it. You decide if Atlanta and her cohorts pick the right path. Regardless, this is a YA as YA books should be – dealing with real issues and not sugar-coating it or downplaying just how bad it can be to be an outcast in the realm of teenage-hood.

As I said, the ending leaves you wanting more. Not to leave you dissatisfied, Wendig followed up with Bait Dog, a full-length novel for the return of Atlanta Burns. I’m warming up my Nook now. He made reading on the e-reader enjoyable, so I’m betting Wendig’s Burns in Bait Dog will do it again. You would be wise to do the same.


Reviewer’s Note:  I don’t write a review unless I’ve read the book at least twice. I may give some stars to a once-read book, but an in-depth review means I’ve read it at least twice.

I use the system of 1 to 5 stars. Here’s how that plays out in my scale:

Five Stars: this is a work that will grace my bibliophile shelves, for which I will likely read other books by the author, and for which I’ll read again, and will likely become part of my “comfort reads.” These are books that have wrecked, changed, inspired, or otherwise rewarded me doubly for spending time with them.

Four Stars:  means I’ll likely read it again, as well as recommend it to others.

Three Stars: is a book I’d recommend people read.

Two Stars: means that I found pleasure in reading it to the end, but I likely wouldn’t recommend it to someone else – and I likely list what that reason is.

One Star: are typically books I can’t finish. But, they get one star because every reader is an individual. What I can’t finish, you may love. Also, the author put the story out there and that is brave and incredible and I give them props for that. Typically I will denote why I believe I can’t finish the story.

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Harvest Creations: Roasted Tomato Sauce (that uses more than just tomatoes)


Tomato season at Thrasher Studios Micro Farm.

Tomato season at Thrasher Studios Micro Farm.

Funny enough, I had a special request for this recipe yesterday, when I was already planning on making it. So, it’s done now and I actually remembered to take photos, as I’ve made a couple of batches of tomato sauce already this harvest season.

Big giant baking trays are best for this step.

Big giant baking trays are best for this step.

Do know that although there is nothing HARD about this recipe, it does take time – I picked the tomatoes in the morning after breakfast and pulled them out of the canner at 4 p.m. So, yeah, it takes some time. But it’s so yummy, it’s worth it. You also know where your tomato sauce comes from, it’s lower in sodium, and all-around healthier.

Feel free to add mushrooms, celery, eggplant, whatever strikes your fancy. Or nothing but tomatoes, onions, and basil is fine, too.

Feel free to add mushrooms, celery, eggplant, whatever strikes your fancy. Or nothing but tomatoes, onions, and basil is fine, too.


Post roating tomatoes. Makes peeling a breeze.

Post roating tomatoes. Makes peeling a breeze.

The great thing about this particular recipe is that the other vegetables add a creamy texture in it that you can’t always find in homemade sauces. Also, if you have someone you have to cook for that finds that vegetables are not in their meat-only diet, this is a great way to pack in the veggies and hide it over sausage-stuffed ravioli.


The veggies post-roast.

You can either used this fresh, freeze it, or can it. You may add chilies for spiciness, if you like. The batch I made today did not include any chilies as I’m saving them for hot sauce and salsa.

It doesn’t matter what size your zucchini is. Unless you have a monster one – than, I suppose you can use that. I used green bell peppers in my recipe, because that’s what my garden gave me this morning. But you can use any color. You’re welcome to add mushrooms and celery, too. Just be sure to include it with the other vegetables in the roasting process.

I love that I always have fresh herbs on hand in my garden. As you see in the photos, I used them in my sauce. Don’t worry if you have to use dried. It’s still yummy. But the flavors really POP if you have fresh.

Fresh basil, oregano, and parsley can't be beat.

Fresh basil, oregano, and parsley can’t be beat.



At least 25 pounds of tomatoes

2 garden fresh zucchini

1 bunch of garden carrots

3 sweet bell peppers

3 onions

6 cloves garlic

4 ½ teaspoons kosher or pickling salt

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh basil (or 2 tablespoon dried)

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoon dried)

1 bunch (about a cup) fresh oregano (or 2 tablespoon dried)

2 teaspoons ground pepper

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons bottled lemon juice

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Just pulse the roasted other veggie tray to add to the hot pot of de-skinned and chunked tomatoes.

Just pulse the roasted other veggie tray to add to the hot pot of de-skinned and chunked tomatoes.

First tomato step:

Before you prepare tomatoes, heat your oven up to 450º F. Wash tomatoes and remove cores and blemishes. Place onto a lined or cooking-spray-prepared oven tray/sheet. Bake in oven until skins split and you can smell that roasted tomato goodness (about 20 minutes; just keep an eye on it).

Prepare other veggies: While the tomatoes roast, wash the other vegetables. Cut off stems, root ends, chunk onions, and generally slice the vegetables for roasting (see photo for examples). Your goal is that the roasted vegetables will fit through your food processor after they’ve roasted. Oil another baking sheet and put your vegetables, as well as the garlic cloves on the oven tray and stick in oven with tomatoes. Roast until smoky and soft – about 15 to 20 minutes depending on size of your veggies.

Second tomato step: By the time you put the tray of vegetables in the oven, the tomatoes should be done. Pull out and cool until warm and safe to handle. Remove skins (they come off so easily after roasting — I think easier than blanching/icing) and place into a large sauce pan (if you have extra large tomatoes, you may need to dice roughly). Don’t forget the juices that leaked out onto the baking sheet. Put that in the pot, too. Bring peeled tomatoes and juices to a boil, then reduce heat, stir and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Second vegetable step:  By the time your sauce is simmering, but before done – the vegetables need to be removed from the oven and cooled slightly. Then pulse-chop in your food processor until a chunky paste (see photo). Add to the tomatoes in the pot. Cook another 10 minutes.

The waiting is hard:  Now you need to remove the sauce pot from the stove and cool long enough to be able to puree the tomatoes and vegetables into a sauce consistency. I cool for a few minutes and then put the contents of the pot into a large mixing bowl, so it cools quickly and then I can put the puree batches back into the pot. I use my blender for this step because it purees nice and is bigger than my dinky food processor. Just be careful if you’re using a blender that the sauce is COOL enough for it. Heat and a closed blender lid can cause a bit of a tomato explosion if you’re not careful. Even given that I know mine is cool enough, I still hold my hand on the lid to make sure the warmth doesn’t push the lid off when it’s blending.

3 cups of bunches herbs, processed into one cup of chopped fresh herbs.

3 cups of bunches herbs, processed into one cup of chopped fresh herbs.

Cook that sauce: Now with your tomatoes and veggies all blended smooth, put it back in the pot and place on the stove. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Once it simmers, add the rest of the ingredients:  salt, herbs, pepper, sugar, lemon juice, and vinegar. Stir thoroughly. Now you want to cook that sauce until it reduces at least an inch in the pot. Be sure to stir now and then.


Roasted Tomato Sauce

Preserve: At this point you can either use the sauce or freeze it in serving portions. If you’re canning, while the sauce simmers, prepare your jars and lids. You can either pressure can or use a water-bath canner. For this sauce I prefer a water-bath canner, as I don’t like the color and consistency that I get with pressure canning this recipe. The water bath canner takes longer, but the results are secure and doesn’t mess with the consistency or color of the sauce. Pints take 35 minutes; quarts take 40 minutes of processing in a water bath canner. Take the jars out and let sit for 12 hours before moving. Test the lids to make sure they “popped.” I like to wait a month before using, as the flavors just meld that much more in the Mason jar.

Enjoy:  This sauce is great for pasta, lasagna, pizza, really anything you would use tomato sauce in. It takes all day, but you’ll never want store-bought sauce again.

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Harvest Creations: MamaCasz’s 2-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce

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September Garden

Despite our warm temperature this summer, for some reason it seems to me like the tomatoes took their sweet time becoming ripe. But now they are doing so gang-busters. This is a recipe that I’ve modified from the canning cookbook “You Can Can” put out by Better Homes & Garden. I’ve adjusted it to fit what my family loves, mostly more spice and a richer taste. When I posted on Instagram my completed BBQ sauce canned jars, I got several requests for the recipe. Be informed that part of making this is the sauce sitting and cooling and soaking in all the flavors before you complete it and can it. Hence, the two-day. I can’t guarantee it will be as yummy if you try to rush this. This is always a recipe I do over a weekend, therefore. But obviously, if you have a Tuesday and Wednesday free to work on this, by all means.

Ripen tomatoes, ripen!

Ripen tomatoes, ripen!

A couple of other notes on this recipe:

I grow all these things on my land. I suggest you purchase organic at your local market or head off to the farmer’s markets. The farmers are at the end of their season now and are willing to wheel and deal! The important thing is that the tomatoes are fresh. I literally pick the bucket of tomatoes and then get to work on this recipe.

This recipe is great when you have to pick the tomatoes before their sandwich-ripe because cold weather is coming or rains might split them…

In regards to the chilies, don’t worry about coring and seeding. This recipe is about the chile bite at the end. The tang of the tomatoes and onions balances out the fire. So, just chop up the chilies, seeds and all; also, feel free to add more if you like it extra spicy. I have to serve seniors and kids when I cook often, and my hubby and I’s preference for extra spicy doesn’t go over. I normally make a small batch for my husband and I, as well as for gift giving, that is extra spicy.

We put these on ribs the same day I canned it, so you don’t have to wait to use the sauce; but, a month’s time of curing does wonders for it’s complexity.

MamaCasz's Two-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce

MamaCasz’s Two-Day Spicy BBQ Sauce


12 to 14 pounds of firm tomatoes

3 red onions chopped (should have about 3 cups)

2.5 cups of chopped celery (about one bunch or 7 to 8 stalks)

2.5 cups of chopped green, yellow, and red peppers

6 hot chile peppers

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cup of balsamic vinegar

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

1.5 cups of packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 teaspoons Hungarian Paprika

4 teaspoons of sea salt

4 teaspoons dry mustard

3 tablespoons of fresh herbs chopped fine from your garden (I put in parsley, chive, and thyme)

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Dash of cayenne powder



1. Wash tomatoes. Remove stem ends and cores. Cut tomatoes into quarters.

2. Place tomato quarters in 12-quart stew pot. Cook coverd, over low to medium heat about 30 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. (Note the original recipe said 15 minutes on this part. My tomatoes were never soft by that point, but by 30 minutes they are…so just watch in case your tomatoes cook faster).

3. Add onions, celery, sweet peppers, chile peppers, and garlic. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for about an hour. (Again, the original recipe calls for 30 minutes on this part. I found that wasn’t enough for the vegetables to cook through and be ready for the food processor/blender. Besides, you want the flavors to blend and meld. Just don’t let it cook at too high a temperature and have your pot burn.)

4. At this point I let the pot cool for a bit (normally while I’m cleaning up the rest of my kitchen from the mess I just made and taking the veggie scraps to my chickens), then stick it in the fridge overnight.

5. The next day let the mixture warm up a bit before working with it. I pull it out of the fridge and set it in the kitchen while I make breakfast and do my morning chores. Then get a really large bowl and dump the tomato/veggie mixture into it. Do not wash your pot. Put the veggie mixture either through a food processor or blender to puree. I have a really small food processor, so I have to do this in batches. Return each batch of the tomato/vegetable puree to your big 12-quart pot. (The original recipe says to discard the seeds and skins. I have found that is not necessary as the processor and blender just rock those babies up and later help to thicken the sauce. So just throw it all in there and puree away.) Now take a kitchen ruler and measure and note the depth of your mixture.

6.  Heat the pot of pureed tomatoes/veggies to boiling, reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the mixture is reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Depth of mixture should be half of the original measure.

7. Stir in vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, mustard, fresh herbs, and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over low to medium heat about an hour or until desired thickness, stirring frequently.

8. While it cooks and thickens, prep your pint jars and lids.

9. Ladle hot sauce into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process filled jars in boiling water canner for 25 minutes (start timing when water returns to boil). Remove jars from canner; cool.

This sauce is great on ribs, chicken, heck, anything you can BBQ. Enjoy! If you use the recipe, be sure to come back and let me know how you enjoyed it.

Harvest Time is Canning Time

Harvest Time is Canning Time




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