Our oldest had a birthday, and for his birthday dinner he wanted grilled cheese. We eat far too much grilled cheese anyway (because the kids will actually eat it without crying about how gross dinner is), but you can’t say no to a birthday dinner request. I wanted something slightly more exotic, so I ran out to the garden to grab a tomato. Then I saw the basil, which reminded me that I had mozzarella in my fridge and balsamic vinegar in my cupboard. Rejoice! As I was making my beautiful sandwich, my darling husband looked on. Very skeptically. He watched me take the first bite, and when I liked it, he took my sandwich to taste it. (That’s how it works at our house.) After one bite, he wanted his own. And I’ve been making them almost nonstop since. This is so simple, but the flavor will just about knock your socks off! Everyone that has tried this sandwich has asked for seconds. Every. Single. One. It’s that good!!
Grilled Caprese Sandwich
makes 2 sandwiches
4 slices bread (I made bread because, hey, this was for a birthday dinner!) Otherwise use italian, french, or sourdough bread.
4 slices mozzarella cheese
1-2 tomatoes, sliced
10 basil leaves
garlic salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
balsamic vinegar to taste
Using half of the ingredients for each sandwich, lay out the 4 slices of bread. Place the mozzarella and tomatoes on two of the slices of bread. Sprinkle garlic salt and pepper over the tomatoes, and top with basil leaves. Lightly drizzle balsamic vinegar on the other two slices of bread, and place vinegar-side down over the basil. Brush melted butter on top of each sandwich, and place butter-side down on a hot griddle. Brush remaining unbuttered side with butter. Cook each side 2-3 minutes, or until golden and gooey.
Serve your unbelievably delicious sandwich with this incredible roasted red pepper and tomato basil soup. Everyone who eats it will have undying admiration and love for you.
Tomato and Basil. Such a perfect combination of colors and flavors!
Grilled cheese is serious business at our house. It’s one of the few meals that every member of our family will eat (without crying and complaining about how gross dinner is and asking what the kids get to eat and then crying harder when I tell them they don’t get a different dinner). Anyway. The adults in our house also love tomato soup. We’re dippers and sippers. We usually have our soup in a mug. We dip our sandwiches, and when they’re gone we finish off the soup like a drink. It’s total comfort food…I grew up on it. Well, with the wagon full of tomatoes we picked the other day, I’ve been trying to get creative to use them. I plan on freezing as many as I can, but I also want to eat as many I can while I can. Because there isn’t much that compares to a fresh tomato, ripe off the vine. Now that some of the days are getting a little chilly, it’s officially soup season at our house! (I love soup season. A lot.) Enter: Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Basil Soup!
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Basil Soup
3 roasted red peppers, rough chopped (click HERE to see how to roast your own. don’t be scared, it’s easy.)
5 large tomatoes, skins removed, rough chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp paprika
garlic salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
generous pinch cayenne pepper
generous dash of your favorite hot sauce
10 leaves of fresh basil, torn into thirds
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
Saute onion and garlic over medium heat in a stock pot until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and peppers. Cook until the juices are slightly reduced. Add the thyme, paprika, garlic salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, hot sauce and basil. Using an immersion blender, or blending in batches (mine actually fit in one batch), process until smooth (or leave it a little chunky if you like. I don’t. Not for tomato soup.) Add back to the stock pot if necessary and add the veg or chicken broth. Melt the butter in a small bowl and stir in the flour. Add to the soup and thoroughly combine. Let simmer for about 25 minutes. Makes about 8 servings.
Serve with a grilled caprese sandwich (aka the best grilled sandwich known to man).
*To remove tomato skins, lightly score an X into the bottom of the tomato. Gently drop into boiling water, remove after 30-60 seconds. Place directly into an ice bath until tomato is cool. The skins will slide right off.
*I have to say it. This is the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, including canned, boxed, restaurant, semi-homemade, etc. This is also the best caprese sandwich I’ve ever had, including the one I had at a restaurant that’s been highlighted on at least one food show I like to watch. Waaaaay better. So much better. I wish I could make this for everyone I meet. It’s so fabulous. I’ve made it for a number of family members and friends, and the look on their faces after that first bite…it says, “I knew you said this was going to be a good sandwich, but it’s way better than I thought it would be. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Start making another one now. Right now. MOVE!”
I used to think I didn’t like cantaloupe very much. And I guess I didn’t really. My problem was that I was eating bland, dry, flavorless cantaloupe that I bought on sale somewhere.
This doesn’t taste anything like that stuff. This is like a little slice of heaven. Fresh from my garden, picked ripe off the vine. Heavy, fragrant, so very juicy, and still warm from sitting in the sun in my happy little weed-filled corner of the world. This is what makes me love to garden. And what makes me love to eat!
I like my cantaloupe ripe and ready to eat when I pick them, so I wait until the blossom end (the end not attached to the vine) is slightly soft–just a little bit of give when you press it. Just don’t wait too long, or you might miss your chance! I may be speaking from sad experience. Please don’t repeat my mistakes.
Red peppers are one of the best reasons to grow a garden. They’re flavorful, delicious, great for snacking and cooking, and they’re so versatile. You can put them in sandwiches, salads, burgers, or on eggs or pizza, or even use them in hummus. I love roasted red peppers! I bought a jar once at Costco, but after they stopped carrying them, I decided I would learn how to make my own. It’s so EASY! There are several methods, but this is the way I like to do it, because I think it’s the easiest!
You need a foiled-lined rimmed cookie sheet, an oil sprayer or non-stick spray (this is optional), and your beautiful peppers.
Preheat your broiler. Mine has a high and low setting, I use high. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stem, membrane and seeds.
Give the foil a light spray of oil or non-stick spray and place them cut-side down. Then give the peppers a light spray of oil. I use my handy dandy oil sprayer because it’s cheaper than buying can after can of non-stick spray, and then it doesn’t have all the additives.
You don’t have to use oil, but I’ve done it both ways and the skins seem to peel off more easily if I give them a light spray. Try it both ways. If you don’t need the oil, then save some calories and don’t use it!
Look how pretty they are…just waiting to be charred!
Put them in your oven and wait for them to turn black! I set my timer for 5 minutes, and then just watch them carefully after that. These are just starting to char.
They don’t always char evenly, so I usually have to pull them out and rearrange them. The peppers in the middle tend to take a little longer in my oven. You want them nice and charred…these went back in the oven for some more black!
(You can also do this with whole peppers, and you can do them on the grill or over a gas burner, but this is the easiest way for me. And I always like to follow the path of least resisitance.)
Once they come out of the oven, put them directly into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or into a ziploc or brown paper bag. They need to finish steaming so you can easily peel them. Let them sit for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes the skin should easily peel off and you should be left with beautiful, delicious roasted peppers!
Then do something fun with them, like roasted red pepper hummus!
These easy watering jugs for kids are perfect when you need something to do with the kids (and secretly want them to help water the plants without them knowing they’re helping with chores, because sometimes you just have to get through the day without anyone crying). I promise they were all excited about this, despite the legos, sleepy face, and snack that were all happening simultaneously.
All you need is one empty, clean milk jug per kid, a nail, a hammer, and small stack of newspaper.
Using the nail and hammer, make about 15 holes in the lid of your milk jug.
Then just fill your jug, screw the lid on, and the kids will be so excited to water every green thing they see!
I need to refresh my pots a little. We’ve been focusing on
quality beauty survival this summer.
Summer is quickly fading…hopefully you’re enjoying yours as much as we’ve enjoyed ours!
We have little kids. And even though we camped a lot when I was a kid, the thought of taking four kids ages 7 and under out into the wilderness just doesn’t appeal to me yet. I think it will soon, but probably not until we’re out of the baby stage. Because camping with a baby just sounds hard.
But I’ve heard of a bunch of different DIY ideas for campfire starters. And since I love the idea of camping, I decided to try the ideas to see which one is the best. Because I’m not opposed to campfires…and we can do that in the backyard! Then the kids can all have a bath and go to bed. Which sounds perfect.
I tried four different starters. I had everything on hand except for wax, so the only additional purchase I made was about $3 at the craft store for some paraffin wax. I used 1/3 of the wax, so the additional cost for these was just under $1. Not bad for 27 campfire starters!
The first one I made was just dryer lint stuffed inside toilet paper tubes. Dryer lint and cardboard are both flammable…and then you’re reusing what would otherwise be trash. Great idea.
The second one was cotton rounds dipped in wax. Super light weight and small, perfect for camping. Especially backpacking.
The third one was dryer lint stuffed in the cups of a cardboard egg carton, then covered with wax. Again reusing something that would be garbage.
The fourth idea was dryer lint (are you seeing a theme here?) in paper muffin liners, covered with wax.
Making them was super easy, and quick too! I went and bought my wax at the craft store. It was $4.29, but with my 40% off coupon it was just under $3. Love a good deal!
It came with three bars of wax, so each was just under $1.
I cut one of the bars into three pieces and then put it in a double boiler (I got a clean, empty can of beans out of my recycle can, and put that in a pot of simmering water).
When the wax was melted, I started by dipping my cotton rounds. I tossed them in the can, and when they had soaked up some wax (about 3 seconds), I took them out with my long tweezers and let them dry on a piece of tin foil. I’m sure waxed or parchment paper is great, but I keep my tin foil next to my stove, so that’s what I used.
After I dipped 10 cotton rounds, I used the rest of the wax to pour over my egg carton and muffin liner lint cups.
I didn’t know how much to pour on, so I just used enough to cover most of the dryer lint. Until I ran out. The last one didn’t get very much wax.
The only thing left to do at this point was test them! I wasn’t planning on any campfires, so I grabbed my tinfoil from dipping the cotton rounds, and I tested my fire starters on the grill!
The only prep needed for any of the starters is to rip a cup off the egg carton, and tear the cotton round about half way down the middle. You just need some of the cotton fibers exposed so you have something to light.
It was windy when I tested these, but I figured that was more of a real life scenario for camping anyway. It was tricky to get the toilet paper tube and muffin paper starters to stay lit. No problems at all with the cotton round and egg carton cup.
Once they all caught, they lasted a lot longer than I was expecting. The toilet paper tube burned for 5 min 30 sec, the cotton round for 6 min 20 sec, the egg carton cup for 9 min 50 sec, and the muffin liner for more than 12 minutes.
So which one is BEST? It depends.
Toilet Paper Tube: No additional cost, but the fire doesn’t burn as hot or as long (notice the flame size & intensity compared to the others).
Cotton Round: Cheap and easy to make, and is the smallest to store out of all the starters.
Egg Carton: Burns hot and long, but if you take the whole carton, it’s the bulkiest to pack. However, if you just rip a couple off the carton to take camping, it’s convenient to store.
Muffin Liner: Biggest surface area, so it burns the longest out of the four. You can even stack them to pack with your camping gear, which is pretty convenient.
I think we’ll plan a campfire night this week with our kids so I can test these out somewhere a little more exciting than the grill! And since these are made from household items & garbage, I’d say it’s a pretty great thing!
My boys helped me dig some potatoes for our 4th of July family bbq. My job was to get the potatoes out of the ground, their job was to put the potatoes in the bag to carry into the house. It made me oddly happy that my 5 year old told me I was good at harvesting potatoes. It also made me happy that I found three different varieties, and they just happened to be red, white & blue…on the 4th of July!
I tried to be really careful with my little pitchfork thing when I was digging them out, but some of them still got roughed up. I figured it didn’t matter much since I was going to smash them anyway!
After I washed and boiled them, I arranged them into a patriotic potato flag on my baking sheet. Just because I could. On the 4th of July.
If you’re digging your own potatoes (and please do, I’ve never tasted anything like a new potato out of my garden! they’re buttery and creamy and tender and amazing. everyone should have potatoes in their garden!), be sure to wash them well. Don’t scrub so hard that their tender skin comes off, but be sure to get all the dirt off. Line your baking sheet with foil and drizzle with oil (or if you’re like me, use your handy little oil sprayer). Mine had canola oil in it, but olive oil will give it a richer taste.
Smash them with a potato masher. Be gentle.
Drizzle or spray with more oil, then sprinkle them with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, and fresh chives. I think rosemary would be fabulous, but I had chives in my garden, so that’s what went on.
Bake them until they’re crispy and beautiful, and you’ve got the perfect 4th of July side dish!
20 new potatoes
fresh ground pepper
chives, minced (or other fresh herb)
Wash potatoes and boil for 15-20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Spray or drizzle with oil. Arrange potatoes on baking sheet and gently smash them with a potato masher. Spray or drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chives. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and beautiful.
I’m one of those people that gets really excited for zucchini. I love it. I love it a lot. And it makes me really happy to eat it. I love it in bread, I love it roasted, I love it in cake & brownies, and I know I’ll love it in the recipes I’ve been pinning! (There are a lot.) Roasted zucchini is so fabulous, we’ve had it twice this week, and I can’t wait until I have more zucchini ready to pick!!
4 zucchinis (or as much as you need/have)
fresh cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking pan with foil, spray with non-stick cooking spray. Cut zucchini into thick slices, about 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness. Place on pan. Sprinkle liberally with seasoning salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle conservatively with cayenne pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Then try to get some before your husband eats it all!
He kept eating all the zucchini, it was hard to get any pictures!
Toilet paper tubes are great for a lot of things besides holding toilet paper! And I promise I’m not hoarding empty tp rolls. I’m just saving them for all the great projects I have in mind…like these super easy bird feeders!
This summer has been so busy with swimming, zoo trips, afternoons at the waterpark, hikes & friends, that I’ve been waiting for weeks to makes these with my kids. When we sat down to make our bird feeders, the doorbell rang. It was our neighbor friend, so we invited him in and he made a bird feeder too! The kids even acted like they thought it was kind of cool.
This is all you need for your easy bird feeders:
empty toilet paper rolls
creamy peanut butter
rimmed cookie sheet
your favorite kids