The Best Ham & Potato Soup

This is really the name of this recipe and I think it lives up to its name!  Since October is National Pork month it’s a great way to round out the month, and perfect for Halloween night.  It’s great for either putting in the Crock Pot or cooking on the stovetop.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

8 medium potatoes (I don’t even peel mine, just wash and dice)

2 carrots, finely shredded

2 stalks of celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

5 cups of water

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1-12 ounce can of evaporated milk

2 cups of cubed ham

Directions to cook on the stove.  Bring water to boil.  Add bouillon cubes, salt, and pepper to water.  To make this recipe quickly, I just wash all my vegetables then run them through my food processor to chop.  I don’t chop the potatoes as finely as the carrots, onion, and celery.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium; add potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and ham.  Cook until vegetables are soft.  Add evaporated milk and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions to cook in slow cooker.  Place vegetables and ham in slow cooker.  Add bouillon cubes, water, salt, and pepper.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  About 2 hours before serving, add milk.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chives, parsley, and cheese.  Yummy!

*Bonus – this soup freezes well!*

**I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs about 10 years ago.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  As much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.  Bottom-line, I am in favor of pig farmers making the decision of what type of housing works the best for their farm.


10 Tips for Quick Cooking

Never to be a gourmet chef, I consider myself more of a “home cook”.  There’s always something to eat, hopefully it’s tasty and filling!

I’m not sure cooking is a fast thing to do, but I have found ways that with a little planning I can speed up cooking for busy nights.  Whether you’re trying to manage a family meal during those precious few hours after work and before bedtime or a farm wife planning meals around harvest – I hope these tips might help you.

These are 10 of my tips for quick cooking, in no particular order, except maybe #10.

  1. Brown hamburger, let it cool, and freeze for a quick meal that requires ground meat such as spaghetti or tacos. I freeze it in quart size zip lock freezer bags.  Freeze the bags flat then they stack nicely in the freezer.
  2. I make a Bierock Bake which is a casserole version of bierocks, cabbage pockets, runzas, whatever your local name is for this yummy creation. When I make this casserole, I’ll make up a half dozen packages of the meat and vegetable mixture and freeze them in quart size freezer bags (I freeze the mixture similar to how I freeze the hamburger in Tip #1). IMG_5580 Then when I need a quick meal, I’ll defrost the meat mixture, add the top layers, and bake. Look under the “My Kitchen” tab for the Bierock Bake recipe.
  3. When making mashed potatoes, I make a double batch. We’ll eat regular mashed potatoes and gravy the first night.  Later in the week, I will heat up the leftover in the microwave until warm and the potatoes stir easily.  Then I’ll add cheese, chives, celery seed seasoning, salt & pepper, butter, anything that sounds good, and mix it into the plain mashed potatoes.  Pour the potato mixture into a dish and bake in the oven until hot and slightly toasted on top.
  4. Keep small loaves of quick breads in the freezer. My favorites are banana nut bread or pumpkin bread.  Both freeze beautifully.  We have a lot of people who stop by and it’s nice to have something quick to serve.  I have a defrosting pan that will defrost the loaf in minutes.  I also take quick bread to the field to serve the harvest crew as a snack or quick dessert.
  5. When I make cookies, I like to freeze half to have on hand for a quick dessert. I freeze them in an ice cream bucket.
  6. Rather than making a 9”x13” casserole, sometimes I will put the casserole in two 8”x8” dishes, and freeze one casserole. Because two 8”x8” casseroles are a little bigger than a 9”x13”, I do increase the fillings.  For example, if the 9”x13” casserole recipe calls for 1 pound of ground meat, I would use 1 ½ pounds, I would also increase any vegetables.  My favorite casseroles to do this with are taco lasagna and regular lasagna.
  7. Most of my soup recipes make a big batch. Rather than eating it for days and days, I will package a meal or two worth and freeze for a future meal.
  8. When I need to shred meat, I use my KitchenAid mixer. I can’t remember where I found this tip a few years ago, but it’s amazing how much quicker meat can be shredded using my KitchenAid mixer. IMG_5583
  9. An entire ham is too much for us to eat. With leftover ham, I slice as much as I can, and the slices go into freezer bags to make sandwiches in the future. Then with the odd bits and chunks left of ham that are left, I cube.  The ham cubes go in another freezer bag to be used in casseroles.
  10. Although I usually cook somewhat from scratch, prior to our busy seasons (spring planting and fall harvest), I’ll stock up on some convenience items to have in the freezer. Our favorites are shrimp scampi for my hubby, individual servings of steamable edamame, and just recently I found 1-1 ½ pound marinated pork tenderloins that are delicious and quick. IMG_5582

After reading back through this, I’m realizing that I have a complete dependence on my freezer.  There’s definitely a theme going on there.

I’d love to hear your tips too.  What do you do to speed up cooking in your home?



Easter Cookies

Several years ago this recipe was given to me to do with my oldest son in preparation of Easter. This is a great project to do with your kids the night before Easter to reinforce the events that led to the glory of Easter morning.

To be made the night before Easter.



Easter Cookies


1 c. whole pecans

1 t. vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 c. sugar

Additional Supplies:

Zipper baggie

Wooden spoon

Cold metal mixing bowl works best.  Put a metal mixing bowl in the refrigerator an hour before starting the recipe so the bowl is really cold.



Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  This is important – don’t wait until you are half done with the recipe.

Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces.  Explain that after Jesus was arrested He was beaten by the Roman soldiers.  Read John 19:1-3.

Let each child smell the vinegar.  Put 1 t. vinegar into cold mixing bowl.  Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink.  Read John 19:28-30.

 Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life.  Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.  Read John 10:10-11.

 Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand.  Let them taste it and sprinkle the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.

 So far the ingredients are not very appetizing.

Add 1 c. sugar.  Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us.  He wants us to know this and how to belong to Him.  Read Psalms 34:8 and John 3:16.

 Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed.  Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.  Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.


 Fold in broken nuts.  Drop by teaspoons onto was paper covered cookie sheet.  Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  Read Matthew 27:57-60.


 Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF!

Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door.  Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read Matthew 27:65-66.


 GO TO BED!  Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight.  Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.  Read John 16:20 and 22.

 On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie.

Notice the cracked surface and take a bite.  The cookies are hollow!  On the first Easter Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty!  Read Matthew 28:1-9.

 **This was the first time I had made this recipe with my 5 year old. It would have worked better to read the passages from the Bible if there was another adult – one to work on the recipe with him and another to look up and read the passages.  For his age, it really worked a little better to just tell him the meaning as we went along.  However, this is a project that could be done with children for several years to reinforce the events leading up to the first Easter.  Older children could take turns reading and looking up the scripture readings themselves.**

Leftover Mashed Potato Redo

Looking for something to do with your Thanksgiving leftovers?  Here’s a great option to redo the mashed potatoes.  Honestly, I don’t make mashed potatoes very often because during my first 18 years, I ate enough boiled potatoes to last my entire lifetime.  But when I do make mashed potatoes for my family, I generally cook twice as many potatoes as we’ll eat so I can make these a few days later as a quick side dish.

Here’s what you need:

Leftover Mashed Potatoes



Seasoning – we like celery seed, onion powder, salt, and pepper

**You can add a lot of other things to these potatoes such as bacon, chives, onion rather than the seasoning.

I warm the leftover mashed potatoes in the microwave until the potatoes are slightly warm.  Once the potatoes are warmed, I can easily fold in the butter, cheese, and seasoning.  Then I will transfer the warmed potato mixture into a greased baking dish, and bake the potatoes at 350 degrees until hot, usually about 20 minutes.

Recipe – New Twist on Spaghetti Pie

Don’t get me wrong, I like traditional spaghetti pie.  But, it’s always seemed a little heavy to me.  My sister shared with me that she loves to make spaghetti squash and serve it with spaghetti sauce over it.  Last year when our squash was ready in our garden, a little light bulb went off.  How about using the spaghetti squash in this old recipe?  My teenager looked at it with disgust, rolled his eyes, and said, “Are you kidding?”  Me:  “Just try it”.  When he took a second helping, I did not say a word.

New Twist on Spaghetti Pie

1 spaghetti squash

1 lb ground beef

1-24 ounce jar of spaghetti sauce

2 cups of mozzarella cheese

8 ounces sour cream

1 roll of refrigerated crescent rolls

Cut spaghetti squash in half & clean out the seeds.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half & clean out the seeds.  Cook each half individually in the microwave for about 8 minutes each.  The squash probably won’t be quite done, but that’s okay because it’s going to cook in the oven too.  Once the squash is done cooking, scoop out into a large bowl.  I just pull the squash from the flesh with a fork, and it breaks into “spaghetti” pieces, if it’s still hard inside zap it in the microwave a couple minutes longer.

Cooked spaghetti squash

Meanwhile, back at the ranch while the squash is cooking, brown the ground beef.  Combine the beef, spaghetti squash, and spaghetti sauce into one large bowl.  Pour this mixture into a  9”x13” baking dish.

Mix together the mozzarella cheese and sour cream.  Spread evenly over the squash and hamburger mixture.

Top with a layer of crescent rolls.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until light brown on top.

**Side Note – my teenager just took this for his lunch two days in a row – must be a hit with him!**


Pretty Deviled Eggs for Easter

Survey says!

So, I made the dyed deviled eggs for Easter dinner.  Of course, I couldn’t just do them one way, I had to try dyeing them several different ways.  They really were pretty, but a little time consuming so I’ll only do them for a special occasion in the future.

All the different types of dyed eggs on one platter.

Preparing the dye.  I just used 4 mugs.  In each one I put – 1 tsp. of vinegar, 1/2 cup of water, and 3 drops of food coloring (I did red ~ for pink, blue, green, and mixed red & blue to get purple – but the purple wasn’t that pretty).

First – I peeled the egg, and dyed the egg whole – so the outside of the egg white was colored and the inside was white.

Outside dyed, inside white

Second, I tried tie-dye eggs.  I rolled the egg shells across the counter, but then to get the dye to reach the white, I had to pull off the membrane from various areas across the eggs.  Honestly, I found it a little time consuming, and didn’t think they were as pretty as the other ways.

Tie Dyed eggs

Third, I cut the eggs in half and removed the yolks – then I dyed just the whites only.

Coloring the whites only

I think these last ones were my favorite!


I am going to try something new for Easter dinner and wanted to share the link with you so you could try it too.  I love making deviled eggs.  The twist is that you dye the egg whites.  The picture was so pretty, so I’ll let you know how they turn out for our Easter dinner.  Here’s the link to the article.  I think I’m going to try making some that are dyed solidly and some that look more tie-dyed by cracking the egg shell and dipping the eggs with some shell on the hard boiled eggs.  I’ll post my pictures when they are done!

Hot Chocolate Treat

Our church’s youth group is raising money to go to New Orleans next summer where they will do service projects to support the on-going clean up.  This will be our oldest son’s second trip to help with the clean-up.  As a fundraiser we’re doing a silent auction basket auction just before Christmas.  Our family donated a basket with the theme of “Keeping Warm” that included a quart of this hot chocolate mixture, our basket raised $32 towards the trip.

So I called my mom (isn’t it great to call your mom for all these wonderful recipes you haven’t thought of in ages?), and got her hot chocolate recipe.  She used to always have this on hand during the cold season.  After we’d work outside, it was a treat to come in and have a yummy hot chocolate to warm up in the afternoon.  I hadn’t had this hot chocolate in years, and it’s even better than I remember.  With the Christmas holiday here, my boys and I are enjoying this tasty treat.

16 oz. powder creamer

16 oz. chocolate powder (like Nestle Quick)

16 oz. powdered sugar

1 box of dry milk to make 8 quarts of milk

4 T. powdered cocoa (like what you use in baking)

This recipe makes about 1 ½ gallons of dry ingredient.  Since it’s such a large volume, I used a couple of gallon size ice cream buckets and put half of each ingredient in each.  Mix well.  I use 4 T. of the hot chocolate mix per mug, but you can use more or less to your taste.

I haven’t tried it yet, but next time I’m going to use a little vanilla powder too.  I might even add a little instant coffee for a more Café Mocha type drink.  Yummy!