Sunday, December 16, 2012

Busy time on the farmlet

It is the goats that have been busy.....

Plum steals Charm's hay...and his heart.

Charm has been practicing his ballet, particularly.....en pointe.  Since he can't lure the gals over to the blocks.  Ahem.  If you know what I mean.  He is a bit on the short side.

But where there is a will, there is a way.  And  the gals are plenty willing.  Both Peach and Plum did not come back into heat as scheduled, which means they are likely pregnant.  Ginger did, and had another "date" with Charm, after he spent 3 weeks in classical ballet training.  Ginger is our tallest doe, so there were some logistical problems the first time.  I am thinking Charm had it all worked out on the second date.

Lily finally achieved the minimum age of eight months and was thrilled when we finally, finally, finally opened that gate for her.  She made weight (80 lbs, the minimum size for a young doe to enter the breeding pen) at only five months, so we didn't weigh her again.  She is considerably bigger than Charm, and they are only days apart in age.

Ginger's twins, Monique and Jayne, came for a visit for two days, much to Charm's (and Monique and Jayne's!) delight.

Blue Viola Farm.  All goat porn, all the time.  Draw the shades, dear neighbors, and keep the tender children inside, unless you want to have an interesting dinnertime conversation!

But next April and May.....all goat babies, all the time!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Spicy chai tea

Chai tea bags were always my favorite "herbal" tea, but they always had a funny perfume-y taste to me.  Since homemade everything is always better, I decided to see if I could make my own.  This is a recipe that changes with my moods, and you can adjust it to your own tastes, too.  Simply add more of the flavors you enjoy the most, and less...or none....of the flavors that you don't like at all.  But be open to small amounts of spices that might seem out of place, like black peppercorns, as they can add a nice little zing without really being identifiable.

Here is how I make it.....this week, anyways.  It may be different next week!

Today's batch had these items in it.

We like this tea so much that I make it in two gallon batches about every other week.  Today I used about 3 cups of fresh ginger, scrubbed but not peeled, and ground in the food processor until it was the texture of coarse sawdust.  Slicing as thinly as possible with a sharp knife works, too.

I added 4 pieces of cinnamon bark, each about 4 inches long, and one nutmeg, cracked with vise grips.  Also 4 whole cloves, 4 black peppercorns, 3-4 tablespoons of allspice berries.  With the lid on the pot, I brought the whole thing to a simmer and let it bubble lightly for 30 minutes.  Then I simply shut off the heat and let it sit, covered, on the stove, for about 24 hours.  This is when the flavors really develop.  Spices tend to be anti-microbial, so I don't worry about leaving it out, covered.  Remember, too, that it just simmered for a half hour so it is pretty dang sterile at this point.

Put the cover on while simmering to keep the flavors strong.

The next day, I carefully pour it into glass bottles with tight fitting lids, running it through a fine mesh tea strainer set on a funnel.  I squeeze the moisture out of the last bits of ginger before tossing the spent spices into the trash.  The bottles are then stored in the fridge.  If you are a very visual person and need to see how this is done, there is a detailed video tutorial here, and it will walk you through all the steps in real time.

To use it, I simply fill my chosen mug or canning jar about 1/4 of the way with this chai concentrate, add a few drops of stevia, and then fill the vessel the rest of the way with boiling water.  Then I taste it and adjust....more sweetener, more chai, or both.  Every batch of spices is different, so there is no standardizing this recipe.  That makes it even more interesting.

It also makes a wonderfully refreshing iced tea, and if you'd like, you can use it along with a black tea bag to intensify the flavor.

We drink kombucha flavored with chai and it is wonderful.  I put 1 part kombucha, 1 part chai, and 2 parts cold water into a glass, again with a few drops of stevia.  This chai concentrate is so antimicrobial that I only add it to my kombucha just as I'm about to drink it so that it doesn't throw off the balance of the good beasties in the 'booch.

Serve it warm with raw whole's how to do it....add some extra cream if you have it....for a quick snack on the sugar handling protocol, if you are using stevia.  If not, simply use less chai and you will get away without sweetening it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fresh milk starts with.....

.....boy meets girl!  Meet Charm, our new buckling.  He has a very important job starting in a couple of weeks.  He is the envy of boy goats everywhere for landing this great job.  I'll let you use your imagination as to exactly what his duties will be.

More cute than studly at just over 6 months old!

You may have noticed that his ears, one eye, and his left hind toes are green.  This is because, as a registered Oberhasli, he got his ears tatooed just before his arrival here.  He has a series of identifying numbers and letters permanently inked into his ears.  The green on his eye and toe are from being wiggly during the process.  It should wear off, hopefully before he starts his new job.  Green is one of my favorite colors, but I don't really want it all over my girls and all over my barn clothes!

Oberhaslis are a smallish breed of dairy goat, and Charm is young, so we have a ramp so that he the job done.  Even Lily, only a week or so older than Charm, looks to be about twice his weight and significantly taller.  I'm not too concerned....where there is a will, there is a way, and all the goats here have already indicated willingness!  So....

Cover your eyes.....

Monday, November 5, 2012

Orange alert

 Carefully slice the pumpkin in half from top to bottom with a sharp knife.

It is time to get those pumpkins into the freezer for winter cooking projects!  Although any pumpkin is usable as food, I far prefer the small "sugar" pumpkins for this purpose.  You can do the same with large squashes, such as hubbard.  I get the leftover pumpkins from a nearby farm for my pigs and goats on November 1 when the farmstand closes for two or three weeks to prepare for the next major holiday decorating season.  Although this year they will be selling the rest of the sugar pumpkins, I took the ones that were developing "spots" and wouldn't make it until they reopened the farm store.

Scrub the dirt off the outside of your pumpkin before cutting it in half.

Grease a pan generously with lard, tallow, duck or goose fat, bacon drippings, or butter.  Scoop out the seeds with your fingers, removing the biggest chunks of orange pulp, but don't wash them.  The little bits of pulp add a nice flavor.  Roast the seeds at 375 F, stirring every few minutes, until they start to brown.  Use plenty of your chosen fat, enough to coat the seeds.  This will help the salt to cling to them.  Enjoy while hot!

Use the edge of a spoon to scrape the "guts" out.

Roast at 325 F for about an hour and a half.  Use caution taking the pan out of the oven, as the pumpkins will have released some water and it will be very hot.

When it cools enough to handle, slice it into thin wedges, and peel the skin off with your paring knife.

Put the pared pumpkin into a bowl and store it in your fridge for processing later if you don't have time to do so right away.  I actually prefer to do this, as more water will be released from the slices and can be poured off, making a much thicker puree.

Puree the slices a few at a time in the food processor, or by hand with a food mill or as our great-great-great grandmothers would, press it through a sieve.  I love my food processor!

Bag it in amounts suitable for recipes.  I do 1.5 cups (pie sized) and 1 cup (soups and stews) bags.  I put the smaller bags into a gallon ziploc freezer bag.

I mostly use this puree in soups and stews.  A small amount of roasted pumpkin or squash puree will disappear into a chicken soup, for example, but will add such a wonderful flavor that even seasoned cooks that you might serve it to won't be able to guess its source.  It is also a great way to sneak one more vegetable into your families' meals, and for many, it is a free source of veggies.  

Most people who decorate their yards or doorsteps with pumpkins simply toss them in the trash later.  Let people know that you'd like their pumpkins....there is no shame in not wasting perfectly good food! 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vanilla extract

This is just one of many ways to make your own vanilla extract.  This is not the cheapest way, but it makes a strong extract, which is what I am going for....lots of flavor!

The only way to make this project worthwhile is to buy vanilla beans in bulk online, at least a pound at a time.  You can buy less, for sure, but you'll pay more per bean.  Maybe split an order with a few friends?  If stored properly, the beans will retain their flavor for a long time....well wrapped in several layers of sturdy plastic, placed in a glass jar, and hidden in the dark recesses of your spice cabinet.

I use a quarter pound per quart, or four ounces of beans.

Cut them into 1/2 - 1 inch pieces with a very sharp knife or scissors.

If you can still find it, use 95% alcohol, or 190 proof.  It is no longer legal here but the stores are allowed to sell out their stock, so we buy some whenever we can find it.  It makes the best extracts and tinctures.  You can use the highest proof vodka you can find, too, with great results.  Cheaper, too.

Toss the beans in a quart jar and cover them with the alcohol.  Use a jar with a very tight fitting lid so it doesn't evaporate.  The jar on the left is already extracting, in the time it took me to prepare the other jar!

Strained and ready to use.

After a month you can use it, but I leave it for 6 months or more, until I need it.  I like my vanilla like my man, strong and dark!  Then I use a tea strainer and a funnel to bottle it in dark swingtop bottles.  The two smaller, labelled bottles are for keeping in my spice cupboard.  I've been using those two bottles for about two decades now.  I originally bought vanilla in them, and then just started refilling them with my home made version.  The extract above has a date of 2009 on the tag.  I still have a quart of that vanilla.  This isn't a project I have to think about very often!

I use the same method to make other extracts, a favorite being peppermint extract for use in my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip. Recipe here.  With other extracts, you need to pack the jar with the leaves very tightly, weight them down with a rock, and strain it in a month.  You can also make orange extract with orange zest from organic oranges this way.

Not too many projects are this simple....if you make it as gifts, your friends will be VERY impressed.  Be sure not to tell them how easy it was!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another chard your veggies!

I'm often asked how I get everything done.  Those who know me well know that I take a lot on, my to-do list is never ending.  I'm also asked how we eat so well on a budget.  Here is one small example, with principles that apply every single day.  This is an update of the chard stem experiment that I did a few weeks ago.

1.  Plan in advance (time efficiency.)  We both work, and on some days, we both work at the same time and at the same place.  On this particular day, we were both teaching classes.  Before we left for work, I took a few minutes to get a little water boiling in two pots, and I dumped a frozen pound of chard stems in one pot and a frozen pound of chard leaves in another.  I let them simmer just until hot, then turned the heat off and let it sit, covered, on the stove until we got home hours later.  I'm sure I spent less than five minutes on this, as I did other things in the kitchen to get ready for work.

Was I worried about food safety?  No. These two pots had just boiled, and the lid was left on.  I started with clean, organic produce that:

2.  I grew myself in my garden (money saving.)  That is the best way to get cheap organic produce, but not everyone has the land to do so.  Don't give up on the idea, though.  When I was a kid, my folks owned a small house in a tightly packed suburban neighborhood north of Boston, and there was not enough sunlight for enough hours to effectively grow even a tiny garden in that teensy yard.  So they teamed up with an older gentleman a town over and we spent a few hours once a week at his house, working alongside him in his huge garden that was now a bit much for him.  My two siblings and I were rather young during these years, and we were not with a sitter or in daycare.  We were in that garden, or playing nearby on the grass.

I strongly recommend this.  You will learn how to grow stuff much more successfully with the help of an older, experienced local gardener.  I discovered this when we lived in an apartment and had a small garden....and an older Sicilian neighbor named Santa Malta.  She was so tactful in offering suggestions.... she'd often start with, "I was reading an article in the paper on...."  There was no article in the paper.  She was just trying to help me avoid gardening disasters but in a way that was oh, so gentle.  I miss her.

Back to the casserole....while the chard was simmering, I put a hunk of raw corned beef brined myself, recipe here, from our side of beef....saved hundreds of grocery dollars!) in a crock pot and turned it on high and left it for several hours while we taught our classes.  I also put a casserole dish on the counter, ready and waiting to be filled.   Here is what I did when I got home, in just a few minutes:

I wrung out the chard leaves with my hands and patted them into the bottom of the dish.

I set the stems to drain over their pot.

I trimmed the excess fat from half the corned beef, shredded it, and stored the other half for another meal.

I topped the chard with some "failed" goat gouda from the freezer, and then the meat.  There is no such thing as a failed cheese....this one was simply left in the brine too long and was overly salty.  I saved it to use to salt and flavor soups and casseroles.

 I topped the meat with a layer of good, sharp provolone, half of an 8 oz block.

Next, the chard stems.

The rest of the shredded provolone.

Baked for about a half hour at 375 F, or until lightly browned.

While it was baking, I got my animals fed and the goats milked, and came in to a delicious supper.  Next time, I may caramelize some onions and add a layer, but it was rather delicious this way.  You can layer anything you think will taste good, and use any type of cheese that you like.  The possible combinations are endless....and cheese makes any vegetable taste divine!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Beef shanks.....a worthwhile cheaper cut

Looking for a way to have grass-finished beef on a budget?  Ask around for beef shanks.  They are often cheaper than other cuts but oh, so worthwhile.  I think they should be much more expensive (shhh, don't tell any farmer that I said that!) because you get meaty soup bones, marrow bones, and plenty of meat for several meals, all in one package.

Simply place the shanks in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast in a hot oven (400 F maybe?) until nicely browned, about a half hour or so.

Place them in a large stock bot and cover with filtered water (or well water if not on city water) and a glug of raw, organic apple cider vinegar.

I simmered them for a full day (24 hours) and then shut off the heat.  The shanks were carefully fished out and put onto plates to cool, and the broth was strained into another pot.

After carefully removing all the meat to a bowl and refrigerating it, I poked the marrow out of the bones and added it to the broth.  This will make the broth cloudy but marrow is very nutritious and not to be wasted.  Some people like to eat it as is, or spread it on crusty bread, but I prefer it mixed back into the broth.  It is a texture thing for me.

Now I had enough meat and broth to make a large stew that served us both generously for 4 meals, plus some meat to use in a fifth meal along with more of the broth.  There is still a bit of broth left over for another use, even just for cooking veggies...but if you do, be sure to drink the broth afterwards, as it is rather nutrient dense and very, very good for you.

For more ideas on how to use beef shanks, look for recipes for Osso Bucco, Italian for bone with hole.  It is another simple, yet elegant dish, perfect for fall and winter.

Run right out and find yourself some beef shanks!  They are a great way to stretch your budget and still have the best food.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fall egg basket

New colors in our egg basket!  Some of our young pullets (female chickens that are not quite grown up yet) have started to lay eggs, and we are getting some new and lovey shades of brown.

The skinny white egg is Icelandic, and the giant tan egg is from an older mixed breed hen.

I love the different sizes and shapes.  So different from the cartons from the grocery store, with all twelve eggs lined up in rows, all exactly the same.  Isn't this more fun?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Liquid soap success

I've been wanting to make liquid soap for a long time now.  I finally ordered the stuff to make it and found a recipe that looked reasonable....and promised to be pretty fool-proof. 

This is my first batch.

Ain't it purty?

Unlike the goat's milk soap I make, liquid soap doesn't use lye, which is sodium hydroxide.  It uses potassium hydroxide.  The only way to buy this (either, really, for the most part.....I used to buy Red Devil lye for soapmaking in the grocery store, in with the drain openers) is online.  It is toxic and caustic, but completely neutralized in the soapmaking process.  Both of those chemicals are what turn fats and oils into soap.

I used this recipe from this wonderful blog.  I used the household cleaning soap and dish soap recipe.

In the article, she says to use distilled water, and every liquid soap recipe I could find said the same thing.  Why not use tap water, I wondered?  I just could not find the answer online, so I did a little experiment.  I diluted half of my soap paste with distilled water, and the second half with tap water.  We have pretty hard water.  This was the result, and later I stumbled across a note by the above mentioned blogger that said the soap would be clear with distilled water, and cloudy with hard water.  Yup.

Look at all that soap!

I figure cloudy soap cleans as well as pretty soap, so my plan is to make clear soap for containers that are clear or for gifting, and just use tap water for our everyday soap.  This first batch was on the thin side, and I chose not to thicken it.  I am now on a search for foaming pump dispensers to use with this.....I think those will be PERFECT.  And they conserve soap.  Meanwhile, I put a few drops of essential oils into some of it (notice the missing pint jar of clear soap in the photo) and it is in a regular pump dispenser by our kitchen sink.  I used lemongrass, tangerine, and a bit of lavender.  It smells heavenly.  

My next attempt will include my favorite soapmaking fats, tallow, lard (both pastured and pure) and extra virgin olive oil.  I'll be going for a less harsh soap for washing hands and for the shower.  Later.....shampoo?  Commercial versions of all these soaps are so full of toxic ingredients, very easily absorbed through our skin.  Soapmaking is surprisingly easy and very satisfying.  Let the experimenting begin!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A needed day off... get some stuff done! 

Since I normally teach on the weekend, my "weekend" is Tuesday and part of Wednesday.  This is when I get a lot of the week's food preparation done.  Today, while shuffling through the freezer to get a big roast out to thaw for cooking tomorrow, I found a couple of rooster legs from the last batch of roosters that we raised for the freezer, and some broth.  Rooster soup it is.  But this will not be my usual rooster soup, because the garden is in full swing.

Right from the garden.

And for those who haven't gardened yet and only saw dirt in the above photo, here is what they look like after five seconds with a spray of water.

The soup will contain all products we produced gives me a thrill when I can do this.  Chicken, onions, garlic, and in the above photos, carrots, celery, rutabaga, chard, chard stems, and green beans.  For seasoning, we have rosemary and red pepper (I'll leave the black pepper out this time just so I can enjoy the idea that we totally produced this) and finally, sea salt that we made from sea water.

Meanwhile, I've been busy blanching and freezing lots of chard and green beans.  Many batches of herbs have gone through the dehydrator, in fact, it is running right now:  rosemary, basil, wormwood, and sage so far.

There is a four gallon batch of feta going, and some ground pork thawing to be flavored with our herbs and used in a meal later in the week with some tomatoes and basil and maybe a quick soup. 

Two black bean chocolate cakes are cooling on the counter, one for us and one to give away.

Last week's batch of feta needs to be removed from the brine and wrapped and frozen for winter use.  I'll grate some for use as a flavoring during meals.  It is wonderful with eggs in the morning.

There is a batch of peppermint extract busy extracting  with what will likely be the last of the mint for this year.

If there is time, I may go get another batch of chard from the garden and get it into the freezer.  Probably not!  I just remembered I have some local peaches that need to be dealt with.  They will make a great topping for the cake with some chevre, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harvest season

Harvest season is in full swing here, with greens and tomatoes, beans and herbs, onions and potatoes.

Just some of our heirloom tomatoes.

Again, our onions are not much bigger than the ones we planted.

We need lots of sage for our sausage in December.

Basil really shrinks down once dried.  Need lots.  For all those tomatoes.

The Swiss chard was outrageous this year, with some leaves more than 3.5 feet long.

The chard stems are huge, to be chopped for stews and casseroles.

Blanched before freezing to destroy enzymes that will break down the vegetables, even in the freezer.  To blanch, put a pound of veggies per gallon of boiling water for the time recommended on a list from a cookbook or online.  I did 3 minutes for the chard stems and leaves.  Then the same amount of time in a cold water bath to chill and stop the cooking process.

Drain well.....

Mark the bags, bag the veggies in portions you will use, and transport to the big freezer.

Go back outside and pick more!

If you don't have a garden, you may find big boxes of veggies and fruit at your local farmstand or farmer's market, boxed up especially for freezing and canning.  This is a great way to learn.  Then go out into your yard and find a very sunny spot for a few tomato plants, and maybe a cucumber and some green beans, and plan on preparing the ground this fall.  Then you'll be ready for buying started plants at your local garden center in the spring.  Even in some apartments you can have a couple of plants....if you have a sunny balcony or porch, there are varieties that are well suited to grow and produce in large pots.  There is nothing like fresh produce, grown and picked yourself, eaten fresh right off the vine!
The hubster and I had a small garden at the apartment house where we lived for the first several years of our marriage.  Some plants were in the ground in a small plot that the landlord allowed us to cultivate, and a few plants were in pots.  This is where I first learned to make these wonderful containers.

When I was a kid, my folks gardened a town away at an older gentleman's place.  His garden was too big for him as he got older, and they helped him while growing their own stuff.  The house we lived in had a tiny yard and too much shade to grown vegetables, and this was a great solution.  Be creative!  It is SO worth it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is your digestion working?

How would you know?  It seems just fine, right?  I'm eating and pooping and all that digestive stuff, so it must be IS ok, isn't it?

Why should we be concerned that our digestive system is not just adequate, but is performing like a brand new Ferrari?  Because our bodies and our brains need a LOT of nutrients to not only survive, but to thrive.  If we are watching what we eat and making efforts to take in good, nutrient-dense foods, it is all going into the toilet if we can't break it down into a form that our body can use.  If that is the case, even "good" food can be very harmful to our health at the same time that it is nourishing us.

Our stomach is a very special organ.  It is designed to contain acid (hydrochloric acid, or HCl....that is a capital H and C and a lower case L) that is so strong it can burn through aluminum foil in seconds.  Imagine what that does to food!  No other area of our body can handle that acidity, or even half that.

It is estimated that up to 90% of the population of the US is hypochlorhydric, or has a stomach pH that is not sufficient to properly digest their food.  So chances are pretty good that you fall into this category.  I do.  In my work as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, everyone I evaluate has low HCl to some degree, and correcting this is one of the first steps to getting proper nutrition for vibrant health.

So, how do you know if you need more acidity in your stomach?  Here are some common symptoms (although some of these can have other causes, they are very commonly symptoms of incorrect acidity in the stomach):

Belching, gas, diarrhea, or bloating within an hour of eating, or a sense of fullness (not satisfied, but a bit uncomfortable) after eating.

Heartburn, gastric reflux, or GERD....or on meds for any of these, prescription or over-the-counter.

Smells.....bad breath or strong sweat.

No desire for eating meat.

Don't feel like eating breakfast.

Feel better if you don't eat at all, or excessive sleepiness after meals.

Can't take vitamins because they make your stomach hurt.  Or you take them anyways and bear it.

There are some pooping symptoms, but I'll spare you.  You get the idea.  Most people will identify with one or more of the above symptoms on occasion.....or most of the time.

If you don't have enough acid to break down your food, it starts to poison you to some degree.  Carbohydrates will ferment (and expand), fats will become rancid, and proteins will putrify....rot.  Imagine a piece of meat sitting in water on a sidewalk for 24-72 hours at 99 degrees Fahrenheit.  That could be happening inside your very warm body.  But not if there is enough acid to break it down within a very short time after eating it.

Since digestion is a north to south process.....brain, mouth, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, poo....low HCl leads to damage to everything south of the stomach, too.  It is very, very critical to identify and correct this problem.

Intrigued?  This will be the topic of one segment of my 12 week series, Foundations of Vibrant Health, beginning in 3 weeks via teleconference.  The course will take place on Tuesday nights at 9 PM Eastern Standard Time (check a time zone map to see when the class will be for you) and each segment will be about an hour.  There will be lecture time and time for your questions.

The format is simple.  There will be a telephone number and access code to call into the class via conference call.  I will mute out all the students during the lecture portion, then I can change the mode so that individuals can unmute to ask questions.  Or students can email their questions to me and I'll read and answer them.  This will allow you to ask questions anonymously.

If you must miss a class or work during the time that the class is live, it will be recorded each week and there will be a different number to call in and listen to the recording.  The recording will be available until the next class.  You can still ask questions via email, and they will be answered during the next class.

You can certainly listen to the classes on speaker phone if you want your other half or family or a friend to listen in with you.  Only the person who registered can ask questions, and you must be off speaker phone to unmute and talk to me, otherwise the sound gets all funky for everyone else on the call.  You can get around this by emailing your questions.  I encourage you to pay for one person and then fill the room!

You can register for the class here.  Don't forget the coupon code!  It is "digestion" and will get you an additional fifty bucks off the already steeply discounted price.  More info on the class coming soon, but I promise it will be packed with useful stuff that will help you and your family on the path to wellness.  Including how my husband lost so much weight so quickly and some startling changes to my health and energy levels.

Me in teacher mode.

Hope to "see" you in class!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tomato basil casserole

This time of year the tomatoes are plentiful and beautifully ripened right on the vine.  Basil is lush and green.  Garlic is drying in braids and boxes.  It is cool enough on occasion to turn the oven on and still survive in the kitchen.

Spin freshly sliced tomatoes and washed basil leaves in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture and seeds.

Put a layer of tomatoes and than scatter some cooked meat, if making this as a one dish meal.  We used ground bison.  Then layer lots of basil leaves.  The hubster was helping, so we kinda did both steps at once.

Saute some garlic in the grease from the meat.  Sprinkle it on the casserole.

I love cheese!  I used a generous amount of my strongly-flavored grating feta, nice and sharp and salty.  I don't use salt when using this, so I just used a generous sprinkle of black pepper.  You can use cheese in this layer or not.  It will still work out just fine.

Add another thick layer of tomato slices.

Top it with cheese. Mozzarella here.  Shredded would be fine.  It will all melt down either way.

We dove in before remembering to take a picture!  Note the juiciness.  Imagine how much liquid there would be if I hadn't removed a couple of cups with the salad spinner.  The dogs LOVED this broth.


Bake this at 375 F for about half an hour or until the cheese is starting to brown.  You can sneak some greens into this as well....very thinly sliced baby zucchini are nice, as are cooked greens such as chard, collards, or spinach.  Layer the greens in the middle, between the layers of tomatoes.  Truly a one dish meal, or leave out the meat and use it as a vegetable side dish.  Be forewarned, though, everyone will want seconds!