Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A lovely pasta garden salad...

Hanging her head in shame after re-reading her own last blog on this site....
I lied. I made a commitment to post here, and now it's been over 2 months ago. No more promises, okay? I'll do the best I can and just get myself back into a routine as best I can.

'Nuff said.

It's the end of July and there are lots of odds and ends coming out of the garden. Today, I'm making a pasta salad with some good junk in it from out yonder. I took my little pail out and pulled a lot of weeds and picked some very young [tender] green beans, some cherry tomatoes, some small onions, some okra, and some bell peppers. I have some farfalle pasta (little bow ties), which always makes a beautiful pasta salad, in my opinion. And they're good bite sized pieces.

And...this would be the produce inspector?????? He lives to serve! So, for this pasta salad, (which, BTW, can be eaten either cold or warm) I start with a good sized pan of boiling water, into which I have put a twist or so of sea salt and a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil. Once it starts to boil, add the pasta. I cook the farfalle about 11 minutes, as I like it al dente for salads. Drain, mix in about a tbsp of real butter or olive oil and stir well but gently to coat the pasta. Then you can set it aside to let it cool down.

I took the veggies from the garden and washed them, then cut them into small bite sized pieces. You can use any combination of vegetables you happen to have on hand. These were just picked, and are absolutely sweet and delicious.

Next I sprayed my trusty cast iron skillet with canola oil spray, then put in about a tbsp of butter and sauteed the veggies until they were crisp-tender. I ground a little sea salt and peppercorns into the mix. I also added some minced garlic, because that's just how I cook, lol. The okra got a little gooey, but not really bad at all. It's pretty young pods, and I know that makes a goo-factor difference. I couldn't possibly live without my cast iron skillet. And that's the truth.

About this time, I mixed in some chopped fresh basil and oregano out of my porch herb pot, mixed in some shredded parmesan and a little more cracked black pepper. I just finished eating a lovely bowl of it. Totally satisfying and I am full.

Total preparation time on this is about 25 minutes. Minimal clean-up too, which is always a plus.

It's a wonderful vegetarian dish, it's nutritious, and it's easy. And best of all...I'm not hungry any more.

Bon Apetit!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pies and Cobblers, pies and cobblers...

I got an email from a friend of mine, asking what's the difference between pies and cobblers? I said I had baked a peach cobbler and was getting ready to bake a blackberry cobbler, to take to a potluck. I realized that I have a very sloppy habit of calling my giant fruit pies that are baked in a 9x13 pan Cobblers....but the truth of the matter is this: IF it has a bottom pastry crust and topping or not, it is a PIE. Doesn't matter how big it is. It's still a pie. A cobbler, by its very nature, has a soft dough topping that is mixed and put on top of the hot filling and then baked some more. Almost like a dropped biscuit topping, only sweeter. They are very good, and are a quick and painless way to throw together a last minute dessert when you don't want a mess to clean up. lol Also-you can freeze poies, but not cobblers. Hope I have cleared this up a bit.

The first picture is a shot of my huge pastry board that I found at a yard sale for 2 dollars. It magnificent, even if only because it really helps to contain the mess of rolling out pastry. I often make pastry from scratch, but sometimes use the little boxes of Jiffy pastry mix if I can find it. It is very good, and saves measuring and cutting shortening into the flour and all that. You just mix 5 Tbsp. of ICE water (my tried and true trick for perfect pastry every time!). I put ice cubes and water in a coffee cup, and measure it from there. Flour, salt, shortening and ice water. Presto!--pastry.
After rolling it out, I fold it in half and transfer it to the oblong 9x13 baking dish. (BTW--you don't have to make it megalopolis sized...I do because I 1) go to a lot of big potlucks, and 2) because I made the mistake last year of freezing all my fruits in gallon bags.) Oy vey....

You can make cobblers and pies out of any fruit or fruit combinations you like. Old farm wives have historically mixed combos of whatever bits and pieces of fruits they had laying around at the tail end of harvests, like blackberry and pear, or strawberry and rhubarb, or apple and peach. I like mine baked with a singleness of purpose, for the most part. lol The frozen blackberries and the peaches both have a higher water content and so I am always erring on the side of caution when I mix the flour into the fruit. It's never been too thick. It HAS been too runny, almost like a fruit soup with a crust. lol I add sugar or not, and with peaches I add the tiniest bit of vanilla and ginger. Apple--cinnamon and nutmerg and cloves. Blackberry--no spices, just a bit of sugar, always depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sometimes I dot the tops with butter before putting on the top crust. But sometimes I don't.
[Rereading this, I realize I am no one to teach anything about cooking. You should just come here and eat. I love to cook, because in my kitchenworld, there are no rules, and basically I am an anarchist.]

I like this crust, it looks pretty and you can make it however you want, with whatever cookie cutter you want. Roll another 2 crust pie batch of dough out, but don't roll it so thin. Then I cut the shapes out (my faves are stars. I also like angels, and xmas trees). Lay them close together on top of your pie, and then brush them with milk and sprinkle with sugar before you toss that baby in the oven at about 425 degrees.

Voila!!! It's a crowd pleaser. And you feel llike a kitchen magician, because everyone thinks making pie is such a big deal, these days, and they ooh and ahh over you.

I promise, if anyone's still reading here (I don't think I would, after all this time!!) that I am going to get back to writing here. Starting RIGHT NOW !!!!!! This stuff really is my passion...

Bon apetit!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009

[Early spring gardens-click to enlarge]

Today I have spring fever. I have been in the midst of this for a time...the temperatures around these parts have been strangley un-February like. lol Today is the mid-fifties. It has been high sixties. It is stunningly gorgeous out there.

I have a rose of sharon clump that is in dire need of trimming and needs to be done soon., before the poor confused branches start to bud out. This is a problem this time of year...the global warming sets things in motion, the (peach trees blossom early , for instance, and then there is a typical freeze that kills all the flowers and then there are no peaches.) You can see the problem. I just finished reading that the Arbor Day Foundation (you know them, right? The free tree planting people??) has reconfigured the hardiness zones based on the last 10 years of changing weather. I am sooo pleased to report that we have been upgraded from a Zone 5 to a Zone 6 !!! All that really means is that we can plant a little earlier and maybe not have to buy only plants normally for Siberian temps. lol

Mostly gardening is a trial and error thing anyway. You plant something. It grows, or it doesn't. Or it produces or it takes so long the frost kills it before the food is ripe. We have a pretty long growing season here in the southern midwest. Gardens start going in in April late and we harvest sometimes until Novemeber, and always into October. So, that's long enough (if you have the energy) to put in a couple of staggered plantings of beans and greens and some other things. That's almost half a year of growing time. And with things being the way they are these days, I am glad for all the time to grow all the things I can. I have 2 small freezers, one an upright and one a medium sized chest. Both are pretty full and I am in the process of inventorying and organizing them both, as well as my dry pantries. I have 2 large walk-in closets, one in this room that I use for the office and one in the guest bedroom. Both have shelving I have put in and are lined with jars of garden foods I have canned, as well as dry goods like beans and flours and rice and stuff. Jars of olives and artichoke hearts that I find on sale. Catsup. Bouillion. You know...indispensables. lol I want to buy a dehydrator this year too...I used to have a small tabletop one and when I didn't use it for several years in a row, I sold it at a yard sale. That and my (OUCH) Champion Juicer. It must have been a moment of insanity...
Well, better get back to my initial endeavors. I love to garden and plan to expand the herb garden this year as well. I have dried parsley, oregano and sage in the closet now that needs to come out an be packaged. So much to do....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 4, 2009

Here in the midwest, we are careening back and forth between bone rattling cold and mild heat waves. It makes my head spin.

Today was still in the BRC category, never making it above 20 degrees, and feeling even colder because of the wind. It's 12 right now...

So, for supper I decided to make one of my all time favorite comfort foods, and one of hubby's favorites too. Chicken Pot Pie. (And NO--none of my chickens were harmed in the making of this food. lol) It's an easy dish to prepare, it's pretty healthy and very filling. And I make a big batch of it every time so that there are leftovers for hubby's lunch and maybe one more meal.

I forgot to take any pictures of it. BooHoo. It was a beauty to behold.

So--here's my recipe for Chicken Pot Pie.

To make this dish, you'll need:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon of Olive Oil

Garlic granules and black pepper and salt to taste.

1/2 chopped onion

2 ribs chopped celery

3 cubed carrots

3 cubed potatoes (I like red best, but tonight I used russets, because that's what I had ).

1 can of sweet early peas (OR--you can use green beans)

1 TBSP dried basil

~~Corn starch to thicken

~~ 2 boxes ready made piecrusts (the ones that are rolled up, they come 2 in a box, and for the 9x13 baking pan I use here, it takes 2 boxes). OR--you can make the piecrust yourself, if you're a real purist. Enough for 2-2crust pies.

Cut the raw chicken breasts into 1/2 inch cubes. Put it into a large skillet with the olive oil and season with the garlic, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until the chicken is pretty done. While it's cooking, chop the onion, celery, carrot and potato. Add it to the cooking chicken pieces. Put a lid on this skillet and cook these things until the vegetables are tender. Put about a half cup of water in so it doesn't burn, and stir occasionally. Add the basil. This mixture will need to cook for about 20 minutes.

While it's cooking, unroll the piecrusts and fit them into the 9x13 baking pan. Arrange them so they are covering the bottom and you can have them up the sides of the pan. At this point, put the can of undrained peas or green beans into the bubbling skillet. The mix the cornstarch with some water and pour that into the skillet, stirring well. Sometimes I use a little Kitchen Bouquet in it to give it a rich color. If you don't know KB--it's a caramel based food additive mainly for gravies and soups. It just makes it look pretty. And be warned--a little goes a long way, so use it cautiously. lol

As soon as it starts to thicken, mix it well and turn off the stove. You are now ready to pour this concoction into the pie crust. Put the other 2 piecrusts on top and pinch the edges to make a nice pie. Cut some slits in a starburst pattern on top.

Bake this bad boy at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes. Serve it up hot with a salad if you're so inclined.

It's tasty,

it reheats well,

AND---you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Bon Apetit!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday January 30, 2009

Tomorrow early, I have a potluck and speaker meeting to attend. I volunteered to bring bacon and some kind of bread, so I thought muffins woulod be a good and easy carry along. I spent a little time cooking bacon in the oven, which is absolutely the best and easiest way to cook large amounts of it. I cooked 3 pounds. Of course, I was the most popular girl in the house, with those smells wafting through the air! lol I use large cookie sheets lined with foil. Easy clean up is the best part, when you're a lazy cook like I am.

I made 2 different kinds of muffins. One is a banana crunch muffin with a streusel topping on it. It's a pretty basic muffin. I like them because they are moist and don't dry out as quickly as other muffins do when you don't eat them all the day they're made. :) There's only the 2 of us, so I like to make muffins like this. I always have overripe bananas in my freezer. When they start getting too ripe, I peel 'em and throw 'em in a ziplock freezer bag. Voila!

The second muffin is called Millie's Orange Blossom muffin. It's a recipe I use often because I like orange muffins. This is one of those recipes on a browned card in my recipe box, that someone gave me when I was a new bride. It's a little more labor intensive, just because you have to squeeze an orange. lol Actually, you could use regular orange juice, but I never have that on hand.

The picture above is Millie's orange blossom muffin. It's a lovely golden brown with orange flecks in it. It does have nuts--pecans--in it. If you don't eat nuts, you could easily leave that out.

So....for Orange Blossom Muffins, you'll need:

2 cups Bisquick or any baking mix 6 TBSP sugar~divided

1 egg 4 1/2 tsp. all purpose flour

1/2 cup orange juice 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup orange marmalade 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons canola oil 1 TBSP cold butter

1/4-1/2 cup chopped pecans


In a small bowl, combine 2 TBSP of the sugar, the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut in butter until it's crumbly Set aside for topping.

Place the biscuit mix in a bowl. Combine the egg, orange juice. marmalade, oil and remaining 4 TBSP sugar. Mix well. Stir this into the biscuit mix just until moistened. One of the tricks to making tender muffins is to NOT over beat the ingredients. So, just stir until it's mixed. There will be lumps. Fold in the pecans with as few strokes as possible.

Coat the muffin cups with nonstick spray, or use paper liners. Fill 2/3 full with batter. Sprinkle with the crumb mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm.

Bon Apetit !

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009

[Again...Lucy the wonder dog, barking at the snow falling off the trees]


Today was one of those great winter days when the snow is still all white and sparkly and gorgeous. The traffic on our country road was almost nonexistent. It was only about 20, but the icy white reflecting the sun made it feel warmer. I took the little babydawg out on the leash several times and she frolicked and ran and dove into the snowbanks...it's getting almost impossible to keep her still. Lucy is our m,iddle dog, she's a lab mix, and she loves the cold. The little Jack Russell Terrorist--not so much.

It seemed like the perfect day for a hearty soup for supper. I knew I could throw the ingredients for a tasty herb bread on the bread machine, start the soup, and then do the rest of my housekeeping. So--here's what I did:

Lentil Soup

2 cups lentils

water to cover

1/2 tsp fresh ground salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

5-7 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half.

2 bay leaves

chicken broth (I freeze it by the pint and use it for soup stock)

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 onion, diced

Today I had some leftover bbq'd country ribs, so I cubed the meat and threw that in too. You could use ham or sausage or no meat at all.

I put this all in the crockpot and cooked it on high for about 5 hours. I did add a little more water at some point, but not much. I like my lentils thick and hearty, you might like yours more soupy.

Lentils are a great source of cholesterol lowering fiber, and they have a low glycemic index. They also have good to excellent amounts of 6 important minerals, 2 B-vitamins, amino acids and protein. As you can see, they're really little nutritional powerhouses.

There was a recipe for an Italian herb bread in the book that came with my bread machine, so I got that going as well. It was pretty basic, and spiced with oregano, basil, summer savory, grated paremsan cheese and minced garlic.

Then I saw some apples in the fruit bowl that looked like they were getting soft, so I washed and sliced them and made an impromptu apple crisp for dessert. Served it warm with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Mmmmmmm....Bon Apetit, baby!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27, 2009

Good morning, campers. I had every intention of posting this last night, but my old worn out body just ran out of gas. So here I am now, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to go.

This first picture is the key to making the best cornbread in the world. It is my trusty cast iron skillet that I have carried around with me for over 30 years. I use this one piece of cookware more than I use anything else, I think. I have a wok--I like this better. I have baking pans-I like this better. And for cornbread, the even heating and density of the cast iron makes it the ideal vehicle to carry you to heaven.

First I preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Then I use vegetable shortening and lavishly grease the skillet, sides and all. Then I put the greased skillet into the oven and set about making the cornbread batter. By the time I am finished mixing the bread, the skillet will be good and hot.

For my favorite cornbread, the ingredient list goes like this:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

5 TBSP sugar or 3 TBSP honey

1 cup yellow corn meal

6 TBSP melted butter

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Start by sifting the flour, soda, salt and baking powder together in a medium sized bowl. Stir in the sugar and the cornmeal. Melt the butter, beat the eggs and buttermilk together. Add the butter and beat some more. You can do this by hand, you don't need a mixer. Just use a fork. Stir this mixture into the dry mixture with a spoon, and use as few strokes as possible to mix it well.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven, and pour the bread mixture into it. It will sizzle and crackle nicely. One thing this does it seal the crust a little and insure a beautiful moist cornbread. Bake it at 425 for about 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Then butter and serve. Because it's a round skillet, I usually cut it into pie shaped squares. My hunky husband and I (with a tiny bit of help from 3 dogs) will eat the entire thing.

All day yesterday, I had a lovely batch of pinto beans simmering away in the crockpot. It was the perfect repast for a cold winter night...cornbread with beans scooped on top, chopped onion on top of the beans and cornbread on the side with butter.

It just doesn't get any better than that. A simple meal, good protein from the beans and the satisfaction of knowing that you can cook very basic foods with a great deal of love...and eat like kings.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009

[My grandson, picking apples]

I am a recycler. I am a green green green person. I don't see this as being defective, the way lots of the people I know see me. They think I'm crazy.

Back in the '70's, when I was a wee thing, I was a subscriber to a new magazine called the Mother Earth News. It was published in the little town of Hendersonville, North Carolina. I didn't know that, at the time. In fact, I didn't know it until I actually moved to North Carolina much later, in the 1990's.. In the little town of Flat Rock,(which BTW you may know as Carl Sandburg's home called Connemarra, where they raise blue ribbon goats) . I had a PO Box there because I liked the name. I was always driving by this store front building that said "BackHome" Magazine on the side in big letters. One day, intrigued, I stopped and went inside. It was a small reception area in front and I just said "Hey." (I learned to talk southern while I lived there). The girl said "Hey". A guy came out from the back, and after exchanging more pleasantries, we started talking and he showed me their magazine and told me that the owners (he and another guy) were the original MEN staff...and that it was published right here, before it got sold to the highest bidder and moved to New York. I had no idea.

While I lived in NC, I went to several Alternative Energy Fairs and procured a few copies of BackHome magazine. It's a beautiful little thing. Lots of interesting articles and info on everything you never wanted to know. I subscribe to another homesteading magazine called Countryside too...it's my all time favorite magazine and I can't wait for it's arrival. When it comes, I read it from cover to cover in 2 days or less. It is the single most useful piece of literature I have ever seen. I think I have all the copies I have ever gotten, and I'm not sure how long I've been a subscriber.

My point here is this: I'm not a Johnny-come -lately when it comes to all this stuff. It's in my genes. My grandmother was one of the original recyclers and I am just carrying on the tradition. In her time, and she would have been about a hundred and four now had she lived, people used everything up until it was gone. There was no tossing something out because you didn't want it anymore. You made quilts with old scraps, and used even older blankets for the batting . You cut down kids clothes to make them fit the next kid in line. You saved things like wrapping paper and paper bags and whatever else there was. You cooked a meal that could be made into another meal with what was left over. And you ate iot until it was all gone. You fixed things that were broken. You believed that everything and everyone had a purpose.

When did it happen that we became such a throwaway society? We buy cheaply made goods for lower prices and then throw them away when they break or don't suit our purpose anymore. We buy more than we need, spend more than we make, never have enough and can't understand why that hole in our soul never gets filled. I know women who have more than 20 pairs of shoes ! No one needs 20 pairs of shoes. I nearly had a stroke a few years ago when we were having Thanksgiving at my brother's son's house and just when we were finished eating, his wife started throwing all this leftover food in the garbage can. I said "My god--what are you doing????" She said, "we don't eat leftovers". It was more than my delicate constitution could take.

I have been trying to live more simply in my life and be more mindful of things. Some of it is pretty politically correct stuff, like buying Fair Trade coffee and using ecogroovy cloth shopping bags. But most of it is just daily life stuff, like composting and using reycled paper and green cleaning products. I do save wrapping paper. I do reuse plastic bags. I do grow my gardens organically and raise my own eggs. I do conserve water.

Mostly, I try to leave the earth a little better than I found it when possible, and always try to do no harm. I live in harmony generally and I like it that way. I bake bread and I grow flowers and I love my husband. I won't win any awards for my life, but I am happy.

And in the end, that's all I ever wanted anyway.


January 24, 2009

I have a confession to make.

I am absolutely addicted to do-it-yourself books. Doesn't matter of it's crafting books, first aid for chickens books, household cleaning products books...all of them. Any of them. Alternative "folk" medicine books. Teach yourself to knit books. Clutter free your home books. Live on a shoestring books. Watercolors 101 books. Native American beading books. Debt proof your life books. Rag rug making books. Cockatiels for dummies, books.

Oy vey.

Let me interject here that I am not doing any of these things (hardly) that I have bought books about.

My intentions are always good (and you know what they say about good intentions ...), but somehow, I never get past my adoration of the book itself, it seems. And as soon as I have finished reading it, I'm on to the next one.

I live on a tiny homestead out in the country. We have gardens, we have chickens, we have a stocked pond. We have fruit trees, we have berries, and we have nuts. I have plenty to do, taking care of all this. I plan, cultivate and care for my organic gardens. I can and freeze and dry all manner of vegetables and herbs. I feed and care for my chickens. I take care of all my pets. I manage a house of about 1700 sq ft and one darling, if sloppy husband. I mow the grass, I plant flowers, I do laundry and I vacuum like a madwoman (3 dogs, 6 cats and a bird). 'Nuff said.

And yet, I want to learn to do things, like crochet and make rag rugs and paint. I want to be productive, I guess. I never learned to sew or do any of those things that mothers used to teach their daughters. Now I wish I could. I could take a lesson or two, but that would probably ensure that I would never make a stitch of clothing in my life.

I'd love to learn to knit just so I could make those big thick rag wool socks that I pay 10 dollars a pair for. I met a woman once in an AA meeting somewhere...maybe Oregon...who would sit and knit socks all through the meeting. Beautiful, colorful wonderful big socks.

After I got hurt and the decision came down from on high that I would never work again, I started doing all kinds of artsy-fartsy stuff. Things that I had never had the time or opportunity to do before. Lettering handmade cards. Making and painting wooden refrigerator magnets. Making Christmas ornaments. Painting bottles and cups and cannisters with flowers. I always said and believed that I had no artistic talent in me at all. I know now that I just never had the time to even try. I was a restaraunt manager most of my life, and when that's your job, you work anywhere from 50-70 hours a week. I started taking lessons to learn to play my beautiful handmade dulcimer, made by a friend of mine, especially for me. Everything in my reality started to shift.

Today, I am living a life I never dreamed would be mine. I still work a lot, but at a different pace and level than I ever did before. I take time to do things I have always wanted to do. To try things I always wanted to try.

And it's all good.

You just never know what tomorrow may bring....enjoy the ride!

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009

[A Lovely cake made by someone else for our going away party from North Carolina]


Sheesh...the past few days have slipped by. A whirlwind of life, as always. Sometimes I am grateful when time moves so slowly, the way it did when I was a kid. It took forever back then to finish a week. Now the years fly by and it's getting more interesting all the time. There must be a time/spatial event that happens...perhaps the result of an energy shift or a hormonal balance-- that changes the way we view the passing of time. The older I get, the more I want things to slow down...and there was a time when it took all my energy to get things moving as quickly as possible. How things change as we traverse these rocky roads of life.

I thought I would give you the recipe for the cake I took to the meeting on Thursday. It's a Pina Colada cake...aptly named because it incorporates orange and pineapple and coconut. I'm going to give you the official recipe, lol, not exactly the one I wound up making. First off, I messed up and put 2 cans of mandarin oranges into it. Then I had to use about another 1/3 of a box of yellow cake mix to make up for the extra liquid. Then there was the frosting...which I had to improvise because I didn't have all the ingredients. Sigh...I'm not the world's most organized cook, I'm afraid. Of course, the bright side of that is that I appear adventurous when I make things up. lol

There was a time when I was such a food snob that I never ever used mixes or such, always baked everything from scratch. Now I'm just so lazy that I am much more open to convenience when it's reasonable. For instance, I would never use hamburger helper. But I do make cakes from mixes from time to time. Especially when I find one as luscious as this.

For the Pina Colada Cake, you'll need:

1 box yellow cake mix

1 small can mandarin oranges + juice

3 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Put these ingredients into a bowl and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes in a greased and floured pan.

Cool the cake thoroughly.

Frost it with this yummy topping:

1 LG can CRUSHED pineapple in it's own juice

1 tsp. vanilla

1 box instant vanilla pudding

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Whip these ingredients together until the pudding starts to thicken. Mix in (by hand) one tub of Cool Whip. Frost the cooled cake.

Sometimes I toast coconut and sprinkle on top as well, but that is entirely optional. (Can you tell I LOVE coconut???)

This cake is delightful and gets rave reviews every time.


I started making cakes like these because I bake a lot of cakes for anniversaries at meetings. Most of the cakes I bake from scratch are exceedingly costly and labor intensive. I like this one because I almost always keep these ingredients in the pantry and I can throw it together at the last minute.

The other night when I made it, I realized I had no whipped topping in the freezer (I guess I used it at Thanksgiving when all my "peeps" were here). So I improvised, using cream cheese and butter and powdered sugar and vanilla pudding. Everyone loved it.

Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday January 20, 2009

[First year, lasagna gardens. See beehives in far back? ]

It's a crisp and cold midwestern day here. Every now and then the sun peeks out, but mostly it's that grey winter slate color. These kind of days come often enough and this is when the daydreaming starts.

I am an avid gardener. I have planted gardens for years, starting as a child with my own private pumpkin patch when I was 8. I had to dig the plot myself, break up all the clods, pull out all the weeds. My grandmother showed me how to make hills and plant 3 seeds in each hill. Then it was my job to water them daily and learn to nurture the young seedlings as they sprouted and reached for the sky. I remember how miraculous it seemed to me when they first sprouted. For days, nothing but brown dirt, brown dirt, brown dirt. Then suddenly there was a whisper of green, and by the next morning there was a real pumpkin plant. I harvested pumpkins like crazy that year, and sold them for One dollar each, and fifty cents for the small ones, all up and down our street. I earned enough money to buy a little radio.

When I was 18 and married with a baby on the way, I remember squatting down to pick green beans, much to my old German neighbor's dismay. She thought I shouldn't be doing any kind of labor when I was that pregnant. The garden was flourishing that year and I was dreaming of producing enough food to be able to make my own baby food and can it. (Incidentally, after one of those bean picking marathons, I did actually go into labor. I thought I just had a backache from picking beans!)

As the years passed, I moved around and lived in different places and different climates. I always grew something, even a couple of years when it was only tomatoes and herbs in pots on a patio. I learned that gardening is a lot like cooking, where you can try all kinds of wonderful things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I had yards with plenty of space and yards with none. I had good soil and I had hard clay. I had plenty of sun, or I had none, or I had too much. Too much water--or not enough because of droughts or arid conditions. I have learned that you can't break Mother Nature no matter how hard you try. But if you play by her rules, you can be gratified and completely surprised.

About 15 years ago, I was reading through an old classic by Ruth Stout called The No Work Garden Book: Secrets of Year Round Mulch. It sounded good to me ! I was always an organic gardener. I was one of those back to the landers from the 70's. About 10 years ago, I came upon a book by a woman named Patricia Lanza, called Lasagna Gardening. It was basically about building rich organic soil through composting and layering different substances like straw, manure, peat, leaves, grass clippings , compost--just like you'd do when you make a lasagna. Her premise was that if you built these layers, you could have garden soil ANYWHERE that you could lay things down and pile them up! And you didn't have to till the soil, you just lay down a bunch of layers of either newsprint or any other good paper and wet it down thoroughly and start piling things on. We were lucky to work in a plant that used a heavy brown paper stock that came in 5 foot wide x 11 foot long sheets. And it was free for the taking. She uses this method for vegetable and flower gardening. She said that when you were first beginning your lasagna gardens, you could plant directly into the mulch. I didn't believe that, although the premise of the layered composting made sense to me. That first year, we spent about 200 dollars on finely ground mulch and composted manure from a landscaping place. (Lots of it). We followed her directions, and made the beds about 4 foot across (this is so you can reach to plant and harvest and not stomp down the beds.) and about 25 foot long, because we had the space. I bought some plants and sowed mostly seeds. Right into the top layer of the finely ground mulch.

We had the most incredible garden that year, and I kept dragging people out to show them that I had this garden that didn't have any dirt in it, we didn't till the soil, AND LOOK AT THESE PLANTS !!!!!! I was flabbergasted.

Every fall, once you get these garden beds started, you keep all your garden waste (spent plants, etc) and just pull them up and lay them down. When the leaves start falling, rake them up and add to the pile. After that first year, we didn't buy anything anymore, except straw bales. Throughout the growing season, I used straw to mulch. This keeps the weeds down and helps the beds be much more water conserving and efficient. When it's time to put the garden to bed, I just spread that straw out . And as the last bit of work, I put a good heavy layer of straw down to compost over the winter months.

By the time we moved to Illinois, I had the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. About 3 foot high and 4 foot across, with the richest black organic soil you can imagine. It broke my heart to leave it all. (I tried to convince hubby that if we rented one more small Uhaul, I could bring most of it with us!) MY neighbor there, a lovely woman named Mary, asked if she could have some of it. I told her to go for it, and she spent the last few days we were there hauling wheelbarrows full of it from my back yard to hers.

I have been here for 3 full years now. My gardens are slowly but surely coming along, as I've had to start from scratch. There was also a lot of prep work that had to be done in this yard. The first year here, there was almost no garden. The second year was much better. This past year was phenomenal...until the tornadic winds came and sent a tree crashing into my garden, busting the green beans trellis and smashing most of the plants to smithereens. We'll have to rebuild a trellis this coming spring. I'm starting to dawdle over the seed catalogs that are showing up in the mailbox. I have saved seeds to start 2 different kinds of apple trees that Iplan to start indoors and hopefully have them ready to plant by spring. I will start the butternut squash as well-that worked like a charm last year. And I think I may try some more exotic vegetables too...

This is what these winter days are for. I will end with a great quote by Ruth Stout on winter:
"There is a privacyabout it which no other season gives you...In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other, only in winter, in the country, can you have longer quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself."


Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday January 19, 2009

Snowed some last night. Interesting patterns on the chicken fence..

Cold and 16 degrees F here on the Prairie this morning. Supposed to be warming up in the middle of the week to the mid 40's . Days like this are good ones for making one of our favorite dishes, chicken and rice casserole. It's pretty easy to put together, basic ingredients, and it is in the oven at a low temperature for 3 to 3.5 hours. SO...you get the added advantage of the tantalizing aromas swirling around your house for most of the afternoon. It is easy, it is hearty, and it reheats well. Since I am always looking for ways to stretch the food budget, I really like that you can make this casserole with your choice of chicken pieces. You could use a cut-up fryer, or all boneless skinless breasts, or like I do usually-leg and thigh quarters. Our local stores have bags of the leg and thigh pieces on sale regularly for anywhere from 49-69 cents a pound. You cannot buy usable protein at a better price than that. Even dried beans, which are a good combinable protein are more than that these days! When they post the sale, I will buy from 20-50 pounds (calm down-they come in 10 lb bags!) and bring it home, wash the pieces, and repack it into dinner sized portions. I freeze it and there you are. I always have it on hand. We like dark meat. If you don't, buy the boneless skinless breasts. (I buy those too, when I find them on sale at $1.99/pound. ) A note: this is one of the few times that I use things like canned soups. I simply have not found a better or more economical way to do it and get the same wonderful taste.

Ingredient List for Dragon Woman's chicken and rice casserole

2 cups uncooked rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
2 soup cans water
6 thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 finely chopped onion
1 stalk finely chopped celery
3/4 cup slivered almonds
salt and pepper (preferably fresh ground)
granulated garlic (optional)
1 stick melted butter
chicken of your choice--8 breasts or a cut up chicken or 6 legs and thighs


Note: I usually use long grain brown rice. It's nutrition content is superior, it's taste is heavenly-all nutty and chewey. However, you can use white rice or whatever you like, the measurements stay the same. If you insist on using white rice, I would recommend Basmati, which smells like buttered popcorn as it cooks, or Jasmine rice, which is also good.

Butter a 9x13 baking pan. Pour the dry rice in the bottom. Add the cans of soup, mix in the water, mushrooms, celery, onions and almonds. Mix this concoction as well as you can. Dip the chicken pieces in melted butter, and lay on top of the rice mixture. Season the chicken pieces with the salt, pepper and granulated garlic.

Put this pan into a preheated 250 degree oven and bake for 3 hours or so.

Get all your housework done while it's in the oven...or read a really good book. I have just started a new Amy Tan book called "Saving Fish From Drowning"...so I'll be over there in the wing back chair with a cup of tea beside me.

I usually serve this with a simple salad or a big helping of home grown and canned green beans. Hubby is partial to those green beans, but I rarely ask him. lol I check my pulse and see what sounds good to me today. He is always a willing participant in this experiment. I rarely serve bread with it, because of all the starch and carbs from the rice...but you do whatever feels good.

Let me know how you like it! (It's what we're having for supper tonight!)

Bon Apetit!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17, 2009

I find it much easier to make this delightful bread when my assistant is away on a vole hunting trip. This time, she insisted on helping!

Rosemary garlic bread is one of my all time favorites. It's a wonderful accompaniment to simple soups and to lavish salad main courses. An added bonus is the way it smells up the house while it bakes. It's best made with fresh rosemary if you have it, but dried works just as well, especially if you rub it between your hands to bruise it nicely before adding. For simplicity's sake, I'll use the dried amounts in this recipe.

I am a huge fan of garlic, so you might adjust this as well, to your own tastes of course. I also always use fresh ground black pepper and fresh ground Meditteranean sea salt. I can taste the difference. Maybe you can't and if that's the case, then use what you have on hand.

You can use this recipe in a bread machine or make it the traditional way. I like to shape round loaves and bake them on a cookie sheet. But I have made it this last time in the bread maker and it was wonderful.

The ingredients are:

1 cup warm, not hot, water (Note-hot kills yeast. Everytime.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground sea salt
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp frsh ground black pepper
2 TBSP dried rosemary
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

After getting the cat out of the bowl, rinse it well. Pour in the water and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. At this point "proof " your yeast by mixing it into the water/sugar mixture. Let it stand about 5 minutes or until you can see the yeast activity starting to bubble. Now you know that your yeast is good and you won't waste all the rest of the ingredients on a loaf that will not rise. (Trust me-I have done this a dozen times! It's very frustrating.) I never trust yeast anymore. I want PROOF!)

Once you've done that, add the olive oil, the herbs and spices, and start stirring in the flour. It will be a wet dough. If you're using the bread machine you'll never know this, but if you're doing it by hand, you'll think it needs more flour. IT DOES NOT. After the flour is mixed in, knead it until shiny and elastic. Put in an oiled bowl without a cat in it, cover with a dish towel and put in a warm place. Let it rise until double in bulk, about an hour and a half probably.

After the first rising, punch it down and make it into a ball. Or put it into a loaf pan if you prefer. Do anything you want with it. Sometimes I bake it in soup cans if I'm taking it somewhere with a soup or stew. Just make sure you oil the pan you use. Let it rise again until about double and then pop it into the oven and bake it at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. When it comes out, brush the top with melted butter. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes before slicing into it, if you can. If you can't--then dig in. Rip off chunks of it. Butter it, or dip it in olive oil.

Let me know how you like it. I think it's fabulous. My second favorite bread is sun dried tomato and basil. We'll do that one another time.

Bon Apetit !

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009

Oh, dear....I have such apologies to make !

One of my favorite sayings is "Man makes plans and God laughs." I had such grand ideas for yesterday's blog here. Right from the start, omens began presenting...first, the batteries in the digital camera were all dead as a doornail. And I had laid out my beautiful handcrafted wood cutting board and French knife, lying next to 3 sticks of real butter, and a handful of the more beautiful onions. It was a beautiful still life.

I went to get the camera, and -dead batteries. I put in the spare set, and - dead too. I went into the spare room where we keep all sorts of batteries, in all sorts of sizes. None were the AA size I need. I took the right sized batteries out of the remote for the dvd player. I knew they had been in there a while, but they worked. I put them into the camera, and they didn't have enough juice to even zoom out the lens all the way before shutting off the camera. Exasperated, I put the rechargeable batteries into the charger and plugged it in.

So then, I thought...well, I'll go ahead and cut up the onions and just take some pictures of the soup while the onions are caramelizing, or after it's all done and looking all wonderful in one of my Fiesta bowls. I got the onions all sliced, put the butter into the soup pot and dumped all the onions in on top.

I used about 5 pounds of yellow onions, peeled and cut in half and then sliced into strips about 1/4 of an inch wide. (I like to FEEL my onions when I eat them in this soup--any thinner than this and they start to disappear. lol) But hey--you do what you like. Remember Rule #1: There are no rules in cooking that can't be broken sometimes.

Melt a stick and a half of butter in a heavy bottomed soup pot. (And shame on you if you use aluminum cookware). I have a choice of my stainless steel one or a cast iron Dutch oven. I love them both.

Dump in the sliced onions, turn the fire on low and stir. Keep stirring every now and then. With this much onion, it takes awhile for the caramelizing to begin. You just continue to cook them until you think they're way overdone...and then you cook them some more. At the stopping place, they will be all dark brown and gooey. Perfection!

I must interject to say at this point, plans changed. A knock on my door, and a man near tears saying he had just hit my littlest dog, and he was sure he had killed her. I turned off the stove, grabbed my coat (5 degrees outside) grabbed a flannel sheet off the shelf and followed him out. She was not where he had left her, he said there's no way, I hit her hard and square on. We looked, his brother helped look, and finally after half an hour, I sent him on his way. I would keep looking. I was so sorry for him as much as for me....it's a horrid feeling to take the life of an innocent animal. As I trudged, crying, back up through the yard, something made me turn and look and there she was, huddled under my husband's little truck. I couldn't reach her. I struggled with what to do. She had started shivering in the cold and I'm sure she was in shock as well. There were injuries I could see and she couldn't crawl out to me as I called her. So--I went into the garage and found a broken down cardboard box and crawled under the truck from the back, under the bed. I scooted the cardboard ahead of me and got close enough to wrap the flannel sheet over her back and legs. I couldn't tell what was hurt...I assumed it was back and hips, pelvis maybe. I got the backboard under her about 2/3 of the way, and holding the flannel sheet in one hand and the cardboard in the other, slowly pulled her out from under the truck and carried her inside the house. My husband was at work and his cell phone was in the car. My neighbors weren't home. I cried and prayed and tried to check her out. I didn't know if she would live til he got home in 2 hours, but all I could do was talk to her and pet her and cry. I got another old coat of mine that was hanging in the mudromm and used that to cover her up as well. I knew that if she was in shock I needed to keep her warm. [We waited to see if she would live through the night. Hubby and I took turns laying out here with her, encouraging her and loving her and giving her little sips of water. This morning, first thing, we took her to the animal hospital about 30 miles form here. They xrayed her and are going to sedate her so they can stitch her up. They sent the xrays off to a radiologist, but the initial look by the vet says there are no broken bones. It's a miracle.]

I turned the stove back on and got the onions going again. I debated making the rosemary/garlic bread, and decided that if I used the bread machine, I could do it. I will share that recipe tomorrow.

At this point, you are ready to add enough water to cover the onions. If you care to, use beef broth as well. I prefer to use a magnificent vegetarian beef -style boullion that comes from Australia called Massels. It is without a doubt the best boullion I have ever used. It has all natural ingredients, it has very low sodium. And in a pot this size, I usually put 4 cubes in. I then add fresh ground black pepper, and simmer the soup for 45 minutes or so.

You can serve it with bread or croutons in the bottom of the bowl and some wonderful gruyere cheese on top, or just plain with some warm bread and butter...peasant style.

It's easy. It's nutritionally sound. It's inexpensive to make (especially compared with what you pay in restaraunts). And it is one of the most soul satisfying dishes in the world.

Onions have a natural antibiotic ingredient in them, as does garlic. It's called allicin. It's praises are sung far and wide for alleviating viruses and helping lower cholesterol and preventing heart attack an d stroke. It also contains a substance called quercetin, an antioxidant and cancer fighting ingredient. And lastly, an onion contains as much Vitamin C as an orange.

An update: Little baby Caylee is staying overnight at the animal hospital so they can make sure she is able to use the bathroom on her own. The vet called and said she is doing well otherwise, although the radiologist they sent the films to called back to say that although there are no broken bones, the little wings on the sides of a couple of her vertebrae have small fractures in them. She will require indoor bed rest for at least 4 weeks. We'll do our best.

Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This is what happens when you encourage me....

A glorious harvest of potatoes...fingerlings, Kennebecs and Red Pontiacs.
These are from the end of the garden in North Carolina, potatoes are one of the last vegetables to harvest before the frost.

I have been wanting to write a kitchen blog for sometime now. I never knew exactly what I wanted to do about it, and now here I am. Two of my favorite people in the world have encouraged me to do it, so here goes.

I am still not sure where this will go, although I am sure that it will be an interesting journey for me, anyway. I have been wrestling with everything about it--the name, the recipes, the idea. Playfully wrestling, like you do with your puppies.

I decided on Dragon Woman because I was born in the year of the Dragon. The Chinese Year starts in late January or early February, and I was born in early January. I always go by the Dragon which is actually 1952, but I feel more like a dragon than a snake. And there you have it. I decided on mystical meals because of the alchemy that is produced by the combination of spices, love, kitchen goddesses and adventure.

I love to cook. I love to cook because there are no rules. Because the possibilities are endless (which is something that gives me great hope). Little doses of hope on a daily basis. I love to cook for the same reason that I suspect most people do who like to cook: it is an opportunity to recreate the nurturing and love and security that nourishes our souls every single day. I love fresh food. I love creating bliss out of flour and butter and honey. I love the looks on peoples faces when they eat something extraordinary that came from my kitchen. I love the attention, I love the magick, I love to eat. I love to feel the silky richness of Creme Brulee on my tongue. I love the smell of rosemary and garlic when they are baking into bread. I love the look of a well made paella with all it's textures and colors and shimmers.

So. A kitchen blog it is. And a home blog. And a garden blog. And a blessings blog.

And whatever else may find it's way here. Plenty of room for possibility.