Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wait. What ?? October already ?

This bounty came out of the garden yesterday. I have to tell you, even though things are slowing down out there, those plants all look like early July plants ! This weather has been so got really hot sporadically and then would cool way down, giving everything a new lease on life, I suppose. Then it got nice for a while with a hot day thrown in here and there, but now it's back in the high 60's and low (mostly) 70's. And it won't get hot enough to ripen any more stuff. I don't think. So, I cleared out all the green tomatoes I could stand (a 5 gallon bucket full) and all the bigger peppers and jalapenos and some cayenne peppers too. I'll use all this to make some salsa verde...something I've not done before because I always make chowchow, which is now coming out my ears, because face it--you can only eat so much relish. And because I can sweet relish too...well, there you go. So green tomato salsa it is this year. It should be a snap to make with my Vitamix this year, since it's a basically smooth salsa and I don't have to hand cut everything like I do my regular salsa so that it's all chunky and beautiful.

Salsa Verde is a good enchilada sauce. Among other things.

I have the dehydrator full of tarragon, parsley and basil...all dried now and waiting for me to bag it up. That came out of the garden yesterday too. The parsley was especially lush this year. The cilantro is in 2 pint jars waiting to be used today in the salsa verde. I usually always dry my herbs slowly in the back pantry in brown paper bags, but thought I'd try the dehydrator this time. I used my little Nesco American harvest, so I had the option of temperature settings. I turned it way low, but think I still like the bag method better. Live and learn.

The husbandman is getting antsy to get the garden put to bed. I keep telling him it's not time yet. There are still carrots out there. I harvested most of the last of the butternut squash yesterday, but there are still a few more out there. They're small, but beautiful and healthy looking. Into the garage they went, to cure for a bit. The ones in the garage that were harvested a couple of weeks ago are ready to come inside and go under the guest room bed. I have sheets of cardboard under there for them to spend the winter on, as we pick them off one or two at a time. Years that I don't have pumpkin, I use some of them for pies at Thanksgiving. (No one knows the difference). However, as you know, I have had pumpkin for a while now. *grin But we like butternut squash just about anyway you can come up with to use it...chunked, stuffed, soup, roasted, on pizza, in quinoa salads...yum. I'm guessing that [all told] we're harvesting in the neighborhood of 50 or more butternuts this year. I will trade some of them to my friend Cathy for some sweet potatoes, since our sweet potato crop was a dismal failure this year --for the first time. And she plants acres of them and hauls them up north to sell. Oh well...such is the gamble of the garden. You just never know... we rotate our crops religiously. And the place the sweet taters got rotated to was the wrong spot this time. Between 2 pine trees and I suspect the soil was too acidic. That (of course) is just my uneducated guess. lol That note will go in the garden journal, believe me !

Well...I can sit here and write all day, or I can get busy and start on that salsa. I will be making a trip to the cities (lol) later today to gift my old kitchen light (that I hated and my son replaced for me) and a couple of jars of goodies to an old pal...after stopping by the market for a couple of things. Don't need much. But I am out of bottled lime juice. Also got a note this morning that another friend has some sage and some thyme for me from her garden. She grows it, but uses very little. There are many blessings to be found in my world these days !

Okay--off to the races. Gonna run out between raindrops and check on the chickens and then get to it. Happy Thursday everyone !!

Bon Apetit !


Friday, October 3, 2014

A Plethora of Mushrooms

When I was a child, my dad would take us all out mushroom hunting in the early spring.  I live in southern Illinois, and these babies were the big prize. Called Morels, or Sponge Mushrooms, they are a culinary delight. Rich and meaty and beautiful.  And seriously plentiful. They have a small window of availability, which makes them all the more desired...the thrill of the hunt. And people can get pretty whacked out by the arrival of these--word spreads like wildfire when the first ones are found.  There are towns which have big mushroom festivals and people will flock there for a monster hunting celebration.  Most serious 'shroomers though have their own private hunts, tell NO ONE where they go or find their bounty.

  For years, anytime anyone said "wild mushrooms" this is the only thing that came to mind. Morels. The darlings of the mushroom world. Easy to identify and no worries about poisoning yourself make for happy hunting and eating.

 And day my son came in with a huge 7 pound piece of hen of the woods mushrooms.  That boy is a natural born forager of all things wild.  I said "What is that?"  and he commenced to school me on the culinary delights of the hen of the woods.  He sauteed some and fed it to me, and I was an immediate devotee. Mild and meaty and rich. And did I mention HUGE ??  I ate a lot, and dehydrated a lot. Used the dehydrated in soups and stews all winter.  I cut it up and put it in scrambled eggs and quiches and casseroles. I cut big slabs of it and made sandwiches. It was delicious.  I only recently learned that this is also called Maitake Mushroom, which I had heard of (and probably eaten) but didn't make the connection.

 It's that time of year again for hen of the woods. They grow (usually) around the bottoms of oak trees, although he found some this year on a black locust. He brought me about 15 pounds a week ago and I dehydrated most of it and ate some too.  

 Aren't they beautiful ?  This morning he brought these in--this is all one mushroom that he had to break into 3 parts to get it in the bag.

It weighed in at about 8.5 pounds.  Guess we know what I'll be doing today, lol.

There are all kinds of wild guys (edibles) that live around here, and he will often come back from a fishing trip or a hike with stuff. He's a good son--usually brings some in for his old ma.  lol  One day it was this:
 Beautiful chantrelles...I had no idea they grew around here. Only knew they were really expensive to buy. I've never had enough of them to have to worry about preserving--we just eat those babies.  lol  I made a potluck dish for our end of the discussion vegetarian potluck that was cheesy polenta topped with braised kale and chantrelles--it was a hit. 
 This beauty is called Chicken of the Woods--my all time favorite. Doesn't it look like a fighting Red Dragon ? lol   Or a fancy Dancing Chicken ?  These should be showing up soon, late October/early November, I think. I can't wait to have more of these.

 And these beauties are called Old Man of the Woods. Not yet one of my favorites because they turn all black when you cook them and that turns me off. The boy thinks I'm nuts, as they are one of his favorites.

Mushrooms are a low-calorie food eaten cooked, raw or as a garnish to a meal. In a 100 g (3.5 ounce) serving, mushrooms are an excellent source (higher than 20% of the Daily Value, DV) of B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, an excellent source of the essential minerals, selenium (37% DV) and copper (25% DV), and a good source (10-19% DV) of phosphorus and potassium. Fat, carbohydrate and calorie content are low, with absence of vitamin C and sodium. There are 27 calories in a typical serving of fresh mushrooms (table). (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

  So...good for you. Tasty. Fun to find. 
 What more could a girl ask for ??   lol

 Okay--I have a huge mushroom to work on in there. I'd better get started.

Bon Apetit !

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It feels like fall---can we bake now ?

 Woo Hoo !!  Autumn is in the air. Temps are hovering between the 40's at night and the 60's in the daytime.  I've been threatening to bake my husband some pumpkin bread because it's his favorite and now it's finally cooled down enough to turn on the oven.

  This is a simple recipe that tastes good...and makes 2 loaves. So many recipes for quick breads are for one loaf, you have to wonder who's making them.  lol  I have a man here who is a big bread eater..his idea of dessert can be a slice of whole grain bread with butter and honey on it. lol The good thing is that it makes him really easy to please, and quick breads (banana, pumpkin, persimmon) are simple to make, relatively healthy and make your house smell so good you can barely stand it. 

Let's get on with it--someone (Alana*) is waiting for this recipe!  lol  (* this is your 5 minutes of fame).  lol

    Pumpkin Bread---here's what you'll need:

15 ounces of pumpkin (store bought or home canned)
4 eggs
1 cup oil
2/3 cup of water
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
2 Tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 Tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1+  cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
*optional--add raisins or dried cranberries to the batter if you like 'em

  In your mixer bowl, put the pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, sugar  and vanilla. Mix well.

  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and spice.  After the mixer has done it's job, STIR the dry ingredients in.  Add the nuts. 

  Spray or oil 2 glass bread pans.  Divide the batter equally.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 60-70 minutes.   Check for doneness with a toothpick or skewer.  Cool on baking racks. I usually cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then gently loosen the bread from the pan if needed. an then turn it over and cool on the rack. 

 Like most of these kinds of dessert breads, this is a moist and dense bread. When I make it, I generally keep it in the fridge. It's good heated up or cold.  With butter or cream cheese. Or even just by itself.

Bon Apetit !

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dishes from Far, Far Away...Part 1

I love to cook. I love to experiment. I love to eat.  All this brings me much delight in trying new recipes and foods from faraway places.  If you are like me,  the exotic spices and aromas of things I'm not used to cooking sends me into an ecstatic reverie. The more I cook like this, the more I want to cook like this. And I am so blessed to have a husband who has an adventurous palate like mine.  I hear people all the time say --my family won't eat that. Or my family won't try new things. So sad.

  So...I garden and can and freeze and dry a lot of food, as you know.  I also stock my pantry with groceries that I can't produce, as you know.  One of the most versatile and nutritious foods I stockpile are canned chickpeas. Garbanzo beans.  Aldi's now carries them and I can get them there for about 69 cents a can (compared to anywhere from 99 cents to 1.59 a can in other places). So, I buy them by the case.  The easiest and most nutrient dense delicious dip in the world is hummus. Made from a few simple ingredients that are always somewhere in my kitchen--garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon juice, spices. Boom !

  Here's what you might NOT know about  chickpeas (garbanzos):

Health Benefits of Chickpeas

  • Fiber Advantage and Weight Loss: Like other beans, Chickpeas, are rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snares bile (which contains cholesterol) and ferries it out of the body. Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders.
  • Protein for Vegetarians: Chickpeas are a good source of protein. Combined with a whole grain such as whole-wheat protein, they provide amount of protein comparable to that of meat or dairy foods without the high calories or saturated fats.
  • Manganese for Energy Production: Garbanzos are an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. Just one cup of garbanzo beans supplies 84.5% of the daily value for this mineral.
  • Iron Boost: Garbanzos can boost your energy because of their high iron content. This is particularly important for menstruating women, pregnant or lactating women and growing children. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.
  • Stabilizing Blood Sugar and Low Glycemic Index (GI): Soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, beans like garbanzos can help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. They have low GI value of 28 – 32 means the carbohydrate in them is broken down and digested slowly. This is helpful for weight loss as it controls appetite.
  • Heart Healthy: Regular intake of Chickpeas can lower LDL (bad) and total cholesterol. Garbanzos contain the significant amounts of folate and magnesium. Folate lowers the levels of the amino acid, homocysteine and strengthens the blood vessels. Studies have found chickpeas lower the risk of heart attack
  • For Women: Garbanzo contain phytochemicals called saponins, which can act as antioxidants. It could lower the risk of breast cancer, protect against osteoporosis and minimizes hot flushes in post-menopausal women.
  • Weight Loss: Due to high fiber content and low GI, chickpeas are excellent for weight loss diets. Salad with chickpeas are tasty and can keep you full longer, controlling the appetite.
  BOOMITY BOOM !!!!!!  Can you beat that for a nutritious food ?  

So...the yummy supper I made a few nights ago was a finger food extravaganza of  lettuce wrapped falafel  with a big platter of fresh cut veggies from the garden and a dish of hummus to dip them in.


These veggies came from my garden. So not only fresh they were, but FREE. Relatively.  lol
 Usually you get falafel served as little balls or patties in pita bread, with a yogurt sauce of some kind (or even hummus sometimes), with some veggies stuck in there too. This was a Saturday night supper and a movie at the Kelley House, and we opted for no bread, and wrapped them instead in leaves of crispy romaine (from the garden too).  It was delicious, we ate until we nearly died and the food was a satisfying mix of protein and carbs and yummy. Best of all, the approximate total price for this meal was about  5 dollars.

 So--wanna try it ?  Here goes:


 1/4 cup lemon juice
 1/4 cup water
 2- 15 ounce cans of garbanzo beans (One drained, one not)
 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
 1 Tbsp. olive oil
 2 cloves garlic, peeled
 1 Tsp. ground cumin
 1/2 Tsp. salt

**Put these ingredients into your blender/food processor and process until smooth.  Refrigerate. **

  Easy Peasey, no ??   Serve with an assortment of fresh vegetables and/or crackers.


2 cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1 egg
1/3 cup lemon juice
Sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup flour (plus another 1/4 cup to roll balls in)
vegetable oil for frying

  In your food processor, combine the garbanzos, onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, parsley, egg, and lemon juice.  Pulse to combine and season with salt. This mixture will be a little coarse, but no really big chunks of anything.  You don't want to over process it because it will not have the correct texture or holding ability.

 Stir in the flour and baking powder,  mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

 Add the oil to a cast iron frying pan, about half an inch deep. Heat it over medium high heat until it reaches 360 degrees (or until a drop of water or falafel sizzles when you drop it in). 

 In the meantime, put your remaining 1/4 cup of flour on a plate and drop spoonfuls of the falafel mix onto the pate, rolling into balls.  Press gently into small thick patties and carefully lower into the hot oil.  Fry about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the oil and drain on brown paper  or paper towels. 

 Take your clean crisp beautiful romaine leaves and  lay the falafel patties on and fold over like a sandwich. Eat. Enjoy.

 And there you have it. Including the refrigeration time, this takes about an hour and 15 minutes to prepare. 
 This makes about 4 servings, unless you're us. Then maybe only 2. lol  My big hulking husband loved this meal and was completely satiated when finished. Meatless Monday meal--perfect. Picnic food--perfect.  Yummy finger food--perfect !

Bon Apetit !

Thursday, September 4, 2014

La La La La La....

Annie Kelley picked a peck of pickled peppers....

 Beautiful sweet banana peppers, all ready for pickling.  Have I told you how much I love pickled stuff ?  Peppers, beets, green beans, okra, tomatoes,  jalapenos, cucumbers, mixed veggie pickles, garlic.  Yum.  I love it and I make it and I eat it. And I share it.  I'm always surprised by how much other people like it too.

 This was a beautiful harvest of peppers and okra.

I dehydrated some of it, to use all winter in soups and stews. And I pickled the majority of it, because that's what I love. lol

  I have been dehydrating lots of tomatoes and even some cucumbers. In fact there's a dehydrator in there right now, screaming to be unloaded and bagged.  lol  Sitting on top of jars of stuff that are crying out to be labeled and put away. There was a small bowl of carrots and onions sitting on the counter, but I pretty much got that taken care of.   lol

  The garden is winding down.  There is edamame out there drying on the vine. The butternuts are almost ready to be picked.  We harvested about a hundred and thirty pounds of potatoes  this week. They are all laid out in the garage on  big tables curing a bit. (AND--waiting for me to get that spare room cleared up. Arrgghhh...that's the room that turns into a big throw-and-go..a repository for everything that has no where else to go. And food storage. All the butternuts get laid out on cardboard and slid under the bed. The year's sweet potatoes go into wooden boxes and are stored in there, as well as the regular potatoes).  Good thing we rarely have company that needs to use that room.  lol There's another pantry in there that is mostly full of cleaning stuff and small appliances...the makings for laundry soap, dish soap, extra bottles of vinegar, and any other cleaning supplies I have extras of. Oh, and water storage. At any given time we have upwards of 40 gallons of spring water in there in gallon vinegar jugs in milk crates that we drink and rotate regularly.  There might be some fruit butters and pickled jalapenos in there...During the course of the year, everything in there gets tossed in, rummaged around,  and  generally made a big mess. So,  today I have someone coming over who is going to help me with a few projects over the next few weeks, and hopefully get some stuff straightened up and cleaned out.  That room is number one on the list.  I warned her. LOL  And she is still willing.  We'll see if she runs screaming from the building once she actually sees it.

  We live in the country in a 1400 sq ft doublewide.  It doesn't really look like a mobile home, but it is. It does have a big attached garage, and a 200 sq ft apartment on the back on the garage, both of which are on a concrete foundation.  I don't have a basement, or a root cellar (yet).  But it is 3 bedrooms, one of which is this office, which all have gigantic walk-in closets. The closets in this room and the spare bedroom  have both been turned into pantries.

 Both closets have metal food grade racks on one wall that I bought. This pantry has one full wall of shelves that my son built in for me, as well as a short wall of floor to ceiling wooden built in deep shelves.  

So really, lots of storage here, even without a basement. (Which is, of course, one of my dreams).

I also store a lot of dry goods, staples, like beans and flour and sugar and pasta and rice--as well as all the fruits and veggies that I grow and dry,  or buy at ridiculous sale prices and dry (pineapples at 59 cents apiece !)...

 And then a there are some canned goods, like tuna and evaporated milk and other stuff that I buy when they're on sale (never frivolous stuff...always food and ingredients with a mind to what I can use it for. Always nutritional foods, like canned fish and pumpkin and oats and stuff)  and there's a metal rack for that. 

  So...enough bragging on my stores for now.  Just know that if you really want to find places to store things, you can. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies in every home that are under-utilized or completely unused. My home will never make it into the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, lol,  but we LIVE here.  And we LOVE here.  And we can live out our days here.  And we are prepared for just about any type of emergency that comes along.

  At my age...that's more than good enough.  That's a wonderful life.

Bon Apetit !!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When life hands you a gazillion tomatoes...can marinara !

 The tomato gods have been very good to us this year. The Romas especially have been loaded and gorgeous and  just keep on coming.  Because they are so much meatier than big tomatoes, they are perfect for making sauces.  I had quite a few big tomatoes too and put those through the Vitamix to pulverize all the skins and seeds.

When canning marinara (spaghetti sauce),  I like to cook the sauce down  long and slow, on low heat. So I use my biggest crock pot. It is big enough to cook 5-6 quarts of sauce, which is perfect. It takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce.  I probably used 15-20 pounds to make this batch.

 Any good marinara starts off with onions and garlic. About 2 large or 3 medium sized yellow onions and about 3-5 cloves of minced garlic.  Finely chopped and sauteed in a bit of olive oil. They don't really saute in a slow cooker, lol, but you get the idea. I start the cooker off on high and start chopping.  Along with the onions, you'll want some beautiful bell peppers.

 These beauties were so fresh !!  I picked them the same morning I made this.  I used 4 big bells.  Nicely diced, as you can see.

 I often shred a carrot or two to put in my sauces, but not when I'm canning them.  You want the acidity when canning, and that's what the carrot does to the sauce. It neutralizes the acid. 

 Then I took all the big tomatoes, washed them and cut out any and all yucky spots or bruises.  My husband walked in and said--WHAT are you doing ?? as I was sniffing a tomato to be sure it wasn't smelling of rot where I'd cut a chunk off.  lol  I sniff and I taste and I scrutinize.  I NEVER peel tomatoes if I can get away with it.  Most recipes will tell you to peel them, and it's true that sometimes the skins can be tough and stringy. But if I'm saucing, I just throw those bad boys in the Vitamix and pulverize 'em.  Problem solved.

  Because I like my sauce chunky, I hand chopped all the Romas.  It's not a chore. Almost a mediation.  My big french knife makes quick work of it. Dice away!

 Toss all of it together and this is what you get.  It's a thing of beauty, innit ?

 Next I add spices...salt, pepper, oregano, basil. Not too much...spices will fade in the high heat of canning and I like to be able to spice my sauce as I'm using it anyway.  Years ago, when I cooked at a sweet little place in the Pacific Northwest called Tomaso's Tomato Pies...I learned that when you put dried basil in a large batch of sauce you need to add a little brown sugar to offset the bitterness that may occur. So, I always do that. Just about a quarter cup or so.  You can leave this out if you don't want any added sugar. I would recommend that you go really easy on the basil though. I grow and dry my own herbs and have a tendency to be a little heavy handed with the ones that I especially love, like basil.  Stir all this together, put a lid on it, and let it simmer at least a good 10 hours.  I left this batch go overnight because I wanted it super thick.

  As you can imagine, my house smelled wonderful.  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano...Italian air freshener !! lol

  First thing the next day, I got  my jars and lids  ready, ladled that yummy goodness into hot jars a half inch from the top, wiped the rims down, put the lids on and screwed the bands tight, and put them in the pressure canner. 

  (Do we need a Cliff Notes tutorial on using the canner??)  This is for Charlotte-- 
 *** Before you start filling jars, put  about 3 quarts of hot water into your pressure canner and set it on med high heat.   Then put the filled jars into the canner, making sure the jars aren't touching each other. (The number of jars you can get in it will depend on the size of your canner. My Presto canner holds 8 regular mouth quarts or 7 wide mouth quarts).  Once all the jars are in, put the lid on the canner, but not the little pressure regulator--leave it off.  Make sure the lid is on securely and watch for the steam to start coming out of the stem that the regulator sits on. When the steam is coming out steady, this is called "venting".  You want to vent the cooker for at least 10 minutes. At the end of that time, set the regulator on it, watch the pressure cock pop up and the temperature gauge will start to move.***

 I can my marinara at 10 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes.  At the end of 25 minutes at 10 pounds,  turn off the heat and leave it alone. When the pressure has dropped to zero, you can take the regulator off (!! Make sure it is at ZERO !!)  Then you can take the lid off and take your jars out. Set them on doubled up towels on a counter where they won't have to be moved for 24-48 hours.  No draft.  The sealing process will complete, you'll hear the little PINGS! of the lids sealing.  Resist the urge to dance to this music.  lol

  Before you store them (after 2 days)  wipe the jars down and label with contents and date. Don't not label them because you think you'll remember what it is.  DATE AND LABEL.  Always.

  You can add mushrooms or even meats to these, but if you do it will change the processing times. I LOVE mushrooms in my marinara, but I put them in as I'm cooking because I like them best fresh. I don't like the texture of canned mushrooms, not one bit. (Yes, I am a picky eater).   I like canning a basic plain sauce because that gives me more freedom to use this pantry item in more ways in different kinds of foods.   Sometimes I like sweet Italian sausages with my pasta, but again--I like that fresh too. I very rarely make a meat sauce for pasta, so I would never go to all the extra prep and time to can meat sauce. But that's just me. Lots of canners wouldn't do it any other way.   

  You can do what you like. As I always say, one of the reasons I love to cook is because I get to make up my rules as I go.  

  Freedom, baby.

Bon Apetit !

Monday, August 25, 2014

Perfect for a hot summer supper (or lunch !) Gazpacho

 (There's an awful lot of superfluous stuff in this picture....)  LOL

  This time of year it's hot, the humidity is high and tomatoes and peppers and cucumber are running amok.  We had some strangely cool weather and now it whip-lashed us back into the hot hot dog days of summer. High nineties temps with heat indexes at 110 and more.  I picked tomatoes this morning at about 9:30 and it was already so hot you could barely breathe.

  Today's recipe is a wonderful way to use up fresh produce while making a healthy and delicious supper that's a little exotic, but sure to please.  You can play with the ingredients a little,  there are lots of recipes for this soup.  The basics though, are tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers.  If you have those, you can make gazpacho.  

  The recipe I use calls for lemon or lime juice, but I started using white balsamic vinegar instead and I love it.  I also put a whole jalapeno with about half the seeds removed in it. It gives it the tiniest bit of an after bite, which I love.  DISCLAIMER:  When I say "the recipe I use"  you know it's a lie, right ?   I am the most undisciplined erratic cook in the world.  When I get it in my head to cook something, I might look up a couple of recipes...take part of this one and part of that one...oh LOOK!!  SHINY!!... see something else in the cabinet or garden and think, oooo...I'll bet that would be good in this !  Sometimes I end up with something nothing like the original and sometimes I get a super star hit. It's always good (usually, lol)  but I have made it my own (Assuming I can remember it next time I want it again.  When I'm not maniacally throwing stuff around, I write it down.) Sometimes.

  So...while it's fresh in my mind, let's go.

  This is what I got out of the garden today
 Lots of beautiful ripe meaty Romas and the bottom layer in that basket is all heirloom  big tomatoes. Bell peppers, jalapenos, and a few onions.  Oh, and an egg.  But that's got nothing to do with this soup.  lol

  Ingredients you'll need:

  4 cups tomato juice (home canned is best, but...)
  2 cups diced tomatoes (I have a Vitamix, so I don't peel the tomatoes.)
  1 cucumber peeled and diced
  1/2 cup onion, chopped
  1/2 cup celery, chopped
  1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
  1 jalapeno, finely chopped (discard at least half the seeds)  (or don't, if you're adventurous)
  2 green onions chopped
  2 garlic cloves, minced
  3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  2 tablespoons olive oil
  salt and pepper to taste.

 Today I also threw in a handful of fresh parsley and a small handful of fresh basil.  
  Because I could.

You want to seed the cucumber.  I hold back about 1/3 of each of these vegetables to chop finely and throw into the soup bowl . The rest goes in the blender. I don't save back the garlic, I run that through.  Nobody wants a mouthful of THAT.  lol  Some recipes blend all the soup.  Some make it really chunky.  I like to land in the middle somewhere.  So, into the bowl (a covered bowl you can refrigerate this all in)  go a bit of pepper, cucumber, onion, celery, green onion and tomato.  All the rest goes  in the blender.

 Alright, I know.  I'm just bragging now...  lol

Whir it up, run until smooth.  Pour it into your bowl of chopped veggies and mix well. Taste it. Add more salt or pepper if needed.  Put the cover on and stow it in the fridge. It tastes better if it can chill at least 5 or 6 hours, or overnight. But it will be good no matter what.

 Serve it up with some french bread or crackers and cheese or anything you want, but keep it simple. It's too hot to get too excited!  

Bon Apetit !

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pad Thai for supper, anyone ?

Mmmm...who doesn't like Pad Thai ?  

  There are as many recipes for pad Thai as there are cooks in Thailand. I was surprised to learn that it is not the heralded exotic dish that we Americans think it is (..."signature dish of Thailand"), but more likely something you'll find at a casual meal or off a noodle cart.  lol  It's easy, it's nutritious and it looks real pretty on a plate.  It's also easy for me to make with items that I keep in my pantry. 

  You can get really strict about the ingredients (tamarind sauce, fish sauce...) or you can play it by ear. Lite Soy sauce or tamari in place of fish sauce.  Rice vinegar and brown sugar in place of tamarind sauce.  I always keep bean sprouts in my cupboard for making egg foo young when my chickens are laying lots of eggs.  I almost always have rice noodles in there too...just because I do. 

  Here's how I made the pad Thai tonight :

  Bring a pan of water to almost boiling and put the dried rice noodles in and turn off the heat. Set aside and allow the noodles to soften. When they are soft, drain and rinse in cold water.

  I like to make my own ginger peanut sauce for this dish.  It's really easy--all natural peanut butter (yes, the kind you have to stir), brown sugar, powdered ginger, garlic powder and a little hot pepper.  I add a little soy sauce too and put it all in a pan over low heat. You'll want to add water and stir until it's a medium consistency.  Play with this recipe and find a way to make it your own. I usually add crushed peanuts to it. Sometimes I throw in a splash of rice vinegar. Stir and taste.  Stir and taste. It will look something like this:

 You can use a variety of vegetables in this dish. Put some sesame oil (or any oil) in the bottom of your wok (or big skillet)  and stir fry :

  Thinly sliced onions
  Thinly sliced cabbage
  red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  snow peas
  leftover chicken, shredded
  tofu, pressed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  a little cilantro, if you like it (I do!)
  canned or fresh bean sprouts (I put about 2/3 of the can in the pad Thai and save the rest to put  in the spring rolls)

  When these vegetables are crisp tender, add the noodles and a dollop or two of that peanut sauce you made.  Also add some unsalted peanuts to the mix, just for fun.  Push the vegetables to the side and break in 2 or 3 eggs  in the space by themselves. Scramble them up and once they're set , mix them into the noodles.  Taste it.  If it needs more,  put another dollop of the peanut sauce in there.  Garnish it with cilantro (if you're so inclined) or chopped peanuts.  It's beautiful.

 Tonight I was feeling really ambitious, so I also made spring rolls.  Spring rolls are just egg rolls with no meat in them, basically.  You can buy egg roll wrappers at almost any grocery store these days.  They do take a bit of time, and you want to cook them last because they are best hot.  That said, I usually chop the veggies and get that cooked, seasonings and all and then set it aside. Then I start the pad Thai and while the veggies and stuff are cooking, I start putting together the rolls. I make all the rolls and put them on a piece of waxed paper dusted with corn starch (so they don't stick and tear to pieces when I'm trying to put them in the oil.) Don't forget about the pad Thai-- (I know, I know--we're juggling a little here). Finish it up per the above directions and put a lid on it and move it aside.

  Basic ingredients for the rolls are thinly sliced onion, thinly sliced cabbage, finely shredded carrots and the rest of those bean sprouts and some chopped red pepper.  I put this in a skillet with some sesame oil ( as little oil as you can) and garlic powder, black pepper, soy sauce and powdered ginger (or fresh if you have it--I was out).  Cook over medium high heat until the cabbage is slightly tender.

I added a little cilantro too.  Why not ?  lol

Then roll about a tablespoon or 2 of filling up in an egg roll wrapper.  Don't overfill.  Roll it up like a burrito, tucking in the sides and edges. 

I make a small cup of a slurry of cornstarch and water to use to "glue" the sides and tip of the wrapper after I've rolled it up.  You don't want it  exploding open in the hot oil.  lol

 Once you've got them all done, heat a pan of oil (I used canola) deep enough to submerge the spring  rolls and let them cook until golden brown. Take them out with tongs and cool on a wire rack over paper towels. The first batch will barely brown, but the batches after that will brown quickly, so keep an eye out.

This picture is a little dark, but you get the idea.  Dip them in some of that peanut sauce and voila !!  YumYum.

Bon Apetit !

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What's for supper ?

 It's that time of year again.  Eating goodies from the garden, canning and dehydrating tons of stuff.  Trying to work in a kitchen that looks like the location of the apocalypse. Of course, life doesn't just stop because I have work to do.  People still get hungry, cooking still needs to be done, and so it goes.

  On this particular day, I was canning carrots.  And dehydrating carrots. 25 pounds of organic carrots, more or less. And supper time was looming.  Whatever I fixed, there was gonna be a side of carrots tucked in there. lol

  I remembered that a couple of weeks ago, when a friend took me to lunch in St Louis  "on the hill" (Italian neighborhood) we shopped and hit several markets. I didn't buy much, but what I did get was good stuff...salami made  on the premises, fresh mozzarella, some white balsamic vinegar...and a tube of premade organic quinoa polenta.  Normally I make my own polenta., although I have yet to make quinoa polenta from scratch.  Turns out it's as easy (?) as making regular polenta, you just sub some quinoa for some of the corn meal. How about that ??

 Anyway, I thought--aha! Polenta for supper. So, I pulled the stuff from the fridge.  I opened one of my last jars of marinara sauce and gussied it up with some extra basil and fresh garlic.  I went to the garden and picked kale. I searched the fridge until I found some of the wild mushroom the boy had brought over last week.

(Isn't this a thing of beauty??)  I carefully washed the parts as I sliced them...they will keep a long time if you keep them dry. This is one of my favorite mushrooms,  called chicken of the woods. a nutshell, the ingredients list is:
 quinoa polenta (either store bought or homemade)
 marinara (canned, fresh or whatever suits you)
 kale -chopped into bite sized pieces
 onions and garlic- chopped into small chunks
 mushroom of your choice (wild, chantrelles, portabellas, whatever)
 Olive oil 
 shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese to top

 First,  slice the prepared polenta into about half inch thick pieces. I like mine browned in some hot oil. Then I set it aside in a warming oven to keep it ready.

 Then I put together the marinara in a small saucepan...add ingredients to your hearts desire. Extra fresh basil, garlic , even black olives, thinly sliced.  Make it the way you like it.  make yourself happy. When it is good and hot, cover and set aside.

 Then, saute the onions, garlic and mushroom pieces together in a big heavy skillet.

When they are close to done, throw in some big handfuls of the chopped kale. You will braise the kale in the fat and water put off by the mushroom cooking.

 Look at those succulent pieces of mushroom, would you ??  Keep stirring until the kale is crispy cooked.  At this point you can season the mixture with some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper if you like. (I like.  I always want black pepper on everything). lol

 When it's finished, you can start building your plate... polenta on the bottom, marinara next, kale mixture on top. A little freshly shredded parm will set it off  perfectly.

 This is a nutritious, simple and satisfying dish that will leave you wanting to try all different kinds of combinations of toppings.

 Since I had a gazillion tons of carrots chunked and in a bowl, I made a pan of honeyed carrots to go with this.  It was a hit.

  So, there you have it.  I'm thinking about trying to make polenta ahead of time and freeze a few batches of it.  I don't know if it freezes well, but there's always one way to find out.  lol

  Have you made it and frozen it ?  Let me know.

Bon Apetit !

Monday, June 23, 2014

Eating from my pantry...

 Well.  The test is here. Can we eat out of the pantry/freezer/hen house, supplemented with what little is coming out of the garden right now?

  Let me digress...

 In the event that you may not know what has been going on around here at Honeysuckle late January, I was rear-ended at an icy intersection, resulting in a  moderate case of whiplash.  My neck and shoulders hurt, I could barely turn my head from side to side.  Could have been much worse. I started treatment by chiropractic and massage therapies.

  On February 1st,  I slipped and fell on icy steps going off my back deck to let the chickens out one Saturday morning.  Went down like a ton of bricks.  Wound up with a fractured right distal radius.  (Of course I am right handed).  Wore a sling for 5 days waiting for the swelling to go down, then in a cast and sling for 4 weeks.  At the end of that, I went in for x-rays, hoping to have the cast removed and get to wear only a brace.  Fat chance.  I had overused the arm--(I swear, I tried to not use it. Husband and son were doing almost everything for me. I was useless.)-- and the bone had slipped at the fracture, so a new cast went on for another 6 weeks.  Finally it came off. The soft tissue damage to the hand and wrist were extensive though, so I was having a lot of pain and still couldn't use it much. I have been in physical therapy trying to regain some strength and use of that hand. When I started, I measured ZERO grip strength.  Now, 8 weeks later, I am up to almost 12 pounds. He told me it could take up to a year for it to fully heal.  Good grief.

  On May 24, my husband and I were coming home from a restaurant in a nearby town when he drifted off at the wheel, causing us to go off the road and when he tried to steer back onto the pavement, the car went into a spin, spun across 2 lanes, hit a deep ditch and  rolled the car.  It could have been so much worse. We flipped into a freshly plowed field. The car smashed on the roof, and then flipped back over onto the wheels.  The line of cars coming toward us as we spun across the road was stopped by the vigilant driver of the first car--an off duty EMT and his girlfriend. So, nobody hit us coming from the other direction. We missed the big electrical pole at the edge of the field. The EMT ran over to us and started checking us out. I had a lot of glass on me, but seemed to be relatively okay. My husband however, was hurt.  The EMT got into the backseat and stabilized his head against the headrest, telling him to not move. They had called 911 the minute we rolled, so ambulances were on their way. They took us to the local hospital, who then transported us to a larger trauma hospital about 45 minutes away.  After much ado, it was determined that I was just bruised and banged up. My husband has a fracture of the T-3 vertebrae. He is in a cervical collar and front and back brace. He has been off work for about a month. In 2 weeks he goes back to the doc and hopefully they will take the brace off and give us an idea of when he can go back to work. We have exhausted his vacation pay and sick leave, and as of this week, there is no more money coming in.

SO.  I am not a prepper. I have made that clear to people often.  I do keep a fully stocked pantry and freezer. I consider this common sense. I try to live frugally, because we really don't have much money. I would probably live this way even if we did.  It's what I was taught. I have always thought of my pantry as a back up plan of sorts. I have tried to stock it as though I could walk in there any time and we could always eat, no matter what. In my mind, it was always about being stuck out here in snowstorms, or if a tornado should knock out power and make going to the store know, that kind of thing. Or any kind of emergency that might come some day. Some day has arrived.

 Without his income, we are living on about a thousand dollars a month. Our bills are around 1100. We  don't have much savings to speak of, as we live, like many people, from paycheck to paycheck. Recently I had managed to cut our living expenses by several hundred dollars a month. Thank goodness. We had only 2 car payments left, so now that the insurance company has settled that loss, there's another 300 a month off.  We happened to find an older used car to replace our totaled one, and with the taxes and license, it cost us about 2/3 of what we got for a settlement. So, we have that little extra money too.  It's all going to work out.  Assuming my husband gets back to work at some point.  We have been really blessed with friends who have offered to help us out financially and we could pay back slowly when we can.  So many offers of love and support !!  If you think that doesn't make it all so much easier, then you've never been in this situation. I thank God every day for my friends and family.

Back to the pantry. The theoretical emergency arrived. I started searching through the pantry and making meal plans. What do I have in there and in the freezer and how many meals can I come up with...without ever having to go to the grocery store ?  So far--84.  Breakfast, lunch and supper. The other day a friend gifted me with some packages of meat from her freezer.  I have been doing alright though....although all the chicken and pork that was in the freezer is almost gone. There is still catfish in there. And the things from my friend.  And lots of frozen fruits and other things that I have frozen from my garden. My pantry shelves  (as you can see in my header) were pretty full.  It's starting to look a little empty in there.  I am down to my last 6 pounds of oats. But I still have lots of beans and rice and other dry staples. I make my own bread, and am going to try making tortillas soon. I still have a fair amount of flour and sugar, plenty of spices stockpiled as well as vegetable oil and pickled goods.  All my tomatoes are used up from last year.  I still have some green beans, and sweet potatoes and butternut squash. A couple of days ago, I made an awesome chicken fried rice main dish that fed us well. I used some leftover chicken from a whole chicken I had roasted (from my freezer--not the hen house!!). In typical frugal fashion, we had a wonderful chicken dinner, then I boiled the carcass for broth to make soup,  and used the leftover meat for the chicken fried rice. 3 good meals from a five dollar chicken.  I still have one more chicken in the freezer, plus a package of thighs and legs and a package of boneless skinless breasts.

I made granola the other day. For breakfast, we have options of oatmeal, eggs and toast, smoothies, or granola with almond milk.  For lunches, I have tuna from the pantry or egg salad sandwiches or peanut or almond butter sandwiches with some fruit.  Or salads.  I have approximately 20 pounds of pinto beans in there which I plan to can some more soon because I used the last jar of those too. We had bean burritos.  I can use that and some rice and make beautiful taco salads.  Suppers have been as simple as soups or as complicated as  stir fry or cold soba noodle salads.  We are still eating well, even though I haven't spent a penny at the grocery store in over 4 weeks.  We are also used to eating meatless meals several times a week. That helps. I think if your family isn't used to that, it would make it a lot harder. we are not vegetarians, but we eat less meat all the time. more fish and chicken.  And rarely as a main dish...usually incorporated into a casserole or a stew or something like that.  I am using more and more of my dehydrated vegetables.  I am taking the time to plan meals and use up the stores that we have. Then, when the dust all settles, we will slowly begin to build the stores back up.  The same way I got it ready for this, I will have it ready for the next.

  It's just common sense to have a stocked pantry. Do you know that big box grocery stores only carry a 3 day supply of food on their shelves?  In the event of a catastrophic storm or epidemic or oil emergency (what if trucks couldn't deliver??)-- and you couldn't buy food...WHAT WOULD YOU DO ?

 It's a question that bears consideration.

(Bon Apetit, baby!!)