Thursday, June 22, 2017

My New Favorite Summer Salad


It's garden season here at the farm. We don't have a large garden like my father-in-law planted here years ago. But Daddy-O does plant enough for us to enjoy fresh salads during the summer. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes. And there is always yellow squash.

When those squash plants start to produce, it's crazy. We are overloaded with squash for a couple of weeks or so. And then it's over. Thankfully, not every vegetable is of the "come-and-gone" kind. The cucumbers just come and come and come and come.


This was the very first harvest. The next day, I sent this much more home with a friend. The following day, I took another bag to my sister. I've taken bags and bags of cucumbers to church for the teens at the summer work camp this week. Evidently, they love the cukes-and-onions-in-vinegar-sugar-water. And the friend who got the first bag of extras have taken cucumbers home two more times. We cannot eat up the cucumbers fast enough. But it's fun to share. Last night Daddy-O picked another basket full right before dark.


I have already done the cucumbers-and-onions-in vinegar several times. We love that! It only takes a minute to do. I don't even measure anything anymore. It's good beside a sandwich and we even love it as a snack. I've made microwave pickles.That recipe is so easy I did them on Sunday before we left for church.

And then I found a new-to-us recipe. A lovely, light cucumber salad. We had it as a side dish with roast beef from my freezer stash and mashed potatoes. (The potatoes came from our cousin's garden. He lives just down the road and plants many things we don't. That works well for us!)

This recipe has been around forever. I had everything on hand to give it a try. Glad I did, because it's a keeper. Again, I didn't measure a thing, but I'm giving you an actual "recipe" as a starting place. After I mixed mine, I tasted and adjusted the seasonings. Mine needed a little more salt and dill. Do it that way and you won't have to go find the "recipe" when you want to make this.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SALAD

2-3 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/4 Vidalia onion (a sweet white onion,) thinly sliced
1/3 cup sour cream
juice of half a lemon
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh dill
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix cucumbers and onion in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Pour over cucumbers and stir to combine. Garnish with more dill and serve.


UPDATE: Since I wrote this, I've made this sour cream version two more times. Yum!







Tuesday, June 13, 2017

There Has Been Knitting

 Pattern:  Snowmelt, by Curious Handmade
Yarn:  Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light
Needles: size 8

Back in the winter, a big event was happening in the knitting world. Helen Stewart, of Curious Handmade, held a mystery knit-along (MKAL). People from across the globe joined in and knitted this pattern at the same time. They were told in advance that they needed three colors of fingering weight yarn and what size needle to use. That's it. With total trust in the designer (who is one of the best,) folks cast on and knitted diligently as the clues arrived weekly.  Soon after the start date, there were nearly a thousand knitters sharing photos of their progress and cheering each other on. (All of this happens on Ravelry.)

Now, I had qualms about spending that much time knitting over 1,200 yards of yarn in hopes that I would like the end result. What if I didn't? I know, I know. I missed the online camaraderie that was happening and that is fun thing to take part in. I have participated in an MKAL before and it is fun.

But I wanted to wait and see what the pattern actually was. After the mystery was over, I looked at pictures of hundreds of finished shawls. I could see if I liked the shape. I could see how the colors worked together. I looked at shawls in bright colors and subdued colors. I saw high contrast combinations and others that were more like color shifts than stripes.


Then after careful consideration of colors choices, and in a solitary fashion, I made mine. And I am so pleased with it. It's the first shawl I've knitted that is big enough to wrap up in. This was my first half pi shawl. (That means it's a half circle.) What I like about this shape is that it hangs nicely over my shoulders.

 Pattern:  Alexandra's Airplane Scarf, from Purl SoHo
Yarn:  Madelinetosh Tosh Lace
Needles:  size 8

And although this scarf was started months before I began Snowmelt, I finished it a week after I completed the shawl. This scarf was knitted in the round with lace weight yarn (that is a very fine yarn.) "In the round" just means that it's a knitted tube. I just knitted and knitted—no other stitches to think about—forever. Endless round and round and round. Until it was about six feet long.


There are knitting projects, and there are knitting projects. They have different purposes beyond how you wear them The Snowmelt shawl wasn't hard, but it wasn't meant to be a take-along project. With three colors of yarn and charts to follow, it needed to stay home where I could work in peace. It was so much fun to work on the lace pattern, keep up with the charts and enjoy the color play. I loved knitting it.

The Alexandra's Airplane Scarf, on the other hand, was the PERFECT project for traveling. Once I got it started, there was nothing to keep up with or measure. I worked on it while waiting for Little Sister at dance lessons. I knitted while Baby Girl napped. I knitted at the lake. I knitted on the porch. I knitted in the car. The challenge here was working with the lace weight yarn. But after knitting six feet of scarf, that tiny yarn and I are friends.


I splurged on some new blocking tools just in time to make this a little easier to pin out. The grids on the mats let me keep the edges straight without measuring every couple of inches. And I bought a couple of sets of Knit Blockers from Knit Picks. Each one is like putting in 8 pins with one stab.

For the non-knitters, blocking means soaking the knitted item, then pinning it into shape and letting it dry. (Remember the "reshape and lay flat to dry" tag on some of your laundry?) Google "blocking your knits" if you want to know more.


This scarf is wide enough to worn as a wrap on a cool day. And the day I finished it, we had an unseasonably cool day. One chance to wear it outdoors before next fall. It's always cold indoors when the air conditioning is going full blast.


And at six feet long, and because it's extremely light, it can be worn as a scarf. Here, I have the ends pulled through the folded scarf.

I will say that the most intimidating part of knitting this scarf is getting started. When I was about an inch into it, I was thinking it would take forever. It seemed like I knitted and knitted and it didn't grow a bit. But I would work on it. Put it down. Work on it again later. Stuff it back in the bag. And on and on, until I realized I had about two feet of scarf. Then two feet became four feet. And then suddenly (actually, it was six months beginning to end) it was done!

It's a great project if you don't have a deadline. I have a idea I'll start another one of these one day. And maybe in another year or so—no pressure there—I'll have another one!





Friday, June 9, 2017

Dinner After Church


Last Sunday we celebrated our pastor's upcoming retirement in typical Methodist fashion—a covered dish dinner after church. Because we expected visitors, we all took a little extra food. I love seeing what everyone chooses to make for a covered dish dinner. There are always the standbys, like macaroni and cheese. There are always deviled eggs and fresh fruit. But it's the multitude of other items on the table that interest me.


People bring in old family favorites. They try out new recipes. Some people love make-ahead recipes that don't require Sunday morning cooking, like cakes and pies and pasta salad. And you might find fried chicken from a drive-thru, or a platter of sandwiches from the grocery store deli. It doesn't have to be homemade to be included on our table.

These dinners are truly more about the fellowship. With the promise of delicious food to encourage people to come together.


For this meal, I opted for recipes that could be prepped ahead of time. Both dishes only required some oven time before I left for church. At the dinner last month, there was only one mac and cheese, so I made one for this dinner. This time mine was number 2 of the 6 macaroni dishes lined up on the table.

MACARONI AND CHEESE

16-oz. box elbow macaroni (we like the small elbows)
16-oz. sharp Cheddar cheese (NY sharp when I can find it)
4 cups milk (fat-free, 1%, 2%, or whole)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
a sprinkle of black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook macaroni according to directions on the box. Drain. While macaroni cooks, grate the cheese. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with PAM. Put half the macaroni in the baking dish, layer half the cheese over it, add the rest of macaroni and then the remaining cheese.

Mix the milk, eggs, salt and pepper. Pour over the macaroni and cheese. Use just enough to cover the macaroni.  (Sometimes I don’t use quite all of the milk/egg mixture. And I have been known to add a little bit more milk if the 4-cups didn't cover it.)

Bake, uncovered, for 35-45 minutes, until lightly browned on top.  Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving so that it "sets." 

You can layer the macaroni and cheese in the dish the day before baking. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Mix the milk and egg the next day and pour over the macaroni and bake.


And because at the last dinner, we weren't exactly overloaded with main dish items, I made ham and swiss rolls. We call them "ham delights." I could do everything the night before and then pop them into the oven before we left for church.


These are the rolls (there are several similar brands) I prefer, but this time the store where I shopped didn't carry them. And I didn't have time to make a second stop. They were good with regular soft dinner rolls. But next time I'll take time to track down the rolls I like! Other good choices are Pepperidge Farm Party Rolls. And I think there are King's Hawaiian Rolls. The reason I like the little dinner rolls in the foil pan is that you can cut each individual section. That gives you 48 appetizer servings. That's a perfect party size.

HAM DELIGHTS

1/2 lb. butter, softened
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons French's mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 small onion, minced
1 lb. ham from deli, shaved
7-8 oz. Swiss cheese slices (I used 10 slices for 2 pans of rolls)
2 packages dinner rolls
Mix butter, poppy seeds, mustard, Worcestershire, and onion, blending well. 
Split rolls in half. (I do the whole pan without breaking individual rolls apart.) Spread top and bottom with butter mixture. On bottom half, place ham and cheese. Replace top half of rolls. Put the uncut rolls back into foil pan, then cut individual rolls apart. 
Wrap in heavy duty foil. Bake at 400 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. 

You can make these ahead and refrigerate or freeze them. Be sure to label and date if freezing. If you are baking from the refrigerator or freezer, increasing baking time until they are hot in the center and the cheese is melted.








Thursday, June 8, 2017

Easy...Lemony...Good

Grilled Lemon Chicken & grilled yellow squash and onions

Warm weather means cooking on the grill around here. This past weekend we tried a recipe I saw on the blog, Judy's Chickens. She shares the best things and I learn things there, too. Check it out.


Her recipe called for sprigs of thyme. And my herb garden is in excellent condition right now, thanks to an abundance of rain this spring. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to actually use what I grow. 


Judy's recipe is super simple. She used boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded thin. I bought chicken cutlets which are already thin. Basically, they are large breasts cut in half horizontally. And I still pounded them a little thinner. Remember, when you cook these very thin pieces that they cook quickly. Don't overcook!


Throw some lemon slices and sprigs of thyme into the bag with the chicken and pour the Everyday Dressing over the top. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for a day or two and then grill.


This was not an overly strong lemon flavor, even after two days in the refrigerator. I love that this recipe has a fairly large window of "refrigerator resting" time. Our plans can change at the drop of a hat and this gives me flexibility. The marinade added a nice flavor, but I will throw in more thyme when we do it again. Read Judy's blog for more information about how she uses this recipe to feed a crowd.

It also works well in a two person household. We had it the first night with grilled fresh-from-the-garden squash and onions. And the next day, I sliced cold chicken and paired it with salad and marinated cucumbers for a quick lunch. And for one more lunch, I split the grilled chicken horizontally, warmed it a bit in the microwave and made sandwiches with Swiss cheese, mayonnaise and a thin spread of apricot preserves. I was feeling creative. Delicious!


GRILLED LEMON CHICKEN

2 lbs chicken cutlets (I pounded them a little thinner)
1 lemon, sliced, seeds removed
fresh thyme sprigs
1 recipe Everyday Salad Dressing (recipe below)
splash of white Balsamic vinegar, optional

Place chicken in a gallon ziploc bag. Pound if you want to. Put lemon slices and thyme sprigs over chicken. Pour dressing over all. Close top and marinate in refrigerator for 1-2 days. Grill, being careful not to overcook.


The dressing recipe is from Judy, too. But I've upped the amount of garlic pepper. All recipes like this can be adjusted to suit you and your family. I love this as my regular dressing for green salad. So easy to mix up, so if you are trying to move away from purchased salad dressings, this is a good place to start.

EVERYDAY SALAD DRESSING

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon McCormick’s Garlic Pepper

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid. Shake to blend.





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Do You Eat Cookie Dough?


Before I leave today for a quick trip down to see Little Sister's dance recital I want to share one more recipe from my last trip there. Here is Big Sister's recipe and my comments:

Did you warn your children, "Don't eat the cookie dough!" before you baked the cookies. And tell them not to scrap the bowl or lick the spoon either. It was because of the raw egg in the batter. I don't remember that being a safety concern back in the dark ages when I was growing up. Maybe it should have been.

But now that eggs are produced by chickens living in "chicken factories," they say that the possibility of some kind of contamination is greater than it was when eggs came from backyard chickens. I do not know the exact science behind this, but I do heed the current warnings. (We have adapted our ice cream recipe that my mother made with raw eggs.) Why risk a problem? I am not a fan of raw cookie dough anyway—I don't even want cookie dough ice cream—so that was never a problem for me.

But Big Sister LOVES raw cookie dough. She listened to her mom's advice about avoiding raw eggs.  Said, "how ridiculous!" And then she solved the problem. She found this recipe for edible cookie dough. No eggs involved. She has made it several times. So when she had her friend come sleep over while I was babysitting, they made a big bowl of it for snacking. Evidently, the proper way to eat it is by the spoonful, straight from the bowl.

Here is the recipe. Pay attention to the loosely packed brown sugar. That's not the typical way to measure it. Also, this would be a fun if you need a treat for someone with egg allergies or gluten sensitivities.


EDIBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE DOUGH

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1-1/4 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk (can use soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, etc)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour works, too)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (mini, regular, or chunks--your choice)

Toss together flour and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar together until completely smooth—no brown sugar lumps should remain.

Slowly add in the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula. Stir until completely mixed.

Fold in chocolate chips. (Or, you can substitute your favorite stir-ins, like chopped nuts, dried cranberries, M&Ms, etc.)

Enjoy! Eat by the spoonful or use however your sweet tooth desires.

Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

*Note that this does contain raw flour if that is a concern for you.





Sunday, May 28, 2017

Wanted: Grandmother


When I finally unpacked my bags yesterday, I saw my Mother's Day card that I received when I went to stay at Mommy's house last week. She told me that Baby Girl had picked it out. Now, I know she can't read yet. (She turned three less than two months ago.) At least I don't think she can read. She can spell, though. "N...O...  No!!!" She's got that down pat. But I think she picked a perfect card. Who knows, maybe I'm underestimating her. Maybe she CAN read! This pretty well sums up the job.









Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sitting Still, Feet Propped Up


I had a quiet cup of coffee this morning in my own house. I missed the morning hugs and the million questions that came with breakfast, but appreciated the stillness. It's called balance.

Yesterday, my last day "on duty," it was just me and Baby Girl at her house for the morning. It was pouring rain, so we hung out in their garage so that she could ride her tricycle. I settled into a folding chair so that I could keep an eye on her and listen to her. It's fun to listen to her running commentary as she plays.

Then the game switched to making music. Understand that we have a very musical family. And know that I have taught many people to play guitar and mandolin and ukulele over the years. So I thought this would be a fun thing to do. Baby Girl ran inside and returned in a flash with her rhythm band instruments. She claimed the brightly colored maracas. She gave me the tiny cymbals. We started to play and she quickly stopped me.

She took the cymbals from me and explained, "Here, Mimi. You do it like this." She showed me how to clang them together the right way. We started again. One more time, she stopped and patiently said, "Mimi, let me show you how to do it." I tried again with the little 4-inch cymbals. There was a big sigh and a "Watch...THIS way, Mimi"  and she demonstrated proper cymbal technique one more time. I played them one more time.

Then she gently took the cymbals from my hands, laid them in the red wagon and kindly told me, "Mimi, I have an idea. You can be the watcher." 

 I was fired from a preschooler's garage band. 

Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas

Fortunately I was more successful in the kitchen. Over the weekend Big Sister had a friend spend the night. I made one of the easiest meals I know for dinner—fajitas baked in the oven. I know that she and her friend made a 2:00 AM kitchen run to eat more fajitas. Then Big Sister asked me on Monday before she went to school if her mom had this recipe. "If she doesn't, be sure to give it to her. I would like Mexican food at home more if that fajita stuff is in the tortilla." Excellent endorsement for this recipe.

Photo credit: Big Sister

OVEN BAKED CHICKEN FAJITA 

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken cutlets, cut into thin strips (cut against "the grain") 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 (10-oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel Mild)
1 medium onion, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken strips in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl (I used a custard cup) combine the oil, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the chicken and stir to coat. Add the undrained tomatoes, peppers and onions to the dish. Stir to combine. 

Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Stir a time or two through the cooking time.


We spooned this into flour tortillas, topped the chicken with sour cream, shredded lettuce, cheese, black beans and salsa and rolled it up. It has been quite some time since I had made this. I will not wait so long again. (BTW, Baby Girl got a cheese quesadilla for her supper. An easy swap with these ingredients if you are feeding someone who doesn't like "spicy.")

If you haven't used chicken cutlets, you might want to check them out. I find the thin chicken breast pieces a good choice for many recipes. The thinner cutlets cook quicker. Buying them in this "thin" form is easier and safer than splitting the larger chicken breast pieces horizontally.

For a busy day—and all my days as grandmother-in-chief were busy ones—you can measure the dry spices ahead of time. Stir in the oil when it's time to cook. I also sliced the peppers and onion and bagged them up until supper time. Fit little parts of the prep into the day anyway you can, so that at cooking time, there isn't so much to do.

My own grandmother always set her table for breakfast before she went to bed at night. It made her morning routine a little less chaotic. Remember, you don't have to do all the prep early. Anything you can do ahead of time helps. You will find that it's even helpful to have the utensils or pans or ingredients set out and ready when you walk into the kitchen at 6:00 and everyone is starving.

I learned a lot from my grandmother. My own little granddaughters watch me in the kitchen with great focus. Maybe one day, they will be cooking for their grandchildren and saying, "This is how my Mimi used to do it."