Thursday, January 31, 2013

Plate Or Palette


When I was growing up I wanted to be an artist. Then my junior year in high school I took a hard look at the art work I was doing. And I decided I wanted to eat more than I wanted to be an artist. I realized my talent wasn't going to pay the bills. But a tiny bit of that artist still resides in me. Today it is more likely that I enjoy the colors of vegetables as I slice and dice. Really. I enjoy combining colors in the pan or on a plate just as much as I used to enjoy mixing colors on a palette. There are many ways to be an artist.

Tonight's supper was quick and easy. And colorful. And delicious. Thank you, Martha Stewart. And thank you, Jessica for trying this before I did and declaring it yummy.


I made half the recipe tonight. Plenty for the two of us. It's slightly adapted from the original recipe. It was crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, with the mushrooms giving it an "meaty" bite. If you are looking to add a meatless meal every now and then, this is a good one to try.

SPINACH-AND-MUSHROOM QUESADILLAS

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
8 oz. button or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used baby bellas)
6 oz. prewashed spinach, shredded
salt and pepper (I used House Seasoning*)
8 (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas
8 oz. Mexican blend shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Warm 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook stirring occasionally, until they are tender, about 6-8 minutes.

Add spinach in two batches, letting the first batch wilt slightly before adding the rest. Cook until spinach is completely wilted and mixture is dry, 2-3 minutes total. Season with salt & pepper.

Brush one side of tortillas with remaining oil. Place 4 tortillas, oiled side down, on two baking sheets. Layer each tortilla with cheese, spinach mixture and more cheese, dividing evenly. Top with remaining tortillas, oiled side up. Press lightly to seal.

Bake about 10 minutes, until cheese has melted and tortillas are golden brown, turning them once. To serve, cut into quarters. 


*House seasoning:  Mix 1/4 cup salt, 1 tbsp. black pepper & 1 tbsp. garlic powder. Store in an air-tight container, such as an empty spice bottle.





Crazy Weather


What a weather roller coaster we've been on! Phone calls from west of here kept us updated on the mid-week weather in Mommy's part of the country. Warm temps, bad storms and snow—all within 24 hours. Yesterday a powerful tornado hit the ground 60 miles north of Jessica. Our temperature yesterday was 70 degrees. 70 degrees. In January. And today I'm going to need my warm jacket and a scarf. Crazy.

For the first time in ages I planned my menus for the whole week. Found a free menu planner page online that I liked and printed it out. On Sunday afternoon I jotted down a plan. It has made the grocery shopping and the cooking easier this week. Last night's recipe was chosen because I could make it earlier in the day and it would be ready when I walked in from handbell practice about 7:30. But because of the stormy weather yesterday, most Wednesday church activities in the entire upstate were cancelled. So from mid-afternoon on, I was free. Supper was already done and I had no where to go. Finished reading a book last night, thanks to unexpected time at home.


Here is the recipe for the stew I made yesterday. Just a good basic recipe that was easy to make. It made  enough for supper with extra for the freezer (2 quarts). From only three chicken breasts.


CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE STEW

1 (32 oz.) box fat-free chicken broth
3 or 4 skinned, bone-in chicken breasts (about 2-1/4 lb)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 (14-oz) package frozen white corn
1 (16-oz) package frozen baby lima beans
1 (14.5-oz) can crushed tomatoes (I used half a 28-oz can and froze the other half)
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup chopped country ham
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon dried marjoram

Bring broth to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add chicken, onion and celery and return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from Dutch oven and let cool slightly.

Take chicken off the bones; discard the bones and shred the chicken.

Add the shredded chicken and remaining ingredients to the broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes or until beans are tender.


My only quibble with this recipe was the "1/4 cup of country ham." I had to buy a package just to use that small amount. I'm not sure it was enough to taste. I know they only used a little to keep this recipe healthy, but I think another time I would either use more (since I had a whole package of ham) or just leave it out. Daddy-O will probably get ham biscuits soon since there is a lot of ham left. He'll like that.



Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside


Unless you were born and raised here, I doubt you would ever understand what happens in a Southerner's mind when any kind of frozen precipitation is a possibility. It doesn't actually even have to snow. Just hearing the weatherman talk about it is enough. There is the natural reaction we have to rush out and buy milk and bread. But that's not all.


Today our high was 31 degrees. Cold enough for our birdbath to stay frozen all day. Here at the farm we only had a little drizzle and 87 sleet pellets. The county to our north did have some sleet accumulation. Tomorrow we all go back to the upper 50s. So today might have been my only day this year to wear the hat I knitted a couple of years ago. The only day to wrap up in the soft furry cowl that Jessica gave me a few Christmases ago. The only day to put on the boots that I've had for years. These days are rare for us.


Schools dismissed early. Government offices and banks closed in the afternoon. Meetings and church outings were cancelled. Next week they predict temperatures will be in the 60s and 70s. So we try to cram all our winter into a single day. Then I'll put the winter things back in the closet. Don't get me wrong. I really don't want months of cold weather. But a cold day every now and then is fun. I've stayed in this afternoon, keeping a lookout for a stray snowflake, and worked on a pair of socks for Daddy-O. And I'm making soup for supper. (I might have even popped a little popcorn.)


Mommy has been telling me about a soup she's been making since she moved west. Friends out there introduced her to these noodles. This morning I found the same frozen noodles at our local Publix. I've never heard of this brand but I'm making it tonight. Tonight is a soup-kind-of-night for sure. Mommy says, "Just follow the soup recipe on the bag of the bag. It's sort of a cross between chicken noodle soup and chicken and dumplings." 

I love that my daughters now give me ideas of what to cook. That (among other things) makes me feel like I've done a pretty good job as mother.


PS  The soup was as good as Mommy said it was. Thank you, Mommy!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Going Green


I don't make New Year's resolutions. But maybe this year I should have made one to eat healthier. It might be one I could have kept. My refrigerator has probably been wondering what the heck is going on. I'm not sure I've ever bought so much fresh produce. We've enjoyed all sorts of blended drinks lately, but today I wanted leafy greens. I've had a lot of smoothies in the last few weeks. 


And lo and behold, today I got a magazine that contained a recipe for kale salad. Since I had some kale left, I made the salad to put with the last of yesterday's soup. Tonight it was only dinner for one. Daddy-O had a dinner meeting with the cattlemen. We won't tell them I was home enjoying a meatless meal. I wasn't sure how kale salad would taste. But yeah! I liked it! Pretty sure I can feel the vitamins just rushing all through my body now.

BABY KALE SALAD

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots (I used onion & a smidge of garlic)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. baby kale
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese 
freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallot, salt and oil.
Use your hands and massage the kale in the dressing (which is the easiest way to mix it) to soften the greens a bit and then toss with the Parmesan cheese and season with plenty of black pepper. 

This is better if made hours ahead to let the kale soften and absorb the flavors of the dressing.

Makes 12 cups 

I only mixed up 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons minced onion, 2 teaspoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and a generous tablespoon of cheese to go with my partial container of kale. It really was dinner-for-one tonight.






Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make Mine Minestrone


It's cold this week. And colder weather is coming! Just the thought makes me crave soup. And this recipe arrived in my email this morning from Weight Watchers. Some of their recipes are very good whether you are counting points or not. This looked like it was worth a try. I made a few minor changes to use what I had on hand (I'm still on a "use it up" kick here) like onion for leek and canned green beans for fresh, but I didn't stray far from the original. At least I didn't stray far in the ingredient list—but I cooked mine on the stove top because today that fit my schedule better.

So before I left the house this morning, I had soup for supper, soup to share and soup to freeze. The small taste I had when the soup was done makes me happy to think it will be waiting on me tonight when I get home from handbell practice!

SLOW COOKER MINESTRONE

1 (32-oz. carton) low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14-1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes w/basil, garlic & oregano
2 medium potatoes, peeled & diced
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, sliced 3/4-inch thick
1 (19-oz.) can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
1 (8-oz.) can green beans, drained
1/2 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients except olive oil, salt & cheese in a 4-quart crockpot and cook on LOW for about 6 hours, until vegetables are tender. Stir in oil and salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan just before serving.

OR, YOU CAN COOK IT LIKE I DID—Combine all ingredients except oil, salt & Parmesan cheese in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp. Stir in oil and salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan just before serving.

Serves 8 (about 1-1/2 cup each)  WW PointsPlus per serving: 4

The recipe says that it freezes well and suggests doubling the recipe, using a 6-quart cooker to make extra. I always wonder about freezing a soup with potatoes in it but I'm going to freeze a single-serving bowl to see how it tastes when I thaw it. I'll let you know how it goes.  NOTE: THIS DID NOT FREEZE WELL—at least by my standards—mushy vegetables.


On the grandmother front, I got to chat with Baby Sister today while having lunch with other family. Can you imagine? Sitting at Chick Fil A and being able to see and talk to Baby Sister halfway across the country! Amazing. Love my gadgets.

UPDATE:  After making this soup and dividing it into portions to share, I found that I only had 6 servings instead of 8. I measured out 1-1/2 cup portions and I did measure every ingredient, so I'm not sure how they got 8 (1-1/2 cup) servings. And, yes, it was yummy. If you are counting points six portions will mean 5 points per 1-1/2 cup serving.

I feel like the person who measured the footlong subs last week and discovered they were only 11 inches.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

So Easy So Good


I've been working on clearing out cabinets, drawers, closets and such for a while now. This morning I found a box of cake mix on the shelf with the "better if used by" date of a few weeks ago. And a can of pineapple that was not the size I meant to buy. I needed to use the cake mix. And then I remembered a recipe I made a few years back.


Three ingredients. You don't need a mixer. You don't even have to grease a pan. So if you decide Tuesday is as good a day to bake as any, you might give this a try. I made it years ago for a family Christmas gathering (wanted to have a healthier choice for me) and set it on the buffet along with the other desserts. When the meal was over, my macaroon cake was pretty much untouched. It's really good, but as Jessica explained, "When it's sitting beside a homemade ten-layer chocolate cake, a cheesecake and pecan pie, the macaroon cake is not going to be my first choice.

So make this on a Tuesday. Make this for a snack. Make this because you've cleaned out the pantry. Make this for no particular reason except that it's easy and good.


MOCK MACAROON CAKE


1 (16-oz.) box  fat free angel food cake mix
1 (20-oz.)  can crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ยบ.
Mix all ingredients.  Pour into an ungreased 9x13-inch baking dish.
Bake about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Serves 20  (4 rows x 5 rows)  

The original recipe said to bake 35-40 minutes. Mine was done in just under 30 minutes. Go more by the golden brown color and the toothpick test than the minutes. And remember that angel food cake slices better with a serrated knife. 

If you are counting Weight Watchers PointsPlus, this is 2 points per serving. If you make the servings slightly larger (3 rows x 6 rows) it will be 3 points per slice. Still a good deal.


Oh yeah. This is good. I had forgotten how good. I had to eat a piece so I could make a photograph. Glad there was still coffee in the pot. Nice morning treat. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fresh Food For Thought


I treated myself to a new kitchen appliance a few weeks before Christmas. It was an impulse purchase I haven't regreted. (Can't say that about some other ones.) One friend commented, "So. You've got a new toy. Right?" It's been as much fun as a toy! Might be one reason you've seen fewer recipes here lately. I've been experimenting with all sorts of fruit & vegetable combinations as I learn to use my "super blender." 

When I ordered my Vitamix, I didn't realize that there are several other brands out there that do similar things--like blending whole fruits and leafy vegetables (including seeds and stems.) Each brand has its own passionate fans, but I'm happy with the one I bought. I did no homework before buying which is not my usual style. But this time it's all good. We have tried all sorts of mixtures for breakfast most mornings. There can't be anything wrong with getting more fresh foods into our diet. It's been colorful, to say the least!

I did spend a morning last week at Whole Foods watching a Vitamix demonstration. Well worth my hour to watch how he used the blender and to taste all sorts of crazy combinations that I would have never tried if I had only read the recipe–like the collards sorbet. You can find his recipes here if you're inclined to try any of them. If you have a regular blender at home, I'm not sure what adjustments you'd have to make, but I think some of them could be adapted. (Maybe by cutting the fruits up in smaller pieces and removing seed and stems?)


The biggest surprise? Mr. Meat-&-Potatoes—better known around here as Daddy-O—has liked the smoothies. Even the green ones. He even surprised himself, drinking blends of kale or spinach for breakfast. Baby Sister begged for more when she was here over Christmas. Why didn't I try this sooner?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Rain Rain Go Away


A whole week of rain. The kind where friends were starting to make Noah jokes. But the rain stopped about bedtime last night. This morning the sun is blindingly bright. I might be forced to find an outside activity today.


The first part of the week was so warm (and wet) that the trees in our yard were really confused. Cherry blossoms in January? This morning it's 34 degrees and sunny. I think we had spring and winter all in one week. Only missed snow by a few hours. The rain moved out last night just before the cold temps arrived.


Another nice surprise this week was getting thank you notes in the mail. It's nice that our granddaughters are learning the importance of gratitude. We commented that Baby Sister surely had good handwriting for a 2-year-old on the snowman note. Her mommy said she dictated it. Although I'm pretty sure she didn't actually dictate the letter, Baby Sister IS talking a lot now. She was sick for a couple of days this week with a stomach virus. When we saw her the next day on Facetime, she couldn't wait to tell us she had been sick—"I spilled in the bed!" Toddler speak for "spitting up." A most accurate description of what happened. So glad she's better.







Monday, January 14, 2013

Cleaning Out


I love early morning. A few minutes of quiet before the day gets started. My work starts right after my second third cup of coffee. I had decided last week that this month is devoted to cleaning. That also includes cleaning the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. So today I wanted something simple for supper that didn't require lots of clean-up afterward. I have enough cleaning to do already. 

I'm trying to use up what is is on hand. I had a pork loin in the freezer left from a buy-one-get-one sale before Christmas. I moved it to the refrigerator on Saturday so that it would be thawed this morning. A large cut of meat might take a couple of days to thaw.


This is a recipe that I've made before, so I knew it would be good. No time to experiment today.

PULLED PORK BARBECUE

1 (3-4 lb) pork loin or roast
2 onions, sliced
1 cup ginger ale
1 (18-oz.) bottle BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's original)

Place one sliced onion in crockpot. Put pork loin on top of onion and top with remaining onion. Pour ginger ale over all. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Remove meat and onions from slow cooker to a large pan. Using two forks, shred meat. Discard cooking liquid. Return meat to slow cooker and stir in bottled BBQ sauce. Cook on LOW for an additional 30-60 minutes.


Tonight, because I am trying to use what's on hand, we had BBQ sliders (no buns, but had rolls in the freezer,) blue cheese cole slaw (because I'm out of mayonnaise and cole slaw dressing. Just add blue cheese salad dressing, salad cubes, a little sugar, a splash of vinegar, salt & pepper to chopped cabbage. Pretty tasty substitute. I'd do it again. When I'm out of mayo.)


And I had enough pork left to put three packs in the freezer for later. If you've kept up with my recipes, you might remember I've also done a root beer version of this. It was delicious when I made it. but using it out of the freezer, we didn't like it as much. Freezing had intensified the root beer flavor and it overpowered the barbecue sauce. This ginger ale recipe, on the other hand, was even better from the freezer. Sometimes there isn't a way to know what happens when you freeze foods except to try and see. 

The meals here could be really interesting by the end of the week if I really stick to my "use it up" plan for the rest of the week. I'll let you know if I come up with something interesting.

For the record...this house cleaning project has been kind of fun. Not much to write about or photograph, but fun.

Friday, January 11, 2013

January


Everyone's schedule gets a little crazy around the holidays. But this year my own life got totally out of whack. Out of balance. Out of time to get it all done. It was a collision of several things, with the biggest being a bout with pneumonia that ran nearly up to Christmas. The best I could do was just let things go. I kept thinking of the residents of Whoville and the words we've all heard for years, "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags." Poor son-in-law didn't even get an actual gift. After six weeks of back-and-forth dealings with a store that promised they could get the one item he wanted, I got the final phone call on Christmas Eve saying, "Sorry, it didn't come. We really tried." (So I fried him chicken one night after Christmas before they headed back home.)


But Christmas came. The real Christmas. We enjoyed family time. And then extra time with Jessica and Baby Sister after Christmas while the rest of the family had some vacation away. By last week everyone was back where they belong. All the stuff that Mommy and Daddy couldn't fit into their car has been packed and shipped to them. We're about back to normal.

I have told friends that the month of January is devoted to giving myself a break—time to rest, relax, and recover. That, and cleaning. The deep down kind that means many bags of trash hauled off and boxes carried to the thrift store. The things I wish I could have managed before everyone came home. There is still more to do, but my house finally feels like it can breath again. Slowly I'm coming back. And I'm thinking that a "smaller" Christmas might be the new normal. It was kind of nice.

So what has happened in the kitchen? Not much. I've been thankful to have some things in the freezer. That's why you put them there in the first place. Easy meals when cooking doesn't fit the plan. Tonight it was Pumpkin Black Bean Chicken Chili. Just the right choice for a chilly damp night.


PUMPKIN BLACK BEAN CHICKEN CHILI

1 onion, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin
2 (15-oz) cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
2-3 cups cooked, chopped chicken

Put everything in the slow cooker. (I used a 5-1/2 qt. Crockpot.)  Cook on LOW for 5-7 hours. Serve, and then cool and freeze the remainder. Remember to label and date the containers.


Tonight we topped it with a dollop of sour cream. Just as good as the first time. Be smart and plan a few meals that let you stock at least a few things in the freezer. You never know when you're going to need it. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

In Reverse


I've always heard "the parent becomes the child" but I didn't expect that to happen to me quite yet. Halfway to Atlanta yesterday I stopped for gas and discovered that I had my handbag—but my wallet was still at home! No drivers license. No credit cards. No cash. No nothing. Except a Starbucks gift card.

It was just an overnight trip to visit Jessica. She had left a few things at home over Christmas and I was taking them back to her. And she was cooking dinner and dessert for us before we watched the season 3 premiere of Downton Abby. The rest of the drive all I could think about was "no drivers license." But thankfully I got there (and back home) without incident.

In a HUGE roll reversal, Jessica filled my car with gas, paid for a few things I needed at the store, gave me a little emergency cash and then this morning sent me home with leftovers! I did give her the Starbucks card. It was the least I could do.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Begin Again

 

After a couple of weeks at the farm, today was the day to help pack the car (almost everything fit) and wave goodbye to our midwest family.


But not before Baby Sister said "goodbye" to the blue tractor...


...and "goodbye" to the orange tractor.


Tonight there is no danger of tripping over toys during the night. There is Foyle's War on TV instead of Tec the Tractor. No little chatterbox talking nonstop. Back to normal, so to speak. But the house is awfully empty and quiet. As friends kept saying "how sad" today, one encouraging friend chimed in with, "Time to start planning the next visit!" I like her point of view better.

No, I did not intentionally leave out photos of the rest of the family. They were away much of the time. It was just me, Daddy-O and Baby Sister hanging out at the farm, playing with the camera.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!


If you live in the South, chances are you had this same meal today. Nothing says "Happy New Year!" like the traditional dinner you eat to insure your wealth for the coming year—peas (for coins) and collards (for folding money) along with pork and cornbread. At least that's what my mother always said. We were afraid not to eat it (I didn't like collards back then) for fear of being broke. I would hold my breath and swallow a couple of bites of collards and figure I didn't have to eat any more for a whole year. I still would not skip this meal on New Year's Day for anything. Tradition dies hard.

Baby Sister is still here with us. She ate her share of peas and more than her share of cornbread. She swallowed one small bite of collards. So I guess her piggy bank will be full in 2013.

Since it is raining today we didn't make the Bourbon Marinated Pork Tenderloin on the grill like we often do. Might also have something to do with the fact that I forgot to mix up the marinade in time. So I poked around on the internet and found a new recipe. Completely different flavor from our standard but very, very good. It's nice to have a quicker, easier recipe.

GARLIC HERB CRUSTED PORK TENDERLOIN

1 tablespoon jarred minced garlic (or about 2-3 cloves, minced)
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped 
1/3 teaspoon dried thyme (I used a rounded 1/4 tsp)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pork tenderloin 

Mix garlic, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt & pepper with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Rub all over pork tenderloin. Let marinate 30 minutes to 2 hours in refrigerator.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large, heavy oven-proof skillet (I used a cast iron pan) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add pork. Brown on each side, about 4 minutes per side.

Put skillet in hot oven. Cook about 20 minutes, or until thermometer reaches 145-150 degrees when inserted into thickest part of meat. Remove from oven. Place meat on cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes, until thermometer reads 160 degrees. Slice.


The recipe that I started with used all fresh herbs--1 tablespoon each of rosemary and sage and 1 teaspoon of thyme. I only had rosemary still growing in the garden, so I used a mix of fresh and dried. If you need to switch one for the other, the rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon fresh=1 teaspoon dried.