Kay Wheeler Moore

Welcome to my blog

Hello. . .

The Newfangled Country Gardener is for anyone who has a garden, would like to have a garden, or who simply enjoys eating the garden-fresh way. I don't claim to be an expert; in this blog I'm simply sharing some of the experiences my husband and I have in preparing food that is home-grown.

About the author

Kay Wheeler Moore is the author of a new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, that features six generations of recipes that call for ingredients that are fresh from the garden. With home gardening surging in popularity as frugal people become more resourceful, this recipe collection and the stories that accompany it ideally will inspire others to cook the garden-fresh way and to preserve their own family food stories as well. The stories in this book center around the Three Red-Haired Miller Girls (Kay's mother and aunts) who grew up in Delta County, TX, with their own backyard garden so lavish that they felt as though they were royalty after their Mama wielded her kitchen magic on all that was homegrown. Introduced in Kay's previous book, Way Back in the Country, the lively Miller Girls again draw readers into their growing-up world, in which a stringent economic era--not unlike today's tight times--saw people turn to the earth to put food on the table for their loved ones. The rollicking yarns (all with recipes attached) have love, family, and faith as common denominators and show how food evocatively bonds us to our life experiences.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer days turn perfectly peachy, but what to make with that first delightful crop?

For several days I've seen them peeking their perky little fuzzy heads among the lush branches.

They were signs of the first of this summer's peach crop, which started out as blossoms, then tight, knobby outcroppings, then green mini-fruit. Slowly they began to get color about them, as a blush of yellow-orange-amber began spreading over ripening rounds.

From my vantage point at my home-office desk, which overlooks our backyard garden plot, I watched as the color deepened and the fruit swelled. Every day I could spot more of them and could see their increasing weight droop the branches more and more.

Soon, I mused excitedly. Soon.

That thought naturally skipped to a related reverie. What dish will I make with the first ones I bring in? The "peach" section of my loose-leaf album memorized, I didn't even have to remove it from the shelf and thumb through for inspiration. I knew them all by heart. Peach-Plum Crumble. Refrigerator Peach Jam. Peach Lattice Pie. My tastebuds frolicked as my mind wound around the possibilities.

Last year's first harvest was designated for Quick Peach Cobbler that I served my cousin, Lynda, as she and her fiance, George, visited our home to discuss plans for their upcoming wedding.

In my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden, I describe why this cobbler was such a cause for celebration--it marked the first peach ingathering we'd experienced since the Great Deluge of 2007, when rain fell for days on end and drowned out all the peach trees in our garden. Last year was the first time the new, fledgling peach trees, which we planted to replace the prize ones that died, gave forth a harvest.

Several weeks ago we thankfully began assessing that peaches would be abundant again this year--maybe never as prolific as before the 2007 flood but certainly respectable--enough to make my way through my cherished peach recipes plus experiment with new ones as well.

Two days ago I managed to sneak one off a branch and bring it in for my breakfast cereal. Not ripe enough to be soft and malleable, but a foretaste of things ahead.

Today finally I could tell enough were ready to pick that I'd better bring my basket. This time, from 10 to a dozen were ready for the Moment of Truth. I scurried in with them and peeled them--their tangy yet mellow fragrance as several cups of chopped peaches stewed on the stove recalled my Aunt Bonnie's house during childhood summers I stayed with her and Uncle Bill on their farm and we put up peach preserves. Nothing like that aroma . . . or those memories.

With two cups of peaches cooked and ready to land themselves in the perfect dish, what did I finally pick to showcase them? Ultimately, after filing through several more "peach" pages--spotting recipes for Individual Peach-Berry Crisps, Peach Angel-Food Cake, and Peach Crumb Pie, I knew what the hands’-down winner would be.

I quickly dumped them in a bowl to stir up . . . Aunt Sallie's Pudding, of course. (See recipe below.) Amazingly simple, with only a few basic ingredients, this "pudding" actually bakes in the oven with a layer of batter poured over a layer of chopped peaches. Top it with fat-free whipped topping (my hubby subbed fat-free vanilla yogurt) and you have a light, summer winner. It's been a favorite ever since I discovered it in the Birchman Baptist Church (Fort Worth) cookbook some years back.

What about the also-rans--Fresh Peach Muffins, Upside-Down Ginger-Pecan Peach Pie, Peach Lattice-Topped Cobbler--to name a few?

Today's only the first day of June; more languid summer days stretch out promisingly on the horizon; gratefully, this year more peaches beckon. In fact, I think I better get the ice-cream freezer down from the shelf. I think I hear some Fresh Peach Homemade Ice Cream calling my name!

Miss Sallie's Pudding

3 eggs (we use egg substitute)
1 cup sugar (we use sugar substitute)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chopped peaches
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
2 tablespoons butter

Place chopped peaches in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 tablespoon water. Cover and cook 4 minutes on high until peaches are soft. (Can also cook these in a saucepan on the stove until peaches become tender.) Set aside. Mix eggs, sugar, and flour with evaporated milk; add vanilla and almond flavoring. Melt butter in an 8-by-8-inch pan; pour peaches over butter, then pour batter over peaches and butter. Bake at 300 degrees until firm (about 30 minutes).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Looks like a summer of "love" for that slimy, Southern vegetable

Okra is one of those garden-yield items that inspires a loathe/love relationship.

To begin with, it doesn't yield itself up easily. Unlike tomatoes, cucumbers, or peaches that you simply gently pluck from the stalk with a slight flick of the wrist, okra must be cut (read that "sawed") away with a knife, which means that the picker must arrive at the garden "armed" if okra is desired.

The okra leaves are itchy, so hot summer days (the only time okra presents itself to be picked) make communing with the okra plant an often-unpleasant experience. Even when you wear gloves, you can hardly wait to get inside to wash off your arms.

Then, this stereotypically Southern plant, putting it bluntly, is gooey and slimy when it's first sliced. Many people don't get beyond that fact. Slimy okra gumbo is one recipe option when okra is an ingredient. It's not the only option by any means, but the slithery texture makes a permanent impression on those already suspicious of this vegetable. I love what Wikipedia says about okra: some cooks prefer to "minimize" its characteristic "sliminess."

On the "love" side, if properly prepared, okra wins kids' kudos early on. Both my children always selected fried okra, with an inch of crispy breading, of course, above just about anything else for their "sides"--one way to get veggies down the younger set, even if it is fried in an inch of grease.

Our last "love" okra crop was in the summer of 2005. I acquired more okra recipes than I have hairs on my head (definitely more recipes than the hairs on my hubby's head.) My recipe for Grandma's Fried Okra, which hubby found on the Internet but said it was a replica of his mother's, was added to my collection that summer.

The year 2005 started off good, but soon we had so much okra growing, we couldn't cut it fast enough. Then when we cut it, we couldn't eat it fast enough or even give it away to friends and neighbors. One neighbor, rather impolitely, asked us not to offer any "more" since he was overwhelmed with our generosity. The uncut okra then went to seed and continued to produce more plants; six-foot-tall vines soon took over.

My husband refused to plant any okra in the summer of 2006 and even pulled up stalks that rose from seeds left over from the previous year.

Summer of 2007 was Texas' memorable monsoon year. All crops washed out, including our prize peach trees (more about that in my next blog). The following summer we didn't even try, because our soil was leached out so badly from the '07 floods. Last year we planted okra, but none grew. By then we were regretting not having okra around. We vowed that 2010 would be "the" year again.

If our first "picking" is any indication, this year, indeed, okra is our new best friend. Last night's meal featuring Grandma's Fried Okra, which also uses potatoes, green peppers and onions, was memorable indeed. After that I've got recipes for Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes and Okra Creole, both from my new Way Back in the Country Garden cookbook, waiting in the wings.

The ubiquitous challenge: picking ("sawing") and using it the minute it becomes ripe, which means frequent trips to that sticky corner of the garden. The payoff: falling in "love" with okra all over again.

Grandma's Fried Okra

Okra (about 20 pods)
3 medium potatoes (could be mix of redskin and Irish potatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/4 cup olive oil

Slice okra into 1-inch rounds. Chop potatoes into small cubes. Chop onions and green peppers until fine. Dust okra in corn meal. In skillet fry okra in hot olive oil until okra is brown. Add potatoes, onions, and green pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender. (May need to cover skillet with lid until vegetables cook.) Remove lid. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook with lid removed until vegetables crispen up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The call of the cornstalks makes recipe a must-fix

I never could understand it. My mother would gaze on all the chocolate-laden desserts on display in the cafeteria dessert line and swiftly pass them up, along with the seductive coconut pie with the three-inch-high meringue and the apple cobbler with its sugar-dusted lattice top. She'd ignore the tangy lemon cream pie with the frothy whipped-cream topping. She'd even turn her nose up at the four-layer carrot cake decked with cute little carrots crafted with orange icing.

What, instead did she pick?

Bread pudding, of course. The most prosaic of all choices, and she'd select it every time. Pudding with bread? Wasn't a dinner roll enough? I shook my head in puzzlement as I hastily pulled some chocolate three-layer decadence onto my tray.

Maturity among the taste buds did its work on me. Now, what's my first choice in the cafeteria line (provided one can still locate a cafeteria!)? Bread pudding, of course. I've become a bread-pudding-aholic. These days I’m crazy for it. I have recipes for every variety known. In my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, Pumpkin Bread Pudding got the nod. In my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, Apple Bread Pudding, made with fresh apples, got rave reviews. Chocolate Bread Pudding is another hands-down favorite of mine.

I now consider bread pudding of any variety to be the dessert of royalty. Mother, I take it all back. Mothers are always right.

Perhaps that's why the recipe for Fresh Corn Bread Pudding caught my eye and made it to my "must-try" list. (Earlier I mentioned that I'm cooking my way through my wish-list of recipes that have been gathering dust in my binder for numerous seasons. Corn Bread Pudding is one that I repeatedly bypassed but promised myself to prepare.)

It was billed as a cross between corn pudding and cornbread. Most importantly it calls for fresh corn cut from the cob. While we're waiting for our own garden's cornstalks to get as high as an elephant's eye (looks like maybe about three weeks to go), we found a good deal on corn at our Kroger this week. Corn Bread Pudding (from a long-ago Family Circle magazine) was a great way to use a bunch of it quickly.

This delightful concoction is sweet enough to be mistaken for dessert, but it also makes a terrific side dish as well as an almost-bread serving. My hubby and I even served it to ourselves as a main course alongside a colorful vegetable salad. For my daughter, who slathers ketchup on most everything, Corn Bread Pudding is certainly ketchup-worthy. And for last night's meal I dressed it up with a little sour cream/dill sauce that I had prepared for another entree. What a great combination!

Corn Bread Pudding, with three cups of corn kernels in it, is plenty fibrous, moist, and sweet. But best of all, before too many days I can walk out my door a few steps, visit my elephant's-eye-high cornstalks, and prepare it from fresh ingredients found in my own back yard!

Fresh Corn Bread Pudding

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
2 cups buttermilk (or 4 1/2 teaspoons vinegar with enough milk added to make 2 cups)
4 large eggs (or egg substitute)
3 cups fresh corn kernels cut from 4 to 6 ears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 7-inch-by-11-inch baking dish. In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pulse buttermilk, eggs, and 3 tablespoons melted butter in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add corn and pulse a few more times (the mixture should be lumpy with visible kernels). Whisk buttermilk mixture into cornmeal mixture. Pour into prepared baking dish; bake 35 to 40 minutes until edges are golden brown and center remains slightly jiggly. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughtful family provided new definition of "funeral food" —a mother's recipes

No funeral gloom was to be found in the hallways of Restland Funeral Home in Dallas on Friday of last week. The next-of-kin was handing out recipe books to those who arrived to pay their respects!

This certainly didn't mean that Kay Hall and her family members weren't deeply grieved that their mom, Janelle Ellis Gilstrap, 84, had passed from this life. No words exist to adequately describe the profound sense of loss when one's mother is gone from this earth.

But this celebration of Mrs. Gilstrap's homegoing to heaven also was a commemoration of her life as a "Proverbs 31" woman--and how she frugally guarded her food dollar during tight times and cooked extraordinary meals on a shoestring budget.

Some of those extraordinary meals were remembered in the booklet called "Janelle's Favorite Recipes for You" that Kay distributed as loved ones and friends filed in for visitation. What a neat idea--and a neat keepsake to cherish in recalling the deceased person! I felt as if I knew Mrs. Gilstrap a little better after I read about her favorite foods to prepare--many of them from garden yield.

Kay has been my friend since junior high. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding in 1969 and has done an above-and-beyond job of keeping in touch although we've lived apart for most of the years we've known each other. I'll never forget how thoughtful her mother was when I visited the Gilstrap home while I was a college student. After she learned I was on a diet (aren't we always?), she quickly scrambled to serve me something healthy that she knew was legit on my "eating plan".

After Kay handed me my souvenir copy of Mrs. Gilstrap's recipes, I lamented the fact that I hadn't possessed them months earlier so I could include a few in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden. Mrs. Gilstrap, born in Jewett, TX, was a thorough East Texas cook who certainly would have resonated with my recipes from six generations of my East Texas farm family. Kay told me that many of Janelle’s recipes were obtained from Mrs. Gilstrap's own mother, Bertha Ellis.

Cooks of her day (represented by many of the moms and grandmas of us Baby Boomers) lived through the Depression and therefore had to become highly resourceful. As a result many of them became "Gourmet Country Cooks". They used what they had, which often was little and was represented merely by what they could pick from the garden patch outdoors, and learned to cook it "to the max"--creatively and inventively, with whatever was on hand. A few of these in Kay's mom's collection included Sweet Potato Souffle, Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup (featured below), and Pickled Peach Salad.

What Kay did in handing out recipes to funeralgoers underscored the precise premise of my two cookbooks--that linking recipes to those who prepared them is a critical part of preserving a family's history and that a part of us lives on when food items that we popularized are served again and again with the simple mention that, "Oh, this is chocolate pie just like Great-Aunt Gertie prepared." Younger ones who didn’t know Great-Aunt Gertie will still carry a special memory of her when they consume her legendary pie.

So thank you, Mrs. Gilstrap, for giving to the world your daughter, whom I count as a special friend, but especially for these recipes that will enable many of us to try to replicate your cooking abilities long after you've become a veteran of heaven. I salute cooks such as you who can teach us much about being good stewards and about making the most of what we have.

Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup

1 pound lean meat
1 onion, chopped
(Boil meat and onion in water. Meat may be cooked separately at first to degrease.)

4 carrots, sliced
4 potatoes, cubed
(Cook 5-10 minutes.)

1 can tomato soup
1 can tomato paste
1 can corn (or fresh corn cut from cob)
1 can green peas
(Cook until carrots and potatoes are done.)

1 cup macaroni.
(Cook until macaroni is done.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Mint" to be--the persevering mint plant has some redeeming virtues after all

Words I never thought I'd hear myself say—"Did he really dig up all of it?"

All last year I wished the pesky mint plants in my flowerbed closest to the back porch would magically disappear.

Efren, who helps us with our yard, weekly--at my instruction--plowed most of it under, but almost immediately sprigs would begin peeking their heads up again--around the gladiolus, through the lantana, and under the hydrangea planted nearby.

No matter how many times we'd uproot it and turn the soil over and over again, before long mint springs would return to their habitat. (One Internet comment called mint the "demon spawn of all garden plants". Apparently I'm not alone in my frustration.)

"You can never get rid of mint," Efren finally told me by way of explanation. "It'll always grow back no matter what you do." Mint, indeed, seemed to persevere.

At first I mumbled, "Grrrr", at Efren's counsel . . . then I realized that his words, indeed, would preach.

Suddenly I began to see that nuisance mint plant in a different light. I'm at a stage in my life in which my heart's greatest desire is to PERSEVERE . . . to persevere in healthy living, to persevere with my gardening. to persevere in prayer, to persevere against some seemingly insurmountable obstacles I face, to persevere in seemingly impossible projects on which I'm working, and to endure in a host of other ways.

Recently, in fact, I underlined in my Bible the verse, We considered blessed those who have persevered (Jas. 5:11). It goes on to mention Job, by example, and cites his perseverance as a character trait to be modeled. Those who persevere are considered blessed, or happy.

My mint sprigs don't let any obstacle stand in their way--even another plant that has been put in the dirt over where they belong. They just keep nudging their way upward until victory is achieved. (One nontoxic suggestion I turned up: mix one gallon white vinegar, two cups salt, and a squirt of dishsoap into a well-marked spray bottle. Coat the mint plants liberally again and again, but don't expect it to ever work fully.)

Which brings me back to the comment I reported in my opening paragraph. This year as the garden started to materialize, I initially saw no mint sprigs. I asked my hubby what happened; he said Efren made a very thorough sweep of them as he got the flowerbeds ready for spring.

"Did he really dig all of it up?" I asked. Golly gee whiz, I did like to have an occasional mint sprig in my iced tea or lemonade along with using it for recipes that call for it. Besides, the fresh mint was fragrant as I passed the flowerbed near the porch. I wasn't actually ready for ALL of it to be gone.

I needn't have worried. Sure enough, before very many weeks, the mint again persevered. Although the amount was greatly reduced in number from last year, I had ample mint plants from which to prepare the Fresh Corn and Tomato Bruschetta Salad recipe that appears below. Mint is the ingredient that gives the Fresh Corn and Tomato Bruschetta Salad (recommended by Prevention magazine) its extra bit of pizzazz.

(Besides mint, this recipe utilizes freshly picked sweet corn, which doesn't have to be cooked but simply is cut from the cob, as well as tomatoes, green-onion tops, and sweet onion. It's a good source of antioxidants for the heart and lutein for the eyes. The dish also can be served as an appetizer spread on bread or toast.)

When I served my Fresh Corn and Tomato Bruschetta Salad at dinner one night last week, amid a sea of compliments, I felt blessed . . . or happy . . . indeed. Must have been "mint" to be.

Fresh Corn and Tomato Bruschetta Salad

2 cups cherry tomatoes or Roma tomatoes, cut into small sections
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 up chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons copped fresh basil
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped green onion tops
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine corn, tomatoes, onion, mint, basil oil, vinegar, onion tops, salt, and pepper. Toss well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Once the rage, WW II Victory Gardens and memories thereof inspire us today

The world's "champeen" Victory Garden-grower passed from this life a year ago tomorrow.

Our Aunt Frances, up until a week before she died last May 22 at 102, was still recalling how she and Uncle Herbert once raised their own food to reduce the pressure on the food supply brought on by World War II.

Any time my hubby and I arrived at her assisted-living facility and mentioned that our new garden looked promising or that we had just brought in our first peaches or that we were planning to put up this year's beet pickles, immediately Aunt Frances' eyes would light up. She always would reply, "Oh, you know, Herbert and I had a Victory Garden during World War II. He grew tomatoes the size of grapefruit just outside our door."

Even though she might be a little forgetful about remembering names, Aunt Frances--my mother's older sister, to whom my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden is dedicated--never forgot a single detail about this 1940s enterprise, which saw citydwellers such as Frances and Herbert set aside plots in their yards to cultivate their own homegrown food.

As war raged overseas, Victory Gardens became a major part of daily life on the home front. The government called on citizens to feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown.

Besides tomatoes, she and Herbert also had large expanses of speckled butterbeans that scaled their cedar fence at their bungalow on South Montreal Street in Dallas' Oak Cliff.

Afterward a leviathan canning effort in Frances' kitchen followed the harvest. Aunt Frances and her lifelong friend, Olive Rhodes, would labor over batches of stewed tomatoes, butterbeans (see recipe below), and other items.

As with quilting bees of old, girltalk and fellowship shared over the hiss of the pressure-cooker and the steam of boiling-water baths forged relationships forever. No wonder Aunt Frances, though wheelchair-bound and frail with advancing age, had this memory ready for immediate recall every time my hubby and I made chance mention of our own garden!

Her recipe, Butterbeans with Ham, is memorable as well.

Aunt Frances, we miss your stories, miss how your eyes twinkled when you recalled the long-ago, and--even though you were thoroughly ready to go meet your Savior and be reunited with Uncle Herbert--miss having you on this earth.

On this anniversary of your passing, we celebrate your life and thank God that because of your faith in Him, you are enjoying a Victory in heaven even greater than the one your Victory Garden ever brought.

Butterbeans with Ham

1 pound fresh butterbeans
1/2 cup bacon drippings
1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 pound cooked ham, cubed
2 ham hocks
1 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and sort beans. In the refrigerator soak them overnight in cold water. When they are ready to cook, rinse beans once again in cold water. In large pot melt bacon drippings. Add bell peppers, onion, and celery. Saute until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, ham, and ham hocks and cook 5 additional minutes. Add butterbeans and enough cold water to cover beans about 2 inches. Add green onions; bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to simmer and allow to cook 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep vegetables from scorching. Continue to cook about 1 hour until beans are tender. Stir occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With a stirring spoon mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot until they are creamy in nature. Garnish with parsley. Be sure the beans are tender before you serve them. Serves 6-8.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good health (and skinny-ness, for at least one person) begins in the garden

These days my hubby is a shadow of his former self—high-school skinny once again—and he credits everything to his dining on garden yield.

No pre-packaged diet meals or commercialized weight-loss programs were involved in this major shedding of pounds (33 of them, to be exact.)

He's simply replaced twice-a-week McDonald's large chocolate milkshakes with homemade fruit smoothies made with nonfat yogurt and any kind of fruit he might happen to have in the refrigerator.

He's subbed snacking on cookies with munching on apple slices and carrot sticks.

What's more, he will tell you that he's never eaten so well in all his life nor enjoyed his meals any more robustly.

I agree with him wholeheartedly; in support of his new plan to become svelte, I've lost 20 pounds myself. (When you're a short person, many people presume you don't have weight to shed, but I was quietly accumulating a sizable closet section of pants and dresses that I could no longer wear. I'm proud to say that, now, EVERYTHING fits once again. I couldn't be more thrilled.)

Vanity on my husband's part had no part in bringing on this new look, although I'll be the first to say I think he's truly a "hottie" now that he's all lean and trim. (Resuming jogging for 2 1/2 miles a day and regular gym workouts had a role also.)

A scary bloodtest report last November--particularly in the area of high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and blood-pressure out the roof--made a believer out of him fast. A nutritionist provided by the Chickasaw Nutrition Services reviewed his daily food intake and told him to jettison his vices (such as a dab of coffee served in his sea of French Vanilla creamer, if you know what I mean) or possibly face diabetes in the very near future.

All this happened at the same time I was accumulating recipes for my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden, which features foods prepared from fresh produce--recipes that have been in my family for generations as well as new ones. I was needing to taste-test many of these items, so I began trying them out for our family meals. Most recipes are health-conscious and feature foods that are garden-fresh--those food groupings we're supposed to have 5-to-9 servings of every day. This taste-test need coincided perfectly with his (make that OUR) need to revise our eating habits.

Our meals began including such items as Vegetable Quesadillas (see recipe below), Zesty Penne and Broccoli, Spinach and Mushroom Frittata, Turkey Cabbage Stew, Hot Bacon and Black-Eyed Pea Salad, White Bean Salad with Asparagus, and Zucchini and Tomato Galette, to name a few. Insane as it sounds, we became so enraptured in experimenting with these delicious new dishes that we lost our interest in eating out (well, no woman ever truly turns down an opportunity to dine away from home, but I at least got sidetracked for the cause of healthy food preparation.)

Six months after that horrifying pre-Thanksgiving physical: my husband's bloodwork recently showed massive drops in all the right areas, with his triglycerides impressively down from 229 t0 52! (from higher than high to low normal). Last week his doctor was agog at the lean specimen who appeared at his office--mainly because Hubby actually paid attention to doctor's orders. "Most people don't ever listen to me when I tell them they must lose weight," the physician murmured as he shook his head in surprise.

I wish I could tell you that we always make lemonade out of life's lemons, but this is one crisis that turned into a gift--the gift of good health, plus an extraordinary new recipe collection. I only lament the fact that my new, growing untried recipe collection for foods from the garden has expanded so, I'll probably still be clicking them off many physicals from now.

Vegetable Quesadillas

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large green pepper, cored and chopped
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
8 fajita-sized flour tortillas (7-inch diameter)
1 1/3 cups shredded pepperjack cheese
2 medium ears corn, steamed and cut from cob, enough to make 1 1/4 cups fresh corn kernels

In a large, nonstick skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add green pepper, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Saute over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until green pepper softens. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat. Place flour tortillas on a flat work surface. Place about 1/3 cup pepperjack cheese over each tortilla. Top each with another tortilla. Wipe out skillet; coat with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Place 1 quesadilla in the skillet. Cook 2 minutes. Gently press down with a spatula. Turn and cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes until quesadilla is slightly browned and cheese melts. Remove from skillet. Keep quesadillas warm. Repeat process with remaining quesadillas. To serve heat corn. Cut each quesadilla into wedges and serve with the corn. Serves 4.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fresh vegetables unadorned make for some delightful seasoned greetings

“This is gonna be a loser.”

My hubby muttered this statement out loud as I placed in front of him a small pile of fresh veggies for him to cut up. I had just returned from my two-mile fitness run for the day and was ready to step into the shower. While I cleaned up, he graciously agreed to get dinner started by chopping the veggies.

I could tell, however, that Hubby was dubious about the recipe for "Okra Stir-Fry Medley" that I had spotted to use some of the other yield of our trip to the Chickasaw farmers markets last week in Oklahoma. (I mentioned this in my blog two days ago.) "It doesn't even call for any seasoning," he grunted as he studied the page in front of him.

Ever the lover of black pepper and more black pepper, I thrust a shaker under his nose and gave him my permission to pour away. He was correct, though. My "Okra Stir-Fry Medley" recipe didn't even as much as hint of adding salt--or salt substitute, as would be applicable in our case. Would this menu item have any taste to it at all?

We reassured ourselves that we hadn't had a flop yet from the recipe book "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" (source for "Okra Stir-Fry Medley") the Chickasaw Nutrition Services gives people to help them make creative, healthy dishes out of the fresh produce, so I left the recipe in my hubby's capable hands while I undertook my post-run shower.

Fifteen minutes later Mr. Ray of Sunshine, who had been glum about the potential of this side dish, was beginning to sing a different tune. “Look how fresh and colorful,” he commented as he stir-fried the squash, okra, onion, and corn, with tomatoes to be added at the end.

He was right. The bland-looking veggies had seemed to explode with color once they were stirred around in the skillet with a touch of olive oil added. The same thing had happened the previous evening when we stir-fried some anemic-looking green beans to go in our Japanese Green Beans recipe. Beans I wouldn't have given you a plug nickel for amazingly turned bright green as they were zapped around the skillet over moderate heat.

We dished some up on our plates to go along with our casserole left over from last evening's meal. In a few bites Hubby was exultant. "I can't believe it; this seasoned itself,” he assessed.

Many times we think we have to camouflage sides with high-calorie, high-fat-content breading or sauce, when the freshness of the unadorned veggies themselves provides the most delightful taste imaginable.

Meanwhile, the fiber in the corn wiped out my husband's other reason for being skeptical--that he would leave the dinner table hungry after this bantamweight side dish. Fiber fills you up, so you don't have to eat as much to feel full afterward.

The Chickasaw Nutrition Services, which provided the recipe for "Okra Stir-Fry Medley" (below), won our admiration again. And just as he drifted off to sleep last night, my husband was still extolling, "I can't believe what a tasty recipe that was--all by itself". Seasoned greetings!

Okra Stir-Fry Medley

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 ears of corn, cut from the cob
3 yellow squash, sliced
10 okra, sliced
1 diced tomato

Place olive oil in skillet. Add onion, corn, squash and okra. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add diced tomato; continue cooking for 3 minutes. Serve. Makes six side-dish servings.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A bubbling good use for farmers market apples--and an assuaged conscience, to boot!

Visiting a farmers market is great fun, but the challenge occurs when you arrive home: how to quickly prepare those great fruits and vegetables before they go bad.

One day last week my hubby and I drove back from Oklahoma with a truck full of goodies from the Chickasaw farmers markets we visited in Ardmore and Madill. You can read more about our farmers-market shopping in my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden--especially in the chapter "One Smart Indian."

The Chickasaw Nation, of which my husband is a citizen and an elder, provides funds to its elders so they can buy locally grown, fresh produce and learn more healthy food preparation instead of cooking canned vegetables that likely have more sodium and other additives. We love to utilize this benefit and during our trip last week visited several roadside stands and brought home some delicious-looking produce.

But how to get it all prepared quickly--especially the huge sack of apples we toted in with us?

I remembered a recipe for "Farm Apple Pan Pie" (featured below) that has been in the front sleeve of my "summer" recipe binder--yet never prepared. Do you have recipes such as this--always on your wish-list to fix, yet you bypass them again and again with a promise of "some day"? This recipe requires five pounds of tart apples--a perfect usage for this bounty of gorgeous apples that we needed to utilize fast.

While I left to visit the cemetery (Sunday 5/16 was the anniversary of my dad's passing--17 years) to put some fresh-cut roses on his grave, my sweet hubby agreed to peel the apples. Bless my dear hubby, before you feel sorry for him, please know that he used one of those no-brainer Apple-Peeler-Corer-Slicer devices that you can get through Pampered Chef. It skins the apples, peels and cores them, and slices them into tiny, delectable bites all at one time. So he zipped through those five pounds of apples in a heartbeat (and saved the skins--the healthiest part of the apple--to use in his homemade smoothies. I'll write more about that later in another blog.)

After that part, the remainder of assembling the Farm Apple Pan Pie was simple--a dusting with sugars (brown and regular) mixed with spices, an egg-yolk pastry, and placing all this in a jelly roll pan. The recipe calls for a double crust, but I used a lattice top instead (so I could watch the apples baking.) Truthfully, I had an excess of crust and apples, so by making a bit extra amount of the sugar "dusting" I had enough for a second pie in a small pie plate!

You can't imagine what a delicious dish this made! We thought we trumped the folks in Willcox, AZ, who run the Apple Cider Mill (one of our favorite stopovers on the road from Dallas to Phoenix) and serve memorable apple pies. Stopping in there for one of their homemade pies makes the last four hours of that long trip to Phoenix more bearable. But now I had one on them--my own apple creation!

Fifty minutes later out popped my Farm Apple Pan Pie--brown, bubbling, and wonderful (prepared with health-conscious substitutes such as Splenda, No-Salt, and Egg Beaters, by the way). I had used up a significant portion of my farmers-market produce; I had assuaged my conscience by preparing a long-put-off recipe; best of all, I had a spare pie to store in the freezer for another day when a homemade dessert would be handy!

Farm Apple Pan Pie
Egg Yolk Pastry:
5 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar (I use sugar substitute)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten (I use egg substitute)
3/4 cup cold water

5 pounds tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced
4 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar (or substitute)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use substitute)

Additional sugar

In a bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder; cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine yolks and cold water. Sprinkle over dry ingredients; toss with fork. If needed, add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture can be formed into a ball. Divide dough in half, On a lightly floured surface roll half of dough to fit a 15-inch-by-10-inch-by-1-inch baking pan. Sprinkle apples with lemon juice; arrange half of them over dough. combine the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt; sprinkle half over apples. Top with remaining apples; sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture. Roll remaining pastry to fill pan; place on top of filling and seal edges. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut vents in top pastry. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Makes 18-24 servings.

When with Romaine, do as the Romaines do . . .

Our spring/summer garden 2010 is making its debut. From early observations it seems to be shaping up to be our most prolific in years--certainly since the Texas Deluge of 2007 practically wiped it out and stripped the soil of nutrients.

(My new book, Way Back in the Country Garden, contains a chapter, "Peach Trees and the Wedding Plywood", that details exactly why that garden was so memorable.)

My hubby was determined that this year, he would get back in the full swing of things for the first time in those three intervening summers. Early on he applied a high nitrogen fertilizer after he visited with the wise folks at Roach Feed & Seed (an institution in Downtown Garland. They can help with anything!). Already the cornstalks are high and green, the tomatoes look as though they'll be lush, and the okra looks promising. And that's just the beginning.

Anyway, this year, we got so carried away, we decided to grow romaine lettuce--our first attempt at this food item. The first crop arrived a few weeks back. We picked our first bunch and COULD NOT BELIEVE we simply could walk a few steps out our back door and haul in a crunchy head of lettuce that would last us all week. Absolutely NOTHING like fresh romaine on a sandwich.

To celebrate our first romaine pick, we just had to have a special kind of sandwich. I had just read the latest issue of Southern Living and had seen a recipe for Old South Pimiento Cheese. I am a pimiento-cheese addict from the word GO--loved it all my life and am always looking for new ways to prepare it. No one will ever fix pimiento cheese like Betty Ewing, for years the society columnist for the Houston Chronicle. Betty's work cubicle was next to mine during my days as a writer for the Chronicle's Lifestyle section. Probably once a week Betty, who was generous to a fault, brought in a giant jar of pimiento cheese spread and shared it with the rest of the office as we made our lunchtime sandwiches. Again and again she would disclose to her co-workers what was in her magic recipe, but her ingredient list always varied a little each time she described the mixture. I would try to write it down, but the next time she would recite it slightly differently than she had the previous time.

This recipe in Southern Living (it appears below) seems the closest to Betty's that I've run across. It was absolutely perfect with my fresh-beyond-fresh romaine from our very own garden.

If you want a gardening treat that will REALLY make you feel as though you accomplished something, put a little romaine in your gardening life. We did and are thrilled with our romaine crop!

Old South Pimiento Cheese
1 cup chopped/broken pecans
1 (8-ounce) block extra sharp cheese (grate on small side of cheese grater)
1 (8-ounce) block sharp cheese (grate on large side of cheese grater)
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimiento, drained
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon grated onion
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

Set oven to 350 degrees. Toast the 1 cup pecans for 8-10 minutes. Stir halfway through the toasting. Mix the grated cheese, mayonnaise, pimiento, worcestershire sauce, onion, and red pepper. Add pecans. Spread on bread.