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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The cabbage recipe that launched a new cookbook and spawned a significant discovery

My hubby asked whether I knew the whereabouts of his plastic vitamin case.

"It's over there on top of the recipe box," I absently instructed him. Then remembering, and with a chuckle, I teased, "You know, the little brown box that launched a new cookbook."

Very true. This innocuous-looking brown wooden box, devoid of any kitchen decor but strictly practical and utilitarian to suit her purposes all those years, contained the discovery that prompted me, quite unexpectedly, to write my new Way Back in the Country Garden cookbook--the cookbook that prompted this blog, The Newfangled Country Gardener--and that started the dizzying promotion events that now swirl around me and my family.

The recipe box belonged to my Aunt Frances, our family's 102-year-old treasure and the last surviving member of Hubby and my parents' generation. Widowed for decades and childless, she doted on all her nieces and nephews; we, her primary caregivers, doted on her in return.

When she passed from us a year ago in May, the recipe box that for years she had kept fell into my possession. One day late last summer I casually thumbed through it. I was convinced I'd find nothing new. After all, my first book, Way Back in the Country, released in 2002, had mined every family standout family recipe that I could collect from my relatives and from my mother's recipe grouping that I also inherited on her passing.

As I dug into Aunt Frances' brown box, however, the first item that surfaced was the recipe for Cabbage Rolls, with Aunt Frances' notation that she often prepared this for Sunday-school covered-dish luncheons. That's strange, I thought to myself. I don't remember knowing about this one.

Then other new items began to crop up among the familiar. Okra Creole; Brown Sugar Apple Pie; Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes. I began to realize that all these newly discovered recipes had a common theme--all were to be prepared with items that are homegrown--just the theme that I'd been contemplating with the rise in interest in home gardening that the Great Recession and other issues have spawned.

Besides my recipe-box find, I had been scribbling down some new stories that had poured off Aunt Frances' lips like rainwater during the last few years of her life. Even when her advancing age impaired her short-term memory slightly, our aunt always could be lightning-sharp about events that happened in days gone by. Vivid details about the legendary Oak Cliff Tornado which passed frighteningly near her Dallas home in 1957 and about Grandma Harris' serving Tomato Preserves when Aunt Frances and her sisters were schoolgirls were part of our aunt's clear recall in those latter days. As fast as she could reel them off, I recorded them--and then realized I had another book of family lore--lore beyond what I'd already captured in Way Back in the Country eight years ago--in the making.

When, recently, our 2010 garden brought forth its first cabbage head, I hauled it in and immediately had to turn it into Cabbage Rolls--admittedly a bit tedious to assemble (I can just imagine meticulous Aunt Frances carefully stuffing each individual cabbage leaf and then fastening each with a toothpick to secure). The actual cooking occurs for an hour in a covered skillet (you also could use a crock pot), with the pungent aroma filling every crevice of my kitchen as the mixture bubbles throughout the day and makes all the effort worthwhile.

When we at last dined on Cabbage Rolls, the delicious meal--combined with the fun I'm having seeing my new cookbook get in others' appreciative hands--made me immensely grateful for Aunt Frances' little brown box that spawned it all. Besides, the box does make a great spot on which Hubby's plastic vitamin case can rest.

Cabbage Rolls

8 cabbage leaves
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt (we use salt substitute)
1 pound ground beef (we used ground turkey)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 (1/2-ounce) envelope spaghetti-sauce mix
1 (1-pound) can whole tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup evaporated milk, undiluted

Steam cabbage leaves in water for 8 minutes or until they are slightly softened; drain thoroughly. Combine rice, water, and salt; cook covered 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Mix together cooked rice, beef, onion, and 1 tablespoon spaghetti-sauce mix. Fill each leaf with approximately 1/3 cup meat mix. Fold leaf over meat; tuck in ends; fasten with toothpicks. Place rolls with overlapped side down in large skillet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Mix together tomatoes and remaining contents of sauce-mix envelope; pour over cabbage. Simmer covered for 1 hour. Place rolls on platter; remove toothpicks. To tomato liquid in pan add evaporated milk. Simmer until thick but do not boil. Serve cabbage rolls steaming hot with sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Salad a stunner on live TV as talk show focused on joys of gardening resurgence

Would my speckled blue spongeware bowl be too "busy" to allow the cameras to focus?

Would my romaine lettuce wilt under the spotlight?

Would I remember the list of ingredients when I had to regurgitate them for the talk-show host?

I'm sure veteran TV cooks Racheal Ray and Paula Deen never have such concerns.

But Friday when I had to prepare Tangy Orange-Pecan Salad (I even devised the acronym TOPS to help me remember the name of the dish in case I blanked on live TV) for the Arizona Midday talk show, a thousand concerns such as these ran through my mind before I stepped on the stage with host Destry Jetton.

When my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country, debuted in 2002, I became highly familiar with cooking on live TV. Stations in a numerous places asked me to be a guest and to prepare my "Golden Corn Bread" that was featured in that book's first chapter. I became so accustomed to my corn bread preparation, I could have gone through those motions in my sleep.

But Friday's appearance to help promote my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden, was a first on live TV for me to prepare Tangy Orange-Pecan Salad, which I had chosen specially for this Arizona audience because oranges and other citrus are so plenteous in Arizona citrus groves. TV stations ask you to bring a sample of the finished product as well as the recipe in various stages of preparation (cut up orange sections in a bowl, dressing in a clear-glass container, spices mixed and ready to add.) My brain cells were eight-years older than when I did this previously. Could I remember everything I was supposed to do and say during the brief three-minute time segment?

Thankfully my host, Destry, a seasoned TV personality on this NBC affiliate, made the process comfortable (beforehand we discovered she had been a Texan some years back and even worked in the same city at the same my son was employed there. Small world!) She interviewed me about why I believed home gardening is experiencing a resurgence. She was enthusiastic about my recipe and even asked me why this particular recipe, Tangy Orange-Pecan Salad, was special to me (in the cookbook I write that I first prepared it last January when we were in Phoenix for our grandson's birth at the height of Citrus Season.)

Despite my niggling concerns, my spongeware bowl looked fabulous on camera. I spieled off the recipe ingredients fast and accurately. The crunchy romaine held up great and looked delectable with the orange sections, pecans, parmesan cheese, and cilantro on top. And best of all, the camera focused on the cover of my new book again and again! Great publicity!

Doubt if I'll be edging out Rachael or Paula, but I'm pumped and ready to cook on camera again any time.

Tangy Orange-Pecan Salad

4 navel oranges
1 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar (we use sugar substitute)
1 tablespoon oil, such as olive oil or canola
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (16-ounce bag) romaine, washed, dried and chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup broken (not chopped) pecan halves

Peel and section three oranges; remove white membrane; cut orange sections into bite-sized chunks. Set aside. Into small container squeeze the juice of the remaining orange. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the container. Combine sugar, oil, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk into juice. Place chopped romaine into mixing bowl. Add dressing and toss. Onto serving bowl place lettuce that has been tossed with dressing. Sprinkle on orange segments, chopped cilantro, and parmesan cheese. In small nonstick skilled toast broken pecans for about five minutes until they become brown. Sprinkle on top of salad. Makes six servings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hunt for the perfect chicken-salad recipe is over in this garden-fresh recipe

My love connection with the perfect chicken salad began when I was a child.

The lunch counter at McKnight Drugs on the square in downtown Garland made to-die-for chicken-salad sandwiches. In my earliest experience with take-out food, my mother would call McKnight's and order three chicken-salad sandwiches on toast with a dill pickle spear on the side of each.

My mother would drive me to the square, deposit me on the curb, plant some crisp dollar bills in my hand, and send me in to pick up our "to-go" lunch for that day. The sandwiches would be wrapped in waxed-paper squares held in place by a toothpick. Once at home my mother, my daddy, and I would slowly savor each delectable bite of this inimitable meal.

Ever since then I've been on the hunt for the perfect chicken-salad recipe.

My search ended a few days ago when I tried a recipe for Orange-Chicken Salad. No way it even compared to that of McKnight's, but it was a most unusual, interesting twist on a great summertime staple and featured garden-fresh green beans to give it special appeal. The recipe, from Family Circle magazine, long ago was clipped and ever since has been languishing in the "someday" pages of my summer recipe album. Worth the wait, I must say!

I loved the addition of the fresh green beans, spinach, and mandarin oranges (you could substitute fresh oranges that had been peeled and sectioned, with the white membrane removed.) Although doing so is unnecessary, I doubled the ingredients for the dressing and opted to used sugar-free maple syrup to keep the sugars at bay. With some slices of fresh cantaloupe on the side Orange-Chicken Salad made for an ideal summer dinner.

McKnight Drug is long since closed on the square, its owners retired, and has given way to the location for a storefront church in its old corner of the square in what is now known as Historic Downtown Garland (I'll be having a book signing three-doors down at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 3, in The Generator), but I never stroll by that section of downtown without remembering my beloved chicken salad.

I'm glad I found Orange-Chicken Salad, made with healthy, garden-fresh ingredients to help preserve that memory.

Orange-Chicken Salad

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (5 ounces each)
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound green beans, trimmed, cut into 2 1/2-inch segments
1 bag spinach
1 (15-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained, juice reserved
(you can sub sections from fresh oranges)
1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons reserved mandarin orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Place chicken, broth, and garlic powder in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce to simmer. Cook until chicken is done, about 10 minutes. Add beans during last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove chicken to cutting board. When it is cool enough to do so, cut in small chunks. For dressing, stir together sour cream, reserved orange juice, maple syrup, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and hot-pepper sauce. Add spinach and toss entire mixture. Scatter chopped almonds on top and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mixed berries make a wonderful showing in this unusual crustless "pie" recipe

When is a pie crust not a pie crust?

When it's the shell of an apple that cleverly acts as a holder for pie ingredients.

Just days ago I discovered a fun new recipe, the outcome of which was brimming with health and goodness but amazed me at its ability to taste like a pie without the usual flour/water/oil crust.

The secret was finding baking apples such as Granny Smith that are tart and are designed to be baked in the oven rather than merely eaten as snacks.

Our grocery happened to be running a special on its fresh shipment of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries--the first three ingredients in the Baked Apples with Berries recipe I'd just discovered. (Thanks again to my "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" booklet, which has recipes categorized by fresh fruits and vegetables. Each fruit or vegetable features two recipes that can be prepared with that particular produce item.)

Besides being sure to use baking rather than snacking apples, another key to this recipe is to core the apple only three-quarters of the way down rather than hollowing out the full depth of the apple. Leaving some uncored portion at the bottom retains the fruit mixture during the baking process and helps the skin serve as the "pie shell" I mentioned. The rest of the instructions appear below.

After baking this concoction for 45 minutes, the apple skin made a wonderful holder for the baked berries and then the yummy fruit and yogurt mixture that's added after baking.

We dined on our Baked Apples with Berries at dinner while they were warm from the oven and saved the remaining two stuffed apples for the next day's lunch. For lunch I ate mine cold, straight from the refrigerator--equally delicious!

Baked Apples with Berries

1 cup fresh blackberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup blueberries
4 large baking apples (I used Granny Smith), washed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
slivered almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core apples about three-quarters o the way through the apple. Start at the stem. Make the hole more than 1 inch wide. Place apples in baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Rinse and drain berries. Combine berries and then pack berries firmly into the opening in each apple. Set extra berries aside. Bake apples until they are soft, about 45 minutes. Divide remaining berries in half. Crush half the berries and then mix with yogurt, cinnamon, and honey. Serve apples with yogurt topping and extra berries sprinkled on top. Sprinkle slivered almonds on top if desired.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Plum-peach dish summarizes childhood summers; yields a winner of a dessert

If ever a dessert existed that--all in one dish--encapsulated the summers of my childhood, it's the spectacular Plum-Peach Crumble.

But previously I've always had to hit the grocery store produce aisle or borrow from someone else's fruit trees to complete the process of making it.

Not this year! I'm proud to report that every smattering of peaches and plums needed to hatch up this wonderful creation hailed from my own back yard.

Our plum tree, for the first time, yielded a bevy of baby plums--prolific, sweet, and juicy. Into the pie mix they went, along with a small sackful of peaches I'd been hoarding until the plums were ripe and ready.

For dessert last night we had the Moore Orchard-produced Peach-Plum Crumble. O, was it a spectacular treat!

The reason Plum-Peach Crumble encapsulates my childhood is very simple. In the yard my parents purchased to build their home on Garland's South 11th Street were two kinds of fruit trees--peaches and plums. Summers were spent with me alternating between these delicious fruit: after lunch one day I'd snare a fresh peach for dessert; another day I'd grab a plum.

My parents were fortunate to get a ready-made fruit orchard in their back yard and that they didn't have to spend years cultivating one. That had been done by their neighbor, Brother Hunt, a retired Baptist minister who tended his gardens situated in the vacant lot that was next to his home on South 11th (now part of Historic Downtown Garland).

My parents had spotted the empty lot as a potential location for the house they wanted to build near downtown. They wanted to locate in an area in which their only child could walk to all 12 grades of school. Brother Hunt's vacant lot was only one block from the junior high and high school and two blocks from the neighborhood elementary.

My mother approached Brother Hunt's daughter, who taught typing at the high school in which my mother had been school secretary. But Louise Hunt told my parents that her dad enjoyed his fruit orchard too much to part with the lot on which it was located.

My parents had been headed out to close the sale on another lot, some five blocks away—their distant second choice. But Louise Hunt's phone call caught them in time. Her dad was getting up in years, she said, and couldn't tend the garden as he once had, so he had reconsidered. He would sell them the 11th-Street lot which housed his prized peach and plum trees, as well as an expansive vegetable garden. My parents were ecstatic to get their first choice of lots and told Brother Hunt he could pick fruit off his former trees any time he liked.

When Brother Hunt sauntered through the hedge to visit his former garden, he enjoyed talking with the loquacious little girl who now lived on the lot. The older retired preacher and the pipsqueak young neighbor became best buddies. But I'm surprised he ever found any fruit left on his trees. I usually had beat him to the peaches and plums that he had given their start.

Some years back I happened onto this recipe for Plum-Peach Crumble (now contained in my new book, Way Back in the Country Garden) and couldn't believe my good fortune. I've baked it for several summers in a row. But this year--our prized fruit orchard sourced the entire concoction. Brother Hunt, long in Glory but whose memory still remains with that now-grownup pipsqueak young neighbor--his buddy--would be so pleased.

Plum-Peach Crumble

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (we use sugar substitute)
1/2 teaspoon salt (we use salt substitute)
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg (we use egg substitute)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup heavy cream (we substitute skim milk)
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 pound plums, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/4 cup chopped)
3/4 pound peaches, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/4 cup chopped)
fat-free whipped topping or fat-free vanilla yogurt
slivered almonds

Mix together brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in flour. Divide mixture in half. Set one-half aside. To other half add cinnamon, baking powder, and 1 egg. Blend well. Press into bottom of 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. When the crust bakes, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, cream (milk), and almond extract. Remove crust from oven and spread chopped plum and peaches on top. Pour cream mixture over fruit. Sprinkle with reserved half of butter-blour mixture. Sprinkle with additional brown sugar if desired. Bake at 350 degrees until crumb topping is browned (about 20-25 minutes). Serve warm with whipped topping or fat-free vanilla yogurt and slivered almonds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

For this "J", flexibility with recipe ingredients can have big payoffs

Where recipes are concerned, I've never been much for adapting.

If a recipe says 1 cup pecans, to me that means 1 cup and not a sprinkling more. If it calls for six ingredients, I follow it to the letter of the law. If I don't possess all the items it calls for, I simply bypass the recipe and select another one.

I recently edited a book in which the author stated that she viewed any recipe as merely as "suggestion" as to how a food item should be prepared. To the basic framework she always added, subtracted, and modified at will.

When I ran across that statement in her copy, I mentally rolled my eyes. A suggestion? I'd starve before I ever failed to follow a recipe down to the last jot and tittle.

My hubby of course would assess that this is because I'm a die-hard "J" on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a renowned personality inventory that helps people understand themselves better. A "J" doesn't flex much and usually is as rigid as the day is long, according to my hubby, who naturally is a Myers-Briggs "P" (don't fence him in! Give him lots of room to go with the flow!) Yes, opposites attract!

All this is a prelude for saying that surprisingly, I've found myself actually flexing a lot more lately when I'm preparing a recipe. For example to the ingredients for "Lemony Vegetable Medley" in yesterday's blog--I shocked myself by adding some thinly sliced carrots to the green bean-corn-radish-red pepper potpourri before marinating. I had some leftover carrot chips on hand and thought, "Bet that would add some extra zing." Yes, that's me, Kay--the die-hard "J"--actually coloring outside the box from what the recipe originally said.

But because I adapted with that recipe and added the carrot on a whim, that left me carrot-less last night when the time arrived to prepare "Calico Beef Burgers", which I earlier mentioned is one of my summer "must-have"s. Calico Beef Burgers, which we sub with ground turkey instead of ground beef, calls for 1/2 cup grated carrot to be mixed in with the meat before one forms the burger patty. Since I was without a carrot, I surveyed the fridge and with a nonchalance that would make any "P" proud, asked myself, "Now what do I have . . .?"

The answer? Corn--left over from Monday night and the "Lemony Vegetable Medley." A couple of ears still were available. Hubby had picked them from his garden a few days earlier. I quickly microwaved them, cut the kernels from the cob, and stirred in the corn in place of the 1/2 cup grated carrot.

The result? An absolute meal in a burger patty, which contained meat, cheese (dairy), green veggie (green onions), potato (carbohydrate/fiber), and corn (fiber again). On a whole wheat bun I added spinach leaves (which we usually substitute for lettuce) to make the whole thing even more healthy.

Hubby said he didn't miss the carrot at all, though I'll probably return to the original recipe when I stir up some "Calico Beef Burgers" (from my cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden) again. On the other hand, flexing was so enjoyable, I might just sub a little grated zucchini next time!

Calico Beef Burgers

3/4 cup pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 cup cold cooked potatoes, riced or mashed
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Combine ingredients; shape into patties. Grill burgers. May be served on a toasted bun or by themselves with a little salt-free ketchup on top.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fresh corn makes vegetable medley a scene-stealer for a summer potluck

Look out, summer potluck meals and family reunion food tables! A new blockbuster recipe I've just discovered is sure to start making the rounds.

If the health-appeal factor doesn't wow you, the sheer colorfulness of it will! This recipe would be a sure scene-stealer at any covered-dish occasion.

"Lemony Vegetable Medley" that I prepared last night with the first ears of corn from our very own garden (yes, it finally got as high as an elephant's eye!) is the most inventive and most flavorful dish I've tried in a long time--and that's saying a lot, since we've had some winners lately.

Hubby cast his oft-skeptical glance at the project when I asked him to get some radishes for me in the produce section of the grocery store. He couldn't imagine how sliced radishes would "go" with corn and steamed green beans in this marinated mixture.

He was the first to sing the praises of the dish, however, and wanted more and more. He said it was the most colorful salad he'd ever eaten and that it was like devouring health personified. Can't get better reviews than that!

The ingredient that "made" this medley, however, was the fresh garden corn. How eager we'd been to go out and raid our very own stalks.

The good news was that what we brought in was great and tasted terrific; the bad news was that we'll use it all up in just a couple of dishes. No voluminous corn harvest this year, I'm afraid.

Hubby is bemoaning the fact that he left much of the garden planting to the yard man. In retrospect we can see that our yard man planted things too close together and not as carefully as he should have. The corn, the tomatoes, and the peppers are all tightly bunched without a lot of growing room. (Gardening was not our yard guy's thing and was done in haste so he could quickly get back to mowing.) Hubby resolution: he'll do the planting himself next season and let the yard man stick with mowing. When you care a lot--and he cares bunches--garden-tending's just not something you leave to someone else. We live and learn.

However, we can be thankful for what corn we were able to bring in. And when we dined last night on "Lemony Vegetable Medley" (thanks, "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" recipe booklet), we enjoyed it down to the very last kernel!

Lemony Vegetable Medley

2 cups corn (about 3 large ears), cooked
2 cups green beans, lightly steamed
1 cups radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup red bell pepper, sliced

1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
pepper to taste

Mix dressing and set aside. Combine vegetables in large bowl. Add dressing and refrigerate for 1 hour. Stir and serve.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Don't let the title fool you; "mid-summer" salad recipe with ingredients fresh from the garden is perfect any time

The recipe's name was "Mid-Summer Salad", but who says it can't make a good meal in early summer as well?

As I prepared this recipe for a June evening meal, I couldn't help but wish I were doing so on a mid-summer date a few weeks hence. That would mean that our expected baby grandson would be very near his arrival time. Wa-hoo! We can hardly wait! Now that will be a cause for celebration! But back to "Mid-Summer Salad."

"Mid-Summer" in the recipe name perhaps refers to the fact that some of the ingredients, such as the tomatoes and cucumber, would be reaching their peak in the garden in mid-summer and hence would be available for salad-making about that time.

Regardless of the trivia about the name, Mid-Summer Salad was memorable and delicious. (Thanks to my booklet, Celebrating a Healthy Harvest, from the Chickasaw Nutrition Services, which contained the recipe.) In preparing it I learned two things:

* Green onions, fresh from our garden (they're really just the tops of regular onions), add an incredible zest to a salad mixture. In this recipe they're part of the dressing. They really make this salad sing. The one-tablespoon mustard added to the dressing adds to the flavor as well.

* Keep the cut-up avocado in a salad from turning brown by dumping the seed right into the salad mixture. The presence of the seed keeps the avocado green. (I learned this on Sunday from Ishmael's mom, who attended--and brought homemade Guacamole for--our backyard fiesta. I wrote about this in my Monday blog about my "new-beginnings" Peach Cobbler. As I scooped out my Guacamole helping onto my plate, a medium-sized seed plopped right onto the plate with it. Margarita told me she puts seeds in all her guacamole. Indeed it was the brightest, freshest green color imaginable.) Of course many people sprinkle a cut avocado with lemon or white vinegar to prevent browning.

Many people also know the tip that to ripen an avocado, place the fruit in a brown paper bag in a cool place for two to five days. Daily check for ripeness. Refrigerate ripe avocados; use within three days.

I added the avocado seed to my mixture for my Mid-Summer Salad. Truly the avocado stayed bright green and never turned brown even hours after the salad had been in the refrigerator. Thanks, Margarita, for the suggestion!

Because of the addition of the diced chicken breast, Mid-Summer Salad--served with some warmed tortillas on the side (also left over from Sunday's fiesta)--made an ideal entree for a light summer meal. Here's to Mid- (or in the case of our salad, Early) Summer!

Mid-Summer Salad

8 cups mixed greens (we used spinach)
2 eggs, hard-boiled, chopped
1/2 pound cooked boneless chicken breast, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, sliced
1 avocado, diced

2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons diced green onions
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil

Mix dressing ingredients in a small container. In a large salad bowl mix and toss greens, eggs, chicken breast, tomatoes, cucumber, and avocado. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. Chill and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Remaining peaches once again provide a dessert marking a "new-beginnings" occasion

In the end I didn't have to use much discernment at all. The choice was a very natural one.

The remaining peaches from our most prolific peach tree--all peeled and chopped, with their slices filling a nice-sized bowl--measured only five cups: no more. I knew I could get only one ample peach dish from the batch awaiting me in my refrigerator. I had to make it count.

The crop from our next tree wasn't ripe yet, so this current supply would have to get a big bang for its buck. (My June 7 blog, "When crop is smaller than expected, selective use can still impress the taste buds", mentioned this dilemma.)

It wasn't enough for peach jam or peach preserves, which were high on my wish-list for this summer but certainly not possible with only five cups of peaches at the ready.

I leafed through the peach section of my recipe album. What called for five cups? A fajita cookout in our back yard the next day needed a dessert prepared by me. Our garden's peach tree that would be responsible for this yield could entertain compliments with guests dining only a stone's throw away on the deck. What food item would be just perfect for our meal?

Then it hit me. Our Sunday event was to be held to celebrate new beginnings. Two young people--Ishmael and Crystal--were being baptized during Sunday church. We had invited their family to the cookout afterward in honor of this special occasion--a very key decision to trust Christ as Savior that Ishmael had made in 2008 and his sister, Crystal, had made just a few weeks ago. Both testified they were ready for a fresh start as they had asked Jesus into their hearts and lives.

Last summer we celebrated new beginnings as well--as our cousin Lynda and her fiance George tied the knot after an extended courtship. One Sunday afternoon both of them, who as single parents separately had been rearing children alone, had visited our home to ask Louis to perform their wedding ceremony and unite their families. During their visit I served everyone "Quick Peach Cobbler" to acclaim the first peaches from our new trees since our entire peach orchard had been wiped out in the deluge of May 2007. It marked new beginnings for our peach grove, also.

"Quick Peach Cobbler" called for five cups of peeled peaches--the exact amount that I had on hand this time, too. My new-beginnings recipe would serve its purpose once again. The dish lives up to its name--quick to prepare, especially considering the outrageously tasty results. And the aroma in my kitchen as the bubbling peach dish materialized in the oven . . . it was my Aunt Bonnie's kitchen all over again from summers of my childhood when I would visit her on the farm and help her peel that week's yield of her peach trees.

"Quick Peach Cobbler", featured in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden in a chapter called "To Love, Honor, and Surprise" about Lynda and George's wedding, turned out to be a wonderful addition to yesterday afternoon's victory celebration in our back yard. Crystal and Ishmael were brimming with joy after being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. In front of their family members, some of whom were just starting to contemplate whether they might need to make commitments to Christ, this brother and sister were bold in their newfound faith and had no regrets.

Members of the church choir, on learning of Crystal and Ishmael's decisions, taken a special interest in them, prayed for them, and graciously sent along some desserts to accompany our fajita dinner. The choristers had furnished two chocolate sheet cakes, a plate of brownies, a pecan pie, and a lemon poppyseed Bundt--but no peach cobbler, so my "new-beginnings" dessert settled into a place of honor on the table. And when one guest asked me, "Did you say the peaches for this were picked from that tree just a few days ago?", I made sure I said "yes" loud enough for the parent tree to overhear. It had done itself proud.

Quick Peach Cobbler

sugar (we used sugar substitute)
5 cups sliced and peeled peaches
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar (w used sugar substitute)
1 large egg, beaten (we used egg substitute)
1/2 cup butter (we used unsalted butter)
ice cream or whipped topping (we used no-sugar added topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl place sliced peaces. Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg on top of sliced peaches. Toss to mix. Place mixture in greased 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Mix 1 cup self-rising flour, 1 cup sugar, and egg to a crumb-like texture. Pour over layer of peaches in baking dish Melt butter and drizzle over crumb topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until top turns brown and crusty. Serve hot or cold, plain or with ice cream or whipped topping Serves 6-8.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Putting up green peppers evokes ties to "granny-lady gardeners" of the past

I never feel so "at one" with the granny-lady gardeners of the past as I do when we plant and harvest green bell peppers.

With our green-pepper yield we truly "put food by" in the way that people, of necessity, utilized their gardens in days gone by.

Our green peppers traditionally are prolific, with far more that we could possibly use during one summer's time.

As each summer wanes, I get my knife and chopping board out and pulverize into bits my leftover peppers. Then I line up small, airtight, plastic containers and dump the chopped peppers in, label them, and store them in the freezer.

This industrious act fairly uses up all my plastic containers as well as a couple of shelves in the deepfreeze. Staring at the green-pepper collection that I've just put away, I always believe I've stored up far more green peppers than I can use in any 10 non-growing seasons.

I'm always wrong. I find amazing the number of recipes that list green peppers as an ingredient. Deep in the winter, when the pepper plants are gone, I can feel smug as I traverse the few steps to my freezer and haul out one of my airtight containers into which just weeks before I've put away chopped peppers. Then just about the time, in mid-to-late summer, when the freezer cupboard starts running bare of my stockup, new green peppers are starting to pop out from the current year's garden. So goes the cycle--just as it has in people's stored-away garden supplies for generations, except of course that I have the blessings of a modern, electric deepfreeze for storage.

Last year my cousin Yvonne gave me a wonderful tip. She told me that she takes green peppers from her garden and from them makes a whole flotilla of Stuffed Green Peppers. Then she cooks and freezes the stuffed peppers in portions that ultimately will make dinner-sized servings for her and her husband, Wheat. In the depths of winter, then, she's ready to thaw a nourishing meal and reheat it for their dinner.

After hearing her suggestion, at the end of last summer I tried this. We especially enjoyed our Stuffed Green Peppers during the month of December, which, as any woman with the weight of Christmas prep on her shoulders knows, is a month in which frenzied activity makes cooking regular meals impossible. How good to simply gallop over to my freezer and thaw and then microwave a wholesome Stuffed Green Pepper dish made from our own garden peppers a few months back!

Our garden's green-pepper rows look promising this year, but we're still too early to breeze out and pluck a few when I run across green bell peppers in a recipe. So for our meal a few nights ago, thankfully I still have a few airtight plastic containers marked "green peppers" in my deepfreeze. For "Sweet and Sour Chicken" (recipe from a Sam's Club flyer), I had only to walk a few steps and raid my supply--and once again felt self-satisfied (and as though I was linking arms with many generations past) in doing so.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

4 to 6 (6-ouce) boneless skinless chicken breasts (we used chicken tenders)
1/2 teaspoon salt (we use salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
cooking spray
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup green bell peppers, diced (can add red bell peppers as well, if you have them)
1 cup pineapple chunks, drained
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Heat grill to medium (we use our countertop grill). Spray the chicken breast lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. While chicken is grilling, combine juice, water, zest, honey, 3 teaspoons vinegar, and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. In a small bowl combine cornstarch and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. Add to saucepan and mix until thick. Add pineapple and bell peppers. Simmer on low for 5 minutes until chicken is ready. Plate the chicken and top each breast with 3/4 cup of sauce. Can be served over rice. Serves 4.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Essence of summer" food must-have list just got a new addition

Some foods literally exude summer. Everyone has his or her faves, but my "essence of summer" foods are lemon ice-box pie, strawberry shortcake, marinated cucumber salad, and calico beef burgers, to name a few.

They're the menu items that I just can't "do" the summer season without. So early on, I start making a mental list to be sure I'm not having to cram in some last-minute gorging as the season wanes.

A new quintessential summer dish moved onto my radar screen this week. I wasn't looking for a summer synonym--but simply something to use the ample ears of corn my hubby brought home from Kroger this week because the produce area had it at a good sale price. (The corn in our garden is materializing but isn't quite as high as an elephant's eye yet, so we're still supplementing from the grocery until we bring in our own corn ears.)

So I stumbled on a recipe for "Avocado Salsa". I thought the mingling of avocados, cherry tomatoes, and fresh corn sounded, well, colorful at least. Like several other recipes I've mentioned in this blog, this one inspired skepticism also. "It just seems like it would need some kind of a dressing," I reported to Hubby as I assembled the ingredients.

Interesting role-reversal. He's usually the one who raises a dubious eyebrow about whether a recipe will "work". This time he was the Encouraging Barnabas of the kitchen. "I bet the lime juice is all it needs," he assessed as he scanned the salsa recipe in the "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" booklet from the Chickasaw Nation.

He was right. The lime juice, mixed with the salt and chopped cilantro, worked miracles on the avocado, tomato, and corn combination (and even more so the second day after the concoction refrigerated overnight.)

The result! "Avocado Salsa", which we served over spinach but also could be an appetizer alongside tortilla chips--became instant, edible summer--a new dish perfect for summer staple events such as picnics, family reunions, church potlucks, lunches at the lake, or as we experienced it--a simple summer dinner-for-two at home.

Avocado Salsa

2 avocados, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup corn, cooked and cut off cob
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon salt (we use salt substitute)

Combine avocado, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro; toss. Slowly pour lime juice over the salsa and toss to combine. Chill for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Monday, June 7, 2010

When crop is smaller than expected, selective use can still impress the taste buds

I'm having to be very picky; I didn't want to be.

Yes, this year's peach crop is a far sight better than last year's. And of course the sad year before—2008—because of the great 2007 deluge which killed our prolific peach trees, we had none.

But I got my hopes quite elevated late this spring when our first new tree budded and within days we began seeing those gorgeous orbs hanging from the branches (see my 5/31 blog, "Summer days turn perfectly peachy, but what to make with that first delightful crop?") I raced out and hauled in the first one for my breakfast cereal and then made "Miss Sallie's Pudding" with the first official yield. My mind began churning about all the peach recipes that were on my wish list--what would be next to prepare, and then the next, and then the next, and so on.

Now reality is just a little more, well, real. Second-in-Command Peach Tree, although trying its best, won't be abundant. Third-in-Command has some potential but looks less promising than #2.

The other two in the garden? Too new. Just won't be their year. To sum it up, hubby says we're still a year away from that truly bumper crop. "Next year in Jerusalem", or at least "next year in the peach orchard", will have to be our mantra.

So, grrr, grrr, grrr, with those facts in mind, what will my "cup-half-full" response be? To be an excellent steward of the peaches I've been given for the summer of 2010. To be highly strategic in my cooking plan. To experiment with a few new recipes I've been saving as well as to invest in some old favorites. And maybe, just maybe, this year's peach haul will stretch further than I anticipate.

This weekend I hit the experimentation category--a recipe for "Individual Peach Berry Crisps" from the pages of Prevention magazine. It combined two of my favorite fruit--peaches and blueberries--in a healthy but filling desert--a dessert that I'd promised myself to try but didn't in years past. It called for using individual ramekins (small quiche dishes) so every person could have his or her very own "Crisp."

No disappointments there! The desserts looked beautiful, the peaches were divine, and you can bet I savored every stewardly bite. My next well-thought-out peach dessert? The subject of another blog!

Individual Peach-Berry Crisps

1 cup peeled, chopped peaches
1/4 cup blueberries
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (I used sugar substitute)
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon butter, softened
2 teaspoons chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put peaches in microwave-safe, covered glass dish. Add 1 teaspoon water; cook covered on high for 4 minutes until peaches are beginning to soften. In medium bowl mix peaches, blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, lemon zest, salt, and cinnamon. Let stand 10 minutes. In small bowl combine graham-cracker crumbs, oats, butter, and pecans and stir until mixture comes together. Coat 2 (6-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray. Divide peach mixture evenly between dishes. Top each with half of the graham-cracker mixture. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until topping is golden and peaches are heated through. Serves 2. Recipe can be doubled.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Despite frustrating allergies, nothing keeps us from our prized pecans

The same dance occurs about this time every year.

My hubby threatens to cut down our prized, paper-shell pecan trees.

These very same trees are the treasure trove of our most exemplary pecans--so sweet straight from the nut that they taste almost like candy--with shells so thin you can crack them using your thumb.

Our property contains nine pecan trees, but we usually make the pecan crop from the seven others available to friends, neighbors, and pecan-seekers from the general public who know our block is the source of free pecans and who annually line the curbside in the fall.

The annual yield of our two paper-shell pecans is ample for all our personal pecan needs for the year ahead.

My hubby loves the trees and what they produce, but he takes pity when he sees my eyes almost swollen shut from my late-in-life-onset pecan allergy when the trees shed their green, tassel-like "catkins", or pollen-producing flowers, in the late spring. I have to swear off my contact lenses for weeks on end while I wait for catkin-shedding period to pass.

"Let's just cut them down," he always threatens of our towering paper-shell producers, which happen to be the pecan trees nearest the driveway and house and therefore the ones with the greatest impact on my allergies.

If we ever seriously entertained such a thought, my parents likely would rise up from their burial spots in protest and haunt us forever. My daddy's pecan trees on his lot around my growing-up home (just down from us on Garland's 11th Street) were like children to him. He took such pride in their fertility. (Only when my hubby and I lived on the East Coast during our past pilgrimage was I fully aware that not every state possessed such a prize native treasure as the stately pecan.)

Even when she was on hospice, my mother one fall was fretting over who would pick the pecans that layered her yard unpicked. She ultimately called a friend who was a local baker to help herself to the nuts that would go into some of that friend's bakery specialties.

My Nanny's Pecan Pie recipe is one of the first dishes we annually make in the fall when the first new pecans are brought in. I usually follow that by stirring up Pecan Pie Muffins (both of these two recipes are in my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country.) Some other favorites are Sour Cream Apple Cake and Caramel Apple Coffee Cake (the last one appears in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden.)

What would I do if my hubby carried out on his annual comment and we had to look elsewhere for our marvelous paper-shells?

In the end I didn't have to worry. We decide to put off for at least another year any decision about tree-removal. I slogged through another spring and the pecan-tree discharge. My daughter's optometrist friend suggested to her that I store my allergy drops for my eyes in the refrigerator to make them more soothing when applied. I ordered a new lens (gas-permeable) for my left eye, which seems to be the one most sensitive to the shedding. I built my wearing time back up. I persevered. All for those buttery, paper-shell pecans, which, incidentally, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and therefore help people maintain good health.

After all, they're what make my new recipe for Citrus Pecan Spinach Salad, which we enjoyed this weekend and my hubby pronounced "the very best salad ever", sizzle!

Citrus Pecan Spinach Salad

1 (9-ounce) bag ready to eat spinach
1 green apple, cut in very thin slices
1 (15.25-ounce) can tropical fruit mix, drained
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 handful pecans, broken in pieces (not chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons raspberry preserves (we use sugar-free)

On a pie plate place pecans in a layer. In a 350-degree oven toast pecans until they are brown (about 8 minutes). Set aside to cool. For dressing, mix olive oil, raspberry vinegar, and raspberry preserves. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. In salad bowl toss spinach, thinly sliced apple, drained fruit, and feta cheese. Toss together with refrigerated dressing. Add toasted pecans and toss again slightly to coat nuts. Serves 4.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Garden-fresh tomatoes add missing ingredient to these very "elementary" beans

My hubby couldn't have been more insulted. The recipe card that I, with a hopeful look on my face, plunked in front of him was labeled "Beans 101."

Hubby fancies himself as the Grand Pooh-Bah of Bean-Cooking. My recipe card with its unusual title apparently hinted to him that he might have something yet to learn on the subject.

Why “101”? his expression seemed to say. I'm already on the doctoral level where beans are concerned.

Nevertheless, he undertook the recipe and helped me out with what would be the next night's dinner. After all, he'd already been commenting that we'd need to have some homemade beans again sometime soon. And besides, the recipe card hailed from his beloved Chickasaw Nutrition Services office. As a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, to him these freebie recipe cards (mentioned in yesterday's blog) are—like everything else Chickasaw—sacrosanct.

Some 10 hours later, after the concoction bubbled on low overnight (and greeted us in the morning with an awesome aroma), hubby had a frown on his face when he sampled the mixture. "Needs something," he murmured with furrowed brow.

He grabbed the salt substitute and poured some into the crockpot. Not sufficient, he determined on taste. Next he browned some ground turkey (our substitute for ground beef) and dumped it in. Improving, he assessed. Then he thought of tomatoes--fresh tomatoes from the garden, or the canned-and-drained variety as a substitute. Now that's getting tasty, his pleased look communicated.

For our purposes we changed the name of the recipe to Tomato Chili Beans. Fresh tomatoes had saved the day, added lycopene and vitamins C and A, and given the chili beans an improved color, with red chunks bobbing in the liquid. (Cooked tomatoes are said to have even more health benefits than raw ones do.) We heaped our soup bowls high and then dabbed on sour cream with a dusting of shredded cheese and slices of avocado.

Beans 101 turned out to be a fine refresher course in perseverance and ingenuity. And as Grand Pooh-Bah of Bean-Cooking, my husband can add one more success story--this time with Tomato Chili Beans (see below)--to his repertoire.

Tomato Chili Beans

3 cups dried pinto beans
1/2 small onion, diced
10 sliced jalapenos (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
12 cups water
salt to taste
about 6 tomatoes, peeled and seeded (or 1 14-ounce can salt-free diced tomatoes, drained)
1 pound ground turkey, browned and drained (optional)
sour cream
grated cheddar cheese
sliced avacado

Wash and sort 3 cups of pinto beans. Discard any small stones. Place beans in a slow-cooker and fill with 12 cups of water. place small diced onion and jalapenos (if desired) in slow cooker. Add chili powder and black pepper. Add tomato. Add browned ground turkey, if desired. Cook on high for 1 hour; then turn down to low to cook overnight (10 hours). Check water level in the morning. May add more water if needed. Cook on low all day and served in the evening. Spoon into bowls. Add sour cream, cheddar cheese, and avocado.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

To avoid the drab, even farmwives of yesteryear needed help with recipe inspiration

What do I do with all this stuff?

You've had an exhilarating day at the farmer's market and returned with a backseat-load of produce--colorful, healthy, and diverse.

Or, your trip to your garden plot has yielded a potpourri basketful of bits and pieces--some random okra, a few corn ears, a handful of tomatoes, an onion here and there--not enough to stock a cellar with canned goods but never-so-fresh-as-now and calling to be prepared and eaten.

What to do? Where do you go for inspiration?

Farmwives of the past, believe it or not, faced the same dilemma.

We tend to regard women of bygone days--when gardens were a necessity and when frugal food preparation meant the difference between survival and starvation for some families--as born wise in the "how-to" department. We tend to think of granny ladies of that era as people who hatched out mature and well-versed in automatically knowing how to use their garden produce.

Enter our Aunt Frances and her first job out of high school.

As a young woman entering the work world in Delta County, TX, Aunt Frances was hired by the county extension agent as an office helper. Her job was to type the recipes that the agent then carried to rural homes throughout the region. The recipes were welcome helps to farmwives who were stumped about how to use their garden pickin's so they didn't have to fix the "same-old, same-old" for supper. (An entire chapter, "Downtown", is devoted to this in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden.)

An example of the kind of recipes Aunt Frances would type--and also tuck away for the eventual day she, as a married lady, would be queen of her own kitchen--is today's feature: Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes. A few evenings ago, when we brought in just "a bit of this and a bit of that" from our garden, this dish was a perfect medley. As I mentioned in my blog post, "Fresh vegetables unadorned make for some delightful seasoned greetings", Hubby and I always are incredulous how the fresh vegetables season themselves--with only limited salt and pepper recommended to be added--yet how immensely flavorful!

What the county extension office did in Aunt Frances' day is the same kind of help the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services office provides today to help Chickasaws learn to cook more healthily and to use homegrown produce. My hubby and I stand amazed each time we visit our closest Chickasaw offices in Ardmore, OK. The nutrition-services building has free recipe cards on display in its entry. Live food demos are scheduled several times a day; they feature test kitchen and personnel to show how recipes on the freebie cards are prepared.

(Of course in today's Internet age, merely "Googling" the names of ingredients you have also can turn up a wealth of ideas as well.)

Hubby and I enjoyed our Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes for dinner alongside Sauteed Zucchini and Fettuccini (featured in Wednesday's blog). The fact that we had this okra medley recipe in our collection (thanks to Aunt Frances, who by the way died a year ago at age 102) made us really happy that those farmwives of yesteryear needed a little help now and then!

Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes

2 pounds fresh okra, with stems and tips removed
3 pounds tomatoes, skinned and seeded
8 ears fresh corn
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
4 cups onions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon salt (we used salt substitute)
freshly ground pepper

Cut okra into 1/4-inch rounds; discard tops. This should make about 6 cups of okra. Put tomatoes in stainless or enameled pan and cook slowly for about half an hour. Do not scorch. Drain any liquid. This should make about 2 cups of tomatoes. Use sharp knife to cut corn from cob. In a skillet heat butter and oil. Add okra and onions. Cook until onions are wilted and okra has begun to brown at edges, about 10-15 minutes. Turn often; add reduced tomatoes and salt; cook 5 minutes. Add corn and cook 3-4 more minutes. Add salt and pepper; season to taste.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

That healthy veggie, zucchini, wins kudos in entree for sultry summer evening

My hubby has only a few, minor pet peeves. These include—

• finding used tissue stuffed under my pillows when he makes the bed;
• finding dishes stacked in front of his coffeemaker, thus barring easy access to his java;
• finding that someone has taken out the kitchen trash without fitting a fresh trash bag onto the waste can;
• being unable to locate a pen or pencil when he's on the telephone and needs to scribble something;
• running out of paper goods (i.e., finding the paper-towel holder empty without any spares).

(He's easily pleased, don't you think? And you'll notice I didn't even mention the ubiquitous direction-of-the-toilet-paper thingy. He's cool on that one.)

But one irritation can spur him to a major meltdown. His PETTEST PEEVE of all has nothing to do with the genre of the above irritations: it's finding the kitchen oven on with me baking something on a hot summer day. Hubby believes this is the highest waste of energy; it heats up the house and causes the air-conditioner to pump more. Thus it drives up the fuel bill. He believes a ban should be enacted on all summer baking and that we should turn to more energy-conserving types of food preparation. (Of course that would eliminate the peach cobblers and peach muffins and all the other peach baked goodies I rhapsodized over yesterday, wouldn't it?)

His penchant for the un-oven baked caused him to be ecstatic over a meal one night this week; it had Sauteed Zucchini and Fettuccine as its main course. (Since our Texas temps already are nearing the triple digits, concern about heating up the kitchen makes excellent sense.)

From our May visit to the Chickasaw farmer's market we had just a handful of items unused; a tad bit of zucchini was one of them, but that tad was plenty for a recipe I'd been wanting to try. Sauteed Zucchini and Fettuccine (which I borrowed from Family Circle magazine) called for only two large zucchini, trimmed and shredded.

This light summer meal was absolutely perfect for a sultry summer evening. The toasted pine nuts (toast them in a countertop toaster oven to avoid the forbidden "oven-baking") add a perfect touch and make the pasta dish feel substantial. Parmesan cheese lends texture and, of course, flavor. We served it as an entree alongside a stir-fried vegetable medley dish (more on that tomorrow). As my hubby remarked about the meatless main course of Sauteed Zucchini and Fettuccine, "This was enough--very filling."

He can expect to see more of it on the table before the summer ends. That giant vegetable plant in the corner of his garden--the plant he thought was yellow squash? Turns out to be zucchini, with tiny zucchinis bursting forth all throughout its massive leaves.

If I only could find a way to "un-bake" zucchini muffins. My cousin Jana's recipe in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, makes the best use ever of that healthy vegetable.

Sauteed Zucchini and Fettuccini

8 ounces fettuccini pasta
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 large zucchini (1 pound total), trimmed and shredded
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 teaspoon salt (we used salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese

Cook fettuccini according to package directions. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, garlic, and shredded zucchini. Saute for 1 minute. Add zucchini to pasta in bowl along with pine nuts, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil; toss to combine. Sprinkle with shaved Parmesan cheese and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.