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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Love this good use for leftover broccoli bunch

Surveying my fridge after our big family weekend I found almost two full heads of broccoli that we hadn't touched while all the company was here. Other than chopping off a handful for a mixed vegetable tossed salad, the broccoli bunch that I purchased was fairly intact. My little grandperson who visited us loves veggies, but her munchings barely had put a dent in the broccoli supply. What to do now with this veggie that makes every list of "super food" any time any expert compiles one?

As it often does, my handy "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" booklet zoomed in to the rescue with a listing for "Brocco-Corn Swiss Casserole" which called for, conveniently enough, two heads of broccoli, cut to bite-sized pieces. Mixed with corn and brown rice (another super food), this looked as though it would stir into a colorful, healthy dish.

Only problem with this recipe is that the prep, while not complicated, had to be started WAY IN ADVANCE. The brown rice needed to be pre-cooked before it even was dished into the casserole mixture. That meant adding an extra 25 minutes to the already 50 minutes required for the casserole to bake. I always could have subbed minute rice for the far-more-healthy brown rice, but Hubby would shriek, since he hates to waste any opportunity that a healthy ingredient is called for.

In the end, however, the process wasn't too time-consuming (the cook can do something else during the 50 minutes the dish is cooking in the oven. I even could ask Hubby to divide and conquer and himself cook the rice in advance while I prepare the other part). I liked the end result because it produced a healthy broccoli casserole without the usual additives of heavy soups and sauces found in most recipes of this nature.

Best of all, the dish was green and gold--the colors of my university--and the colors of health as well.

Brocco-Corn Swiss Casserole

2 heads broccoli, cut to bite-sized pieces
1 (14-ounce) can cream-style corn
1/2 cup pre-cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons onion, diced
1 egg, beaten (I use egg substitute)
3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease casserole dish. Combine first five ingredients and pour into casserole dish. Add grated Swiss cheese on top. Bake uncovered for 50 minutes or until bubbly. Don't overcook, since this can dry out the casserole. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another winner in the weird-combinations category: Chopped Salad with Pita Croutons

On Sunday we prepared that odd-couple recipe, Tomato Watermelon Salad, that I blogged about some days back, to take to a family gathering. The luncheon was being held just before my cousin Yvonne's 80th birthday party. The family was dining on sandwiches before members left for the church, where the party was about to start. I brought a bowl of the salad and thought this group of loved ones, who were featured in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, would be the appropriate bunch to appreciate the unusual concoction featuring tomatoes, watermelon, mint, and pistachios.

Even though garden-fresh food was part and parcel of this family's identity and history, the same quizzical looks crossed the brows of these loved ones as they do whenever I mention this salad combination to just about anyone. "Tomatoes and watermelon? Say what?" Nobody expects these two red fruit to pair up in a salad or in anything for that matter. But they did; the crowd there was complimentary after sampling this delicious oddity.

On the same page in the August 2010 Prevention magazine as the Tomato Watermelon Salad was another tomato recipe just as strange: Chopped Salad with Pita Croutons. It featured chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley, and toasted pita bread. Pita bread? In a salad? You betcha--it's another winner; I fixed it as part of our dinner last night and couldn't get enough.

The crisp, oven-toasted pita provided the salad's crunch, yet the bread cubes soaked up the oil-and-vinegar dressing to enhance the flavor. Tomato and cucumber, of course, made it healthy. I envisioned going beyond the recipe and adding a little chopped avocado or perhaps a little swiss cheese sprinkled on top.

The versatile tomato strikes again--I never imagined it could be combined with such a variety of other food items, especially in salads. And by the way--happy birthday, Yvonne, on this day of your "official" 80th. Nobody makes better salads than you do!

Chopped Salad with Pita Croutons

1 whole wheat pita
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 chopped tomatoes
1 peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber
5 sliced green onions
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Toast pita slice in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes until the pita is crisp. Tear it into pieces. In a large bowl whisk the olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add chopped tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and parsley. Toss to combine; add the pita croutons, and toss again. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Absolutely terrific" still best label for Salmon Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs

Some years back, as my mother's health grew more compromised in her latter days, Hubby and I endeavored to keep her in her own home as long as possible. We knew her independent streak raised its head when we considered outside help, but at least we could share our meals with her so we could be sure she was well-fed.

One day when I seemed out of ideas about what to prepare for her, in desperation I looked in my pantry and found a can of salmon. Flurrying through my recipe files, I turned up instructions for Salmon Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs. I had no experience with salmon being prepared in any way except for salmon croquettes and salmon loaf. I had no idea whether my mother even liked salmon salad (we'd certainly never dined on it in my childhood), but it seemed our only food option for that evening's dinner.

When we presented her with her food tray and she spotted my creation, her face erupted in delight. "Oh, I was just thinking about how much I was hungry for salmon salad!" she exclaimed. Well, I'll be, I thought. Who knew? Seems this dish was a favorite of her young adulthood and early marriage. My desperation ploy to scrounge up a meal actually fit the bill perfectly. My mother was pleased as punch; Hubby and I enjoyed the dish, too.

Recently when we had some baked salmon left over from a meal, I remembered the delight on the face of my mom, who for the past five years has been dining at heaven's Banquet Table, and dug out the Salmon Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs recipe. Fresh tomatoes and onion from the garden, along with fresh herbs (chives and dill), formed the basis for this notation to be made in my recipe binder: "Absolutely terrific salad! Wonderful for company luncheon or summer supper."

We were past the time of "summer supper"s, but an early fall supper was upon us; this recipe was more than fine. Salmon Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs, the dish that I once considered a throw-together meal that I hoped would suffice, now ranked way up there with the food of kings--and once again, it was "absolutely terrific"!

Salmon Salad with Pimento and Herbs

1 (14-ounce) can red salmon, well-drained, bones and skin removed (or 14 ounces baked fresh salmon)
1 cup diced celery
1/4 cup minced white onion
1/2 cup diced tomato
3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh chives or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon fresh dill
3/4 teaspoon paprika
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped

In medium bowl mix salmon with celery, onion, and tomatoes. In small bowl combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, dill, paprika, if desired, and black pepper; combine with salmon mixture. Top with green onions and serve immediately over dark greens or over whole-wheat pita wedges, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Recipe links apples and storebought corn muffin mix for ease and flavor

Speaking of apples, which this blog did yesterday and has since before fall "officially" began on Wednesday, a truly incredible recipe from Family Circle magazine a few years back hit the jackpot with this flavor combination.

It uses fresh, chopped apples with a storebought corn muffin mix and adds pumpkin pie spice and chopped nuts. The resulting muffins can go a variety of directions--playing to their "corn-muffin" side, to be used with soups and stews and down-home cooking, or playing to their apple-y, spicy side, to be used as a breakfast accompaniment.

In our family we interpreted them as corn muffins and served them alongside the Easy Vegetable Soup I mentioned a few days back. Truly wonderful! The inclusion of the apple bits made the soup, with its veggies and ground turkey chunks, seem as though it was a complete meal.

Baking Apple-Corn Muffins also makes you feel virtuous because it helps you create a "from-stratch" menu item with the convenience and speed of a mix.

Apple-Corn Muffins

2 boxes (8.5 ounces each) corn muffin mix
2 eggs (I use egg substitute)
1/2 cup milk (I use skim)
2 small sweet apples (such as McIntosh, Empire, or Jonagold), peeled, cored, chopped very fine
3 tablespoons sugar (I use sugar substitute)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 12 cups of muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl combine muffin mixes, eggs, milk, finely chopped apple, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the pumpkin pie spice. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Then divide evenly between prepared muffin cups (usually a heaping 1/3-cup batter in each cup). Sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining tablespoon sugar and the chopped nuts. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes until lightly browned around edges. Slide a thin knife between muffin and pan; gently lift muffins from pan. Cool and serve.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

OK, fall's officially here now that I've made Sour-Cream Apple Cake Squares

Whatever the calendar says (and yesterday, the calendar truly said it), fall arrives when I've baked my first Sour-Cream Apple Cake Squares of the season.

No fall that I can remember in years ever has arrived in our family without my preparing this fabulous dessert to welcome the autumn. Fresh, crisp apples peeled and chopped fine go into the batter, seasoned with spice, to make this an ideal fall dessert. Company goes nuts over it; so--year after year--do folks around our family dinner.

My friend, Lori Haaland, prepared this dessert one evening when Hubby and I dined with her and her family back in the early 1980s when we all lived in Houston and her husband was on the staff of one of the churches there. I owe Lori a thank-you for many staples in my recipe collection--among them Copper Carrot Pennies (an identical recipe, furnished by my cousin, Yvonne, appears in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden).

The squares can be crowned with sugar-free whipped topping or even ice cream, if you really want to indulge. When this dessert is baking, the kitchen--and the rest of the house--fills with an intoxicating spicy aroma. Makes you ready for all the other fall icons--hot apple cider, pumpkin pie, turkey and dressing--and, oh yes, (if you live in Texas as we do), the end of our most-unfall-like summer temps!

Sour Cream Apple Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups brown sugar (I use brown-sugar substitute)
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine
1 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use salt substitute)
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg (I use egg substitute)
2 cups chopped apples (I use Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)

Mix first three ingredients until they are crumbly; stir in pecans. Press 2 3/4 cups of this mixture into 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan. To remaining mixture add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped topping.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stir-fry veggies add healthy touch to efforts to replicate time-honored baked fish recipe

Recently I mentioned how our route to the downtown hospital in which our grandbaby was born took us past the scene of the old Casa Linda Wyatt's cafeteria, where my parents took me to dine at least once a week as I grew up. I mentioned my affection for carrot salad, which always has seemed like a taste of heaven and which I've never been able to replicate--or even move close to it--in my own kitchen.

Another Wyatt's staple during that era was its baked fish with a piled-high crusty topping of crushed almonds and bread crumbs. Carrot salad, baked fish, Wyatt's inimitable green beans, and a layer chocolate cake--those were my selections in the cafeteria line. Those choices never varied. How I longed now to be able to prepare something akin to that fish entree as well!

A few years back Family Circle magazine helped my cause by printing a recipe for Nut-Crusted Fish Fillets with Stir-Fry. The herbed bread-crumb-and-almond topping absolutely made the flounder underneath it to die for. Just last week I turned to this long-preserved-but-yet-untried recipe in my binder. With the deed accomplished, I thought I was back in the cafeteria line and dining at Wyatt's again in the secure company of my parents, one on either side. Precious memories!

Healthening-up this Family Circle recipe is the inclusion of the stir-fried vegetables ("stir-fry" being surely unheard-of, at least in my family, in my growing-up days). Green beans and matchstick carrots made the dinner complete, not to mention colorful as everything.

Nut-Crusted Fish Fillets

4 slices reduced-calorie wheat bread
1/3 cup sliced almonds, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 flounder fillets, about 6-ounces each

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 carrots (1/4 pound), peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 large scallions, chopped, for garnish
lemon slices, for garnish

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Place bread in bowl of food processor; whirl until fine crumbs are formed. In a small bowl combine crumbs, chopped almonds, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Stir in olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest until all ingredients are moistened. Season fish with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Fold fillets in half and place in prepared baking dish. Spoon 1/4 of the bread topping over each fillet. Bake in 400- degree oven for 17 to 19 minutes or until fish flakes easily.

Stir-Fry: While fish is baking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add green beans and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for 14 to 16 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. If skillet gets too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Serve fish with stir-fry vegetables. Garnish with scallions and lemon slices.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hearty mix of flavors and the arrival of company--this veggie soup is synonymous with both

Company arrival and the preparation of Easy Vegetable Soup--they seem to accompany each other like the moon and the stars.

That's how I first got onto this delightful and welcome soup, which bespeaks of comfort food and health and hearty flavors. I was getting ready for company--not just any company, but the very first visit of my birthfamily to Texas. This happened more than 30 years ago, when I had the good fortune to locate my birthmother and her husband, who wanted to travel to see us. They brought with them my birth sister and her fiance. What an amazing time we had! Although this visit happened in the middle of summer, this most fall-like dish was a joyful accompaniment and always will be remembered for that momentous time.

Now my kitchen's the scene of much busy hubbub as we anticipate another red-letter visit--the arrival of our kids from Arizona to meet our newest family member, that sweet grandson who was born in Texas just a few weeks ago. Three little cousins, all under 5, will have their first chance to play. Into the kettle on the stove again go the familiar ingredients for this scrumptious dish, which I want to have on hand to welcome our guests. Healthy, soothing vegetable soup seems to be a great first meal to serve once they arrive from their plane flight.

For the frozen veggies in the recipe, I rely on an airtight plastic bowl I keep in my freezer. After a meal, if I have any vegetable leftovers, I scoop them into the bowl and freeze them. When I'm preparing Easy Vegetable Soup, I already have my frozen veggies collected for it--a great way to recycle.

My hands can hardly grasp the utensils because I'm so jittery from excitement, but somehow I manage to get the dish put together and put away for our welcome time a few days hence. At least I can relax in knowing that a healthy dinner already is prepared and that I won't have to spend precious family moments slaving away in the kitchen over a meal. Thanks to Easy Vegetable Soup, a most healthy and colorful one awaits!

Easy Vegetable Soup

1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 cup chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup uncooked regular rice
2 (16-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
3 1/2 cups water
5 beef bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon salt (I use salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, unthawed
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can low-sodium tomato soup

Cook ground beef or turkey; drain fat. Add all ingredients except frozen vegetables and tomato soup. Cook covered for 40 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and tomato soup. Cook additional 10 minutes. Serves 10-12.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apples give winter squash extra ooomph in this fall veggie combination

Hubby commented that our neighborhood grocery had winter squash on sale.

Winter squash? Much as I loved preparing all varieties of garden-grown veggies--and winter squash definitely would help me segue into a new season--winter squash was not among my repertoire. The rippledy, tough skin always seemed too challenging to peel. Furthermore, my source for unusual recipes, Celebrating a Healthy Harvest, was silent where winter squash was concerned.

I didn't peruse far enough. Under the "apples" category in the aforementioned booklet, lo and behold was a combination of roasted apples and winter squash that cooked both in the oven and made provision for the squash's tough outside (cut it in chunks and boil it briefly so the skin peels right off). The honey drizzled over it before cooking combines with the apples' natural sweetness to rub off on the squash.

What a great side dish using a veggie I don't normally cook! What made the dish even better was drizzling the tiniest amount of honey over the warm vegetable mixture! Now I'm headed down the fall road (since Wednesday's the first official day of autumn) for sure!

Roasted Apples & Winter Squash

3 firm apples
1 pound winter squash
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used salt substitute)
1 teaspoon honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees; lightly grease a baking sheet. Peel squash and remove the seeds. Cut into 1-inch chunks. (You may need to cut squash into chunks and boil for about five minutes to enable the skin to be peeled more easily.) In a bowl drizzle oil over squash and mix to spread oil evenly. Sprinkle with salt. Pour onto prepared baking sheet. Cut apples into quarters and remove stem and core. In a bowl sprinkle apple slices with lemon juice; stir to spread lemon juice evenly. Pour onto baking sheet as you combine the apples with the squash. Bake for 60 minutes; stir every 20 minutes (may cut cooking time to 45 minutes if squash already is tender. Squash is done when a fork can be easily inserted into it.) Makes 4-5 servings.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Out-of-order watermelon patch continues to inspire creative use, such as this Melon Salsa

Back to that watermelon again--that out-of-order surprise that cropped up, not in the midst of summer but just as fall was arriving. We're out of picnic season; July 4th celebrations have passed. Watermelon-seed-spitting contests don't accompany fall festivals and Halloween carnivals. Yet here we are with a fall bumper crop of a summer wonder.

In a treasure-hunt for watermelon recipes, I hit the jackpot with Melon Salsa. A more oddball combination of ingredients I've never seen (I know I say that every time, but read this list and tell me if I'm not correct at the oddity of it), but Melon Salsa was a true winner.

It took a cup of our watermelon, finely chopped, along with cantaloupe, onion, mint, and . . . cucumber? Then jalapeno?

The recipe (from "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest"--my dependable source for the healthy but offbeat) called for letting the melange chill for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors absorb into each other, but I was fortunate to be able to let it meld for 24 hours. By the next evening when we sat down to our meal of homemade chicken nuggets and piled the salsa onto our plates, the flavors were as though they had been joined at the hip forever. Outstanding!

The recipe for Melon Salsa suggests that it be served atop chicken or fish. The chicken I had on hand happened to be nuggets, which I was preparing in advance for the visit of grandkids a few days from now, but I've saved some behind to use atop baked salmon for tonight's meal. Or it could be a salad served by itself and not as a relish or condiment.

Beautiful, colorful, unusual . . . you'll never see or taste anything quite like Melon Salsa. Thank you, watermelon patch, for arriving out-of-order and for giving us a reason to search out melon recipes and to avoid relying on the obvious usage.

Melon Salsa

1 cup watermelon, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint or cilantro, chopped
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped, or hot sauce to taste
1/4 cup lime juice or lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

In a medium-sized bowl stir together all ingredients. Taste and season with more lemon or lime juice or honey, if desired. Add salt and pepper if desired. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. Serve over grilled or broiled fish or chicken. Makes 5 1/2-cup servings.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quick apple-sausage skillet meal brings on healthy flavors of the autumn harvest

Let's get those apple recipes in high gear. More and more days have a fall tinge to them. Sure, the temps here in Texas continue to be in the summer category, but the rain has broken the drought. After last night's rain shower, as we stepped outside Hubby remarked, "A fall evening almost." And the dinner in our skillet was a perfect accompaniment.

Prevention magazine named them this month's "superfood" and notes that from September through November apples are at their flavor- and nutrition-packed peak. It tells us that apples pack a wallop of vitamin C and cancer-fighting antioxidants as well as more fiber than a bowl of bran cereal--for less than 100 calories each.

Pair apples (today's featured recipe recommends Granny Smith or Idared for their tartness) with sausage and maple syrup and you have a meal that's great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
When Hubby and I dined on this "breakfast for dinner" meal, we accompanied it with toast and Peach Preserves (made from our orchard's peach trees and mentioned in an earlier blog this summer.)

And talk about quick! Apple-Sausage Saute was on the table in the blink of an eye. Love it, love it, love it!

No wonder Hubby sensed fall in the air. We can live with a few more weeks of those steamy Texas high temps as long as we cling to that promise; Apple-Sausage Saute helps a bunch.

Apple-Sausage Saute

4 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound precooked turkey sausages, cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices
4 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith or Idared), peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons sugar-free maple syrup

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning often, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Remove from pan. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan. Put in apple, pepper, and thyme and drizzle with syrup. Cook, tossing often, until tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Return sausage to pan and toss with apple to heat through. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This "odd-couple" pairing of tomato and watermelon draws superlatives

As fall as apples and pumpkins and acorn squash and . . . watermelon?

Huge, juicy, ripe watermelons hardly seem as though they are similies for autumn. Who ever saw a watermelon used in a Thanksgiving cornucopia?

Yet that's exactly what our fall garden is producing right now. About a month ago Hubby examined some vines twining around the spent tomato bushes he was about to hack out to make room for his fall plantings. Hiding underneath the curls and twists were some baby watermelons--possibly 10 or 11 of them. At this late date? We'd never grown watermelons before. Planted them, sure, but to no avail.

Hubby remarked that if these happened to produce, which he doubted would happen, this would represent the first time since his childhood that he'd been able to grow watermelons.

Then when the melons did begin to burgeon, more skepticism reigned. Would they actually ever ripen? Would they rot out first? Tenderly, under each of the promising ones, he installed some pieces of wood to keep the moisture away. Even during our recent monsoons the melons held. At least four of them approached the picking stage. But would they be any good? Hubby wondered as the moment of truth arrived.

Cameras flashed at the proud instant in which he actually toted his (well, his and God's) handiwork, a sizable, green-striped melon, into the kitchen and plunked the knife down into it to split it apart. Still doubtful it would taste worth anything, Hubby took the first exploratory bite. A smile of pride slowly crept over every molecule in his face.

"It is good," he pronounced with wonder in his voice. He then kept sampling and sampling.

For this magic moment I had saved just the perfect recipe. The August 2010 issue of Prevention magazine featured Tomato Watermelon Salad. This "Odd Couple" pairing--tomatoes and watermelon, along with fresh mint and pistachios--held a huge fascination for me since I first read it. Tomatoes and watermelon? Oh, well, we're always being reminded that the tomato indeed is a fruit. Truthfully, once this salad was prepared and tossed, one hardly could tell one red bite from another.

"I've said it before, but I mean it this time," Hubby pontificated as he savored. "This is absolutely the best salad I've ever tasted." (I think its containing his home-grown watermelon had something to do with his effusiveness.)

Still about five promising melons remain in the garden. At this rate we'll still be dining on them as we sing "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town."

Tomato Watermelon Salad

4 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 cups coarsely chopped seedless watermelon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon alt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1 avocado, peeled, halved, seed removed, and sliced into 1/2-inch chunks (optional)

In a serving bowl combine chopped tomatoes and chopped watermelon. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and mint. Stir in avocado, if desired. Top with pistachios. Serves 4.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apples make delightful, healthy addition to fall-like Carrot Salad

No coincidence that my spotting a clever new recipe for Carrot Salad, a staple I enjoyed in my childhood, and frequent drives past the setting for that enjoyment--the Casa Linda Shopping Center in Dallas--occurred within the same week.

Hubby and I motored by this east Dallas treasure--in my growing-up days known as Casa Linda Plaza and once home of the revered Wyatt's Cafeteria--on the way to the Dallas hospital which housed our newborn grandbaby.

No, August, did not turn out to be Baby Month as we expected. That little guy, with a mind of his own, must have decided that August was just too hot and that he'd wait until September, that great fall harbinger, to make his entrance.

But once September swept in, Precious Grandboy did, too. As Hubby and I blitzed past Casa Linda (now home of the revitalized Highland Park Cafeteria, a successor to the beloved Wyatt's of former day) to get to our many hospital visits, I again recalled to Hubby the story of my dining on carrot salad there so often that my hair could have turned orange.

Lo and behold, what should appear before me that same week but a delightful new recipe for Carrot Salad--not mimicking the cafeteria legend but an enjoyable one nevertheless. I was drawn to this recipe, featured in my "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" cookbook from the Chickasaw Nation, because it featured grated apples along with the standard carrots and cabbage. Resembling coleslaw, on preparation this dish immediately was tasty but became even more delectable after it marinated for about eight hours.

Apple days and more apple days are ahead of us. (What says autumn--especially September--more appropriately than does a shiny red apple?) My apple recipes already are getting a dusting off as I shelve my summer recipe binder and replace it with the one that says "fall".
Besides apple crisp and apple cobbler and some of the more expected apple-based menu items, I was happy to find apples in this most unexpected place--"healthening" up Carrot Salad.

Carrot Salad

2 red delicious apples, grated
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 pound carrots, raw, shredded
8 cups cabbage, shredded

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper

Put the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, honey, and oregano in a screw-top jar. In a large bowl sprinkle the grated apples with the lemon juice; toss to coat. Add carrot and cabbage; mix thoroughly. Shake the dressing, pour over the salad, and toss well. Chill and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Banana pepper crop gets left out but ultimately inspires great chicken-salad dish

I asked Hubby whether our summer garden had grown anything that I had not blogged upon, or had I covered all my bases? In a very hurt tone he quickly pointed out that I had written not a single syllable about our banana pepper crop--first-timers to our garden this year.

That prompted me to dredge up this recipe for Parisian Chicken Salad, in which banana peppers were star attractions. Once they sampled it, even some family members not big on bragging about chicken salad dishes were begging for the recipe for this healthy, attractive combination.

Our banana peppers showed up in the garden quite by accident. Hubby, thinking he was buying regular green pepper and jalapeno pepper plants, unsuspectingly slipped a banana pepper one into the soil. We were surprised when it began appearing but thought about the banana peppers we often request when we get our subs custom-made at restaurants such as Subway. We thought we'd have fun growing our own.

Like my French Cabbage recipe that appeared in this blog several months back, I'm not sure why this chicken salad has "Parisian" in the title, but we're thankful for the Better Homes and Gardens website for originally supplying it. Like many others, for several years it's hung around my summer recipe binder waiting to be prepared.

I'm grateful to our unexpected but appreciated crop of banana peppers for giving me excuse to try Parisian Chicken Salad. Like most of us it just gets better with age. The longer the chicken can soak up the marinade (either overnight or at least 8 hours), the more flavorful the end result.

Parisian Chicken Salad

4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
1/3 cup orange juice (juice for this addition as well as for the one below may be obtained from juice generated when you section the orange in the step below)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped green onions
4 cups torn baby salad greens
2 medium banana peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
2 medium oranges, peeled, sectioned, and membrane removed
2 tablespoons shelled pistachios, unsalted

Place chicken in a heavy, large self-sealing plastic bag set in a shallow dish. For marinade, in a bowl combine orange peel, the 1/3 cup orange juice the 4 cloves garlic, the honey, and thyme. Pour over chicken. Seal bag; turn to coat chicken. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight; turn bag occasionally. Drain chicken; discard marinade. Place chicken on unheated rack of a broiler pan. Season with half of the salt and half of the pepper. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Turn chicken once halfway through broiling. Meanwhile, for dressing, in a screw-top jar combine olive oil, vinegar, the 2 tablespoons orange juice, the 2 cloves garlic, the green onions, the remaining salt, and the remaining pepper, Cover; shake well. To serve toss greens, chicken , oranges, peppers, and pistachios. Pour dressing over and toss. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A profusion of orange on the table makes post-Labor Day seem more fall-like

No denying it; Labor Day officially kicks off fall. Even the temps here in Texas are cooperating a little and (thanks to Tropical Storm Hermine) seeming a little more fall-like. What color is the essence of fall? None other than orange, so this orange-to-the-bone dish was an ideal one for me to try in my post-Labor Day meal prep.

Sweet Potato Casserole, with the addition of brown-sugar to underscore the "Sweet" in Sweet Potatoes, is a fall staple on many tables, but I love this addition of carrots and onion to make Confetti Carrots and Sweet Potatoes an even more healthy and interesting side dish.

The cooked potatoes and carrots are mashed with a hand masher, not a hand mixer as one typically might mash cooked sweet potatoes, so the texture is not buttery smooth but is more "confetti-like", hence the name.

Confetti Carrots and Sweet Potatoes makes a grand side dish for a ham or chicken dinner. But as usual, Hubby and I didn't need anything else but a small fruit salad to turn this dish into a small dinner meal in itself.

Wee definitely got our "orange-fix" for the week to help kick off fall.

Confetti Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds carrots, thinly sliced
6 cups water
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup (or to taste) brown-sugar substitute (I used Splenda)

In medium kettle heat oil and onion until onion is soft. Add carrots, sweet potato, and water. Simmer gently 30 minutes. Remove carrot and sweet potatoes and (using a hand masher and not a mixer) mash thoroughly; add onion. Stir in salt, pepper, butter, and brown sugar. Serve. (If necessary heat in microwave to re-warm before you serve.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This fresh celery recipe is beyond weird, but what a favorite it turned out to be!

It had to be the weirdest of the weird--a recipe for Stir-Fried Celery. Celery is a stretcher, an enhancer, a crunch- and texture-provider for other dishes. Why would anyone build an entire recipe around chopped celery? Loser, I thought as I eyeballed it more carefully. And for a stir-fry? Celery is an ingredient that goes into a stir-fry to complement other veggies. But this recipe had nothing else added except low-sodium soy sauce, white vinegar, and sesame seeds. Now really.

So what dish at dinner last night got the most rave reviews? Not the Mustard-Lemon Glazed Tilapia that I spent far more time cooking for the entree. The Mustard-Lemon Glazed Tilipia, I might add, only sprang alive when I put the Stir-Fried Celery on top as a relish.

The Stir-Fried Celery was utterly amazing! In previous blogs I've mentioned the guilt factor when I end up having to throw away a bucketful of limp celery stalks because of non-use. This recipe gobbled up the vast majority of the celery in my fridge's veggie bin.

But the taste! Hubby served his over some fresh corn-off-the-cob. I liked mine over the tilapia. But by itself the dish clearly was a stand-alone. By now I should have learned never to look askance at any recipe provided by my little booklet, "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest", that I cite frequently. Always, always, somehow, the folks at the Chickasaw Nutrition Services (who dreamed up the booklet) manage to have a success story.

Weirdest of the weird--still a correct assessment. But I couldn't have asked for a more tantalizing side dish.

Stir-Fried Celery

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch fresh celery, washed
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
sesame seeds

Chop celery in 1/2-inch slices. In a heavy frying pan or wok heat oil over medium heat. Stir-fry celery for 1 minute. Add soy sauce and vinegar. Continue to stir-fry for 6 minutes or until desired tenderness. Place in serving bowl. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leftover oranges spice up seafood recipe--company fare that takes only minutes to fix

Leave it to that great source of recipe ideas--Sam's Club--and a couple of leftover oranges from our son's citrus grove to provide an absolutely fabulous dinner of fish, that menu item we're supposed to eat in limitless supply.

Sam's Club doesn't always spring to the brain when I'm thinking of places to turn up good recipes, but a card that accompanied a recent Sam's mailing featured the how-to for Pistachio-Orange Tilapia. It called for two oranges, peeled and chopped.

Believe it or not, the produce bin of my refrigerator still had two oranges left over from an early spring visit to our son's house in Arizona. I've already blogged about how his back yard contains a citrus garden that, like many other locations in Phoenix, has abundant and gigantic oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.

Two oranges that I brought home with me were in their last stages of existence, but when I peeled them, they were still viable--just perfect for this recipe. My produce bin also contained an almost-unused bag of fresh spinach. Here I go, I thought, as I happily began to chop.

Adding a few pistachios contributed to the heart-healthiness of the dish. The Sam's recipe called for purchasing tilapia fillets that were pre-seasoned and packaged with the tilapia brand's own seasoning. Since the sodium content of pre-seasoned meat items sometimes can be high, however, I preferred to buy the tilapia unseasoned and add my own from salt-free Mrs. Dash (I used the lemon-pepper variety).

In the end my Pistachio-Orange Tilapia looked just like the one on the front of the Sam's recipe card, helped clean out my fridge (always a goal), and checked off another item my summer must-cook list. It was wonderful--and definitely no slouch if you need to serve it for company.

Pistachio-Orange Tilapia

4 tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt-free seasoning
3 tablespoons pistachios, chopped
2 oranges, peeled and chopped
4 cups fresh baby spinach
2 ounces white cooking wine

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle salt-free seasoning onto tilapia on both sides of the fillet. Place fillets in skillet. Saute for 3 minutes on each side and place on serving plates. Add pistachios, oranges, and spinach to the skillet. Add white cooking wine. Stir well. Place cover on skillet and allow mixture to sit for 3 minutes. Spoon spinach mixture over fish fillets. Serves 4.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cute bow-ties, healthy tomatoes and herbs make chicken-salad dish memorable

The bow-ties make it cute; the tomatoes and herbs make it garden-fresh.

Hubby almost couldn't find the bow-tie pasta when I sent him to the grocery to purchase some of the ingredients. Finally he discovered it under the label "farfalle", its formal name.

"Mediterranean," was all he could say after the resulting Herbed Pasta and Chicken Salad was prepared and served. Truly the recipe had many the elements (olive oil, herbs, etc.) of the Mediterrean cuisine that many are telling us is health-inducing and life-prolonging.

But the fresh tomatoes absolutely made the salad. I kept looking out the back door and longed for the day when our fall tomato plans are thriving and when all tomatoes that are called for in a recipe can be the fruit of our garden's handiwork.

Allowing this dish to chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight is mandatory. The mixture would have seemed rather insipid if it had not been for the lengthy melding of the flavors. Allow plenty of time; don't get in a hurry (the Mediterranean way, of course). You'll have the salad around forever, so don't rush things here--just as if you were enjoying the more-relaxed pace of the Old Country.

We did. It's still filling up our lunchtime plates after we enjoyed it for dinner one evening.

Herbed Pasta and Chicken Salad

4 ounces bow-tie pasta
1 cup chopped cooked white chicken meat
2 cups small cherry tomatoes, halved (or 4 regular-sized Roma tomatoes, cut into small chunks)
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped black olives
2 ounces diced cheddar cheese
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Cook pasta according to directions, omitting salt Drin, rinse in cold water, and rinse again. Combine pasta, tomatoes, celery, olives , and cheeses in a large bowl. Set Aside. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients, stirring with a wire whisk. Pour over pasta and toss gently. Cover tightly and chill in at bowl at least 8 hours. Yield: about 7 cups.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Not Greek to us: stovetop recipe excellent fare in these triple-digit days

More in the shop-the-pantry (or shop-the-refrigerator) genre: still more spinach to use up before it goes bad. Same thing for an avocado in my fridge: one is starting to get too mushy. What to fix?

In the yet-untried-summer recipe category was Greek Frittata, an amazingly easy weeknight fix that could be prepared on the stovetop (in our string of triple-digit days, you can be sure Hubby still is pleading his case about not firing up the oven, so this preparation made him happy).

This Frittata is a cousin to an omelet and cooks up as quickly and effortlessly. I love the flavor the feta cheese adds (thus making the omelet a "Greek" one). The spinach adds a healthy touch; the tomatoes on top along with the avocado add color.

For just the two of us this menu item lasted several days--and my refrigerator bins were cleaned out again without guilt-producing throwaways.

Greek Frittata

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
1 1/2 cups torn fresh spinach
1/2 cup milk (I use skim)
8 eggs (I use egg substitute)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, no salt added, drained
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
avocado (garnish)

In 12-inch nonstick skillet cook onion and red pepper over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until lightly browned. Stir in spinach. Continue cooking until spinach is wilted. In bowl combine milk, eggs, garlic powder, and pepper; mix well. Stir in cheese. Reduce heat to medium-low. Pour mixture into skillet. Cook; lift edges to allow eggs to flow underneath until edges are set. Cover and continue to cook until top is set. In small bowl mix drained tomatoes and basil. Pour onto top of frittata. Garnish with sliced avocado. Serve from skillet. Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Shop-the-pantry" move cleans out the fruit and veggie bin; yields scrumptious salad

These days we're often being told to "shop the pantry".

In times of penny-pinching and making the most of every dollar, we're advised to save on groceries by first combing through our pantry (and refrigerator) shelves before we make grocery lists. By using existing food items first, we can be good stewards of what we already own and cut down on what we need to buy from the grocery.

Last night was a "shop-the-refrigerator" night where our meal preparation was concerned. My Spinach Fruit Salad utilized a variety of food items that were destined to spoil if they were not used up quickly. I found a few oranges that were becoming overly soft and had some brown spots on them. I had an apple that had been around too long. Likewise my spinach leaves were on the verge of becoming soggy. If they lingered for a few more days of being unused, all would be headed for the compost bin and would not be used for nourishment, which was the original purpose for acquiring them.

My Spinach and Fruit Salad recipe to the rescue. Tough to believe that a "clean-out-the-fruit-and-vegetable-bin" move such as this would bring forth a little seven-ingredient salad so delicious. Hubby, who dined on it after I already had departed for an errand, effused: "That salad! I almost called you to tell you how good it was!" The recipe makes oodles and oodles, so it should stretch for the next three days at least.

Guess I'm neglecting to mention one more aspect of this wonderful salad--look at the healthy choices it represents--even cholesterol-lowering nuts (pecans from our own trees). All in the same recipe I was a good steward of food I originally purchased and treated us to a super-nutritious dish as well.

Spinach and Fruit Salad

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar-free raspberry jam
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 package fresh spinach
1 red apple, chopped
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned, with membrane removed (reserve juice)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Save 1/2 cup juice from peeled and sectioned oranges (if you need more juice, add a little more orange juice from your refrigerator). In a jar combine juice, oil, jam, and vinegar. Shake well. In a large bowl toss oranges, spinach, apples, and pecans in a large bowl. Toss with dressing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Recipe title may be "upside-down", but peach dish is right-side-up at summer's end

While I'm in the mode of walking down summer's memory lane, I find in my notes that a wonderful recipe that used some of our last peaches from our peach crop has not been blogged upon. How could I overlook this unusual, incredible dish that mixes our own peach fruit with the fruit of our prized pecan trees?

Somehow in my rhapsodic euphoria about Peach Preserves and Peach Muffins and all the other peach delirium of the summer, I've neglected to mention Upside-Down Ginger-Pecan Peach Pie, which originally caught my attention and netted a spot in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, because of the "upside-down" nature of it all. It's just so out-of-the-box, which is probably why the California Peaches Plums and Nectarines Network distributed the recipe in the first place. That's how I acquired it.

The purpose of the Network's advancing the recipe, if I recall correctly, was to encourage people about how wonderful peaches taste when they are grilled. I had never thought of that. Truthfully Upside-Down Ginger-Pecan Peach Pie is just as great if you decide to cut up the peach slices into a saucepan, add a little water, and blanch them on the stovetop (or in the microwave in a suitable bowl).

Since I didn't have a charcoal outdoor grill going, I simply pulled out my countertop George Foreman grill and quickly browned them so I could get onto the remainder of the process for this "upside-down" recipe.

I can tell you that the beauty of this recipe, besides the ravishing grilled peaches, of course, is the shortbread that is produced from mixture of the dry ingredients that later is sprinkled over the warm peaches and ice cream. That shortbread lasted us much longer than the peaches did; later we crumbled it over some pudding or even over toast.

So the recipe title also should tout the shortbread by calling it, "Upside-Down Ginger-Pecan Peach Shortbread Pie". The shortbread is a gift that keeps on giving even after the delicious peaches are gone . . . gone but not forgotten--here's to next summer 2011!

Upside-Down Ginger-Pecan Peach Pie

1 cup flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons minced crystallied ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons softened butter, divided
1 tablespoon brown sugar (I used brown-sugar substitute)
4 firm peaches, pitted and cut into 8 slices each
sugar-free whipped topping or sugar-free ice cream, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees; spray a loaf pan with nonfat cooking spray. Stir together flour, powdered sugar, pecans, crystallized ginger, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Add in 1/2 cup butter and mix well to form a soft dough. Press into the bottom of prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool; then break into a rough crumble,. Leave some larger and smaller pieces. In a large bowl in the microwave melt remaining butter and cinnamon with brown sugar. Toss fruit in butter mixture; then grill over high heat for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side to lightly brown. Remove from grill. Place ice cream in bowls. Top with warm fruit and sprinkle with crumbled shortbread. Makes 8 servings.