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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thanksgiving prep starts with this successful audition of a green-bean recipe

It happened again—diversion. I swear by anything Prevention magazine says or features, so when a must-try recipe appears, I can't help myself. I have to stop everything and work it into my schedule. You've already read about how a change in plans derails me. Consider me derailed, but in a good way.

The culprit this time was a recipe for Best-Ever Green Beans. For its current issue Prevention asked a group of famous chefs to suggest their dream Thanksgiving dinner. Legendary cook and author Jamie Oliver produced this recipe, adapted from his book Jamie's Food Revolution. The Prevention article quotes Oliver as saying that even the pickiest kid in the family will pass on his plate for these beans. I love it. The beans are said to be a "107-calorie side" dish that can be served for 86-cents per person. Low-cal, healthy, inexpensive, and creative--that's what I call a super dish!

We didn't wait until Thanksgiving but prepared them for last night's meal to accompany meat loaf. What a great side! I feel sure that at a later date they'll reappear on our table to accompany a turkey. Puts that ole TG standby green-bean casserole in the shade!

Best-Ever Green Beans (Jamie Oliver)

1 1/4 pound green beans
pinch of salt (or salt substitute)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the shredded variety, not the kind in a can)
1/2 lemon

Line up green beans on a chopping board. Cut off the stalks and leave the wispy ends as they are. Put the beans into a large saucepan of boiling water with the pinch of salt and cook for about 6 minutes. Try one of the beans. If it's soft and not squeaky when you eat it, they're done. Drain them in a colander; reserve some of the cooking water, and set beans aside to steam dry. Put the pan in which you boiled the beans back on the heat. Add the oil and the garlic. Give it a stir. When the garlic starts to turn golden, add the beans and jiggle the pan around to coat them in the garlicky oil. Add a ladleful of the reserved cooking water, the Parmesan, and the juice from the half lemon. Stir and simmer until the water and cheese start to form an oozy, sticky sauce; then remove from the heat and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce Excellente assures that family will dine healthfully during packed holiday month ahead

As exciting and amazing as is the thought that Christmas Month is right around the corner, one thing intimidates--trying to deal with family meals during December. My Christmas diary that I keep each year during the holidays always ends with the same caveat for the next year--"Always cook and freeze during November. Put food aside. You CAN'T cook and get ready for Christmas at the same time!"

As my journal illustrates, I've learned this lesson through some trials and tears. Meal prep gets lost in the middle of gift-wrapping, card-sending, decorating, and party-attending. Despite the best intentions, this important home-maintenance aspect gets lost. In our family, dining at home and consuming foods in which we control ingredients is highly important. "Just grab something" in a fast-food line on the way to a Christmas event is not a viable option when sodium content, carb content, and proper nutrition is vital to our health. So meal planning must be done carefully and adhered to.

Things work well when we start building a December stockpile in the weeks before the rush hits. When I can, I cook double portions in advance, label them, and freeze them. Last night began the first of such efforts--as I prepared our spaghetti sauce for the evening meal, I tripled the recipe. From that I derived four portions--one to serve that very night, three others to assign to small casserole dishes which I then wrapped securely to prevent freezer burn, and stored in the deep freeze. From past occasions I know what a welcome blessing these already-prepared meals will be in just a few short weeks.

Spaghetti Sauce Excellente contains healthful onions, fresh tomatoes, and green peppers (the latter from our garden that right now is awash in the delightful green orbs). Over some whole-grain pasta it makes a grand meal for right now and a reassuring promise that we'll eat well and wisely during that Month of Months ahead!

Spaghetti Sauce Excellente

1 pound ground turkey, browned and drained
1/4 cup onion, browned with meat
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped, and browned with meat
6 ounces tomato paste
10 ounces, tomato sauce (no salt)
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped and drained before adding
1 teaspoon salt substitute
1/2 teaspoon each oregano, basil, rosemary, pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Brown turkey, onion, and green pepper together. Drain. Add remaining ingredients. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Serve with cooked spaghetti and Parmesan cheese. Freezes well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Apple Dip is smooth, cool, spicy, and versatile

Pumpkin days march on. Pumpkins--and pumpkin fests--are everywhere you look. The whole world seems to be turning orange in these hours leading up to Halloween, with Thanksgiving just around the corner as well.

His mommy and I recently took the new little sweetie grandperson to his first pumpkin patch; we left with three small pumpkins--one for him and two for me to bring home to boil and use for pumpkin dishes. My recipe album overruns with pumpkin ideas I've filed away.

Last night Hubby was eager for a tiny evening snack to put out the fire of some Tex-Mex food he'd eaten at a p.m. business meeting, so I whipped up this Pumpkin Apple Dip, very light and soothing with some chunks of cool, fresh fruit. Although the list of ingredients calls for 1/2 cup brown sugar, by using brown-sugar substitute (tried with Splenda brand) I'm able to cut that amount in half, as the package directs.

Pumpkin Apple Dip, which I obtained from a Kroger grocery-store flyer (always a good source of unusual recipes), was just wonderful as a late-evening snack but also would be great as a topping for pound cake or for a baked sweet potato, among other versatile uses that I'm sure inventive cooks could hatch up.

Pumpkin Apple Dip

1 (8-ounce package) cream cheese (I use low-fat Neufchatel cheese), softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I use 1/4 cup brown-sugar substitute)
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (or canned pumpkin)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
apple slices or other fruit, sliced

In a medium bowl beat cream cheese, brown sugar, and pumpkin with a mixer at medium speed until mixture is well-blended. Add cinnamon and beat until smooth. Cover and chill for 1 hour before you serve. Serve with apple slices or other sliced fruit.

Real men DO eat quiche-like frittata, especially when health-laced spinach is a main ingredient

From my recent preparation of Fruity Spinach Salad, the one that contained sliced pears and dried cranberries, I had half a bag of fresh spinach remaining. On the same Prevention magazine page as that yummy recipe was another spinach suggestion. I don't have an ovenproof frying pan, so I was hesitant to try (recipe recommends placing the frittata in the oven briefly to broil at the end), but I gambled that the dish would be just as successful without being brown on the top and prepared it anyway. I was glad I took the gamble!

It turned out a bit like a crustless quiche and was served in pie-shaped slices. A bit of patience is required while the preparer waits for the egg mixture to set over the medium-low heat at the end, but the rewards are great.

Real men DO eat quiche--at least the real man under my roof does, especially when that quiche-like frittata is laced with spinach, always acclaimed to be one of the world's healthiest foods. And once again my conscience is assuaged--I used up the remainder of those spinach leaves that were left over in the fridge, always a challenge to me since spinach can wither quickly.

Fall Frittata

1 small onion, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 small potatoes, unpeeled (10 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided (or salt substitute)
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups spinach (about 4 ounces)
8 large eggs, beaten (or 2 cups egg substitute)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Saute onion in 2 tablespoons oil in nonstick, ovenproof frying pan. Thinly slice potatoes and add to skillet along with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook 10 minutes; stir occasionally. Add garlic and cook until potatoes are done. Uncover; stir in spinach until it is wilted. Remove onion-potato-spinach mixture from skillet and cool in bowl. Into cooled mixture in bowl stir in eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. In same skillet in which you just prepared the onion-potato-spinach mixture (that has been removed), heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat. Into skillet with oil pour back in the egg mixture, sprinkled with cheese, until mixture is almost set. If desired, broil briefly to brown. Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baked Apple Halves with Maple Cream worth interrupting a well-ordered schedule for

Earlier I mentioned Hubby's mother's great love for and penchant for preparing baked apples. I then presented a roasted pear recipe that reminded me of how her delicious baked apples tasted. That was before I found this Baked Apple Halves with Maple Cream recipe in a recent Prevention magazine.

I have real trouble with receiving a new issue of Prevention in the mail, because I want to try every recipe that appears within its pages. That messes up my little world, because I already have my stack of "to-be-tried" recipes lying neatly atop my microwave. I have them arranged in order and have a grocery list prepared to accompany the recipes. Introducing a new one throws off my schedule of things. (I'm not very spontaneous--remember my Meyers-Briggs personality assessment that I mentioned earlier? Don't mess with my plans without giving me plenty of advance warning; unless you want to tangle with a mountain lion, don't spring something on me. Surprise birthday parties, though thoughtful gestures, are major shocks to my system and take me weeks to recover from.)

However, introducing this Baked Apple Halves with Maple Cream recipe that called out to me when I opened the pages of my new Prevention was well worth throwing myself off-kilter for a few days. What an awesome dish! Best of all, you can bake the apples for this side dish up to a day ahead, cool, and store them in the refrigerator covered. The recipe called for Ida Red apples, but the Jonathan, Jonagold, or Gala variety also will work.

You'll have a tough time deciding whether this is a salad, a veggie, or a dessert. Hubby saved a little of the reserved fruit syrup to put in a smoothie. Ditto for the leftover maple cream--literally a good-to-the-last-drop use of a wonderful recipe.

Baked Apple Halves with Maple Cream

2 large apples, halved lengthwise and cored with a melon baller
4 teaspoons trans-free margarine, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fat-free evaporated milk
2 tablespoons sugar-free maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chill small mixing bowl for preparing evaporated milk. Place apples flesh side up in square baking dish and dot with margarine. Pour orange juice and vinegar over top. Cover with foil and bake 40 to 45 minutes until apples are soft but still hold their shape. Remove apples to large plate and pour juice from dish into small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce 3 to 4 minutes until thick and syrupy. Reserve 4 tablespoons. Whip evaporated milk and maple syrup together in chilled bowl with electric mixer at high speed 3 to 5 minutes until mixture thickens. Top each baked apple half with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the maple cream and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the reserved fruit syrup. Makes four servings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Piping hot or chilled, Quick Roasted Pears is wonderful, healthy fall dish

From the time Hubby and I were engaged, I heard him extol the ecstasies of his mother's baked apple dish. Baked apples weren't something on which we commonly dined in my growing-up home, but in self-defense I quickly tried to learn how his mother prepared them so I could make my own stab at them. Nobody ever cooked fruits and vegetables the way my mother-in-law did, so I couldn't replicate them, but I did my best to concoct my version.

But pears baked in the oven? Hadn't heard of them or sampled them, but I certainly "got it" in terms of how this might work. The recipe was from my handy booklet, "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest". The "quick" part appealed to me; I needed a healthy, easy side for some sloppy joes I was throwing together for dinner. Plus I had some pears on hand. Plus-plus—we're still dreaming of our pear bounty that we JUST KNOW we'll be enjoying next summer after our pear tree gave us a "teaser" crop this year.

Quick Roasted Pears made a wonderful dish that was great just out of the oven or after having chilled it in the refrigerator as well. Besides being a healthy side for my dinner, the dish also made a great dessert with sugar-free whipped topping accompanying it.

Wish Hubby's mom were still on this earth so I could run a serving of Quick Roasted Pears by her. I think she would be pleased that I, as her daughter-in-law, paid attention.

Quick Roasted Pears

Spray vegetable oil
2 pears, halved and cored
1 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons brown-sugar substitute

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray oil on baking dish. Place pear halves in baking dish, cut side up. Sprinkle each half with 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Cut butter into 4 pieces. Place one piece on top of each pear half. Bake for 10 minutes or until pears are soft.

State Fair souvenir helps serve up healthy zucchini atop mac and cheese dish

My souvenir from the State Fair of Texas this year wasn't a giant stuffed teddy bear or a monkey on a stick. It was a dynamite recipe I picked up while I visited the Food and Fiber Pavillion, where you literally can make a meal out of the food samples that exhibitors prepare on the spot and dole out to boothgoers.

The Southwest Dairy Farmers, who have the museum in Sulphur Springs, TX, sponsored an exhibit bragging on the merits of dairy products. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw their freebie recipe handout for Zucchini with Cheese Macaroni. I'm a mac-and-cheese girl from the word "go", but adding zucchini to it? I had never tried it but was determined to do so.

The dairy farmers' recipe called for provolone and mozzarella, but I subbed Swiss for the provolone because Swiss was what I had on hand. The red peppers from our garden, along with the featured zucchini, gave it lots of color and added a delightful flavor. The whole-grain macaroni added health to the project. I loved serving this in the individual gratin dishes--the portions were just right.

Thank you, State Fair of Texas! Your gates are closed now for another year, but Zucchini with Cheese Macaroni was a big success and will cause us to sing the Rogers & Hammerstein tune, "Our State Fair is a Great State Fair", for a long time in the future.

(By the way, check out my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, to read about the mega-souvenir I brought home from the fair several years back. It's in the chapter entitled "Peach Trees and the Wedding Plywood.")

Zucchini with Cheese Macaroni

2 tablespoons butter
4 cups thinly-sliced zucchini
1/2 cup chopped sweet red peppers
1/2 teaspoon each salt and oregano
dash of pepper
8 ounces whole-grain shell macaroni, uncooked
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons skim milk
1 cup shredded Provolone cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Melt butter. Saute zucchini and red pepper until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt, oregano, and pepper. Meanwhile, cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Stir butter, cream, and Provolone cheese into macaroni. Divide macaroni mixture into six gratin dishes or individual shallow baking dishes. Divide zucchini mixture over macaroni; top with Mozzarella cheese. Broil 3 to 4 inches from source of heat until lightly browned. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Use green-pepper crop, lower cholesterol with this speedy skillet recipe

The green peppers keep rolling in from my garden--armloads of them almost every day. I'm on the green-pepper recipe hunt for sure.

I'm also prepping Hubby for his upcoming annual physical exam. One year has passed since his wake-up-call physical exam results that propelled us into a major lifestyle change to begin fitness running (for him, to resume running after a 20-year hiatus) and to begin a radical alteration in the way we eat--hence the heavy reliance on food from the garden (the kind recorded in this blog). The exam showed that blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels all needed to be lowered big-time and fast.

Because of the physical prep, we've been force-feeding fish--fish of all description (along with other foods such as oatmeal and nuts) for their cholesterol-lowering properties. So the hunt has been on for green-pepper recipes AND recipes that will help make sure his cholesterol count when he goes for his bloodwork next month remains in the great shape it has been since we started the lifestyle-mod.

A recipe in my files from kraftfoods.com helped out a lot--the "super easy" part did, too. The speed of preparation for this tasty dish is a real blessing. Super Easy Fish Skillet can be thrown together at the end of a busy workday when you hear those conflicting internal messages: "fix something homemade for dinner" versus "no time; you're rushed; go through the drive-thru."

We tested the recipe with tilapia, but whatever kind of white fish you have around or enjoy the most is fine. I assure you that you will just adore having this tasty fish supper and your cholestrol-count (and your burgeoning green-pepper supply, if you have one on hand, as I do) will thank you.

Super Easy Fish Skillet

1/2 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressing (tested with Kraft brand)
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt diced tomatoes, undrained (or 14.5 ounces of fresh tomatoes, diced)
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup black olives, drained and rinsed thoroughly
1 pound frozen fish fillets, such as tilapia, haddock, halibut, or cod, thawed

In large skillet pour dressing; over medium heat cook onion in dressing until onion is tender. Add tomatoes, pepper, and olives. Top with fish; spoon vegetable mixture over; cover. Simmer gently on medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Makes 4 servings.

You'll fall big-time for this pumpkin smoothie drink

The headline on the recipe intrigued me--"tastes just like a pumpkin pie in a glass". Now that was a recipe my husband would fall for. Pumpkin pie is his greatest delight. He lives for the morning after Thanksgiving so he can dine on leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast. It's a long-standing (since childhood) part of his holiday tradition. He relishes in the leftover pumpkin pie more than he does the slice at the end of the actual Thanksgiving meal.

This "pumpkin pie in a glass" referred to a recipe for Pumpkin Smoothie. It called for 1/2 cup pumpkin--just exactly the amount I had left over from making the Pumpkin Bran Muffins earlier in the week. At the time I had hoped I could find some good use for this small left-over amount. In my fall recipe binder I uncovered this smoothie suggestion that I had obtained from a back issue of Prevention magazine. We weren't into smoothies at the time, so I had filed it away untried. But now smoothies, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, are Hubby's stock and trade--he makes at least two a day. Time to dust off this tucked-away recipe.

Prevention went on to explain that each 8-ounce cup of the Pumpkin Smoothie offers 100 percent of the daily value for beta-carotine and antioxidant that helps fight cancer. Hubby added one banana (and the blood-pressure-lowering potassium the banana contains) because he thought the addition gave the drink more body.

In the end, he was happy with the drink because he didn't have to wait until Thanksgiving to indulge in pumpkin pie. I was happy because I used up my leftovers. Most importantly our bodies were happy because of the antioxidants.

Pumpkin Smoothie

1/2 cup canned pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin cooked and pureed)
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup crushed ice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
1 whole banana, peel removed

Pour all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smoothie reaches desired thickness. Serve chilled.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumpkin and bran cereal combine for a muffin that's fall at its finest

As I've mentioned before in this blog and in my new cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, I was of all people most blessed to be an officemate with Ann Criswell, the legendary and internationally known food editor of the Houston Chronicle. We had cubicles that were adjacent to each other. Many taste-testings for upcoming food-section featured items transpired in our corner of the office. Despite her reknown, Ann was a compassionate, down-to-earth individual who loved to share her knowledge--and her food--with others.

When our garden produced a surplus of pumpkins, I bemoaned the fact that I knew little to cook with them besides bake pumpkin pie. She unfurled her entire pumpkin recipe file on me. I picked up some terrific and inventive ideas for pumpkin dishes. Most of those ideas still are housed in my fall recipe album; I prepare them again and again once we're sufficiently into autumn and always remember this now-retired friend and mentor.

I love this Pumpkin-Bran Muffin recipe because it yields so many muffins (20 or so) that can be frozen to pop out and warm for breakfast or anytime. The combination of pumpkin, bran cereal, and whole wheat flour ranks it high up there on the health-wise list. See buttermilk on the ingredient list but don't have any in the house (or don't want its fat content?) Many people know the age-old buttermilk substitution: to make one cup buttermilk, put 3 teaspoons white vinegar into a 1-cup measure; fill with skim milk until the milk reaches the 1-cup line. Let stand for 5 minutes, then add to recipe. Much better for you, and the taste is the same. Then you don't have an unused container of buttermilk sitting around in your fridge.

Tomorrow morning: Pumpkin-Bran Muffins with homemade peach preserves put by from our peach orchard this summer. Can't wait to get that delicious start on the weekend.

Pumpkin-Bran Muffins

1/2 cup boiling water
1 scant cup bran cereal (recipe tested with Bran Flakes)
1 cup buttermilk (or substitution mentioned above)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar or brown-sugar substitute
4 tablespoons cooking oil
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1 1/2 cups fresh cooked pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt or salt substitute
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped nuts

Pour boiling water over bran cereal; mix well and let cool. Stir in buttermilk. Cream brown sugar and oil. Add eggs and beat well. Add pumpkin and orange juice. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin-pie spice, and allspice. Stir cooled bran mixtxure into sugar mixture. Add molasses. Add dry ingredients all at once; stir until just moistened. Batter will not be completely smooth. Stir in nuts. Bake or refrigerate, tightly covered, overnight or up to three days. To bake: fill greased muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake in 425 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, until muffins spring back lightly when touched or toothpick inserted in center emerges clean. Makes 18 to 20 muffins. This makes a fairly dark, moderately sweet muffin; the pumpkin taste does not predominate.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bring on the Turkey Chili as a repository for wonderful fall tomatoes from the vines

Fall tomato time in the garden; terrific to see things growing again in our garden spot after the late-summer drought and dearth of veggies.

Fall also warrants a steaming, flavorful bowl of chili. A tucked-away recipe on a Sam's Club flyer prompted me on both accounts--to scratch my "itch" for a chili fix and to use up some of the incoming tomatoes from the vines.

This Turkey Chili recipe is a jewel because its cooking time is only 20 minutes, compared to some that cook all day. Frankly I couldn't tell one bit of difference between this speedy one and the kind that calls for such longsuffering in the kitchen. We topped our quick-to-fix Turkey Chili with a tablespoonful of nonfat sour cream and 2-percent milk, cheddar cheese, and chives.

After a dinnertime bowl of this bubbling perfection, I stepped out on the deck and breathed in the fall evening air that had a slight nip to it. Had I been transported to heaven? Surely so.

Turkey Chili

2 pounds ground turkey, browned with 1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 to 3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (or 2 14-ounce cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained)
2 cans light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin

Place a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown turkey meat and chopped onion and drain. Return turkey to pot and stir in all other ingredients. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir often. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green peppers, fresh from their garden glory days, stir up into these Chicken Fajitas

Our green peppers have finally entered their glory days--cool mornings, warm afternoons; the pepper plants in our garden are blooming their heads off. From my back porch I can see them in their heyday, as they reward us day after day with shiny, bulbous produce waiting for us to snap them off their stems. Hubby brought in armloads and plunked them onto the kitchen counter for my appraisal.

Yesterday my cleaning helper, after she finished with the weekly tidy-up of the house, helped with my annual fall ritual of dicing up our garden's green peppers and storing them in the freezer to stockpile for usage this winter and spring.

What to do with all the green peppers? Baked stuffed peppers are wonderful (I blogged about them earlier), but other ideas? I've never been a big preparer of fajitas, although I know many people dine on them as frequently as they do their breakfast cereal. But my "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest" standby booklet featured this Chicken Fajitas recipe among all its other great suggestions for healthy cooking from the garden. The sliced green peppers straight off the vine, stir-fried, and mixed with a delightfully marinated chicken made my day--and a most memorable dinner last evening.

Chicken Fajitas

2 tablespoons no-salt ketchup
2 tablespoons fat-free Italian dressing
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound boneless/skinless chicken breasts, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
4-8 flour tortillas or wraps

Combine ketchup, Italian dressing, and Worcestershire sauce in a covered bowl or gallon-sized zippered plastic bag. Add chicken to marinade and refrigerate for 1 hour or more (up to 8 hours0. Cook oil, onion, and garlic in skillet over medium heat until all are soft. Add chicken and marinade to skillet and cook until ingredients are nearly cooked through. Add peppers; stir to combine. Cover loosely with foil and cook until peppers have reached desired doneness. On each plate place a tortilla. Spoon a portion of the chicken mixture across the center of the tortilla. If desired add sour cream, avocado, and shredded cheese. Roll tortilla up and eat.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sweet potato pancakes nourishing and fibrific way to start the morming

The question nagged: what could I do with the remaining sweet potato I had purchased to make the serendipitous Peanut Butter Pumpkin Soup of a few days past? Sure, I could always serve it to myself for lunch as a baked sweet potato with a little brown-sugar substitute dotted on it. But my question about its use coincided with my desire to find something special for a Saturday-morning breakfast for Hubby on the a.m. we departed for the State Fair of Texas. I wanted to be sure it was a special day through and through (I knew the state fair-part would be).

In my fall recipe collection was a clipping from a Kroger grocery-store flyer; it featured a recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes. It called for 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes--exactly the amount I could expect to achieve from my remaining sweet potato once it was microwaved. Although the very thought of pancakes sounded sinfully extravagant, this meal wasn't at all. All the substitutions amped it down into a "dining-light" category.

The breakfast with Sweet Potato Pancakes topped with blueberries for garnish truly was memorable and paved the way for an even-more memorable day. As we indulged in state-fair food, our consciences could take comfort in the fact that at least we had started the day healthy with this fibrific and nourishing breakfast!

Sweet Potato Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
2 tablespoons sugar substitute
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat milk
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
8 tablespoons light stick margarine melted
3 egg whites, whipped

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar substitute, and cinnamon. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl mix the egg substitute, milk, sweet potatoes, and margarine. Add to flour mixture and stir until ingredients are moist. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Fold into pancake batter. Pour 1/4 cup onto a hot griddle and flip when pancakes bubble up. Top with your favorite fruit and low-calorie, sugar-free syrup, if desired. Serves 12 (serving size 2 pancakes).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Power-food spinach gets dressed up with pears, berries, and nuts for an amazing fall salad

I just read of an online poll asking people whether they've reached the point in which they can tolerate fruit in their green salads or whether they're still "veggies-only" when they toss their greens.

I wasn't aware that this was an issue for folks. I grew up on traditional salads of lettuce, tomato, and French dressing (did any other kinds exist in the '50s?), but to me, nothing's better than a tasty combination of spinach, fruit, and nuts, tossed with a tangy vinaigrette. And now that we've been advised of the major health benefits of eating dark greens, I've subbed spinach for lettuce anywhere I can, including on my (turkey) burgers.

That's why I'm here to tell you about one of the greatest spinach/fruit/nut/vinaigrette salads I've tried in an age. The addition of pears in this salad is absolutely terrific. And talk about healthy--wow! this is a winner in the health category, for sure.

Spinach thrives in cool weather, so local spinach is the most flavorful and affordable in September and October. Spinach is a power-house because it's loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and essential nutrients. It's said to be one of the healthiest foods in the world; it tops most other vegetables. Only 1/2 cup cooked spinach meets the daily requirements for vitamins A and K, according to my chart in "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest."

I have Prevention magazine to thank for this wonderful recipe--actually one of three (you'll likely be seeing the other two soon) that ran alongside its power-food-of-the-month feature--this time on spinach.

Fruity Fall Salad

1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups baby spinach
1 pear, peeled, cored, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

In a large bowl whisk oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add spinach, pear, cranberries, walnuts, and onion and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Whoever thought of putting peanut butter in a pumpkin soup? But it works marvelously.

Brewing up a pot of pumpkin soup was high on my fall cookery wish-list. But just as I was about to gather the ingredients, in breezed a new pumpkin soup recipe from a most unexpected source.

The monthly newsletter or the organization from which Hubby and I draw our retirement pensions is a delightful read; we always look forward to receiving it for its tips on money-management and grandparenting, its jokes, and its recipes.

This month's newsletter featured Peanut Butter Pumpkin Soup. Besides peanut butter and pumpkin it also called for the addition of sweet potato. What a marvelous combination--some of my favorite ingredients! To get the sweet potato addition I merely popped one extra-large sweet potato in the microwave; when the cooked potato was cool, I scooped out the innards and mashed them to achieve my pureed pumpkin ingredient.

The aroma of this wonderful dish as it bubbled on the stovetop was one of those unforgettable autumn smells that inspires poets to rapturous verse. The delicious, easy-to-make dish was divine with warm crusty bread, cheese, and fruit. And ever-resourceful Hubby even reclaimed the scooped-out sweet potato skins and used them in one of his creative smoothies that consisted of orange juice, orange sections, pineapple juice, peanuts, and sweet-potato skins. Fiber City--think about it!

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Soup

1/2 stick butter
4 cups fresh pumpkin, cooked and run through the food processor to make smooth. Consistency in this soup is important.
2 cups pureed cooked sweet potato
1 cup smooth peanut butter
6 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
snipped fresh chives and low-fat sour cream for garnish

In a large pot over medium heat melt butter. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, and peanut butter. Mix. Add chicken stock, pepper, and salt. Stir until smooth. Reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 20 minutes. This soup can burn easily, so keep an eye on it! Serve warm with chives and sour cream for garnish.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Garden-fresh veggies and comforting dumplings make this birthday luncheon dish appealing

In scads of ways my hubby and our only daughter are birds of a feather. They form our nuclear family's "blue-eyed duo"; the other two of us--myself and our son--are the dark-eyed contingent. Both Hubby and Darling Daughter thrive on multi-plate spinning--they're totally in their element when they have scads of projects under way at the same time. She takes after her dad in seeing the "big picture" of how things will be accomplished. And our girl definitely inherited her dad's entrepreneural gene and sound business sense.

Their likes and dislikes in food, however, are where the similarities ends. With few exceptions, most of Hubby's faves, which tend to be food items that are grown in a garden, wouldn't end up on any of our "meat-and-potatoes" daughter's wish list.

One of those rare exceptions, however, is Chicken and Dumplings. That's why I've chosen to serve my homemade "Weekday Chicken and Dumplings" recipe for her birthday luncheon this week. Her dad couldn't be happier. It also would be his first pick if he were choosing a birthday meal for himself as well.

Prevention magazine featured this recipe some years back; I tucked it away in my fall recipe binder because I knew both of the blue-eyeds would be thrilled with it. Fresh carrots, celery, and onions are plopped into the steaming broth until they are tender, are drained and set aside, and are returned to it after the sauce is thickened. This dish gets a "double-yum" from me every time.

So Happy Birthday to our baby girl, who this year celebrates her first birthday as the mother of a new baby boy that she and her husband welcomed a few weeks back. Here's hoping her little one ultimately will have vast numbers of foods--both the meat-and-potatoes variety as well as those that are garden-fresh--in his food repertoire.

Weekday Chicken and Dumplings

4 cups defatted reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups baby carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 cup frozen small whole onions, or 1 cup chopped, fresh onions
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
2/3 cup skim milk
1 3/4 cup cubed, cooked chicken breast

1 1/4 cup fat-free biscuit mix
1/3 cup skim milk
dash paprika

In a medium saucepan bring broth and bay leaf to boil over medium-high heat. Add carrots and celery. Cook 5 minutes. Add onions and cook 2 minutes. Add peas and cook 2 more minutes until tender. Strain vegetables and set aside. Collect liquid; add broth or water to make 4 cups. Discard bay leaf. Return liquid to saucepan. In a small bowl whisk together flour, seasoning, and milk. Whisk into broth. Cook and continue whisking over medium heat for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the chicken and reserved vegetables.

For dumplings: In a small bowl stir biscuit mix and milk to form a soft dough. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto simmering stew; cook according to package directions. Dust paprika over the tops of the cooked dumplings. Serves 6.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blissful, cool October days bring on Apple-Raisin Crisp

Day after day, week after week, it sits on the shelf and gathers dust--this labor-saving device that I just had to have. Recently Hubby was my conscience. He observed me as I peeled, cored, and sliced an apple the cumbersome way--with a paring knife--as I practically diced off a finger in the process.

"Why don't you ever use that thingy we paid so much for? It would be a lot easier," he intoned.

The thingy was my apple peeler-corer-slicer by Pampered Chef--a delightful little object that sits on the counter, accepts an apple pushed onto a spear, and then (as the operator twists a handle) peels, cores, and slices the apple all in one sweep. Blame it on my being left-handed or something, but I've never exactly perfected the art of using it. My apples emerge less than desired; I end up having to use a regular knife on them anyway.

But Hubby's words piqued my conscience; I was being wasteful by not giving it another try. Onto the spear went one of the four apples I was saving for a fall dessert. This time, success!
The gadget worked perfectly. In seconds I had a peeled and cored apple sliced into skinny, perfect rounds--ready to be diced for my Apple-Raisin Crisp recipe. Three more apples quickly followed. The apple peels went into a separate bowl to become ingredients for one Hubby's upcoming smoothies. All I had to discard was the very slim core and stem--great stewardship of a fruit God provided. I was so-o-o glad I tried again.

Apple-Raisin Crisp is a recipe I clipped years ago from a Family Circle magazine. Normally I disdain raisins--never my favorite things to eat--but in this dish they cook up soft and inconspicuous and add to the flavor and texture. The crisp topping is to-die-for over the mellow, succulent apple filling. And as a perfect accompaniment for these blissful, cool days of this first week of October, this easy-to-prepare dish, as Hubby says, "just tastes fall."

Apple-Raisin Crisp

Apple Filling:
2/3 cup packed brown sugar (1/3 cup if using brown-sugar substitute)
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds Rome apples, peeled, cored, cubed
1 cup golden raisins

Crisp Topping:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar (1/3 cup if using brown-sugar substitute)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 7-inch-by-11-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Filling: in a large bowl toss together sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon; add cubed apples and raising; toss again. Let stand 10 minutes while preparing topping. Topping: Melt butter. In medium-sized bowl stir together butter, flour, sugar, pecans, oats, cinnamon, and salt until mixture is evenly moistened and forms clumps. Transfer apple-raisin mixture to prepared baking dish. Top with crisp topping. Try not to break up clumps. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly and apple pieces are tender. If browning too much, cover loosely with foil during last 5 minutes of baking. Let cool 15 minutes before you serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 12 servings.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fizzling spinach wilts purposefully in Colorful Quesadillas

Leftover spinach is just plain no fun. Crispy and fresh in its packaging as it arrives home from the store, it forms the basis of dynamite salads and healthfully lines sandwiches in the place of lettuce. But allowed to sit in the fridge even for a few days, it quickly starts fizzling.

Watching this super-food turn to mush piques my conscience. I need to do something quick. But what? How?

At about the same time I began my soul-searching, I encountered a recipe for Colorful Quesadillas. Immediately I was drawn to it. What makes these quesadillas colorful? I ponder.

Aha, spinach! The very food item I wanted to re-purpose since I no longer needed it for a salad.
Add green pepper, left over from my garden and already chopped into bits and resting in an airtight container in the freezer. Add cheese, to be melted in the stovetop preparation.

All the basic needs met--plus the need for a quick, Sunday-night supper with minimal prep. As the cheese melted and the spinach and green peppers steamed in the skillet, the colorful adjective sprang to life. Why hadn't I invented this recipe, since I love spinach enchiladas better than life?

For sure I had a new recipe on my quick-and-easy (and might I add, healthy) favorites list.

Colorful Quesadillas

8 ounces cream cheese, fat-free
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
8 tortillas, whole-wheat, small
1 cup bell pepper, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, low-fat
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

In a small bowl mix the cream cheese and garlic powder. Spread 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on each tortillas. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons bell pepper and 2 tablespoons shredded cheese on half of each tortilla. Add 2 tablespoons spinach to each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half. Lightly spray large skillet with cooking spray. Heat skillet over medium heat. Place 2 folded tortillas in skillet and heat for 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until tortillas are golden brown. Remove quesadillas from skillet. Place on platter. Cut each quesadilla into 2-4 wedges. Cover with foil to keep warm until serving time. Makes 8 servings.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Can I hold a Veggie Pocket in one hand and quilt with another? Time will tell.

The note instructs participants to "bring a sandwich for lunch". Tomorrow's my big day: I begin my first official quilting class. I've quilted for years and sat at the feet of some of the greatest quilters who ever sewed a stitch--my mother, my aunts, my grandmother. I adore quilts and have a house full of them, including several I've made.

But I've never had a professional quilter actually sit down and teach me the trade secrets. I feel sure I'm missing some shortcuts and can learn some easier ways to tackle the craft. I've had people tell me that once they took a quilting class, they realized all the ruts they needed to "un-learn" in their own self-taught quilting processes.

So, I've signed up to learn to make a quilt-in-an-afternoon fall table runner. Now that's the class for me--when I return home, I'll have a finished project in hand--fits my lifestyle just fine.

The note from the teacher told the students that lunch would be grabbed on the run between stitches. I wanted something that wouldn't be messy. "Celebrating a Healthy Harvest", my old standby source, helped by providing a recipe for Veggie Pockets--a vegetable sandwich stuffed into a whole-wheat pita half. Cucumbers and shredded carrots, along with the mashed chickpeas, make this just about as healthy (and tasty) as you can get. The pita-bread pocket makes the contents manageable for dining during this quilting circle.

Time will tell whether I bring home a souvenir--a finished table runner--from the class, or whether I'm too pokey slow to finish on time. But one thing's for sure--I have a favorite new recipe that I've gained as part of the process.

Veggie Pockets

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beams), drained
1/3 cup fat-free Italian dressing
4 whole wheat pita breads, cut in half
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded Italian cheese

Process the chickpeas in a food processor until they are almost smooth. Scrape the sides of the container as needed so all is blended. Add the salad dressing and process until smooth. Open the pita pockets and line them with cucumber slices. Fill each pita half with 3-4 tablespoons of the bean mixture; sprinkle shredded carrot and shredded cheese on top. Serve cold or warm briefly in microwave. Makes 8 pockets.