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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nothing short of spectacular about New Year's breakfast of Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls

A New Year's breakfast deserves something spectacular. The most spectacular item our garden ever produces is its pecans. Unfortunately—for us and for scads of other people—this wasn't a pecan year, so we have to live with our memories (and our pecan supply nestled in our freezer). Thankfully we have ample nuts from the past year of great harvest, so we can rest on our laurels and look forward to better times, pecan-wise. Hopefully the every-other-year rule of pecan crops will hold true; this time next year we'll be rejoicing in a new harvest.

Meanwhile, onto the spectacular New Year's breakfast. This year I have a recent issue of Southern Living magazine to thank for motivating me to try this easy, feather-light yeast dough that rises in 30 minutes and makes the house smell absolutely fabulous while these rolls are cooking. Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls employed one cup of our pecans (I broke them into bits instead of chopping them) and called for them to be toasted for five minutes until fragrant (talk about another wonderful smell—toasted pecans fresh from being browned in the oven!)

The magic of this recipe occurs with the packaged hot-roll mix (I tested with Pillsbury Specialty Mix Hot Roll Mix), which contains the yeast as well as the flour mixture. The recipe instructs the cook to prepare the hot-roll dough as the package directs. Everything else is simple as pie (or as cinnamon rolls—the recipe says the mixture is "simple enough for a beginning baker".)

The recipe says this makes a dozen rolls, but I filled two full pans—making at least 18 plump cinnamon rounds—one batch to enjoy now and one to freeze for later.

With these simple rolls to welcome the celebratory morning, how can 2011 help but get off to a terrific start?

Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls

1 cup broken pecans
1 (16-ounce) package hot-roll mix
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (1/2 cup if using brown-sugar substitute)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Powdered sugar, sifted to make 1 cup
2 tablespoons milk (I use skim milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Stir halfway through. Prepare hot-roll dough as back of package directs; let dough stand 5 minutes. Roll dough into a 15-by-10-inch rectangle; spread with softened butter. Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over butter. Sprinkle pecans over brown-sugar mixture. Roll up tightly; start at one long end; cut into 12 slices (more if dough allows). Place rolls, cut sides down, in a lightly greased 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 13-by-9-inch glass pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a cloth towel; let rise in a warm place (free from drafts) about 30 minutes or until rolls are doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover rolls and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until center rolls are golden brown and done. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Stir together sifted powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Drizzle over rolls.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Festive cookie bars bring merriness at Christmas—or the week after

The gift of good neighbors is a present that has no price-tag on it. This pleasant situation often is taken for granted until one apple begins to spoil the barrel; then a person realizes how important is having good fellowship on the street where you live.

On our particular street in downtown Garland's historic district we are blessed with neighbors extraordinaire. The folks on our street would do anything to help each other. Several share our passion for fixing up their vintage homes that grace our two blocks. This is particularly important to me since this is my growing-up street. From my childhood I remember these fine residences in their heyday and grieve when I see them falling into disrepair. We bless those neighbors who have the yen to fix up and repurpose these very special dwellings.

Because of all these exemplary people I was horror-struck to realize that in my cookie distribution just before Christmas, as Hubby took tins of homemade cookies to folks on the block, that I had overlooked one family that always extends courtesy to us. In my Christmas notes for next year I had adjured myself to please not exclude them again, but I still was awash in guilt in my oversight this year.

So last night I baked Merry Berry Cheese Bars, enlivened by the addition of whole berry cranberry sauce, and plan to package them up as a New Year's gift for this family on the block. Christmas 2010 is past, but the celebratory spirit extends through the New Year's holiday, so I'll load up these bars onto a plate and knock on these neighbors' door as a way to say thanks. These bars are absolutely divine-looking and -tasting. They serve well on a cookie tray at a party, wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a bow as a gift, or sliced in slightly larger squares and served warm with sugar-free topping (or ice cream, if you decide to indulge).

Although they look complicated with their several layers, these "Happy New Year" bars represent one of the easiest cookies to make I've ever encountered. Twenty-five minutes from ingredient assembly until they're popped into the oven! You can't beat that, especially at this time of year when no one has ANY TIME to spare. Hope these bars bring good cheer—to you as well as to our neighbors, for whom we always need to be thankful.

Merry Berry Cheese Bars

2 cups unsifted flour
1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar (or brown-sugar substitute, with
only half this amount needed)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened (I use the lower-fat Neufchatel)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I use fat-free)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 (16-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With mixer beat flour, oats, 3/4 cup sugar, and butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 1/2 cups mixture; press remaining mixture on bottom of greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned, With mixer beat cheese until flufly. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth; stir in lemon juice. Spread over baked crust. Combine cranberry sauce, cornstarch, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Spoon over cheese layer. Top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 45 minutes or until golden. Cool and cut into bars. Refrigerate leftovers. Serve warm; top with sugar-free whipped topping or ice cream.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Spinach salad has enough festive color to dazzle any holiday buffet

Terrible to love a food passionately yet to be allergic to it. Hubby craves strawberries, but alas, let one stray strawberry seed wend its way into his digestive system, and for days he pays an awful price. His diverticulitis doesn't seem to react to any other type of seed—he can eat seed-infused kiwi, tomatoes, even raspberries and blackberries to his heart's delight and have no reaction, but he literally can be on the same city block as a strawberry and feel its gastrointestinal after-effects.

So, if I'm yearning to prepare some food item that contains strawberries, I have to do it for a covered-dish meal at which PLENTY of other choices are available, so he's not tempted to dig into whatever I've fixed and so it's not the only food item on the menu, leaving him stranded.

For such a reason I had carefully picked out Spinach Salad with Berries and Almonds as one of the food items to bring to my cousin's holiday family gathering. I long had had this delightful dish on my to-prepare wish list, but I wanted to be sure Hubby wasn't squeezed into a corner with no other salad options. At this family food fest I knew he'd never even glance in the direction of the strawberries because the other salads, prepared by our family's good cooks, would be so enticing.

The reason I chose this dish for holiday season is because it looks like a holiday (not to mention its health benefits). Green spinach, red berries, and the white feta cheese represent a great choice for a buffet. The delightful dressing made with raspberry vinegar and sugar-free raspberry jam is a terrific coating. On my recipe, which I once clipped from the Dallas Morning News, I previously had written, "No words to describe how great this is!" I stand by my story. I believe you will, too—setting it aside for your next year's holiday "must" file—or preparing it for any of your gatherings still ahead in those few days of 2010 remaining.

Spinach Salad with Berries and Almonds

6 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 cup fresh strawberries (can also use raspberries)
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar-free raspberry jam
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey

In a large bowl combine spinach, feta cheese, nuts, and berries. In small bowl whisk together vinegar, jam, mustard, and honey. Drizzle dressing over top of the salad and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Red and green peppers help decorate potato casserole for Christmas-morning brunch

December days marched on, and a bad old freeze was preparing to zap the last of anything still in bloom in any garden. As I looked from my patio into our almost-bare vegetable plot, I spotted them—like green and red ornaments on a Christmas tree--the last bell peppers clinging to the about-to-be-ruined plants that had birthed them and given them sustenance. I couldn't believe that this late into the winter, a few pepper plants STILL were sallying forth out in the garden.

But not for long. Just before dark fell that night and temps were about to plummet into the danger zone, I ran out and brought these last vestiges in. These survivors deserved some special recipe to commemorate them. Christmas morning! What would be more appropriate than to use them in my Christmas-morning brunch? Like red and green confetti they could dot the cheesy top of the casserole with the hash-brown potato base. I set them aside in the refrigerator and saved them for my food preparation which would take place in a few days.

This past Saturday morning they—and Crispy Potato Breakfast Casserole—along with the Chocolate Oatmeal Apple Muffins from a previous blog—made their debut. How glad I was that the pepper plants had held forth until only a few days ago so these fresh, chopped-up peppers could help us wish our guests (the aforementioned adult kid and her spouse and baby, who spent the night with us so Santa could visit ALL of them, not just the baby) a Merry Christmas!

The casserole was beautiful; since it made an ample amount in a 9-by-13-inch dish, it continues to be lunch and dinner while we chill a little from the frenzy of holiday food preparation and are happy to feast on leftovers. Soon the new year turns over; I can gaze out at my totally bare garden plot now and envision the scene a few months hence when it all springs back to life. Until then, I'm glad I have my supply of red and green peppers frozen in the deepfreeze.

Crispy Potato Breakfast Casserole

1 (30-ounce) package frozen shredded hash-browns, thawed
2/3 cup melted butter
2 cups shredded hot pepper cheese
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups diced cooked ham
1 cup skim milk
1 cup egg substitute
1/2 teaspoons salt-free seasoning (I used Mrs. Dash)
1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper

Press thawed hash browns between paper towels to remove moisture. Grease 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole; fit hash browns into it. Form a crust over bottom and up sides of dish. Brush crust with melted butter. Be sure to brush top edges. Bake 425 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle cheese and ham evenly over bottom of crust. Beat skim milk with egg substitute and salt. Stir in diced peppers. Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center emerges clean (or the night before serving, bake the crust only. To crisp again place in oven 10 minutes before you add filling and let the crust crisp up while the oven preheats. Add filling and bake.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pineapple Pie keeps Christmas memories alive for our family

Christmas is the season for thinking of others—even foodwise. Nobody ever modeled this maxim better than my mother did.

Each year for the family Christmas gathering Mom knew my Uncle Bill, her brother-in-law, loved pineapple pie, so she worked herself silly getting one ready to bring for him to eat. The rest of us enjoyed pineapple pie, also, but she made sure he got the first helping.

This beloved uncle long ago went to his heavenly reward. Everyone remembered the pineapple pie story—I alluded to it in my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country, which contained the recipe for it. But pineapple pies themselves haven't shown up at a holiday get-together for many, many years.

This morning I pulled myself away from the covers at an exceptionally early hour and had as my goal to try to recreate my mom's pineapple pie so the legend could live again when the family gathers this afternoon for Christmas Eve. Granted, nobody can follow in my mom's mighty footsteps as a cook, but my take on her pie is baked and ready to go in its pie carrier for a cross-town trip to see the relatives. Uncle Bill's story will be told once again; he will be remembered.

No doubt the same type of thing will be occurring in homes near and far today and tomorrow, as the food that is served evokes memories of special people and good times and past holidays that live forever in our hearts. In our family it's Uncle Bill's pineapple pie and Uncle Herbert's Barbecue and Nanny's orange balls and countless other menu items. In someone else's the food items may be vastly different from ours, but the recipes bond people to life experiences in exactly the same way.

May your dining be hearty, your recollections warm, and even some new traditions started because of a brand-new dish that's introduced as the generations roll on. For me, I can't wait to see what's on the buffet spread this afternoon and what new recipes I bring home as others share their creativity! Merry Christmas!

Pineapple Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks (I use egg substitute)
3 cups milk (I use skim)
pinch of salt (or salt substitute)
1 tablespoon margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 ready-cooked 9-inch pie shell
your favorite meringue recipe

In a heavy saucepan mix the first five ingredients well and cook until mixture is thick. Add margarine, vanilla, and pineapple. Pour into ready-cooked pie shell. Top with meringue; cook in oven until meringue is golden brown.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cranberries brighten up carrot salad and circumvent "pickiness"

Where carrot salad is concerned, the case for "Do as I say, not as I do" never could have been more apt.

Our girl-child was (and still is) a picky eater. When I say picky, I mean the type of eater who practically sits at the table with tweezers and, morsel by morsel, plunges into every serving of food to separate out what she chooses to ingest and what she doesn't.

Repeated parental efforts to dissuade this habit didn't go very far. One day after a not-so-gentle reprimand she countered, "It's the same thing you do with carrot salad."

She had stopped me in my tracks. Horrified, I realized her words were true. Much as I loved to order carrot salad at any cafeteria (an earlier blog discussed how I grew up dining on carrot salad while eating at the old Wyatt's cafeteria in Dallas' Casa Linda shopping center), I steered clear of the raisins in the salad and always picked around them to eat only the shredded carrots and dressing.

I had modeled an annoying behavior that my child had picked up. Ooooh, how little eyes are always watching. Lesson learned.

That's partly why I was delighted when I stumbled on this recipe for Ginger-Carrot Salad with Cranberries. After I read it, I knew that no watching eyes surveying me as I dined on this dish could nail me for being picky, since this recipe subs dried cranberries for the less-than-desirable regular raisins. The contrast of the red cranberries to the orange of the carrots makes this a beautiful holiday offering. And of course you can't get any more healthy than with a mixture such as this one (sliced, cholesterol-lowering almonds represent a terrific addition.)

With Ginger-Carrot Salad with Cranberries I could practice what I preach and for sure eat every morsel on my plate--with no picking!

Ginger-Carrot Salad with Cranberries

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon freshly grated or finely minced ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
2 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

In medium bowl whisk together lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and yogurt. Toss with carrots and cranberries. Garnish with sliced almonds. Chill before you serve. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas-morning breakfast to get boost from these Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Apple Muffins

We have some big kids who like to be little kids on Christmas morning.

Even though they now have a munchkin of their own, our grown daughter and her husband haven't outgrown the desire to see whether Santa has left something in their stockings as well.

So they're loading up Baby and baby equipment and traveling across town to spend Christmas Eve at our place on the slight chance that Baby isn't the only one Santa remembers on Christmas morning.

Now that special treat calls for a special breakfast, so I've been baking and freezing breakfast dishes to pop out and reheat so we can have some delectable Christmas-morning goodies.

One of those menu items is Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Apple Muffins. With cholesterol-lowering oatmeal plus healthy apples plus chocolate chips, these muffins had nothing not to like about them. Although I used applesauce from a jar of the unsweetened variety, a cook could just as easily puree some fresh (peeled and cored) apples in a food processor and sub that in for the applesauce, which makes the mixture plenty moist.

Along with a hash-brown breakfast casserole, sausage balls, Cherry Cream-Cheese Almond Muffins, and some cut-up fresh fruit, I'm armed and ready for Christmas morning. Hopefully Santa will do his part as well, so our little family's cross-town trip to the parents' house reaps all kinds of benefits!

Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Apple Muffins

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar packed (if using brown-sugar substitute, use 3/8 cup)
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
3/4 cup applesauce (or apples peeled, cored, and pureed in a food processor to make 3/4 cup)
1 cup oats
1 (6-ounce) package chocolate chips

Cream butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg. Combine dry ingredients; add alternately with applesauce to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats and chocolate chips. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hug-in-a-bowl stew contains all the flavors of the holidays

Calling it a "hug in a bowl" is not far from wrong. We needed a big hug; this meal filled the bill.

Having emergency eye surgery definitely wasn't on our to-do list for the week before Christmas. But when a specialist told Hubby "do not pass go" until you get a retinal tear repaired pronto, those seemingly urgent to-do lists became nonessential very quickly. We rearranged our schedules, spent two straight days sitting in out-of-state doctors' office waiting rooms, and got it done.

Bottom line: Hubby emerged from some hellacious surgery pain-free, side-effects free, and with a potentially dangerous eye problem eradicated without a minute to spare. Thanks to the miracle of lasers which performed a retinal spot-weld, his vision should experience no further difficulties. Side bonus: all the waiting-room sitting on my part gave me plenty of time to finish stitching a Christmas stocking for a new grandboy. I certainly got the better end of that deal.

Once back home, we feasted on a soothing meal I earlier had ready to start in the slow-cooker: Turkey, Sweet Potato, and Cranberry Stew. The headline on this recipe from Prevention magazine tub-thumped this by saying, "Conjure up the holidays! Cranberries and ginger give this turkey stew a sweet-tour tang." We felt hugged as we dined on this absolutely marvelous concoction that was a Christmas dinner in miniature. And since Hubby loves nothing better than ANY recipe containing sweet potatoes, the trauma of the past few days was totally assuaged as this stew went down.

As we feasted on it, we counted our blessings for the priceless and oft-taken-for-granted gift of vision.

Turkey, Sweet Potato, and Cranberry Stew

3 pounds turkey drumsticks, skin removed
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons flour

In large slow cooker combine turkey, onion, honey, vinegar, ginger, salt, pepper, and broth. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours. Add potatoes and cranberries. Cook until potatoes are tender, 45 minutes more. Remove turkey and pull meat from bones. Pour one-quarter of the liquid into small pot and whisk in flour until smooth. Slowly whisk in remaining liquid. Toss meat, potatoes, and cranberries with gravy and reheat if necessary.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our own private "bring-a-dish" recipient of tasty Savory Corn and Broccoli Casserole

Nobody could blame her one bit. In fact, most of us were green with envy at her courage.

A family member whose memorable annual Christmas marathon feast had given new meaning to the adjective gargantuan was throwing in the towel this year. Instead of packing out every room in her house with tables and chairs and tossing a potluck meal for countless kin, she called to convene us at a restaurant near her home and said we'd gather there to fellowship this year.

Unbelievable! But how wise, especially for her sake. Few people knew the extent to which she went to pull off her holiday festivity every year. An ever-growing family, plus the fact that none of us is getting any younger, made us all salute her discretion in saying "no" to things that cause Christmas stress. Sure, we'll be there for the restaurant party, we RSVP’d.

Only problem was, I already had picked out the recipe for the dish I planned to bring to this annual potluck. Notes I'd left for myself all over my recipe album had reminded me to make Savory Corn and Broccoli Casserole for my contribution in 2010. Colorful, healthy, and easy, this selection would be great as an accompaniment to her buffet table.

Cotton-pickin! I'd simply make it for myself, I vowed. After all, it qualified as a veggie side, my ultimate quest to go along with my December meals that are waiting in the freezer (yes, on this 17th day of December, I still have a few left.)

Well, ultimately Hubby and I loved the casserole so much, we selfishly were a little glad we didn't have to share it at a bring-a-dish event. Savory Corn and Broccoli was so tasty and appealing, we knew we would have had little left to bring home. This way we could enjoy effortless (on everyone's part) fellowship with family at a restaurant and have this tasty dish all to ourselves.

Savory Corn and Broccoli Casserole

1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style golden sweet corn, no salt added
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (11-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, no salt added, drained (can sub corn from one ear of fresh corn, steamed)
1 1/2 cups small broccoli florets
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1 egg beaten (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup (about 6 wafers) crushed low-salt shredded wheat wafers

In medium bowl stir together cream corn and flour until mixture is combined. Stir in whole-kernel (or fresh) corn, broccoli, onions, egg, and pepper. Spray 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Spoon mixture into pie plate. Sprinkle top with crushed wafers. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until set. Makes 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who doesn't need a little comfort in December? This soup is a true December blessing

Who doesn’t need a little comfort this time of year? Without besmirching in any way the true meaning of the season, the honest truth is most adult women (a lot of men, as well) in America are bedraggled at about this point in Christmas Month. "Pulling off" Christmas is nothing if not taxing to the adults in the average American family. On this particular December day, with the finish line only 10 days away, the prospects of finishing well (or finishing at all) sometimes can seem dim.

This recipe for Spinach, Chicken, and Wild Rice Soup brings a little comfort to the forefront to the battle-weary. Toss all ingredients (and "all" includes lots of healthy items) into a slow cooker and be on about your to-do list. Seven to eight hours later, dinner is served. Your family is provided for. And you've done nothing except put yourself in a position to receive accolades.

Better Homes and Gardens website provided this gem of a recipe some years back. I've loved it ever since and prepared it when the need was the greatest. This time of year qualifies. With Spinach, Chicken, and Wild Rice Soup, hatching up something healthy for dinner doesn't have to add to my frustrations.

Spinach, Chicken, and Wild Rice Soup

3 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can reduced-fat and reduced-sodium condensed cream of chicken soup
2/3 cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups cooked and chopped chicken or turkey
2 cups shredded fresh spinach

In a slow cooker combine the water, broth, cream of chicken soup, uncooked wild rice, thyme, and pepper. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. To serve stir in chicken and spinach. Makes (6 1 1/2 cup) servings.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Invention truly was the mother of this fabulous winter-night veggie pasta dish

What a great idea for a winter night, I thought as I pulled together my ingredients for Vegetable and Cheese Pasta. I could just see it residing in my large pasta bowl of my blue spongeware dishes. I could imagine how beautiful it would look and how satisfying it would taste.

Ready to begin cooking, I surveyed the recipe, which I had in my files from a 2000 of Prevention magazine. No biggie, I thought to myself. I can whip this together in no time. I accomplished steps 1 and 2—boil pasta, drain, cook onion in oil.

Then I looked again. Where was the remainder of my recipe? I looked on the back of the magazine clipping. The back contained the directions for other recipes, but this one had managed to be continued on a page I didn't save. I dashed to the computer to Google it. Alas, Prevention didn't appear to keep recipes from a decade ago. I did an online search of veggie pasta recipes in general. Nothing seemed exactly what I had in mind. I would have to wing it.

Now, winging it is tough for those of my "J" personality type. As I've mentioned before, I have to have things outlined for me methodically, with no deviations allowed. Don't change directions on me, and for heaven's sakes, don't require me to improvise. But my ingredients already were assembled; I couldn't turn back. I simply would have to invent my own version of how this dish should be made.

Well, as you can see from the attached photo, bottom line was that things turned out just fine. To fill in the gaps I added the remaining steps that seemed to be provided. This dish was an easy thing, with no oven preparation required—mainly a heat-and-stir operation. So I "made do" by using my own ingenuity. And invention seemed to be part of this recipe anyway, since you could build your own dish by adding whatever veggies and whatever kind of cheese you desired or had on hand.

The result was a wonderful winter-evening meal—and to suit the constraints of No-Time December perfectly, it made enough for two or three meals for Hubby and me. That's at least one or maybe two more December nights I get a pass on cooking. Hooray for me! I overrode my "J-ness" and used my head to create a to-die-for entree that even could show up at a Christmas bring-a-dish with no shame whatsoever.

Vegetable and Cheese Pasta

12-ounces angel hair or linguine pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into small wedges
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth
4 cups cooked vegetables (any combination, such as cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, beets, cabbage, rutabagas, parsnips)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces cheese (such as Cheddar, feta, or Monterey Jack), crumbled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain; reserving some of the liquid. Set aside. Meanwhile heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes or until the onion is almost soft. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Into the same skillet stir in the balsamic vinegar, vegetable broth, cooked vegetables, fresh oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add pasta and stir, mixing thoroughly. If necessary for moisture add a few tablespoons of the reserved liquid from cooking the pasta. Add all the cheese, reserving the two tablespoons Parmesan for topping. Stir until cheese is melted. Pour mixture into large pasta bowl. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan on top. Serves 8.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding--an excellent bribe, an excellent breakfast dish

OK, so I'll call it what it was: pure bribery. The day stretched out before me as so many pre-Christmas days do—IMPOSSIBLE. The time had arrived to address the cards plus wrap all the Christmas gifts that needed to go in the mail. Problem was, no one person could accomplish all that in a single day. Help was needed and needed quickly.

Unsuspecting Hubby just thought I was trying out a new breakfast recipe, as I often do on weekend mornings. True that, but I also had an ulterior motive. Feed him well; get Hubby in my owe pronto; then maybe he'd help me with one of the above mentioned tasks.

Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding, borrowed from an old issue of Family Circle magazine and tucked away in my winter recipes file, made the best breakfast dish on the planet. Slices of plump, healthy Rome Beauty apples tucked in between slices of cinnamon raisin bread and baked with a caramel sauce poured over was a beauty—and a motivator.

Hubby fell for the ruse. After a breakfast dish of steaming Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding just pulled from the oven, he probably would have jumped on the roof and danced while wearing a Santa hat if I'd asked him to do so. Filled to satisfaction from dining on the excellent dish (which also would make a perfect Christmas-morning breakfast dish or an item for Christmas company), he sat down at the dining table and cheerfully worked on the Christmas cards all day.

Because of his help, I may not be ahead of the game, but I'm currently not behind, which is more than I could have said of myself in previous Christmas months. Thanks, Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding.

Cinnamon Apple Bread Pudding

3 Rome Beauty apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
1 tablespoon flour
1 loaf (16 ounces) cinnamon-swirl bread
6 eggs (or 2 cups egg substitute)
1 3/4 cups milk (I use skim)
1/2 cup bottled sugar-free caramel sauce, plus more to drizzle
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)

Coat a 2 1/2-quart shallow baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl toss apple slices with flour. Cut loaf of bread in half diagonally (to form triangle-shaped slices). Layer half the bread and half the apple slices, overlapping, in bottom of prepared dish. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together eggs, milk, 1/2 cup caramel sauce, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. Pour half over bread and apples in dish. Repeat layering; use all remaining bread and apples. Pour second half of egg mixture over layers. Cover dish with plastic wrap; press lightly. Refrigerate to soak 30 minutes to 1 hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap dish; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes; cover with foil and bake 15 more minutes or until center measures 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Drizzle top with additional caramel sauce; let cool on rack 15 minutes. Serve warm with cool whip (we use sugar free), if desired.

Friday, December 10, 2010

When the chips are down (timewise) in December, Zucchini Oven Chips answer the side-dish dilemma

Oh, those sides, those sides. All my pre-December cooking and freezing has paid off in terms of giving me a free pass for preparing entrees during Never-Enough-Time month. But what about those dishes to accompany our meals? I'm always on the hunt for easy things to drum up to give my meals a boost.

Last night was a search for a quick and healthy accompaniment to Thick and Chunky Tomato Spaghetti Sauce (from my cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden). In the fall I had made and frozen several batches of this sauce; I'm now the beneficiary of all this advance work. From my files I found a help originally furnished by Cooking Light magazine; the recipe was for Zucchini Oven Chips. Now that's an unusual thought. On hand I had a couple of small zucchini that earlier I had meant to use in a salad that didn't materialize. Zucchini Oven Chips would be a terrific partner for my spaghetti sauce and would look like I slaved all day in the kitchen.

The zucchini is chopped up into slices (Hubby, who had been driven from his home office by workers finishing a remodel in that room, was happy to help slice them up for me.) After dipping them in a little milk I dredged them in a mixture of breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and seasonings. I layered the slices in a single layer on a pan that had been coated with cooking spray.

With almost no effort at all these turned out delightful and were perfect to go along with the spaghetti. They were crisp and flavorful and gave the same impact as if I had dipped them a batter and pan-fried them (which would have made them less healthy, of course). Hubby wouldn't be able to help himself and would just have to top them with a little ketchup, but to me this finished recipe represented Mission Accomplished. December, I'm still standing!

Zucchini Oven Chips

1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs (I used crumbs from whole-wheat bread)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used salt-free seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons milk
zucchini slices (about 2 small zucchini, cut up)

In medium bowl combine first five ingredients. Place milk in separate bowl. Dip slices in milk; dredge in crumb mixture. Place slices on pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until zucchini is browned and crisp. Serves 4.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A waffle "smoothie"? Try this blueberry-studded breakfast treat and sample for yourself.

Special events call for special breakfasts. Our grown-up child and her baby child—that cute little grandboy—were here for a sleepover while her hubby was out-of-pocket on business. I wanted her to wake up to some good smells emanating from the kitchen and a special memory of home.

I had a recipe that piqued my curiosity—Blender Cornmeal Blueberry Waffles—that I borrowed last year from Quick Cooking magazine but never had prepared. Waffle batter from a blender—what difference would that make? I soon found out. Into the blender canister went all the batter ingredients, including cornmeal (which brought that extra touch of fiber). After the blending some plump blueberries were folded in and the mixture poured onto the griddle.

I've never tasted such a smooth, tender waffle—crispy on the outside, light and fluffy in its interior. Blueberries added color and health. Prepared with all the substitutions and served with sugar-free syrup, it provided a guilt-free breakfast. Plus it gave our special guest—our once-little girl who became a lovely, grown girl—a taste of Mom’s cooking and some special pampering before she had to run home as responsibilities called there.

Blender Cornmeal Blueberry Waffles

1 egg (or egg substitiute)
3/4 cups fat-free milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
3/4 to 1 cup blueberries

Preheat waffle maker. Blend all in blender until just mixed. Fold in blueberries (do not blend in blender but fold in gently). Pour 3/4 cup batter onto griddle. Bake. Serve with sugar-free syrup. Makes 3 servings.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Include these healthy cranberry-almond muffins on your buffet table to welcome Christmas morning

Time to get some of those menu items prepared and stashed away for Christmas-morning breakfast. Whether you plan to have a houseful of guests just after Santa arrives or whether it's just the two of you taking time to luxuriously savor those holiday hours (that’ll be us!), crowning the event with a terrific, memorable breakfast is worth some advance planning.

Prevention Magazine furnished this recipe for a healthy, Christmasy muffin that I've already baked and previewed and stored in my deepfreeze for a Christmas breakfast menu that also will include turkey sausage balls and a potato casserole. As I auditioned Cranberry-Almond Muffins, I spread on some of my homemade pumpkin-apple butter. The end result seemed as though it was a gift from Santa himself.

Whole-wheat flour combines with all-purpose flour as a base for the muffin batter. A heaping addition of whole cranberries (remember their vitamin C and fiber benefits) plus sliced almonds make this a seriously healthy treat. That little touch of red as the cranberries peek through the muffin tops helps decorate your Christmas table.

You even could consider subbing one of these muffins for cookies when you leave out for Santa a little treat! Goodness knows he looks as though he himself could use a little dose of healthy eating.

Cran-Almond Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1 large egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1/2 cup fat-free milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 2/3 cup whole cranberries
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 12 cubes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix first five ingredients. Whisk together next 4 ingredients. Fold this mixture into flour mixture. Stir in cranberries. Put batter in muffin pan lined with 12 baking cups (or muffin pan that has been generously greased so muffins will remove easily). Top with butter. Whisk together 2 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon, and almonds; sprinkle on the top of each unbaked muffin. Bake until muffins test done, about 22 minutes. Yields 12.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cranberry show-stopper perfect, healthy jewel for Christmas bring-a-dish evet

Want an absolute show-stopper for a Christmas bring-a-dish event? This one can't be beat—and to think it's been languishing in my Christmas recipe file (untried) for years on end. What was I thinking?

Waldorf Salad was a biggie in my growing-up family, so the very idea of preparing this dish was akin to comfort food for me. But the addition of cranberries lifted this past the prosaic and made it an exceptional creation. Thanks to Mature Living magazine for this recipe that I clipped out and saved for—well, just for this very day.

The cranberries' slightly tart taste are a nice counterpoint to the sweet grapes, apples, and the dressing created simply from nonfat vanilla yogurt, sugar substitute, and cinnamon.

The combination of the greens and reds from the fruit mixture make a perfect Christmas accompaniment. Tucked in a pretty cut-glass pedestal bowl of my mother's, I can't imagine anything more party-worthy.

Cranberry Waldorf Salad

1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries
1 cup chopped red apple
1 cup chopped cleery
1 cup seedless green grapes, halves
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 ounces nonfat vanilla yogurt

Combine all the ingredients. Toss to coat. Cover and chill 2 hours. Stir just before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Easy-to-fix spinach and ricotta muffin cups make great "sides" for December meals

Baking and freezing the emergency meals for the crazed month of December was one thing. But now that December's here and we're frantically popping those meals out for our dinner table, they still need sides to accompany them.

So to go with our meatloaf, packed away in November for these fast-moving December nights, here's a wonderful, unusual side dish that utilized the remainder of my fresh spinach from my previous blog. Baked Ricotta and Spinach Cups! Who knew? The Chickasaw Nutrition Services office had this trick up its sleeve. I couldn't believe it when I read the recipe. Grease eight muffin tins, wilt some spinach in a hot skillet, mix ricotta cheese with egg and Cheddar. Fold in the spinach. Bake as you would muffins in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes.

We served 'em for dinner (diehard ketchup lovers like Hubby just can't resist adding a few drops of the salt-free red stuff) and then had 'em for breakfast the next day. I even smoothed out half a spinach cup onto a warm meatloaf sandwich the next day for lunch. Freeze some for Christmas-morning breakfast to accompany a breakfast casserole? Serve some for a Christmas covered-dish event? The possibilities are endless—you'll have a conversation-piece recipe, to be sure!

Baked Ricotta and Spinach Cups

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
8 ounces (6 cups) baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup shredded low-fat Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease eight muffin tins. Cook oil and garlic over medium heat until lightly browned. Add baby spinach leaves and heat until leaves wilt. In a separate bowl mix ricotta cheese, egg, salt, pepper, and cheddar cheese. Fold in spinach and garlic mixture. Pour ricotta mixture into the eight muffins tins equally. Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin round emerges nearly clean. Makes 5 servings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spinach-Cheese Omelet for dinner—another healthy way to (nutritionally) survive the December ratrace

Things don't get any easier—or healthier—than this. I'm still majoring on what every cook knows is the major trial of of Christmas Month. It may be the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but it's also the most frustrating month in terms of trying to get quick, healthy meals on the table . . . and deck the halls, buy the gifts, wrap the gifts, address the cards, and meet social obligations. If I neglect to prepare IN ADVANCE for our food needs that will arise in this important month, I pay for it during the (now) 21 days until Christmas.

A recent issue of Prevention magazine addressed this dilemma by presenting a step-by-step illustration of how to make a "dinner" omelet. The article begins with the words, "Got eggs? Then you've got supper." The recipe is packed with substitutions—water for milk or cream; egg substitute for whole eggs; and olive oil rather than butter. It suggests throwing in whatever veggies you have on hand, thus sneaking in an extra veggie serving as well as using up leftovers (particularly Thanksgiving ones). Adding crusty French bread and a serving of grapes or a cut-up orange or other fruit makes for a classy meal.

The leftover I had on hand was about half a bag of fresh spinach, which as we all know goes South very quickly. In the microwave I steamed the spinach with a teaspoon of water and a dash of salt substitute. Then I stirred in about 1 teaspoon butter and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. My filling then was ready to stuff into my omelet (omelet instructions to follow).

The portions in the recipe below for Classic Spinach and Cheese Omelet make one omelet; obviously multiply portions by however many people you're trying to feed. Use whatever cheese you like: cheddar, feta, brie, Swiss, Monterey Jack. Make up individual omelets one at a time; keep ready ones warm in a very low oven until dinner time.

The troops are fed, the clean-up is minimal, health has not been sacrificed, and then you're off to play Christmas CD’s while you spend the rest of the evening stitching that grandchild's Christmas stocking (or whatever Christmas task awaits you on your to-do list!)

Classic Spinach and Cheese Omelet

2 large eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1 teaspoon water
pinch of salt (or salt substitute)
pinch of black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons grated cheese (your choice)

Beat eggs, water, salt, and pepper in bowl with fork just to blend. Heat oil in 8-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture. Stir constantly with heatproof rubber spatula until eggs thicken to a custardy consistency, 10 to 20 seconds. Tilt pan to allow any uncooked egg to run to the side. Run spatula all around edge of omelet. Sprinkle cheese over half of omelet. At this point add spinach that has been cooked according to directions above. Fold other half of omelet over cheese and filling. Turn off heat and let stand 30 seconds to set around filling. Use a spatula to gently push omelet onto a plate.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"To-go" urge on December nights foiled with the ease of these Grilled Turkey & Cranberry Sandwiches

This was just about the greatest idea for leftovers I've ever run across—Grilled Turkey & Cranberry Sandwiches. Good for using up the turkey and cranberry sauce leftovers—even better for the December Ratrace Nights about which I have been muttering. Too many pre-Christmas evening to-do's, no time to cook, too much temptation to breeze through a to-go line somewhere and bring home unhealth in a bag.

In a recent article extolling the virtues of cranberries Prevention magazine furnished this recipe as one of its Fast Ideas. Prevention mentions the fact that cheery-hued cranberries represent a good source of vitamin C and fiber and are in season from October through December. Cranberries last two to four weeks in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer.

The recipe involves heating a nonstick skillet, smearing on a little olive oil, placing whole-grain-bread slices in the pan, and topping with cheese and turkey. Add a thin layer of leftover cranberry sauce (can be a sliver of jellied sauce or a layer of whole-berry sauce); then more cheese and the remaining bread slice. Once browned, flip to toast the other side.

These clever sandwiches made a healthy, quick evening meal and left some remainders for the next day's lunch. Didn't I feel virtuous? Plus the last smidgen of Thanksgiving leftovers was re-purposed without wastage. Love it!

Grilled Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich

4 teaspoons olive oil
8 slices whole-grain bread
4 ounces pepper jack or mozzarella cheese, sliced
8 ounces roast turkey, sliced
1/2 cup leftover cranberry sauce (strained if runny)

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Place 2 slices of bread side by side in pan and top each with one-eighth of the cheese and one-fourth of the turkey. Spread one-fourth of the sauce over turkey on each slice and top each slice with another eighth of the cheese and two bread slices. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Remove from pan; add another teaspoon oil, then cook second side until toasted, about 3 minutes. Repeat for remaining 2 sandwiches. Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's red and green and just the best thing ever for a pre-Christmas crazy-ness meal? Don't pass up these quesadillas

The first major freeze of the year sent us racing to the garden to raid the bell pepper bushes of every last pepper down to the smallest babies that were just popping out. Now a huge bushel basket of peppers sits in wait to be chopped and frozen to carry us through the winter until garden time next spring.

All those peppers, both green and red, plus holiday leftovers netted us one of the best meals ever—a true delight for a busy night that saw me start to decorate the Christmas tree and wade right into the swirling current of December crazy-ness.

Fresh Ham and Pepper Quesadillas were ready in almost as much time as one could sing "Here Comes Santa Claus" and brought so much cheer that the Grinch just had to stay far away on this Christmas-prep night.

Into a hot skillet went a flour tortilla that had been spread with mustard and topped with Monterey Jack cheese. Atop that went the mixture of ham, green peppers, and green onions and another cheese layer, with a second mustard-spread tortilla on top. A quick browning in the skillet melted the cheese and stuck the layers together. Dinner—ready with a maximum of 15 minutes' work from the time I chopped the first pepper to the moment the quesadillas were sliced with a pizza cutter and placed on the dinner plate. Love it, love it, love it!

Fresh Ham & Pepper Quesadillas

1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 ounces sliced ham, cut in strips
1/4 cup green onions, minced
4 large flour tortillas
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
salsa, sour cream (optional)

Combine peppers, ham, and onions. Spread 2 tablespoons yellow mustard on two tortillas. Spread a thin layer of cheese over the mustard; sprinkle with ham mixture. Spread remaining cheese over the top and cover with a second tortilla. Spray a skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Place one quesadilla in the pan and cook until lightly browned. Flip the quesadilla gently and cook until the bottom is lightly browned. Repeat with the second quesadilla. Remove the quesadilla from the pan; cut and serve with your favorite salsa and/or sour cream. Makes four servings.