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, December 30, 2011

Brussels sprouts, bacon, balsamic vinegar—great mix for a great veggie side

On a holiday, when I see Hubby return to the table to graze on leftovers, I can pretty well suspect that he’ll emerge with a piece of pie on his plate.

But on Christmas Day afternoon, what showed up on his leftover plate that he brought to his easy chair to munch on while we watched the movie “Santa Clause 2”?

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. I couldn’t believe my eyes—he was armed with this flavorful side we paired up with Maple-Glazed Salmon for our Christmas Eve dinner. Hubby thought it was one the best veggie items ever and thought the blend of bacon, onion, and balsamic vinegar just made the dish.

In the booklet which furnished the recipe, the comments say, “Who knew brussels sprouts could taste so good?” My sentiments totally. The balsamic vinegar gave it a tangy taste. I happened to have a couple of bags of frozen brussels sprouts in the freezer and needed to use them up, but fresh brussels sprouts, of course, would be wonderful as well.

I’m not sure Brussels Sprouts with Bacon (Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards) will replace Eggnog-Sweet Potato Pie (Wednesday’s blog) on Hubby’s all-star fave holiday food list, but it sure gave him a new take on the sometimes-minimized brussels sprout. I’ve placed a star by it to remind me to fix for next year.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

3 bacon strips (I used turkey bacon)
1 1/4 pounds fresh or frozen brussels sprouts, thawed, quartered
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until it is crisp. Remove to paper towels; drain, reserve 1 tablespoon drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside. In the same pan saute brussels sprouts and onion in reserved drippings until crisp-tender. Add the water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 4-5 minutes until brussels sprouts are tender. Stir in bacon and vinegar. Makes 12 servings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nutty topping and sweet potato-eggnog combo gives this pie holiday appeal

I had intended only to place it on my next year’s “be-sure-to-cook” wish list, but when we found some lovely sweet potatoes at a late-season farmer’s market, I could wait no longer. The photo in the recipe booklet just almost leaped off the page, it was so mouth-watering.

So I whipped up some Eggnog Sweet Potato Pie and took it as a contribution to the family Christmas Eve gathering. The nutty topping and eggnog-sweet potato filling made a memorable dessert—truly holiday in every way.

I was glad to find eggnog made with skim milk; the caramel ice-cream topping that I had on hand was sugar-free. The crunchy topping contained coconut, brown sugar, and chopped pecans that’s mixed with butter and flour and is sprinkled over the pie after it’s cooked for 45 minutes and the filling solidifies.

Hubby thought the taste was that of pumpkin pie with a crunchy layer on top—and he does love pumpkin pie! He was begging to have the leftovers of this pie for breakfast the next day, just as he does on the morning after Thanksgiving. A little sugar-free whipped topping was a tasty garnish.

Eggnog-Sweet Potato Pie (instructions courtesy Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards) was a very good way to help end a year of spectacular food experiences.

Eggnog-Sweet Potato Pie

1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping (I used sugar-free)
1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches)
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup eggnog (I used skim)
1 egg, lightly beaten (I used egg substitute)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cold butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Carefully spread caramel topping over bottom of pastry shell; set aside. In a small bowl combine the sweet potatoes, eggnog, egg, butter, and vanilla. Stir in the sugars and cinnamon. Carefully spoon over the caramel layer. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 30 minutes longer. Meanwhile in a small bowl combine the coconut, flour, and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly; stir in pecans. Sprinkle over pie. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center emerges clean and topping is golden brown (cover edges with foil if necessary to prevent overbrowning.) Cool on a wire rack. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 8 servings.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tango with the mango to yield an awesome cranberry-sauce version

Cranberry-sauce time is upon us again; doesn’t every holiday table need some of the tart, crimson mixture to enliven the Christmas turkey and dressing?

I found a version with such an unusual twist, I just had to share it—Mango Cranberry Sauce, with such healthy and diverse ingredients that it definitely got my attention when I saw it in my Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards book. Only healthy elements all around—mangos, whole cranberries, chopped cilantro, tangerine, pineapple, red onion, and jalapeno.

Makes for a terrific combination; my booklet says it will “wow your gang” when you put it on the table. I’m serving it for tomorrow night’s Christmas Eve dinner. We’ll see if my gang is wowed—certainly hope so. It also keeps very well, so it can accompany leftovers for several days.

Instructions with the recipe contain the reminder to be sure to wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers and to avoid touching your face. An important caution that can save you lots of grief! This is the first time I’ve ever seen a recipe contain this heads-up alert, but talk about something that quickly could turn your Christmas tearful—using your hands to swat away a stray eyelash immediately after chopping up a jalapeno!

This post does it for The Newfangled Country Gardener until after Christmas, but I already know of two can’t-miss, scrumptious dishes I’ll be sharing in the days ahead. I can guarantee these will be must-tries!

Merry Christmas—and happy and healthy cooking! May your tables reflect all the goodness that preparing foods the garden-fresh way has to offer—and may our hearts all reflect the reason for the season!

Mango Cranberry Sauce

1 1/2 cups whole-berry cranberry sauce (I instead used fresh cranberries and prepared them according to package directions; then I measured 1 1/2 cups of the cooked whole berries)
3 tangerines, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium mango, peeled and diced
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, and finely chopped

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until you serve it. Makes 4 1/2 cups sauce.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thinking outside the box brings forth comforting Curried Acorn Squash Soup

Acorn squash—just so many things you can cook with it, right? For years Hubby has done a great job of sawing those large green orbs in two, dotting them with butter and brown sugar, and baking them on trays in the oven—then scooping out the sweet, tender insides for us to enjoy.

But when I saw a recipe for Curried Acorn Squash Soup, I was intrigued. A new twist on the baked variety—seasoned with curry and nutmeg, then topped with bacon bits. Had to try, had to try.

The recipe book’s comment on this soup (source: Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards again) mentioned that this dish was easy to make and that it kept well. All true. The smooth, unique combination of the squash and the spices was delightful. This would make a great first course for a sit-down Christmas dinner. For us it became a wonderfully warming treat on the night this week that the winter storm blew in and the frightful-sounding gales outside made indoors around our kitchen table a comforting place to be.

Thinking out of the box for you, acorn squash! You do yourself proud in this mellow, interesting soup.

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

3 medium acorn squash, halved and seeded
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 to 4 teaspoons curry powder
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken brown (I used low-sodium variety)
1 cup half-and-half cream (can use whole milk, 2 percent, or skim)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt (or salt substitute) and pepper to taste
crumbled cooked bacon (I used turkey bacon bits)

Place squash, cut side down, in a greased, shallow baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until the squash is almost tender. In a large saucepan sauté onion and curry powder in butter until onion is tender. Remove from the heat; set aside. Carefully scoop out squash; add pulp to saucepan. Gradually add the broth. Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until squash is very tender. Cool slightly. In a food processor or blender process the squash mixture until smooth; return to the saucepan. Stir in the cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat until heated through (do not boil). Garnish with bacon if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

This veggie pasta toss has Christmas written all over it

I’m surprised I remembered it. After all, a full year had passed. I’d slept a lot since I made the notation to myself.

But on a page of my Christmas binder in which I keep the recipes I love to cook at Christmastime, I found a notation—“Make this for next year’s holiday gathering.” I further noted that the green and red colors of the salad contents would look festive on a party buffet.

So when my cousin called to announce the date she was having folks in for a pre-Christmas lunch, I was ready to sign up for my food item: the Italian Vegetable Toss.

One luncheon guest, as she dined on my salad, asked me what all was in the melange. Another question might be, “What’s not in it?” Lots of fresh veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, green onion, and artichoke hearts—along with cooked bow-tie pasta (which I subbed for the called-for shell macaroni) and the simple addition of bottled Italian salad dressing are mixed up to make this winner of a food item.

Unfortunately the recipe in my Christmas binder was clipped in the long ago and doesn’t contain the source. I’m going to guess it’s from a holiday Southern Living issue at some point in the distant past. The demo dish was photographed with pine cones and Christmas greenery around it, so I’m not the only person who once deemed this perfect for a holiday occasion.

The salad tasted great, but the best part for me was serving it in my mother’s cut-glass salad bowl, which has contained countless other salads in past years as we made the trek to my cousin’s house for holiday get-togethers. Although the elegant bowl didn’t house her usual gelatin, I think she would have enjoyed this dish that just looks like Christmas.

Italian Vegetable Toss

1 1/2 cups shell macaroni (I subbed with bow-tie pasta)
2 cups broccoli flowerets
1 cup cauliflower flowerets
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 (6-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and chopped
1 cup sliced pitted ripe olives
1/2 cup chopped green onion
2/3 cup Italian salad dressing
1 medium avocado, seeded, peeled, and sliced
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped

Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Rinse with cold water; drain well. In a large bowl combine macaroni, broccoli flowerets, cauliflower flowerets, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, ripe olives, and chopped green onion. Toss with Italian dressing. Cover and chill for several hours. At serving time toss vegetable mixture with avocado and tomato. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Calling a truce with raisins makes for enjoyment of this sweet salad

In earlier blogs I’ve discussed how I finally made peace with having raisins as ingredients in carrot salad. I’ve mentioned how my adoration of the carrot salad offered during the glory days of Wyatt’s Cafeteria during my growing-up years was tempered only by the detestable raisins that swam in the sweet, juicy dressing that held the shredded carrots together.

Then, years later, my own child began picking at her foods and strategically working her way around parts of salads, casseroles, and veggie dishes that she didn’t want to eat. When I adjured her, she said, in effect, “Why not? You pick the raisins out of your carrot salad.” Ouch! Out of the mouth of babes . . .. Lesson learned. I began eating ALL my carrot salad—raisins, too!

My Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe cards that I’m so in love with featured a beautiful, colorful Carrot-Raisin Salad and recommended it as a side dish. Because of my fascination, dating back to my early years, with carrot salad, I just had to try this. But before I did, I had to make sure that I could use some raisins from the stash that Hubby uses for snacks. See, I’ve made peace for sure.

This easy recipe merely calls for grating the carrots, adding chopped celery and onions, and tossing it all with 6 ounces of nonfat vanilla yogurt. I didn’t happen to have celery, so I used pineapple tidbits, since the Wyatt’s cafeteria version often contained pineapple instead of the celery.

It was good to the last bite—with not one raisin left on my plate! We’re now the best of friends.

Carrot-Raisin Salad

2 1/2 cups shredded carrots
1 celery rib, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup (6 ounces) vanilla yogurt (I used non-fat)
(I tossed in 1/2 cup diced pineapple tidbits as a sub for the celery;
or it could be tossed in as an additional ingredient)

In a small bowl combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Stir before you serve. Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This delicious Pear Cobbler brought pleas for repeat performance

This one has netted repeated “Do-again!”s from Hubby. I think he really liked this recipe. He (not-so-subtly) hinted that he’d be just fine with my turning around and immediately making this dish a second time—RIGHT NOW! I think that means it was a winner!

The scrumptious dish was a Pear Cobbler made in a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan, so it lasted us many days (and still Hubby begs for more servings). I’ll have to admit that it was a big adaptation of a very good recipe card I just received from the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services. The card called it a Fruit Cocktail Cobbler, but I didn’t have any fruit cocktail on hand and had an abundance of canned pears instead. My wheels started spinning: Why wouldn’t pears work just as well?

I also have to admit that I used the canned variety of pears rather than the fresh, but I heartily recommend that you simply sub 2 cups of fresh, chopped pears that you have cooked in a small pan on the stove until the pears have just softened a bit. This will sub nicely for the 15-ounce can of pears I added in. I also sprinkled in about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to spice up the flavor.

This dessert actually can be served warm or cold; hubby and I got into quite a conversation about which version was better. He liked his heated and served with sugar-free, fat-free caramel sauce (We use Smucker’s sundae topping) and sugar-free whipped topping. Plain or with these additions, this was a wonderful, low-calorie, virtually sugar-free dessert adoption that shouldn’t produce Diner’s Remorse.

This Pear Cobbler represents a great way to feel indulgent at holiday time without lots of regrets about eating something not good for you.

Pear Cobbler

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1 (15-ounce) can pears (in their own juice) or 2 cups fresh pears chopped and cooked on the
stovetop until just softened
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
cooking spray
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup brown-sugar substitute)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan with cooking spray. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, egg, cinnamon, and pears with their liquid in a bowl. Transfer mixture to the pan. Top with 1/2 cup brown sugar (can add a little more if you desire). Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beautiful first-course salad for Christmas (or anytime) meal makes great impression

Don’t let the recipe title fool you. This salad can be the “Taste-of” whatever season in which you desire to serve it—a perfectly beautiful Christmas salad for the first course of a holiday meal; an Easter menu item; or a cooling, refreshing summer buffet number. Take your pick—but this recipe, named Taste-of-Fall Salad, is a winner.

The toasted pecan halves that have been bathed in a balsamic vinegar wash and seasoned with cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and sugar (or sugar substitute) make a flavorful, crunchy topping. The simple oil-and-Dijon mustard dressing is terrific; shredded Parmesan is dusted on the greens; thinly sliced pears, of course, represent the key ingredient.

The recipe hailed from my Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards, which suggested it for the Thanksgiving table. I’m still mining them for ideas that seem to work just as well pre-Christmas as they did for the previous holiday. This salad is a beauty, for sure.

Taste-of-Fall Salad

2/3 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
dash cayenne pepper
dash ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute), divided
1 package (5 ounces) spring mix salad greens (I used fresh spinach)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 medium pear, thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy skillet cook the pecans, 2 tablespoons vinegar, cayenne, and cinnamon over medium heat until nuts are toasted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Cook and stir for 2-4 minutes or until sugar is melted. Spread nuts on foil to cool. Place salad greens in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk oil, mustard, salt, and remaining vinegar and sugar; drizzle over greens and toss to coat. Arrange the greens, pear slices, and pecans on six salad plates. Sprinkle top of salad with cheese. Makes 6 servings.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gingered Pumpkin Bisque a lovely first course for Christmas meals

Our orange Thanksgiving pumpkin had brightly cheered us during the entire fall, but the time had arrived to put it out to pasture and to claim its succulent insides for some pre-Christmas meals.

A recipe for a pretty Gingered Pumpkin Bisque had leaped off the page at me as I first surfed my Taste of Home resource. I was glad I now had the fresh puree (after we carved and boiled the aforementioned pumpkin) to cook this delicious soup.

The recipe called for 1/2 cup whipping cream or half-and-half. I recoiled at this and wondered whether the bisque would be just too, too watered down if I made it with only skim milk.

Not to obsess about this at all—the skim milk worked just fine, so I could dine in good conscience. Processing a portion of the well-drained batch in the blender, as the recipe directs, makes the soup thick and rich, so the substitution worked just fine. The recipe (from Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards) said this made enough for four servings, but Hubby and I used it as a main course, so in our giant soup mugs we found none left over after the two of us consumed it readily.

This would be a great first course at a sit-down Christmas dinner. Guests would think you were utterly amazing if you tantalized them with a bowl of this special delight.

Gingered Pumpkin Bisque

1/3 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin puree)
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup (I used the sugar-free variety)
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon pepper
dash ground cloves
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream or half-and-half cream (I used skim milk)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
additional whipping cream, optional
fresh thyme sprigs, optional
(I dusted the top with a little cinnamon.)

In a small saucepan sauté the shallots, onion, and ginger in oil until tender. Stir in flour until blended; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Gradually stir in broth and cider. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the pumpkin, maple syrup, thyme, cinnamon, pepper, and cloves. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. In a blender process soup in batches until soup is smooth. Return all to the pan. Stir in cream and vanilla; heat through (do not boil). Drizzle individual servings with additional cream. If desired garnish with thyme sprigs. Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Special-event perfect are these Triple Berry Muffins

Time to start thinking about those Christmas-morning breakfasts. In my recipe binder that houses Christmas-y recipes I’ve clipped over the years, I found this little jewel tucked away: Triple Berry Muffins. A wonderful and healthy combination of fresh blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries makes a beautiful muffin that’s special-event perfect.

The original recipe (from Quick Cooking September/October 2002) called for chopped fresh strawberries as the third berry in the ingredient list, but in place of those I used blackberries; as I’ve already mentioned numerous times, Hubby can’t be on the same planet with a strawberry without having an uncomfortable reaction, so the chopped blackberries worked just as fine.

We enjoyed a warm sampling briefly as they popped from the oven, but as soon as they cooled, I stored them away in an airtight container and sequestered them for a short winter’s nap in the freezer until the Big Day arrives. What a wonderful treat to look toward!

Triple Berry Muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar (or sugar substitute)
4 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1 1/4 cups milk (or milk substitute)
1 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries (or blackberries)

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl beat the eggs, milk, and butter; stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in berries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick emerges clean. Cool for 5 minutes before you remove these muffins from pans to wire racks. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Soup month, Christmas month—great go-togethers; this corn chowder helps

Is December soup month, or what? These cool days, many of them rainy (no one in parched Texas is complaining about that fact, even if the weather seems less than Christmasy) are open invitations to have a stove top with a pot bubbling—with soup that warms all the way down.

I’m still finding recipes in my Taste of Home Thanksgiving Recipe Cards book that beg to be tried; next Thanksgiving seems too long to wait for them. One of those I had starred was a recipe for Corn Chowder. To me, golden chunks of fresh corn floating in a creamy base looked just beautiful as I gazed at the photo. (I had some fresh carrots on hand, so I threw them in as a taste addition.)

Hubby pronounced this the best soup he’d ever had. Well, you know Hubby; he’s always full of superlatives and affirmatives, but he may have been close to right on this one. Don’t know when I’ve dined on a more tasty soup. Preparation was simple, too. Boil the first part on the stove; process it in batches in a blender until the corn is blended smooth; then return to the pan and add the remaining fresh corn , carrot, red pepper, and spices.

I served this with some warm cornbread, which the recipe card recommends. Hubby and I had ourselves a feast!

Corn Chowder

1 medium onion, chopped
6 cups fresh (or frozen) corn, divided
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 cup grated carrot (my addition)

Coat a large saucepan with cooking spray. Add onion; cook and stir mixture over medium heat for 4 minutes or until veggies are tender. Add 4 cups corn; cook and stir until corn is softened, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Cool slightly. In a blender process soup in batches until smooth; return all to the pan. Add the red pepper, rosemary, thyme, pepper, cayenne, and remaining corn and broth (I added the carrot here). Cook and stir for 10 minutes or until the corn is tender. Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Soothing soup eases busy December mealtimes—physical complaints, too!

Good thing I already had planned a blog break, or one would have been forced on me.

After announcing in this column that my 365th blog would end my daily postings, with others still to be added but not quite so frequently, Hubby and I both got laid low by upper respiratory maladies. Since Thanksgiving we’ve been swimming upstream trying to recover. One of the doctor's remedies (yes, she even wrote it on her list of instructions she sent home with me) was chicken soup!

We’ve always known that chicken soup was a legendary remedy for what ails you, but never have I seen it actually a part of a physician’s written orders! In looking up information online I found the actual health benefits listed—including carrots (fight off infections), celery (good for lung disorders), pepper (said to reduce infections), onions (anti-inflammatory effects), and garlic (boosts immune system). Chicken soup is said to break up congestion and ease the flow of nasal secretions.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any chicken on hand, but I did round up a lot of these same ingredients to make something that I believe was indeed soothing—Heart-Warming Minestrone Soup. This terrific concoction not only warmed the heart (as in comfort), it warmed all the way down and seemed to pour a balm around the irritated passageways to help with breathing.

A beauty of this recipe is that it’s absolutely quick as everything to prepare. When you’re under the weather—or facing a busy December with no time to cook—you’re grateful for time not having to be spent over the stovetop. I could feel health returning to my bones as I downed this food item (thanks to the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services, which provided the recipe). It made a big batch, too (9 1-cup servings), which will keep me away from the stovetop for several days—just what the doctor ordered!

Heart-Warming Minestrone Soup

5 cups beef broth (fat-free, reduced sodium)
3 carrots, medium, diced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon basil, dried
1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (my addition)
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5-oune) can tomatoes, diced, drained and rinsed
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced (to make about 2 cups)
1/2 cup whole-wheat macaroni
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, optional

In a large saucepan boil broth, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, and pepper. Stir in beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and macaroni. Return to a boil; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese if you desire.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A goal accomplished; a Pumpkin Pie baked in tribute

365—the number of days in a year . . . also, the number of today’s blog post. At the outset of my writing The Newfangled Country Gardener, I set a personal goal—to write a year’s worth of blogs. A year doesn’t seem as though it would be too arduous of a commitment, I reasoned. Most anyone could purpose to keep a promise to one’s self for a year.

At that time I didn’t actually reckon that I was talking about blog-post days, not calendar days. To hatch up 365 separate blogs really has taken more than 18 months, since I haven’t posted on weekends. I began my blog on May 16, 2010, in conjunction with the release of my second cookbook, Way Back in the Country Garden, to help me promote the book’s premise—that cooking the garden-fresh way is best. I have thoroughly enjoyed trying scads of new recipes—some from my cookbook and many others from a variety of reliable sources—and reporting on them as I heartily recommended them to readers.

With today’s blog numbering 365, I am pleased to report that I have accomplished what I set out to do—even if the time frame has been slightly more elongated than I figured at first. With today’s post I no longer will be making daily entries five days a week—although I’ll never cease my yen for cooking healthy, fresh foods and trying out new recipes. After today I’ll post again frequently but without the necessity of the daily component attached. Hubby no will longer have to rise before each weekday dawn to read my blog drafts to catch potential typos, nor will he have to make daily, last-minute dashes to the grocery to fill in some missing ingredient for me.

I plan to compile all my blog posts into a book—with a recipe for each day of the year. In the near future be on the lookout for this. Please tell your non-blog-reading friends about it, too.

In thinking of the best recipe for blog number #365, I decided on a dish that would pay tribute to Hubby and his tremendous support role in making this daily blog possible. Pumpkin Pie is his all-time favorite food. He lives not for Thanksgiving Day but the day after, in which he can dine on a leftover slice of Pumpkin Pie for breakfast. I felt sure that no one would do Pumpkin Pie better than the queen of domesticity, Martha Stewart, so here is her recipe from www.marthastewart.com. My hero and the hero of this blog—Hubby himself—is shown holding the just-prepared prize in his hands—and dreaming of the Morning-After!

Pumpkin Pie

2 large eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin, or 1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup half-and-half
1 basic pie crust (I used Easy Pie Crust from my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country)

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, pumpkin-pie spice, and pumpkin. Whisk in half-and-half. Prepare pie crust according to your favorite recipe. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line dough with aluminum foil. Fold foil over rim of pie pan. Fill foil-covered crust (on top of the foil) with dried beans or pie weights; bake until crust is firm, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and beans. Cool crust completely before you fill. Pour mixture into cooled pie crust. Bake until set, about 1 hour. Cool on rack at room temperature for about 1 hour; then refrigerate to cool completely. Serves 8. (A tip from Martha: When refrigerating pie, cover the surface first with a paper towel and then plastic wrap. The towel absorbs moisture and keeps the surface free of droplets. It tried this; it works!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Festive Spiced Pears a divine idea for Thanksgiving side

Although today’s feature, Spiced Pears, resembles the recipe in Friday’s blog, it’s definitely not the same. This dish was so amazing and was such a great idea for a Thanksgiving side, I just had to include it even though it, at first glance, looks as though it might be a re-run of that marvelous Cranberry Orange Relish from last week.

Spiced Pears was included in my Taste of Home Thanksgiving recipe cards in which I’ve found all sorts of treasures. The description (by recipe contributor Ruby Williams) stated that this was a change of pace from the typical Thanksgiving sides and that it was easy to fix and looked festive on the table.

It consists of six pears, two oranges, and a can of whole berry cranberry sauce. I had a bag of fresh cranberries on hand, however, so I boiled them until they were soft and measured 14 ounces of them in a cup (same amount as in a can of cranberry sauce). So everything in my recipe was fresh.

The sliced, cooked pears taste absolutely wonderful aswirl in the cooked cranberries and oranges. Added spices give the mixture a nice perk-up. Hubby wouldn’t get near these Spiced Pears at first because he thought they contained strawberries, his nemesis, but when I assured him of the contents, he waded in for a bite . . . and then more and more. And our little grandmunchkin, while he was staying with us over the weekend, went nuts over this dish, so if you’re looking for a Thanksgiving dish that will appeal to the kiddos and all other ages as well at your table, look no further!

Spiced Pears

1 (14-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce (or fresh cranberries
cooked to measure 14 ounces)
1/3 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 medium pears, peeled and sliced
2 medium navel oranges, peeled and sectioned

In a large saucepan combine the cranberry sauce, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in pears and oranges; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until pears are tender.

Friday, November 18, 2011

This simple, beautiful Cranberry-Orange Relish has star quality

My fall recipe binder contained this note alongside Cranberry-Orange Relish: “Star of the 2010 Thanksgiving table”. Now, when you think about it, that’s quite a compliment. Consider the competition: pecan pie, turkey, dressing, scrumptious casseroles. A small little dish of relish trumps these other glories of the holiday? Amazing.

However, Cranberry-Orange Relish is not just any relish. Fresh whole cranberries mixed with orange juice, orange sections (could be from fresh oranges such as the ones that grow in our son’s back yard or from canned Mandarin orange segments), and crystallized ginger make a tasty combination. Chilled to let the flavors co-mingle and then served in my mother’s pretty glass dish—I do remember it being a divine little number. Enough inspiration to make Cranberry-Orange Relish again for this year.

Clipped from the pages of a Family Circle magazine of bygone days (no date of publication remained on my well-worn clipping), this relish is crazy-easy and requires no tedious chopping. Let the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice boil on the stovetop for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens and most of the berries pop open. Stir in the orange segments and it’s ready to chill until serving time. Star quality!

Cranberry-Orange Relish

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh whole cranberries (can also use frozen)
1 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger (buy this in the spice section of your grocery)
1 (15-ounce) can Mandarin oranges or 1 3/4 cups chopped fresh orange segments, drained

In a medium saucepan combine cranberries, orange juice, sugar, and ginger; mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil, uncovered, 5 minutes, or until mixture has thickened and most berries have popped. Remove from heat; stir in oranges. Transfer to bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of relish; refrigerate until chilled. Makes 3 cups (1/4 cup per serving).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mint-to-Be Frothy Hot Cocoa a homemade, soothing ticket to dreamland

Hubby was insistent. Why hadn’t I blogged about the splendid hot cocoa mix that he brews each evening for our nighttime wind-down regimen? After all, it utilizes mint leaves as a key element for its flavor—and as we all know, the mint plant (irrepressibly) springs from the garden. Doesn’t this blog honor foods that are garden-fresh?

I bowed my head in shame. After all Hubby does to aid and abet this column—after-dark trips to the garden to bring in a homegrown item, emergency dashes to the grocery for a last-minute ingredient, hosts of kitchen clean-ups with all my dirty pots and pans scattered about—the least I could do was to blog about the homemade, stovetop cocoa mix that he has perfected through night after night of experimentation.

So here it is: Hubby’s Mint-to-Be Frothy Hot Cocoa, certainly the best from-scratch cocoa mix you’ll ever sip—so good, in fact, that it was a part of our nighttime routine all summer long, even on those broiling, ridiculous evenings when the thermometer still read 100-degrees at bedtime. On with the hot cocoa, regardless!

Of course now we are learning about chocolate’s health benefits—and that the natural flavanol antioxidants contained within cocoa contribute to cardiovascular health. A soothing cup of milk before bedtime also is said to be sleep-inducing, because it contains tryptophan, the same chemical found in turkey—just as with the after-Thanksgiving-dinner sleepiness that seems to descend. The calcium in milk is thought to have better chance of getting into the bones and muscles while you rest, so bedtime is prime time for ingesting it.

Besides those attributes, the sweet sip of hot cocoa (the mix recipe is adjusted with lighter options, as you’ll see) at the end of the day is just plain soothing and aids in our mellowing out to put the day’s cares aside. The mint from our garden spikes it with freshness—the same as peppermint candy does in those expensive, gourmet coffee-shop brews might but without the calories and sugar.

We are big believers in our nightly Mint-to-Be Frothy Hot Cocoa. Thanks to Hubby for reminding me to be evangelical about it and to spread the word in this blog so readers can have more replenishing z-z-z-z’s as well.

Hubby’s Mint-to-Be Frothy Hot Cocoa

1/2 cup sugar (we use sugar substitute)
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 cups milk (we use skim)
4 teaspoons vanilla
20 mini-marshmallows
4 mint springs
(dash of sugar-free whipped topping, if desired)

In airtight container mix sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. In small saucepan on stove heat milk over medium-high heat. Stir constantly. When milk is warm stir in cocoa mix. Stir until cocoa mix is dissolved and chocolate drink reaches desired temperature. Stir briskly with a wire whisk to make the liquid froth up a bit. In the bottom of each cup place 1 teaspoon vanilla, 5 mini-marshmallows, and 2 leaves from the mint sprig. Allow drink to steep for a few minutes until it cools a little and the mint leaves flavor the drink. Remove the mint leaves or let them remain, according to your preference. (This recipe makes enough for four cups of hot cocoa. Hubby and I make up the powdered drink and divide it in half so that it lasts for two nights. The second night, all we have to do is to warm up the milk and do the add-ins to the cups.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The perfect taste combination for this season—Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins

I thought they looked so cute and Thanksgiving-y, I just had to whip up a batch. A combination of cranberries, pecans, and cornbread—who could beat that when looking for a little bite of Thanksgiving in one mini-muffin?
  1. My recipe for Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins found in my Taste of Home book of Thanksgiving recipe cards actually called for making these in a regular-sized muffin tin, but I always like to have something mini among my Thanksgiving bread offerings, so I adjusted the cooking time accordingly. I followed the regular recipe, but my mini-version of the muffins tested done at about 12 minutes instead of the recommended 18-20 minutes for the regular size.
A wonderful tip accompanied this recipe, which calls for 1/4 cup honey. It suggests that when honey is needed to be measured for baking, first to oil the measuring cup, which then causes the measured honey to slide out easily without the gooey scraping that sometimes accompanies the process. This worked well for me. I was happy not to have to clean up the messy cup.

The recipe also states that Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins have the perfect taste combination for this time of year. I totally agree. Little bits of cranberry and tiny pecan morsels peek through the crown of the golden muffins. I can’t wait to serve these on the big holiday–now just a week and a day away!

Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins

1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) fat-free plain yogurt
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl combine the yogurt, egg, oil, and honey. Stir moist ingredients into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in cranberries and pecans. Coat muffin cups with cooking spray; fill three-fourths full with batter. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center emerges clean. Cool for 5 minutes before you remove muffins from pans to wire racks. Serve warm. Makes about 1 dozen. (If trying the mini-muffin route, the recipe makes about 32 mini-muffins.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Tastes like Thanksgiving!" No better compliment for Chicken Squash Casserole

Back to that fabulous new cookbook from Calvary Baptist Church in Little Rock. Still prowling through it I encountered a squash casserole that was different than any I’d ever seen (and I’ve been around the block a few times where squash casseroles are concerned.)

As its basic elements, this casserole combined squash, cornbread stuffing, and cubed chicken (new to me in a squash casserole). I already had in my possession a box of cornbread stuffing and a container of the chicken. With a brief trip (I should say, with Hubby’s brief trip) to the grocery produce section for a little fresh squash, I was in business.

Other than the small amount of time necessary for slicing the squash and chopping the small onion, this was an amazingly easy prep. Stir-ins of cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and seasonings completed the assemblage. I couldn’t resist sprinkling a little Cheddar cheese on top. I mean, to me, a squash casserole just doesn’t look right if it isn’t crowned with a smattering of orange. Only about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cheese was all I added, but the effect was achieved.

“This tastes like Thanksgiving!” Hubby gushed when I plunked some Chicken Squash Casserole on a plate and set it before him last night. Genius! That’s the general idea. After all, ’tis the season. Another winner from Calvary Culinary Creations (and from this recipe’s contributor, Adrian Self).

Chicken Squash Casserole

2 pounds yellow squash, sliced
1 box cornbread stuffing mix
1 (10.5-ounce) can cream of chicken soup
8 ounces sour cream (I used fat-free)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups cooked and cubed chicken
salt (or salt substitute) and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan cover squash and onion with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until squash is tender. Drain. Stir in salt, pepper, soup, stuffing mix, chicken, and sour cream. Pour squash mixture into greased 2 1/2-quart casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes. Serves 6.

Monday, November 14, 2011

One was not enough of this colorful Vegetable Pie

In an earlier blog I mentioned how very much I love to explore new cookbooks and to search out recipes that would be appropriate for The Newfangled Country Gardener. My friend Kay knew this and for my recent birthday generously sent along Calvary Culinary Creations, a collection of recipes by her church, Calvary Baptist Church in Little Rock, AR.

Now, as many people know, no greater source for good cookin’ exists than getting hold of a church cookbook. Some years back I cooked my way through a cookbook produced by Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth. I left almost no recipe untried in my quest to prepare each and every suggestion in that album.

In this recent one from the Little Rock church I’ve already been through and dog-eared (or put sticky notes beside) numerous suggestions, including some I intend to hop right onto for Thanksgiving week. Those that don’t get cooked for this holiday or Christmas for sure will go on a wish list for the new year.

The first that caught my eye was Vegetable Pie, made with baking mix and reminiscent of the baking-mix-underscored crustless pies that have been popular in the past. I liked this one because it gave me an opportunity to tuck in some veggies that have been lingering in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator. Besides the chopped fresh broccoli the recipe mentions, I also added about 1/2 cup chopped carrots and used chopped red pepper instead of green. (I steamed my veggies in the microwave instead of cooking them in boiling water as the recipe states.) These substitutions made for a very colorful end-product.

My subs didn’t end there. I didn’t have enough Cheddar cheese for one cup, so I added bits of shredded Mozzarella and Swiss to the Cheddar I did have on hand. In fact, Hubby recently asked me, “Isn’t the theme of your blog the fact that you don’t need to avoid cooking a recipe just because you don’t have all the ingredients on hand?” Well, sorta. I have become far more adventuresome where subbing what’s available is concerned. I don’t see that mixing the cheeses hurt this recipe one bit.

Long story short, we loved this version of Vegetable Pie (thanks to Calvary’s Jan Harrendorf, who submitted it). We dined on it all weekend and found it to be both nourishing and soothing. I’ve already made an extra pie and put it away in the freezer for meals during rat-race December. Making just one simply wasn’t enough.

Vegetable Pie

2 cups chopped broccoli, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
3/4 cup baking mix (I used lowfat Bisquick)
3 eggs (I used 3/4 cup egg substitute)
1 teaspoon salt (I used salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 10-inch pie pan. (I found that using a large-enough pie pan was absolutely crucial so the mix won’t spill over into the oven and will stay contained in the pie pan.) Cook broccoli in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Mix broccoli, cheese, onions, and pepper in pie plate. Beat remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour over vegetables. Bake 35 minutes until golden brown. Leftovers may be re-heated.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hold on to your tastebuds to make way for the pie of the century—Blackberry-Apple with White Cheddar Cheese Crust

I had mentioned that my second birthday goal, besides making yesterday’s veggie casserole, was to bake myself a birthday pie. I’m pleased to report that that was accomplished in fine fashion and that it was a colossal success. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an amazing dessert. The photo of Blackberry-Apple Pie with White Cheddar Cheese Crust drew me in when I first saw it in the Thanksgiving issue of Southern Living. I don’t know how the one SL baked as its “model” could have tasted any better.

This called for six apples (a combination of Granny Smith and Braeburn) and 2 cups of blueberries (the recipe said frozen could be used, but Kroger had some packages of fresh ones, so I went for fresh all the way). The apples were cooked until tender and the blackberries stirred in before they were added to the crust.

Now for the awesome crust! I’ve never blended anything into a piecrust mixture except the traditional water, butter or shortening, and flour. But this called for 1 1/2 cups shredded white Cheddar cheese to be part of the mixture. I know lots of folks love big slices of cheddar atop apples pies (I remember seeing this on pies in cafeteria lines), but I never considered actually making the cheese a part of the pie itself. How would this work?

The cheese is added after the butter is cut into the flour mixture so that it resembles small peas. After the cheese, water is drizzled onto the mixture until the dough can stick together to form a ball. Shaping the mixture into two flat disks, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and allowing it to chill (from 2 to 24 hours) is essential. By that point (I think I waited 6 hours) the dough is firm. It never stuck to the rolling pin or to the pastry board a single time during the rolling-out process. Lattice strips are cut from the second crust and woven over the top of the fruit. Again the pastry strips, cut from the chilled dough, were easy to work with and didn’t fall apart during the weaving process.

After having been brushed with a beaten egg, the crust is prone to brown speedily. The recipe directs that after 45 minutes, you cover it loosely with foil and bake a remaining 25. I had to cover mine before 45 minutes; I actually covered the edges with aluminum strips after about 10 minutes of baking because they were an over-browning disaster waiting to happen. After 75 minutes of baking the pie’s insides were bubbly; the outside, having been protected, was golden.

After Hubby and I returned from our promised birthday run both ways over the Two-Mile Bridge (over Lake Ray Hubbard), our daughter had arrived at our house to bring a balloon and birthday greetings, so we considered that to be our occasion to dig into the waiting pie. It became my birthday lunch. (I don’t suggest having pie for lunch every day, but on one’s birthday, living a little is surely sanctioned!) Absolutely stunning! The fruit combo of apples and blackberries and the from-scratch cheesy crust was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. On a birthday, Thanksgiving, or anytime table, Blackberry-Apple Pie is a memorable winner.

Blackberry-Apple Pie

3 pounds Granny Smith apples
3 pounds Braeburn apples
1 1/2 cups sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
1 (12-ounce) package frozen blackberries (I used 2 cups fresh blackberries)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Peel apples and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges; toss with sugar and 1/2 cup flour. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add apple mixture and sauté 15 to 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove from heat. Cool completely (about 1 hour). Toss blackberries with 1 tablespoon flour and stir into apple mixture. Use immediately.

White Cheddar-Cheese Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups (6-ounces) shredded white Cheddar cheese
1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water
1 large egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute), lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon sparkling sugar

In a large bowl stir together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup ice water over flour mixture. Stir with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened and dough is crumbly but forms a ball when pressed together. Add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, up to 1/4 cup. Divide dough in half. Place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape each dough half into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap; chill 2 to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 dough disk on a lightly floured surface; sprinkle dough lightly with flour. Roll dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Starting at 1 edge of dough, wrap dough around rolling pin. Place rolling pin over a 9-inch pie plate; unroll dough over pie plate. Press dough into pie plate; trim off excess crust along edges. Spoon Blackberry-Apple Pie Filling into crust. Mound filling slightly in center. Roll remaining dough disk to about 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 9 (1-inch-wide) strips. Arrange strips in a lattice design over filing; gently press ends of strips into bottom crust; crimp edge of crust. Brush lattice with egg; sprinkle with sugar. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees on lower-oven rack 45 to 50 minutes. Cover loosely with foil to prevent excess browning. Bake 25 more minutes or until juices are thick and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Birthday party in one casserole dish—thankful for this veggie lasagna . . . and another year of life

It’s my birthday and I can cook what I want to. That’s my maxim on this day as I celebrate another year of life. Hubby asked what kind of birthday celebration I wanted. I replied that this was no big milestone year—just thankfulness for being able to rejoice in another year lived.

But I did specify these three things: that we would get up and run the Two-Mile Bridge (over Lake Ray Hubbard) as we had on his 65th, months back (we’ll do this as soon as I get this blog posted) and that I would make myself a birthday casserole and a birthday pie. Seems like a fairly easy wish-list to achieve.

The birthday casserole I spotted was for Zucchini-and-Spinach Lasagna. The recipe appeared in the August 2011 issue of Southern Living magazine and was featured as being one way to use farmers' market finds, which were plentiful during the summer.

I love any kind of lasagna but hate all the fuss. Compared to preparing the meat-and-tomato sauce traditional version, this was a snap. To make lasagna you'll always have to contend with the layers and with stirring up the various elements in separate pans, so you’ll always have some degree of complex cleanup. But the wonderful, healthy ingredients that blend together so delightfully represent a reward for all that.

Even though today’s the official day, Hubby and I sneaked in a few bites of Zucchini-and-Spinach Lasagna last night. After all, how can I post something about this dish on my blog if I don’t first sample it?

Ahhh—smooth, well-blended, flavorful, filling, nutritious. Loved this menu item! Truly a birthday party in one casserole dish! A happy birthday present indeed.

Zucchini-and-Spinach Lasagna

1 (8-ounce) container whipped chive-and-onion cream cheese
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
5 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves, pressed
6 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package instructions (the recipe specified no-boil lasagna noodles, but I subbed the regular variety I had on hand)
1 (7-ounce)package shredded mozzarella cheese
Garnish: fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a bowl. Sauté zucchini in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Add spinach; gently toss until wilted. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Spoon one-third of vegetables into a lightly greased, 9-inch square baking dish; top with 2 cooked and drained noodles and one-third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat twice. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake, covered with aluminum foil that you have lightly sprayed with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to lasagna, at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and noodles are tender. Uncover and bake 5 to 10 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Everybody’s happy with this new take on fish and pasta with fresh tomatoes and lemon

“We just haven’t had much fish lately,” Hubby intoned. He’s a great guinea pig and cheerfully tries all my oddball food ideas, but occasionally the basic meat-and-potatoes guy that he is (or in this case, fish-and-potatoes) surfaces.

I had clipped a recipe for Crispy Oven-Baked Tilapia with Lemon-Tomato Fettuccine for the next time I wanted some new ways with fish. It appeared in Southern Living’s (9-2011 issue) Quick-Fix Suppers feature. A reader had asked for some inspirations for her family’s Italian night; she stated that she was tired of the “same old spaghetti”. The recipe to which I was attracted was one of two of the magazine’s suggestions for her.

For me this wasn’t exactly a “quick-fix”. The magazine stated that “hands-on” time was 33 minutes. But I didn’t have panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and had to make my own crumbs by pulsing leftover wheat-bread slices in the blender. I also decided to add a couple of fresh, chopped tomatoes besides the can of petite-diced tomatoes the recipe specified. Hubby hadn’t been able to round up spinach fettuccine when he went to the store, so I subbed with some basic spaghetti I needed to use up. Prep-time minutes, for me, probably were closer to 45.

However, the meal, once on the table, was wonderful and truly did represent a new way with fish. I thought adding the fresh tomatoes significantly added to the flavor of this entree. Definitely not the “same-old, same-old”. Hubby got his wish for fish; I scratched my perpetual itch for cooking up something different. Everybody was happy.

Crispy Oven-Baked Tilapia with Lemon-Tomato Fettuccine

2 lemons
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 teaspoon paprika
4 (4-ounce) tilapia fillets
2 teaspoons salt (or salt substitute), divided
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) package spinach fettucini (I subbed spaghetti)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped sweet onion
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes (I used the no-salt variety and added 2 chopped, fresh tomatoes)
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grate zest from lemons to equal 4 teaspoons. Cut lemons in half; squeeze juice from lemons into a measuring cup to equal 2 tablespoons. In a shallow dish combine panko, paprika, and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Sprinkle fish with 1 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute). Dip fish in 1/4 cup melted butter; dredge in panko mixture. Press panko to adhere. Place fish on a lightly greased rack in an aluminum foil-lined boiler pan. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter over fish. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork. Meanwhile prepare pasta according to package directions. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion and sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until golden. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until tomato mixture begins to thicken. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons capers, and remaining 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, Remove from heat and toss with hot pasta, feta cheese, and basil. Serve with fish. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Chip Muffins promise some wonderful feasting on Thanksgiving week

If anything can top a muffin with pumpkin in it, it’s a muffin with pumpkin and chocolate chips in it.

I so wanted something with this flavor combo, I went a-surfin’ it. My Internet search turned up Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Chip Muffins at www.bbonline.com, the website of prized recipes from bed-and-breakfast inns throughout the country. This recipe apparently is legendary at Justin Trails Bed and Breakfast Resort in Sparta, WI. Must be a fab place.

The commentary accompanying the muffin recipe states that this recipe calls for half the usual amount of pumpkin and requires only 1 cup, or 8 ounces, of pumpkin. It says that most pumpkin muffins include an entire 16-ounce can of canned pumpkin, which makes them too heavy. I’ll have to say that these were some of the lightest pumpkin muffins I’ve ever tasted—like biting into air with the occasional chocolate morsel interspersed. The occasional chocolate morsel is what gives them the wow! factor, of course. (I used fresh pumpkin instead of canned but used only 1 cup, or 8 ounces, as the recipe states.)

After a few nibbles to test, Hubby and I (very reluctantly) tucked these away into our Thanksgiving-week freezer supply, as we have been with most baked goods recently. Putting away anything with a chocolate chip inside it is a struggle, but it’s for a good cause—feasting on that week of feasts and thankfulness!

Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs (or 1 cup egg substitute)
1 cup pumpkin (fresh or canned)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (I didn't have plain, so I used nonfat vanilla yogurt)
1/2 cup crystallized ginger
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger, ground
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Cream brown sugar and oil. Add eggs and beat. Stir in pumpkin, chocolate chips, yogurt, and crystallized ginger. Measure dry ingredients together and mix. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the liquids; gently stir. Add 1/3 more dry ingredients. Gently stir until blended. Add remaining dry ingredients; stir just until moist. Use an ice-cream scoop to scoop batter into paper-lined, medium-sized muffin tins. Bake at 375 degrees for 17 minutes. Makes 2 1/2 dozen muffins.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cheering on a lively, healthy carrot dip good for tailgating or any time

Three cheers for the Baylor Bears, who won our college’s homecoming game this past weekend. And three cheers for Carrot Dip; since last year’s homecoming, I’d saved the recipe in my file to make for this year’s tailgate party. In the middle of a weekend of fast-food and not-always-healthy eating it gave us a reason to bring out the veggies for digging into a tasty and healthy dip.

I shredded enough fresh carrots to make 1 1/2 cups and also chopped green onions to make 1/3 cup. All this was folded into a mixture of fat-fee sour cream, low-fat mayo, and low-fat cream cheese (I use Neufchatel). Seasonings included lower-sodium soy sauce, prepared horseradish, salt, and pepper.

Dippers were zucchini sticks, red Bell pepper strips, fresh carrot chips, and three varieties of chips. The recipe (courtesy www.bhg.com) called for using an electric mixer to make the mixture smooth (before you fold in shredded carrots and green onions), but mine turned out plenty smooth just by beating it with a wooden spoon. (This also saved having to clean up the beaters for the electric mixer). The recipe advised chilling the dip in a covered container for from 4 to 24 hours and not to prepare further ahead than this, or the dip would become too thin. I stuck within the 24-hour limit; everything was just fine, but I can see how very much beyond this might affect consistency.

We feasted and fested and lavished in our annual weekend with family and friends at our alma mater. Carrot Dip helped make things wonderful.

Carrot Dip

1/2 of an 8-ounce carton sour cream
1/2 of an 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
2 teaspoons soy sauce (I used the lower-sodium variety)
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onions
dippers such as flatbreads, crackers, tortilla chips, celery sticks, sweet pepper strips, jicama sticks, and/or zucchini sticks

In a medium mixing bowl beat together sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, soy sauce, horseradish (if using), salt, and pepper. Use an electric mixer and beat until smooth. Stir in shredded carrots and green onions until combined. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours (do not prepare further ahead than this, or the dip will become too thin). Keep the dip chilled while you are transporting it. Stir dip before you serve with dippers. Makes about 2 cups dip (approximately 10 servings).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bold, colorful, healthy—we hit the "Like" button a bunch on this unusual chili

This was some of the most incredible chili I’ve ever tasted—and it was absolutely brimming with healthy ingredients.

Tomatoes, zucchini, squash, corn, and two varieties of beans rose to the surface in this bold-flavored mixture—Big-Batch Veggie Chili. It was spiced up with chili seasoning mix for a South-of-the-Border flavor.

Toppings such as cheese, cilantro, sour cream, green onions, and/or guacamole are icing on the cake to raise this dish to get a mega-good rating. In Facebook parlance, I hit the “Like” button a whole bunch.

Regarding the chili seasoning, the recipe source (Southern Living magazine) calls for 1 (3.625-ounce) package chill seasoning kit and states that the recipe was tested with Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Kit. Not finding that, I purchased two 1.25-ounce envelopes of Kroger-brand chili seasoning (lower-sodium variety). I started to pour in both envelopes but hesitated. That seemed a little much for me—I tend to “walk on the mild side”. What a fortunate hesitation! Adding only one envelope was totally enough spice, according to my tastes.

This makes an ample chili supply (12 to 15 servings), so after Hubby and I feasted for a couple of nights, I froze the remainder for a future busy time (can we really be so near Christmas that I’m starting to put away my December emergency meals in the deep freeze?) This fired-up chili certainly will be warming on a cold night a little further down the road!

Big-Batch Veggie Chili

2 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (3.625-ounce) package chili seasoning mix
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (I used the no-salt-added variety)
3 cups tomato juice
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes undrained (I used no-salt-added)
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15-ounce) cans great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, chopped green onions, shredded sharp
Cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes

Sauté carrots and onion in hot oil in a 5- to-6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat 7 minutes or until onions are translucent. Stir in half of red pepper packet from chili kit; stir in all of remaining packets (using my one 1.25-ounce chili-seasoning envelope, which did not contain separate packets, I added mine all at once). Sauté mixture for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and next 7 ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve with desired toppings. Makes 12 to 15 servings.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Apple Muffins—savor now or save for Thanksgiving week

For me, a new cookbook with untried recipes inside operates as though it were a giant magnet pulling me into its pages. I start purposing to try out each suggestion and to write my comments in the margins after the item is prepared. The fresh-produce recipe book from the Southwest Chili Peppers Nutrition Task Force (mentioned last week) is one such lure. The highly basic nature of the recipes—designed to help people learn to cook produce in the most elemental manner—appeals to me.

I wanted to try its recipe for Pear Muffins but had only apples (of course!) and not pears in my produce bin. So I merely subbed 1 cup diced apples (about 2 medium ones) for the 1 cup diced pears it called for; for a little spiced-up flavor I also added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. The zest of 1/2 orange (you also could use the zest of 1 lemon or 1/2 grapefruit, the recipe says) plus 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans) are nice additions. I think its flexibility is the thing I like most about the recipe—it allows for various adaptations. If you don’t have a particular ingredient on hand, try similar one that is available to you.

Tempting to devour all of these now, but they were soon spirited away to the deep freeze to save for Thanksgiving week. Apple-y and spice-y, they represented an easy way to put a little fall away for some family time later.

Apple Muffins (adapted from the recipe for Pear Muffins)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 egg beaten (I used egg substitute)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 orange, or 1/2 grapefruit
1 cup diced apples (about 2 medium apples, peeled)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat together milk, beaten egg, oil, and zest of lemon (or orange or grapefruit). Mix apples and nuts into flour mixture. Gently stir milk mixture into dry ingredients. Batter should be lumpy and not smooth. Do not over mix. Spray muffin pans with nonstick spray. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until tops are browned. Remove from pan immediately; serve warm. Makes 12-14 muffins.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A salad so splendid, it instantly nets "Thanksgiving-worthy" label

“Thanksgiving-worthy!” That was the pronouncement of both Hubby and me when we began sampling Apple-Pear Salad with Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing, a new dish I’d put on the table to go with our Turnip Green Stew from a few days back.

After you take a few bites of this combination, you’ll think you’ve been transported to the most elegant multi-fork restaurant on the planet. This truly was one of the best salads I’ve sampled in a long, long time. That’s why we immediately assigned the recipe to accompany the holiday bird—one menu item that I can say without a doubt will be found on our Thanksgiving dining table.

Thinly sliced apples and pears are tossed with dried cranberries and romaine (I subbed with spinach for the greens). A smattering of cashews (what recipe can go wrong if it has cashews in it?) and shredded Swiss cheese are added. The Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing is divine and makes enough to be stored and be poured over additional salads.

The instructions, furnished by myrecipes.com and listed as springing from a March 2007 Southern Living issue, state that some grilled chicken could be added to transform this salad into a main course.

Thanksgiving, we’re marching toward ya! Only 20 more cooking days left until that dinner of dinners! Gotta get busy.

Apple-Pear Salad with Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing

1 (16-ounce) package romaine lettuce, thoroughly washed (I used spinach pieces)
1 (6-ounce) block Swiss cheese, shaved
1 cup roasted, salted cashews (I used unsalted)
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 large apple, thinly sliced
1 large pear, thinly sliced

In a salad bowl toss together all ingredients. Serve with Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing (recipe follows). Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing:
2/3 cup light olive oil
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)

Process 2/3 cup light olive oil and remaining ingredients in a blender until smooth. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week; serve at room temperature. Makes 1 1/4 cups.