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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate-Orange Cornmeal Cookies mark special occasion of meeting new kin

Though I have many decades of life under my belt, little stirs me as much as does meeting flesh-and-blood kin. I’ve been fortunate to have this experience many times now, yet I’m still like a kid on Christmas morning when I realize I’m looking on the face of someone who shares my same bloodline.

That’s because as an adopted individual, I spent many years not knowing anyone to whom I was genetically related. Many adult adopted persons testify to the same take-your-breath-away sense of wonder when they realize they at last can gaze on “biological relations”.

Both my cookbooks, Way Back in the Country and Way Back in the Country Garden, are written in praise and devotion to the adopted family that loved and reared me—some of the finest folk on the face of the earth. I owe so much to these wonderful individuals; all the ink in the world is not sufficient enough to sing their praises.

But more than 30 years ago I was privileged to begin meeting members of my birthfamily and to uncover many rich stories of the physical heritage from which I sprang. This week I made the acquaintance of two more of their number, as some cousins from my maternal side paid me a delightful visit. Having traveled to the sunny West to celebrate the 35th birthday of our son (mentioned in the two previous blogs), we were able to connect with these cousins who are snowbirds from a colder climate and winter in the same city in which our children live year-round.

What kind of treats to prepare for a celebration such as this? Something that reflected our current Western geography—specifically, the citrus season about which I blogged earlier. The recent issue of Southern Living magazine, which features numerous “sweet-on-citrus” dishes, shared a recipe for Chocolate-Orange Cornmeal Cookies. I took an orange from our son’s backyard citrus grove and used it for the fresh orange juice and orange zest that the recipe specifies.

Pressing the dough into the log shape and cutting the log into slices made perfectly shaped, round cookies. The citrus gave the dough a special bright tang. The cornmeal addition was indecipherable in the finished product and actually helped the dough solidify. Drizzling the chocolate over the cooled cookies—well, it does what a bit of chocolate frosting does for any recipe. These cookies were just amazing!

Hours ticked away as though they were seconds as Hubby and I exchanged some special conversation with these newfound “cuzzins”. Comparing a physical resemblance here and there never ceases to bring huge amazement for one who never knew any physical kinfolk until I gave birth to my son and finally set my eyes on a face that looked like mine. One of the two visitors—a sprightly 93-year-old who’s still going strong—encouraged me about quality, long-term life expectancy. Firsthand accounts of her own grandparents—my great-grandparents on my birthfamily side—brought highly cherished moments for me.

Hubby and I never again will dine on Chocolate-Orange Cornmeal Cookies without thinking about these few rare hours in which we once again gathered some missing pieces (the title of my book, Gathering the Missing Pieces in an Adopted Life, which tells about my initial experience of finding birthfamily) and enjoyed fellowship with some interesting relatives.

Chocolate-Orange Cornmeal Cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain cornmeal
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 large egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
wax paper

Combine flour and cornmeal. Set aside. In a large bowl and with an electric mixer beat butter and sugar at medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg and next three ingredients. Beat until all are blended. Gradually add flour mixture. After each addition beat just until blended. Cover and chill dough one hour. Using wax paper shape dough into a 12-inch log. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill 8 hours. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove log from refrigerator and allow to soften a little at room temperature so it will slice easily. Slice log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place 1-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until set. Transfer to wire racks; cool completely (about 15 minutes). Drizzle 1/4 cup melted semisweet chocolate morsels over cooled cookies. (Use a small drop of cooking oil to thin melted chocolate if needed for drizzling.) Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Many of the recommended "5 to 9" get satisfied in this one humble sandwich

If health between two pieces of whole wheat ever existed, it's this sandwich. I’ve held onto this recipe FOR-EVVVVV-ER trying to decide whether it interested me enough to try. Now that I've dined on it (day after day, because it makes so many sandwich halves), I can't imagine why I put off preparing it.

Draining and rinsing the garbanzo beans is crucial to rid them of the extra sodium content and make them less sticky as the food processor purees them along with the water, cumin, red pepper, and lime juice. The fresh parsley processed with the onion and garlic gives the garbanzo mixture an amazingly fresh taste.

Piling on the veggies atop the pureed beans spread on one side of the pita brought a smile as I thought of how many of the “5 to 9” (recommended servings of fresh fruit and veggies we’re supposed to have each day) were being satisfied in that one humble sandwich.

After the sandwiches were all finished, I still had quite an ample amount of the garbanzo-bean mixture, so I spread it on some leftover cornbread instead of using butter. Just as good as on the pita!

Why’d I wait? This unique pita partner is terrific!

Garbanzo Bean Sandwiches

1/8 cup onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons parsley
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon lime (or lemon) juice
4 whole-wheat pitas
2 cups spinach, shredded
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cucumber, medium, sliced and quartered
1 cup carrots, shredded
1/2 cup fat-free ranch dressing

Place onion, garlic, and parsley in a food processor or blender. Process until roughly chopped.
Add garbanzo beans, water, cumin, red pepper, and lime juice. Process until smooth. Cut each pita in half to for 2 pockets. Spread 2 tablespoons of bean mixture into each pita half. To each pita half add spinach, tomato, cucumber, and shredded carrots. Then to each pita half add 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing. Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Friendly Puppy salad brings smiles to kids of all ages

My son’s request for fried okra on his Dream Birthday Dinner menu went afoul. As much as I desired to serve him heaping helpings of this Southern delicacy, dipped in egg and cornmeal batter and golden-fried to perfection, the local produce departments of supermarkets at which I shopped didn’t help me out.

In one place no okra was to be found at all. In another place the small handful of okra that was available was $4.29 per pound and looked as though it was about to sprout fungus at any second. Possibly this was occurring because we were away from the part of the U.S. in which okra is king. In the Western region, in which our son lives, okra isn’t exactly everyone’s first-choice veggie.

The designated hour for our guests to arrive fast approached. Hubby encouraged me to try no more stores and reminded me that before too many months we’d be fighting off the okra “trees” that take over our backyard garden in the summer, so we could have our fill of it then.

Since I had to make an emergency switch-out, I opted for "Friendly Puppy” Salad. Part of our party decor was a terra-cotta pot that had been handpainted with a Snoopy dog on it as a centerpiece for our son’s third birthday when he was a child. All these years I had saved it; now for his 35th I was using it as the base for a balloon bouquet. The Friendly Puppy with his doleful eyes (made from raisins) and his floppy ears (made from prunes) would fit with this party theme.

Wish I’d had time to peel fresh pears for the occasion, but since the moments sped by, I drained pear halves from a can, rinsed them, and plopped each on a spinach-lined salad plate. Onto each pear went the raisin, the prune, orange sections for the dog’s collar, and a cherry for his nose. This made a very healthy substitution—one that the kids in the audience (grown kids as well as the munchkin variety) would find appealing.

Maybe on his next Texas visit, when the garden is up and running (and over-running) with this Southern staple, our son can drop in for some fried okra. Meanwhile the healthful Friendly Puppy brought smiles and made a great substitution.

Friendly Puppy Salad

4 pear halves (fresh, peeled pears are preferred, although canned, drained pears can be used)
dried, seedless raisins
oranges (fresh orange sections are preferred, although canned, drained Mandarin orange pieces
can be subbed)
cherries (fresh cherries are preferred if in season, although jarred, drained cherries can be subbed)
dried prunes
spinach leaves

Arrange these items as described above and as illustrated in the photo. Chill before serving.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Birthday celebration morphs into fiesta with addition of green bean dress-ups

The event was our son's 35th birthday, so he got to choose the menu for his birthday meal. No surprises there; in my head I already had the menu planned because I knew what choices would pop out of his mouth: meat loaf (prepared with lean ground beef this time instead of our usual ground turkey), mashed potatoes, corn bread, fried okra, and green beans—all favorites from his childhood.

With the green beans, however, I couldn't resist a little fancy footwork. I had a new Fiesta Green Beans recipe that called for leeks to be added; I had one extra leek from my earlier preparations (mushroom burger topping and fresh mushroom soup that I blogged about previously). I also had some remaining tomatoes and fresh corn, so my Fiesta Green Beans recipe would use up all of those.

To be safe I pulled aside a small saucepan full of fresh green beans and cooked them the regular, basic way (just a little seasoning tossed in) that I knew he'd like. But the remainder went into the skillet to be steamed along with the leeks, tomatoes, and corn for the green-bean fiesta.

The birthday dinner was a big success. Turning 35 (ah, youth!) is a great milestone; we wanted to mark it appropriately for him. But the best news was, he (and the others around the table) liked the dressed-up Fiesta Green Beans as well. Everybody left happy—our son having been fed with his traditions and me having pulled off the great green-bean experiment.

Fiesta Green Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, sliced thin
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup water
1 pound fresh green beans
3/4 cup corn (cut from cob)

In skillet heat oil over medium heat; add leeks; cook until leeks just begin to brown. Add fresh tomato and water; simmer for 2 minutes. Add beans and corn. Cover and cook for 6-8 minutes or until beans reach the desired doneness. Makes 4-6 servings.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Citrus season inspires experimenting with this bright new salad recipe

In citrus country where our son lives, oranges grow on trees like roses on a rose bush. Sometimes, from a distance, a citrus tree in bloom will appear to be almost ablaze because of its brilliant orange color. This time of year, in the peak of citrus season, folks will have huge baskets of oranges, lemons, or grapefruit sitting on their curbs; these boxes bear signs that say, “Free. Take some.” Residents are more than happy to offer up their overflow citrus to passersby—and believe me, the overflow from their citrus gardens is plenteous.

Naturally, when I visit there during the season that citrus is king, I'm eager to try some of the citrus recipes I've been saving. A recent issue of Southern Living magazine dedicated itself to extolling what it called “the incomparable sassy tartness and vibrant good looks of citrus” and helped out with several delicious recipe suggestions that I’m eager to try with some of the fruit I've collected.

However, the first of my citrus treats—Citrus Bulgur Salad—was prepared with a recipe from the Chickasaw Nutrition Services. I'll be the first to admit that not only had I never cooked with bulgur, I really wasn’t familiar with the product and had to look it up on the Internet so I’d even know in which section of the grocery to search for it. I learned that bulgur, a whole-grain wheat product, is considered one of the best ways to incorporate whole grain into the diet. As a growing number of people know, diets rich in whole-grain foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Mixing the bulgur with sections of a fresh orange and grated orange peel, along with tomato, fresh parsley, onion, and seasonings, made an amazing salad. I started out by cooking the bulgur in a covered pan much as one would cook brown rice: two parts water to one part bulgur. After it simmered for about 20 minutes and all the water in the pan was absorbed, it was ready to cool and then add to the remaining ingredients.

The recipe with the odd name—Citrus Bulgur Salad—was excellent; the oranges made an dynamite pairing with the nutritious grains. I had stretched and grown and learned a new ingredient; the salad it made was fit for any family gathering or buffet table. Best of all, eating just one portion of bulgur provides nearly all of USDA's recommended daily dietary guidelines for whole grains. One serving also contains only 70 calories, 5 mg sodium, and 0 mg cholesterol. Now who can argue with that?

Citrus Bulgur Salad

1/2 cup bulgur, uncooked
1 large orange, peeled, membrane removed, chopped
1/4 cup medium red onion, chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
3/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Cook bulgur as directed on package, omitting salt. In a medium bowl toss bulgur and remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 6 1/2-cup servings.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Think cream-of-mushroom soup only happens in a can? Try this from-scratch version.

Recently someone told me she dined on “mushroom soup—not the kind you get from a can, but mushroom soup from scratch”. That idea tickled my fancy. I mean, don’t you just get mushroom soup by visiting the Campbell’s section of the soups aisle at the store and run the can rim under the opener? What would something of this nature taste like if it were from-scratch?

My recipe yesterday for Mushroom Burger Topping provided me with some leftover fresh mushrooms and a couple of additional leeks. Lo and behold, my Celebrating a Healthy Harvest cookbooklet featured a Fresh Mushroom Soup recipe that included both of these. I was ready to tackle it and see what difference is made from preparing this pantry staple from one's own ingredients.

I browned the sliced, fresh mushrooms in the bottom of a heavy stock pot; I removed them and then browned the chopped leek and added the wheat flour for thickening. (You also can use chopped onion if you don't have leeks on hand.) Into the mix went homemade chicken broth (collected from my stovetop pan after earlier boiling some chicken pieces). The simmered, thickened mixture went into a blender for pureeing before I added the low-fat evaporated mix and seasonings.

Man, did I feel pleased with myself when I finally was able to sample the finished brew! Homemade mushroom soup, along with some warm, crusty wheat bread—and the only can I opened was the one for the evaporated milk!

Fresh Mushroom Soup

2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 large leek, chopped (white and green parts)
3 tablespoons wheat flour or corn starch
6 cups chicken broth (if using canned variety, choose reduced-sodium broth)
3/4 cup low-fat evaporated milk
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot over medium heat cook mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of oil until the mushrooms are browned. Set mushrooms aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the chopped leek. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour (or corn starch); cook for another 2 minutes. Set aside one cup of mushrooms. To the pan add remaining mushrooms and broth. Gently simmer for 15 minutes; stir occasionally. Cool soup, then puree it in the blender until the liquid reaches desired texture. Add in reserved mushrooms, evaporated milk, and parsley. Stir; heat to serving temperature. Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can't help yourself about craving burgers? Try this healthy topping.

I can't help myself; I just love a good hamburger.

I get this yen honestly. Practically until her dying day at age 93, my mother still was calling for us to bring her a good ole juicy burger from Burger Street. Any time previously when I might have been out in the car running errands with my mother in tow, I always knew that a stop for a cheeseburger would be on her list.

Only problem with burgers, of course, is that they are good ole juicy. That usually means lots of artery-clogging, cholestrol-and-sodium-laden elements that have the potential to shorten our lives. (Didn't seem to mess with my mother's odds any, since she lived to be 93, but I'd rather not take my chances.)

So my heart did a flip-flop when I saw this recipe for mushroom burger topping. It looked like a good way to scratch my forever-itch for a good ole juicy burger, minus the bad stuff.

My burger, of course, was made from lean ground turkey, a healthy substitution to which I've grown accustomed. A nice plump pattie cooked on the countertop grill and seasoned with some salt-free seasoning can't hurt anything. Then the simple mushroom topping, which features chopped leeks, was prepared. I'm not sure how frequently in my lifetime I've ever cooked with leeks, a giant-sized version of green onions, but they plus some minced garlic surely kicked up what could have been a run-of-the-mill burger topping, which also could be used atop steaks, fish, or even atop some other grilled veggies such as grilled zucchini or squash.

No need for me to sit around and pine for bygone days of good old and juicy when a recipe such as this one can deliver something even juicier to the table. Mushroom topping with leeks gets my vote for building a better, and healthier, burger.

Mushroom Burger Topping

2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 leeks, white and green parts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cut leeks into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Put all ingredients into skillet and stir-fry until leeks and mushrooms are softened, about 6 minutes. Serve on burgers or steaks. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pizza with a south-of-the-border accent is piled high with healthy stuff

Pizza is Italian in origin, right? Then whoever heard of a Mexican Mini-Pizza—and one invented by the Chickasaw Indians, as well? What a melange of cultures.

But my new recipe for these mini-pizzas, provided by the ever-handy and clever source, the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services, is a winner indeed. I’ve never eaten anything with the name of pizza attached to it that was so nutritious.

Start with a storebought tostada shell (Ortega brand was the lowest in sodium of all those on the shelf, I found.) On it goes a smearing of fat-free refried beans that have been mixed with some (from-scratch) taco seasoning. Top each with reduced-fat cheese, fresh corn, shredded spinach and carrots (whoever heard of using carrots as pizza topping?), sliced avocado, salsa, and fat-free sour cream.

Colorful and healthy, these made a delightful presentation on the serving plate. Two tostadas (they were so filling, I couldn't even finish the second one and had to save half of it for another meal), served with some red grapes alongside them, for me made for a complete and easy-to-prepare dinner.

A special word about the taco-seasoning (recipe also provided below). Health-conscious shoppers sometimes shy away from storebought taco-seasoning packets for fear they contain a high sodium content. This Get-Fresh! Taco Seasoning Mix is salt-free. I quadruple the recipe and store the mixture in an airtight container, so I can keep some on hand and cook future Tex-Mex items with a clear conscience.

Mexican Mini-Pizzas

1/2 packet taco seasoning, Get-Fresh recipe (below)
3/4 cup refried beans, fat free
4 tostada shells
1/2 cup corn, fresh off the cob
3/4 cup Mexican-blend cheese, reduced fat
3/4 cup shredded spinach
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 large avocado, sliced into chunks
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl mix together taco seasoning and beans. Spread 3 tablespoons beans on each tostada. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons corn on each tostada. Top each tostada with 3 tablespoons of cheese. Place tostadas on a baking sheet and bake until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Remove tostadas from the oven and place on a plate. Top each tostada with 3 tablespoons spinach, 2 tablespoons carrots, 2 tablespoons salsa, 2 tablespoons avocado chunks, and 2 tablespoons sour cream. Serve. Makes 4 servings.

Get-Fresh! Taco Seasoning Mix

1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon instant minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon oregano

Combine all ingredients. Store in airtight container. (Above recipe constitutes 1 packet. For the Mexican Mini-Pizza recipe, 1/2 packet is called for.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hairdresser-tested recipe for Mexican Salad a real bonanza of freshness

If you want to know something, ask a hairdresser.

For years I've lived by this maxim. Hairdressers are walking encyclopedias for all that lives and breathes. Their vast degree of social contact gives them, on a daily basis, access to more information than the average individual would collect in a lifetime of living.

Our daughter was fortunate to marry well in this regard. Not only did she get a special, devoted hubby, she also acquired a mother-in-law who is a hairstylist (and a very nice person, to boot). My daughter's hair always looks bandbox-perfect as a result of this fortunate connection.

Recently my daughter's mother-in-law shared with me this recipe for Mexican Salad; around the salon she'd picked up the instructions for this new dish. Wow, was I glad I knew a hairdresser after I tried this recipe! Debbie was absolutely correct in believing this one would be up my alley because of its fresh ingredients. With the fiber-ific properties of beans getting higher kudos by the day, this recipe has the double benefit of containing both black beans and blackeyed peas, with a little corn tossed in for added measure. Green onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and celery (the latter addition drawing a big smile from Hubby, since he's mad about celery these days) add to the health plusses of this flavorful mixture.

Letting the ingredients marinate for at least four hours (or better, overnight) is crucial to the success of this dish. Stirring it frequently to make sure all the liquid is mixed in is a must. Actually I ended up doubling the recipe for the marinade to be sure the dressing had enough moisture, but if I had been more vigilant about tossing it frequently, I probably didn't need to increase the liquid and could have stuck with what the recipe below specifies.

I garnished the finished product with a cut-up avocado and served it with tortilla chips. Hubby kept returning again and again for just a few more morsels of the salad. I was extremely thankful to have this hairdresser-tested recipe, which, as most women know, is just about the best recommendation a dish could have!

Mexican Salad

1 14-oz. package slaw
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can blackeyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 (12-15 ounce) bag frozen corn (or 2 cups fresh corn cut from the cob)
2-3 chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
avocado for garnish, if desired

In a large bowl mix and toss the first nine ingredients. In a small saucepan mix vinegar and sugar; boil and let cool. Toss the dressing with the salad mixture. Allow to marinate for 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with avocado, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Simple, elemental dish of Apple Salad recalls the quiet, gentle life of recipe's originator

Have you ever sampled a recipe that was simply the embodiment and the essence of the person who created it? Such is the case of my maternal grandmother’s Apple Salad dish that I prepared last night to accompany the remainder of my Creamy Broccoli Soup from an earlier post.

Among my most treasured of recipe files is a brief, typewritten (now slightly yellowing) card on which were typed the few but important ingredients for this salad and then at the bottom noted those valuable words, "Mama's recipe”. This helped me remember that my Nanny in the long-ago was the standard-bearer for this dish.

As I prepared it last evening and stirred the simple, smooth, boiled dressing on the stove before I poured it over some fresh, chopped apples, I envisioned Nanny as the epitome of the Southern cook and homemaker that she was. Her own mother, the legendary Grandma Harris around whom my cookbooks, Way Back in the Country and Way Back in the Country Garden, are anchored, had migrated over to East Texas from Mississippi after the Civil War. Like many who were among the early Texas pioneer families, her people were said to have fled plantation life after war desecrated their way of living. As they founded new communities on the promising Texas soil, they brought their plenteous skills with them.

Grandma Harris, who went on to mother 14 children, taught her girls that inimitable style of country gourmet cooking that I mentioned in an earlier blog about the foods of FBC Longview, TX. Growing up in Delta County in northeast Texas, my Nanny learned from her mother how to take the most elementary of recipes and turn them into a creation fit for royalty. Apple Salad is one of those dishes.

Besides the fresh, crunchy apples I chopped up for the salad, I also threw in a rib of chopped celery, since Hubby is (as I mentioned yesterday) intent on adding celery, for its hypertension-ameliorating properties, into every dish on the planet. Since the dressing is warm as it emerges off the stovetop, best to let the apple and dressing mixture chill in the fridge for an hour or so before you serve.

The sweet, creamy dressing folded around ingredients that most anyone would have on hand epitomized the gentle, simple life of a loving grandmother who made the most of what she had. When I'm gone from this earth 37 years, as she has been, may I still be remembered half so fondly.

Apple Salad

3 tablespoons vinegar
water (see below)
1 heaping teaspoon flour
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
pinch salt
2 apples, peeled, cored, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped

Into a one-cup measure pour three tablespoons of vinegar. Add water to make a full cup. Pour liquid into a medium saucepan. To the saucepan add flour, sugar, beaten egg, and salt. Over medium heat bring mixture to a boil. Cook until thick. Pour over chopped apple and celery. Pour into airtight container and chill in fridge. If desired serve over greens. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Broccoli, celery, et al. keep winter-soup recipe file expanding

We are in a soup rut, but it's a good soup rut. Frozen temps, closed-down city, traffic at a snail's crawl on the roads—yesterday was Snow Storm Redux in our town, as it was in many other places as well. Fresh broccoli was in the fridge and needed to make its way into something healthy.

Any more, however, we also don't make light of the prosaic stalk of celery and its health benefits as well. Hubby recently read about how celery is super for its ability to drive down blood pressure. Since managing the BP sometimes is a challenge for him, he's started adding celery wherever possible—even into his famous smoothies! (Doesn't taste bad at all; surrounded by so much fruit and yogurt and nuts, it's hardly recognizable in a smoothie drink.) Celery's apparent cancer-fighting properties boost its popularity as a health-filled add-in.

So with broccoli, celery, corn kernels, and onion on hand, we were ready to roll. No reduced-sodium chicken broth on the pantry shelf, so I simply covered some uncooked chicken breasts in a pan of water and let them boil for 20-25 minutes until the breasts no longer were pink and I had a nice supply of fresh broth ready for my soup. Much better choice than the canned broth (even the lowered-sodium kind) anyway. Plus now I have some cooked chicken bits reserved when I need them for a casserole.

To make a long story short, we had another wonderful soup night. Adding the Cheddar cheese to the thickened soup base made it creamy, cheesy, and great.

Texas may never again have another Arctic season like this one has been, but next year if we spend a lot of time fraternizing with snowflakes, as least my healthy soup-recipe file will be ready.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

3 cups fresh broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
2 cups chicken broth, reduced sodium (or make your own)
4 cups skim milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch salt (or salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup Cheddar cheese, reduced fat, shredded
cayenne pepper to taste

In a large sauce pan place vegetables and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender. In a small bowl mix milk, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Add milk mixture to vegetables and heat on medium high heat. Stir until soup is lightly thickened and begins to boil. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted. Add cayenne if desired. Makes 6 1-cup servings.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

C'mon, winter blast: we're ready for ya with Zesty Tomato Soup

OK, let no doubt exist: we needed something warm and with a kick to it. The weather was icy and lingering (is again today, as well. Thank goodness I have a sealed container of this mixture left over for my lunch.); we needed something that warmed down to the toenails. For such a time as this I'd been saving my Zesty Tomato Soup recipe. Out with the ingredients.

For the 1 can vegetable stock called for in the recipe I subbed 14 ounces of my own brew. I boiled 2 stalks of fresh celery, 1/2 cup chopped green peppers, and 1/2 cup corn (fresh veggies I had on hand) in about two cups water and let it simmer for about 30 minutes to make my own broth so I could control the sodium content. I measured the liquid to be sure I was adding 14 ounces. Then besides the broth I added to the soup-makings these veggies as well.

The minced garlic and red-pepper flakes did their job well. This garden-fresh soup with a kick kept us warmed up (in a good way) long after mealtime. When the ice blasted us, we were ready with this delicious warmer.

Zesty Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon oregano, dried
4 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (or 2 28-ounce cans diced no-salt added tomatoes)
1 (14-ounce) can vegetable stock, reduced sodium (or your own homemade vegetable stock)
2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh corn cut from cob, 1 stalk celery, 1/2 cup chopped green pepper (add these if you've made your own stock)

In a stock pot heat olive oil. Add garlic, red pepper, and oregano. Saute until garlic simmers. With your hands crush the tomatoes over the stock pot. Add the vegetable stock and water. (If you've made your own stock, add the vegetables in the stock at this point.) Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

“Say-what?” Pudding for breakfast? This one turned out to be a very good idea.

This was another one of those “say-what?” recipes. Who heard of a breakfast pudding—plus one that contained pineapple, bananas, and raisins? Pudding was supposed to be something with chocolate or butterscotch or vanilla in the name. What commended this unusual dish, and why should I make it?

The answer to that last one is that brown rice is BIG, BIG, BIG right now. Its health benefits are legion. Just one cup of brown rice is said to provide us with 88 percent of our daily value for manganese, a trace mineral that helps our nervous system and in the production of good cholesterol. Women who eat whole grains are said to gain less weight. And of course the fiber factor of brown rice is high. Many health benefits are thought to be stripped from the rice when it is being changed from brown to white. One cup of brown rice a day is recommended.

Therefore anything that gives that brown rice serving some variety and makes it seem more of a treat is ideal. This is what happened when the additional ingredients are added to the brown-rice pan in the preparation process. Although the recipe called for crushed pineapple, it would be even more dynamite if you had a fresh pineapple on hand and wanted to cut up some slices to make 8-ounces of crushed (saving the juice, of course). I found that the more banana that I added, the sweeter the pudding tasted. Also for color, along with regular raisins I added some cranberry raisins—again, magnifying the sweet taste.

Long story short, I became a believer in this brown-rice pudding with add-ins that make it tasty and healthy. And it was good for breakfast as well as for lunch and dinner or as a dessert.

Tropical Breakfast Risotto

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 cup brown rice, dry
1/2 cup evaporated skin milk (not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk)
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple, crushed, drained
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coconut, shredded
1/4 cup almonds, sliced
1 banana, diced

In a sauce pan combine water, pineapple juice, and rice. Cook over high heat to boiling. Cover and reduce heat to low heat; continue cooking with the lid on until most of the water is absorbed and rice is tender—15-20 minutes. Add evaporated skim milk and heat on high. Stir occasionally. When mixture becomes creamy and the milk is absorbed, reduce heat to medium-high and add crushed pineapple. Heat pineapple; then add raisins, coconut, almonds, and banana and stir. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon over top. Serve warm or cold. Makes 6 (1/2-cup) servings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Younger generation scores big with this new Apple Dumpling recipe that's making the rounds

Not only did I acquire the wonderful Sante Fe Stew recipe when I went for my marathon sleepover visit with my college roomie, but she also had on hand a new dessert recipe that her daughter had just emailed her. Her daughter is the same age as is my grown daughter; they were in the same college class at our university. I know my roomie is thrilled, just as I am, when the younger generation sends new recipes our way and we see our girls learn to be good cooks. At the time she gave the recipe to me, I was gathering my collection of what would become my Super Bowl snack spread for this past weekend’s game. I knew Apple Dumplings would be perfect on my munching/grazing table for the game.

Actually I haven't made anything this simple (to be so tasty) in a long time. Wrapping the crescent-roll dough around the plump apple slice makes a nice, fat, fluffy little dumpling. The butter/sugar/cinnamon sauce on top cooks down into the bottom of the baking dish so that when you remove the dumpling, it's ensconced in tasty pie filling. Covering the top with the buttery mixture makes the dough bake up golden brown.

Hubby and I enjoyed these for breakfast as well as for Super-Bowl dining. They're super enjoyable, also, with a touch of sugar-free ice cream or fat-free whipped topping. The younger generation scored big with this little keeper!

Apple Dumplings

2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
2 (10-ounce) cans refrigerated crescent-roll dough
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (12-fluid ounce) can or bottle lemon-lime carbonated beverages
(such as Sprite or Mountain

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Cut each apple into eight wedges and set aside. Separate the crescent-roll dough into triangles. Starting at the smallest end roll each apple wedge in crescent-roll dough. Pinch to seal and place with the point-end down in the baking dish. In a small saucepan melt butter stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Pour over the apple dumplings. Then pour the carbonated beverage over the dumplings. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown. Makes eight servings.

Friday, February 4, 2011

As power outages abound, good to have a recipe that's as tasty cold as it is warm

In these days of rolling blackouts that have visited our Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex alongside the winter storm, having access to food that tastes as good cold as it does warm has been a daily preoccupation.

Believe it or not, this Greek Pizza falls into that category. Prepared earlier in the week before we had to wonder whether any task we began by using an electrical device could be completed before the power shut down, this pizza is absolutely terrific when served piping hot from the oven. But because its toppings are tomatoes, onions, olives, and cheese—the kinds of ingredients you’d find in a salad—it's just as tasty served fresh from the fridge. Believe me, we kept an eye on that fact as we sat in wait for the power outages about which we'd been warned through email and on cellphones by Garland's new Red Alert system.

Because the recipe (which, even though it was "Greek", hailed from the Chickasaw Nutrition Services) called for making a yeast-bread crust that had to rise, I initially had pause about trying this recipe. However, the rising process required only 20 minutes without any kneading, which made it as simple as (pizza) pie. The fuss-free dough turned out not to be sticky at all and thus rolled out and transferred readily to the pan.

One word of warning, however: be sure you AMPLY spray with cooking spray the pan you use. Keeping the crust from sticking to the cookie sheet was a challenge. Getting the crust un-adhered for serving turned out to be the biggest task of this recipe.

Greek Pizza ended up being an amazing entree that lasted the two of us through several meals, which, thankfully, saw our power remaining on each time we sat down to dinner. But you better believe we had our matches and lighters ready in case dinner had to be completed by candlelight.

Greek Pizza

1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 cup water, warm
1 1/4 cup flour, whole wheat
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt substitute)
2 tablespoons olive oil
cooking spray
3 cups spinach leaves
1 cup tomato, seeded, chopped
3/4 cup red onion, sliced
1/4 cup black olives, sliced (from 2.25 ounce can, drained)
4 ounces Feta cheese, reduced fat

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in flours, salt, and oil. Beat until smooth. Let stand for 5 minutes. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat and roll it into a rectangle. Generously spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Transfer crust to the baking sheet. Spread spinach, tomatoes, onion, olives, and Feta cheese on pizza crust. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. When cooled, spray lightly with olive oil. Makes 12 servings.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nobody knows country cooking like these East Texas folks; carrot casserole is but one example

While I was on the visit to my college roomie's house (I mentioned this in yesterday's blog), I spotted what I knew would be a dynamite cookbook. The book on her shelf was produced by the First Baptist Church of Longview, TX, and contained favorite recipes from members over the years. Now, you talk about a group of smokin' hot cooks—difficult to imagine any collection of folks who have it more together food-wise than these folks do.

Understand that the East Texas cook is just a different breed than are people in the rest of the world. People from East Texas tend to be gourmet country cooks. They just KNOW how to do everything to perfection—from the world's best stovetop fried chicken to everything-from-scratch. My cookbooks, Way Back in the Country and Way Back in the Country Garden, are paens of praise to this region of the country (from which my own forebears hail) and the good, basic foods that emanate from it. Many East Texas cooks are from families that originally migrated over from the Deep South, so the moonlight-and-magnolias ways of food prep are deeply ingrained. Furthermore the rich East Texas soil promulgated vegetable gardening at its finest, so East Texas cooks became inventive in their veggie dress-ups.

Time didn't permit me to leave with every recipe from this book that caught my eye. But Cafeteria Carrot Souffle was a must-copy. Anyone who's ever dined at Luby's or Wyatt's cafeterias remembers this dish from the serving lines. Hubby’s response when he tasted a sample: “Isn't this dessert?” It definitely could be, but the use of sugar and egg substitutes makes it a healthy choice and a good way to get all those benefits that carrots offer.

Thanks to Katherine Doane of FBC Longview for submitting this scrumptious choice for her church’s recipe book collection.

Cafeteria Carrot Souffle

2 pounds carrots, cooked and mashed
3 eggs, beaten (or 3/4 cup egg substitute)
3/4 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
powdered sugar

Combine mashed carrots with next 8 ingredients. Pour into greased 8-inch-by-8-inch casserole dish. Bake 350 degree for 30 minutes. Top with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Makes 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Warm soup, loads of laughter a winning combination on a cold night

I loved the occasion but hated the reason for it. The event was a Sunday-school class social held in the home of my college roommate. I had traveled to her city for us to have a two-night “sleepover”. During the time I was there, she was scheduled to host a “Winter Soup” party for her church group. Various members were signed up to bring hearty, warm soups as the dinner meal. My roomie asked whether I would help her toss the party. I said sure I would, except I expected to go home with a new soup recipe to include in my blog. She said no problem there: her class members were legendary good cooks.

Great event; lots of girltalk and good feasting. All of us females need do things like this more often.

But a desperately sad happening prompted my trip to visit her for this slumber party. Only a few months ago my friend lost her husband to an untimely death. My trip was designed to offer companionship while she makes her way through some of the lonely nights that face her in the weeks ahead. If only I could do more to help!

However, having the gals in for fellowship put some smiles on all our faces and evoked lots of laughter; laughter is some of the best medicine anywhere, as we all know.

Although all the Winter Soup offerings were wonderful, my favorite was named Santa Fe Stew. It was brought by Carmen Rolf, whom I had known when we were college students but hadn't seen in at least four decades. The green chiles made it just Southwestern/spicy enough. Canned corn could be subbed with fresh off the cob if you have some on hand.

At the time we didn't know the winter snow/ice event was headed our way this week. Santa Fe Stew warms on the inside and out—a reminder of a heartwarming gals' gigglefest that hopefully brought some cheer.

Santa Fe Stew

2 pounds very lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 (6-ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 medium to large onion, chopped
2 (14- to 16-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
2 (14- to 16-ounce) cans corn (or 2 cups fresh corn off the cob)
2 (14- to 16-ounce) cans Ranch Style Pinto Beans (not Ranch Style beans)
2 packages taco seasoning mix
1 large package dry Ranch Style dressing mix (original)

Brown ground beef, onion, and green chiles until all grease is absorbed. To beef mixture add next five ingredients. Stir thoroughly; let simmer for about 30 minutes on medium-low heat.
Do not drain any of the canned ingredients. Serves 10-12.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mixed Veggie Casserole with Cheese a great side for barbecue at celebratory meal

OK, we had the barbecue beef and the salad for the dinner to be served after our little munchkin's baby dedication. But what about other sides? My daughter was set to prepare her favorite Company Potatoes recipe (appearing in my first cookbook, Way Back in the Country) that goes great with just about anything. But our crowd was not big on baked beans or any of the traditional barbecue match-ups.

I did an Internet search for vegetable casseroles. On nancysrecipes.wordpress.com in a feature called "A Recipe a Day" I discovered this mixed-veggie casserole that resembles the legendary green-bean dish that's stock-and-trade of Thanksgiving fare—baked with French-fried onions on top and mixed in and featuring cream of mushroom soup as part of the sauce. The original recipe called for frozen mixed veggies to be added, but I modified it so we could serve it the "garden-fresh" way, of course. Steaming some fresh veggies I had on hand made the mixture more healthy and was a good way to use up some leftovers.

Munchkin didn't get to sample any of our goodies that were prepared in his honor for the after-dedication meal. He was very content to nurse and have his supplemental bottle. But because of him we had a good excuse to indulge in some wonderful food. Mixed Veggie Casserole with Cheese was a big hit with the partygoers.

Mixed Veggie Casserole with Cheese

1/4 cup fresh corn, cut from cob
4 carrots, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (enough for 1 cup of carrots)
1 cup fresh trimmed green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup nonfat sour cream
1 (6-ounce can) French-fried onions
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set aside 1/4 cup cheese and 1/4 cup French-fried onions. Steam fresh carrots, corn, green beans, and cauliflower 3-4 minutes on high in microwave until vegetables are tender. Drain. Add peas. In large bowl combine veggies, soup, 3/4 cup cheese, sour cream, 3/4 cup onions, and pepper. Pour all into greased 2-quart casserole dish, Bake 30 minutes. On top sprinkle reserved cheese and onions. Bake 5 more minutes. Serves 6-8.