Monday, April 14, 2014

In the Garden


I am LOVING our raised beds.  Seriously.  We've taken all the backbreaking work out of the vegetable garden. 

Spring has unquestionably arrived here in Zone 8, and I spent most of the weekend in the garden.  The seeds I planted a few weeks ago are all up and doing great. 

This weekend, in the front yard I:

 - cleaned out the dead canes from the raspberries.  I've never done that before (this is year three for raspberries) and they look so much better!
 - ripped out the Spanish lavender (we killed it - I don't know if it was because we pruned it back too far or if it froze, or maybe both) and planted mint and chamomile.  These are in half barrels on the strip between the sidewalk and the street.  Someone remind me not to let the mint go to seed, please!
 - added parsley, blue hyssop, thyme, dock, and sage to the herb beds.
 - added 10 more strawberry plants to our strawberry beds.
 - my five year old, who doesn't follow my "edibles only" philosophy, added a nasturtium and a pansy to one of her flower barrels and planted entire seed packets of cosmos and purple coneflowers to another barrel.  This could be interesting...

In the backyard vegetable garden I:
 - harvested the rest of the green onions I planted in the fall (there were a TON). 
 - planted tomatoes, tomatillos, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, peas, celery (we've never grown celery before), shallots, and pac choi. 

Two vegetable garden beds and all of the backyard half barrels are now full.  I have one more bed left to plant (except for the garlic already occupying one corner) and we will build two more beds this spring.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how we do this year!

What's growing at your house?


Monday, April 07, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie






This year, for the first time, we bought 1/4 of a pig.  With it, I bought the leaf lard so I could render it, because I've always heard that lard makes the best pie crust, but I've never tried it.  After I rendered it, the whole house smelled, well, piggy, as did the lard, and I knew I wasn't going to be using it for fruit pies! 

Yesterday I pulled some of that wonderful snowy white lard out of the freezer and decided to try it out.  I made up the crust and, sure enough, it smelled piggy, enough so that I had to bake a test piece to make sure it wasn't just going to be disgusting.  In fact, it was delicious!  Just a hint of pleasant porkiness and wow - the texture!  Amazing!  So I decided to make this recipe.

Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 1 9-inch pie

Crust for a 9-inch pie (my recipe is very similar to this one)
1/2 large onion, diced
1 c. sliced celery
2 large carrots, sliced
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 c. butter
4 cloves minced garlic
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/3 c. flour
2/3 c. water
2 cups shredded chicken
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare crust, placing the bottom crust in a pie pan (I made this in a deep-dish 9.5 inch pan and it would go just fine in a regular 9 inch pan).

In a large skillet, saute onions,celery, carrots and mushrooms in butter until carrots are just beginning to soften.  Add garlic and saute two minutes more.  Add chicken broth, celery seed, and thyme.  Simmer for five minutes.  Add chicken.  Mix the flour into the water until smooth.  Pour into vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils.  Turn off heat and let cool for 15 minutes.  Transfer to pie crust.

Add top crust, crimping however you prefer.  Cut 4 - 6 slits in the top crust for ventilation.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned and you can see the filling bubbling under the slits. 

If the edges of your crust start browning too quickly, make some 4-inch wide strips out of aluminum foil and wrap them around the edges of your pie pan.  This will help keep it from burning. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Feeding the Freezer






Not too long ago we had an unexpected major expense.  Not like "oh we need a new car", but more "oh we're now camping for vacation this summer".  Fortunately we've managed to sock away a decent emergency fund, but in looking more closely at our overall financial picture, I realized how much we've nickeled and dimed away our savings lately.  We knew something had to change.  So, I've started once again tracking every penny we spend (which sounds arduous but really only takes about three minutes a day if I actually keep up with it).  By far our biggest expense that we can actually do something about is food. 

I actually have a very generous grocery budget for three people.  Not USDA Thrifty Plan generous, but close.  Very close.  And that doesn't include eating out.  Also a very generous amount.  I tend to buy natural and organic meat and dairy, locally when I can. About 2/3 of our produce is organic.  So it adds up fast.  And when I come home in the evening and don't feel like cooking, I'm not shy about running right back out to pick up fast food.

I love the idea of freezer cooking, where you spend a day whipping up a bunch of fabulous, ready to pop in the oven meals, and then you don't have to think about cooking again for a few weeks.  But realistically, that doesn't work for me.  We just don't eat like that.  But if I'm going to get out of the habit of running out for burgers just because I had an exhausting day, the best thing for me to do is to keep my freezer well fed.  So over the last couple of weekends I've been doing some prep work that won't give me ready to serve meals, but will make my meals much, much quicker to throw together.

Yesterday I poached a whole chicken.  I took the meat off the bones and shredded it, giving me enough for three future casseroles.  When I cooked it, I added carrots, celery, garlic, onion and herb to the water.  Once I took the chicken out, I strained the broth and put it in the fridge.  Tonight I'll pull most of the fat off and then freeze it in one or two cup portions, to be used in future meals.

Today I pulled four pounds of ground beef out of the freezer (I bought 20 pounds on March 7 and I'm very interested to see how long it lasts us).  Two pounds were browned with onions and garlic, which gives me four meals' worth of pre-cooked meat for tacos, chili, casseroles, etc.  I made Italian meatballs with the other two pounds.  I use my cookie scoop and got 50 meatballs, so I froze them in packages of 10.  If we're having spaghetti, I'll pull out one package.  If we're having meatball subs, I'll pull out two.  Quick and easy.

I also made a batch of pizza dough.  This is my favorite recipe.  I don't have pizza on the menu this week, so I put both balls in the freezer so they'll be ready in case the mood hits.

I'm planning to make broccoli cheese soup this week (I finally got my family to agree to try homemade - it was a bit of a disaster last time but I know where I went wrong).  My daughter asked for bread bowls.  I've been wanting to try this Italian Roll recipe, so I mixed up the dough.  It's in the fridge now and tomorrow night I'll bake it into four bread bowls for soup on Tuesday.

Hubby asked for no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, so I made a batch of those, too.  I was going to try this recipe for Blueberry Banana Oat Bread but ran out of steam.  So I pulled a loaf of banana bread out of the freezer for this week's breakfasts and I'll freeze the bananas that need to be turned into baked goods (we have some every week lately, which probably means I need to buy less!).

After all that I didn't really feel like cooking dinner, so we had a simple meal of broiled pepper steak (got some on the clearance meat rack yesterday), baked potatoes and roasted asparagus.  Tasty.

What's cooking in your kitchen this week?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In the Kitchen






On Sunday the baking bug bit.  Yes, it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, but before I went out and enjoyed it, I NEEDED to turn on the oven.  I've been reading a ton of cooking blogs lately and wanted to give some new recipes a shot, plus revisiting some old favorites.

First, I made this Sweet Potato Cake from the Wholesome Ireland blog (I love this blog!).  This was a complete hit with the five-year-old and I love it too.  Not too sweet, with just enough lemony goodness and the potatoes give it a great texture.

Next up was these Fresh Cranberry Muffins, using up some cranberries that were getting a little wrinkled in the freezer.  I've made this before and all three of us really like them.

I had a couple of bananas that needed to go into something, and we're getting a little tired of banana bread.  The other day I ran across this recipe for Healthy Coconut Cookies.  I didn't have agave so I used corn syrup, and I added some mini chocolate chips instead of dipping them in chocolate.  We didn't really like them the first day, but after they sat for a day they were much, much better.

And finally, I made my favorite granola - An Oregon Cottage's Best Granola.  I make it with half honey, half maple syrup and add chopped pecans.  Delicious!  I put half of it in a jar and sealed up half with my Food Saver so we can enjoy it another week. 

All in all, a successful baking day.  We're set up with goodies for a week and beyond. 

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In the Garden

Here we are, almost to the end of March, and I'm finally getting around to starting my garden.  Only a month later than usual!  Once the cold snap was over we had nothing but rainy weekends for a while so I didn't get out there.  But it appears that spring has sprung, and we're ready to get started.

Last weekend I did some cleanup.  I'm pretty sure the olive tree and my bay plant didn't survive the 17 degree lows we had in January (that's really low for this area).  But I'm going to let them go for now and see what happens.  My Spanish lavender was taking over the sidewalk (we have four planted in half barrels and they were about five feet wide), so we cut them all the way back last summer.  ALL the way back.  I was assured by more than one person that this could be done, they've done it before, and everything turned out just fine.  Well there's no sign of growth on any of them so I think we may have overdone it.  But I'll leave them be for a couple of months and see what happens.

Once again, I didn't get the raspberries cut back (I really need to figure out when that's supposed to happen), but they've come back in full force in spite of my neglect. Really, I just need to plant things that thrive on neglect.  Neglecting plants is what I do best.  I'll try to get into the raspberries to cut back the dead canes at some point, but if I don't I'm not too worried about it.

Yesterday we pruned the apple tree, and not a moment too soon.  It was already leafing out.  Seems like no matter when we do it it's always just in the nick of time.

Last weekend I also checked out the raised beds.  The garlic is coming along beautifully, and somehow some carrots and green onions survived the winter.  The carrots are tiny but if I remember correctly, they're supposed to be.  My daughter and I planted lettuce, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, and radishes last weekend.

Today, the sun is shining and it's another glorious day, and I'm going back outside.  Yesterday I picked up some seed potatoes, so I'm going to start them in a couple of half barrels.  I also put in some Walla Walla onion sets yesterday.   Today I'm going to put in peas.  I'll wait another week or two before I plant another round of the veggies I planted last week - if I space them out I should have a steady stream through the spring and summer.

In a couple of weeks my new fig tree should arrive.  My parents got me one for my birthday - it's a dwarf so I can plant it in a half barrel.  If you haven't noticed, I'm a HUGE fan of half barrels.  We have very heavy clay soil and I hate digging big holes, so if I can plant it above ground, all the better.  Of course, that seems to have backfired with the freeze we had this year...

What are your garden plans for this year?  Have you started growing yet?


Saturday, February 01, 2014

Caitlyn's Strawberry Splash

My five-year-old daughter and I were buying yogurt at Costco today, when she informed me that she had invented a delicious new recipe.  We ran down her list of ingredients, discovered that we had everything we needed, and when we got home she got out the blender and went to town.

All of these measurements are approximate because, well, she was too excited to measure, but with any drink like this you can play with it and make it your own.

Oh, and Caitlyn took the picture, too.  That's right, my five-year-old is better at food photography than I am!  



Caitlyn's Strawberry Splash
Makes 3 generous servings

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup milk
10 strawberries, hulled and washed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 T. maple syrup

Add all ingredients to a blender and mix until smooth.  Pour into glasses and enjoy with a straw!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lasagna

I've only made lasagna a couple of times. It's not something we eat frequently, and I must admit it's a lot easier to pull a Stouffer's box out of the freezer case!  But I've been craving it lately.  I was going to put one together quickly the other morning so hubby could bake it while we were at swimming lessons, but then I discovered I was out of spaghetti sauce. 

Well I'm still out of spaghetti sauce, but I wanted to make it tonight, so I decided to wing it.  And wing it I did.  The end result was slightly runny but tasty! 

I made it in an 8x8 pan.  I easily had enough of everything except mozzarella (I only bought a small package) to make it in a 9x13 if I'd wanted to.

Lasagna from Scratch

1 20-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1/4 medium onion, grated
1 large carrot, grated
5 cloves garlic, grated
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 c. red wine (I used merlot because that's what I had open).
1 1/2 T. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound browned and drained ground beef (this is when the pre-cooked packages I have in the freezer come in handy!)
4 - 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 c. small curd cottage cheese
grated parmesan cheese (I use the kind in the can)
1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced

For the sauce:
Combine tomatoes, sauce, onion, carrot, garlic, Italian seasoning, wine, and sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down and simmer 15 - 20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in ground beef and heat until warmed through.

For the lasagna:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put a small amount of sauce in the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish.  Top with noodles to fill pan with a single layer (that's two of the noodles I buy from Trader Joe's.  Top with a thin layer of sauce, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Top with 1 cup of cottage cheese and spread to cover (make sure the noodles are completely covered).  Top that with a layer of mozzarella.  Add another thin layer of sauce, then more noodles, and repeat the rest of the layers.  Add another set of layers if you have space.  Make sure you end with a layer of sauce topped with a layer of mozzarella.

Top with foil (I didn't do this and believe me, you'll want to - my mozzarella was really overbaked).  Bake 25 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Let stand 15 - 20 minutes.  Slice and serve.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Parmesan Chicken and Sauteed Pasta

Tonight was one of those "head into the kitchen and find something easy" nights.  We're out of milk at the moment, so creamed tuna and biscuits, my original idea, was out.  Finally decided I'd cook some chicken tenderloins because they're so quick, and wanted some pasta to go along with it.  So I whipped this up and it was perfect! 

Side note:  A few weeks ago I made my own dried breadcrumbs from some "day old" bread a friend gave me.  Such a difference from the stuff in a canister!  I keep it in the freezer and it has such a nice texture to it!  I may never go back...

Parmesan Chicken

12 ounces chicken tenderloins
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated parmesan (the kind in the green can)
2 T. brown mustard (dijon would also work well here)
1 T. dried minced onion
1/2 t. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375.  Place the chicken in an 8x8 pan.  In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients except bread crumbs.   Spread the mixture over the chicken and sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top.  Bake 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.








Sauteed pasta

I love the way this turned out.  The flavor of the onions, the crispy edges on the pasta, so delicious!

8 ounces dried pasta (I used small shells)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 T. olive oil
3 T. butter, divided
1 t. dried thyme
1/2 t. garlic powder (you could also use fresh garlic - add it at the end of the onion cooking time).
salt to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package direction.   Meanwhile, heat olive oil and one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat (cast iron works well here).  Add onion and cook until soft and just starting to brown.  When the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain it well.  Add remaining butter to the skillet.  When melted, stir in thyme and garlic powder.  Add pasta and saute, stirring frequently, until it starts to brown.  Add salt to taste and serve. 



Monday, January 20, 2014

Pizza Pockets

Today I got to be home alone from 7:30 to 3:30.  That happens, oh, I don't know, once a year?  On MLK Day, which my husband doesn't have as a holiday and I do.  Normally I'd keep my daughter home from daycare to save the money and spend some time together, but I haven't had a day to myself in a long time so I decided I'd just stick with her regular Monday schedule.

I had a great day!  Watched whatever I wanted on TV, caught up on the laundry folding, and had time to make something special for dinner (Mondays are swimming lessons so we're usually eating hot dogs or frozen lasagna or something else that literally takes less than 15 minutes to put together.  I was thinking about making pasta from scratch, but my kitchen's a bit of a disaster at the moment.  Then I thought about making a chili and cornbread casserole, but wasn't really in the mood for chili.  I went out to the freezer to see what inspired me, and I noticed the bag of frozen roll dough that I bought a long, long time ago.  I wonder what I was going to do with that, anyway???

I grabbed the bread dough and a package of chicken Italian sausage and knew exactly what I was going to make.  And it was GOOD!!!!  The best part?  It made enough for dinner tonight and to freeze for another meal.  Yay!

The filling for these is as variable as pizza itself. I just used what I had on hand, and normally I would use fresh mushrooms and garlic.  Remember you don't want the filling to be too juicy or they will leak everywhere.


Pizza Pockets
makes 24

24 frozen bread roll balls
1 pound Italian sausage
1/4 medium onion, diced small
1 2.25-ounce can sliced olives, drained and roughly chopped
1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained and roughly chopped
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
6 slices provolone cheese, quartered

Place frozen roll dough on two greased or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Cut two sheets of plastic wrap long enough to cover the pans.  Spray plastic wrap with cooking spray and cover the dough balls.  Let thaw two hours or until pliable, but not fully risen.

In a large skillet, brown Italian sausage and onion (if you're using chicken or other lowfat sausage, you may need to add a bit of oil).  Break up the sausage into small pieces (a potato masher works well for this!).  Add remaining ingredients except cheese.  Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

When dough is thawed, press each out into a 4-inch circle (I prefer to do this one at a time).  Place a piece of cheese and approx. two tablespoons of the meat filling into the center of each circle.  Bring up all the edges, pressing to seal, forming a ball.  Place on the baking sheet, seam side down.  When finished, cover again with plastic wrap.  Let rise 30 minutes, or put in the fridge for several hours.

If you choose to put them in the fridge, remove them about 45 minutes before baking so they come back to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove plastic wrap and bake, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy!






Sunday, December 08, 2013

Easy Lemon Danish

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this recipe a few weeks ago.  This morning I started to make it and, while I was mixing up the filling, decided I really wanted it to be lemony.  So I experimented and it turned out amazingly well!


Easy Lemon Danish
Adapted from The Adventures of Kitchen Girl

2 tubes crescent roll dough
1 8 oz pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
3 T. lemon juice
1 egg

Glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 T. lemon juice
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Unroll one package of crescent roll dough and lay it in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Pinch the seams together and press out as much as possible.  If the dough doesn't reach all the way from edge to edge, roll up the side that's not up against the pan a bit so the filling doesn't all run out when you pour it in.

For the filling, mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and egg, mixing until smooth.  Pour over dough.  Open remaining tube of dough and lay it over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until dough is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.

For the glaze, mix powdered sugar, lemon juice and salt until smooth.  Pour over danish and smooth it out with an offset spatula or knife.  Cut into squares and enjoy!