A lesson from the garden

We’re supposed to get a big rain soon, so I thought I’d try to get some seeds in the garden ahead of it.  I planted squash and pumpkins and chard, things I think the rabbits won’t eat.  And while I was digging in the lovely warm dirt, worrying that maybe the seeds were too old and that nothing would sprout, a thought occurred to me, one of gardening and a gardener’s hope:  The only seeds you know for certain won’t grow are the ones you don’t plant.

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Just, yum!

If you were to stop by my house today, you might think I’ve lost my mind. You’d wonder about this because of the state of my kitchen, which looks like it exploded.

It all started with my friend Phyllis and her giant chest freezer. In it, she had a big hunk of meat neatly wrapped in white butcher paper. All she knew about it was that it was beef, and that she’d grown tired of lifting it from one side of the freezer to the other, back and forth, as she reached for other, smaller items, like a chicken or a bag of tater tots. “It might be chuck,” she said with a shrug.

I got it home and unwrapped it to find a beautiful standing rib roast. Which I thawed, and cooked, and we all ate a big meal at the dining room table, as if it were already Christmas.

And now today, the real work began. I cubed the leftover meat and put it in the crockpot with ingredients for chili. Then, I roasted the bones and put them in a pot for soup. And, because I am completely, crazily adverse to wasting even the tiniest bit of food, when the soup was done I gave the bones to Bailey.

While all this was going on, I decided, Why not roast the huge squash, too? And its seeds? And while I’m at it, Why not begin a little holiday baking?

So I did. All of it. The only good thing about this craziness is that I can wrap and freeze the food I made today, and some distant night in the future, when I’m too tired to even think about what to make for supper, I can pull out a meal and by then, I will have (mostly) forgotten about the hard work, and it will almost feel as if dinner were made by magic little freezer elves.

The best success of the day was the holiday baking. I tried a recipe for raspberry chocolate bars that I adapted from Kraft Foods (mine has less sugar, more nuts and more chocolate). I used a jar of jam that Avery and I had made last summer and just like always, the memories made me smile (I think they’re what make the jam taste so good.)

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Raspberry Chocolate Bars

1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup flake coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 jar (12 oz.) raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in butter, work until batter resembles coarse crumbs. Add oats, coconut, almonds and mix lightly.

Press half of the crumbs into a greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkled with chocolate chips. Spread jam over chips. Top with remaining crumb mixture.

Bake 30 min. until lightly browned. Cool. Enjoy!

Harvest Bisque

for Vicki

This is my favorite fall soup recipe; I got it from my sister-in-law Elizabeth years ago. The handwritten card fluttered down from the spice cabinet while I was unpacking, and I took it as a sign that it was time to make it.

1 butternut squash, or a small pumpkin,
1 pound carrots
5 ribs celery
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pound mushrooms
5 strips bacon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart milk

Peel squash and cut into peices. (This is the only hard part of the recipe). Roughly chop the carrots, onion and garlic. Slice the mushrooms. Set aside.

Chop the bacon and fry it over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onions, cook until soft. Add the rest of the veggies, salt and pepper, and thyme. Let the mix sweat. Add the chicken stock, cover, and lower heat. Simmer until veggies are tender.

Take pot off the heat and puree. Add milk (or cream, even better!) and return to the stove to warm through. Adjust seasonings, serve.

Fresh Rhubarb Cake 2 Ways

Rhubarb is one of those plants that seems to jump for joy with abundance: when you have rhubarb, you have a lot of it (I’m thinking here of zucchini, too, and the old joke about the only time you have to lock your car in town is August, because if you don’t, someone will put a zucchini in it.)

But I digress! Rhubarb is a fair source of potassium, contributes minor amounts of vitamins, and is low in sodium. The crisp, sour stalks are loaded with vitamin C and dietary fiber. And here’s a delicious recipe for a moist, rich cake that you can serve one of two ways:

For the cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter a baking pan and dust with flour. In a medium-size bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, beat well. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. Into a third bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix well. Beat in half the buttermilk/vanilla. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then the rest of the buttermilk/vanilla, ending with the remaining flour. Stir in the rhubarb. Spread in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

If you like, cut warm cake into wedges and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then drizzle with a simple vanilla sauce:

Vanilla Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter

In a 1-quart saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil; simmer for about ten minutes.

Or, let cake cool, then cut it in half (it’s a very forgiving cake) to make a layer cake. Spread strawberry jam, then whipped cream, for the filling. Reassemble cake and frost with more whipped cream, then top with a light dusting of sugar, or flaked coconut.  (This was how I made it for the boys’ birthday–it’s a very pretty, festive cake).

Cinnamon rolls

So the other day I just happened to mention that I’ve been eating all these fantastic cinnamon rolls, did you think I wouldn’t share?  This recipe is by far my most favorite:  it makes a lot of rolls (a good thing, in my book) and they freeze well.  Too, the dough is very forgiving (I think the secret is in the cake mix) and it’s a great recipe to use when you have kids helping in the kitchen. 

Cinnamon Rolls

1 package white cake mix
5 cups white flour
2 packages dry yeast (1/4 oz each)
2 1/2 cups warm water (not lukewarm, but warm to the touch.  But not too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast)
Softened butter
Cinnamon
Brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar, for glaze, plus 2T water

Grease two 13x9x2 inch pans.  Combine yeast and water and a bit of sugar in a bowl, set aside until the yeast is bubbling.  In a larger bowl, add the cake mix and the flour.  Stir until well-blended.  Make a little hole in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water/yeast.  Work the flour into the water, turning the bowl as you go, with a big wooden spoon.  When you have everything roughly combined, dump it out on the counter and continue to knead the dough until it’s shiny and springs to the touch.  Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled (about 1 hour). 

Punch down the dough and divide it in half.  With a rolling pin, flatten each half into a large rectangle and cover with softened butter and sugar and cinnamon, to taste (I like a lot).  Beginning at a long end, roll up each rectangle (like a carpet) then cut into 12 slices.  Place the slices in pans so that the swirls of cinnamon and butter and sugar face up, cover, and let rise again (about 30-40 minutes for the second rise).

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until golden.  Remove.  Combine the powdered sugar and water to make a glaze, drizzle over baked rolls, and enjoy!

Coconut Cream Pie

I won a pie recipe contest!  Which means I have an award-winning pie recipe!  (Forgive me!  All the exclamation points!  I never win anything!)  Thanks go to killashandra at Fulltime in NM for all the excitement, which now inspires me to bake, you guessed it, another pie.  This one is creamy and sweet and full of coconut flavor:

1  13.5 oz. can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%, your choice)
3 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup toasted flaked coconut
2 (9 inch) graham cracker crust pie shells
1 container frozen whipped topping, thawed

Toast 1/4 cup coconut by spreading on a cookie sheet and baking at 350 degrees until just golden, about 5 minutes.  (Don’t overcook or coconut turns bitter).

In a medium saucepan, combine milks, eggs, sugar, flour and salt.  Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, and stir in 3/4 cup flaked (untoasted) coconut.

Pour into a pie shells (today I’m using a premade graham cracker crust, but you can use whatever you like) and chill 2 to 4 hours, until firm.

Before serving, spread each with whipped cream and sprinkle the toasted coconut across the tops.  Makes 2 pies; one to have and one to share.

Arugula pesto

Our little grocery store had organic baby arugula specially marked all the way down to 50 cents a package (such a good deal!):  I think because no one knew what to do with it.  But I know what to do!  Make pesto! 

Carter helped me and when we were done, he said, “How do you eat it?”

 “Well, you could put it on hot, salted pasta, or you could mix it with cream cheese and make a dip.  You could add it to mayonnaise and use it on a turkey and havarti sandwich, or you could spread it on dough and make pizza….”

“Yum!” said Carter, and I couldn’t agree more.  Here’s my recipe (and I used the chickpeas):

Arugula Pesto

6 oz. organic baby arugula
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 cup shredded Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 cup chickpeas or 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or 1/2 cup toasted walnuts

In a food processor, add a handful of arugula and chop on the “pulse” setting.  Add the cheese and the chickpeas or nuts, pulse again.  Add the garlic, pulse.  Add another handful of arugula, then pulse.  Drizzle in a bit of the olive oil.  Add more arugula, alternating with the olive oil, until everything is well blended (but not mushy). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days, or freeze. (The flavor is similar to Basil pesto, but with a spicier, more peppery flavor.)

Key Lime Pie

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The neighbors up the road, the ones who invited us for coffee, have chickens.  As we left, the wife shared a dozen eggs with me, and when I got home I opened the carton to find the prettiest eggs, with shells that were brown and blue and pale green and yokes the bright orange color of a marigold.  What to do with such fine eggs?  Make a Key Lime Pie, of course!

Crust
6 ounces animal crackers
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Mix ingredients and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, until toasted. Let cool.

Pie
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for something else)
1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup fresh key lime juice (about 20 limes); if you can’t get it, use the bottled key lime juice; if you can’t get that, use the juice from fresh limes (about 3).

Beat egg yolks with a fork until they are thick and frothy; add condensed milk.  Mix.  Add half the key lime juice, mix until blended.  Add the rest of the key lime juice. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, to set the yolks. Remove, cool.  Top with whipped cream, toasted coconut and slices of fresh lime.  Serves 1 (just kidding!).

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And to give/receive more great pie recipes, visit Fulltime in NM where there’s a pie auction going on!

More soup!

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Gypsy Soup

3 T olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
1 cup peeled and diced squash, such as butternut or acorn or turkish hat
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
3/4 cup chopped sweet peppers (red, green or yellow) or substitute a handful of chopped kale or a handful of chopped fresh spinach
1 can garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), drained
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 T tamari soy sauce

In a large pot, saute onions, garlic, potatoes and squash in the olive oil. Add all seasonings (except stock and tamari). Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, to bring out the flavors of the spices. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

This soup serves 4, and it’s even better the next day!

It’s a chili day!

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Black Bean Chili

3/4 lb. ground beef, ground turkey, or a combination of both
3/4 cup chopped green onion
1 small green or red sweet pepper, chopped
1/3 cup coarsely shredded carrot
1 can whole tomatoes, with juice
1 can black beans, rinsed
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 T chili powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried basil
shredded cheddar cheese
fresh basil
avocado slices, if you have them

In a large pot, cook ground meat, onion, sweet pepper and carrot, until meat is brown. Drain fat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with shredded cheese, or fresh basil leaves, or avocado, or extra hot sauce. Serves 4.

Lentil Soup

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2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound lentils, rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon cumin
lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley

Place the olive oil in a pan and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, carrot and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes.

Transfer to a crock pot; add the lentils, tomatoes (with juice), paste, broth, cumin and stir to combine.

Cover and cook on low until the lentils are tender, approximately 4 hours. Ladel into bowls and add a splash of lemon juice and some chopped parsley to each serving. This makes a lot of soup, but it freezes well and is wonderful on a cold fall day!

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Fresh Pumpkin Pie

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Pie dough
2 c. pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. grated orange peel (zest)
2 eggs, beaten

Clean and slice pumpkin meat from the rind, then cut into squares and bake in a covered dish at 400 degrees, for about 30 minutes or until pumpkin is very tender (save seeds for another recipe).

Remove and put into a blender and puree.

For Pie: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix 2 cups pumpkin puree with remaining ingredients, pour into pie shell.

Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake another 45 minutes or so, until a toothpick comes out clean.

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I love

strong coffee in the morning
dark chocolate
orange, gold and red
wood stoves
apples
huckleberry pie
sunshine
good books
laughing
fresh bread
clean laundry
the smell of lavender
pillow cases hung in the sun to dry
the color of my children’s hair
Tom’s smile
the way Bennett tells a joke
the way Avery hugs me
the way Carter says “Mom”

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