Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A few easy changes can make cheesecake gluten-free

A few weeks ago I made a very tasty cheesecake that was completely gluten-free.

You might never have considered it, but cheesecake can easily be a special dessert for a person who can't eat gluten--with a few adjustments, that is.

My "foolproof" recipe--the one that doesn't crack and looks pretty calls for 1/4 cup of wheat flour for which I substitute cornstarch. It firms up the cake and makes it much more stable, avoiding those unsightly cracks that can ruin a cheesecake.

For the crust, use gluten-free graham crackers, if you can find them. Another good choice would be crumbling gluten-free cookies and adding about a quarter cup of almond mill and a couple of tablespoons of butter, then bake it.

For my crust, I made some gluten-free vanilla cookes and added crushed almonds and pecans and the butter. It was nice to have a fancy cake that wasn't hard to make at all. With the holiday season almost here, this is a good choice for a very tasty gluten-free alternative that doesn't feel like an alternative.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Making my own tea

Some time ago I purchased my own tea plant, Camellia sinensis from Southern Roots Nursery. I planted my plant with as much care as I knew how, and just before the first frost I made my own cup of tea! I didn't want to waste the handful of small shoots my tree had put out and, of course I was curious. I wondered if my little camellia bush would produce tea.

I don't have any cookbooks that feature recipes on tea growing but I did find some internet guides. Many may realize that tea doesn't come from the tea tree (melaleuca), which can be toxic if ingested in large quantities, but can good for the skin. Black, green and white tea are all made from the Camellia sinensis plant using different processes.

I chose to make green tea since black tea has to be fermented and I didn't think I was up to that. I do like green tea and it seemed easier. The process: Snip off the new shoots and microwave until the shoots become "juicy." Roll in cheesecloth until dry and then heat in a dry skillet for several minutes. Squeeze and repeat this two more times or until the leaves become very dry. Then you have tea.

The handful of leaves that I "harvested" only made one very small pot of tea--enough to make about two cups. I thought the flavor was very much like the green tea I have had in the past and I was kind of impressed with the simplicity of it all. I really like my green tea and hope to make more next year.

The Camellia sinensis is not as showy as the beautiful camellia bushes we are familiar with, here in the south. It is kind of small, with slightly smaller leaves and the blooms are single and small. The leaves are deep green and with the same shiny appearance as other camellias. Actually the bush is kind of small. It is filling out a little and is certainly doing well but this variety is not exceptional for it's blossoms.

I do have seeds that I have harvested from my bush and was kind of surprised when I found them because I read they didn't produce seed until the third year. I am hoping to use them to grow more plants to plant in other places in my landscape. Then I can have my own mini-tea plantation.

I will admit I have purchased Camellia sinensis plants before and wasn't able to sprout the seeds. I hope I will have more success from my own seeds.

I think it's a good start and can't wait to have more tea next year. Maybe more than a pot!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My new teapot

This past weekend I hit a few yard sales in my neighborhood and I picked up this wonderful Bodum Assam Teapot. I love teapots, especially French press teapots and I really love this one.

To me there is nothing like a nice cup of strong black tea with cream and sugar and I wasted no time in washing my new pot and brewing a cup. I wasn't sure this pot was ever used. It was in the box and it looked brand new. I will say I would recommend this pot and brewing system to anyone.

The main reason. There were absolutely no dregs in the pot or in my cup. It was an absolutely perfect filtering system, and I will use it over and over. I have never had such an effective filter for a pot. Also, it was perfect timing because I drink more hot tea in the cooler months and this weekend, the weather was kind of dreary and perfect for tea.

The price? I paid $2--the best investment I have made in a while.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Brussels sprouts

My daughter wrote this about Brussels sprouts and I think it was worth repeating:

I love this little vegetable. When I was a kid, I only liked them because they looked like tiny cabbages, but now I love them for their flavor. 

Usually I stir fry them in olive oil with a little onion and sea salt, but recently I saw  the following status posted on Facebook by my cousin, "Lemme tell you - If you've never had roasted Brussels sprouts, you're doing Brussels sprouts a disservice."

He had me at "roasted."

I love roasted veggies!! Maybe it's for the wonderful taste, or maybe it's because all you have to do is stick them in the oven (or maybe it's a combination of taste *and* laziness), but it's my favorite way to cook them.

His instructions were, "cut then in half, then toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 until they blacken."

As you can see, I went with partially blackened because I was worried the kiddos would be put off by them if they were too dark (hey, when your two-year-old eats brussel sprouts, you do what you must not to put him off).

I needn't have bothered. We all stood around the pan picking out the blackest ones. So wait till they all look like this one:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tailgating with salads

One of my favorite things about fall is tailgating. The excited atmosphere of a crowd gathered to cheer on its favorite team is the perfect pairing to fun, delicious foods. In order to do something a little different - and maybe a little healthier - my mom came up with the idea of individual taco salad cups. It was a big hit!

They turned out quite pretty in clear, plastic cups with their layers topped with tomatoes and a sprig of cilantro.

We layered brown rice flavored with taco seasoning, black beans, chopped green leaf lettuce, chopped scallions, chopped red pepper, grilled chicken cut into small cubes, shredded cheese (use Daiya cheese to make this dairy-free as well), and the garnish mentioned above.

We also added plenty of sides to add-on. Tortilla chips, chopped avocado, guacamole, chopped jalapenos, salsa, and sour cream.

We also had a corn relish with black beans, onions, and peppers of which I didn't manage a picture (I was quite remiss in my picture-taking. I blame it on pre-game jitters). 

Then for desert we had S'mores bars, and you can find the recipe here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Super Fall Plant Sale

It's almost time for fall planting and I can tell you where you can get some top-notch plants that will add the perfect touch to your garden for a fair price, at the perfect planting time.

Just go to the Coweta Extension Greenhouse on Pine Road on Saturday, October 4 and you will find some beautiful trees, shrubs, and plants for your home landscape. These plants have been lovingly planted, watered, and tended by the Coweta Master Gardeners (MGEVs) for this occasion.

Most of the plants have been donated to them by beautiful garden owners all around the county. The Master Gardeners planted them and have lovingly tended them all summer long. I asked one of the tenders how long it takes to water the garden and they said at least three hours. That is true dedication!

I can't begin to list all of the plants that will be available, but they have quite a few Japanese Maples and other nice trees and shrubs. They have both dug plants from gardens and have propagated plants and they will be ready on October 4 to sell you just what you need.

Fall is a great time to plant shrubs, trees and perennials because they will get a great start before cold weather since the rain is usually plentiful at this and their root systems will be well established for winter and spring.

Several great benefits about buying from the MGEVs is that the plants will be very healthy and have been lovingly cared for since being potted. The MGEVs will be able to give you guidance about where in your landscape your new plant should be planted and how to care for your plant. You can also feel good about knowing that the proceeds will go towards scholarships for Coweta graduates.

You can't say any of those things about plants at the big box stores! You will also know that these plants will do well in this area.

I can't wait to get my fall plants. I would LOVE to get a hydrangea. I know they have some but I don't know what kind or how many.

Some advice--get there early. There is usually a line to get in and the best plants (usually the shrubs and trees) will go fast!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Making Pear Preserves

One thing we always loved about summer when growing up in the South, was that you could count on getting plenty of pear preserves when the dog days of summer came along. They were so good!

My mother would peel the pears, cut them in slices and top them with mounds of sugar and let them sit overnight until the pears were watery and the sugar had "melted." Mother would then pour the whole lot into an 8 quart stock pan and let it cook for at least a couple of hours until the pears had reached the perfect golden color. That meant the preserves were ready to can. It also meant that we needed to make buttered biscuits, since the perfect way to serve these preserves is inside a light and fluffy buttermilk biscuit, liberally spread with butter.

I really loved the variety of the pears we used for making preserves. They are not the usual variety we see in the store, but a hard rounder pear that begins green and turns golden when ripe. They were very watery and sweet. They are perfect for canning and of course, preserves.

I believe the old-fashioned pear might be called the Orient pear, Pyrus communis. I am not sure of this, though it does fit the description of these pears. They are somewhat like Asian pears, not quite so round and they are such good producers and not subject to Fire Blight.

The texture is not as good as a Bartlett pear and can be rock hard and even somewhat grainy. When ripe they are a golden brown and will become softer and they ripen but they will remain criper than most pears. They aren't easy to peel and sometimes have hard places in them that I suspect could be insect damage. I always cut that out.

Growing up, we didn't actually have a pear tree in our backyard. We did have a couple of apple trees, including a crab apple tree that was also good for climbing; a peach tree that never produced anything; a wonderful pomegranate tree that was a good producer; and a persimmon tree that, when eaten prematurely, could actually make you pucker. I don't know why we didn't have a pear tree, but it might have been because my grandmother had one so we didn't need one, but that is where we got our pears.

My mother-in-law has a pear tree that is around 50 years old and is about 40 feet tall. I can remember that in years past, the tree limbs would be so heavy with pears that they would almost touch the ground. The tree is now so tall that we can't get all the fruit unless it falls to the ground. This was a good year for that tree because we have made quite a few jars of pear preserves and pear sauce.

To make my Mother's recipe, peel, core and thinly slice enough Orient pears to fill a heavy 8 quart stock pan. Cover with approximately three pounds of sugar. (You don't have to be exact for this to be good.) Lighter pans can tend to stick on the bottom. Cook on medium heat for two to three hours, uncovered. After that, you need to fill approximately 8 pint jars with the mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Clean off the jar rims. Add new lids and rings to the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. If you have any leftover preserves, store them in the refrigerator. You might have excess juice left, which is very good on pancakes or can be used as a simple syrup in teas or anytime simple syrup is recommended.

While you are waiting for the jars to cool, make some biscuits, because you will certainly need them.