Sunday, May 31, 2009

Serious summer business

Now that summer is really here and the rain seems to have stopped for awhile, it is time to talk about one of the most important rituals of summer -- grilling. My husband is definitely the "Grill-Master" of our family. He grills almost anything I ask him to grill and that is really nice. Sometimes it works out and sometimes we say, "never again."

One of the most successful items he grills is not steak, hamburger or chicken but the lowly potato. My son (who is equally serious as my husband about grilling) actually introduced us to this method and it was a great hit and is a dish we often serve. I always hated to cook potatoes in the oven on hot days, so often we wouldn't bother with them, but grilling potatoes is easy and keeps things cool.

Anyway, the potatoes are easy. Just wash them well and dry them. Tear off heavy duty tin foil and tear those pieces in half, if needed, to fit the size of your potatoes.

Next, place them in a shallow dish and drizzle olive oil over the potatoes. Rub the oil on all the potatoes and then coat them with coarse salt. My husband doesn't use too much salt and likes to pour the salt on over the dish so that the salt falls on the other potates.

He then rolls them in tin foil and places them on the top rack of a preheated grill set on low. He usually cooks them for 15 to 30 minutes or until they are soft, when pressed. The time will vary, depending on your grill but the last 10 minutes or so of the cooking can be done while you are grilling other things, if your grill has a top rack.

If you don't have a top rack, place them on the regular grill rack, but you have to watch them more closely because they can become hard on the outside edges -- sort of like in restaurants. The salt on the outside of the potato skins is very good and these potatoes are really fluffy and creamy. You can use russet potatoes or red potatoes but remember that it doesn't take nearly as long as baking in the oven.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Oat Muffins with no wheat, milk or eggs

Earlier in the week I promised to give you the muffin recipe for those who have many common allergies. No recipe can cover all allergies but this one takes care of the most troubling ones. Some people feel that oats have small amounts of gluten and others say they are gluten-free. I think you should just use a flour you know you can tolerate.

The reason these muffins can be made without eggs is because of the arrowroot powder. It helps the muffins stick together and gives them a better texture.

Other substitutions: soy, rice or almond milk can be used instead of the juice; 3 dates, microwaved in a little water, peeled and mashed, can be used instead of the honey; applesauce is a good substitute for the bananas; try buckwheat, amaranth or another low/no-gluten flour, instead of oats.

Any kind of oil may be used. I used olive oil but I wouldn't recommend canola oil because it can cause allergy problems, too. If you rotate the ingredients, it is less likely you will develop new allergies. Of course peanuts and pecans are problems for many people but walnuts are often tolerated by those who have common allergies.

And if you want to add an egg, go ahead. Just use a little less juice. Eggs can be good for you -- unless you are allergic.

Oat Muffins

2 1/4 cups oat flour
1 cup juice (apple, pineapple, grape or cranberry)
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 banana, mashed
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Microwave wet ingredients, except banana for 30 seconds. Mix all together just until ingredients are wet. Grease 10 to 12 muffins and bake at 400 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. Makes 10 to 12 muffins.

To keep muffins from getting soggy, turn on their sides and allow to cool.

They are good hot and I like to use butter or margarine and a little jelly to make them really yummy. Are they as good as wheat muffins? Maybe not, but you will get use to the pleasant taste of oats (which is a little sweeter than wheat) and you won't have those annoying stomach cramps. It will be worth it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Does our garden make us "green?"

When we decided to plant a garden this year, we really didn't do it to be politically correct. We just thought it would be nice to have fresh organic produce without having to pay high prices. It was obvious when we went to purchase seeds and plants that we were not alone in what we were doing. In fact, there were literally hordes of people surrounding every plant and seed aisle I visited.

I knew when I heard the news that Michelle Obama was planning to plant a White House vegetable garden that it must be a factor, but I didn't realize it was going to start such a trend.

Today I decided to compare my garden to our first family's garden but I just could not find any photos of their progress. What a disappointment. I found the official White House photo of the first lady and the fifth graders who began the project on March 20, (see official White House photo above) but I just couldn't find any recent photos.

I decided to show my progress in hopes they would be willing to show theirs. I would think the White House vegetable garden should have less weeds than mine and I can't believe they only have fifth graders coming over after school to help out. Probably the gardeners on staff provide some help, wouldn't you think?

Above, my tomatoes are looking great!

My squash plants are getting huge.

The herb beds are looking very mature, and my squash now has blooms! Maybe I do have a green thumb!

OK Michelle, it's your turn!

Angel Food Cake with Praline Pudding Sauce

On yesterday's blog I gave you the recipe for Angel Food Cake. Today I am adding the recipes for Banana Praline Sauce and the pudding topping. My family really enjoys this dessert. It tastes a bit like old fashioned banana pudding on angel food cake and you don't get the trans fats from the vanilla wafers.

Brown Sugar Vanilla Pudding

2 cups skim milk
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoons butter

In medium saucepan mix all ingredients except vanilla extract and butter. Stir until pudding begins to boil and thicken. If you stop stirring, the pudding will stick to the bottom. After pudding has thickened, remove from heat, stir in vanilla and butter. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Banana Praline Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
3 bananas, sliced

Melt butter in saute pan. Add sugar and cooking on medium high heat until the sugar and butter are bubbling, stirring constantly. Stir in whipping cream and remove from heat. Add the vanilla flavoring. Keep warm until served. Before serving, stir in sliced bananas.

Over angel food cake, spoon on Banana Praline Sauce. Top with Brown Sugar Vanilla Pudding.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A cookbook full of memories

Here is a cookbook that can take you back. At least that's what it does for me. Many of the dishes I remember fondly as a child came either from a grandmother, or the back of a box or package. Some time ago, I ran across this book and found that thumbing through the pages is definitely like watching an episode of the Andy Griffith Show.

Now that summer is upon us, I wanted to share my favorite recipe from Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars, by Cecil Dyer. This recipe was originally given to me by my mother-in-law from the back of a Swans Down flour box and I bake it often when eggs are reasonably priced, as they are now.

This cake always gets rave reviews because it is moister, and tastier than the grocery store variety. It's great with strawberries and whipped cream, plus there is no fat in this cake and that makes it a great choice for summer. I do want to caution you about one thing. DO NOT make this cake during a rain storm. The moisture in the air can cause it to fall or become spongy. Otherwise, it is surprisingly easy to make.

Swans Down Angel Food Cake

1 cups sifted Swans Down cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
1 1/2 cups (about 12) egg whites (at room temperature)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Sift flour with 1/2 cup sugar four times.

Combine egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and flavorings in large bowl. Beat on high speed of electric mixer until soft peaks begin to form.

Add 1 1/3 cups sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. With mixer on lowest setting, add flour mixture in four additions.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and invert pan until cake is cold. Loosen cake from pan by running a knife around the edges and center. Turn out of pan onto a serving plate.

There are so many ways to serve this cake. One of my favorites is with a Banana Praline Pudding sauce topping.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My most unusual cookbook

Most of you have quite a few cookbooks, just like I do. Today, I would like to share my most unusual cookbook. It is also one that I often use. The Complete Food Allergy Cookbook: The Foods You've Always Loved Without the Ingredients You Can't Have!, by Marilyn Gioannini lives up to it's title and is really helpful for those of us who are tired of endlessly reading the labels of products in the grocery store health food aisle, only to discover that one or two of the ingredients wouldn't do for an allergic relative.

The author begins by telling how she suffered from multiple food allergies and felt she couldn't eat anything. She tells you how to go on an elimination diet to determine what foods are bothering you. She then explains how to go on a rotation diet to help prevent you from developing food allergies or stop further allergies.

One of the things I like are the lists of common food allergies and the related foods that can also cause problems. It also introduced me to unfamiliar grains and foods that rarely cause food allergies. Many are on my list to try.

The book includes great recipes for the problems of gluten-free flours, such as oat and rice flours. Through research and testing, she has found many ways to help the gluten-free flours have a better texture and consistency. You can even make muffins that have no wheat, milk, corn, eggs or any of the normal things that cause allergies -- and they taste surprisingly good.

In fact, many of the recipes are surprisingly good. Some recipes may take a little practice but I can see how it is possible to have allergies and have fairly normal meals. Plus, you can save tons of money by making things yourself. Have you priced gluten-free food lately?

Next week I will share an edible muffin recipe for a person with multiple allergies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm blogging about lettuce?

I know. Lettuce just seems so boring, but when you harvest a really nice head of Buttercrunch lettuce and then make and eat a salad made with it less than an hour after you picked it -- surely that makes it a little more exciting than just any ordinary head of lettuce. At least I think so.

One of the reasons I am able to harvest lettuce now (and I really planted it a little late) is that the weather has been so mild this year. I doubt my lettuce will last too much longer so I will enjoy it as long as possible.

I am thinking it would be very good with a little basil vinegrette.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: stevia

As I was admiring my friend, Kim's beautiful pots of fresh herbs, she asked if I had any suggestions about how to use them. I think many of us would ask that question. Herbs are beautiful to grow and using them can add unexpected flavor to your everyday dishes.

I have decided to share from time to time how I use the herbs I grow. I am sure you could add some suggestions, so please feel free to comment about how you use them. I will try your suggestions, posting the best ones here on my blog.

Today, I would like to share how I use stevia and mint.

Stevia is the low-calorie sugar substitute you can buy in the store (usually in the health food section) to sweeten beverages. That is exactly what this herb will do. I use it all the time in my tea and I really prefer it to the dried and packaged version. Last year you couldn't find this anywhere, but this year they carry it at both Lowe's and Home Depot.

If you chew a leaf, you will find that the flavor is very sweet.

To sweeten tea, I steep crushed leaves along with my loose tea or tea bag and strain the tea into a teacup. The tea has a pleasant, sweet flavor. Here I used Republic of Tea's Double matcha green tea and two large leaves. (I think as the weather gets hotter, this herb gets sweeter. You will need to experiment until you find the number of crushed leaves you need to suit your taste.)

After this, I often add mint to give the tea a little extra flavor. I don't mind if the mint leaves float in my tea, but they do turn dark in really hot water. This sweetener is healthy, sweet AND cheap when you grow it yourself.

Coming in a later blog -- more about mint.

How does our garden grow?

We've had rain and sun. We've fertilized and sprayed insect spray. We have pulled weeds and we feel pretty good about our garden, so far.

Our main garden is looking pretty good. The green beans have grown so rapidly that we have already had to put up poles for them to climb. We knew we were growing some exceptional beans because as soon as we put the poles up, they immediately began climbing them. We feel like very proud parents!

The squash and tomatoes are almost ready to begin producing fruit. I would say another couple of weeks and we should at least have squash blooms. There is one very small green tomato and a tiny, tiny bell pepper but nothing major, yet. We had to replant the pinto beans and the butterpeas but they were peeking out of the ground before a week was over.

Then the weather became cooler. Growing has slowed a bit. Most things look good but our corn -- not so great. We are not ready to show photos of our corn garden. We need to give it some time.

One thing we have already begun to harvest are the herbs. First, stevia and mint for my tea. I can't wait to try it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In praise of summer days

I am sure I will be wishing for an end to warm weather before summer is over, but I think after all the rainy and cool days, most of us are wishing for a little bit of summer.

I searched my archive of photos to show you a picture of the perfect summer day.

Above, Riley and Granddaddy

As we begin to plan for vacations, pool openings and picnics in the park, I want to wish you the perfect summer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Work hard, and then you wait

Our upper garden. The water source and great soil make this spot perfect.

When you plant a garden, there are a number of things to do before you begin.

1. Plan
Decide what you would like to plant and go for it. You might find some surprises at the seed store. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Draw your garden plot on a large piece of paper and lay out where your plants will go beforehand.

Now would be a great time to start a garden journal. Choose a notebook or scrapbook and keep detailed notes. You can use the information in the future. Even though you think you will remember, the details can get fuzzy over time. Photos are also a big help. There are some very good garden journals you can buy to get you started. One I would recommend is Katherine McCall's, A Record of the Garden 2009.

It might also benefit you to have a couple of gardening books. The internet can provide some good information, too.

2. Prepare the soil

Either use a tiller, hire someone to plow or prepare your raised beds.

3. Gather tools, supplies and seeds or plants

We had some leftover seeds and we bought some plants. We planted all of the usual things - tomatoes, peppers, green beans, eggplants, lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, cucumbers, okra, butter beans, butter peas, summer squash, winter squash, melons, corn, pumpkins and potatoes. We may add a thing or two before it is over.

The tools I used included a hoe, a hand fork or trowel, water. I didn't apply fertilizer because I had already applied manure to the rows before planting.

Above, our corn and melon garden.

4. Work like crazy until things are planted

Tired and sore? Yes, but ... you have a garden!

5. Wait until your garden grows
It usually takes about a week before you see anything and then suddenly, everything happens and you are ready for the final step.

6. Nurturing

Don't believe that "Mother Nature" will take care of your garden for you. The sun and rain are great, but if you leave it alone from this point on, your garden is toast! You have to take care of it like it is your child. Water, nourishment, protection from bugs and wildlife, and then there is the weeding.

Thankfully, the end result is rewarding or people might decide not to bother. One seed produces a lot of tasty treats and it really is cheaper, fresher and tastier than buying from the store.

Tia, our garden mascot. She inspects everything as we plant.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

2009: The year of the garden

I have decided that 2009 is obviously the year of the garden because everyone I've talked to has either planted one or is somewhere in the process. My sister, my husband and I have decided to join the crowd and have a garden, too. I really wanted to have a lasagna garden but I was overruled, for a good reason.

My father had a garden in the same spot before he passed away over a decade ago and then my sister gardened there when she wasn't too busy with work. I must admit it is the perfect place because it comes with a water supply and great soil left over from the years my dad toiled over it.

Actually it was a delight to him so we were determined to find the same delight he had as we began our task and I believe we all feel a sense of carrying on the tradition he started.

We gathered all our tools and purchased the seeds and plants. I had to have a new garden hat and found the perfect one with a handy, adjustable chin strap.

We began with our herb garden beds because you need those for the great summer vegetables we intend to cook. We included rosemary, mint, thyme, stevia, basil, chives, sage, catnip and then planted a row of leeks behind each bed. We dug out the beds and replaced it with potting soil, peat moss and some natural fertilizer.

Then we added the plants and watered from the nearby lake and voila! We have a garden AND have continued a legacy.

Next ... planting the main garden.