Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Best light mayonnaise

Duke's Mayonnaise is the best. I grew up with Blue Plate and Kraft Mayo but over time I have found that you just can't beat Duke's Mayonnaise for flavor.

I had always been one to turn my nose up at low-fat versions of mayonnaise because I felt that giving up the calories was not worth what I sacrificed in flavor. My choice was just to use less. That worked sometimes.

But, I recently tried Duke's Light Mayonnaise and I can honestly say for the first time, that I just can't tell the difference. I am shocked and a little freaked out by my discovery but I use this light mayonnaise in everything and I like it just as well! When I have the choice between the regular Duke's and the light, I will use the light every time -- half the calories and all the flavor? There is no decision. I reach for the light.

Why is it so important to me right now? It is the season for tomato sandwiches. A few days ago I tried the light mayo on a home-grown tomato sandwich (from my garden) and it was wonderful. Thanks Duke's. You have made my summer lunchtimes treats healthier and every bit as good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Decadent, gluten-free brownie cupcakes

Last weekend, we made a great discovery. We decided to make cupcakes for our 6-year-old's pirate birthday party. My daughter shopped for a gluten-free cake mix but could only find a Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Brownie Mix. Since we had used it before for brownies, we decided it could work to make cupcakes. There really weren't too many alternatives. They were out of the regular cake mix and we didn't have a really good gluten-free scratch cake recipe so we used the brownie mix instead.

It turned out even better than we had expected. We expected they would at least be OK but they were moist, rich and SO delicious. In addition to being easy to make they were amazingly good. With the addition of a dairy-free frosting, we made a dessert that was very good yummy and gluten-free.

It even "fooled" our guests who were probably not expecting us to serve them a gluten-free treat. (Of course, we didn't tell anyone. When you tell people that the food is gluten-free, you always get a few who don't like it just because they know it is different!) All the kids liked the cupcakes and the adults raved over them.

It was a very nice pirate birthday party. My husband liked them so much that he decided he wanted the same recipe for his upcoming birthday.

Here's the recipe. We made 24 cupcakes which took two brownie mixes.

Decadent Gluten-free, Dairy-free Chocolate Cupcakes

2 Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Brownie Mixes
Follow the directions on the back of the package, but substitute 3/4 cup of vegetable oil for the butter or margarine. You will also add an egg and water.
Spoon batter into 24 cupcake liners placed into muffin pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until cupcakes are done. They need to be firm when pressed but not overcooked. Allow to cool fully before frosting. With a decorator's bag, pipe frosting onto the top of cupcakes. The finished cupcakes don't have to be refrigerated.

Dairy-free Chocolate Frosting

3/4 cup vegan margarine
2 pounds Confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
Approximately 1/2 cup almond milk

Cream margarine in a mixer. Add Confectioner's sugar and mix (mixture will be crumbly). Add 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring. Add 1/4 cup almond milk and mix in almond milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until creamy and stiff enough to set up but thin enough to spoon into a decorator's bag and pipe onto the tops of the cupcakes. All of the almond milk doesn't have to be used. Serves 24.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A recommendation: A gluten-free brownie mix

Bob's Red Mill products are generally very good, especailly for health- and diet-conscious people. They make a number of whole grain products that are available at most local grocery stores.

One Bob's Red Mill product I would like to recommend is the Gluten-free Brownie Mix. It has a rich chocolate and moist cake texture and the ingredients include Ghirardelli cocoa which definitely makes it a good choice for chocoholics. The quick and easy recipe calls for butter or margarine but we use oil which I think makes the recipe even better. It also calls for an egg but I am sure even this ingredient could be substituted if eggs are a problem.

For a gluten-free product, this is the best we have found and we use it often.

Tomorrow I will tell you how we used it to make a decadent, unbelievably good gluten-free dessert.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Fried Green Tomato Dish

We enjoy using green tomatoes this time of year. It is so hard to wait for them to ripen. They are very good when used  in a pan-fried dish like this one. Green tomatoes are a southern favorite and are especially good when you cook them up in an iron skillet. The skillet aids in browning. I usually serve mine in the iron skillet, too because it holds the heat quite well.

Normally I use flour and cornmeal to dredge the vegetables but this works well without the wheat. You can use only cornmeal but I think millet is a great addition to a vegetable medley. The flavors of green tomatoes and zucchini go very well together.

Gluten-free Fried Green Tomato Veggie Medley

2 medium zucchini squashes, sliced and chopped into quarters
1 shallot, chopped
2 green tomatoes, chopped
2 cups potatoes, with peels, chopped into cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pure cornmeal (no flour) and 1/2 cup millet
1/8 cup olive oil

Chop vegetables and mix together. Salt and pepper vegetables. Dredge in cornmeal and millet mixture. Add oil to a large iron skillet and heat on medium high until a small amount of vegetable mixture sizzles in the pan. Pour dredged vegetables into the pan and allow to brown and turn periodically until browned and tender. Serves 6.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gluten Free Loaf Bread

When the doctor said our 6 year old grandson might have a wheat allergy, we went out and bought a loaf of gluten-free bread at the grocery store and it was SO terrible. It was made mostly from tapioca flour and honestly it had a slimy feel in my mouth. It was inedible, especially by our 6-year-old. Later we tried some decent looking buns for hamburgers and they were equally bad. We couldn't find anything he would eat. Honestly we couldn't blame him. The bread was terrible!

My daughter set out to make something he could eat. It was hard to get something that worked. After a couple of tries, she found a recipe he loved -- and something that would hold together to make a sandwich. 
Gluten is one of those things that gives the bread that lovely texture most of us love. Potato starch can give a pretty good texture but it is not as healthy as most whole-grain flours. One grain that my daughter has used for tender muffins that rise well and seemed to be a promising candidate for yeast bread was garbanzo bean or chick pea flour. It has an exceptional texture, so a loaf made mostly from garbanzo bean flour with a smaller amount of potato flour was something she thought would make a healthier yeast bread loaf.

And it was very successful. It is good for toast and for sandwiches. Most of the other recipes were too brittle or flaky for sandwich bread. Our 6-years-old loves it. It has really helped since she found this recipe because giving up regular bread was very discouraging for him until she came up with this bread recipe

Gluten-Free Loaf Bread

Yeast mixture:
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1-1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup potato starch/flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix 1/2 cup warm water with yeast and honey in a glass measuring cup. Stir until dissolved, and let sit for around 10 minutes. Allow this yeast mixture to sit until it "bubbles." Meanwhile, stir or sift the next five ingredients in a mixing bowl. 
Add the yeast-honey-water mixture into the dry ingredients along with the remaining water and oil. Stir with a spoon until all ingredients are well mixed and there are no clumps (3-5 minutes). Cover with a cloth and place in warm location to rise -- about 1 hour. 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After an hour has passed, pour the batter into a loaf pan that is greased or coated with cooking spray. Stir just a little, and allow one more rising for 15-20 minutes, or until the loaf reaches the desired size. 
Place in the oven and bake approximately 25 minutes until the top is a nice golden brown.

A couple of nights ago my husband asked if I would like for him to make a cucumber and tomato salad and I will admit that I was little surprised. Even though he is a great grill-cook and sometimes a good baker, he hasn't really been one to try new recipes of the vegetable variety. That is usually my domain.

Of course I immediately said yes and he made a wonderful salad with cucumbers from our garden. He actually got this simple recipe from our daughter-in-law last week while I was out of town. If you like balsamic vinegar like I do, you will love this salad. It is a little different and adds a more complex flavor, but if you don't like balsamic vinegar, try apple cider vinegar. Both will be good, but I think the balsamic vinegar adds a little extra punch to the flavors of the tomatoes and cukes. This would be even better if more of our garden tomatoes had been ripe.

This is a very simple recipe and took only minutes to prepare. My husband peeled some of the cucumbers and didn't peel others. I asked him why and he said he really didn't have an answer. He kind of likes them peeled. I guess you should prepare them the way you like, as he did!

Easy Cucumber and Tomato Salad

2 cup cucumbers, cut into cubes
1 cup tomatoes, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut cucumbers and tomatoes into cubes. Put in a bowl or serving dish. Add salt and pepper, then pour vinegar and oil over ingredients. This recipe tastes good the next day, too.

The balsamic vinegar will make the vegetables turn a bit dark over time. I am not bothered by this but it might not look as pretty if serving to guests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A few garden views

This week I haven't been able to go to the garden at all so my sister sent me these very nice photos via cell phone. I will admit that I have been a bit worried about the garden since we haven't had enough rain and the temperatures have been higher than normal.

Our pole beans are doing well and our bok choy has gone to seed. That is good since we planted this from seed from last year. It's so nice to be able to grow some of our own seeds. We will try to do this with our tomatoes this year and will hope it works as well.

These tomatoes are from our Jubilee tomato plants and I am really surprised because the last time I was in the garden we only had blooms. These will be nice and yellow -- a variety we haven't tried.

My sister does have help when I'm not there. Two of her helpers are Tia, at left and Todd, right. Their help is mostly of the "keeping her company" variety. They are very good for that but I don't think they work overly hard in the garden. I do think Todd has helped out by chasing away geese.

This is another look at the corn and some of the squash. My sister has done a great job keeping the garden watered and debugged while I was away. Thanks sis. I love you!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Garden surprises

When we first started planting a garden several years ago, we just thought everything would grow just like the photo on the seed pack, but that just didn't happen. We had immediate success with some things like green beans, and then there were other things, like broccoli that just never seemed to mature and grow for us. It just immediately went to seed and produced a few little loose tops -- never enough to eat.

Later, we found that things like broccoli and Brussels sprouts had to be planted in the fall (in Georgia) if you wanted to produce a harvest. We didn't find out about that until this year. We did plant some Brussels sprouts and we just gave up on them. I haven't even looked at them for awhile. I don't think I have fertilized them or sprayed for worms or anything for some time. I just assumed we wouldn't have them this year. Good try but it just wasn't our year. We planned to plant more this fall and baby them through the winter for a good spring crop.

That is why I was totally surprised when my husband sent me this photo of our Brussels sprouts. I guess even though the conditions aren't perfect, you just can't stop some things from growing, if they want to grow. I don't think we are "supposed" to have them. We did plant plants, rather than seed in the early spring and I know they do take a long time to mature. I was just shocked that after the very warm weather, that we had anything like this at all.

I don't think we will have as many as if we had planted them earlier and I also don't think they will be as large before they seed, but I am very encouraged. What do I know? From what I have read, they aren't supposed to produce in a heat wave. Perhaps we are doing some things right to have something we aren't supposed to have. I am very thankful for this little surprise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why life should be like T-Ball

I had the opportunity of going to a number of my little grandsons T-ball games this year. While I was sitting in the stands, cheering him on, I thought how nice it would be -- just occasionally, if life was a little more like T-ball.

Here are the reasons why.

1) You always get to play. No one gets out and you run the bases every time.

2) No one loses in T-ball. No one is there to keep score. It really does only matter that you play the game and not if you win.

3) If you get nervous about batting or fielding, a parent or adult will stand beside you all the way to tell you how to hit the ball or when to pick the ball up and throw it to first base.

4) If you get distracted by an airplane or want to throw your glove up in the air and catch it, no one yells at you. In fact they just think you are cute.

5) If you fall down, you don't get anything worse than a carpet burn because the field is carpeted and padded.

6) If you do get a boo-boo, either your mom or the coach will kiss it and make it feel better. Even if it is between home and first base.

7) Everyone, on both sides is cheering you on. People don't yell at you just because you aren't on their team. You regularly hear those encouraging words, "Good job."

8) Every player gets to keep their uniforms and wear them wherever they go until they outgrow them.

9) At the end of each game, you get a snack.

10) Everyone gets a trophy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The East Washington Street Garden

Every day when I go to work, I drive down East Washington Street. Very recently, I noticed that alongside the road there is a small corn, watermelon and pepper garden. It is just off the pavement and along the side of the road beside an embankment. It is very simple -- just a row of corn with some melons and peppers planted here and there.

What I noticed the last couple of days, besides the fact that the corn looks very healthy in this hot weather, is a "Corn" Santa is guarding the little garden. It looks like an old Santa, or at least an elf standing guard over the corn, protecting it from critters, I suppose.

He might be a Santa that has fulfilled his purpose in December and is looking out for children the rest of the year by saying "Eat your vegetables, please." He hasn't chosen a very hard task because corn and melons are pretty popular with the young (and young at heart).

The watermelon vines certainly do look good. I think a good harvest is very likely.

I am just amazed by someone who isn't limited by space. No room for a traditional garden? You, too could make it happen in a little strip of sunlight along a busy road. That is ingenuity, determination and ...

should be an inspiration for anyone who doesn't have the space, or the time ... but does have imagination.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Beets, a nutritional vegetable and great memories

Beets are a new vegetable for us this year. Well, we have planted beets before, but we really did not have enough to do anything with. But -- this year we have had enough fresh beets to cook for a couple of meals. I am not sure I have found the best recipe for cooking them. I just stewed them in a little water and added salt, pepper and a little butter.

I know we will grow them next year but I will be on the lookout for new ways to prepare them. I think pickled beets might be a great idea, and I would like to find new side dish recipes. Because of the deep color, I am sure beets are nutritional gold -- a healthy thing to add to my diet.

Years back, I spent a couple of years in the Red River Valley of the North, one of the most fertile farming areas in the world. The first year we were there during harvest time, the roads were swarming with huge dump trucks filled with sugar beets.

There was a sugar beet factory very close to where we lived and the dump trucks carried so many loads of sugar beets that the roads were littered with beets falling from the trucks on the way to the factory.

The piles of beets outside the factory looked like small mountain ranges. As I went to work each day I passed the factory and watched as front end loaders constantly transferred the diminishing piles of beets to the factory for processing. It is an experience I will never forget.

The beets were very large and mostly white -- and white on the inside.

I know my beets aren't the same variety, but I think of those sugar beets every time I grow or eat beets of any color. If you know of a great beet recipe, I would love to try it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A pictorial garden tour

On Saturday we went to the garden to work for awhile and during that time I took a few photos. These were with my cellphone -- not the perfect camera for photos like these, but I think you can tell that the garden is coming along nicely, even with the lower resolution camera. I do seem to be having some issues with the blog spot photo entry software so I hope you can see the photos as I intended.

I am quite pleased with our garden so far this summer. We are beginning to get a few squash, cucumbers and even an almost ripe tomato. If the weather would just cool down a few degrees and we would get more rain, things would be perfect. Things really do look lush and green.

Our green beans are now running over the top of the poles and we are beginning to see blooms. Very pretty, I think.

We have recently fertilized and have been dusting with diotomaceous earth to prevent beetles from getting a stronghold.

The cucumbers are growing like crazy. They are responding to the really hot weather and I hope we get some rain soon because I hate to get thin cukes that balloon on one end because they suddenly get rain. I have already made a gallon of sour pickles and have had enough for salads and snacking.

The hot peppers have grown even more than I thought they would. We planted some cow horn peppers for my husband and I think they will grow quite tall. I don't have any experience with them -- until now.

We have a nice row of okra coming up, at left and the bok choy still looks pretty good. We do have another row of okra that is just planted but they haven't peeked through yet. The hot weather is really great for these okra plants. They love it. I don't think I have ever seen a plant that thrives so in hot weather. The only negative about okra is that deer really, really love it. Good thing they hate our electric fence. I am hoping for a good stand of okra in the next several weeks -- maybe even enough okra to harvest a bit.

It is a hard to see but the plants at the back are my spaghetti squash. I really love them. They are just putting on the second leaves at this point but should really shoot up and catch up with the other plants.

I think our corn and squash is really looking good. They would benefit from more rain but we will hopefully water them enough while waiting for rainfall.

The yellow squash plants are not as dark as the zucchini. I think zucchini is a really attractive plant and so far so good on the squash. We are looking for bugs all the time and things look good right now.

This is one of the different squashes we planted. I don't remember exactly which one it is. I know we will know soon. I love the coloring of the leaves. I think it is a kind of zucchini.

This should be our acorn squash. Acorns are one of my favorites, especially in the winter.

We planted a cherry tomato bed and it looks very good. We have red, black and purple.

I do like our tomatoes and peppers. We have a new staking system this year.

My husband found some six foot hardwood stakes with holes drilled in them on clearance at Tractor Supply. We tied wire at the top and bottom of the stakes that we put on the end of each bed and another stake in the center. We tied the strings to the bottom wire and then wound the string around the tomato trip and tied the other end of the string around the wire at the top.

The indeterminate tomatoes were staked this way. The determinate varieties are mostly caged.

Greenhouses stake their tomatoes largely this way and so far I really like it. You must pinch off the suckers so that there are not too many branches. Seems sturdy enough and I am hoping it works well to keep the tomatoes off the ground.

And the last thing would be our cantaloupes and watermelons. The cantaloupes are very small plants and the watermelon have just been planted so I can only show you dirt where they are.

Pretty good. I am just praying for rain.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Recipe Redo: Lasagna -- Cheesy, Gluten-free Lasagna

Here's a recipe that is dairy-free and gluten-free AND believe it or not, really delicious. This is not a vegan recipe because we used ground turkey to satisfy a 5-year old who eats spinach plain, but prefers not to see flecks of vegetables in his other food. I will be working on a vegan version and will blog about it at a later time.

The cheesy sauce contains nutritional yeast which has a cheesy flavor. That is what makes even the pickiest eaters in my family like this dish. This recipe contains a cup of cashews which can be bad for those with tree nut allergies. The cashews add most of the fat in this dish. There isn't as much saturated fat as regular lasagna, but it is not a low-fat dish.

"Cheesy" Lasagna 
(gluten-free and dairy-free)

2 pounds ground turkey
1  26-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce (wheat-free)
1 recipe of Cheesy Sauce (recipe follows)
1 10-ounce package of soaked brown rice lasagna noodles (we prefer Tinkyada, but use DeBoles when we can't find Tinkyada noodles)
1/2 cup water
1 cup Daiya mozzarella-style shredded soy cheese

Make one recipe of "Cheesy Sauce." This sauce can be made up to several days beforehand and stored in the refrigerator until ready for use.

Don't cook the rice noodles beforehand. Instead, lay the noodles in a dish and cover with boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. While the noodles are soaking, brown the turkey in a non-stick pan. Add spaghetti sauce and cook for about eight minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Noodles should be partially softened and the lasagna is ready to be assembled. In a 9 x 13 pan, pour 1/3 of the turkey mixture and top with noodles and then 1/2 of the Cheesy Sauce. Repeat layers until all is used up. Finish with mozzarella-style shredded soy cheese. Pour 1/2 cup of water around the edges of the assembled lasagna.

Cover with foil and back at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Top and sides will be slightly browned.

Cool for 10 minutes and cut into squares. This also warms well in the microwave.

Cheesy Sauce 

2 cups water
1 cup cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (large flake, non-gmo)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1-1/2 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients into a high-powdered blender jar and blend on high for 2 minutes. Pour mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook on medium until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and cool before storing in refrigerator. Keeps for several days. This is a good cheese sauce substitute.

Prized cabbages

While I am on the subject of cabbages, I had to show you the ones we picked over the weekend. The one above is the largest we had and it easily weighed well over five pounds. It was firm, the leaves were very tight and it is the best cabbage we have ever grown in our garden.

 I don't think it was quite the size of a basketball, but close. The cabbage on the right is our prized cabbage without the outside leaves. The one on the left is large, too, but not nearly as large as the one on the right.

My sister used this huge cabbage to make an enormous bowl of delicious slaw to go with the fish fry we had over the weekend. The ingredients, grated cabbage, carrots and onions from the garden, celery seed, lemon juice, salt and pepper and lots of Duke's mayonnaise.

I think I am bragging a little about our giant cabbage but I also think, anyone would want to show it off if they had struggled in the past few years, to have any cabbages at all.

We did do a few things differently this year. First, we planted early. The cabbage plants were in the ground by mid-February. We fertilized with a more balanced fertilizer and we sprayed often with BT or bacillus thuringiensis which did seem to keep the worms at bay when the weather became warm. We also mulched the cabbages and I think that was a factor as well.

The best thing -- it is an organic cabbage.