Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saving Heirloom tomato seeds

This past weekend we saw so many heirloom tomatoes on sale. I think you can find heirlooms almost anywhere these days. We bought one of the large, yellow tomatoes called Mr. Stripey, a beefsteak tomato that is primarily yellow with red stripes on the end. It is a low acid tomato and we liked this tomato so much that we bought one to save the seed for next year.

Saving seeds from a vegetable or flower plant is usually very simple. I sliced the tomato and then picked out the seeds. The tomato, I saved for later. No need to waste a perfectly good tomato! The seeds are put in a wire strainer and then washed with a slow stream underneath the faucet. I don't think you really need to wash the seeds off but, I do because my father always did.

I then pour the seeds onto a paper towel and spread them out to air dry.

Above is how they look after drying overnight. I might let them dry another day or so to make sure the moisture is gone and I will then scrape them off the paper towel and save them in a plastic bag in a cool, dry place, or the refrigerator, marked with the name of the seed. I will then get them out and plant the seeds around January or February. That is it. Much cheaper than a package of seeds and I don't usually see this variety.

I also dried some Cherokee Purple seeds. An old variety grown by the Cherokee Indians, according to what I have read.

I have generally heard it is best save only heirloom seeds, but recently I read that while it is the best practice to follow for most vegetables, tomatoes might be an exception to that rule. You could save seeds from any variety and it might be a bit different from the original, especially if it is from a hybrid tomato, but the fruit might not be that different. If you really like the tomato, it might be worth a try. You may get something really different, of course, so I would recommend it only as a test, but I am thinking about trying it.

Heirloom seeds can vary a bit, too. Pollination plays a big part in what next year's crop will be. It might be a good idea, if you want your seed to remain true to the original, to place them in a spot far away from other tomatoes.

Since I am often a little too optimistic, I am hoping for a great new variety I will like even more.

Another thing to consider -- seeds that flourish in one planting zone, don't always flourish in a different one. I will have to wait until next year to see how Mr. Stripey's do in this area, rather than the mountains, but I love large, yellow meaty tomatoes so this could be great for me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Visiting Knoxville's Market Square

I have been on I-75 that passes through Knoxville, Tennessee a number of times but it has never been a destination for me until this past weekend. It is the scene of an obviously vital and growing city that is embracing new things while still holding on to the important cultural gems of the past. They are obvious animal lovers and appreciate their large farming community -- just north of the Blue Ridge mountains and south of the Cumberlands. When we arrived, we saw a bustling downtown district that was a perfect mix of old and new.

We walked a block over to Market Square, the home of a bi-weekly Farmer's Market and saw tents and vendors of all kinds catering to the gathering crowds. This is the site of the International Biscuit Festival each May, for art shows and downtown entertainment. Our first sights and sounds were of art shops, trendy restaurants and musicians with horns and guitars ready to delight, entertain and sustain us on a pleasant Saturday in Tennessee.

This is a perfect place to bring your pet for a walk. Most shops had pet watering bowls filled with fresh water outside and there were times we had to be careful not to treading on a dog resting in the shade, waiting for its owner to shop or finish a meal.

Kids decked out in bathing suits were playing in the fountains rising from the ground -- a very popular spot.

"Pick a card, any card." I chose not to, but at times this vendor was very crowded.

Yes, this is a big cat on a leash -- never seen one of those before.

Most booths had heirloom tomatoes. Above, Mr. Stripeys and Black Cherokees.

This vendor said we could try any of the hot peppers we wanted. He then smiled, knowing he wouldn't have any takers, especially after telling us that the Tennesse Cherry peppers were hotter than anything he had ever tasted. They are the small red peppers in a small square basket above the miniature yellow cherry tomatoes To the left of those are the Ghost peppers. I've heard they are one of the hottest peppers ever, but this guy claimed his Tennesee cherries were much hotter.

One of my favorites was the EatYourYard.biz vendor. They advocate growing edible fruit trees and plants rather than grass. They were recommending blueberries as one of the best plants.

There were so many tents with tomatoes and pretty vegetables.

And I really liked the way this market shared the skyline with semi-high rise buildings, green space and sculptures.

Above, a lighted archway and garden spot and at right people are gathered to try free samples of ice cream from a local farm selling $1 mini-ice cream cones.

The last stop was a trip through the Mast General Store back on the main street. I had never been to one and we could have used a few more hours to explore. They had everything from dry goods to clothing to a huge selection of bulk candies and country jams, jellies and mixes.

Knoxville is now on my list of places I am glad I finally stopped. I wouldn't mind going back one Saturday, maybe one May for some biscuits.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My new cake stand

This is my favorite cake stand. I love it for its simplicity but I really love the large dome that fits over large decorated cakes. I have never had a cake stand quite like it and it is my all-time favorite.

This is my new cake stand I found at a second hand store. Which do you like better?

If you think they look eerily similar, you are correct. I have been looking for a matching cake stand for ages and I finally found one at a local second-hand shop. I was so excited to find it because I have this fear that I will break my old one and never find one to replace it. I would have preferred to have found one at a yard sale because it would have been even cheaper, but no luck -- maybe one day.

The original, a Martha Stewart design, I bought at K-Mart before it went bankrupt. I went to several K-Marts to look for them before the stores closed (I know K-Marts that are open, and though I have searched stores in surrounding area, I have never found a cake stand like this one.) I have looked on eBay but nothing there either.

When I found this at a store across the street I didn't think twice about making the purchase though it was more than I would have paid for a normal cake stand at a second-hand shop (almost half the price of the original). I suspect that it has never been used owing to the fact that there is not a ding or blemish of any kind.

Now I don't have to worry so much about breaking the one I already have. I also will enjoy having it for holidays and parties. I just love symmetry and having the same cake stand at opposite sides of a dessert buffet table appeals to me.

My husband thinks I am a little crazy. "Why in the world do you need two?" He really can't argue with the price and he really loves cake so I think it will be OK.

Don't you just love second-hand shops?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Corn flour

Corn meal is an ingredient I am very familiar with because I have eaten plenty of cornbread and corn muffins in my lifetime. But when I tried corn flour, it opened my eyes to a whole new area of baking and battering.

Corn flour is much like cornmeal (made from the whole corn kernel)  but is more finely ground. I have read it is milled with the same equipment that millers use to grind flour so it is softer and lighter than cornmeal. I think one thing people dislike about cornmeal is the texture. It is somewhat grainy. Don't get me wrong. I love cornmeal and I am not troubled by the consistency but corn flour gives that great corn flavor and is more like wheat flour.

I would bet that if you make corn muffins using half cornmeal and half corn flour rather than half wheat flour, as some recipes recommend, you would probably produce a corn muffin that is richer in corn flavor. It would be a more agreeable bread for a person with celiac disease or a wheat allergy. Most cornmeal baking mixes contain wheat so this is a good alternative.

Corn flour is also a good alternative for baking breads using rice and other alternative flours. Tortillas are made using corn flour, oil or lard and corn flour. That is what makes the texture so fine. I was confused by this the only time I tried to make tortillas using cornmeal. It didn't work at all. I made the grainiest corn tortillas ever.  I am sure if a veteran tortilla-maker had seen me, it would have been good for a laugh. I just didn't know that corn flour and cornmeal were so different. My eureka moment came when I bought some masa harina (corn flour) and used it for battering fish and okra for frying, then began experimenting with corn flour for baking.

I am sold on using corn flour to dredge fried foods, especially okra but I am just beginning to experiment with corn flour for baking.

One area of confusion for me is that I have read that cornstarch and corn flour is the same product. That is not true at all. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm only of the corn kernel. Not too long ago I saw a recipe for bread that called for a large amount of cornstarch. I have a feeling that recipe was wrong and the author meant corn flour. I can't imagine why a person would even try to put large amounts of cornstarch in a recipe unless they like bread that is hard and gummy.

Corn flour, containing the whole corn kernel does possess the starchy part of the corn and that would give it an ability to act as a binder similar to the gluten in wheat and that makes it a good candidate for bread.

In my corn flour muffin recipe, pictured above and listed below, I used an egg. But that was only because I was testing it out and hadn't thought it through. I will be trying it without eggs and I think using two tablespoons of cornstarch would be a good binder for this recipe. I also think children like the texture of corn flour muffins better than cornmeal muffins. Another thing I want to try is adding cream-style corn and some peppers and onions to make a good, gluten-free, vegan Mexican cornbread.

I hate running on so long about something so mundane as corn flour but I really do think it is an important under-utilized flour -- at least for me.

Corn Flour Muffins

3/4 cup corn flour
3/4 cup rice flour (or corn meal)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1-1/2 cup water or almond milk (buttermilk could also be used)

Mix all ingredients together until mixed and pour into greased muffin pans. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for regular-sized muffins or until muffins are firm on the top when pressed and golden around the bottoms. Remove from the oven and using a knife or small spatula lift muffins on their sides in the pan and allow to cool until they are firm enough to handle. These are great with vegetable soup.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A cake with no "sorry streak"

My recipe for pound cake is either really good or kind of disappointing. Most of the time it is good and even when I have a "failure" it isn't a total waste because I can turn it into something good, like a trifle. I wrote about it in an earlier blog.

Recently, Amelia Adams brought in her new "Coweta Cooks" food feature to be photographed and she mentioned that cakes sometimes have a "sorry streak."

"You know," she said, "It's that dense streak that is sometimes in a pound cake."

I was fascinated because I had never heard it expressed quite that way. A "sorry streak" is, to me, a term used for a person who has lazy tendencies. I was delighted to have a new "baking term" that was colorful and properly descriptive.

The other day I made a pound cake for an event thinking I would be able to write about the sorry streak because my pound cake sometimes has one. This cake was so perfect. It was tall, fluffy and probably the best pound cake I have ever baked -- but no sorry streak. I was equally, happy, puzzled and confused. How can the same recipe be so good and at times disappointing?

After looking for the causes of cake successes and failures, I happened on this website for Land-O-Lakes, (my favorite butter) to see what they had to say and found an informative page I wanted to share, especially with anyone, like me, who has had a frustrating cake baking experience. Here is the link for a list of common cake baking problems entitled "How to bake a cake."

There were a number of "reasons" given under the heading, Common cause of cake failure. Under that header, a list of common problems including, A Soggy Layer or Streak on Bottom. The problems listed, included:

Under mixing of ingredients
Too much liquid
Eggs too big (most recipes are developed for large eggs)
Butter too soft
Too much sugar
Too much leavening
Not baked long enough

I am still thinking about what I do wrong and right with my pound cake recipe and I am thinking it could be one of many things in that list. Thankfully this time, my pound cake was perfect -- extremely moist, tasty and no sorry streak. I just want to make sure it is perfect next time as well. I will be taking advantage of their research with my cakes in the future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hodgson's Mill Bread: Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote that we (actually my daughter) made a successful loaf of bread using Hodgson's Mill's Gluten Free Bread mix. I asked her to send her photos and here they are. A day late but you can see the bread looks very good. It is a tight loaf with few "holes." It is hard to tell from the photo but it is not crumbly at all and is moist -- like wheat bread.

Here is a photo after the first slice. The loaf is casting a shadow, but you get the idea.

Another angle. The bread slices are big, very much like the large loaves we often buy in the grocery store that fits snugly into a sandwich bag. This was the second loaf.

And this was the first try. Great bread --wrong pan. It was almost scary how it rose. In all my years of making wheat bread, I never had one rise this high. No problem with this yeast batter. It was tasty but very large. She had to go out and buy new pans for the next loaves.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A good gluten-free bread mix

In our ongoing quest to make a good loaf of yeast bread without wheat, we have found a mix that is really good. Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Bread Mix is evidently a new product for them. It says so on the box!

I have used Hodgson Mill mixes and pastas over the years and I like their products. We used to make an oat bran muffin from one of their mixes at least a couple of times a week and my family loved those muffins. I've also used their whole wheat products -- really they had whole wheat products before most of the other mainstream companies jumped on the bandwagon and started offering whole wheat. It really hasn't been very long, after all, since the American public began to embrace whole wheat bread.

Now that so many people have wheat allergies, this company has expanded to include a line of gluten-free products like all-purpose baking mix and gluten-free cookie mix. Many of their products include speciality flours like this bread mix, with garbanzo bean flour. But it is only gluten-free and not a vegan or organic bread mix. This recipe does include eggs which gives it a very nice texture.

I will say, it is good. It holds together and can be toasted or used for sandwiches. Our little one who is on a wheat-free diet wouldn't touch many of the breads we made using oat and other flours because they were too crumbly and didn't have the taste and feel of wheat. He is now eating sandwiches from this bread and I honestly think he feels much less deprived. I also think this bread could work for pizza dough and buns. I am in the process of shopping for bun pans and when I do, I am thinking this mix would work well for hamburger and hot dog buns.

I discovered this in the regular bread mix section at Krogers and have been back for more. The price was $3.99 and it makes a very big loaf makes approximately 14 large slices.

I am a little disappointed in one of the claims. They say this mix includes whole grain rice but the ingredients only list rice starch as an ingredient. Here's the listing: Garbanzo Bean Flour, Corn Starch, Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Starch, Organic Raw Cane Sugar, Fava Flour, Rice Starch, Xanthan Gum, Flake Salt, Soy Lecithin, Ascorbic Acid. I also thought the fiber content was a bit low, so make sure you think this is good for a high -fiber diet. I do think it is a very good alternative to wheat.

I also think garbanzo bean flour mimics wheat better than most flours but you do have to get used to the taste, as with almost everything else. It's not quite what mama used to make but it is very good. To sum it up, I will say that we offered my husband, who is our resident "Mikey" a slice. He added butter and honey and said, "Hey, this is really good. I could eat this all the time." That's good enough for me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Trumpet vines

The other day, my sister took me out to the edge of a wooded area to show off her trumpet vine seed pods. Trumpet vines, campsis radicans, can be grown in garden on arbors or fences, and like some plants, they create both positive and negative emotions.

Positive because they are easy to grow, produce beautiful orange to reddish flowers and they might have been a vine your grandmother grew on a fence or up a pole. Negative because they can be invasive and have been compared to kudzu or ivy and some people can have allergy symptoms after coming in contact with the leaves. (Not like poison ivy.)

They can be trained to cover arbors or privacy fences but must be cut back or they can "jump" to other areas -- so you must be ready to prune heavily in the spring, fall and even sometimes during the summer. They grow to 35 feet and can damage a tree or rock fence by growing into them. Trumpet vines can completely hide a chain link fence and unlike other vines, the flowers last all summer. They can easily grow up and cover an unsightly post or pole. They don't need too much fertilizer or you will see growth in vines, but not many flowers.

The foliage is a deep, rich green and seed pods are very large, containing quite a number of seeds. The pods break open an spread the seeds when they are dried. The pods may be edible for birds but I couldn't find any data on that. I wouldn't recommend trying them especially since the leaves are irritating for some people.

I really like them. These were totally voluntary and very interesting plants. I hadn't really considered growing them in my yard, but who knows. I have always wanted an arbor. One where you put a table underneath and have tea while hummingbirds flutter around the trumpet vine flowers. Sounds really good to me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Don't you just love fresh-off-the-farm eggs? These eggs were given to me by Amelia Adams, who writes the Coweta Cooks feature for Newnan-Coweta Magazine. We are working on the art issue and these beautiful natural sculptures were some of the "props" for our story and I couldn't not have been more appreciative than when she gave me a dozen assorted free-range eggs to take home after our photo shoot.

The eggs were courtesy of Donna Dougherty and Emeline Loughlin who apparently provide Adams with the eggs she uses at home. The recipe she shares is one I can't tell you about now, you'll have to wait to get your copy of the magazine on September 2, but I can tell you it is a mouthwatering treat. You will really miss it if you miss this issue, or this recipe! That was a shameless plug, but I had to do it.

Back to the subject of art. I took these photos because at some time in the future, I intend to paint these beautiful eggs. People really love brown eggs and speckled brown ones are especially prized. I think the contrast of dark, light and green eggs are particularly beautiful and would be very nice in a painting.

The chickens who laid these brown eggs are Buff Orpingtons and Black Copper Marans. The green and blue eggs are from Araucanas. It really does make me want to get a chicken coop and raise some "layers' in my back yard. I am sure my subdivision covenants would prevent it and I can't say I would like to have a rooster waking me up, but it would be nice to have these treasures provided every day.

Oh well, maybe one day. Meanwhile check out the photos in the magazine and the amazing recipe. By the way. We had these eggs for breakfast and they were rich and tasty. Much better than store-bought ones.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Geraniums: Thriving in the heat

My mother always loved geraniums and this year, in particular, I understand why. Her red geraniums are always beautiful in the hot summer months. When most patio flowers have withered and died from heat exposure, her geraniums put on a grand show. They look great until frost.

The foliage is a rich green and some varieties have variegated leaves. This one has solid green leaves that are round and kind of ruffled. They also come in other colors but I think I like the red best of all. I think the red varieties do better in the heat but I don't have experience with other colors. I just see the red ones more often. The flower clusters shoot out above the green leaves and they just keep on blooming.

These geraniums are sitting below a hummingbird feeder and my mother loves to sit out and watch the hummingbirds buzz around the geraniums and other flowers. Her coleus are blooming too, but they just don't put on the show the geraniums do when nature turns up the heat.

I have never had geraniums but after seeing my mom's beautiful display, I am thinking they would be perfect for my patio, too.

Monday, August 8, 2011


There are two reasons I enjoy having our garden next to a lake. One is because we water from the lake (a huge benefit) and two, because we receive an occasional visit from dragonflies -- my favorite insect. The other day a dragonfly decided to sun him/herself on our garden fence. We didn't have the electricity on at the time. I am sure if we had he would not have visited.

I don't know enough about dragonflies to identify this one. It is not the easiest thing to do because they are very fast creatures. I used to think they liked me and were very curious and that was why they hovered around me when I was close to the water. Now I know they ARE very curious, with compound eyes that have, according to experts, 30,000 lenses -- the better to see you with. But I think they know they are so much faster than I am that they can hover and inspect me without fearing they will be caught.

This one sat sunning on the wire while I crawled almost underneath him to grab these photos. I suspect he was watching me closely, too. This one was almost all black and though I don't know what to call him, I imagine it could be a Southern Sprite, a Sun or Shadowdragon, or even a River Cruiser, Spiketail or Skimmer of some kind.

I do know they eat mosquitoes, ants and other insects so they are welcome visitors. There have been times when I have held out my hand and a dragonfly has accepted my invitation and landed for a second or two. I have frequently been buzzed and inspected. I have also read that since they spend most of their lives as immature nymphs and only spend a couple of months with the ability to zoom around inspecting the larger world around the pond, that they make the most out of the time they have. It may be a "life lesson" -- I don't know, nature provides many of those.

I disagree with the European view that dragonflies are sinister. They don't sting and I've never heard of anyone being bitten. The Japanese love them and use them as a symbol of strength, courage and happiness -- I agree with that and will always enjoy watching them zoom around while I garden.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gluten-free banana pudding

When we were walking through the grocery store last weekend we saw a mound of very ripe bananas. My husband said he would love some banana pudding but then decided he really didn't want to make it unless it could be gluten-free.

We did look for gluten-free vanilla wafers but didn't find any in the store so we thought about using a gluten-free cake. I have seen recipes for banana pudding using pound cake so I thought it would be a good alternative.

We chose to use a Betty Crocker Gluten-free Vanilla cake mix we found. As I said yesterday, this cake was very good and I made the cake according to directions and than cut it into thin slices and then cookie-sized pieces.

I made a recipe for pudding. Peeled and cut the bananas.

And then layered the ingredients.

Then I added the meringue on top. Some people meringue and others don't. Whipped cream is a good option if you don't to top off the finished pudding. This recipe makes an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 version. For a 9 x 13 dessert, double all the ingredients except for the cake mix. Half will be left over.

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Banana Pudding

For cake:
1 Betty Crocker gluten-free cake mix (only 1/2 of the cake mix will be used)

For pudding:
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
3 cups almond milk
3 teaspoons vanilla flavoring

3 ripe bananas

Whites of six eggs
1/4 cup sugar

Make 1 Betty Crocker gluten-free vanilla cake mix, according to directions, cool and cut into thin, cookie-sized pieces.

Stir together 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt into a medium saucepan. Mix egg yolks, almond milk and vanilla flavoring and pour over sugar/cornstarch mixture until well-mixed. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. It will be a bit thin.

Layer in this order -- thin layer of pudding, cake, pudding, then bananas; cake, pudding, bananas, pudding.

To make meringue: Whip egg whites until they become foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Cover dish with meringue and bake at 400 degrees until browned.

My husband really enjoyed this dessert and my grandson, who is allergic to wheat and milk, I think, actually inhaled two helpings.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Using a gluten-free mix

We tried this gluten-free cake mix the other day and found it was quite good. It is very hard to make good breads, cookies and cakes that don't use wheat as the main ingredient, but this cake mix makes it easier to eat gluten-free cake. Compared to most gluten-free recipes it was very good. It is not a vegan mix because it does use eggs. It is found on the shelf in the grocery store with the regular cake mixes.

The main ingredient is rice flour and rice flour is commonly used in commercial mixes but this product seems to use flour that is ground more finely than some of the rice flours I have purchased. They can be a little grainy -- sometimes very grainy. I do know that this mix is good and I would recommend it.

A negative is that it doesn't make two layers like more cake mixes, but the layer it makes is a decent size. I made a smaller sheet cake and it was the perfect size for my needs -- but not for a layer cake. The texture was a little more like pound cake than layer cake and I think eating it in smaller amounts would be best anyway because it was a little heavier than cake made from wheat. Good but the texture was more dense.

I think cupcakes would be great made with this mix and they would be substantial. They wouldn't make twenty-four but would certainly make more than twelve cupcake.

Another use might be to slice the cake and toast it slowly in the oven to make a kind of cake biscotti. This would be a very good way to use any leftover cake.

Cookies could also be made from this mix but I don't have a recipe at this time. I may try to make one later.

One of the negatives was that the price was quite high. This mix costs around $5. That was much higher than I would have expected. It is new and I hope the price will come down because I would use this product again.

I included the ingredient listing, if interested. Click on the image to get a larger view.

I used this cake mix for something other than a cake and I will include what I think is a clever way to make a gluten-free dessert in my next blog.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tomatoes as art

I thought this photo would be prettier than it is, but I will explain my motivation behind these odd-looking canned tomatoes.

The other day, I canned some heirloom tomatoes. I didn't worry about the colors or types of tomatoes, I wanted to get as much variation of color as I could. I really love the differences in color and even texture. I have red, orange, yellow, purple, rainbow and green tomatoes sharing the same jars and I placed them in the jars so that the colors would stand out as much as possible. It really is pretty to me, but I guess the green ones might throw someone off if they didn't expect it. I hope not, because I think they are beautiful. (They really are lovelier in person.)

The great thing about all the colors is that they taste very good and I don't think that combining the flavors will be different between them and the regular red tomatoes. Some of the yellows and the greens seem to be as tangy as the reds and in some cases tangier.

Though Brandywines are still my all-time favorites, I love the colors. I know that I would love to plant more yellow tomatoes (Jubilees) next year and I really love the Green Zebras whose color is a vibrant green when peeled and kind of green with yellow stripes when ripe.

I did plant some Big Rainbows and Strawberry tomatoes that were not my favorites. They didn't yield well and the Strawberries didn't ripen well. They were a kind of strawberry shape, but that is the only positive thing I can say about them.

The Park's Celebrity tomatoes -- I won't buy again (they didn't produce well, as advertised or last) but I will grow more Romas and I may save seed from the Purple Calabash. I just like the vines. They are one of the oldest varieties, according to what I have read and seemed to be less susceptible to diseases. The color is not really purple but a deep burgundy.

I don't know if my tomatoes would qualify as art but I had to try. I think after I admire, photograph and perhaps even paint them, I will use them in salsa, spaghetti sauce or soup -- the rewards of the harvest.