Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." (Hebrews 2:14-15)

That's why Jesus came. He came to die for our sins. His birth was for the sake of His death on the cross. As my pastor recently wrote, "Christmas+Cross=Freedom" for us. Oh, come let us adore Him! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quick and Easy Baked Salmon

If you're running short on time, and who isn't this time of the year with all of the extra activities surrounding the holidays...This recipe is one that my husband and I enjoyed recently. It's fast, easy, and it's very healthy as well--something we really appreciate in a meal as we try to balance things out against all of the rich holiday foods.

1 lb. fresh or frozen salmon (thawed)
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
garlic salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. fresh or dried parsley

Line a 9x13 baking dish with aluminum foil. Place the salmon on the foil. Brush melted butter on the top of the salmon. Season with garlic salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley over the top. Cover the dish another piece of aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily. Remove top foil and bake a few minutes more.

The Baby Quilt is finished.

I worked several hours on this project on Sunday afternoon and evening, and I'm really happy to say that the baby quilt is done and on its way to my friends and their new baby girl. This was a fun project, but I really was foolish to think that I could get it done this time of the year without a lot of struggle and stress...Why didn't I start this quilt when my friends first called me with their good news back in March or April? Of course, then it would have been harder to choose my fabric for this project, unless I'd looked for colors and prints that were fairly gender neutral.

Anyway, it was a good project for me to do because it was fairly simple, and I haven't done very much in the past few years in the way of complicated quilt top piecing. I think it turned out really pretty. The baby's name is Emma Rose, and the pink fabric has tiny little antique roses with leaves in a color that coordinates well with the color of the leaves in the green fabric. I chose green as well with this particular baby in mind because her mother (one of my old college friends) told me that she and her husband painted their baby's room sage green. And, I chose a simple, traditional design not only because it would be fast and easy, but also because my friend loves antiques and wants the baby's room to have more of an antique feel to it, instead of choosing a theme for the room (like Winnie the Pooh or Noah's Ark, etc.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Charlie the Schnauzer

This is our miniature schnauzer, Charlie. We had friends here last night for a Hanukkah/Christmas party, and we were playing around with our new digital camera when I took this photo. Since I don't have much time to write today, I thought that it would be fun to post a shot of Charlie doing one of his favorite things...laying on the couch with his chin resting on the armrest.

I'm working a baby quilt for dear friends of ours who just had their first baby...Or rather, had their first baby prematurely in October when it was due at the end of December. I should have started this project months ago when they called to tell us the good news about the impending birth. Instead, I foolishly thought that I could work on it in November and mail it in December.

It's a simple checkerboard pattern with two borders, and I'm going to be machine quilting it today. I'll take a photo of it before I pack it up to mail...Time to go quilt! :-)

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Mother’s Danish Dumplings

This recipe has been passed down from generation-to-generation in my family. It’s a rich, tender dumpling that goes really well with turkey soup. I’ve also made it with homemade chicken soup, but turkey soup is our favorite.

Mix up the dumplings in a saucepan while your soup is simmering. When the vegetables start to become tender, add the dumplings to the pot. The 20 minutes they take to make in the covered pot should correspond pretty well with the time when your soup is ready to serve.

Bring to boil in a medium-sized saucepan:
½ cup water
¼ cup butter

Sift together in a small bowl and then add to the boiling water and butter:
½ cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. garlic salt

Stir this mixture vigorously and constantly until it forms a ball that doesn’t separate. Remove the pan from the heat, cool slightly.

Then add:
2 large eggs

Beat well until mixture is smooth.

Then add:
1 Tbsp. dried or fresh parsley

Stir until the parsley is well distributed. Then when your vegetables are just starting to become tender in your soup, drop tablespoon-sized dollops of the dumpling mixture into the bubbling soup. You should be able to make about 12 dumplings of this size. Cover your pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Then enjoy!

Ahhhh...Turkey Soup

We had a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving this year, with family from Iowa and Minnesota. I’m so thankful to the Lord for bringing us all together for two days. We celebrated Thanksgiving and my father’s birthday, and we had a great time visiting and sharing meals.

There were seven of us in our little two-bedroom townhome, and our kitchen table seats six comfortably, but no one complained about being cramped. We have a sofa bed in the living room, a futon in the basement, and a twin bed plus a twin air mattress in the second bedroom upstairs. And I’m so thankful that my husband installed a shower in the main floor bathroom over the past year or so. That gave us two complete bathrooms for people to use for showers in the mornings. Oh, and we had two dogs, too, both our little schnauzer and their one-year-old German shorthair.

I roasted and carved the turkey the day before, as I mentioned earlier on this blog. That helped a great deal with getting thing without as much fuss on Thanksgiving day. I also assembled the stuffing in the slow cooker the day (chilling it in the fridge until it was time to cook it on Thursday). And I made two kinds of cranberry sauce (one with sugar and one with Splenda). The whole wheat rolls were made beforehand, too, baked a couple of weeks ahead of time and frozen until we needed them. That just left the potatoes, vegetables, and gravy on Thursday, and I had lot of help in the kitchen from my family that day.

My relatives from Iowa were very generous to bring three kinds of delicious homemade pies—homegrown cherry, regular pumpkin, and low-sugar pumpkin. They also brought cookies, Kringla, and little turkey-shaped treats made from candy and crackers…We were all very well fed for the holiday.

After all that cooking, my tendency would normally be to stay out of the kitchen for a while. But my father and husband and I all love homemade turkey soup. So we boiled the turkey carcass, which I had saved after removing most of the meat, to make a wonderfully rich and flavorful broth. I also added leftover broth from the giblets and neck, and leftover defatted drippings from the turkey roasting pan. Then I chopped a bunch of carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes…Or rather, my dear father helped me to chopped them while I worked on removing the last of the meat from the bones after boiling them for a few hours. (It’s amazing how much meat you “harvest” from the bones this way.) I also threw in a generous amount of minced garlic, plus sage, thyme, garlic salt, and black pepper to taste.

You really don’t need a recipe for this soup. You make it with generous amounts of vegetables and meat, and then add seasonings until it’s rich and flavorful. Simmer this on the stove until the vegetables are tender, but not soft. At our house, we’ve all agreed that we love this soup as much as the roasted turkey, especially when I add my mother’s Danish Dumplings to the pot!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rethinking My Priorities

I finished my first knitted hat last night. It really turned out well! I’m still following along with a free podcast called Knitting Step By Step. It’s really easy, and I’m just amazed at my success! The hat turned out looking very professional, and it fits great as well! I might not keep it for myself, though, because it’s more sporty than feminine. It would probably make a great gift for one of the guys in our family.

In fact, right away I thought that my husband might enjoy wearing it. He did say he likes it, but generally wears baseball caps, even in the winter time. And he’s a very practical man in terms of clothes. He doesn’t see any point in having more than he needs.

Anyway, I finished the hat last night while we were reading. And while my husband praised my work, he did say something later that made me think again about my priorities. He told me that while he understands my need for a creative outlet, he would rather have my hugs than my hats…I was hugging him at the time, and I held him closer when he said that. You see, we both had to wait a long time before God brought a spouse to us. I was nearly 35 and he was nearly 53. We believe that we appreciate marriage more because we had to wait so long. But even so, we are already finding that it’s far too easy to slip into a comfortable mode of relative independence. I could easily lose myself in my craft projects, and my husband could lose himself in music or sports. And after some bad news from his side of the family yesterday, we were both thinking about the priceless value of our relationship.

One of my husband’s relatives served divorce papers on his wife yesterday. They had been married for 20 years, and this man is ready to throw it all away. We both responded with anger, sadness, and disappointment. We had heard that this couple was arguing a lot, but they have never sought counseling. Each claims that the other is the problem.

They’re not believers. So they don’t have the support of the Lord or a church family, and we’ve been praying for them for several weeks now. We’ve been asking God to do whatever it would take to bring them to Himself.

We’re also looking at this situation in terms of what went wrong. One thing we can see is that this couple has grown comfortable living lives that a fairly detached. He works early morning to mid-afternoon, so he goes to bed really early at night, while she’s a night owl, staying up late to watching TV. Then he’s up early again and she doesn’t wake until the middle of the day…With that schedule, it’s probably a wonder they’ve been married for so long.

My husband would probably more naturally be a night owl, too. But we put a priority on spending time in the evening. We both go to bed early so that we have time to read and pray together. But for the past year or so, I’ve often brought a craft project with me to bed when it’s his turn to read. I didn’t know that he was bothered at all by that. He really tries to understand my needs, and he knows that I don’t have a lot of time during an average week for my crafts. But last night, he told me that when I sit with my crochet or knitting or quilting while he reads, he feels like I’m detached from him.

So this morning, before I left for work, I took all of my knitting things out of the bedroom. I waited so long to have someone like him, who really wants me to be close and to connect emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I know that because of our age difference, it’s very likely that I’ll be alone again someday…unless the Lord takes me first or returns for us before death. And if it happens that I’m alone, I know that I will regret taking doing my crafts during our special time of the day. In fact, at that point, I would be willing to trade all of my crafts and pastimes and hobbies for even just one more hug from him.

As an aside, there is a bit of a solution in sight for my desire to have time for creative pursuits. As much as I love to cook, my husband encouraged me last night to consider spending less time on the weekends in the kitchen so that I can enjoy my sewing room more often. He said that as much as he enjoys everything I make for him to eat, he is willing to have soup and sandwich meals more often if it gives me more time for my crafty pursuits on the weekends…I have such an amazing husband. It’s an incredible gift from the Lord.

So next weekend, after all of the cooking for Thanksgiving is over, I’m going to try to set aside an hour or two to work in my sewing room. I can still do my crafts over lunch at work, and I can still bring them along with us when we go places (because he’s always willing to drive so that I can knit or crochet). But then, at night time, when we have our special time together, I’m going to leave my crafts in the sewing room so that I can enjoy his warm embrace…It seems there’s a lesson for me in this for my relationship with God as well. How many times do I choose to spend my quiet hours with God? His arms are always open for me, too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Slow Cooker Stuffing

This recipe came from the Taste of Home Recipe collection online. I adapted it a bit for my use, and I’ve been very pleased with the result…moist, flavorful stuffing to go with roast turkey and the trimmings.

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup butter
14 cups cubed bread (use a variety of types)
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup turkey broth (I use the broth I make from the turkey giblets, or you could use a can of chicken broth)
2 eggs

Saute onion and celery in butter. Stir in seasonings. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs and then combine with broth. Add the sautéed mixture and stir to combine. In a large mixing bowl, toss your variety of types of bread cubes to combine. Pour liquid mixture over the bread cube and continue to toss to combine. Then transfer the stuffing to your slow cooker. (I have a nonstick interior in my slow cooker, but if you don’t, it might be helpful to prepare it first with a coating of cooking spray.)

Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours or until heated through. This recipe will serve 12 or more.

My Favorite Way to Roast a Turkey

Everyone seems to have their favorite way to roast a turkey. I think this is an improvement from what has been the traditional way in my family. My source for this recipe is Leanne Ely of I’ve adapted it a bit over the past few years, but it has always produced a juicy, flavorful turkey, including the breast meat. I had never eaten turkey breast this moist until I tried this method of handling the bird.

You must start with a turkey that is completely thawed. That may seem obvious. But I, too, have been guilty of not planning enough ahead to thaw meat completely and safely. The safest way to thaw raw meat is in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of weight. I’m going to be doing a 22-pound bird this year at our house. So we bought it last Thursday and will be allowing a full week in the refrigerator to thaw since I’ll be roasting it on Wednesday of this week…I like to do the bird the day before the big meal so that the fuss and mess are done before my guests arrive, and I also find that it helps to have my oven available for other dishes on Thanksgiving Day.

On the day you plan to roast the bird, take it out of the refrigerator and put it into your sink. Remove the outer wrapping and take out anything that’s been packed inside the two cavities. Often, you’ll find a package of giblets and a neck, and you might even find a package of gravy. Remove these items and wash the gravy packet well so that you can put it back into your refrigerator until you need it.

Open the package of giblets into a saucepan and fill it half full of water. You’re going to be setting it on the stove to simmer for a few hours to cook the giblets and the neck and make a broth that you can use for the stuffing. (After it has simmered for a few hours, set it aside to cool a bit. Remove the giblets and the neck, chop the meat, discard the bones, and chill the meat and the broth in the refrigerator for later use.)

Now wash the turkey well with fresh. Pat it dry with paper towels and then transfer it into your waiting roasting pan…You might want to have someone to help you at this point since you’ll be working with the raw turkey for a bit now and yet it will be helpful to have someone nearby with clean hands to handle the melted butter and other seasonings that you will use.

Melt 1/4 cup butter to rub between the breast and the skin (you can generally separate the breast from its skin in parts so that you can access more of the flesh), and then run the remaining melted butter all over the rest of the butter, again concentrating on the breast part.

Sprinkle the turkey inside and out with ample amounts of dried sage, thyme, garlic salt, and ground black pepper. I usually ask my husband to season the two cavities first, and then I have him do the back of the bird and finally the breast last, since you’ll be roasting the bird breast-side up in your oven. Oh, and I also ask him to preheat the oven for me as well. You’ll want to set the temperature to 500 degrees.

I never bake stuffing in the turkey anymore, for a variety of reasons. It lengthens the roasting time required, risking that your white meat will dry out before your thigh meat is completely done. There’s a risk that your stuffing might not be fully cooked, even if the bird is done and, if that happens, you will need additional time to bake the stuffing in the oven to ensure that it’s hot all the way through and safe to eat. And it’s really not necessary to stuff the bird. I have a great recipe that I will also share, which works well in a slow cooker, for stuffing. If I don’t tell people that the stuffing was made in the slow cooker (and not in the bird), no one ever knows.

Instead of stuffing in the turkey, I use fresh vegetables to loosely fill the cavities, including a carrot, a stalk of celery, and an onion or two. I’m not sure why this is helpful, but it does work, and then I usually use the roasted vegetables (along with additional vegetables) in a turkey soup that I make the day after Thanksgiving.

Next, place your meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh muscle, but not touching the bone, positioning it so you can read it through the oven door. You’re not going to open the door much at all with this method of roasting, because every time you open the door, your oven can lose 25 degrees of heat and then require another half hour of roasting time…which, in turn, dries out your white meat.

Pour a half cup of water into the bottom of your roasting pan, and place it into your preheated oven for 30 minutes…Don’t worry about ruining your turkey at this point. This amount of time is safe, and it will actually form a beautiful deep golden crust all over your bird, which will keep the juices inside, where you want them to be.

After that half hour, open the oven door quickly and remove the turkey to tent it loosely with aluminum foil. This is the only time you should open the oven door again until your turkey is done. Be sure to position the thermometer so that you can read it through the door by simply turning on your oven light. Turn down the oven temperature to 325 degrees and roast it for the remainder of the recommended time for your turkey’s size. For my 22-pound turkey, I’ll need 4-1/2 to 5 hours of total roasting time (including my half hour at 500 degrees). About a half hour before that time is up, I’ll be checking my thermometer through the oven window to make sure that it reaches 165 degrees. Then, I’ll know that it’s done.

is a good website with up-to-date food safety information on roasting turkey.

Another way you can tell that the turkey is completely roasted is that you will see that the juice is no longer pink when you cut into the center of the thigh, and the drumstick moves easily in the socket when lifted or twisted…Still, it’s best to let the turkey sit on the counter with the aluminum foil tent over it for another half hour before carving. And that’s it. If you follow these instructions, you should have a tender, moist, flavorful turkey for your meal.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Whole Wheat Bread or Rolls

Before I found the Honey Whole Wheat Bread recipe, this was my absolute favorite for whole wheat bread. This is still a favorite, but the other wins out during the time of the year when I don't have Herman in my refrigerator to use. But even off-season (when Herman is frozen), I haven't ever found a better whole wheat roll recipe than this one.


2/3 cup dry powdered milk
2 cups lukewarm (110-115 degrees) water
1 pkg. dry regular (not rapid rise) yeast

Combine and add to yeast mixture:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
¾ cup Herman sourdough starter (See master recipe.)

Cover the above mixture and proof 1-2 hours until double in size.

Mix the following ingredients into the dough:
¼ cup molasses
1 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. soft butter
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix in 3-1/2 cups additional bread flour to make stiff dough and knead for about 10 minutes. Then turn into a greased bowl, cover with a damp dish towel, and let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

Punch and divide dough in half for two loaves or bread or into smaller pieces for dinner rolls (dipping dinner rolls into melted butter before placing them into pan). Use well-greased bread pans for the loaves or a well-greased 9x13 pan for the rolls. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rise for another two hours.

Bake at 370 for 45 minutes for loaves of bread or 25-30 minutes for dinner rolls.

Sugar and Spice Coffee Cake

Mix together in large bowl:
2 cups Herman sourdough starter (See master starter recipe.)
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil

Sift together in medium-sized bowl:
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 cups flour
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. each ginger and cloves

Mix into dry ingredients:
Nuts, raisins, or blueberries to add to the batter (amount to your taste)

Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and then pour into 9x13 pan that has been greased and floured.

Blend the following ingredients and sprinkle over top of batter before baking:
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
¼ cup melted butter

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean (i.e., no unbaked batter, though you might see crumbs or bits of sugar and spice).

Note: This recipe freezes well. So I've often made the whole batch when I didn't need the whole pan full. Then, when company comes and there's not enough time to make something special for breakfast or brunch, I pull this out, thaw it, warm it in the oven to serve.

Our Favorite Pancake Recipe

In a large mixing bowl, stir together:
1 cup Herman sourdough starter (See master starter recipe.)
½ cup oil
2 eggs
½ cup milk

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together:
1 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder

Add mixed dry ingredients to mixed wet ingredients, making sure that you don’t leave large lumps (small lumps are okay). Use a ¼ cup measuring cup to scoop onto hot griddle for pancakes. (This is also really good for waffle batter without any changes in the recipe.)

In the Kitchen with Herman

No, I haven't found a new friend named Herman, or adopted a doggie pal for Charlie. Herman is my sourdough starter. I'm not sure where or when or why a sourdough starter was given a name like Herman, but my family has had Herman in our kitchens for 15 or 20 years.

My mother was given a cup of Herman sourdough starter many years ago when we all lived in Iowa. I think it was a recipe that being passed around at the same time as my mother and her lady friends were passing around cups of "friendship fruit". Both Herman and "friendship fruit" were easy to share with friends because both recipes involved creating a master batch of ingredients and then adding to it and using part of it regularly.

With the "friendship fruit", I'm only aware of two ways that mother used it--as ice cream topping and in a friendship cake recipe. I don't have the recipe for friendship fruit on hand right now, but I remember that it contained many cups of canned fruit and sugar, and that it fermented a bit over time. What I do know more about at this point is Herman, because Herman had staying power in our family. We didn't just use it up or give it away after a while. We made a permanent place for Herman in our homes.

The primary ingredients of the master starter mix are flour, milk, and sugar. You mix these ingredients together and give them time to ferment and develop a yeast culture. You store it in the refrigerator, stir it regularly, and add to it periodically as needed. Technically, the instructions call for daily stirring, feeding every five days, and baking every 10 days, but we've found success in a much less demanding schedule. I stir it when I think of doing it, feed it when I need more of it, and use it when I'm ready to bake. And when a long period goes by and I don't have the time or interest in baking with it, I freeze a cup of it for future use. Herman doesn't seem to mind the freezer (I call this his hibernation period), and he readily revives again after thawing and feeding him.

Anyway, I could probably go on for quite a while about Herman, but it might be better to just give you the basic master starter recipe and then a quick recipe for the best pancakes we've ever had, which happen to use Herman as a base. They're light and fluffy, and don't be scared about the fact that they have a sourdough base even if you don't think you like sourdough in general. When we've served these for company, they never guess that they're sourdough pancakes until I tell them. This is a relatively sweet sourdough starter, and Herman just makes them very light and tender. I think they're delicious even without anything on them, though we love using real maple syrup at our house. In the near future, I plan to post my recipe for whole wheat bread and coffee cake, both made with Herman.

Master "Herman" Sourdough Starter
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar

Heat milk to 110-115 degrees. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the flour and sugar, and then gradually add the heated milk. Cover the bowl with a towel and set in a warm place (70-80 degrees) to "sour". Stir this mixture often over the next two or three days. It will start to ferment and a colony of yeast will develop. When the mixture has a bubbly froth, it's ready to use.

For long-term storage, transfer your starter (Herman) to a plastic bowl with a lid that you can leave slightly ajar so that it can continue to breathe. To feed him, add the same ingredients and the same proportions as listed above for beginning the starter. Or, if you need more or less Herman, I've had success adding half of each ingredient for a smaller batch, and I would imagine that you could add double each ingredient for a larger batch. It all depends on how much you need for your baking plans.

I’ve been Casting On…

Where has the time gone? I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted to this blog.

Let’s see…between then and now, we’ve had a couple of dinner parties with old friends, we’ve painted the spare bedroom, and this past week I’ve been fighting a bad head cold and sinus infection. But in the midst of all this, I’ve still managed to find time to cook family meals and to finish a few craft projects. I just haven’t taken time to write about anything we’ve done.

In any case, I do want to post some more recipes soon, including my tried-and-true sourdough recipes for baking and my favorite way to roast a turkey. And I want to finally post a photo or two of my craft projects now that I finally have my films developed and my prints organized and ready to scan for posting.

In the meantime, though, I do have a great video podcast to mention, which I’ve been using lately to teach myself to knit with some encouraging success…If you’ve ever wanted to learn to knit, you should visit Knitting Step By Step for free, easy-to-follow patterns, basic knitting instructions, and short little video clips done in podcast format.

The podcast hosts, Ivy Reisner and Jason Block, demonstrate different methods of casting on and binding off your knitting projects, explaining the benefits and uses of each, and then they slowly guide you through knitting projects of growing complexity. The first project is a garter stitch scarf, giving you the opportunity to practice the most basic knitting techniques. I finished my scarf last weekend and cast on at the start of this week for project #2, which is a knitted cap with a ribbed brim.

For the knitted cap project, they teach you how to purl, how to alternate between knitting and purling to make ribbing and to do a basic stockinette stitch pattern, and then how to increase and decrease stitches on your needles. I’ve done the ribbing and a couple of inches of the body of the cap, and I’m absolutely amazed at how nicely it’s turning out!

Many years ago, probably 15 or 20 (?), I tried my hand at a little knitting, but I didn’t go very far at all. Now I’m making something that looks fairly professional…This is giving me enough confidence to dream of someday making a knitted sweater, maybe even with cabling or a multi-colored pattern of some kind!

After the knitted hat, Ivy and Jason’s podcast will show me how to make mittens and then socks…another of my dream projects for knitting. I’ve already purchased sock-weight yarn and double-pointed needles for the sock project. I can hardly believe that I might be able to knit my own socks someday. I still love to crochet, but with knitting it seems the possible projects that I could make go on for miles and miles…

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Popovers are one of my husband's favorite foods. He likes them so much that he bought his mother a professional-grade popover pan for a gift years ago. She no longer uses that pan these days, so she gave it to me. That was earlier this year, and I am now hooked on popovers, too.

I've tried a couple of different recipes, one from a King Arthur Flour cookbook, and one from Better Homes & Gardens. The BH&G version is by far the best. It's both easy and fairly fool-proof. I say "fairly," because I was a bit foolish when I made them today. I foolishly thought that I could use up some heavy cream that I had on hand as a substitute for half the milk in this recipe. Since we always use skim milk here and the original recipe calls for "milk," I thought that using half skim milk and half heavy cream might make a suitable substitute, perhaps giving me a consistency close to whole milk, and maybe even producing a more tender, rich popover...I was wrong, and my popovers today flopped.

Instead of being light, crisp, and tender, they had a crust like hard rolls, and it didn't even taste as good as they did with the skim milk version. Needless to say, this is going to be something that we're going to do again next weekend, because today's popovers didn't do justice to the recipe.

That said, I'm going to type the original recipe below, with just a couple of small modifications, which I have used successfully several times now. The original recipe called for vegetable oil, but I have found that the equal amount of melted butter works really well. The consistency is the same as with the oil, but the flavor is much richer. Also, since I have found that my attempt at substituting something other than skim milk was a failure, I'm adding that level of specificity to my recipe. I'm only going to use skim milk with this popover recipe from now on.

Oh, and one more point bears mentioning here...I've never made this recipe without a professional-grade popover pan. What I mean by professional grade is that this is a very heavy pan that heats very evenly so the popovers all "pop" at the same time and don't burn before they're completely done in the inside. If you don't have a restaurant supply store in your area, you could order a professional grade pan from a website like
King Arthur Flour. It might seem a bit much to buy a pan just for popovers, but you can also use these pans for muffins and cupcakes.

Shortening (to grease your popover cups)
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Grease your popover cups well. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a blender, combine remaining ingredients until smooth, and pour into 12 popover cups, filling them each half full. Bake popovers for 40 minutes or until very firm. Immediately after removing them from the oven, poke each popover with a fork to let the steam escape. Serve immediately with butter, jam or jelly, honey, or just enjoy them plain. They're crisp on the outside and very tender on the inside. (Makes 12 popovers.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I won again!!!

Wow! I used to say that I never win contests, but I certainly can't say that anymore. Lori, who produces a wonderful sewing podcast called Sew Forth Now, picked my name to win Simplicity pattern # 3631. I've admired that pattern when she has posted it on her website, and I've thought that the jumper would especially be a fun thing to make. The jacket it really interesting, too, but I try to avoid spending too much time making things that end up looking dated in the years to come. And that jacket, though it's stunning, looks like a potentially trendy piece...though it is really cute, and it definitely has some retro charm.

Anyway, that was the start of my Tuesday. So I'm giving thanks to the Lord for the many unexpected ways that He blesses me. I hope and pray that your eyes are open today to the many ways that He is blessing you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Grandma's Never-Fail Banana Bread

I'm working from home today, so I mixed up a batch of my maternal grandmother's banana bread. I called it her "Never-Fail Banana Bread," because it has turned out perfectly every time. And everyone I've served it to has commented that it's the best banana bread they've ever tasted. It's light and flavorful, and it never lasts long at our house. I made some recently for friends of ours who needed help with refreshments for visitors following a funeral, and I promised my husband I would make some again soon so that he could enjoy more of it himself. Even so, I'm giving away half of this batch. This recipe makes 2 large loaves, but I divided half of the batter into two smaller pans and plan to give a loaf to a couple of our friends who have been generous to us recently, as a way of saying thank you for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
4 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1 cup chopped walnuts

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy, then add one egg at a time, beating until very light and fluffy. Add mashed bananas, mixing in to combine. Add dry ingredients and walnuts and mix to combine well.

Pour into two 9x5 prepared loaf pans (grease and flour each pan) and bake for 60-70 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans. Makes 2 loaves.

Chicken and Cashew Stir Fry

This recipe has been in my family for several years. I believe that it originated with a cousin of mine, who no longer eats meat, so he probably hasn't made it in a long time. But before he became a vegetarian, he prepared this recipe for my parents, and they both loved it. My mother asked him for a copy, and it quickly became a favorite of mine, too. Now, I make it for our little family, and my husband enjoys it as well. It makes a large batch, so we generally enjoy the leftovers for two additional meals for the two of us.

20 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4-5 cups shredded cabbage
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 oz. cashews (roasted and salted)

Blend 2 Tbsp. soy sauce with 1 Tbsp. cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Add chicken strips and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in wok over high heat. Add chicken strips, stir frying them until they are white and firm. Add onions and mushrooms. Continue to stir fry until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked but still somewhat firm. Transfer meat and vegetable mixture in a covered casserole dish.

Add remaining oil to the wok. Stir in cabbage and sugar. Stir fry until cabbage is crisp tender. Return vegetable and meat mixture to the wok, stirring to combine. Mix remaining soy sauce and cornstarch together and add to the wok. Stir again and steam briefly to thicken the sauce.

Serve over rice, and top with the cashews. (I usually put the cashews into a dish on the table for my guests to help themselves.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Failed Crochet Project

Well, I had to frog another crochet project. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.

I tried to make the cloche hat that you see pictured to the right...probably three times now. I tried it once a couple of years ago using some navy yarn. That time, my cloche turned into a beret. It was so flat that I started decreasing my stitches as an attempt to make something other than a pancake--thus, a beret was born. My husband told me that he thinks it looks cute on me, but I haven't had the courage to wear it outside the house.

A few days ago, I tried this hat again, this time using some of the lovely red wool that I had left after finishing my Sweet Pea Shawl. I could just imagine how pretty that hat would look, especially if I used some darker red to add a little contrast to the flower. So I grabbed my hooks and yarn again on Sunday afternoon, but I soon found myself with another pancake on my hands.

Yesterday, over lunch at work, I frogged the new pancake and started the hat all over again. This time, using the same red wool, I adjusted the pattern a bit, trying to use a method my mother-in-law uses with success. She never uses a pattern. She just shapes the hat as she goes...increasing some rows and crocheting other rows with any increase to give it shape. Her hats always seem to turn out well.

For a while, my revised pattern looked like it would work. It was turning into more of a head shape than a pancake this time, but then I tried it on last night in front of a mirror...and saw the little point at the top of my head.

So today, as I started lunch here at work, I added a few more rows. Perhaps I was thinking that I could pull the hat into a better shape, smoothing the little point away somehow. But it soon became obvious that the point wouldn't go away. So I frogged my project again.

I'd still like to make a cloche hat, but I think I'd better buy the kind of yarn the pattern calls for the next time, rather than trying to use what I already have in my stash.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Raw Apple Muffins

We're up north this weekend visiting my father and enjoying one last fishing weekend before my husband and my father put Dad's boat dock and hoist away. Since my mother has been gone (she died four years ago), I've been taking over the cooking when we visit. So this weekend, I decided to make one of our favorite fall muffin recipes for brunch. They're from a church cookbook, and I've made them three or four times now. The only change I made from the original recipe was to eliminate the raisins. I like raisins in baked goods, but my husband doesn't. He likes raisins, but for whatever reason he doesn't like them cooked.

Anyway, here's the recipe...

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups raw apples, peeled and diced
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts

Combine sugars, eggs, oil, and vanilla in a small bowl. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir diced apples into the dry mixture and then add the wet mixture to the dry as well. Add chopped nuts lastly, stirring enough to combine all dry ingredients well. Distribute batter in sprayed or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Makes 18 muffins.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I'm working from home today, which means that I can bake over the lunch hour. At the office, I tend to use my lunch hours for portable craft projects, like crochet, embroidery, or hand quilting. But today, since I'm working from home, I'm using my lunch hour to mix up a batch of whole wheat bread. Generally, I use my sourdough starter for this, but my starter is in the freezer right now until the weather is cooler...I bake a lot more homemade bread and rolls when the temperatures are consistently below freezing.

In any case, since my sourdough starter is still at rest (in the freezer), I'm going to use a recipe that I found and made several times this past summer. It's from the book "Don't Panic--Dinner's in the Freezer,"a wonderful cookbook if you're interested in saving time and money while preparing make-ahead meals. You cook once and freeze at least half of what you make to thaw and finish at a later time. This book and one called "Once-a-Month Cooking" have both been wonderful in helping me to better manage my time at home, while still providing our family with delicious, healthy, homemade meals.

One note I should make is that the recipe called for all-purpose flour, but I haven't tried it that way, so I changed my ingredient list to call for bread flour, which I nearly always have on hand these since I bake quite often. Also, I have varied my method a bit from the instructions in the book because I always use the methods that my grandmother and mother used, which I learned from them.

I remember when I was taking a food science lab class in college that my instructor scolded me once for kneading my bread like my grandmother did, telling me that I was breaking the gluten strands and that my bread would not rise properly. Apparently, the rest of the students used the method she had demonstrated to use, but I had always made bread the way I had learned to make it at home. Long story short, when we cut into each student's loaf that day, my loaf was the only one that rose as it should. The instructor had to admit that the method my grandmother used worked really well. I think Grandma would have had a good chuckle over that if she had still been alive.

3-1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup honey
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large egg

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt; mix well. In a saucepan, heat milk, water, honey, and oil until temperature is 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit (I use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature) Then add flour mixture to liquid. Add the egg, and blend at low speed to moisten and then beat 3 minutes at medium speed, adding some of the remaining white flour until it's the right consistency to remove from the mixing bowl and finish the dough by kneading on a floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic, at least five minutes. Place dough into a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a warm, damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place until light and doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide into two parts and form into two two loaves. Place each loaf into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Cover the pans again with a warm, damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place until light and doubled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pans and cool. If you want to freeze one or both of the loaves, use a zippered freezer bag with a good seal, pressing out the extra air before closing. On the day you want to serve the frozen bread, thaw it at room temperature.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Brownie Experiment

One of my husband's favorite treats is homemade brownies, and he's rather particular in how he likes to have them made. He doesn't want "extra stuff" in his brownies, like caramel, chips, or cream cheese. He prefers them plain, except for the addition of chopped walnuts. He prefers them fudge-y, not cake-like, and he'd prefer that I not "ruin them" with frosting. Instead, I just dust powdered sugar on the top after they've cooled a bit.

Anyway, I am doing a little experimentation with my husband's favorite brownies today. Hopefully, they'll turn out just as good as his usual recipe. Normally, he would say, "don't mess with success," but this time the change was actually his suggestion.

I make brownies on such a regular basis that I don't even consult the recipe anymore, though I know where to find it if I ever needed it again. And for that reason, we go through quite a bit of Bakers Semi-Sweet Chocolate. I ran out of it again last weekend, and for some strange reason our local grocery store hasn't had Bakers Semi-Sweet on its shelves for a while--at least it wasn't when we checked three times last week. In any case, that started my husband thinking about substitutions for this ingredient, so I looked online to see if I could substitute semi-sweet chocolate chips for the Bakers Semi-Sweet Chocolate.

I found a great online chocolate reference page on this website. And my husband picked up a huge economy-sized bag of semi-sweet chips at our local Costco store (a 72-oz. "Chocolate Lover's Size"). So this afternoon I'm using 1/3 cup chocolate chips in place of two 1-oz. squares of bakers chocolate. The brownies are in the oven as I write this post, so I'll let you know if they turn out as well as the original recipe.

Before I type out the recipe, though, I want to emphasize that my sweet husband, though particular at times in his tastes, is actually a very gracious and gentle man. Often, when we bow our heads to thank the Lord before a meal, he thanks God for the food that his "dear wife has prepared," and after a meal he often gives me a kiss and thanks me for cooking for him...When you have a dear man like this in your life, you really do want to make an effort to please him. I am very blessed to be married to him, and I always want him to feel blessed by our marriage, too.

Anyway, here's the recipe as I am making it. The original recipe appeared in my tried-and-true edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Powdered sugar (to dust on top of the brownies)

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, melt chocolate and butter, stirring them together. After they are melted, turn off the heat and cool the mixture just a bit before adding the eggs--if you add the eggs when the mixture is too hot, you'll actually cook the eggs before you bake the brownies. Stir the mixture again, adding the vanilla. Then add the flour and walnuts, stirring to make sure that all ingredients are well-incorporated.

Prepare an 8x8 baking pan by greasing it with butter and then a dusting of flour to keep your brownies from sticking when you remove them from the pan. Pour in your brownie mixture and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center of the pan of baked brownies should come out "clean"...meaning that you might have a few small crumbs on it, but no unbaked brownie batter.

Let the brownies cool in their pan a bit and then dust with powdered sugar. I make sure that the brownies are completely cooled before cutting them and placing them into a large flat cookie tin with a well-fitting lid so that they stay moist until my husband finishes enjoying them. (They'll be gone in a week if I don't have too many other treats around for him to enjoy.)

Postscript: I ended up posting this before we actually tried the brownies, but I wanted to be sure to let everyone know that the brownies worked out just fine with the chocolate chips. In fact, we had a few brownies left from my last batch made with semi-sweet Bakers chocolate, and aside from the fact that the new brownies were a little more moist, we couldn't tell the difference at all in flavor. We'll definitely be using semi-sweet chips from now on, because the cost savings is significant.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Husband's Favorite Rhubarb Muffins

This is a recipe I found recently online at, the online database of recipes that have been published by the many magazines of Reiman Publications. I'm a regular subscriber to Light and Tasty Magazine, often finding wonderful recipes with fewer calories, fat, and sugar. This particular recipe, however, was actually published by a sister publication, Country Woman.

I didn't change anything about the recipe (only its name), which I found confusing. It was called Rhubarb Sticky Buns, but I think that makes it sound more like a sweet roll than a muffin. So I'm just calling these "My Husband's Favorite Rhubarb Muffins," since he's not a huge fan of rhubarb, but he actually requested more of these muffins after I made them the first time.

1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk

In a small bowl, cut butter into brown sugar until crumbly. Stir in rhubarb. Spoon evenly
into 12 well-greased muffin cups; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and
sugar. Beat in egg. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg; add to creamed
mixture alternately with milk. Spoon over rhubarb mixture. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.

Aeblekage (Danish Apple Bars)

What a blessing to work at an organization where everyone shares from the bounty they receive! One of my coworkers has regularly been sharing apples, plums, and a variety of types of tomatoes with our office over the last month or so. And yesterday, there were so many apples that I was able to bring a nice-sized bag home with plans to make my mother's favorite Danish apple bar (aeblekage) recipe.

I remember my mother making aeblekage for church events and for company. Like Mom, I have a church event in mind, so I'm going to be making this recipe this coming Wednesday nigh after work. It's a wonderfully light, flaky, apple bar sweetened with cinnamon and sugar. The last time I made it for a church potluck dinner, it disappeared quickly, though I think I had one piece left on the pan at the end of the dinner when everyone was starting to pack up. And actually, I was really pleased to have one piece left to bring home. Since I don't make this more than once every year or so, I was glad to have a piece to enjoy the next day.

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1 egg, divided (reserving both yolk and white, and beating the white until foamy)
Milk (slightly less than 2/3 cup)
1 cup crushed corn flakes
5 large apples (or 10-12 small ones), peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut shortening into flour mixture until crumbly. In a one-cup measuring cup, beat the egg yolk and then mix in enough milk to make 2/3 cup of liquid; whisk or beat with a fork until blended. Add milk and egg yolk mixture gradually to the flour and shortening mixture, stirring just enough to blend (do not over mix, as you are making a crust and want the end result to be light and flaky).

Divide the dough in half and roll half out on a floured surface until it will fill the bottom and sides of a 10x15 jellyroll baking pan. Carefully transfer the bottom crust that you have just made to the pan. Add the crushed cornflakes evenly over the top of this crust, followed with slices of apple arranged evenly. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the apples.

Roll remaining dough to fit over the apples. Moisten the edges of your two-layers of crust and crimp them together to seal. Lightly brush the top crust with beaten egg whites. With a knife, cut a few small vents in the top to let the steam escape. Bake for 1 hour in a preheated 375-degree oven until golden brown.

This might be how you want to serve your apple bars, and this is generally where I stop, but one of the two cookbooks I consulted as I was looking for the recipe my mother always used, added a glaze to the top of the bars while they were cooling. If you'd like to do that, you could make a glaze with 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 Tbsp. water, and 1 tsp. vanilla.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

U.S. Senate Bean Soup

I used to live in the hometown of a U.S. Senator who loved this recipe. Knute Nelson wasn't alive anymore when I lived there, but the local historical society had his family home turned into a museum, and every year at Christmas time they hold an open house. Along with traditional Scandinavian foods, which they make because this Senator was Norwegian by family background, they make this recipe because legend has it he was the one who made it a law that the U.S. Senate cafeteria serve this soup every day. He, obviously, could not make this a law all on his own, but legend says that he proposed the law and rallied the support among among his fellow congressman.

In any case, he loved this soup, and I have grown to love it, too. And yesterday, because it's starting to feel chilly around this part of the Midwest these days, I made a big batch of this soup to serve with homemade whole wheat rolls and big slices of the last of this season's tomatoes. My husband, who had been working in a cold garage all day, had two big bowls and proclaimed it to be the best ham and bean soup he had ever tasted. I had made a similar recipe before, but had never tried the "official" version...I wonder if the federal law mandates a particular recipe? If so, I have to admit that I added more meat, because my husband doesn't feel like it's a real meal unless the soup has plenty of meat in the bowl.

1 lb. dry great northern beans
1 meaty ham bone (plus chopped ham, as needed to make it hearty)
3 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup mashed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste (I used garlic salt)
fresh parsley or chives for garnish

Rinse and sort beans, and then place them in a large heavy soup kettle with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Boil for 2 minutes, and then remove from heat and allow them to stand for 1-4 hours until the beans are softened. (I let them stand for a couple of hours, and then boiled them again for a few minutes to speed the softening process.)

Drain and rinse the beans, discarding the liquid. Add them back to the pot with the ham bone and three quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Skim fat if necessary. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for another hour. Then remove the ham bone and, when it's cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and add it back to the soup pot. Discard the bone. Heat the soup through, and then serve in bowls, sprinkling pieces of chives or parsley for garnish.

This recipe makes 2-1/2 quarts of soup, enough for 8-10 servings.

Spicy Garlic Refrigerator Pickles

This recipe has more to do with my husband's family background than my own. His paternal grandmother was a South Dakota farm wife who was apparently very much into pickling. She pickled watermelon rinds, eggs, cucumbers, beets, and possibly even pigs feet...I'm not positive about the pigs feet, but my husband has told me that his father used to love to eat pickled pigs feet. So I'm guessing that this was because his father's mother raised him to love that, too.

Anyway, this is not a family recipe from his side of the family. Rather, it's an attempt to recreate something he remembers having when he was growing up.

Apparently, there was also a commercially made product like this produced by company years ago called Max's Pickles. When his family didn't have pickles made by his paternal grandmother, my husband remembers his mother buying Max's Pickles at the store. I did little research this year to find out if Max's Pickles still existed in any form, and I found that the Gedney company bought Max's recipes when Max's went out of business years ago. So then we tried the Gedney Zingers products and found that though they were good, they didn't have the garlicky part of this recipe that my husband remembers and loves. He wanted a crisp pickle that was both garlicky and spicy with whole cloves of garlic and whole chili peppers in each jar.

So then I looked online for recipes and tried a couple this year. The one that I liked the best was from this website address, but I adjusted it a bit. The person who posted the original recipe didn't use as much garlic or as many chili peppers as I used, and I think I would definitely do this recipe with my adjustments again. We really liked the hot, spicy, garlicky kick that these have, and they really are nice and crisp, too.

2-1/2 cups white vinegar
3-1/2 cups water
1/6- to 1/8-cup kosher salt
1T dill seeds
1T allspice
1T black peppercorns
3T yellow mustard seeds
9 dried chilies
9 garlic cloves
fresh dill
6 fat cucumbers (4 to 6 inches long, and they should be firm and green)

Place your whole, uncut cucumbers in a pan with ice water and chill them in the refrigerator for a few hours or even a day ahead of the time when you plan to make your pickles. This will make them even more crisp.

On the day you plan to do the pickling, combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Then add the spices and boil the mixture for three minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Take your cucumbers out of the refrigerator. Cut off their ends and quarter them lengthwise. Put them into prepared jars (prepare them by boiling the jars and lids to sterilize them). Add peeled and crushed garlic cloves to each jar, dividing them evenly. Similarly, add the chili peppers from your pickling liquid. Also, add the fresh dill. Then evenly divide the pickling liquid and remaining spices between each of your jars. (I used three large jars that used to contain commercially made dill pickles.)

Leave about a half inch of head space at the top of each jar. Put the lids on the jars and refrigerate. Your pickles should be ready to eat in about a week and will last for at least three months.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Refrigerator Beet Pickles

I know that for those of us here in the Midwest, our major time for canning and preserving garden produce is quickly passing (we had our first killing frost in parts of Minnesota last night), but before the season completely ends I wanted to post a couple of good recipes for pickling that I enjoyed using this year.

First, here is my beet pickle recipe, which is actually a combination of the recipe that my mother used for years and the recipe that one of my dear friends shared from her family's recipe collection. I merged the two recipes because both were specific in some areas and vague in others. And then I decided not to can them, but to make them as refrigerator beet pickles, because I knew that we would use them quickly at our house.

Finally, I just wanted to add how much we love beet pickles. For my husband, I think they remind him of his paternal grandmother, who was a traditional South Dakota farm wife and would sometimes send packages of pickled foods as a gift to her children and their families. For me, I remember my mother's beet pickles. She would make enormous containers of them and store them in the refrigerator. When she died, my very thoughtful sister remembered how much I loved Mom's beet pickles so she made a batch using Mom's recipe for my birthday that year.

4 cups 4% acidity white vinegar (or 3 cups 5% acidity white vinegar plus 1 cup water)
4 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. allspice
6 whole cloves
6 lbs. beets (preferably small, whole beets)

Combine vinegar and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan. Combine the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a small cloth bag (e.g., cheesecloth or muslin). Add the bag of spices to the vinegar mixture and simmer for 15 minutes. Then cool slightly while you're cooking your beets.

In the meantime, wash your beets but don't take off the skins or cut off the roots or tops yet. Instead, boil the whole beets in a large pot of water for 25 minutes or until the beets are tender to your taste. (Since you won't be heat processing them for canning, I found that they needed more than 25 minutes to get them to the right amount of tenderness.)

When your beets are ready, drain them and cool them enough to touch; then trim off their ends and slip off their skins. If they aren't small enough to use whole, cut them into nice-sized chunks. Place the beets into prepared glass jars with lids. (To prepare the jars and lids, boil them first for sterility.) Add enough liquid over the beets to cover them with 1/2-inch left at the top of the jars. Cover the jars lightly, putting them in the refrigerator when they're cool enough. Tighten the seals when they're cool and let the beets marinate for a couple of weeks. After that, they're ready to eat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thank you to Dr. Julie-Ann McFann

I just wanted to quickly post a thank you to Dr. Julie-Ann McFann for mentioning my blog on the September 2nd episode of her fashion sewing podcast, called Grandma's Sewing Cabinet. If you enjoy sewing (or want to be inspired to learn to sew), I would highly recommend listening to her program online or through itunes. In describing herself, she explains that she is a not a professional seamstress, but I have so been so impressed by the sewing that she does in her spare time. And I've really enjoyed hearing her talk about her memories of her grandmother, whose sewing cabinet she inherited.

I should probably note that I contacted her first, or she might not have ever found my little blog in cyberspace. She had asked for zucchini recipes, and I sent her a link to my blog. She was exceedingly kind to not only visit but also mention me...I am continually amazed at the kindness of other women who write blogs and record podcasts Julie also has a fun blog of her own, which she often uses to post photos of her sewing projects. Julie has inspired me to get back into fashion sewing again, after years of focusing on quilting and craft-type sewing instead.

So again, thank you, Dr. Julie-Ann McFann, for your kindness and for sharing your creativity and enthusiasm for fashion sewing! :-)

Creating with Fabric and Yarn

In addition to the cooking that I did at Dad's house last week, I had a lot of fun with my sewing machine and my crochet hooks.

First, I cut out and sewed two new blouses, and I cut out pieces to sew a six-gored skirt and a princess-line dress. I would have loved to have finished the skirt and dress, too, but I also wanted to take time to just visit with my Dad, who has been a widower since 2003 when my mother died.

I used my mother's sewing machine for the blouses, and I was so pleased that it still works so well. She let me use her machine when she was first teaching me to sew. I think she would have been really pleased to know that it was still being used. I set up the machine on the back porch of Dad's house so that I could keep my husband company while he was painting the deck. Even just the sound of that machine brought back memories.

The blouses I made were from McCall's pattern #5050. I don't have a digital camera yet, so I can't show a photo of my actual blouse here, but I've copied the image from the pattern company's website for you to see.

I did make some adjustments to the pattern, inspired by Tracy. I lengthened the sleeves of the short-sleeved version of the blouse so that they would come down to my elbows with the elastic casing. And I moved the casing that is currently just under the bust line down to my waist, because it looked more flattering there on me. In fact, I'm wearing it at work today over a pair of slim-fitting jeans. Again, I wish that I could post a photo of the actual blouse. Hopefully, when I finish the skirt and dress, I'll have my film developed so that I can scan a printed picture to post.

I also finished the pumpkin-colored poncho that I'm planning to give to my sister for Christmas this year. And I started a new crochet project for myself using a pattern in a book that I found in the library.

I can't endorse the book, unfortunately, because the author, though extremely gifted and creative, chose to use a lot of coarseness in the way that she presented her material. Unfortunately, like a lot of the world these days, she must have thought that she needed to be crass to make crochet seem more trendy and hip...I don't think that would have been necessary. Her designs really stand on their own. And though I'll never make some of them because they don't appeal to me, I love her pattern for the Sweet Pea Shawl, also shown above. The author's name is Debbie Stoller, if you're interested in giving it a try sometime. Her instructions are very clear and easy to understand.

Back from Vacation

If you haven't ever taken a whole week of your vacation time off from work at once, you really don't know what you're missing...For the past eight or so years, I've taken off a day here or a couple of days there, often combining them with a weekend to increase the impact of the time off. But this year, I really needed a longer break.

I love my work, but I was getting tired, especially after having used nearly all of the vacation time I took earlier this year to catch up on work around the home. But last week, my husband and I took five days off from work (including the Labor Day holiday), and we actually managed to be away from our home for nearly nine consecutive days. It was so refreshing!

First, we went up north to visit my father and to do some projects at his house. My husband painted the back deck, and I went to work in the kitchen. I did several make-ahead-and-freeze meals using two wonderful cookbooks I ordered earlier this year from Amazon--Don't Panic Dinner's in the Freezer, and Once-A-Month Cooking. I'll try to post some of the recipes that worked out the best in the coming week or so. In the meantime, I'll just take a minute to give a small testimony about the difference this type of cooking method is making in my life.

As I've mentioned before, I work full time outside of the home and I have a long commute to and from work most days of the week. (I'm blessed to have an employer who allows me to work from home a day or two most weeks.) So I don't have a lot of time during your average weekday to do very much cooking or housework. I try to fit in a few tasks very early in the morning before I leave for work at 7 a.m. Later, after the drive home in the evening and some time spent either swimming or walking for exercise, it's often 8 or 8:30 p.m. when we're sitting down to dinner. Then, because the alarm goes off at 5:30 each weekday, I need to be slowing down so that I can get enough sleep for the next day.

All that to say, I make the most of my weekends for housework and cooking, and I try really hard to do things in an efficient way...As an aside, I'm always looking for good ideas for streamlining housework. My husband is a great help in this area, but I think we can all learn from each other's experiences. If I find a great tip, I'll add it to this blog. But if you have one to share, please let me know.

Anyway, in terms of cooking, I've grown accustomed to spending a good portion of my afternoon on either Saturday or Sunday (usually Sunday) in the kitchen preparing meals for the week ahead. Before I found these cookbooks, though, my efforts were generally focused on just that week ahead. Now, I'm doing things a little better. I'm also thinking in terms of making food that can easily be frozen for future use, and these two cookbooks I've found have helped me a great deal.

Now, when I make a shepherd's pie, for example, I make two shepherd's pies and add one to my freezer. I've always done that with meatloaf, and I have a great barbecued beef recipe that I used as well, but with these cookbooks (and their wonderful authors who have put so much time into testing every recipe), I've been able to expand my frozen meal repertoire. Up at Dad's house now, for example, I have waiting in his freezer not only a shepherd's pie and a meatloaf, but also honey baked pork chops, a hash brown casserole, and a basic meatball recipe. The next time we visit, I'll thaw one or two of these frozen entrees for us to use, thereby saving me time.

And when we came home on Sunday night from our nine days away, I pulled out basil stuffed chicken breasts to thaw in the refrigerator for dinner after work on Monday, plus a container of beef stew that we'll have for dinner tonight. Then I'll plan this weekend to make a couple more entrees to freeze for future use.

If you haven't tried this method of pre-cooking and freezing, I'd highly recommend it. And I think that this would also work well for single people who want to maximize their kitchen time. I could envision breaking down a single recipe into individual portions to freeze and later thaw for use. And I've also found that it enabled me to share a meal with a friend recovering from major surgery.

Normally, after a long trip, we'd be eating soup and sandwiches this week, plus maybe scrambled eggs and whatever else I could throw together without a trip to the grocery store...Oh, and that's another thing about my schedule. I really don't have time to shop during the week. So if we can live on what we have in the freezer and pantry until this coming Saturday, that's another benefit to make-ahead meals.

Before I forget to mention it, we went up to the North Shore area of Minnesota for the latter half of our vacation last week. Though the fall colors weren't at their peak this early, it was still beautiful, and we enjoyed hiking the state parks, seeing waterfalls and enjoying the harbor in Duluth. We are so blessed here in Minnesota to have a major inland shore area so close. It's almost like seeing the ocean when you can look across Lake Superior and see nothing but water for a few hundred miles.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beef and Pea Pods

Thankfully, with a lot of rest and liquids, I'm feeling a little better today. So before I leave my computer for the evening, I thought that it might be good to post another recipe that has become a favorite at our house...Beef and Pea Pods. Though neither of us has anything but Northern European family heritage, we dearly love Asian food. I don't know if this recipe is authentic or not, but it is very tasty and also easy to make. We serve it over vast quantities of Jasmine rice, and we enjoy two meals for the two of us out of this recipe usually.

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. cooking wine
2 tsp. sugar
1 lb. sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain and cut into 1-1/2 inch strips
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1-1/2 lb. snow peas, ends and strings removed
1 large onion, diced
1 can water chestnuts, sliced

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl. Add meat, stirring to coat, and marinate for at least 15 minutes. Heat oil in uncovered wok at 400 degrees. Add meat and sauce, stir frying until nearly done. Add onions and continue to stir fry until they're translucent. Add snow peas and water chestnuts just to the crisp tender stage for the pea pods. Serve immediate over rice.

(Note: I had 5 green onions in the fridge that needed to be used, so I chopped those up and added them, too, just before serving. They gave it additional color and made it even more onion-y in taste...always a good thing at our house!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Baked Oatmeal

I'm home from work today with a really bad head cold. I rarely miss work, so this is pretty unusual for me, but not totally unexpected. My husband has had a bad cold now for about a week. His cold started this way, too--congestion in the head, a sore throat, and a lot of fatigue, even though I slept about 12 hours from the point when I first fell asleep last night. Right now, I feel good enough to do a little work around the house, but I know that I need to go back to bed soon so that my body can rest and recover.

As usual, though, I pushed myself to make something good for the two of us to have for a light meal this morning. I so enjoy cooking that I can even make myself do it when I'm feeling a bit light-headed and clumsy from the congestion. I tried Tracy's baked oatmeal recipe from her Mama's Fixins recipe blog. As usual, I was very pleased with the result. The only change I made was to bake the apples and cinnamon with the oatmeal, whereas Tracy's recipe seemed to call for baking them separately. My husband, who was a bit of a skeptic when he heard me mention "baked oatmeal" for brunch today, had to admit that it was really good and that I can make the recipe again. You can find it here on Tracy's blog. Next time I make this, I'm going to double the recipe! :-)

Monday, August 27, 2007

I won!!!

What a wonderful surprise today! I checked my email over lunch here at work, and I discovered that I have won a yard of fabric from the Sew, Mama, Sew! blog! A few times over the past several months, I've signed up for their Free Fabric Friday drawing, but this will be the first time I've won anything...actually the first time I've won anything offered exclusively online!

It's not that I really need more fabric, of course. I have a large stash in my craft closet just waiting to be used. But I've been making more time to sew this year (a new year's resolution that I'm happy to say I've been keeping!), and this lovely fabric, called Sweet Peas Royal Blue from the Peas & Carrots collection by designer Sandy Klop of the American Jane company will be so much fun to use!

I guess that this is as good a time as any to mention some of the non-food-related projects I've been working on recently...I made three pleated tote bags using a wonderful pattern offered free by the author of the Artsy-Crafty Babe blog. I made one for myself and two for gifts for friends, and I'm planning to make at least one more for myself...perhaps using the lovely fabric that I won today!

I'm also crocheting a rust-colored Town & Country Poncho using a free pattern that I found on the Lion Brand yarn website. I made two ponchos for myself earlier this year, and I'm making this one for my sister...I'm trying to make a lot of my Christmas gifts again this year.

I also quilt, so I'm making bias binding for a couple of quilted wallhangings that I hope to finish soon. And finally, I started longing to do embroidery this summer, after seeing several pretty hand-embroidered projects posted on a number of other women's blogs. So I'm doing Sunbonnet Sue patterns that I traced onto muslin squares with plans to eventually make them into another quilted wallhanging--probably for my kitchen...I love crafting just as much as I love to cook!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Zucchini Brunch

Well, I have Tracy over at Mama's Fixins to thank today for a wonderful brunch menu. I thawed some of my grated zucchini, drained the extra liquid, and made both her zucchini quiche recipe and an adapted version of the chocolate zucchini muffins that she posted from another website. Both turned out really well, and I know that we'll use both recipes again. Thank you, Tracy, for providing such wonderful recipes!

I'm going to include the adapted version of the muffins, in case anyone else wants to try them the way that I made them. I replaced part of the oil with applesauce, and I used cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate, adding a little more oil and applesauce plus a little more sugar to make up for the difference between the two types of chocolate. I also used mini chocolate chips instead of regular sized ones since I had them on hand and thought the little tiny chips would be fun in muffins, and they were!

Revised Zucchini Chocolate Muffins

¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. cocoa
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sugar
2 medium eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup applesauce
1 cup finely grated zucchini
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients; pour in the wet ingredients and stir just to moisten. Fold in the chips. Pour into prepared muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Yield: 18 muffins.

Homemade Pesto

This recipe was adapted from the "Classic Pesto of Genoa" from Lynn Rossetto Kasper of Public Radio's "Splendid Table" program. I made it earlier this summer to use for a rolled pesto bread, which was wonderful. This time, I made a double batch to freeze, so that we can enjoy our homegrown basil in the winter.

1 large clove garlic
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup (tightly packed) basil leaves
2 heaping Tbsp. blanched almonds
3/4 cup grated fresh parmesan
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, puree the garlic and salt. Gradually add basil and then almonds, processing everything into a rough paste. Pour in the cheese and then the oil to bring the pesto to the consistency of heavy cream. Serve over warm or cold pasta, on toasted French or Italian bread, or bake with homemade bread--spread out on dough that has been rolled into a rectangle and then rolled up like a jelly roll with the ends sealed for baking. If you make the bread, you'll swirls of bread and pesto when it's done.