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.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Very Best Meatloaf Recipe

The recipe below is actually called "Very Best Meatloaf Recipe," and though I can't definitely say that it's the very best of all, it certainly has proved to be a favorite among our family and friends. It came from a great recipe book I have called "Don't Panic--Dinner's in the Freezer".

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. thyme
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs
2-1/2 tsp. salt (I use garlic salt instead of regular salt)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
3 lbs. ground meat (original recipe calls for beef, pork, and veal, but I used 3 lbs. ground beef)

Saute onion in oil, adding garlic and thyme after the onion has become somewhat translucent. Combine milk, egg, and ketchup. Stir in bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Crumble in meat and add onion mixture. Mix until well combined. Form into loaves, either to freeze or to bake that day. (I usually choose to freeze one loaf and bake the other.)

On the baking day, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake the meatloaf for 1-1/2 hours. During the last half hour, mix another 1/2 cup ketchup and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar for each meatloaf that you're baking. Add to the top of the loaf and bake for the last half hour.

(The cookbook also gives instructions for wrapping the loaves to freeze, first in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil, using the loaf pan as a mold. Then you can remove the wrapped loaf from your mold and freeze it in a freezer bag. You can use the frozen loaves for future meals on busy days or you can do what I did last week and give the loaf to a friend in need, such as after a major surgery or after delivery a baby, or during a time of grief.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Here is the recipe I use for Chocolate Zucchini Bread. This is by far my favorite zucchini bread recipe. It came from a church cookbook.

3 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup applesauce
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp. vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini
1-1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine dry ingredients. Combine eggs, oil, applesauce, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in zucchini, nuts, and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared (oiled and floured) loaf pans. Bake 55-60 minutes at 350 degrees.

Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini!

Now that I’m done making pickles, it’s time to move on to other blessings from the garden--like zucchini, the huge baseball bat variety from my sister’s garden in Iowa. She gave me four of them, but one was already spoiled when I cut into it on Sunday afternoon. So that left me “only” three of these giants to carve and shred for baking…When they get to be this big, they don’t work for anything but baking. The seeds inside were so large that I roasted them like pumpkin seeds!

I shredded five quarts of zucchini, used one right away and froze the remaining four. It was a tough job because of the thick rind, which had to be carved away before I could cut the flesh inside into chunks for my food processor. And it was messy with all that grated zucchini going into quart-sized freezer bags. But it’s done now, and we’re enjoying the fruit of the labor this week.

I used three cups to make chocolate chip zucchini bread—a recipe that I should add to this blog in case anyone else is interested in trying it. It’s lower in fat than most zucchini bread recipes I’ve had because half the fat is replaced with applesauce. And because of the chocolate base, it looks and tastes more like cake than anything containing a vegetable. In fact, when I bring it to potlucks my husband usually coaxes me not to tell anyone about the zucchini…just let them think it’s something decadent, he says.

The remaining cup I made into lemon zucchini muffins, a new recipe I found in a cookbook. To be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the muffins when I tried them that first day. The lemon zest taste didn’t permeate enough and, though I’m usually in favor of reducing sugar, the muffins also lacked in sweetness. But this morning, two days later, I had one for breakfast and there was definite improvement. I think everything must have mellowed well because my muffin this morning tasted both sweeter and more lemony.

So I might make that muffin recipe again, though I will probably fiddle with it as I’m mixing the batter. It originally called for lemon zest or lemon oil, but I might try using both the next time. And I might also substitute honey for the sugar, and then decrease the oil just a bit. And possibly, I would use whole wheat flour for a fraction of the white, though I did like the light golden yellow color of the muffins so it might be best to leave that part alone and just accept that they’re going to be more like cupcakes.

Another recipe I’m going to alter a bit in the near future is one for chocolate zucchini muffins that I found on the Mama’s Fixins blog. I really enjoy the recipes she posts there, but I can’t resist trying out my applesauce for oil substitution to see if it works as well as it does with my chocolate zucchini bread. I’ll use a 50/50 split of oil and applesauce, and I think I might also substitute baking cocoa for the chocolate called for in the original recipe. That will necessitate adding a little more sugar and a little more oil/applesauce, but I think it might make a good substitution since I like the way the baking cocoa works in the chocolate zucchini bread.

One of these days soon, I need to write about something other than food. In addition to cooking, I like to embroider, crochet, knit, sew, and quilt. I love to read a good book. And for exercise, I’m into walking and swimming. But I guess this part of the summer tends to be dominated by garden produce. Hopefully, next Sunday I’ll be able to get away from the kitchen long enough to play in the sewing room.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

Well, my plans for Wednesday night's dinner didn't work out quite as I had planned...My dear sweet husband thought that he was being helpful by turning up the slow cooker a notch before leaving the house. He remembered that I had talked the night before about setting it at 3, so he looked at the dial before he left and thought that it needed to go up a notch to be at 3...I guess he didn't read the dial correctly or something, because it was set to 4 all day while we were gone.

But anyway, when I came home from work on Wednesday, instead of smelling perfectly done roast beef ready to carve with juices in the pan ready to make into gravy, I smelled something distinctly different. The overdone roast was crusted to the dry bottom of the slow cooker pot, and I had to use two wooden spatulas to pry it out of the pot. Then I used my electric knife to slice a good half inch of dry, crusty meat from the bottom of the roast and did my best to slice the rest. It was a bit dry, too, so I contemplated adding barbecue sauce or making it into hash while I worked on cleaning the pot.

I added hot water and soap to the pot and gave it a little time to soak before I started scrubbing. It took three soakings, a good sturdy plastic scraper, and a steel wool pad to get that pot clean again...And while I was scrubbing, I couldn't help but be frustrated. But I prayed about it and asked the Lord to help me to have a better attitude. My mother-in-law called while I was working, so I told her about what happened. Talking with her and laughing a bit about it, too, helped a great deal. And, by the Lord's grace, our meal wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

I had a small amount of beef gravy in the freezer from a roast I made a while back. So I thawed that out and added to it by making a quick gravy with butter, flour, and some leftover chicken broth from the fridge. The meat was a little more dry than usual, but with the gravy, it wasn't bad. I also took time to boil some potatoes for mashing to make the meal a little more special. By the time my husband got home from his job, I had dinner ready...Thank the Lord!

We ended up eating the rest of it last night...I didn't want it to sit in the fridge or freezer any longer because it would probably only get more dry.

I debated talking with my husband about how this happened, especially when I found out that his day at work had been challenge. But I decided that it would be best to tell him so that we could avoid this happening again the future. I know that he meant well, and I'm very grateful that he's always so willing to help me out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Meal Planning

I've been working hard this year to plan ahead when it comes to meal time at our house. I love the idea of coming home to something homemade and ready in the slow cooker, or something that can easily be reheated in the microwave, or quickly cooked in a wok, broiled, or grilled.

So last weekend I took some bone-in chicken breasts, a beef roast, and a 3-lb. package of ground beef out of our freezer. We had the chicken breasts barbecued on Monday night. I started them when I first got home from work and they were ready to eat in a couple of hours. (The leftovers have been good lunches for my husband this week.) Then last night we had leftovers from our spicy stir-fried chicken and vegetables over rice meal that I made on Sunday. And tonight we'll have roast beef.

I seasoned the meat (generously) last night before dinner with dried onion flakes, coarsely ground pepper, and garlic salt, and then put it into the slow cooker to chill in the fridge overnight. This morning, I left my husband a note to put the slow cooker on the counter and plug it in before he left for the day. He leaves a few hours after I do, which helps when the recipe only calls for 7-8 hours of cooking at medium temperature and my workday plus commute time has me gone for 10 hours.

So, when I get home tonight the meat will be done. I'll carve it with my electric knife and serve it with microwaved corn on the cob (2 minutes per ear on high), microwave baked potatoes, and fresh sliced tomatoes (from my little container garden). I'll probably also make a quick gravy with the meat juices and a little flour, because my husband loves gravy.

The best thing about a meal like this is that there is enough meat (even with my husband's appetite for roast beef) for at least one more meal. So we'll probably have leftover roast beef again in the near future--within a couple of days or I'll freeze it for future use.

Thursday night will be an easier meal for us--bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, raw veggies, and watermelon for dessert. I made a large package of bacon last weekend, making more than we needed at the time so that I could just deal with the grease mess one time instead of twice. So I'll re-crisp some of that leftover bacon in the oven for our sandwiches on Thursday night, and I'll divide the rest of it for two recipes that I want to make on Friday with the ground beef that I've been thawing in the fridge.

I've been missing my mother's recipe for calico beans, so that will be Friday night's dinner. (I'll have more time to make dinner that night because I'm working from home that day--no commute time.) And then over the weekend, probably on Sunday afternoon, I'll make a new recipe that I recently found for baked jambalaya. Hopefully, the jambalaya recipe will be a success, because I'm planning to make enough of it to have as leftovers the following week.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Summer Time in the Prairie

I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart. I live near a major metropolitan area, and I can't imagine life without my computer, but I really never thought that I would take time to start a blog.

I guess one thing that helped convince me was listening to people 10-15 years younger than me talk about the importance of blogs as a means of communicating with friends. I use email with nearly everyone I know. But people in their 20s tell me they are more likely to check myspace or facebook than email for news from their friends...I don't know how universal this is because I've only talked with a handful of 20-somethings. But it made me think that perhaps this is the way of the future...or at least the way of the immediate future, as opposed to next year.

Anyway, to start this blog, it would probably be helpful to write a little about myself. As my profile states, I'm a follower of Christ. My greatest desire is that He be my highest treasure in life. I'm not there yet, but I have hope because of verses like Philippians 1:6b, which says "He who began a good work in you bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus." I'm so thankful that He will do this. If it depended on me, there would be no hope.

Next, my profile mentions my full-time job and my devotion to our home...My mother was an excellent homemaker. Actually, she was a pro. Her college degree was in home economics education and she actually taught home ec for a while before she was married to my father. After their wedding, she devoted herself full-time to homemaking, but she never stopped teaching. She taught me to cook, bake, sew, quilt, and do a variety of crafts. She taught me both by example and by allowing me to get involved in doing things myself.

As a result of my mother's teaching, I have a lot of confidence to try new things. Just last weekend, I ventured into pickling for the first time. A dear friend has a huge garden, and she very generously shared with me a large bag full of home-grown beets. My husband I love pickled beets, and he urged me to try making them. It was a messy and time consuming, but also very satisfying, and they turned out really good, I think. I didn't can them, though. I just adapted the recipe and called them refrigerator beets.

My husband, last but not least in this little introduction, is a dear, godly man, who is a source of much comfort and joy to me. I'll tell you more about them in future posts. If anyone finds this blog, I thank you for reading thus far. God's blessings to you...