Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Mother-in-Law's Wonderful Goulash

Among our friends and family in Minnesota and Iowa, it seems like everyone has a memory of goulash from childhood.

My mother has a great goulash recipe, but my husband loves his mother's best. And since he is working very long hours this week, I thought that it might help to have some comfort food at home. This recipe was the first that came to mind.

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1-1/2 cups diced celery, precooked
1 can chicken noodle soup
1 can mushrooms, drained
14.5-oz. stewed tomatoes
8 oz. tomato sauce
4 oz. spaghetti, broken in half and cooked
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Brown ground beef, drain excess fat. Add onion and green pepper and saute. Add remaining ingredients and cook until thoroughly hot and well-blended.

Pick a Peck of Pickled (Banana) Peppers

Last summer, I made beet pickles, sweet pickles, and hot and spicy pickles. Well, this year I didn't have anything to pickle until now. But this afternoon I made a single jar of Pickled Banana Peppers. Now I wish that I had more peppers to make another jar! Maybe there will be more banana peppers next weekend when I have a chance to visit our local farmers market again.

I found this recipe on It's called Canned Italian Peppers. I made 1/6 of this recipe and probably could have made just an 1/8 and had plenty of liquid for the five peppers that I had in our refrigerator.

I originally bought those peppers thinking that I would eat them raw, but even though banana peppers are considered mild, they were a bit too hot for me to eat raw. Pickling mellows them, without taking away their nice little kick.

Anyway, this is a great recipe. I made this one jar of peppers earlier today, and I've already enjoyed eating a few of them. I didn't can them. I just put them into a jar in the refrigerator, with plans to use them over the next couple of weeks.


Sliced banana peppers (five peppers filled my little pint-sized jar)
Italian seasoning (I used dried basil and oregano leaves)
Garlic cloves (I didn't have fresh garlic on hand, so I used garlic powder)
White vinegar
Fresh basil leaves
Canning salt (I used table salt)
Olive oil

Fill pint jars with sliced peppers. In each jar put: 3-4 basil leaves, pinch of Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. salt, 2 cloves garlic (I used a pinch of garlic powder), and 1 tsp. olive oil.

Bring to a boil in a saucepan: 2 quarts vinegar, 1 quart water, and a pinch of sugar. Pour over peppers and seal jars. (I just used a clean commercial pickle jar and closed the lid after it had cooled a bit.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie!

Our favorite four-legged friend turned 8 years old this past week. Officially, it was August 19, but we ended up celebrating for two days, kind of...

On Monday, my mother-in-law invited us to join her for dinner, so she took time to spoil her "granddog" by giving him extra treats during our visit. And on Tuesday, we grilled pork chops (so that Charlie could have little tastes of meat), and then the three of us did one of Charlie's favorite activities; despite the hot, sticky weather, we all took a walk.

This photo is one that I took after our walk. Charlie had just finished drinking some water, but he was still panting from the heat. He looks like he has a big grin on his face. He's always our happy little guy.

We give thanks to the Lord for the blessing of a good dog. My friends and I prayed before I got Charlie nearly eight years ago. We asked the Lord to give me the right dog and that he would be a blessing to my life. I was single back then, and it meant so much to come home to a happy little dog after work. It still means just as much to me now, even though I have the blessing of marriage now. My husband and I will celebrate our fifth anniversary this year, so including our courtship time, he's known Charlie for nearly six years.

Fresh Tomato Soup

Alongside homemade bread, I love a hot, steamy bowl of homemade soup. And this time of the year, with lovely tomatoes from the farmers market to use, I've made this recipe twice. It's a great way to use tomatoes that are still good, but need to be used in short order. And it's really fun for me to be able to use the fresh basil from the planter on my front deck.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 medium, very ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 can chicken broth
1 small pinch baking soda
1 cup whole milk

Saute onions in olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When they are translucent, add tomatoes, garlic, basil, and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Stir in tomato paste, garlic salt, and pepper. Add chicken broth and simmer for a few minutes. Add pinch of baking soda (this neutralizes some of the acid from the tomatoes). Add milk and simmer to heat for serving.

A new bread cookbook!

I have a new cookbook, and I've been having fun working through the recipes!

Several weeks ago, maybe even months, I used my library's reserve system request a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzber and Zoe Francios. It took a long time to wait for my turn to have that book for two weeks, but it was well worth the wait. So as soon as I had to take it back to the library, I splurged and got it from the bookstore for my own cookbook collection here...It wasn't that I needed a new cookbook, but I'm really enjoying this book!

First, I made a batch of Oatmeal Bread. It was hearty and somewhat sweet, very much a treat, and so easy to make!

Next, I made a batch of Challah, and it was wonderful, too! And the best thing about that recipe is that you can freeze the dough if you want to save it for another time. I love flexibility of these recipes.

Basically, they have you make a large batch of very wet dough. You mix it up in a five-quart container (I use a five-quart plastic ice cream container and lid), and then you chill it until you're ready to bake.

The Oatmeal Bread was baked in a 9x13 bread pan, but the Challah was done free-form on a baking sheet. And just this week, I baked the basic Boule recipe. It's a round-ish sourdough-type loaf, and you bake it on a heated pizza stone. It comes out of the oven deep golden brown and really crusty on the outside.

I thought about including a recipe here, but it's really more the technique than most recipes. If you're interested in bread that really does take five minutes or less to handle (though it does require some rising and baking time), I'd highly recommend getting this book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rhubarb Cherry Jam

One more rhubarb post today, and then I'll be caught up with my kitchen adventures for a while...And I should also give credit to the source of these rhubarb recipes. I got them from the "Ritzy Rhubarb Secrets Cookbook: Rhubarb Recipes by the Good Cooks of Litchville, North Dakota and the Surrounding Area."

I bought a copy of this cookbook when the ladies from a Litchville Lutheran church came to speak for my church's women's group. They didn't talk about rhubarb, but the cookbook sale was their way of raising funds for their church when they spoke at other churches. I don't know if this cookbook is even available anymore, but I'm so glad that I bought it years ago.

Anyway, this is a great recipe for freezer jam, sure to please even the most skeptical about eating something made with rhubarb. And it's another great way to use rhubarb without having to bake tons of quick bread, muffins, and pies. We like the baked goods made from rhubarb, too, but it's really nice to have recipes like this that can go into the freezer for future use.

6 cups rhubarb, chopped finely
4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
21-oz. can cherry pie filling
3-oz. pkg. cherry gelatin

Mix rhubarb and sugar, and let stand overnight.

The next day, boil rhubarb mixture for 10 minutes. Put pie filling in blender and puree. Add pie filling to rhubarb and bring to boil again. Remove from heat, add gelatin, and stir until dissolved. Add almond flavoring and prepare for freezer storage.

Rhubarb Slush

I don't have a photo of this recipe, but we've made it twice already this summer because it is so refreshing and such a good way to use a lot of rhubarb...Those of us who grow rhubarb know that it is a really good producer. And for us, we just don't need a lot of baked goods all of the time. So a recipe like this, which can wait in the freezer until needed, is perfect. We also served it recently for guests and shared the recipe with them.

8 cups rhubarb, cut up
3 cups sugar
1 (3-oz.) box strawberry gelatin
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 small envelope unsweetened drink mix (like Kool-Aid)
2 quarts 7-up (actually, we buy cans and use only what we need each time we enjoy this slush)

Cook rhubarb in 2 quarts water until tender. Strain and discard the pulp that's left of the rhubarb, but keep the juice from the pot. To the juice, add sugar, gelatin, and lemon juice. Bring mixture to a boil to dissolve crystals. Add strawberry drink mix and water to make 1 gallon of liquid. Freeze until ready to use.

When you're ready to use the slush, take it from the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Then, using a stiff metal spoon, scrape enough slush to fill your glasses three-quarter full. Fill the glasses with slush with 7-Up, and enjoy!

(Note: Next time I make this, I'm going to try another flavor, like orange or grape, or lemon or lime.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I tried a new rhubarb pie recipe this year, and I think we've found our family favorite now. Normally, my husband isn't as much of a rhubarb eater as I am, but he really enjoyed this pie.


Pastry for 2-crust, 9-inch pie
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
1 cup strawberries, sliced

Mix rhubarb, sugar, and corn starch until rhubarb is well coated. Stir in strawberries. Place in unbaked pie shell; cover with top crust. Sprinkle a little sugar over top.

Bake in 400-degree oven for 1 hour or until crust is brown and rhubarb is tender.

Blueberry Banana Muffins

We had guests stay over recently, and I was really thankful to find a muffin recipe that wouldn't require a trip to the grocery store.

As usual, I made a few changes. I cut the amount of sour cream in half and used "light" instead of regular sour cream. But you'd never know it by the result. They were really good!

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tsp. soda
4 cups flour
2 cups blueberries
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, sour cream, and bananas alternately with the dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries and nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. (Makes 2 dozen muffins.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Almost No-Knead Bread

I've been baking quite of bit of bread lately, and this is one of the loaves we've really enjoyed.

It's so easy, it really does deserve the name "Almost No-Knead Bread" and, as usual, I've altered the recipe just a bit for our personal family taste, and I simplified the method just a bit, too.

The original came from Cooks Illustrated, and I think that recipe was a take-off on another that I read online on the New York Times website some time ago.

While the original recipe calls for just all-purpose white flour, I've been using 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups of bread flour, for a more whole-grainy taste and a chewier crumb. And then I've found that with the time that I allow for raising the bread, I don't need to use the rapid-rise yeast that the original recipe requires. I use ordinary regular-rise yeast with great results. (Note: You don't have to use nearly as much yeast as most bread recipes require because of the long time that you give for the initial rise.)


2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. yeast
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. water (room temperature)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. mild-flavored lager
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until a shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for around 18 hours. (Note: I don't worry about being specific with this time. I just mix it up after work one night and bake it sometime the next day.)

Spray a sheet of parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray and lay it into a covered 2-quart Pyrex casserole dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let sit for another 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and then turn it down to 425 when you open the oven door to put your Pyrex dish inside. Be sure to remove the plastic wrap and then place the casserole dish cover on top of the dish, forming a little steam oven for your bread as it bakes. After 30 minutes, remove the Pyrex lid and let the bread back for another 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 210 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the finished loaf from the dish by carefully picking up the parchment paper under it, and let the loaf cool on a wire rack. Cool a bit before you cut into it for the nicest looking slices. Your bread should be deep golden brown with a really nice crusty crust and a chewy interior.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Raspberries from our garden

I haven't had the time to grow vegetables in a garden for at least the last four years. I picked that number because that's how long it's been since I took a job with a long commute...But that job is with a ministry, and I really love the work. So, the lack of fresh veggies from my own garden is a sacrifice for a very worthwhile cause.

So, this summer, instead of tending my own garden, I've taken to making regular trips to our local farmers market. But one thing that my farmers market hasn't had is, thankfully, the one edible (beyond herbs) that we can eat from our garden. We didn't have many, but we did have raspberries this year.

This photo shows about one half of our 2008 raspberry "harvest". The plants are only two years old, so hopefully we'll have more in years to come. The plants were a gift from my husband's cousin, who is married to a botanist, so everything she gives me from her garden grows really well in this area. We enjoyed raspberries on ice cream one time, and then one time we added them to a fruit salad. They were wonderful! I hope there will be more in 2009! :-)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The gate to our future Asian-stye garden

My husband has been working a lot in our backyard, as of late. Most impressively, he built this beautiful Asian-style garden gate. It serves as the opening in a new fence that he installed between the part of our backyard that our schnauzer, Charlie, considers his domain, and the part that, Lord willing, we will start to develop into a Japanese-style garden next year.

At this point, I'm just starting the research stage of trying to determine what to plant. We're looking at mainly perennials in this garden, so they have to be hardy to Zone 3. And because of all of the lovely tall trees in our yard and in the neighboring yards, they must also be shade tolerant.

On the sunnier side of this fence, we planted eight Miss Kim lilacs, which should only grow to between 4 and 6 feet. That will be enough to eventually cover the fence, and we probably plant lilacs or other bushes on the Asian side of the fence as well...Again, that's a project for another year.

We're doing this on our own time with our own labor, and we're working hard to keep it all within our limited budget. The wood chips that you see in the background of this photo were all free for the hauling during our city's annual clean-up day in June. We hauled seven trailer loads of wood chips to our yard and spent all morning and most of an afternoon one Saturday spreading them around. We'll move them around a bit more when we get ready to start planting in 2009.

The little lantern and dry pond that you see in this other photo was my husband's first effort toward our Asian-style backyard getaway. We live in a low-lying area and had to install a waterproofing system in our basement, which includes a pump that drains into the south side of our backyard. So, rather than have a swampy place to deal with, my Sweetie dug a little bone-shaped "pond" and lined it with river rock. Then he added the little stone lantern and the ferns that you see here. We named this little "pond" in honor of our dog, calling it "Little Bone Lake."

Pinwheel Coasters and a New "Garden" Blouse

While we're on the theme of gardening, I've been doing some garden-inspired sewing as well.

I saw a post on another blog with a tutorial on making pinwheel coasters, but I knew that I could make them much faster and easier using a strip-piecing method. I cut a few 3-inch wide strips of two different colors of calico and then cut 3-inch squares from the strips. Then I paired together one square of each color and sewed them together on the diagonal. I trimmed at a diagonal leaving a 1/4-inch seam allowance, and then ironed them flat. Then, taking four of these bi-color squares, I sewed them into pinwheel shapes. With a solid square for backing and a square of low-loft poly batting, I had a set of six pinwheel coasters in just a couple of hours. I think they turned out really sweet, and it was fun to tie them together for a gift for my husband's aunt.

Then, I made myself a new blouse with a garden theme. I had purchased this calico quilting fabric several years ago, but I had never figured out what I would be doing with it...I used to buy fabric all the time without a real plan for how to use it. These days I don't do that. Instead, I'm trying to use what I have on hand, only buying new fabric when there is a specific need that my fabric stash can't fulfill. I consider my stash to be a blessing, but it would be better to only buy when there's an actual need.

Anyway, this was an easy pattern, and it's been a fun blouse to wear with shorts and capri pants. Now, I'm working on another blouse, one that is sleeveless that I hope will work in the fall as well as the summer time. It's another calico from my stash, but the pattern is paisley in beige, brown, and off-white. I'm think that it should work well in the fall with my beige cardigan for warmth.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Planter hangers for our front deck

My husband is always doing thoughtful things to make our home even more home-y. This summer, he added shepherd's crooks to our front deck so that I can hang hanging plants.

Even though life has been pretty stressful now for the past four months because of a project at work, every time I see the front of our house, it makes me smile. I am so grateful to the Lord for His gift of a thoughtful, creative, and talented spouse. I really don't know what I would do without him.

Salty the Sea Dog

We finally made time last night after work to take our canoe out to the lake across the road from our house. It took less than five minutes to drive the trailer with the canoe to the boat launch, and less then 10 minutes to unload the boat, drive the car and trailer back to the parking area, and then walk back down to the boat. So we were in the lake in less than 15 minutes...Why haven't we done this before? Probably because we had to make time in our busy schedules to do it.

Anyway, it was so worth the time. We canoed for about an hour and a half. We probably paddled two or three miles round trip around "our" little lake. We didn't see all of it, but we did see enough to know that we want to go back.

I didn't bring the digital camera because I was nervous about it ending up in the lake. But my husband made a good suggestion for bringing it more safely next time. I'm going to pack it up in two layers of ziplock bags and keep it in a tummy pack when I'm not using it.

So, instead of posting photos of the beautiful blue herons that we saw, or any of the lovely patched of water lilies in various stages of bloom, I have a photo that I took before we left the house. This is Charlie, our schnauzer, also known as "Salty the Sea Dog" when we take him out in a boat. And he has his own little life preserver to wear now, thanks to a sale at Drs. Fosters and Smith. Sure, most dogs can swim, but this makes my husband and I feel better about taking Charlie with us in the canoe. He isn't thrilled to be wearing it, but he does look really cute. And after he's had it on for a few minutes, he seems to forget about it and just enjoy being able to come along with us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Late-summer flowers in our garden

I can't believe it's been so long again since I last posted on this blog site. Where is the summer going? And why is it going so quickly?

Actually, I know the reason it's going so quickly. It's become I've been so consumed with my work for the past four months. But I was finally able to upload our latest publishing project to the printer last Friday night, and today I'm really thankful to have a comp day to use for rest.

I slept late this morning, baked oatmeal bread and made fresh tomato soup for a simple lunch for the two of us, and I've been uploading digital photos and managing files on our home computer for the last couple of hours. I'm also doing laundry, and I plan to reconcile our checking account (which hasn't been done in ages), and back up all of our computer files on the external hard drive before leaving this desk in our kitchen.

Later today, we're planning to take our canoe out to the lake across the road from our house, and I also promised my husband that I would help him with some yardwork before the day's end...I love my work for the ministry, but it is so nice to have a little time off. So I'm not going to write much today, but I thought it would be good to add a few new photos since I have all these lovely images of our late-summer flowers to share with you. Despite my lack of time to give them much attention this summer, this has been the most colorful year I can remember in terms of flowers in our backyard garden.