Friday, April 3, 2009

Installing Bees

4 hives in front of the persimmon grove

Cluster of bees inside the package

2 hives by the blackberry patch

Mr. Tabb in the mint with his carpet that he drug out of the garage.

Mr. Tabb sleeping in the flowerpot by the door.

I haven't had the opportunity this week for any inspired cooking because there is so much happening I feel I can bearly keep my head above water, but it's all good. I get ready to complain, and hesitate, because it is a lot of good stuff that is happening at once. However, the whole balance thing that I try to practice is difficult, especially this week. To illustrate how I feel, imagine a see-saw and I'm standing in the middle straddling both sides trying to maintain balance--teeter here, teeter there...oooohhh ba-la-nce. You've been there, right?
It started 3 weeks ago with Booker our outside dog running over to the neighbors house a 1/2 mile away after we would leave for work in the mornings. He somehow figured out they had doggies over there that would play with him. Mr. Tabb started off just bringing him back and dropping him off at the end of the driveway. He started calling us and asking us to come get him. He was really nice about it because he has a beagle that would go 2-3 miles away and visit the neighbors so he understood. Plus, it helps that Booker is so sweet. Then Booker decided that after we went in for the evening, he would go over and hang out on the Tabb's porch. So, the calls came after 9:00 pm. Night driving is not my favorite thing, but I had to go get him.
Two Fridays ago, Mr. Tabb called to inform us Booker was over there and someone had dropped a beagle that afternoon. We went over and Booker had already befriended the lonesome fellow. The stray beagle had a sore back paw and was skin and bones. We packed both of them in the truck and back home we went. On the good side, Booker has not gone to Mr. Tabb's since. On the bad side, we couldn't figure out where our cats went. Now we know. Booker and the beagle who has been named Mr. Tabb since that's where he came from have been chasing them all over the property; not to hurt them but just for the sport of it. The barn cats have gone to the Amish across the street, and Cornelia Corncat has been living in the woods behind the house. Bootsie the old cat has smacked Booker and Mr. Tabb in the face so they leave her alone. The other 3 have never learned to stand up to the 2 knuckleheads because they have always had free run of the yard. David has been working with Mr. Tabb but it has been really hard because, well, he's a beagle and very stubborn. Neither of us have ever had beagles so this is all new. One observation: he has peculiar habits such as the desire to drag his bedding outside of the garage, play in the rain, and sleep in my flowerpot. So the beagle drama is ongoing stress.
Sunday was a horrible day weather-wise; windy, rain, sleet, snow flurries. And, as luck would have it, I had picked up 6 packages of bees Saturday. I had to install them Sunday afternoon because they had traveled up from Georgia and were already showing signs of stress. In my Iditarod suit and 'mad bomber' fur-lined hat, I slipped my beesuit over all of it and looked like the Michelin Man. I rode my bee mobile (John Deere Gator) to the back end of the 'boot' as we call it and set up my hives. When viewed on the aerial property maps, that 15 acre section resembles the shape of Italy. There is a grove of persimmon trees and wild blackberries so it just seemed like a nice place for hives, plus we are seeding the area in wild flowers, grasses, and bee forage. Four of the packages were strong, but two of them seemed a little weak. I may lose those two; no guarantees with bees. In the pictures, the screen boxes at the hive entrances are what the bees travelled in. I have to pry the tops of pull out the queen cage and hang it between frames then shake the packages, as they are called, into the hive boxes. Some bees always stay behind, so I prop the packages at the hive entrances. When the bees smell the queen's pheremones inside the hive box, they will crawl/fly into the hive box on their own.

Finally, all the packages were installed and I was able to get back home. At home, I went to the garage and started seeding trays with tomato seeds, over 200 seeds which sounds crazy, remember, though, I have acres of gardens this year. In the quiet of the garage, it hit me. I had forgotten to put the sugar syrup buckets which the bees feed from in the hive boxes.

Monday: David had a heart catheterization in Louisville. We left the house at 5:00 am to make the 6:45 appointment. The day was taken up with that. Good news is all arteries are clear.

Tuesday: Got 2 yorkies ready for vet trip to get their teeth cleaned and Mr. Tabb to be nuetered. Thank God for Joyce the pet sitter who was going to drive them to Elizabethtown for the procedures. Went back to the farm and put the syrup buckets on the hives. Had to release one of the queens in one of the weak hives. I'm worried about that one especially because the queen was moving slow and the bees were really weak. Probably will lose that one. Went to work and realized I had over 50 folders to invoice. Blood pressure and heart rate went up immediately, when will I get it done? That night, I put the finishing touches on a Beef Council recipe for their cook-off. Deadline is midnight, but I beat it by 4 hours.

Wednesday: April Fools Day. Went to work and finished 2 folders. The rest of the day was a wash because David was too busy engaging me to figure out pranks to play on the office staff. I left at 3:00 pm and went to the grocery store to buy office supplies. I saw Easter coloring kits and grabbed a couple. Ran back to the office and unloaded the office stuff, went to say good-bye to David. He grabbed me and said I couldn't leave because he had just set up the prank of all pranks of the day. Bonnie ran out of the bathroom screaming and laughing. He had taken the dye tablets out of my Easter kits, unscrewed the faucets, and stuck a red dye tablet in and then screwed back the faucet. When Bonnie turned on the water, it was red. So, I tossed the remaining kits, what good are Easter coloring kits w/o the colors? It was fun though, and it was good to see him laugh.

Thursday: Drove to Louisville to pick up my car that was in the shop for scheduled maintenance. I dropped it off on Monday while David was in recovery. Had to be back at the house to wait for the Directv repairman who was schedule between 12 and 4. We have only been able to watch BBCA for the last 2 weeks. Of course, he didn't show up until about 2:30. Could have been worse I suppose. Set up emergency supplies for the tornadic weather the weather folks have been warning about all day. Good news, no tornadoes. Bad news, there are 10 more bills to invoice. More good news, David said don't worry about billing until next week.

Friday: My brother comes to town this afternoon which will be so much fun. He is the company's IT guy so he has a lot of work to do, but we always make the most of it after-hours. He will be deployed for a year so he wants to make sure everything is ship-shape before he leaves. Initially, it was scheduled as an Iraq deployment, but then it changed to Ft. Benning. Again, thank God he is state-side.

Saturday: He doesn't know it yet, but I am kidnapping my brother and driving to our other property to assess the bees down there in Taylor County. When we get back home, we are going to spend the day at the new property which he hasn't had an opportunity to explore. I want him to the trapper's cabin ruins and I will take our metal detector with me so we can search for ruins of a whiskey/moonshine still at the base of the bluffs near the trapper's cabin. It's marked on an old map and I can't wait to see if I can find pieces of it. David doesn't know it yet, but I ordered a book about building a still. I know, it's illegal, but I thought it would be nice to have one on that site, strictly for educational purposes. Refer the ATF to this blog if anything happens to me so they know I was not up to any tomfoolery! (smile) Of course, when the book arrives, David will flip his lid. I can hear it now, "you're gonna get us both locked up!"

As you can read, it has been wild around here, all good, but still stressful, and really no time for recipe testing much less preparing a proper meal. I came close last night though with spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and garlic bread with blackberry/cabernet sorbet for dessert. The meatballs are from a previous post. I do have one little recipe if you can call it that. I hope you try it because it is delicious.
Honeyed Blueberries
1 small container of blueberries
1/4 cup honey
Wash blueberries and place in a medium bowl with the water that is clinging to the berries. Drizzle honey over top. Gently stir. Let set for a few minutes. Stir again, then eat as is or spoon over the top of anything you like ie cheesecake, yogurt, cereal, ice cream.
This is so deceptively simple, yet the magic that happens when the blueberries and the honey comingle is delicious.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cracklin' Crisp Chicken and Gardening Overload

The finished plate

Just off the Viking Elliptical Cooker

Half way point...

The resting bird

I actually prepared this chicken recipe a few weeks ago, but we are going to grill another chicken tonight because neither of us have been able to forget the cracklin' quality of the crispy chicken skin.
I just know I can tell you my naughty little secrets, we (more me than he) ate all of the shatteringly crisp skin and then were too full to actually eat the meat. I fixed the plate for the photo op and we picked at it, vacuum sealed the remaining leftovers, and went to our respective corners to pay our penance. Lent had just started and both of us had sworn off meat. Now let's not get too crazy, after the "skin sin", I modified my plans to "no RED meat" which I promptly screwed up the next weekend when I fixed bacon, downed a couple slices, thought about what I had just done and then justified it as 'bacon equals pork, the other white meat'. Yeah, that's it. Does breakfast meat really count anyway? Thank God Jesus wasn't tempted with crispy chicken skin or breakfast meat. Salvation would have never been the same...
Anyhoo, if you love crispy chicken skin but have a hard time achieving it, this recipe has a trick: baking powder. Trust me, there are no weird flavors or aftertastes. The science behind it is this: Chickens are processed in water, and there is a lot of water in the packaging; therefore, the chicken skin absorbs a lot of this moisture. By putting baking powder on the skin, it actually pulls moisture out of the skin which then evaporates. The baking powder melts, goes into the skin, pulls moisture and after a few hours comes back to the surface where it simply, because of the dilution process, just disappears too.
This recipe can be prepared on the grill which I like because of the smoky flavor it takes on. I used a vertical apparatus that enables the bird to "sit" on the grill grate. You could do the "beer can" routine. Probably tonight we will try a new grilling gizmo that my husband ordered called the 'turkey cannon'. It seems small enough to accomodate a chicken. I'll let you know what we think of the cannon later.
Gardening overload is happening. The pawpaw trees are suffering at the farm. The deer are determined to dig them up and nibble the roots, plus the recent frosts have bitten the tender tops. I think they will pull through. My friend, Mike is plowing my 4 gardens at the farm. Each garden is an acre plot. David, for my birthday present, bought me a John Deere 5101 (translation: Bigass Tractor) with a seven row tiller. Since that set us back about $50K, I have to wait til next year for the convertible seedbox which means I have to use my manual seeder in each of those gardens. I can't wait to see the neighbor's face when I till those gardens with my JD, and then step out of the cab, load up my seeder, and start walking down the garden's length, hilarious!
An acre is 208 feet, squared. I thought my gardens at the house were about a half an acre. Oh how wrong I was. They are probably not even a 1/4 of an acre. For these gardens at the farm, since I couldn't mentally picture an acre, David and I, on the windiest day in March, of course, used a tape measure to walk off each plot. I'm sure the neighbor was rolling on the floor laughing at us being wind-whipped while walking off the plots with a giant tape measure.
Beside trying to get the garden seed ready for these huge gardens, we are having the pasture fertilized and grass seed sown so I had to decide on my grass seed mix. Since I have bees, I wanted an assortment of forage for them so we went with short blade fescue, perennial rye, alfalfa, white clover, and yellow clover. Then the 15 acres that cuts through the woods will be turned into a wildlife area and that seed is comprised of the former plus shasta daisy, rizome sunflowers, and prairie grasses. Next year in the main pasture, using a no-till method, I can cut in red poppies, sunflowers, among others.
I started seeds a few weeks ago under my grow lights in the garage. I always plant something "experimental". I call it experimental because I try to pick something unusual that I haven't seen in other gardens. This year it is artichokes. I read an article last month about some gardeners in Maine that grow Imperial artichokes with great success. I was able to get some seed which has germinated reasonably well. Not as well as I had hoped, but I do have some seedlings. The Green Globe artichoke seed came up much better than the cold-hardy Imperial so it has already been different than I had expected. Green Globe is the variety that California artichoke farmers grow. Artichoke seed only has about a 70% germination rate that is why the Imperial has confounded me already, only 60% germination vs 90+ with the Green Globe. I will take a picture in the next few days so you can see the difference in healthiness. Both varieties were planted the same day.
It has become a mission to plant these seedlings because David told the guys down at the farm supply what I was growing and they laughed him out of the place. "Artichokes don't grow in Kentucky!" He came back home and told me what they said, and at that moment I decided that was the plant I was going to follow on my blog so the whole world, or at least you and I, could laugh back, "Oh yes they do!" I can't stand narrow-minded farmers. Of course, I could fail, but in true gardening spirit, I'll move on to the next interesting plant.

Cracklin' Crisp Chicken
1 whole chicken, 6-7 pounds, giblets removed and discarded
5 tsp kosher salt (if using table salt, 2-1/2 tsp)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp black pepper
Place the chicken breast-side down on the work surface. Using the tip of a sharp knife make 1" slits below each thigh and breast along the back of the chicken. Using a skewer, poke several holes in the fat deposits of th thighs and tops of the breasts. Tuck wingtips underneath chicken.
Combine salt, baking powder, and black pepper in a small bowl. Pat the chicken dry and rub this mixture into the skin coating surface evenly.
Set chicken breast-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, 30-60 minutes ( I went 2 hours). Position chicken onto a vertical roaster.
Heat grill to medium hot. Place chicken on grill and close the lid. Roast for 45-60 minutes. When the chicken leg moves freely, the bird is done. Remove from grill. Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes, it makes it easier to remove the vertical roasting apparatus.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pawpaw Patch

Amish plow horses, I think they are Percherons.

I haven't tilled my garden in 4 years because the Amish neighbor comes up with the horses and turns the soil with his old plow. No carbon footprint here!

Pawpaw Patch.
The pawpaw trees, or should I say, sprigs arrived Thursday afternoon while it was sleeting. Just my luck. The mulberry and quince were 3' tall and bareroot just as I expected. I knew the pawpaw trees were going to be small because anything larger than 12" doesn't transplant well, but still the shock of seeing them was, well, shocking. Of course, just as I blogged a month ago, David was pessimistic. "How will they survive?" "They're sticks!"
Today I will drive down to the farm and plant them. He and I do agree that we will intersperse them at the woods' edge. The directions advised that for the next year and a half partial shade during the hottest parts of the day were crucial. If we had planted them orchard-style, we could have blocked the sun with pine boughs or netting, but with 126 acres of pasture, we feared that the wind would destroy any structures and probably the pawpaws too.
If you remember, I have never seen an actual pawpaw tree, but have read about them. They used to grow in the woods, and a nickname is Kentucky Banana. The fruit is gaining recognition with heritage growers. Organizations such as Heritage Foods (, and RAFT are seeking pawpaws when in season, and are charging premium prices for a box of pawpaws.
I went down to Sonora Florist on Friday to pay for an arrangement and to chitchat with Violette. We got to talking about my little pawpaw trees, and she just busted out laughing, "There's a pawpaw tree behind the church", waving her hand in the direction of the church across the street. "And, I've heard, there's another a couple miles away". She went on to say, just as I had read, that she heard pawpaws needed two trees in order to pollinate, but the one behind the church bears fruit often. She confirmed they have a banana taste, and are very seedy. I just rolled my eyes. Just my luck, I spend a small fortune buying pawpaws, and they are in my backyard. I went on and told her about the mulberry, elderberries, and the quince. She had tasted them too.
Now, I have tasted the elderberries, and the quince, but have never stopped to taste the mulberries even though they grow wild along the roads. First off, I'm nervouse about them being tainted by pollution from cars, and farm machinery. Secondly, they are juicy, purple-staining berry. When the trees drop their fat little berries, people get fed up with them because the juice can stain a sidewalk, and I'm not kidding, they drop a lot of berries. I can't imagine having one near a driveway.
I bought the mulberry tree because I had read that the birds would go for the mulberries and leave the other fruit alone in the orchard. I guess I'll find out if that is true. Violette thought it sounded plausible. Maybe what I need to do when I have these ideas about native fruits and such, is go down to Sonora Florist and run them by Violette. I could probably save myself some money. Just like last year, when I searched high and low for pie cherries. I went down there, of course a week after the season ended, and lamented to Violette. "Mama has a tree in her backyard that was just loaded". Just my luck. I'll be the first in line this year, though, tell Mama, Violette.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Baby Artichokes, I love 'em

A raw baby artichoke is on the left side. A prepped artichoke ready for the saucepan is on the right.

After simmering the artichokes for 40 minutes, they were tender. Here, they are stored in water with a tablespoon of white vinegar.

A cooked baby artichoke, halved, as you can see, the choke is practically non-existent.

Marinated baby artichokes in bibb lettuce. Just fold the lettuce over and pop it in your mouth.

Baby Artichokes.

Just the thought of baby veggies brings a smile to a person's face. So cute and tiny laying there in nothing more than a little pat of butter. They also bring a smile to marketer's faces, and pocketbooks. Baby artichokes are nothing more than the side shoots of the artichoke plant. The large artichokes come from the top during the months of March through May. A short season that begged to be expanded. In came the marketers, "Hey, use those small side shoot 'chokes and call them babies." Ahh, the genius.

No matter what, they are tasty, and simple to prep and cook. It begins with rinsing off the small artichokes. Then trimming the stem down to a 1/4". Simple break off the petals until you get the yellow-based petals. Trim off the green top and put the prepped artichoke in some water that has a lemon squeezed into it or a tablespoon of white vinegar. This acid keeps the 'chokes from oxidizing, which I might add, happens almost immediately upon cutting.

So, after all the 'chokes are prepped, pour off the water. Add fresh water to a large saucepan and another TB of white vinegar or lemon juice. Add all of the prepped artichokes. As you have now noticed, they float. So tear off a piece of parchment paper and fold it so it fits into the pot and on top of the 'chokes. This way the condensation on the parchment paper will cook the tops of the artichokes.

Cook over a medium simmer for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center goes through without any resistance (think, room temperature butter). Drain.

I had 12 artichokes and I halved them and followed both of the methods outlined below. So scale up accordingly if you are doing one or the other.

Storage option 1: Put them in a medium-sized container and really pack them in and then pour water over them and sprinkle over a tsp. of salt.

Storage option 2: Halve or quarter the artichokes. In a medium bowl, mix together the juice of one lemon and about 2 TB roasted pistachio oil (or olive oil) and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Do not add garlic. It does dangerous things when mixed with olive oil and refrigerated for any length of time. Add the garlic right before using the artichokes in a preparation. Anyway, mix together the lemon juice, oil, and salt. Basically, you just made a vinaigrette. Add the artichokes and toss to coat. Put in container with a lid and store in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

The whole artichokes can be used in another recipe ie artichoke dip, artichokes and pasta, etc...

The marinated artichokes are delicious on an antipasti platter, in the middle of a little lettuce leaf, or straight from the bowl.

There are lots of options for some delicious meals, plus they are very high in antioxidants. They, like tomatoes, up their antioxidant properties when cooked. In fact, boiling vs raw ups the ante by 8. Steaming them vs raw ups the properties by 15. Wow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beauty Tips that Really Work

OK, let's remember this is not just a food blog, but a gardening and lifestyle blog too. So, with that in mind, I like to try out beauty tips I hear about. I enjoy listening to Eva Scrivo's 'Beauty Talk' at 4:00 pm Saturdays on the Sirius Martha Stewart channel 112. What I love about Eva is that even though she is a big name beauty person in NYC, her advice is so real. She recommends stuff from the drug store, Whole Foods, even items on our pantry shelves.
Several times I had heard her extol Neem oil and a boars hair bristle brush. 'Rub a few drops of Neem oil through your hair and then brush from scalp to ends with this bhb brush.' Now I grew up with the 100 brush strokes a night advice which was crushed in the '80s as rubbish because it would break your hair creating bigger problems. I had a hard time getting my head (pun) around the whole brushing idea. But, I have long hair, it is winter, and the fly-aways are annoying. I bought the Neem oil and brush at Whole Foods. Here is where I part ways with Eva.
The Neem oil is disgusting. It smells like rotten onions. I tried it, once. I almost tossed my dinner. I have to add, I asked my husband to sniff my hair and he didn't find it offensive. Additionally, when I washed my hair the next day, I still could smell the Neem oil afterwards. Big yuck. So, I now use a few drops of sweet almond oil which works very well. To answer your question, No, your hair does not look oily at all.
The bhb brush is wonderful. I have very thick hair so I have to brush it out in sections. It feels like thousands of lilliputians massaging my scalp. You may think this is gross, but I can actually miss a day of shampooing. I shampoo every other day and I can actually go two days, if I want. Why? Because the bhb brush distributes the almond oil and my natural oils down along the hair shaft. My hair is so shiny and it feels smoother. Eva says the brushing actually strengthens the hair. I think it does that because the entire hair shaft is being smoothed with the oil and the brushing thus, the end of the hair which typically dries out and breaks off is getting beneficial oils. All I know is that this old - fashioned notion of brushing before bed is working for me. I do want you to know, I do not do the 100 strokes thing nor has Eva ever recommended that. I probably do a couple or three strokes per section of hair.
The other beauty tip that I tried was using brown mascara on my bottom lashes. Eva says that it will look so much more natural. It does. In fact, I have always disliked mascara'ing my lower lashes because it looked so "Liza Minnelli". Using black mascara on the upper lashes, and the brown below is a soft, natural look. Here is how I achieve it: First, I use an eyelash curler on my upper lashes. Then I use Lancome Lash Extender on my upper outer lashes and my lower outer lashes. While the extender is still wet, I brush the black mascara (Aveda) on my upper lashes, slightly wiggling the brush. Eva says you get a more even look by jiggling the brush a bit, and she also says in order for the extender to do it's job you have to apply mascara immediately for the bonding to work properly. Then, I use the brown mascara on my lower lashes.
It seems to put the lower lashes in a supporting role rather than a competition for attention. I think you'll love the look.
I always joke, "the garden veggies don't care what I look like, but I do." It doesn't matter what you are doing or who you are seeing that day, take a few minutes for yourself.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Meatball picture

It has bugged me all day that I was unable to attach the meatball picture. What does this say about me? I logged on just to try one more time, and it worked!

All Thoughts Turn Back to Gardening

Now that the worst of the ice storm catch-up (laundry, carpet cleaning, general housekeeping, cords, generators) is behind me, my thoughts can once again turn to seeds and gardens. Of course, I am now way behind on seed ordering.
Right before the ice storm, I ordered some fruit trees including some varieties of pawpaws which I am the most curious about. Hubby advised me to order "tall trees", none of those "6" varieties that won't fruit in our lifetime". I agreed with that even though older trees cost more, I did want to see the "fruits of my labor" (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). Anyway, in my research I learned that pawpaw trees are very difficult to transplant if they are above a certain height so the ones I ordered are all around 12" tall. I have commented about the interesting pawpaw trivia to hubs, but still, there will be shock and a loud "didn't I tell you to buy the big ones" comment. Oh well... I have researched optimal growing conditions and I'm a little concerned. I wanted to plant them orchard-style, but really, they like water and would probably do better down by the creek so I'm thinking of just planting them along the wood's edge. I need to think about that a little more.
The elderberry bushes are going along the wood's edge when they come in. I found a source for wild strawberries in VA. This is so sad, I cannot remember exactly where, as a child, I picked the wild strawberries. Was it in the field above the house? Or, was it at the edge of the woods? I think it was the edge of the field before the shale path that led to the cemetery. Wild strawberries are so scarce, in fact, I cannot recall seeing one plant since I've lived in Kentucky. Now when we lived in Indiana, there were wild strawberries on the banks along my bike route, as well as lily of the valley and tiny wild irises. As much as I disliked the area we lived in, I loved the natural surroundings. Garden-wise, I am way behind; not even the first potato or onion has been ordered. Must do that today.
One garden will be devoted to all things allium. I think it will be pretty to see the very orderly rows of red onions, yellow onions, Egyptian walking onions, leeks, and several other varieties. This will be the first year for potatoes. I am a bit nervous about them because of the potato beetles. Since I try to grow everything organically, I don't want to Sevin the potatoes, so I will have to find a catch crop or something because they will be there. And, it's not just potatoes they love, the beetles really like eggplants too. I killed so many potato beetles, that it grossed me out and I didn't eat any of the eggplants! I know the genus for potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes is the same, I just can't think of it at this moment. In fact, the little larvae were on the tomato leaves, but for some reason, didn't make that big of a dent in them. Talking about tomatoes, I made fresh tomato sauce a few weeks ago, and it took me back to summer, really nice. But, it was the meatball recipe that made that sauce.
I have been searching for 10 years (my married life) for a good meatball recipe. Growing up, we didn't eat much Italian cooking, so it wasn't like Mom could pass down a decent Italian meatball recipe. My husband and I, through the years, felt like the three bears when they were criticizing the porridge, "too compacted, too spicy, too fatty". None were just right that is until the January 2009 Gourmet arrived in our mailbox. On page 30 is the best meatball recipe, ever. Hubby was eating them without sauce straight off the baking sheet! And, I ate a couple for breakfast the next day!

Best-ever Meatballs
(Gourmet, January 2009)

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups torn day-old Italian bread
3 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 lb)
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley'
1/4 cup finely chopped oregano or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
1 TB grated lemon zest
1-1/2 lb ground veal
1-1/2 lb ground pork
1-1/2 lb ground beef (not lean)
1 cup olive or veg. oil
Cook onions in olive oil in a 12" heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.
Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest, 5-1/2 tsp salt, and 1-1/2 tsp pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hand until just combined (do not overmix).
Here is where I deviated from the recipe:
I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.
I patted out the meat mixture into roughly a 12 x 14 rectangle. Then using a long knife blade, I cut length-wise and cross-wise, about 1-1/2" x 1-1/2", to create squares. Then, I picked up each square, one by one, and formed meatballs. I placed the meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet and once the sheet was full, I put it in the preheated oven and baked for about 45 minutes, or until the balls were browned on top.
Meanwhile, I made my sauce. You can make your own or use a really good jarred sauce. Once the meatballs come out of the oven, put as many as you want into the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Freeze the extra meatballs for future meals.
Recipe says it makes 70 meatballs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mashed Potato Passion

My husband adores potatoes. I must be honest, I get bored with them so I'm always on the lookout for something exciting in the world of potatoes. I discovered these mashed potatoes in a British cookery magazine a couple of years ago. I read the article that made a passing reference to this creamy, buttery potato mash called aligot. I missplaced the magazine and could not remember the unusual name. For two years I've searched for this elusive recipe because I just knew potato love was there.
Last week I received my monthly "Cooks Illustrated". There it was, aligot. It's not British, but French. Specifically, french mashed potatoes. Leave it to the french to turn potato love into potato passion. These are simply the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten; perfect for Valentine's Day. The main rule for making good mashed potatoes is not to overwork the potatoes in order to keep them from becoming gluey. This recipe defies that with vigorous stirring.I read and reread the instruction: 'put potatoes in food processor and pulse until smooth'. I couldn't bring myself to that point so I simply mashed them with a manual potato stomper and proceeded from there. This is not a low-cal mash. This is an intensely rich serving of potatoey, buttery, cheesy goodness.
Traditionally, the french use a raw milk cheese (tomme fraiche) which is unavailable for importation to the US due to a ban on all raw (unpasteurized) cows milk cheeses less than 60 days old. The recipe called for mozzarella and Gruyere; I opted for mozzarella and white cheddar. Delicious. The interesting point about the large amount of cheese in this recipe is the stretchiness of the dish. You can pull the spoon up and potatoes rise above the dish. It is delicious and entertaining! Besides the cheese, there is lots of butter, garlic and whole milk. How could one not be passionate about that?
My husband loved this dish so much that I will include it in my Valentine's menu. I really wanted to share it with you so you could create a little passion among your spuds as well. Oh, to serve in the traditional manner, you should fill an individual bowl (ramekin) to the very top with the aligot. Besides being impressed with the soft sheen of the spuds, you will notice this is a loose, creamy mash versus the American ideal of mounded whipped potatoes.
Of course, all of you who know me, know I can't leave well enough alone. I really want to "southern-ize" this recipe. So, instead of the garlic or maybe in addition to a tad of garlic, I think I will try yellow cheddar and a jar of drained pimentos. I have to leave the mozzarella as is because that is where the stretch comes from. But I think pimento cheese stretchy potatoes will go over very well. Viva la South!

Aligot (from Cook's Illustrated, March & April '09)

Serves: 6

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4-6 medium), peeled, cut into 1/2" thick slices, rinsed well, and drained
Table salt
6 TB unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1-1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup Gruyere (I used white cheddar)
ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; add water to cover by 1" and add 1 TB salt. Partiall cover saucepan with lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to med.-low, and simmer until potatoes are tender and just break apart when poked with a fork, about 12-17 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry out pan.
Transfer potatoes to a food processor, add butter, garlic, and 1-1/2 tsp salt. Pulse until butter is melted and incorporated into potatoes, about ten 1 second pulses. Add 1 cup milk and continue to porcess until potatoes are smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds, scrape bowl about half way through.
Return potato mixture to saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir in cheeses, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Continue to cook potatoes, stirring vigorously, until cheese is fully melted and mixture is smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. If mixture is difficult to stir and seems thick, stir in 2 TB milk at a time until potatoes are loose and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Martha S. would have been proud of the neat labeling of all cords.

Generators that made all bearable.
Ice looked like diamonds against the blue sky.
'Viking' Elliptical cooker that was our main cooking source.
Hard situations brings out the worst in people for a variety of reasons -- fear, ignorance, panic to name a few. But, it also brings out the best in many folks and I was able to see that daily during this ice storm ordeal.
Once people realized that we were without power extending into the weekend, we received several invitations to use their showers. Some of these folks have 8-12 "guests" in their homes so it did mean a lot to us that they would extend their warmth to us.
Of all people, my mother-in-law, came to the house on Wednesday. You have to know ,I have not seen her in over 4 years. Lots of background that would be inappropriate to get into. Upon realization that she was in the car, I panicked, "4 years, and she picks today to come down?" But, I quickly recovered as she walked in. She truly was concerned for us and wanted to ride down with father-in-law Jim who was delivering another generator and fuel to us. They both were shocked at how cold it was even with a fire and the rigged furnace. The yellow cord tentacles were a shock to both as well. I laughed and said, "Sorry you couldn't visit under better circumstances." We all laughed. A visit from both of them was an hour of talking that took my mind off of the situation. As they were getting ready to leave, they begged us to come up and stay, with the dogs, and get away from this house. David nipped it right there, "We're not leaving the outside pets." But, the geniune expression of concern and help was warming.
Most of all, David was a source of warmth. He worked tirelessly to ease my fears. Many times I told him was fine, and I was, but he kept on. I really think checking the generators, all plugs, the water jugs helped him through this. Every morning he left to refill water jugs, get fuel, check the office to see if power was restored. Never a harsh word to me or the dogs; however, he did grow weary of fueling the generators and let everyone know it. I wanted to learn how, but he said, "outside work is mine, inside stuff is for you." And, that's how it went. The most touching thing was the rigged "Hot Tap" shower. The car battery outside the bathroom was so funny. But, you know, the shower was steamy hot. By Thursday-Friday, if I closed my eyes, things seems somewhat normal because of his tireless work to "make sure I was comfortable." The Hot Tap even worked in the kitchen and I was able to wash the dishwasher load that I didn't get to run the week before. Sunday was 54 degrees, with the warm dish water and the breeze coming through the window, I closed my eyes and imagined a lovely day in mid-March. I had to open my eyes though and view reality, a Hot Tap hose running through the window.
My husband's acts of love, daily, kept my spirits up and moved me forward to the next day. I, in turn, told him how much this meant to me, hugged him every time he walked through the door, and joked as much as possible to make him laugh. I worked to provide fairly normal meals. The whole 'food is pleasure' was true those 6 days. We talked in the mornings about what to lay out for dinner that night. In the afternoon, we discussed cooking methods. While cooking in the evening, we talked about side dishes. It really helped us cope.
We looked for people that we could assist, and was able to provide one family with a generator. Warmth from love was so helpful those long six days.
The internet was down yesterday. The phones were also in horrible shape. No problems this morning so I don't know if I can post tomorrow. If I can, I will tell you about the neighbors, Amish neighbors...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Have You Ever Been Really Cold?

Front yard

Tops are snapped out of all the elms

Tuesday night's dinner

The maple by the back door

A limb against the house
When the power went out at 8:45 pm Tuesday evening, it was not actually cold because of the residual heat. We had not eaten yet because I kept waiting all afternoon and into the evening for the inevitable which in itself was emotionally draining; the knowing and yet not knowing when it would happen. So, the spaghetti and meatball dinner I had planned turned into meatballs warmed in the iron skillet over the grill served on hamburger buns; the worst meal of the 6 day ordeal.
There are many kinds of cold. The physical cold came in the early hours of Wednesday morning. It greeted me at 4:00 am with an icy veil. Cold does not blanket, it veils. It felt thin, lacy, veil-like. It's the description that kept coming to mind over the next days.
Cold feels wet. It's not, really. Actually, it is very drying. Our noses burned from the drying effects of the cold. Our throats were sore from the cold air. But, yet it feels wet. My skin was cold and the layers of clothes were cold. And these cold layers touching my skin gave the sensation of wet. I constantly patted myself to see if I actually was wet, but it was the cold. Seeing the dogs shivering even with their sweaters on was difficult. Wednesday morning I fed the Yorkies and Poodle. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fergie leaning towards her plate and then coming back up without a mouthful. I turned to watch. Her back legs were shaking so badly she couldn't lean all the way down to eat. I picked her up and hand fed her a few bites, but looking into her eyes, I could see she was scared. I took all the dogs into the living room where the fireplace had a warm fire. But, again, the cold was so excessive the fire couldn't penetrate more than a couple feet out from the fireplace. So, I huddled on the hearth with the dogs trying to warm them, and me. I pulled blankets from closets and nailed them over the door openings thinking that blocking off the room would help the heat chase away the cold. David's and my hands and feet were numb. We kept tripping and stumbling because we couldn't feel our toes. Cold adds weight. Our legs felt too heavy to lift. At some point the shivering stopped. I noticed that when I set by the fire the shivering would start. Several times I went into the cold kitchen to stop the shivering because it was wearing me out.
David was panicking as I was. We had never been in such a life threatening situation. We knew this was a matter of survival. Could we do it? We were so spoiled to all the luxuries electricity afforded us. Thankfully, the instinct kicked in. We looked at each other, hugged, and said, 'let's beat this together'. At that moment, taking charge helped fight the panic because we had a plan. We pulled on our snowsuits, and got out the one generator. David figured out how to wire the furnace to it. He came up from the basement. "Good news, bad news. I got it wired up and it worked, but the exhaust vent is rotted." "We're in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning." I called Knight's Electrical. They couldn't send a guy out until Thursday. We were scared to risk keeping the furnace on. We built a blazing fire and kept it going through the night. The living room was bearable, but the dogs wanted to be with us. So, we removed one of the blankets across the living room opening, and the warm air rushed upstairs into the bedroom. It fought the cold, but even then, the cold was still there.
Cold hearts were also evident. Thursday afternoon we went to the home improvement store to stock up on yellow electrical cords. David had made a phone call to Louisville, and he was able to secure another generator. Water was also an issue. We are on a well and without electricity the pump wasn't working. David saw an acquaintance who asked how we were faring. David proudly told him of rigging the furnace, and pulling out a camping toilet to use in the house. It was easy to see the guy was grossed out. David asked him how he was doing. He told David, 'fine, I only lost power for a few hours." Half seriously, David asked if he could come over and take a shower. "Uh, did I say I had power?" "Uh, I don't have anything, not a thing." Jerk.
While David was getting extension cords, a woman walked up in tears. "Do you know anywhere that I can go and buy a heater to keep my kids warm?" David, who always tries to fix the bad for anyone, was shocked. He could only stammer, "maybe you should find a shelter." That bothered him for days. While standing at the front of the store with the water, I observed a family buying a grill. It was so obvious they had never been in this situation before. The mother's voice was shrill as she commanded the children to behave. She told them Daddy was buying a grill and they were going to eat good that night. Daddy was patiently waiting for the cashier to ring up the order. The patience wore thin as the cashier was having problems. I watched and realized he was paying for it with public assistance. The cashier didn't know how to ring it up. The man was whispering instructions, but the cashier wouldn't even look at him. The man's whispering turned into loud hissing, "Just slide it like a credit card." He didn't want others to know his situation, but now his line was the longest and people were noticing. It didn't help that the shrill voice of his wife was bringing attention to their plight. Plus, the children were using the buggy as monkey bars. It was bad.
Even when folks reached out and brought friends and family in from the cold, several of those rescued sat by and waited to be served. Those cold hearts let the hosts cook, clean, and provide for their comfort. When the sewage backed up at one friend's house, it was the last straw. He asked the "house guests" to pitch in a bit. A few packed up and went back to their cold houses rather than help
Death's cold came Thursday night. Bob Walker, our dear friend died. The physical cold was nothing compared to the ache in our hearts. Death's icy scythe had ripped our friend from us. And yet, a warm outpouring of friends and family helped lay him to rest Monday afternoon. The gripping wind didn't stop those who had been touched by the warmth of his friendship from celebrating the greatness of his life. We all know that the earth's chilly embrace didn't hold our Bob. He had reached his reward and the riches that he deserved. He is resting in the warmth of heaven's arms.
Monday night the power came back on. David looked to the sky and whispered, "Thanks, Bob."
Next blog will highlight the warmth that shined through the cold...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Storm

I woke up at 3:52 a.m. because my yorkie, Arthur, was barking mad. Noises outside were alarming him and he wanted me to know! Ice machine rumbles outside my bedroom window confused me. What was happening? Bits of icicles from the maple were falling onto the metal roof. The picture to the left is of that sight at 4:00 a.m. when I realized the freezing rain was turning everything into ice-encased wonderland. My husband, considering he never was a boyscout, was bustling about making sure we had flashlights, operational generator, hot-tap shower, and firewood. He took a shower and encouraged me to hurry and take one in case the power went out. The news advised that this was the beginning of the storm and we had 24-30 more hours of this.
David called the office staff and told them not to come in. He moved the field employee's vehicles from under the trees to a safer location by the cornfield. Unfortunately, two employees didn't leave their keys with us and their cars are under some maples that may be a problem later.
I was groggy and not as composed as he. The only thing I could think of was to cook. So, I fried some bacon, made biscuits, and cooked up an egg. We ate and joked about only having half a loaf of bread, a little milk, and no eggs.
David left for work. Now, I have to say, he didn't have to go to work, this was an excuse to see the scenery. He called from the office, and gave me a full report. As he was talking to me, he was fishing for his keys. Guess what? He left them at home. Ha. He came back home, ate a couple more slices of bacon and left again with his office keys.
I couldn't stand it. I grabbed my camera and headed out. First I went to the backyard. The old black walnut that had gotten struck by lightning last spring was completely down. I took a few pictures through the fencing. I looked at the garden. I always leave herbs and some of the taller bushier plants up during the winter for the birds to rest in. The angular branches encased in ice were so beautiful. The wild arugula looked like lace. The peppers looked trapped like the fruit in the eau vie bottles. The chive blossoms looked like a crystal bouquet. Everything was so surreal. And then I started hearing the popping and cracking. I looked across the street, and realized the tops were snapping out of the black locusts. A brittle tree, this ice would be their demise.
I took my chances, and walked under the sugar maples in the side yard to the front. To my dismay, the maple's branches were snapping. It was odd, a snap across the street and immediately an acknowledging snap in the front yard. And, this is only the beginning?
The hundred year old trees were definitely going to feel the effects. I looked by the old coach house. I felt a pain in my heart as I realized the ancient dogwood had split in half.
Once again in the warm house, I wondered how long this warmth would last. The lights were flickering. David called. The office was completely dark. The substation was down in E'town. I called Nolin and was informed many feeder lines to many substations were down. No idea how long this would be the case. I advised David. He called me back a little later. His buddy told him probably 3 days and that was only if it didn't get worse. Again, this was only the beginning of the storm according to Jim Cantore, Weather Channel correspondent located in Paducah, KY. Hmmm...
Still, at 10:53 a.m., we have electricity. I had planned on doing some recipe testing today. I'm probably pushing my luck. How bad would I feel with a batch of cookies in a lifeless oven? Now I'm looking over at my Christmas present I haven't had the chance to play with, a chocolate tempering machine. Should I? Again, pushing my luck...
I am amazed with all the internet troubles over the last two weeks that I am able to do this. Although, when I just autosaved, a message came up that it was unable to connect to blogger. Maybe, I should cut this short. I am typing very quickly, and probably will not proofread. Again, pushing my luck.
When it's cold there are comfort foods that at the mere mention of their names, one's soul warms and if lucky, fingertips too. Cornbread, chili, pudding, cocoa, soup, these are the warming foods that comfort me. Last night, I baked up some cornbread to serve alongside beef stew. Being a thrifty soul, I had save a few choice pieces of steak, brisket, and a roast. David would die if he knew I had frozen those bits and created the delicous stew he slurped down several bowls of. He is not a leftover eater. He is now. Hee. Anyway, the cornbread was gussied up with coconut milk. It was very subtle. David never even knew. He just commented on the moistness. I think next time, I will toast some unsweetened coconut and toss it in the batter. It was really tasty.
Coconut Cornbread
Serves: 6-8
1-1/2 cups self-rising yellow corn meal mix
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup coconut milk (I dumped the remainder in the stew, he never even knew it)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 10" iron skillet by spraying with a non-stick spray.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Pour batter into greased skillet.
Pop in oven for 15 minutes or until lightly golden on top and firm in the center.
Cool for 5 minutes before cutting.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mouse + Snow = No Internet

Why hasn't there been a blog in almost two weeks?
For the last two weeks we have had the most dreadful sub-zero cold snap in recent history. When just normal winter cold happens, the mice (remember, this is the country) for whatever mousy reason, go into the phone company's breaker boxes, and power stations and build little nests around the wires and when they are tucked away in their newly-built creations, they start chewing on the wires. This results in instant electrocution, unlucky mouse, and crackly, popcorn noises on the phone which means limited or no internet because the signal can't get through properly, unlucky me. So, in the mornings the internet is down, and in the afternoons, there is spotty service which doesn't help me at all since I have to blog before daylight.
My husband gets so angry every time this happens that I just didn't tell him for about a week. Early last week, he wanted an email sent to him from home to the office, and I finally had to break down and tell him that 'it was that time of year again'.
This has been going on for now 5 years that we have lived here. Oddly, I have become used to it. Eventually, the Windstream guys come around and fix the problem. Then, in the spring, the other scenario happens, torrential spring rains with driving winds push water into the breaker boxes and the wires get wet and it happens all over again. Crackly lines translate into sporadic internet service. And think, we ran a business out of this home office for 4 years! I have to smile when I think of the corporate office of one of the largest (and in my opinion the best) home improvement stores that were always so understanding, probably because their home office is in the country too. Even when we had turkeys last spring who for whatever reason decided that the back door and driveway were so much more exciting than their coop, and would gobble at the sound of a tractor driving by. So when David would step outside to talk and get some air, and the three turkeys at the sound of his voice would break into unison gobbles, even then, the corporate guys were cool about it.
It's just country living, and one can get spittin' mad, or just deal with it knowing that in good time, it all will work out. I opt to deal with it. Believe me the first year and a half, I did get mad and probably came across to Windstream and their guys like the crazy lady on the hill, but I could not would not believe that in the 21st century, mice still wreaked havoc on telephones which, in turn, translates into internet problems. It is true, and there is nothing one can do about it. Mice will always be in the country.
It was really maddening last week because Friday a week ago, I found the best meatball recipe that I wanted to share. Last Monday I had some exciting news which I have since forgotten, Wednesday I made ricotta gnocchi that I wanted to pass on to you. And then, this past Friday was National Pie Day. Kentucky has some wonderful pies none more famous than the Derby Pie. I am going to hold on to my Derby Pie recipe until we get closer to Derby. Did you know, I am "breaking the law" by calling it my Derby Pie recipe? Yep, a couple from Louisville in the late '60s trademarked the name, Derby Pie. Get real, a nut and chip pie laced with bourbon by any other name is still Derby Pie. I'll take my chances, and call it what it is.
Anyway, in my recipe research for another one of my cooking contest that I'm gearing up for, I rediscovered a recipe for Strawberry Pretzel Salad. The strangest sounding concoction. Many years ago, I was asked to make an anniversary dinner. The client gave me her Mom's recipes which included this salad recipe. I had never heard of it, and frankly, thought it sounded disgusting. I made a little bowl for myself, in the spirit of research of course. It was delicious. Odd, but tasty. Sweet, tart, salty, creamy, crunchy all in a congealed salad creation. I cannot resist a good congealed salad. So very American, and many times, as in this case, so southern. When you make it, you will dream of warmer weather and that other southern speciality to complement it, a cool sweet tea.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Serves: 8-10
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup melted butter
3 TB sugar, plus 3/4 cup sugar
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese
1 8 oz container whipped topping
2 3 oz pkgs strawberry gelatin dessert mix
2 cups boiling water
2 10 oz pkgs frozen strawberries
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple
Whipped topping or whipped cream, to garnish.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For the crust, mix the pretzels, butter, and 3 TB sugar. Press this mixture into a 9 x 13 x 2 glass baking dish, and bake for 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and 3/4 cup of sugar. Fold in the whipped topping, and spread over the cooled crust. Refrigerate until well chilled.
In a small bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water, and allow to cool slightly. Add the strawberries, and pineapple, and pour over the crema cheese mixture. Refrigerate until serving time.
To serve, cut slices and serve with a dollop of whipped topping.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Excuses, Excuses...

Sorry I didn't stop by and chat on Friday, but the computer had the early morning doldrums and I didn't conquer until after 8:00am (If you look, you'll see I typically blog by 7:00am). I had a Dr. appt. in Louisville, and the blogging fell by the wayside. I wanted to mourn the WSJ article regarding Waterford-Wedgwood and their buyer problems. They are up for sale and no one is looking to buy. Yeow. All of our dishes and crystal are by this iconic company. David flipped out when I told him about the situation. All the plates, bowls, and crystal that were broken flashed before his eyes. "Order everything you need tomorrow before it's too late," he commanded. Alrighty then. I took inventory and order I did, plus more. I mean, the company could go under and what would we do? I took advantage, yes, I did. The boxes have arrived over the past 2 days. All is well in Wedgwood land, and the village of Waterford too. Yes, I ordered a bit of crystal to tide us over. Then yesterday happened, and I overslept. I couldn't blog because I was rushing to get to the office to do invoicing. The reason I'm blogging after 7 am today, is because I made several invoicing errors and got called to the office early to figure out the problems. I was bound and determined to blog today, so you're getting it now. Plus, does it really matter? No one reads this blog anyway.
The other thing I read last week on the Cooking Contests Central site was the announcement of my favorite contests: Betty Crocker, Martha White, and URS, season 3. I have great ideas for all, but I can't blog about them or post recipes yet. If I do, the recipes will be considered "published" and will be disqualified. However, I will give you a delicious cookie recipe from last year called Sticky Figgy Pudding Bars. Eat the bars warm while they are gooey. If you refrigerate them, don't worry, just pop in the microwave until warm. And, do as we did, take a large spoon and just scoop out big helpings and top with vanilla ice cream. Ridiculously delicious!
Sticky Figgy Pudding Bars
Serves: 8-10
1 17.5 oz pkg Betty Crocker "Sugar Cookie" cookie mix
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter
2 large eggs
2/3 cup hot water
1 TB instant coffee granules
1 cup dried mission figs, stems removed, chopped
1/2 cup chopped dried dates
1/2 cup chopped dried plums
OR, nix the dates and plums and add a cup more chopped figs
Sticky Sauce, recipe follows.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour hot water into a small bowl and add coffee granules; stir until dissolved. Add the figs, dates, and plums, stir. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Place butter in a medium bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer until fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs and beat well (mixture will look curdled).
On low speed, mix in Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix. Add fruit and any remaining liquid. Stir until combined.
Pour mixture into an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2 glass baking dish. Using a spatula, spread evenly in pan. Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until top is puffed and a rich golden brown. While cookie bakes, prepare the sticky sauce. Remove dish from oven and using a skewer, poke holes evenly all over the top of the hot cookie. Brush the hot sticky sauce over the top until it seems the cookie no longer absorbs the sauce. Let cookie set for about 10 minutes before scooping out with a large spoon into an ice cream-lined dessert dish (scoop a couple balls of softened ice cream into a dessert dish. Depress ice cream all around the walls of the dish. Scoop warm cookie into the middle) Yummy.
Sticky Sauce:
6 TB (1/3 cup) softened butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Melt butter and sugar in a heavy small saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved and butter is bubbling. Stir in heavy cream and cinnamon. Raise heat to medium and bring to a boil. Stir well. Turn heat back to low and brush over hot cookie until cookie cannot absorb any additional sauce (I actually pour all the sauce over the top and let the cookie deal with it!).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Toad is a Toad unless it's a Toad-in-a-Hole

Since I've been dreaming about my new gardens, orchard, and seeds in general, it has made me miss someone that last year I went out of my way to avoid. I have to give background in order for this to mean anything to you.
Last Christmas a man came to the door selling firewood. We bought some and a couple weeks later he showed up again. He was very country and talkative which drew us right in. His stories were so crazy that after he left we laughed about them for days. David drove by his house about a week before Christmas and was stunned at the poverty. His trailer was from the 60s if not earlier. The cars were very rickety. Live poultry was everywhere. But yet, what really stood out was the neatness of it all. Everything had a place. The lawn was cut, flowers were planted, the cars were clean. David's heart went out to him.
David wanted to do something for him, but knew that if Glen found out the monetary gift was from him, he would not accept it. So he concocted a plan. He went down to the florist and had her deliver a gift and an envelope with strict instructions to not divulge our name no matter how hard Glen pressed her. She followed through perfectly.
A couple days later Glen came over and talked with David. He told him what happened to him. David played dumb. We never heard what he did with the money.
Long story short, after Christmas Glen asked if we had any work for him because his previous employer had gone out of business (tree cutting). David had some odd jobs around the barn and house. Glen performed all tasks very well. David being the softie, wanted to give him more to do so he put him on the road with the guys to help out. Disaster.
Glen had no social skills: spoke about inappropriate subjects, drove the guys crazy with his turkey and horse tales, and smelled to the high heavens because of his aversion to deodorant. One of the guys had all he could bear and went to Wal-Mart, bought a deodorant on his own dime, and showed Glen how to use it. Bottom line with this, he could not go out with the guys anymore.
David kept him busy around the barn. And, really, he was more comfortable with this work. mY problem with him and I really went out of my way to avoid him besides the stench that came off of him because of his non-deodorant ways, he would ask me a gardening question and basically talk nonstop. He was so good at this, that it was difficult to break away because he was fully aware of what he was doing. He avoided eye contact and therefore, did not receive the "signals" ie yawning, stepping away, etc... all the things we do to break away from a talker. When we went to the new office, along came Glen. He kept the back areas neat as a pin, and when that was in order, he went back to the house and kept the gardens tidy. Everything seemed to be working just fine. He really had evolved into a handy man.
We bought new property in October. Glen went along with David to see what needed to be cleaned up around the old house and barn. That is when the trouble started.
The neighbor came over and chatted with David, Glen became jealous. Glen cursed the neighbor, and lied to him about our intentions for the property. David talked with him explaining it was not his place to make up things in order to chase off the neighbor. It really became uncomfortable.
The fall storms caused a tree to fall across our driveway. Glen cleaned everything up. I wondered where the large trunk had gone. I looked in the field behind the house and saw what I thought was it. It looked kind of small, but I figured it was because of the distance. David, on the other hand, drove down to it and checked it out. I remember him saying that he thought that tree was bigger. Apparently it bugged him for a while because right after Thanksgiving, he confronted Glen about the tree trunk. That is when David's suspicions were validated. Glen was lying to him.
This fueled David who now full throttle started piecing everything together. He drove to the saw mill and asked the owner if a log had shown up. Yes, Glen had brought a large maple log down and had asked him to hold on to it. Word must have gotten back to Glen who did not show up for work for an entire week. The next week, he rolled in as if all was fine in the world. David asked him to step in his office where he asked him again about the log. Glen continued to play dumb. Several other lies had come to light and David asked him about those. Again, Glen played dumb. David was angry at this point. He told Glen to stop insulting him with lies; furthermore, he was not going to give him any work for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks to think about his lies and how they impact others would be a good thing. He told him to come back after two weeks and 'fess up. If he could own up to his lies, then he could work again. Glen never came back.
David and I refer to the whole year of Glen as a social experiment that went wrong. But did it? A toad is a toad just as much as a rose by any other name is still a rose.
And still, we miss the toad, especially when we see handyman projects looming in the near future.
So the only good toad is a Toad-in-a-Hole. Growing up, I invented this breakfast dish for my brother and sister. My sister named it Sunshine Eggs because the egg reminded her of the sun. Later, I discovered, to my disappointment, that the English invented it long ago and named it Toad-in-a-Hole because the egg looked like a toad's bottom as it jumps in a hole, in this case, a toast hole. To this day, we love Sunshine Eggs or whatever you want to call it. I'm sure when Nephew Ben gets old enough, he too will eat Sunshine Eggs.

Sunshine Eggs aka Toad-in-a-Hole
Serves: 1

softened butter
1 slice of bread
1 egg

Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Spread softened butter over both sides of the bread slice. Place slice in skillet. With a 2" biscuit cutter, cut a hole from the middle of the bread.
Lay the bread circle to the side of the bread and let it toast in the skillet. Break the egg into the hole. Cook on one side for 3 minutes. Flip and cook until egg yolk is cooked through to your liking. Slide onto a plate and put the toasted bread circle slightly askew on the egg. You have one sunshine egg.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Country Ham Thank-you

After church on Sunday, the preacher's wife, a dear friend, like a mother actually, asked me to walk over to her house. She asked her granddaughter to open the garage and get the same thing for me that another lady had received. Sounded a little cryptic, but Sam knew what she meant. She returned a few minutes later, with a country ham. "Here's a little something to thank you for the good time New Years Eve". She handed me a boneless trimmed uncooked country ham. Penn's brand, yum. She explained how to cook it, actually bake it. Simply put the whole ham in a pan, add a little orange juice and bake at 350 until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Slice and fry up in a skillet. How easy. She went on to explain that all the work had been done on this ham, about a 6 pounder, if I had to guess. Work would have been cutting off the skin, trimming back the excess fat layer, and working around the bone. I had read that there are other steps like soaking, and scrubbing the outer skin which sounded tiresome. All was eliminated with this trimmed boneless country ham. My previous lunch idea vanished as I held the ham. I thanked her and walked to my car dreaming of buttermilk biscuits, applesauce which I had made the day before, and slices of country ham.
When I got home I promptly got out my tattered Martha White cookbook and turned to my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe while contemplating the country ham. I didn't really want to cook the whole thing. My husband suggested slicing it on my electric slicer and portioning the slices then vacuum sealing the portions and freezing. Sounded like a plan. A plan I would tackle after I had my biscuits and country ham for lunch.
I sliced off 6 1/4" thick slices; my husband hovering over my left shoulder like a hungry hound.
A skillet went on the stove and some apple cider was poured in. I turned the stove to medium heat and added the slices. I gently cooked them (fancy cooks would call it braising) with the lid on for about 20 minutes. I should tell you right here I've never cooked an uncooked country ham before so I was following instinct on this one. The apple cider was just something I thought would be tasty after hearing Sharon's recipe with orange juice. After the slices had turned the pale pink of cooked country ham, I removed them to a plate, turned the heat to medium high and reduced the cider to a syrupy consistency. Then, I turned each slice in the salty sweet glaze and topped the hot biscuits with a couple slices. David topped his ham with cheese. I topped mine with applesauce. A heavenly lunch indeed.
We both decided that a country ham thank-you was mighty fine.
I think the above description should get you through the ham recipe with no problems.
The applesauce was made from Arkansas Black apples which I had purchased from a nearby orchard. Funny, when I bit into an apple the first of November, it nearly took out a tooth. The apples were so hard I couldn't even push one onto my apple peeler. I let the two pecks-worth sit in the bottom of my double door refrigerator for a couple months and something wonderful happened, they softened up. The applesauce from those Arkansas Blacks is almost mousse-like, fabulous to eat. I might also add, Arkansas Blacks are beautiful to behold. The skin is burgundy to blackish red. In my dream orchard that I wrote about yesterday, Arkansas Black apples would have a place of prominence in my large orchard.
For the applesauce I simply peeled one peck of apples, then quartered them. I put the unseeded quarters into a 7 quart pot, added about 2 cups of water, turned them to medium heat, covered with a lid and let them simmer away for about 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that is all the time they needed to cook down. I then ran them through my food mill using the coarse plate which held back all the seeds. I poured the sauce back into the pot. Brown sugar, about 2 cups, 2 tsp of ground cinnamon, and 2 tsp of ground coriander was also added. I reheated the applesauce to incorporate the sugar and spices, and then put in freezer-safe containers and tucked them in among the other goodies such as peaches and cherries.
The biscuit recipe is from the Martha White Southern Sampler cookbook. I used butter-flavored shortening for the first time and the biscuits were golden brown and buttery tasting. In the south we don't turn up our noses to shortening. It's indispensible for many classics of southern cuisine. Paula has her butter, I now have my butter-flavored shortening. I used a 3" cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits; the biscuits were sandwich-size and they were more conducive to holding the long slices of cider-glazed country ham.

Buttermilk Sandwich Biscuits
Makes: 8 sandwich biscuits with a few little baby biscuits from the scraps
3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening
4 cups sifted self-rising flour (I use White Lily brand)
1-2/3 cups buttermilk
melted butter
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet with low sides (I use a silpat and then I don't have to grease) Blend the shortening into the flour using two dinner knives or a pastry blender, leaving large pea-sized pieces of shortening. Add buttermilk and stir with a serving fork only until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board. Lightly flour the top of the dough and pat out (use your fingertips) into a square; fold in half; pat out again to a 1/2" thickness. A light hand makes a light biscuit.
Cut into 3" rounds with a floured cutter. Use a metal spatula to help transfer the biscuits to the prepared sheet.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dreaming about Seeds, Dirt, and Gardens

The Christmas tree is nestled in its' box until next year. The hundreds of glass-blown birds that decorated the tree are sleeping in their paper-lined boxes until they come out next December. All stocking are carefully folded and put away. So what's a gal to do in January in the heart of Kentucky?
Easy! Pull out the seed catalogs that she has carefully been stacking since their arrival mid-December. Even though I snuck a peek during the holidays in a couple of my favorites, the tradition is to stack them up and not look until January. So, now it's time to dream about seeds, dirt, and gardens.
We finalized house plans around Thanksgiving. We finished interviewing builders days before Christmas. Last week, we made our final decision on the builder of choice. He is a great person (stay tuned to whether that assessment changes as the months go by!) with a creative mind. My test of the final two builder choices was this: I made a change to the second floor and didn't tell them until last weeks meeting. Builder A (who wasn't picked) stared at me and said, "whatever you want". I asked how the change would affect cost, roofline, room dimensions, and he could not off the cuff give me an answer. I pressed him with "what if I have other design changes/ideas during this process?" To which he replied, "Hey, if you got the money, I'll do whatever you want." I went on, "Even if it doesn't make design sense?" At that point, he realized that he had said too much. I thought that he said exactly what was on his mind and I didn't like it.
Builder B answered all my questions. I shot the design sense question at him. He said, he would no matter what point out anything that seemed flawed, or unsensible. Exactly, what I wanted to hear, someone who would evaluate my creative brainstorms. He got the job. Oh, the change that I wanted? A sleeping porch off the the upstairs guest bedroom, and it is going to be worked in with minimal cost. Yay.
So, house stuff is on my mind. But, honestly, I have over a hundred acres of dirt at my disposal, and I am dreaming BIG. I had thought of putting in tobacco, about an acre, because the property was formerly a tobacco farm. I researched tobacco, the work involved, the cost as well, and really I just don't want to get into that. You decide: One acre of tobacco equals 7,400 hundred plants with fertilizer needs, pesticide control, workers (no way that one person could maintain an acre by herself), several big steps during the season of topping, cutting, curing, and grading. Steps that generations of tobacco growers have passed down through their families. I am not so arrogant to think that I could figure this out in a season. So, an acre produces about 2,000 pounds of tobacco at 1.75 per pound which is $3,500 dollars. Now, take away fertilizer costs, pest control, worker payments and what do you get? Not much for an acre of hard work. I'm sure that it works out if you plant several acres, but for me, it's just not worth it. I think I will plant a few plants as an homage to the farm's former crop. So then on to sorghum.
I am still thinking of planting an acre of sorghum. I have no $$ in mind for this at all. I have heard through the years that it is labor intensive, and costly, but on the other hand, the birds love the seed heads, the deer would love the stalks, and I think it would look pretty. It has a lot more to offer than tobacco. My husband on the other hand, thinks it is a bad idea. I'll consider it more before making a final decision.
Last year my big success, and it was funny how many people loved looking at the tidy rows of onions and leeks, were allium crops. This weekend Anthony Bourdain was in Spain at an onion farm, my husband dreamed of us planting acres and acres of onions and having an onion festival or party like Anthony's friends in Spain. See how contagious this seed dreaming can be?
Then, yesterday I opened a catalog on orchard trees. I think a small apple orchard would be nice. Of course, dreaming allows one to plant many orchards, and a vineyard, and let's not forget the raspberry, currant, and strawberry patches. Oh, some native plantings of pawpaw, and persimmon would be nice too. Oh, how I love to dream about seeds, dirt and gardens...