Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sugar Rush Day

Since I've already confessed one food weakness this week, here goes another. Sometimes I make dessert that includes no local ingredients, no fruit, no vegetables. Yes, I have a weak day now and then. Halloween seems like the ideal time to give into that urge.

I can blame it on the Food Network if I want a scapegoat. This past Saturday I watched Giada make turtles from homemade caramel and I knew I had to try it. So with my prayer group coming over last night for dessert, I decided we should have our own sort of grown-up Halloween sugar celebration. We had sweet potatoe cake (which seems to get moister and better every day) with homemade turtles. Without a candy thermometer, it was hard for me to get the caramel just perfect (it was a tad runny) but it didn't matter because it was still delicious.

Now that I've gotten the dessert-making out of my system, it's onto healthier fare for the beginning of the new month tomorrow. Watch out canned and frozen food from the Brown garden--I'll be coming in for sustenance.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rating the Cake

My friend Rebecca laughed last night when she saw the cake with the missing piece. However, when she tasted the cake, she understood. That led me to play the rating game again.

Rebecca's cake rating: 10!
Jim's cake rating: 7

Jim says his lower score isn't due to his harshness as a critic, but rather because men and women like different sorts of desserts. The chocolate ice cream he added to his plate made his almost a 10.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Making cake for company

Have you ever made a new dessert recipe for company then been so excited about tasting it that you did, before the guest even arrived?
I plead guilty. Earlier this week I heard a story on All Things Considered about a sweet potato cake recipe. Since Jim recently dug two healthy boxes of sweet potatoes, I decided I wanted to try it.

Yesterday I found the recipe on the NPR website and began following the directions. It seemed like a lengthy process for making a cake, but the batter tasted good (of course I had to taste it!) and the faint orange color was appealing. (Because I used a bundt cake pan, I put the topping in the bottom of the pan, as opposed to what the recipe tells you, so it would be on the top.) Then I baked it and the smell lured me in like scent of honeysuckle in the spring. I so wanted to try a piece.

So I did. I waited until this morning and my husband teased me about not leaving the cake whole and beautiful for tonight, but it was worth the slight marring of its appearing. It was delicious. I have to say that I had my doubts because it felt so heavy that I feared it would be like a rock in my stomach. It wasn’t. Actually, it was so good that I wanted another piece, but I did refrain from that.

By the way, it is possible to make desserts a little bit healthier. As the holistic nurse I worked with, Hunter Purdy, told me a few years ago, most recipes are just as good with less sugar. You can also substitute some of the white flour with whole wheat. Combine that with the nutrition of sweet potatoes and dessert is practically a vegetable side dish.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don’t Give Up on the Kale

As the end of October nears, I feel like every growing thing I still find in my garden is a gift. Last night we feasted on salmon, roasted vegetables (butternut squash, beets, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and onions) and kale. Since I had neglected it, the kale was surely a gift.
I had planted it in the corner of the garden in the spring. I didn’t realize that corner of the garden was prone to takeover by grass and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to keep it clear enough for the kale to grow uninhibited. So I gave up on it, assuming I wouldn’t get kale this year.

This summer, I broke my ankle and couldn’t get into my garden for about seven weeks. When I returned, I saw the kale had grown into enormous leaves that actually overshadowed the grass! Knowing that kale so large would likely be bitter, I cut it anyway reasoning I could season it to get rid of the bitterness. That’s exactly what I did last night and it worked. I first caramelized onions then added the chopped kale, layering it with salt. I then put in a little sugar, lemon juice and chicken broth, topped it with toasted pumpkin seeds, and there wasn’t a bit of bitterness in that powerful load of vitamins K, A and C. I’ll never give up on my kale again!

For more information about the powerful nutrition you get from kale, go to

Friday, October 23, 2009

Easy Stuffed Peppers

At this time of year, our green peppers are their largest and we run out of things to do with them. That’s when it’s time to make stuffed peppers.

I’ve used a recipe from my mom for ages, but recently altered it to utilize some of the homemade tomato sauce from my shelf. That makes it super simple.

Stuffed Green Peppers
Cut off the tops of 12 peppers or so. Take out the insides. Boil in water for 5 minutes.
Brown 1 pound hamburger.
Cook 1 cup rice.
Combine hamburger, rice and as much of your preserved tomato sauce as you like.
If the sauce isn’t already seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, etc., add seasonings.
Stuff peppers. Pour more sauce over the top.
Bake covered for 45 minutes.
Remove lid, put a slice of cheese on top of each and bake 15 more minutes.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October’s Gift

October has given those of us in Central Kentucky it’s most sought after gift this week—those few, precious days of a return to summer. Yesterday the afternoon temperatures reached the 70s and when I met a friend in Lexington for lunch, we were able to sit outside and eat. As soon as I returned home, I finished some desk work then took a pile of editing into my back yard “office.” I pulled a chair from under a tree to a sunny spot next to the still-growing garden greens and I edited as the sun warmed me. When I finished, I perused the faithful tomatoes and onions as well as the still ripening pumpkins.

With the few garden vegetables still coming in and those stores in the refrigerator, I’ve cooked very little this week with truly preserved foods. I made fajitas last night. The fresh peppers softened nicely in the skillet as they danced with the onions, then I threw in some fresh corn and tomatoes to make a flavorful dish. Jim likes the kind of spice that chars my mouth, so he dressed his with hot sauce is son Neal made. That was the perfect addition for him.

What are you cooking this week?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ravioli Experiment

I had loads of fun over the weekend making pumpkin-filled and butternut squash-filled raviolis. There’s something about mixing up homemade pasta dough and running it through a pasta machine until it’s thin enough for raviolis that is quite satisfying, especially when you realize that the more you run in through the machine (which further kneads it) the more tender the dough gets.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet a ravioli maker supreme. My early raviolis are likely to fall apart when boiled because I didn’t get the dough wide enough so a little filling is poking out here and there. My later raviolis, however, look good enough to serve for company. I’ll have to try another batch soon to see if I can move a step closer to perfecting that art.

In the meantime, I had roasted pumpkin left over that I didn’t use in the filling, so I made pumpkin dip with it. Yum! It’s great for dipping fruit or cookies into. The recipe, along with the two others I tried recently, came from “Simply in Season” by Mary Beth Lind. Besides the good recipes, the beginning of the book also lists fruits and vegetables by seasonal availability with storage, preparation and serving suggestions, plus nutrient information. Plus, they post some of their recipes online.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Feeling Wealthy

It’s uncomfortably cold and wet outside, but I wandered into the garden anyway to rescue the vegetables that are still faithfully growing—greens, a couple of tomatoes, green peppers, ancho peppers, lettuce and arugula. I even found two deep pink zinnias still adding their beauty to the garden, as well as a number of nasturtiums that continue to bloom on the pea trellis.

Our garden is about to go to sleep for the season, so I was surprised when a friend brought us a bucket of corn and a bag of pears this week from his farm. Having so much fresh food makes me feel like a wealthy woman! I immediately searched for recipes to use the corn, which will get starchy if I don’t cook it up. I already have frozen plenty, so I’ll use some of it to make vegetable soup and corn bread for friends tonight. On this chilly October day, the warm soup will be a welcome comfort.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two successes equal a first

I grew small, sugar pumpkins for the first time this year, intending to use them for a variety of things. The truth is I don’t even know if I’ll like eating them; I’ve never been a pumpkin pie fan. My guess, however, is that the only pumpkin pie I’ve tasted was made with canned pumpkin. Since pumpkins provide so much beta-carotene, as well as other nutrients and fiber, I decided to give them another try.

I also had great success with butternut squash this year, which I know I like quite well. I have more than a dozen of them stored so I can afford to be creative in experimenting with them.

For me, pumpkin success plus butternut squash success is leading to a day of making pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash ravioli to store in the freezer for winter. Jim gave me a pasta maker a few years ago and I initially enjoyed it, then lost my fascination. That was partially because I could never get my pasta to be as silky and tender as the good homemade pasta I ate when I lived in New York. So this week I’ve been reading up on pasta making in hopes that with more practice, I can have more success.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Visit your local orchard!

One of my biggest challenges in trying to eat primarily local food is locating fruit. Some fruits do grow here in Kentucky; we have plenty of raspberries right here on our property. I also love pears, apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and some fruits, like kiwi, oranges and bananas, that I certainly won’t find locally grown.

When a fruit is in season, I enjoy it to the fullest. Fall, of course, is apple season. So yesterday we drove to Boyd’s Orchard in Versailles and bought nearly 30 pounds of apples. Why so many? Because we love apple pie. When the apples are local and freshly picked, it’s the ideal time to make apple pie filling and freeze it. That turns apple pie baking into a welcome, aromatic activity on even the dreariest of winter days.

My friend Joni gave me this recipe several years ago. The most time consuming part of it, as I was reminded yesterday, is peeling and slicing the apples. However, it’s worth the effort and if you have the right crust to go with it, your pie will get a top rating.

Freezer Apple Pie Filling
6 pounds apples
1 ½ cups to 2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Rinse apples.
Peel and slice into a big pot with lemon juice.
Stir in other ingredients. Let stand 30 minutes until juicy.
Cook over medium heat until it thickens.
Cool 1 – 2 hours. Put 6 cups in each container (freezer bags work well) for one pie.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Creativity and Cooking

One of the reasons I like to cook is that it’s a tasty outlet for my creativity. But when I need to channel that creativity in another direction, I have to quiet the urge to cook so I’ll have the energy I need for my words.
That’s what I did this week. I’ve spent Monday through Friday at a beautiful retreat house for women artists. I came with two novels to revise so I spent hours researching, rereading, revising and reinventing scenes. With no cooking to do, no laundry calling, no dirty floor to vacuum, I was able to focus all of my energy on my goal. And I succeeded. What a gift!
When my brain called out for a break, I took a walk or warmed up some of those leftovers I prepared on Sunday. Last night I had the pasta with butternut squash that I had prepared. Pastas prepared with something other than a red sauce tend to suck up the sauce, leaving dry leftovers. To remedy that, I added a little chicken broth to my pasta bowl when warming it up.

For the delicious recipe, go to The Splendid Table site. (I substituted Swiss chard for the greens recommended.) And if you’ve never heard the show, tune in. It’s an hour of fun for anyone who loves food.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Broccoli, broccoli and more broccoli

I harvested broccoli far into the summer this year, a first for me since it usually gets too bitter soon after spring. But our weather was different and I liked the idea of having bags of it in the freezer for winter so I kept harvesting.

Health Note: Broccoli is another one of those great cancer-fighting vegetables. As a breast cancer survivor, I try to get cruciferous vegetables and tomatoes into my diet daily, along with a “rainbow colored” diet that will provide the variety of nutrients that I need. Cruciferous vegetables are an important part of a cancer-prevention diet because they provide a cancer-fighting compound, indole-3-carbinole, as well as good dietary fiber and nutrients. Other vegetables in the cruciferous family are cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, etc.

One way I like to use any preserved vegetable is in soup. Because of freezing or canning, vegetables lose their initial crispness. That makes them perfect for soups in which they are supposed to be soft. So last night I made broccoli and cheese soup with croutons. I used broccoli from the freezer and leftover, homemade bread. From the store, I bought: chicken broth, butter, cheddar cheese, onion. Mix all of that with some seasoning, and a tasty supper, along with your daily dose of cruciferous cancer-fighters, is served.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monday’s leftovers: Jim’s Chili

It does take time to preserve fresh vegetables and cook from scratch, but one way to free up your week is to cook batches of foods on the weekend that you can munch on all week. That approach can save time and money while still providing nutrients you need.

With that in mind, I enjoyed the chili Jim made on Sunday for supper last night. For him to prepare the chili, I bought from the grocery canned kidney beans, chili seasoning and onions (unfortunately we used the last of our garden onions last week). From the freezer, he pulled packages of ground beef we had bought with our portion of a local, grassfed cow. Then he gathered tomato juice and whole tomatoes we had canned.
Last night, his tasty combination satisfied my hunger and warmed me from the inside out! It took only a few minutes to warm it up and to wash the dishes afterwards.
Health note: Tomatoes provide lycopene, an important cancer preventing phytochemical. Although many people enjoy tomatoes fresh from the summer garden, studies have shown that people who eat cooked tomatoes actually absorb more lycopene. So add chili to your list of health-supporting dishes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Preparing for a week of creativity

I’ve learned that when I channel my creativity into cooking, I direct it less toward my writing. Since this will be a week of finishing revisions on one novel and making progress on revisions of a second, I won’t be able to spare creativity for cooking. In preparation to be able to easily nourish my body, mind and soul, I spent yesterday cooking.

Our kitchen did smell good! First, I baked bread and raspberry muffins, using more raspberries from the garden. Next, I tried a new recipe for pasta and salmon with two garden vegetables—butternut squash and Swiss chard. Finally, Jim made a big pot of chili using our canned tomatoes.

Butternut squash is one of my favorite vegetables. It’s relatively easy to grown and tastes almost like dessert while delivering important nutrients. It’s also easy to preserve. If you cut it from the vine with a small stem still intact, or buy it from the farmer’s market in that way, then you can store it in a cool corner of your house that doesn’t get a lot of light and it will stay good until spring. My winter squash vines gave generously this year so I look forward to eating it throughout the winter.

Swiss chard is also one of the easiest greens to grow and has a fabulous nutritional profile. Check it out at World’s Healthiest Foods, a site my holistic nurse recommended to me for good nutritional profiles of food.

I’ll check in this week with short updates about how our Sunday preparations fared for the taste buds throughout the week. For now, I’m off to let those nutrients that are feeding my brain and energizing my fingers show off their ability to also inspire my creativity.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Learning from the two Marias

I like to experiment with a couple of new vegetables in the garden every year. Last year I tried jalapeno peppers and couldn’t use them all. This year I experimented with ancho peppers. My understanding was that they aren’t one of the hottest peppers but are commonly used in Mexican cooking. When I asked my friend Maria Turner, she said her mother always used them to make chili relleno.

Since Maria’s suggestion is to stuff the chili relleno with Mexican cheese, I thought it would be an ideal time to also try Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda’s Cuban Black Bean Soup. Or rather, her mother’s. I grew black turtle beans a couple of years ago to dry and use in black bean soup. I found the beans so tedious to hull after drying that I haven’t grown them again since, but I still have some stored in a glass jar, then the main ingredient is already in the kitchen.

I figured out I didn’t have an innate Latina cook skill when the black beans didn’t get soft. I failed at the very first step! But I proceeded anyway, trying everything I could think of to soften them and when I could finally bite in without chipping the enamel on my teeth, I added seasoning.

The chili relleno began with roasting the peppers and taking the skin off. That was new to me and also tedious, but I’ll try it a different way next time to see if it’s easier. Here’s the basic recipe I used after listening to Maria and reading a few recipes online when I realized I had more questions. We used one of the many jars of salsa we canned a couple of months ago for the last step.

Chili relleno
Roast and skin peppers.
Combine Mexican cheese with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic.
Whip two egg whites to soft peaks (this was a good amount for seven peppers).
Roll stuffed peppers in whipped eggs.
Roll in corn meal.
Fry in a skillet with enough oil to do cook one side at a time. Turn until each side is completely browned.
Put them in a serving dish then top with your favorite salsa.
Jim’s soup rating: 7, with expectations that the leftovers will improve to 9 as the seasonings continue to go through the soup.
Beth’s soup rating: 7

Jim’s chili relleno rating: 10
Beth’s chili relleno rating: 10 (when I added sour cream to calm the spiciness of the peppers)
Thanks to the Marias and their mothers for the lesson!
This week: Butternut squash and greens pasta

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why the challenge?

Good health. Budget savings. Good taste. And let’s not forget—creativity. Somehow I don’t feel as wasteful if I ruin a dish I’m making with my preserved food!

Since I discovered the Food Network three years ago, I’ve expanded my culinary knowledge. I’ve long enjoyed cooking but with lessons from the chefs I understand more of the whys and hows. That’s helping me find the courage to create my own recipes.

Sometimes they fail miserably, but when they succeed, I feel like I should have my own television show.

Today my friend Rebecca Ryland ( came over for lunch. We talked about writing as we munched on recently harvested food. I had leftover butternut squash/pear soup in the refrigerator, so I needed something to go with it. I decided on pesto pizza.

My friend Lin introduced me to pesto pizza a few years ago. It’s easy and quick. For the crust, I use whatever bread dough I have in the refrigerator. A year ago I began baking most of my own bread with guidance from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. (Baking your own eliminate the high-fructose corn syrup that most prepared breads contain.) It really does only take about five minutes, so if you’re short on time, check out this book. The olive oil dough recipe makes great pizza crust, but I had whole wheat sandwich bread dough in the fridge so I used it. It was good, too.

Foods I used that we had preserved: pesto (made with the fresh garden basil earlier this week as well as almonds, which are quite nutritious) and sun dried tomatoes stored in olive oil with fresh basil. This was the first time I had tried to use the olive oil and basil storage method for the tomatoes so my taste buds danced with anticipation. I also put kalamata olives and feta cheese on the pizza.

To round out the meal, I adapted a recipe for peach-berry crisp to combine raspberries from our garden with apples from a friend’s farm that I had dried. On a rainy day like this, I thought a warm fruit dessert make our stomachs smile.

Rebecca’s pizza rating: Tops!
My pizza rating: Almost tops.

In truth, I think Rebecca was being kind overlook the tomatoes, some of which had burned although everything else was perfect. I’ve had that problem with sun-dried tomatoes on pizza before so I need to find out how to avoid it the next time. Lin makes hers with red peppers so that, or fresh tomatoes, would be other options.

Rebecca’s fruit crisp rating: Tops!
My fruit crisp rating: Tops!

This is one of the tastiest ways I’ve found to used dried apples. It definitely helped that I let them rehydrate in hot water until they were soft, which is a must for many dehydrated foods.

Next: I’m going to use the Ancho peppers I picked from the garden earlier in the week to experiment with chili rellenos, a favorite of my husband’s at authentic Mexican restaurants. Let’s see if this gringo can pull it off!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Launching: The Goodness of the Garden . . . All Year Round

I love to cook. I love to garden. I strive to be healthy. So today I’m beginning a seven-month challenge for myself. It’s time to begin cooking from all the vegetables we’ve preserved this summer.

People have been preserving food for far longer than I’ve been alive, but it’s relatively new to me. It wasn’t until I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I felt truly motivated to do more than throw a few vegetables into the freezer for storage. With just my husband, Jim, and I to feed, the work that preservation takes didn’t seem like it was worth it.

However, as a breast cancer survivor who constantly seeks ways to stay healthy, I have learned about the nutritional value of the food grown in my garden compared to what I buy in the grocery store. As my holistic nurse advised, I typically buy local first then organic, then I work my way through the fresh, frozen and canned goods in the grocery. I had never thought about the vitamins that foods lose when they are harvested early to allow for transport before they go bad. Neither had I given much thought to what is used to preserve foods I buy in the store. As my awareness grew, so did my enthusiasm for preserving our harvest.

We bought a small, chest freezer last year. We began stocking up on locally raised organic chicken and beef during the summer season. I bought a book on the easiest ways to preserve food and we invested in freezer bags, jars and lids. Then we borrowed a pressure cooker. Luckily for me, Jim knew more about canning that I did so he took the lead on that. (That was especially crucial this summer when I broke my ankle and was very little help to him for a month or so!)

Now we have a shelf of salsa, tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato juice (yes, we had a bountiful tomato harvest this year!), beets, carrots, okra and green beans. Plus there’s plenty of broccoli, corn, greens, berries and more in the freezer. And we have dehydrated tomatoes, apples and beets.

While Jim is the primary canner, I am the primary cook. Earlier this week I wandered through the garden to see what fresh choices remained. I filled my basket with what’s still in the garden—a few tomatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins, Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, raspberries and herbs. I left the walnuts for the squirrels since we still have plenty left over from last year. If it doesn’t freeze soon, some of the garden will continue to grow until November.

With fewer fresh vegetables to choose from, it’s time to beginning cooking from what we’ve preserved. I’ll be experimenting with recipes and sharing what I’m learning. And I hope you’ll share your knowledge and experience with me. There are lots of green beans on our shelf and only so many ways I know how to cook them!

Tomorrow: Pesto pizza with sun-dried tomatoes.