Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Morning ...And The Consequences of A Noisy Blender

Well, my little scheme for enjoying a Sunday morning smoothie kind of fizzled out, didn't it? :)

Honestly, I love the idea, but I also love the peace and quiet I get when I'm the only one up on weekend blender, on the other hand, thinks that if IT has to be woken up at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning, then EVERYONE has to wake up at 7:00.

It's very, very...VERY loud.

So this morning, when I woke up (first...yeah!), I really wanted a smoothie, but we were all up past our bedtimes last night and the man and the child needed to catch up on sleep. They don't drink coffee. I do. Sleep? Schmeep! Just pour me another cup, Martha! So I started looking around for something quick, but good and different...something that would be a splurge, but not extremely decadent, like oh, I don't know...Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy? Nah, that's not decadent at all.....

Luckily, I remembered a pancake recipe I came across on Allrecipes recently - Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal Pancakes. Oatmeal's good for you, right? :) Actually, it's not a bad recipe, nutritionally, and I replaced the eggs with egg substitute to further improve it. I wish I had taken pictures while they cooked, but alas, the dogs, Martha and Merlin, and the human child had awoken....they are a tag team, you know. One distracts while the other two maneuver within snatching distance. So I sort of had my hands full! Some of the reviews on Allrecipes indicated the pancakes were thin...not so here! Not sure if it was the egg substitute instead of eggs, if that makes any sense, or the fact that I do not know the meaning of "until just blended" and I mixed the crap out of my batter, but then let it sit while I refereed a game of touch football between two dogs and a 4 year old in the dining room. Whatever mystical chemical reaction happened in my kitchen this morning, it resulted in very thick, beautiful, golden brown pancakes that, when topped with melted raspberry preserves and a few banana slices, looked like this:

The pancake recipe, which you can find HERE, only calls for a teaspoon of sugar, so the cakes themselves are not very sweet at all...a good thing if you're going to microwave some fruits preserves and drizzle them all over. Chocolate syrup wouldn't be bad, either! I mean, it would be bad, but in a good kind of way...I can picture this as a birthday special request breakfast or maybe a morning after sleepover breakfast with maybe chocolate chips in the batter, a dollop of marshmallow fluff and some chocolate syrup...

See, I knew I'd lead myself back to Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy!

Which reminds me! I am flattered to receive this from The Ordinary Housewife:

It was she who introduced me to Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy on her blog - make sure you stop by and visit her if you're not already a regular like me!

I'm horrible at doing this, but I do want to share these with a few other blogs:

First my new bloggie buddy, Angeltastic at Full Circle...she's not only a friend, but she's like a blood relative to me. Probably because...SHE IS! Her mother and my mother are sisters! Yes, I have mentioned my sweet cousin before, perhaps when I had a little too much to drink at a certain cocktail party at my dear friend, Willoughby's place, This Stop Willoughby. So, stop by her brand new blog and say hello to "Beth" (not her real name, she just likes to be called that...tee hee!).

I also wanted to mention Bella Della - she lives on a farm that to me is a little piece of heaven and I just love her photography and stories! I stumbled upon her blog looking for information on Texasware bowls, and I keep coming back for more!

And finally, a shout out to MySweetCreations - I've been an admirer of her photography and talent with all things sweet over on Allrecipes, and I'm so happy she decided to start a blog of her own. You'll like it, too!

Since I never know what to do with awards, I'm also breaking the rules a bit! So please accept these awards - pass them on if you like, play along if you feel like it, but just know that I wanted to give you a shout out because I enjoy your blogs! ,I think you're supposed to share seven things about yourself...but what don't you know about me?

1.) I own a noisy blender
2.) Nearly all of my food photos are taken in the bay window of my living room
3.) I often wonder if Gene Simmons (if it was him) ever thinks of that weird girl he saw at Logan Airport circa 1979...
4.) I want to own a farm some day...meanwhile, I'm keeping Baker Creek Seeds in business with my insanity.
5.) I'm still looking for a Texasware bowl to replace the one that broke several years ago
6.) I haven't set foot in an antique shop in almost five years (the perils of having a four and a half year old!)
7.) We had Martha shaved down yesterday because her coat was just incredibly matted....If I can stop laughing at her long enough, I'll post some pictures soon!

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Snowman Returns


I know you!

It's Mr. Frosty! Welcome back, friend! We were saddened by your sudden departure last December, but glad to see you again...maybe the back yard will be a safer place for you to hang out.

We've been pretty lucky so far this winter, what with the mid-Atlantic states getting pummeled with snow and places like Texas seeing the white stuff - for the first time for some residents! We really can't complain about this winter.
But today I had a planned day off from work, and that ended up being a good decision because we got hit with a pretty messy storm - technically, we got about 10 inches of snow, but it quickly got packed down when it turned to rain. Yuck! Messy and heavy! I was pooped after just shoveling off our deck!

After the wet, heavy snow was cleared, we decided to go out in the back yard and have some fun. I was hoping the snow would be just right for snowman construction - we caught it just in time! It was actually almost too wet to stick together, and by the time we were putting on the finishing touches, we had to do so delicately. But our old pal, Frosty held himself together pretty well, and cheered us on as we got in a bit of sledding.
We have the perfect kiddie-sized slope in our back yard, and although I miss the mighty maple, it's now much safer for sledding without the danger of crashing into a four foot thick tree trunk at the bottom of the hill.

The best part was, I got to spend time with two of my favorite faces...

This is one of them...

And this is the other...
(Don't you just want to say "Duh" when you look at Martha? Trust do)

Before I thought to get the camera, we hurled a few snowballs for Martha to fetch. Only she doesn't fetch. She just eats the snowballs. And if she can't find the snowball that burrowed under the freshly fallen snow, she eats the freshly fallen snow.

Hmmm. A dog that eats snow.

THAT doesn't bode well for Mr Frosty!

"Oh, hello! What lovely, twiggy arms you have!"
Sniff sniff sniff
"What! I'm being a good dog! Just checking out the scenery....

"Yawn! Kinda boring, actually...."

Wait a minute..."

Smooch! "I love you, man!"

WAIT! MARTHA! Nooooooooooo!

The rest was just too disturbing to photograph.

Maybe the back yard WASN'T the safest place for Mr Frosty to show up after all!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

F is for...Fennel

Finally, I get to share my favorite recipe that utilizes fennel seed!

But first, a story...or maybe a song...

"There was a farmer had a pig, and Thelma was her name-o...."

When I was a kid, we ate whatever was placed in front of us. Fortunately, aside from her penchant for canned green beans, my mother was (and still is) an excellent cook. We did occasionally have Hamburger Helper or frozen pizza, or other hurry up meals like mom's creamed salmon over mashed potatoes (so very ugly, but oh so good!), but she knew her way around a somewhat frugal kitchen and usually there were no complaints about what was on the table come dinnertime. Not like today, when a four year old usually knows that burgers come from cows or ham comes from pig or chicken comes from...well, chicken. I guess that one's pretty easy!

We were animal lovers, yet even though Uncle Frances owned a hobby farm with ducks, chickens, goats, rabbits and three pigs, we always knew which animals it was ok to make friends with and which ones to maintain a certain emotional distance from.

So, despite the fact that I adored Uncle Franny's giant pet pig, Thelma, it never crossed my mind to think of her as we dug into grilled Italian sausages or pork chops or ham. Until one day, several years later, when we had Uncle Franny and Aunt Betty over our house for dinner, serving the best lasagna I ever made - loaded with beef and Italian sausage - salad, homemade rolls and chocolate cream pie for dessert.

At least, not until my mother asked, "Do you still have those pigs of your's, Frances?"

"Oh, no....we slaughtered Willie, but no one could eat him. We sold the other one. And Thelma.....we had to give her up a few years back," my uncle responded with more than a hint of sadness.

Gulp. A mouthful of suddenly sausage-laden lasagna stalled at the back of my throat. Turns out, Thelma got so big (Aunt Betty said she was just under 1,300 pounds, although maybe that could have been a generous estimate....she DID weigh in at over 800 the last time I had seen her...) that she could not be restrained by any man-made pen. Day after day, Thelma broke loose and had to be tracked down and lured back home by a loaf of Wonderbread dangled in front of her snout. It wasn't until Thelma was long gone that I realized, I mean, REALLY realized, where pork came from. And it was at that moment that I developed a bit of an aversion to it. Soon, the subject turned to other matters and memories. But the next time my mom served pork chops for dinner, I couldn't bear it to think of Thelma, and all the other Thelma's out there. It's different when hogs are raised as food, but when you're standing at the meat counter, how do you know that at some point a family pet didn't just got too darn big?

Never say never, but I kind of shied away from pork.

Pork chops??? "Ewwwww...."

Roast pork? "Nuh-uh..."

Italian sausage? "Waaaaah!" (Double whammy - not only is it pork, I was eating it the moment I was told of Thelma being lured up that ramp into the waiting trailer with a loaf of Wonderbread)

Bacon? "Oh gross! Wait a minute....that smells goooooood."

Yeah, I did not suffer from a TOTAL aversion to pork....just a lot of heavy guilt, I suppose, to the point that sometimes it just wasn't worth it.

Flash forward several sister was a new mom, married into a wonderful Italian family, and we were invited over for dinner. On the menu was this thing called....porketta.

I could tell I would be eating a lot of vegetables that day. "Porketta" sounded like some sort of cutesy nickname one would perhaps give to their pet pig. But when I arrived at Sue's house, this amazing aroma of roasted meat and garlic and some new spice greeted me in the kitchen. Soon a platter of sliced meat, roasted potatoes and carrots was placed upon the table and I was too tempted to resist. And that first taste was divine! Moist, succulent pork with a crisp, spicy, savory crust. I had never even heard of "fennel seed" before, but recognized the whole seeds as what I had seen before in Italian sausage.

These days our Christmas dinner tradition is not turkey or ham or roast beef. It's porketta. And I may go a whole year without eating a pork chop, roast pork or slice of ham, but when December rolls around I start imaging the scent of toasting fennel seed and garlic wafting through the air, and the yummy caramelized goodness of oven roasted vegetables. Sue usually orders her's prepared from a small family-owned Italian shop, but I always wanted to try to make my own.

And finally, I did....

First, you'll need to make the seasoning rub - grab some fennel seed, along with some onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, and dried rosemary. You might as well wrestle up some fresh garlic and rosemary, too!

Then, dust of that cool looking thing you bought for five bucks, hoping for the opportunity to some day say "Poppies....poppies will put them to sleeeeeep!"

They tell me it's called a mortar and pestle.
Or if you have better restraint than I do and don't own one, you can grind the rub ingredients in a coffee grinder or just stick 'em in a heavy duty plastic bag and smash them with a meat mallet.

But I got no movie quotes to go with that, so I dusted off the mortar and pestle.

There are no real measurements. I was making this for my parents, so I actually went a little light. If you like a little more heat and spice, doubling everything would work well, and would probably be a better representation of the porketta we enjoy every's pretty spicy around the edges!

So, start out with a heaping tablespoon of fennel seeds.

Add to that, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning (or mix of oregano, basil, thyme & marjoram), a couple shakes of crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, 1 tsp. kosher salt and about 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced.

The moisture from the garlic and the texture of the salt crystals will help blend everything together into a somewhat dry paste as you mash and grind everything together (and cackle about poppies).

Set that aside and prepare your meat. You'll want a 3 1/2 to 4 lb. boneless pork butt... said butt!

Yeah, well, it's actually part of the shoulder, dude. You might find it labeled "Boston butt" or something. If you can't find it, a pork loin roast will do nicely.

This is my butt...oh shut up!

You can trim some of the fat away, or not. I chose not.

Then make an incision along the side of the roast so you can kind of open it up like a book.

Drizzle on a good tablespoon or so of oil, and rub that all over the meat. You might notice below that I made a few small cuts into the meat and inserted whole cloves of garlic. I highly recommend it!

Then take about a third or so of the mashed up rub blend and spread it evenly on the two open "pages" of your pork book.

Close the flaps and repeat with another tablespoon of oil and the remaining rub on the outside. If you want, you can use some kitchen twine to tie up the roast, but it's really not necessary.

Plop that hunk of meat into a nice big roasting pan, one that leaves enough room for these...
...and these....

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into big chunks - not too little or else they'll cook to death before the porketta is even done. These were kind of large, so I cut most of them into eighth's, the smallish ones into quarters.

Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss into the roasting pan.

Peel and slice up those carrots, again into kind of thick slices. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and add them to the pan.

If you think you haven't seasoned enough, or heaven forbid haven't used ENOUGH OLIVE OIL, feel free to add a little more. I chose to just sprinkle a little dried thyme over the whole shebang.

I also added in a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Roast in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into a thick area of pork reads 160 to 165 degrees. You'll want to stir around those veggies a few times so they brown evenly and don't burn.

And here it is.....

Let the meat sit for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing and serving. I give you permission to pick on a few of those yummy vegetables while you wait!

Oh my...and it's not even Christmas!

I do think of Thelma when I dig into this meal. I imagine she's 37 years old, weighs 3,000 pounds and is lounging in the sun on that farm she went to live on all those years ago.

Italian Porketta Roast

The Meat:
1 boneless 3 1/2 to 4 lb pork butt roast (or loin)

The Rub:
1 1/2 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

The Rest:
4 or 6 additional cloves of garlic, peeled
About 3 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs. potatoes
5 or 6 big carrots
Salt & Pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Mash together rub ingredients until paste-like.

Cut slit in meat so you can open it up like a book. Make a few incisions in the meat and insert whole cloves of garlic. Drizzle with about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and rub into meat. Slather with about 1/3 of the rub mixture. Close flap, and if desired, tie roast with kitchen twine. Drizzle another tbsp. of oil on the outside of the roast and rub in; coat the outside with the remaining rub mixture and place in a large roasting pan.

Scrub and cut potatoes into large chunks. Peel and cut carrots into thick sticks. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place around the roast in the pan. Adjust seasonings if desired, and sprinkle with 1 tsp, dried thyme. Add a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Bake, stirring vegetables occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until meat thermometer reads 160 to 165 degrees F. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Late January and early February tend to be pretty dreary in these parts.

The sparkle and excitement from the holidays is gone, and the days are cold and bleak. We've been lucky so far this year - just a few smatterings of snow, really, but by day two the pure white wonder of new fallen snow has turned a dingy, dirty gray, thanks to the sand and salt used to treat the roads.

I was leaving work one night recently, my usual time (5:01 P.M.) and I noticed something different....the sky was still light on the horizon, all purpley and orangey. Funny how it hits you all of a sudden: The days are getting LONGER! And suddenly you realize that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Spring is slowly but surely sneaking up on us.

It was dark by the time I got home - I have a half hour commute, so I watched as the sky slowly darkened as I made my way home. But even though there was blackness above me as I pulled into the driveway, I still felt light and happy, giddy with anticipation of spring's arrival.

And it was for good reason...when I walked into the house, I found I had gotten mail. Just like that fateful day when Ralphie finally gets is Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin, the package I had been yearning for (um, for like, 4 whole days....) had arrived...

"My Baker Creek Seeds have arrived! Come to me, my precious....."

Yes, I had ordered a few packets of seeds from them last year, and lo and behold a couple weeks earlier a beautiful catalog arrived in my mailbox. And I was totally seduced by the glossy photographs, the cheerful descriptions of each item that screamed to me subliminally, "You know you want me...No one else on this street has some Jaune d'Or Ovale radishes." Not to mention, the thought of "heirloom" seeds, nothing genetically modified, no "frankenfoods".

OK, I don't even LIKE radishes, yet I found myself trudging towards the computer, glossy-eyed, arms out-stretched in front of me...."Yes, Master...."

I mean, just look at these!

And don't get me started on the tomatoes...
Virtually every color of the, pink, purple, yellow, green, orange.

Striped, spotted, plaid...
Just kidding... they're still working on plaid.

Oh, and blue. No blue, yet! But I did order those Striped Romas in the lower right corner of the page.

Melon, anyone? Look at these....

And squash...
I am MOST excited about a few bush varieties of squash they offer...bush buttercup, bush zucchini. My puny little garden can be so overrun with those greedy vining plants that both my squash and my other veggies usually suffer.

Wait, instead of showing you the whole catalog here, I'll just post a link at the end of this entry so you can come over to the dark side with me and start your own wish list! Come on! We can all dream about growing fields of Amaranth, eating the leaves and grinding up the seeds into amaranth flour! I was going to use my coffee grinder, but wouldn't it be cool to build a mill, with a water wheel and redirect a river through your yard and mill your own flour?!?

Then I realized I have just under a quarter-acre of land...including where my house and driveway sit. And half of what's remaining is the front yard, my husband's domain, where he crawls on hands and knees with tweezers and scissors, tending to his grass. My back yard garden is currently....6' by 10'? Amaranth will have to stay on my wish list for now...

ANYWAY! As a little public service announcement, I thought I would share with you the dangers of browsing fabulous heirloom seed websites in February.

This is what was in my package...

Wait, let me organize them for you.

I can barely fit them all on the table, yet somehow I want to cram all these plants into a 8' x 12' plot of land?

Better get the pick axe, honey! We need to expand!

Did I mention my husband's idea of a vegetable is a potato? He's going to hate me....

Nine...yes, NINE...kinds of tomatoes!

Four kinds of peppers...soon to be six, when I add jalapenos and bell peppers.
Pak choy and spinach and fennel and purple cauliflower...these are a few of my favorite things!

Oh, did I mention rutabaga and dragon tongue beans? Seduced by the beautiful artwork on the packages....

And despite the fact that I have very rocky soil and no luck with root crops, I couldn't resist golden beets or little carrots.

And I like lima beans...LOVE fava beans.

And herbs, glorious herbs!
Including, four types of basil...two Thai varieties, lime basil and normal basil. I also scored some slo-bolt (yeah, we'll see about that!) cilantro, dill, parsley, oregano and another one I am somewhat excited about, summer savory. Luckily, most of these herbs will be residing someplace other than the aforementioned 10' x 16' plot of earth, like in pots on my deck or an empty patch of dirt above a retaining wall.

(Wait a it my imagination, or is my garden ... growing?)

Anyway! I refuse to admit I overdid it. Instead, I can't wait to get those seeds started and stick my hands in the earth. More importantly, I can't wait to taste that lime basil, slice up those striped romas and pluck buttercup squashes from a bush.

And if you'd like to join me in my madness, go visit the wonderful folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

If you dare.... :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Healthy Choices - Revamped Egg Salad and More

One of the cards that has always been stacked against me in my quest for a slimmer waistline has been the fact that in general, I just don't like fat-free foods...things like dressings, cheeses, mayonnaise. Things like that. I've always said they seem to try to overcompensate for the lack of fat by adding too much sweetness - in the form of either sugar or artificial sweeteners. I don't know if it's the non-fat part I hate, or the sickeningly sweet part!

On sandwiches, I am usually perfectly happy with mustard, but then comes that craving for one of those mayo-based sandwich fillings - tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad.... and as much as I've tried to like the low fat or fat free versions of those, I just don't, and I walk away from my plate feeling let down, somehow, and looking for something else to appease me.

Usually something chocolate.

When my daughter asked for hard-boiled eggs the other day - she LOVES them, but will only eat the whites! - my mind immediately thought "When was the last time you had egg salad?" I'm not a huge egg salad fan, but when the craving hits I really, really, REALLY want it! As the eggs were cooking on the stove, I browsed through the refrigerator, reading labels, calculating "points" (I'm doing the Weight Watchers thing again, and kind of in the WW Zone, so to speak!) I tried looking at alternatives for the big gob of mayonnaise that would have historically found its way into my egg salad. I know people use yogurt as a mayo substitute, but the thought of yogurty egg salad didn't appeal to me. What did I have on hand that could maybe cover up that yogurt flavor? Whatever it was, it would have to be good, because I was already hell-bent on making a healthy egg salad using one whole egg and a couple whites only. Not only would it have to cover up yogurt, it would have to cover up the fact that a couple rich, creamy yolks were missing, having been sacrificed to the dogs. (Insert dog burp and happy tail-wagging here)

This came to my rescue.

A nice spicy dijon mustard which would add flavor as well as a hint of yellow, tricking the eyes into thinking there were more egg yolks in the egg salad.

Dijon had an accomplice, too!

One of the most under-utilized items in my cupboard. I've never actually been sure if I liked them or not, but I always seem to have capers on hand.

I went on, measuring out some non-fat yogurt, a spoonful of mustard, and I did add a spoonful of mayonnaise for a little bit of luxury, then capers, scallion and salt and pepper. Stirred in my one chopped whole hard-boiled egg, and two hard boiled egg whites, pulled out a nice low-carb, multi-grain wrap and some fresh veggies, and this was my lunch:

And it worked! I really didn't feel like I was being cheated, and there was very little of that "diet" taste.

Here's my new egg salad recipe - even if you want to use whole eggs, this ended up being a great way to cut back on the mayo:

Lighter Egg Salad Wraps (2 servings)

1 whole hard boiled egg
2 additional hard boiled eggs, yolks removed (if doing the lighter version)
1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 tsp dijon mustard ( a nice spicy one)
1 1/2 tsp capers, drained and chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise ( I use a canola-based mayo)
Salt & pepper to taste
2 8" multi-grain low carb tortillas (or other bread item)
Cucumber Slices
Chopped fresh dill or paprika (optional)

Chop eggs.
Mix together yogurt, mustard, capers, scallion, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Stir in eggs.
Arrange sliced cucumber and lettuce on each tortilla and top with half the egg salad. Sprinkle with dill or paprika, if desired, roll up and serve.

But wait! There's more!

Yes, the whole inspiration for this egg salad actually came from something I had made the weekend before to use up some leftover salmon. Here's my Salmon Salad recipe (the dressing part actually makes a nice tartar sauce, too!)

Dijon Salmon Salad With Lemon and Capers
  • 4 or 5 oz. cooked salmon (about 1 1/2 cups, flaked), chilled
  • 1 1/2 tsp. capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup non-fat yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, mayonnaise, dijon mustard and lemon juice.
  2. Stir in capers, dill and scallion.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. (This can also be used as a nice tartar sauce)
  5. Fold in flaked salmon.
  6. Serve on top of salad greens, in a sandwich, on a toasted English muffin, as a spread for cracker, etc....