Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Winning Appetizer

Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates

Ok, I'll just let you read that first line again..... need I say more? 

There are three ingredients in this appetizer and they are super easy although they do take some prep time.  The only problem with this appetizer is they'll go so fast you'll wonder if it was worth the prep time. 

I started making these last year and every time they are a hit, barely making it to the table.  I made them for a holiday party recently and I didn't even get one!  But, I'm assured they were good.  So here are your simple directions.

1. Pick up a box of whole dates in the store.  For this batch I chose the Medjool Dates. 
2. Put a slit in each date, pitting them if they still have pits.  As you can see below, my dates had pits.
3. Try not to eat them all as you pit them.

4. Stuff the dates with blue cheese.  I use a block of blue cheese and slice it, as it's slightly less messy, but you could use crumbled.

Hint: I have found that it pays to do this earlier in the day and then put the stuffed dates in the refrigerator, so they are nice and cold.  That way the blue cheese doesn't totally melt away before the bacon is done.

5. Cut bacon in half or thirds, depending on it's length and partially cook in the microwave or oven. 
6. Wrap the bacon around the dates using a toothpick to secure.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until bacon is crispy.

  • You could also use Prosciutto in place of bacon.  If you do, there is no need to partially bake it.
  • Partially cooking the bacon is the second key to not losing all the blue cheese.

This is a definite "Please Repeat" appetizer according to my husband.  Happy Holiday Entertaining!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Facing Our Fears

We all have something that scares us.  Sometimes we know where that fear originates and sometimes it just is.  It may not be rational or explainable.  I'm ok with that idea.  I think it's ok to be afraid of some things and they don't all have to be explained away.

There are different strains of thought regarding fear.  Some think we should suck it up and once we do it and prove we can do it, then that fear will go away.  Some think we should always face our fears, and not let them get the better of us. 

Really?  No matter what? Fears can cause a lot of stress, imagine petting that snake or letting that spider on your desk be as you calmly keep working.  Did your heartbeat raise a little?  Was it worth it?  Are you magically a better person because you faced that fear?  Is it gone?

I've struggled head on with these thoughts for a few years now, ever since I decided I wanted to be a ski patroller.  You see, it turns out that being a ski patroller doesn't just mean you have to be able to ski, or snowboard, and learn about the first aid side of helping people.  It also means, just in case you are on a lift and the lift shuts down, you as the ski patroller, need to be able to confidently pull out the rope and webbing from your pack and rappel down from that chair lift.  Yes, push yourself off the edge of that hard seat and slide down a rope to the snow.  Hopefully in a way that is calm and inspires trust from the skiing patrons all around you, since the next step is getting them down!

Yes, I am terrified of those kinds of heights and have no desire to rock climb or rappel in any manner.  It doesn't thrill me in any way.

The first year of ski patrol I did it.  I have a very patient husband and friends that tried to get me comfortable with rappelling before the day, I even rappelled off a rock, near us.  Why anyone would choose to do this I still don't understand!  I did it.  Did my fear go away - nope.

The next year I chose to not do it, which meant I couldn't patrol by myself.  No problem, who wants to patrol by themselves anyway?  That would be boring.  And it was causing me so much stress that I never regretted that decision. 

But, this year I knew that I wanted to end this year being a full auxiliary member of the National Ski Patrol.  Hopefully we will move in the coming year and that will help us get on the volunteer ski patrol of our next closest ski hill easily.

So, I just decided I had to do it.  That helped with some of the stress, but not the fear.  I didn't even review rappelling until the night before I had to do it.  Then my husband when over everything with me in detail - a couple times, and I just took the attitude that I could do it. 

The thing with my fear is, I never doubt I can do it.  I believe I can do anything I choose to do.  But, do I want to do it?  What's the point?  I know I can be near snakes and not die.  Why would I want to be?  I know I have the ability to put on a harness, hook up my rope, and the knowledge of how to manage that rope so I easily rappel and don't plummet to the ground.  I don't question the safety of it.  But I don't enjoy it in any way, so why would I? 

Don't we do enough things we don't like because of work and just plain life.  Why force ourselves over and over again to do something we don't enjoy? 

I'm reminded to "Be Christine" and not apologize for it. 

I remind myself that just because my friends enjoy rock climbing, golfing, and Disneyland, does not mean I have to pretend to enjoy these things.  Now, I can respect their choices of activities and I can even enjoy listening to stories of their trips and ask about their trips.  I think of all the people who have no clue why I would walk 80 miles through a mountain range, but patiently listen to me talk excitedly about it.  But, that does not mean I have to do those activities.

Anyway back to fear.  Yesterday, on a crisp, cold, blue sky day, I successfully rappelled out of the chair lift again.  A perfectly good chair lift that would have started back up with the flick of a switch.  And I am proud of myself for doing it without my husband or any of my friends in that chair with me.  But does that mean my fear has gone away?  No.  Does that mean I won't stress about it every time I have to do it, just because I know I can do it?  No.   

In this case, this is a fear that I choose to face because it's a small piece of something larger, which I enjoy.  But, I don't necessarily believe we have to face all of our irrational fears to be better people.  Fear isn't a bad emotion.  It's ok to recognize it and it often keeps us safe. 

Don't be afraid of fear, respect it, listen to it, and choose when to overcome it and when to let it be.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Husband's Favorite Pecan Pie

The holidays are all about getting our favorite once a year foods.  Last year I shared our favorite cookie recipes, this wonderful Cinnamon Shortbread cookie from my husband's grandmother.

Every year dear husband asks for this Pecan Pie.  I drag my heals because there is just so much sugar in Pecan Pie, but I guess once a year isn't going to hurt any of us, except for that hour of sugar coma and slight headache after eating the pie - am I the only one that experiences these effects?

Anyway, this year we were at my mother-in-law's for Thanksgiving.  She is a wonderful cook, and she has always been amazingly generous with her kitchen and allowing me to cook in it.  So, she allowed me to make the Pecan Pie.  In fact, we were in Ohio early and my mother-in-law and I cooked Thanksgiving dinner together on Wed/Thurs.  For those of you that have not enjoyed the pleasure of working in the kitchen with someone else.  Try it.  Especially someone that is a great cook and you enjoy spending time with.  The day will fly by as you chat and move around each other.  But back to the pie....

Once again, I turned to Cook's Illustrated tried and true recipes for this favorite, and I don't even mess with it!  The only difference between this and a normal Pecan Pie is we heat up the filling first.

Pecan Pie (from The New Best Recipe)

1 pie shell  (I made a pie dough with about 3/4 shortening and 1/4 butter.)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into piece
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped into small pieces.
  1. Partially bake the shell until light golden brown.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium heat proof bowl set in a skillet of water at a simmer. Remove the bowl from the skillet; stir in the brown sugar and salt with a wooden spoon until the butter is absorbed. Beat in the eggs, then the corn syrup and vanilla. Return to the hot water and stir until shiny and hot to the touch. About 130. Remove from heat and stir in pecans.
  3. When take pie shell out of oven, decrease the oven to 275 and pour the pecan mixture into the hot pie shell.
  4. Bake on the middle rack until the pie looks set and yet soft, like gelatin when gently pressed with the back of a spoon. , 50-60 minutes. Cool completely.

The Pecan Pie was one of four pies I made in these 19 days.  The pies included the following:
  1. A double crust apple/pear pie
  2. An apple/pear pie with a crumb topping, (Both apple/pear pies used apples and pears from my parents trees and lard crusts.)
  3. The above Pecan pie
  4. My favorite: An apple pie with a walnut crumb topping, made with local Twig apples obtained at Findlay Market in Cincinnati, OH.  Apparently, practice really does help, this was the final pie and it set beautifully.
Sorry the below picture isn't very clear, but check out the height!

Nothing brings the same type of joy as a homemade fall fruit pie filling the air with that wonderful cinnamon smell.  While there is time involved in cutting up the fruit, this can become a very soothing process if you let it.  Don't be afraid of pie!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saddest Plant Ever

Recently due to family need, I was away from home for 18 days.  Now I have lots of great friends that offered to help, but the house was going to be cooler than normal and my husband would be able to water midway so I thought the plants would be fine.... and really they were.  But do your remember the below plant from the earlier, plant post?

Doesn't it look all bright and happy.  See all the new growth at the bottom, under the big stalks? 

When I got back from from this trip, this plant looked pitiful!  It was clearly crying out, "Help, I'm dying!" 

Look at how flat those stalks are on the counter and the leaves are just hanging!  I've never seen stalks flatten like this.

So, I pulled it quickly out of the cold window as we turned the heat up in the house and I gave it a glass of water.  I assured it all would be well, turned the light out and headed to bed.  Hey, our flight got in at 11 PM. 

The next morning sure enough, it was acting like a rubber plant and bouncing right back.  I tell you what, plants really should get the best actor award for "poor pitiful me" acting.  Here she is perking up after less than 24 hours.  Sure, I have some dead leaves to pull off the plants, but it looks like they have all survived the experience.

The moral of this story:  Most plants react pretty well to so-so care.  Give them water when you see them complaining and they'll come back, with that "Hah, we scared you" look.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happiness is good

Welcome to my happy world. I'm going to take a brief break from cooking to talk about a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately, happiness. I have a feeling I'll have a Happiness theme going for awhile, as I find myself with interesting happiness thoughts to share.

I recently read the book, "The Happiness Project". People ask, why would I read such a book, am I unhappy? No. But I do believe I could be happy, at peace, grateful, and joyful more hours out of the day.  I picked up the "The Happiness Project", well more like downloaded it to my Kindle, because someone suggested it.  Almost immediately I enjoyed it and from the beginning it was because Gretchen does a great job of making it ok to want to be happier, even if the world wasn't already ending around you.

I particularly liked her argument that to make happiness a practice now, when life isn't horrible, helps us to learn and embrace the things that make us happy.  The idea is when that horrible phone call does come, and in some form it will come, we have this knowledge on which to fall back.  In this Happiness Project, Gretchen focused on different areas of her life for a month at a time, for a whole year.  If interested at all I encourage you to get her book and check out her blog,   

She kept coming back to one point that I want to focus on in this posting. She had 12 Personal Commandments and the first one was "Be Gretchen".  I will admit that my struggle with how to "Be Christine", is a key issue in the times I am unhappy or frustrated.

Towards the end of the book, Gretchen states, "I realized the importance of my First Commandment, "Be Gretchen".  As great minds throughout the ages have pointed out, one of our most pressing concerns should be to discover the laws of our own nature.  I had to build my happiness on the foundation of my character; I had to acknowledge what really made me happy; not what I wished made me happy.  One of the biggest surprises of the happiness project was just how hard it was to know myself.  I'd always been slightly exasperated by philosophers' constant emphasis on what seemed to me to be a fairly obvious question, but in the end I realized that I would spend my whole life grappling with the question of how to "Be Gretchen". 

I think the key part of that statement is "...not what I wished made me happy".  Throughout the book increasing happiness meant always identifying, what does Gretchen like to do?  Not, what should she like to do because other people enjoy it.  Personally I struggle with this often.  I have a good idea of what I like to do.  But, are there other things I do, that don't add anything to my day or week, because other's want to do it?  And how much of that should we do to make other people happy?  It turns out other people's happiness has a lot of effect on our own. 

So, in the coming holiday season I am going to think about this commandment and in trying to remind myself to "Be Christine", maybe I'll learn a little more about what "Be Christine" means.

I hope you all learn how to "Be Yourselves" a little more each day and appreciate the person you are, not the person you wish to be.

Rubin, G. (2009). The happiness project: Or, why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun. HarpersCollins Publishers, New York: NY.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Beauty of Pumpkin

Remember those beautiful pumpkins I roasted?  In addition to the Pumpkin bread on which I already reported, I've been enjoying the pumpkin almost every day. 

When I roasted these pumpkins I fully intended to freeze enough for a pie later in the year, but it's so tasty.  I've been eating a bowl every day.  Sometimes with Greek yogurt, but always sprinkled with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.  It's been a great snack and sometimes breakfast! 

Now my pumpkin is gone.  But before that happened I did make one pie.

Isn't the benefit of Pumpkin Pie that it's easy?  Mix the ingredients and pour them in the shell - right?  Well, maybe my cookbooks are getting more involved, but I chose a recipe for this pie that added a step of heating the filling before baking it in the pie crust.  For this pie I used Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything book.  This is like the Betty Crocker Cookbook for this generation of young cook's.  All the necessary recipes are here and it includes a lot of grains, which are old in other countries, but newly found here in the US.  This really is one of the best catch all cookbooks you could buy.

Pumpkin Pie (from How to Cook Everything)

1 pie crust of your choosing.
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
pinch salt
2 cups canned or fresh pumpkin puree
2 cups half and half, cream, or whole milk

  1. Prebake the pie crust.  When the oven is done turn the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the spices and salt.  Stir in the pumpkin puree and then the half and half.  While the crust is baking, warm this mixture in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is hot to the touch; do not boil.
  3. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet.  Pour the pumpkin mixture into the still-hot crust and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the mixture shakes like Jell-o but is still quite moist.  Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Don't ever underestimate the power of a simple piece of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whip cream.  Perhaps it's the orange color or maybe all that vitamin A that just leads to happy feelings and thoughts.  Either way, have yourself a slice this holiday season and see for yourself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Everything Pumpkin

Fall is one of my favorite times and part of the reason is I love pumpkin, the flavor of pumpkin that is!  I had two organic Colorado pie pumpkins sitting in the garage just waiting to be used - oh they were so patient, but it was time.

First, I roasted the pumpkins.

After they cooled,  I carefully cleaned all the pulp out and sent the skins to the compost pile.

Second, I roasted the pumpkin seeds.

I've always played with the best way to roast seeds and I think Camilla over at "Enlightened Cooking" has figured out the secret.  I followed her steps for Roasting Pumpkin Seeds, found here.  The key was to make sure they were plenty dry before hand.  More please!

Finally, well not for the pumpkin, but for this blog post, I had the dream of good Pumpkin Bread floating around in my head.  Elise at Simple Recipes, put that dream in my head with her posting for Pumpkin Gingerbread.  Unfortunately, I didn't print it out when I first saw it and on the day I was going to make it we had an Internet outage.  I'm not talking a 10 minute outage, I'm talking our Internet was out for 22 hours.  Wow, that really made me realize how much I use the Internet!  So I had to make up my own recipe, with that idea in my head.

This was a very successful recipe.  I took a recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and made some changes. This made one loaf, which is good, we did not need two of these evil and oh so yummy pumpkin bread loaves to eat!

Pumpkin Bread (Based on King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking recipe)

This recipe is typed from the book, with my changes below.
2 cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) canned pumpkin
3/4 cup (3 ounces) chopped nuts (optional)
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) raisins, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips (optional)

Christine's Changes:
  • I amped up all the spices a bit and added 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.
  • For the sugar, I added 1/4 cup molasses and only 2/3 cup unrefined, organic sugar.  It's brown, so that should work, right? 
  • I had a very healthy cup of pumpkin, probably closer to 1 1/4 cup.
  • I added nuts, but no chips or raisins.
  • I only had 6 tablespoons butter, so I added 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Only one more change, but how many of you are like - why bother making the recipe if she's going to change it so much?  Where's the challenge in making a recipe with no chance of failure?  :)
  • Flour - I used a mix of whole wheat, brown rice, and quinoa flour.  I've been trying to cut down on wheat to figure out if it's causing some stomach issues, but as you can tell, I'm not ready to give it up yet!
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients, flour through spices.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.  Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin.  Add the dry ingredients, mixing until evenly moistened.  Stir in any optional ingredients.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until a cake tester (known in my kitchen as a toothpick) comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, run a table knife around the edges of the pan to make sure the bread isn't sticking, turn it out of the pan, and place on the rack to finish cooling completely before slicing. 
I can verify that the world doesn't end if you slice before the bread is completely cooled.  What's the point if you don't get to enjoy a nice warm slice of bread?

 A piece of fresh Pumpkin Ginger Bread with a drizzle of honey and butter.  Yum!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winter Arrives

Is it possible to have too many soup posts?  I don't think so! Especially on days that look like this.  It was a week where I needed the comfort of my kitchen.  And on this Tuesday, I took the weather to mean we needed soup and cornbread.  So, I randomly pulled one of my many cookbooks off the shelf and chose a lentil soup recipe.

On this day I chose The New Best Recipe cookbook from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  They aren't kidding, I haven't had a bad recipe yet out of this book, and the Hearty Lentil Soup didn't disappoint.   The recipes often have a couple more steps, but there is usually a reason and it's fully explained.  I was able to quit work at 5PM and have this soup ready for dinner before 6:30 PM, and it tasted like it had been simmering for hours. 

I also made the Golden Northern Cornbread out of the same cookbook in that time frame, but here I will just share the lentil soup recipe.

Hearty Lentil Soup
3 sliced bacon ( I used some ham I had)
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained ( I used my own ripe tomatoes on the counter and cheated by adding 1/2 slow roasted tomatoes.)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 teaspoon salt
   ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth ( I used the fresh chicken broth I'd just made from Sunday's roast chicken!)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Fry the bacon in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 3-4 minutes.  Add the onion and carrots; cook stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant , about 30 seconds.  Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 minutes.

Uncover, increase the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a simmer.  Add the chicken broth and the water; bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30-35 minutes; discard the bay leaf.

Puree 3 cups of the soup in a blender until smooth, then return to the pot.  Stir in the vinegar and heat the soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes.  Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with some of the remaining parsley.

I wish you a warm quiet kitchen when it's most needed and I hope it comforts you, as it does me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Winter Preparation: Pears and Tomatoes

A Box of Pears

I went to the farmers market a couple weeks ago, with the goal of loading up on winter squashes, but I became so enamored with pears, as you can tell from my new banner, that I forgot about my squashes! And then I came home with a box of pears. They've been wonderful, but of course, they all started ripening at the same time. I've been putting a couple pears in the applesauce and pies to add that sweetness, but in addition I made and canned some Poached Pears. 

Poached Pears

I got this recipe from my Mom. Of course I messed with it a bit, but only to add less sugar, and to be fair, she messed with it a bit by making it a recipe to can!

Unfortunately, I can't find the exact recipe for these pears, but there are many on the web.  You might start with this very similar looking recipe from David Lebovitz.  To can them I just made much more syrup, to make sure I had enough to cover the pears and then I canned them in a water bath.  The time for that is going to depend on your elevation. 

Also, please note, I filled these jars to full.  That is always an issue with me, just a little more, there should be about a finger width of space at the top.  But they all sealed! I intend to use them with ice cream for desserts or with greek yogurt and granola as breakfast through the winter.

Our tomatoes were able to stay outside on the plant about a month longer this year and that meant some actually ripened on the vine and they are now ripening quickly inside.  I have been storing these by slow roasting them in the oven. 

I simply slice or quarter depending on the size and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and seasoning.  This time I chose salt, pepper, oregano, and basil.  I put them in the oven at about 280 for hours or until they look like the below pan.  I freeze these in small containers and use them to add flavor to sauce, pizzas, etc throughout the winter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Winter Preparation: Greens and Apples

As our growing season comes to an end, these are some of the projects that have been keeping me busy, since I have the goals of not wasting delicious local food and being able to enjoy it throughout the winter.  Here I start a series on the foods I've been freezing, canning, and otherwise processing for winter. 

Freezing Kale, Swiss Chard, and Parsley
As you know, we can grow greens here, and that is no joke!  So how do we keep those wonderful vitamins for our winter meals? 

For Kale and Swiss Chard, I wash the greens and bring a pot of water to a boil.  I blanch the greens in the water for 1-2 minutes.  Pull them out and run under cool water, than using a towel I squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the greens.  I then chop them to the size I want and put them in baggies.  Whenever I'm making a soup or stew I pull out a baggie of greens to add. 

The parsley was even easier.  I chopped the parsley and put it in ice cube trays, covered the parsley with water and then froze.  After they are frozen, I dumped my parsley ice cubes out of the trays into a quart size freezer bag.  whenever I need a burst of fresh flavor, I'll just pull out a cube and put it in the meal I'm making!

This was a successful apple year for us.  It has taken us 7 years to get apples without worms, or with very few worms.  Last year, I think we had enough for one pie.  This year, Joe picked a box.  They are really good baking and eating apples, if you are partial to tart apples, which I am.  The picture at the top shows our apples.  They are on the smaller side, but with great flavor.  So far with the apples I have made applesauce and pies, and I eat them on my cereal.


Sorry I don't have an official applesauce recipe, but here are the basics.  I like chunky applesauce.  This is important, because then I don't have to peel the apples.  I'm not sure I would do it if I had to peel all the fruit.
  1. I roughly core and chop as many apples as I will fit in my pot.  I also add 2-3 pears if I have them for extra sweetness.
  2. Sprinkle lemon juice on my layers of apples to keep them from browning. 
  3. Add about a cup of water, some cinnamon sticks, a couple cloves.  I love cinnamon in my applesauce, so I also sprinkle some ground cinnamon in addition to the sticks.
  4. Put the pot on the stove over medium/low heat until it takes on the consistency you like, stirring regularly.  This takes about an hour or more.  I then use my potato masher to break down any final pieces of apple.
Storage:  I use small plastic containers, like store bought hummus or feta cheese size and fill with apple sauce and freeze.  I like to freeze, versus can, but after defrosting, the applesauce will turn brown within a day.  So I've taken to freezing in small amounts for two.  That way I can take one out on a weekend morning and it's the perfect amount for over some waffles or along side a lunch sandwich.


I have two pie shells and enough apple/pear filling for two pies in the freezer.  There are many ways to freeze pies and many questions to ask.  Should you fully or partially bake pies before freezing?  Can you freeze a pie without partially baking it first?  I've frozen pies before that I have partially baked and sometimes they come out perfect, sometimes they get mushy.  So I thought I'd try a new method.

For the crust: Using your favorite pie recipe.  I use a recipe that is 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening.  I just rolled out the pie crusts and layered them in a metal pie pan with parchment paper.  I wrapped securely and froze. 

For the Filling:  I used the Classic Apple Pie filling found in "The New Best Recipe" cookbook from Cook's Illustrated.  I simply mixed the below and froze in size appropriate containers.  When I get ready to make the pies, I won't defrost the filling and crust fully, just enough for the filling to fit in the crust and I'll add a crumb topping.
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Enough apples to make 8 cups.  I chopped mine, versus slicing and I added a few pears.
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Ok, I admit, there would have been a revolt if I had just frozen pies.  I did also make a third, fully baked pie just for eating.  There is just no easier way to make the husband happy!  But, I forgot to take a picture.  Happy Freezing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

House Plants

The other day I was spending some "quality time" with my neglected house plants.  The don't get regular time, sometimes I'm racing around before we leave on vacation, just dumping water in all of them regardless of their needs.  But every 4 months or so, I wonder around and talk to them, clean the dust of their leaves, pull dead or yellow leaves and generally give love.  And, while I have more houseplants than one might need, I know I have at least one reader that considers herself plant challenged, so I thought I'd talk about house plants in this post.  You too can grow plants!

The thing is plants don't only benefit from what you do, such as giving them water and a little plant food now and then, but you benefit from what they do.  Many plants are great at helping to clean your air for you.  Through the process of photosynthesis plants help to remove toxins, gases and pollutants from your air.  That is so much less expensive than the little machines that sit in the corner of the room and use electricity.  Common plants that help to remove toxins from our air, include: Snake plants, Peace Lilies, Spider plants, and Philodendron.  I'll point these beneficial plants out in the pictures below.

Now yes, thank you Mom, I was raised with plants around so that helps.  But we aren't all perfect.  My Mom has beautiful violets.  I can't grow violets.  I think it has something to do with my chosen geographic location, but that could just be my excuse. 

I am lucky to have great windows in my house perfect for plants, but that hasn't always been the case where I live.  Plants aren't as picky as we think, just move them around until you find the window or room with the best light.  The plant will tell you within a couple weeks when it's happy.

Fair warning, I am horrible at remembering the names of my plants.  So I am not pointing out every plant below.

In the picture below you can find a Snake plant and a Jade plant.  I have two jade plants and they are both very different.  I now have three pots of the snake plant because it just keeps multiplying!  The snake plant is very good for air quality and it can adapt easily to low light.


In the below picture you can see my other jade plant, many spider plants in the windows, and a Philodendron in the bottom right corner, which although you can't tell reaches to the floor.  I have lots of Spider plants because they multiply easily and are great for air quality.

Be careful with the below plants.  They will grow outward easily as this one is trying to do.  The first picture in this posting, is a similar plant and it used to be the with of my office.  I cut the outer branches and it's not happily growing up.  I am trying to build up the conviction to give this one a trimming and cut off the outer branches.  I always feel so bad, but the plant doesn't seem to mind and just shoots of new branches.

No idea, what this plant is, but it produces the most delicate little pink flowers year around.  I just moved it and it seems very happy in it's new home.  How can I tell, deeper green leaves and lots of flowers!

Some plants are very expressive.  They are handy for people like me who sometimes need to be hit over the head with a "Hello, I'm thirsty" look.  The top plant in the left of this picture is a Peace Lily.  I just moved it up there and it's very happy.  It has three new flowers.  I point it out because it is one of these expressive plants.  The leaves will fall down flat and it will look pitiful.  But you just give it some water, and within an hour or so, it perks back up and says, "Thanks!".


So I've commented about my Snake and Spider plants multiplying.  Unfortunately, they do take a bit of effort, they don't just re pot themselves.  But I probably don't put that effort into my plants more than once a year.  I'll go buy some bigger pots, pull the plants that are outgrowing their pots, gather all the Spider plant babies, and buy some good potting soil and plan for a couple sunny hours on the deck, repotting.

Below is how you can restart Philodendron.  When trimming the ends of it, because let's admit these plants can grow, just stick those cut ends in water.  They do not need or really want direct sunlight at this point.  Give them a month or two and they'll grow nice roots that can be potted.  Below you can see mine I have starting right now.  Those have been in the water less than 2 weeks and little root nubs are already starting. 


Here are a few tips from me on nonfussy (a word?) plant growing:

  • When repotting plants:
    • A plant will fill a pot with roots, while it's nice to give it a bigger pot. I sometimes also make the conscious choice to leave it, knowing that more space for roots, just means it will keep growing. So, if it's as big as I want it. I'll trim back the top of the plant and leave it root bound in it's pot.
    • Spider babies are so easy to repot, just cut the babies from the mother plant and gently shove their roots in the ground. They'll take hold.
    • When breaking up plants like Snake plants by the roots, it seems cruel as you pull the roots apart. But it's always been ok, and they love having more space.
    • After repotting, always press the ground firmly around the roots and water thoroughly. Putting a little plant food in the water to help their transition doesn't hurt.
  • Some people have serious opinions about the type of soil and plant food you should use, but here are a few things I've learned.
    • Most plants are more patient than we think.
    • Sometimes I remember to put a drop of plant food in my water container every time I water, sometimes I go months without feeding them.
    • Organic soil is great, but you'll end up with more bugs in your house.
  • Yes, some plants like to be watered more often or less often than others, but they'll tell you through drooping or brown tips on the leaves if something is wrong, and the world doesn't end if your spider plant has some brown tipped leaves. It's still clearing toxins from your air and perking up your room.

 Happy growing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Asian Inspired Meal

I was going to label this as a Chinese meal, but the truth be told, I mixed together a few different Asian cultures here.  We wanted to have a meal to thank the couple who helped us out on our recent backpacking adventure.  They hiked about 4 miles at the beginning with us; picked up our vehicle and drove it back to Green River, so we didn't have to do that at the end; and met us half-way so we didn't have to carry all 9 days of food.  Aren't we lucky to have such great friends? We finally found a Friday night that worked for all and Lorna and I made a meal plan.  We both worked on the meal, which is always fun! 

The meal started with an appetizer of spiced nuts and fresh shrimp spring rolls with a peanut sauce.  I love fresh spring rolls because they are loaded with vegetables; their color is bright; and the sauce makes them fun.    But alas, I didn't take a picture of these beautiful rolls.  You'll have to settle for detail on the main meal.

The main meal, came together as follows:

Chinese Short Ribs
Roasted Carrots with Sesame Ponzu Vinaigrette
Baked Shrimp Spring Rolls
Pork Potstickers
Szechuan Marinated Vegetables

Lorna and I started cooking Chinese meals together a couple years ago.  There is so much chopping and last minute cooking, it lends itself to cooking with a friend.  In addition, Lorna had this well worn, great cookbook called Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.  I now also have that cookbook and my copy is becoming well worn!

One, Two, Three Four Five (Mandarin)

These ribs are meant to be baked and made with Spare Ribs.  I made them with Beef Short Ribs and did them in the crock pot. Below is the recipe with my alterations.  The original recipe is found in, Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.

1 lb pork spareribs, cut in half (or ribs of choice)
6-8 green onions, 4-5 inches long
1 T. rice wine or dry sherry
2 T. rice vinegar or white vinegar
3 T. sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 T. water

Mix the rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and water together.  Heat a pan over medium high heat with oil as needed and brown the sides of the ribs, putting them into a crock pot, layering the green onions in-between the ribs.  Pour the sauce on top, close tightly and cook 6-8 hours on high.

With a half hour left until dinner, pour the sauce into a saucepan and simmer to condense the flavors.  Pour the sauce over the ribs when serving.

 Roasted Carrots with Sesame Ponzu Vinaigrette (found on the Steamy Kitchen blog, check it out for great recipes!)

I've never had Ponzu sauce, but everyone really enjoyed these carrots.  It's kind of like a soy sauce with some citrus.   Check out the pictures below.  See all those cute little carrots?  Those are from my little garden.  It gets so little light that at the end of 4 months, that is how much they grew!  The whole two rows are in that dish!

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4" thick diagonal pieces
2 teaspoons cooking oil or olive oil
1 Tablespoon ponzu suace
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

Toss carrots with a bit of oil and roast the carrots until just tend but slightly crunchy at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Toss with the cooked carrots.

Baked Spring Rolls
I used this great recipe from as a base.  The only change I made was to use chopped cooked shrimp in place of the pork.  It was harder to find a baked spring roll recipe, versus fried, but these were crispy and great all baked up.

This meal was especially fun for me because I did a lot of wrapping. While I've made fresh spring rolls before, I had never made the Baked Spring rolls and potstickers from scratch.

 Gyoza Recipe (Japanese Pan Fried Dumplings)
Again, I used a Steamy Kitchen recipe for this and they give the absolute best directions for folding the dumplings, check it out!  These were a huge hit. They were so fun with the proper 6 pleats, three on each side.  Don't be afraid of some of these wrapped items.  They really add fun to an Asian meal and while they may be time consuming, they aren't hard.

Szechuan Pickled Vegetables
This recipe is found in, Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng & Michele Morris.  Lorna and I both enjoy these pickled vegetables and love to keep them in the fridge.

8 cups boiled water
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
5 slices fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
5 fresh hot red peppers, halved
1/2 lb. fresh carrots, peeled
1/2 lb. turnips, peeled
1/2 lb. fresh pickling cucumbers, unpeeled
1/2 lb. cabbage

Pour boiling water into a large wide-mouth canning jar or crock.  Combine salt and peppercorns in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat 4 minutes.  Let coll and add to water in the jar.  Add sugar through red peppers; mix well.  Let stand 1 to 2 hours until water has cooled to room temperature.  Cut vegetables into 1 1/2" and 3/4" pieces. Dry with a paper towel and add to mixture in the jar.  Tear cabbage leaves into 4"x2" pieces.  Pat dry and add to mixture in jar, pushing pieces under liquid.  Cover with a tight fitting lid.  Refrigerate 3 days before serving.  Serve cold.  Store in refrigerator. 

You can use a variety of vegetables in this, whatever you have in your garden or crisper.  For example, we love cauliflower, kohlrabi, and rutabaga.

I must say dessert was yummy, but no pictures of that either.  We had Coconut Ice Cream with Almond Cookies.  I believe this meal was fully enjoyed by all.  Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try new foods as you cook and welcome your friends into the kitchen.  It's wonderful to cook and laugh with friends; there can't be a better way to spend an evening.

Thanks for your help Phillip and Kathy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brief Garden Update

Even though it is still warm, I would perhaps say too warm, I am solidly in the fall mind set. 

First the garden, I'm sure there are more fall garden posts coming, but August really is the best time in our garden and this year because of the unseasonably late warm weather, September is pretty great also.  We have not had a frost yet!  Now many of you may think, ummm, it's only September 28th... so?  But, since I've lived here, we have always had frost, not only by now, but probably weeks ago!  Below is a brief peak at our bounty.  Look at those beautiful carrots!  Oops, that zucchini got a little crazy, but it tasted good! The bounty includes, green and red cabbage and two types of cucumbers!  On this day I also washed a big bag of kale and a bag of swiss chard - mmmmmmmmmm.

We are very untrusting of these temperatures and will probably take the tomatoes out of the garden this weekend to ripen inside.  We've also already pulled all the shallots and garlic ... they are happily drying on newspaper in the garage.

I leave you with the amazing view of Rocky Mountain National Park from the Estes Park YMCA.  I recently attended the Yoga Journal conference here for 4 days and every day looked like this, some with less clouds.  What an amazing 4 days, I hope to return next year.  In addition, there were patches of yellow color throughout the hills to enjoy as we walked between our cabin and the yoga sessions.  All that fresh air and those breathing exercises mean I am very alert this week!