Come along with me as I journal about my latest cooking and gardening adventures. Discover what grows in my zone five garden, and see what new recipes I try from my cookbook collection each week.

As I share recipes and information from my kitchen, I invite readers to comment and share ideas along with me in this blog. I am looking to increase followers to my blog, so that I may learn more about cooking and gardening.

Since moving to Midland, Michigan, I have been reading and researching many cooking journals, cookbooks and collected recipes from the past thirty years. Organizing pictures of gardens I enjoy has also been a joy for me, as I continue to learn about garden design and horticulture.

angel food cakes

angel food cakes
this kitchen is seasoned with love

Sunday, December 18, 2011

old fashioned sloppy joe sliders

here is an excellent recipe that i found several years ago in everyday food by Martha Stewart.  it is an old fashioned way to serve hamburgers, which i adapted to a smaller size version often called sliders.  Martha's recipe includes garlic, mustard powder, brown sugar and cider vinegar.  i have adapted the recipe for my family.

here is the recipe:  saute 1 chopped white onion in a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan on the stove top.  add one small chopped yellow pepper and saute until done.  season with salt and pepper. these steps will take about 6-8 minutes.

next, add about 3/4 pound of ground sirloin and cook until done.  drain and skim any residual fat and remove from the mixture.  then add one small can of tomato paste or tomato puree and incorporate.  finally, add one half of a bottle of Heinz chili sauce and heat to warm. these steps will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

serve the mixture on smaller toasted buns with lettuce and chopped onion. sloppy joe sliders can be served with roasted red potatoes, chips, cole slaw, a side salad, or any pasta salad. 


one of my favorite breakfast recipes has to be fruit crepes.  this crepe recipe is one of the best and comes from Martha's everyday food magazine.  as the crepes are made, they can be kept warm in the oven covered with foil.

here is the recipe:  mix together 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. then add, 1 1/2 cups milk, 2 eggs, and 1 tablespoon melted margarine.

using a crepe pan on the stove top, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter in the pan.  then pour a quantity of batter into the pan and swish to cover the pan.  cook the crepe about 1-2 minutes and then turn the crepe over.

continue until the crepes are complete, keeping them warm until serving.  serve with bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or sauteed apples.  dust with powdered sugar and top with whipped cream to serve.  the crepes could also be served with maple or fruit flavored syrup. the crepes can be served with fruit rolled into them, or can be folded into fourths with fruit placed on the top.

peppermint bark

for Christmas this year, i decided to try Paula Deen's recipe for peppermint bark.  this was a very easy recipe that took no more than 15 minutes to prepare.  for the first step, candy canes are placed into a plastic zip lock bag and crushed using a hand mallet.  next, i melted a bit more than one pound of ghiradelli white chocolate in the top of a double boiler, and added about 1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring.
 when the chocolate was completely melted, i added the crushed candy canes and mixed them into a smooth chocolate mixture.  next, pour the mixture onto a sheet pan that has been covered with parchment paper.

place the candy in the refrigerator for 45 minutes until firm.  then, remove from the cookie sheet and break into pieces for serving.
here is a photograph of the bark prior to placing into the refrigerator. the bark can be served in a candy dish or added as a garnish to a dish of ice cream.

tea accessories

one of the most important steps in planning for holiday meals is taking stock of available implements or accessories.  one day last week i assembled my tea accessories and made certain they were in great working order for upcoming tea enjoyment. 

i have collected various tea strainers and tea balls to use with loose tea. i have one squeezer for lemons and a couple of larger tea bag spoons.  i also evaluated my supply of tea bags and polished my smaller silver tea spoons.  these accessories have been collected over many years and complement several styles of tea pots.

being an avid tea drinker, i am always looking for new tea accessories.

sno caps

earlier in the blog i gave Martha's recipe for chocolate candy dots, and i made these again last week with lovely Christmas colored decorations.  the recipe was the same, but the colored candy makes the difference for the season.

the recipe makes plenty of candy to fill a Christmas candy dish or to package for friends.  i allowed the dots to harden for 20 minutes prior to adding the candy colored decorations to made certain they would not sink into the dots.  these have always been one of my favorites, and Martha's recipe is very simple to follow.

royal icing for cookie decorating

although there are many recipes for royal icing, i have found one that works every time and hardens nicely so that cookies can be stacked, packaged or transported for gift giving.

here is the recipe: 5 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar, and 1/2 cup egg whites (refrigerated egg whites work fine)

measure and incorporate all ingredients. combine with a hand mixer on low speed, then switch to high for 2-5 minutes until they are snow white and fluffy.  keep the icing bowl covered with a damp towel while decorating cookies or a gingerbread house.  this icing recipe will not soak into the cookie making it soft or causing a gingerbread house to collapse.

this recipe can be made in smaller quantities.  this recipe is enough to decorate one gingerbread house.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

winter greens from the garden

for my front porch this year, i was able to use a variety of collected evergreen branches along with red berries and red twig dogwood for my large decorative pot.

in addition, a smaller basket was placed in front of the pot with an additional collection of greens and holly.

by using a variety of greens, the varying texture of the needles provides interest and shape to the arrangement.  other ideas for arrangements include using large branches from a tree secured in the pot, with evergreen boughs placed at the base of the pot along with pine cones.

by using natural materials from the garden, decorating the porch for the holidays is both easy and beautiful.

grapeseed oil

although i most often use olive oil for sauteing or stir-frying, i have found a product that offers another nice result for these situations.  grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point, and therefore allows for great flavor while doing high heat cooking on the stove top.

grapeseed oil has a clean light taste and is and excellent source of vitamin E.  it is a terrific alternative for use in salad dressings or any herb infused oil for dipping with bread.

grapeseed oil is very low in saturated fat and is an excellent choice for health conscious cooking.

cocoa cake topping

as an alternative to decorating a small cake or cupcake with icing, Martha Stewart provides stencil forms in a variety of patterns which can be used with cocoa or powdered sugar.  this week, i experimented with cocoa powder which was sweetened, instead of cocoa powder for baking.  the taste was wonderful and provided just the adequate amount of sweetness, but much less calories than frosting.
by using a high quality cocoa, the taste was spectacular and the appearance of the cocoa was rich.  it is important to make certain that the cake stencil is firmly placed on the cake, while sifting the cocoa through a sieve to remove any large particles of cocoa.

i used the snowflake pattern for the one layer vanilla cake, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar to accent the snowflakes.

gingerbread houses

last year i made a gingerbread house from a kit purchased online.  the sides of the gingerbread house were prebaked and i supplied the decorations and icing.  this was a nice way to spend about three hours creating a special decoration for the kitchen cupboard.

i purchased a wide variety of red, green and white candies in various sizes for decorating the house. i also experimented with a variety of royal icing recipes for use as the "glue" in constructing the house.  some of the icing recipes fail to harden quickly, which is necessary for attaching the decorations.  if the icing is too soft and doesn't harden effectively, the decorations will slide down the sides of the house. 

each side of the house must be attached slowly and held before continuing the process, to allow for the icing to harden and secure the gingerbread in place.
once the sides and the roof of the house are securely attached, the decorating begins.  this is the best part of the whole process, but will take some time and planning.  i have been making gingerbread houses for years, but have tried different styles and designs, and have made my own gingerbread walls and roof in the past.  i think eliminating the steps of baking and cutting the gingerbread is well advised, especially for the novice baker.  those steps would require two additional days of preparation.  this kit worked very well.

for more information about pre baked gingerbread houses, please follow this link:

spinach and tomatoes appetizer

holidays are here and everyone seems to be searching for red and green appetizer ideas.  here is one that is quick and easy and can be adjusted to individual taste preferences for your family.  begin by chopping some small red tomatoes, season with a selection of favorite herbs.  choices would include parsley, thyme, dill with seasonings to taste including salt and pepper.  drizzle the tomatoes with a light application of olive oil.

next, thaw a small quantity of chopped frozen spinach and mix with a selection of cheese.  cheese selections would include fontina, mozzarella, Parmesan, feta or Gruyere.  place spinach and cheese in a ceramic baking dish and heat in oven for approximately 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until cheese is melted and spinach is warmed. mix to evenly incorporate the cheese and spinach. adjust desired amount of spinach and cheese to your family's taste preferences.  i prefer more spinach to cheese, as can been seen in the photo.

serve with tomatoes and crusty bread.  this is a delicious healthy appetizer which is wonderful for the holiday themed table. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

pan gravy for turkey

over the years i have tried various turkey gravy recipes.  one of the most important steps to making pan gravy seems to be using the savory drippings from the turkey pan.  so, i always do that.  another important step to the process is making certain the pan is hot on the stove, prior to adding any liquid to the gravy.  i usually use two burners for the large roasting pan.  also, it is important to remove the turkey fat from the drippings prior to mixing the pan gravy.  a gravy separator works wonderfully for this step.  i also use instant wondra flour for this process, as it seems to blend much smoother than other flours.

to start the process, remove the turkey from the roasting plan and slice for the platter presentation.  i usually cover the platter with foil and place in the oven to keep warm.  then, add about 3/4 cup of chicken stock to the pan and bring up to a brisk simmer.  i use a flat whisk to scrape the pan.  next i mix 1/4 cup of flour in more chicken stock, about one cup.  when thoroughly mixed, i pour this slowly into the simmering mixture on the stove, while whisking.  then, add seasonings to taste.  i used a splash of pink salt, ground pepper, and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.  the gravy could be strained if desired.  serve with turkey, dressing and any type of potatoes.

this platter features sage and thyme leaves cut from my garden earlier in the morning.

heart shaped pancakes

i am a huge fan of cooking pancakes in different shapes. last year, i served ghost and cat pancakes for halloween.  everyone seems to love a special touch to a classic breakfast food.  here are the standard blueberry pancakes, served with a bit of powdered sugar and a few raspberries on top.  no syrup is even needed. 

surprise your guests with this twist on a classic easy recipe.  these heart shapes were filled with love.  : )

ice cream

for thanksgiving this year, i decided to serve a simple dessert.  vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and chopped nuts.  after watching a month of television shows highlighting pies, cakes, tortes, and other fabulous desserts, i decided to offer a simple dessert instead.

i had no complaints.  in fact, my family wanted to even wait a couple of hours before having the featured sweet.  simple fresh vanilla ice cream with sander's caramel sauce, topped with a few chopped nuts was not only delicious, but the perfect dessert for this year's celebration.  don't be afraid to serve the obvious, often guests love an old favorite.

fresh mozzarella

for a variety of dishes or as a stand alone cheese with summer sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella should be a regular choice for weekly grocery shoppers.  this mozzarella cheese is nothing like the processed shredded cheese that most grab as they run through the grocery aisles.

this fresh cheese is moist, flavorful and melts beautifully in many Italian recipes.  since this is a fresh product, once the seal on the cheese container is opened, the cheese must be used within a few days.  this product does spoil rapidly, which gives thought to what must be added to that shredded product often used.  it seems that cheese can last for months in the refrigerator.

consider trying the fresh mozzarella when preparing baked pasta dishes or pizza.  this fresh product also pairs nicely with ham, olives and crostini.


for my fellow tea lovers out there, i have found another brand of tea that is just wonderful.  teaosophy tea is provided in perfect sachets and is hand harvested when the leaves are young and tender.  the company has a commitment to quality and offers a wonderful selection of many of the old time favorites.

this box is an assortment and can also be used as a tea caddy when serving at an informal gathering.  allowing guests to brew their own tea bags offers them the choice for light, medium or dark blending. the box shows the region where the tea was harvested and offers other information for tea lovers.

for more information or to order teaosophy, follow this link:  http://www.teaosophy.com/about/

breakfast grapefruit

on a recent visit to the grand hotel on mackinaw island, Michigan, i was served my breakfast grapefruit this way.  i photographed the serving plate, as i wanted to remember how lovely the grapefruit looked and tasted that morning by the water.

with the grapefruit sectioned, one corner of the plate offered a tablespoon of brown sugar, another corner had a few blueberries, and the third corner a few chopped strawberries with a mint leaf. just perfect.

fruit and cheese

not too long ago, i hosted a wine and cheese party.  i offered the guests several selections of fruit and cheese along with a variety of crackers, toasts, and other types of small breads.

here are a couple of serving ideas for mixing cheese and fruit.  this tray offered Havarti with dill and Jarlsberg cheese with grapes, blackberries, and seckle pears as tray accents.  the pears could be also sliced for serving.  these smaller pears are sweet and delicious. they are almost bite-sized and very juicy.

another platter had champagne cheddar and raspberries.  the combination of fruit and cheese has been a standard for many years, and of course, with the addition of wine, the parings are suburb.

here is a photo of one of the tables during the set up process.  this cheese offering features cheddar with melon and cranberry relish.  one of the cracker trays is also featured in this photograph.

another plate offered gouda with almonds, olives and nut bread. 
i have found that a successful wine and cheese party offers many choices, and if the cheeses are paired with other familiar fruits or savory tastes, guests enjoy combining the flavors and trying new selections.

molasses spice cookies

while i had my old recipe file out, i found this recipe from Southern Living, October 1996.  these are wonderful cookies which are also easy to make, and can be made to be just the perfect size to accompany ice cream.

combine 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and set aside.

in a stand mixer, place 1/2 cup brown sugar ( i used dark brown), 1/4 stick softened margarine, 2 tablespoons molasses, and 1 large egg white.  mix well in the mixer.  then, add the dry ingredients, one spoon at a time to blend. the cookies come together very nicely.

remove mixture from the bowl and press onto plastic wrap. i used a bit of flour to make certain it was not very sticky.  chill this at least 2 hours.  then, when ready to bake, remove from the fridge and shape the cookies into balls.  roll them in granulated sugar and place on a baking sheet.  i always prepare my sheets with spray canola oil to prevent sticking.  preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes. 

the tops of the cookies will have that classic crackle appearance.  this is a perfect fall cookie recipe, which is wonderful for halloween or thanksgiving.

one pan pumpkin bread

for thanksgiving this year, i found my very old recipe, supplied by Bisquick, in a magazine article featured in Southern Living over fifteen years ago.  this is an old standby recipe that is very tasty and moist.  i have made the recipe many times over the years and it always comes out wonderful.

all of the ingredients are mixed in one bowl and placed into a greased loaf pan.  i always use a ceramic Emile Henry pan and the loaf is perfect every time.  to begin, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

grease the loaf pan or spray with canola oil. stir together these ingredients: 1/3 cup vegetable oil (i use canola oil), 1 cup canned pumpkin, 2 1/3 cups Bisquick (i use the heart smart Bisquick), 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/2 cup raisins.  mix in the raisins after making certain all of the ingredients have come together. i use a hand held mixer for this recipe and it works just fine.

bake at least 50 to 55 minutes, testing to make certain the center is fully baked.  to do this, remove the bread from the oven, and use a dry wooden tester.  be certain to rotate the pan when returning to the oven.  when the bread is fully baked, allow to cool before attempting to slice.  remove from the pan after using a metal spatula to loosen the sides from the baking dish.

one pan pumpkin bread is easy and delicious.  guests will love the taste and the texture of this holiday bread.

Monday, November 21, 2011

thanksgiving table

for the past three years, i have been collecting spode woodland dishes to use during fall meals, and especially for thanksgiving dinner. this pattern has been a favorite of many since 1828.  it features british game animals and the english countryside, bringing elegance to homes throughout the years.

in my small collection, i have the rabbit, red grouse, and other game featured.  i have been using the heavy pewter dishes pictured, for most of the past two decades, for thanksgiving meals. and now, the woodland pattern blends nicely with them.

on a recent shopping trip to cutler's in petoskey, i found a wonderful collection of spode woodland on display.  they had several tables of the various hunting dogs, fish, game and turkeys.
my enjoyment in collecting several patterns of dishes has grown through the years and my hope is that the memories of the meals and these dishes will live on for many years to come.

roasted roma tomatoes with dill

a wonderful and very easy side dish to accompany fish or chicken is roasted Roma tomatoes.  these tomatoes can be sliced lengthwise into wedges, and placed on a sheet pan in minutes.

drizzle with a bit of olive or grapeseed oil and season with dill. bake at 350 degrees.

after fifteen to twenty minutes in the oven, the tomatoes are sweet and flavorful.  these tomatoes can also be served with crusty bread for a delicious appetizer. roasted Roma tomatoes is a simple side dish which can be served for winter or summer meals.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

cinnamon and sugar pumpkin seeds

last week, i removed the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkins i had on display for Halloween.  after cleaning the pumpkins, i rinsed the seeds in a colander in the sink with cold water.  after the seeds were cleaned, i placed them on paper towels to dry off the excess moisture.  the seeds are then placed on an oiled baking sheet.

these seeds can be prepared with salt or with cinnamon and sugar.  the directions for roasting the seeds can be found on my blog under roasted pumpkin seeds.  i used cinnamon and sugar this year and the seeds were tasty, crunchy, and perfect for a fall snack.

fall at dow gardens

every time of year is a good time for a walk throughout dow gardens in midland michigan. the gardens were started by herbert dow, the founder of dow chemical, in 1899.  although the gardens began as a lovely place for dow and his family to enjoy; they have grown to 110 acres of lovely rooms of flowers, plants, vegetables, amazing trees, shrubs and more.

the stone, paved and mulched pathways lead visitors around the gardens, however; the best paths are those taken off the suggested routes.  over the gr ass and through the backways of the gardens are some of the most beautiful trees and scenic views.

everyone can become a photographer in the gardens, because every view is spectacular.  several styles of bridges allow visitors to cross streams to reach a conservatory, azalea island, a vintage barn and a tour of sculptural objects. a conifer garden lines the boulder walkway that leads to a spectacular waterfall.

this view from the pathway along the "bumps" is one of my favorite spaces in the gardens.  in the spring, azaleas bloom, a kousa dogwood lights up the focal point of the walk, and the sounds of the waterfall become clear at the intersection ahead. last week, this space was equally beautiful along the path.

take time to visit the gardens and enjoy the quiet, the beauty and the feeling of oneness with nature.

for more information, visit the website:  http://www.dowgardens.org/

chicken, wild rice and mushroom soup

it really feels like soup weather outside, so last week i made a pot of chicken, wild rice and mushroom soup.  this recipe comes from the rotisserie chicken cookbook, by michelle ann anderson.  the cookbook is filled with ideas of what to do with roast chicken.

i have used several of her recipes when planning my weekly menus, for the next day after a roast chicken meal.  for this soup recipe, i use my le creuset heavy soup pot, and begin with one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of margarine.  on a medium heat, i stir in 1/4 cup of wild rice. when it begins to crackle, i add in some diced carrot, celery and white onion. saute for about four minutes.

next, i add a teaspoon of crushed garlic, a teaspoon of fresh rosemary, and 8 ounces of sliced white mushrooms. cook this mixture for about four minutes.  next, add 2 tablespoons of flour and mix in for about another minute.  then, add 4 to 6 cups of chicken broth. add sliced or chopped cooked chicken.

add a bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste.  simmer for at least 10 minutes and serve with crusty bread.  this is a delicious winter soup. it is so tasty and filled with nutrients to keep everyone healthy in the cold weather.