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

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.

fall window boxes and outdoor decorations

on a recent trip to petoskey, Michigan, i admired several fall window box displays.  the speciality shops in town seem to decorate their windows beautifully with natural materials each season.  i am always pleased to see how beautiful the shops look both indoors and for their window shoppers.

arrangements can be found hanging on the sides of the buildings, and in large heavy urns to welcome guests into the various cute gift shops.

by using a variety of colors, shapes and textures, these arrangements attract attention and provide a lovely street scape for a sidewalk display.

each display is unique.  i plan to use some of these design techniques for my own fall porch display next year.  i find them quite appealing. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

martha stewart entertaining

out in the bookstores this week is martha's new entertaining book.  i had to have this large six pound book of amazing photographs and outstanding entertaining menus. the book is organized in sections based on menus for different parties and holidays.  the photos of her homes and gardens are beautiful and show readers her vast supply of beautiful china and serving pieces.  the flowers and her garden photos are stunning.

the recipes for the meals are in the back of the book, separate from the photo stories which include details on how to plan the event along with table and party suggestions. some of my more favorite parties are the fourth of july party and the summer lunch on martha's picnic boat in maine.

i purchased this book on amazon.com, because the hefty price of $75 in the bookstores seemed a bit to much, even though i am known for my collection of lovely books.  check out the amazon price at:


this is a book totally worthy of the purchase.  i am already putting together my list of ingredients for several of the recipes for the holidays.

rustic apple galette

every fall the apples in Michigan are splendid.  with many apple farms nearby, we often visit to sample the apple cider and end up purchasing a bag of my favorite honey crisp apples.  the flavor of honey crisp apples is neither tart nor sweet, but just perfect for eating or even baking.

here is a recipe for one of my favorite apple tarts, which is rustic, meaning the crust is not perfectly formed, but more casual and relaxed. it is called a galette and can also be made using Bartlett pears.

preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  using 2 refrigerated pie crusts, place one on top of the other and roll to form a 16 inch circle.  transfer to a parchment sheet lined baking sheet.  spread 1/4 cup of apple jelly on the crust leaving a 2 inch border.

in a large bowl, toss the sliced and peeled apples with cinnamon and sugar to taste.  transfer them to the crust, leaving the border clear.  fold the edges of the crust over to cover the fruit mixture. spray the top of the galette with spray margarine before baking or use an egg wash.

bake until golden brown and the fruit is tender, about 50 minutes.

if desired, heat in a small saucepan, 2 tablespoons of apple preserves or apple jelly and thin with 1 tablespoon of water for about 2 minutes.  brush on the fruit before serving.  serve warm with ice cream. i often top with powdered sugar for a nice presentation.

American Spoon farmhouse tomato relish

during another one of my travels to northern Michigan i found a great product at American spoon foods.  this store is located in several northern Michigan towns and is filled with wonderful jams, jellies, relishes, and spreads.

on our last visit to traverse city, i found this new tomato relish that can be used as a condiment with chicken, grilled fish or even just on toasty bread.

since the tomato patch in my garden has finished for the season, i decided to open this jar and sample the relish.

this relish is superb!  it contains apples, onions, green bell peppers, cider vinegar, and a wonderful mix of seasonings.  it is not tart and not sweet, but has the most delicious taste on pita crisps.

it could very easily be poured over cream cheese to serve as an appetizer, or used with a mild melted cheese over crackers. i could use this as a sandwich condiment with turkey or chicken. i highly recommend this product.  it is one of the best condiments i have ever sampled.

for more information on American spoon food products, visit their website at:


Himalayan pink salt

after spending a great deal of time reading and thinking about ways to improve my healthy cooking, i have found out some information about Himalayan pink salt.

the salt is hand mined and handwashed, and most often sun dried.
pink salt is believed to be the purest form of salt available, rich in a high mineral and iron content. it is often used by holistic chefs and some health professionals.  pink salt can be used as as substitute for table salt in cooking and baking  most of the pink salt that is used for cooking today is imported through Pakistan.

i have been grating the salt for use in soups and cooking, although i have not yet tried it for baking. since i have been decreasing the amount of salt in our cooking in general, using pink salt has been a wonderful way to accomplish this practice.

for more information about pink salt, look at the company website:  http://www.himalania.com/index2.html#loadsite

Saturday, November 5, 2011

sugared elephant ears or palmiers

another one of Ina garten's basic recipes is for sugared elephant ears or palmiers.  from her barefoot contessa in Paris cookbook, she shares her recipe which uses frozen puff pastry which has been thawed to room temperature.

2 frozen squares of puff pastry allowed to come to room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

in a bowl, mix the sugar and salt.  place one cup of the mixture on a sheet of waxed paper.

after 40 minutes of allowing the dough to come to room temperature, open the dough and place one of the squares on the waxed paper and sugar mixture. add 1/2 cup of the sugar to the top of the dough and roll into the dough.  cover the dough with the sugar mixture.  this is not about sprinkling with sugar, but covering the dough with sugar completely.

fold the dough to the center and then to the center again.  then, fold in half, like a book.  slice into pieces and place on parchment lined baking sheets.  repeat with the second square of dough.

baked in a preheated 450 degree oven for 9 minutes, watching carefully so the sugar will not burn.  then, remove the sheets from the oven and turn each palmier over.  return to the oven and bake again for 3-5 more minutes.  again, watch each of the trays as the sugar can burn very quickly.

these cookies are delicious served with ice cream, pudding or even just with coffee or tea.

soft cooked eggs

to prepare perfect soft cooked eggs every time, i often use my Cuisinart egg cooker.  however, if i plan to only make one egg, i have developed a perfect every time technique for making this recipe.

bring water to a boil in a small saucepan.  lower the egg into the water with a slotted spoon. cover the pot and remove from the heat and allow to stand for 4 to 6 minutes.  the egg will be perfectly soft cooked every time.

remove from the water and crack open the wider end of the egg.  using an egg slicer, remove the top of the egg, place in an egg cup and serve for breakfast.

soft cooked eggs are delicious will toast fingers for dipping.

roasted red pepper dip

for a great football game day appetizer, check out any of Ina garten's cookbooks.  today, i selected a dip from one of her earliest books, and adapted the recipe to ingredients in my pantry.

i adjusted her sun dried tomato dip into a roasted red pepper dip for use on pita crisps. 

1/2 cup roasted red peppers from a jar
8 ounces low fat cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup low fat canola mayonnaise
1/2 cup light sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
chopped green onions for decoration

in a mini food processor, mix red peppers, cream cheese, mayo, sour cream and seasonings to taste.
process until smooth about 30 seconds.

the beautiful pink color is very attractive and complements the delicious taste of the dip  spoon the dip into a small container and top with sliced green onions as a garnish.  serve with homemade toasted pita crisps.

soft tacos with toppings

as an easy weeknight meal, prepare soft tacos and offer dinner guests their choice of toppings.  to begin the process, place the soft taco shells on a baking sheet and allow guests to choose their cheese for their shell.

a selection of cheeses can be offered along with cooked ground sirloin and various vegetables and condiments.  a standard taco bar usually includes chopped tomatoes, chopped black olives, sliced green onions, shredded lettuce, chopped cucumbers, sauteed mushrooms and green peppers, a salsa selection and sour cream.

preheat the oven to 350 degrees and then heat the taco shells with cheese for about 5 minutes.  remove and serve on dinner plates, allowing guests to choose their toppings.  these soft shells can be served with Spanish rice or white rice.

dried American bittersweet in a nantucket basket

when the Halloween door decoration was taken down, the Nantucket door basket was filled with dried American bittersweet for November.  the American bittersweet is a native vine that becomes woody with age, climbing trees and fences.

using dried plant materials for decorating is fun and allows for changes each year due to the ease of cutting, hanging and drying plants in the garage.  dried arrangements can be large or small, and the materials can be made into wreaths, swags or other door decorations quite easily.

American bittersweet is a perfect plant material for the fall season and can be used for decorating from Halloween through thanksgiving. 

when planting the bittersweet vine, it is important to have both a male and female plant vine to make certain the vines bear berries for drying. the berries are often eaten by birds and squirrels during the winter

Friday, November 4, 2011

cinnamon almond ice cream

for the fall, i wanted to try a new flavor of homemade ice cream.  i found a recipe in Susan branch's autumn cookbook for cinnamon ice cream.  since i have been reading many articles about the benefits of cinnamon, i decided to adapt her more complicated recipe to my standard recipe with a few changes.

following my standard ice cream recipe on the blog, add a heaping teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the mixture and substitute almond extract for the vanilla extract.  i also added some chopped sliced almonds at the end of the processing cycle in the ice cream machine.

i feel like i have discovered a really new and delicious flavor of ice cream.  once again, homemade ice cream is so creamy and delicious, much better than any store bought brand.

beautiful fall color in the garden

my autumn joy sedum have been beautiful since august when they began to bloom and have continued to stay dependable through November.  although they are a bit toppled from the rain and leaves, the plants' color is strong and vibrant adding a beautiful drift to the border of my driveway.  these plants have grown and multiplied well over the past four years and have been a wonderful selection for my yard.

here is one of four burning bushes on my property that are again spectacular this fall.  the brilliant red is a beautiful eye catching display for my mailbox garden that welcomes guests up the driveway to our home.  the leaves complement my fall perennial mums that grow around the mailbox.  also at the street level, perennial lavender adds a contrast in texture and color to the bed.  checking the mail at the box every day is a treat, with the heavenly scent of the lavender and beautiful fall colors to greet me.

the backyard garden has been put to bed, and only the patches of herbs are still growing within my picketed fenced area.  the fall leaves are beautiful and adorn my garden shed and extra garage space.  fall in the garden has been a treat for me this year, with the appreciation of the season change.

sage, ginger and parsley

even in November, my herb garden is filled with wonderful herbs.  my sage plants this year have been producing wonderful quantities for my use all summer.  i am planning on using this fresh sage for thanksgiving as well.
the heart shaped leaves from this asarum or wild ginger plant are just beautiful surrounded by the falling leaves.  the ginger has been growing nicely as a ground cover throughout my shaded garden bed.  the plant is said to have a rhizome that smells and tastes similar to the ginger root, but i have not tried it.

my annual parsley plant is still growing well into November as well, producing large stalks of parsley that i should be able to use right until thanksgiving. fresh parsley and sage for a side of dressing sounds wonderful to me.

cauliflower gratin

for dinner last night i tried a new recipe from Ina garten's barefoot in Paris cookbook.  i adjusted the quantities for just the two of us, since the recipe is based on a whole head of cauliflower.  this recipe was excellent and i highly recommend it for a change of pace.  typically, i simply steam cauliflower in my stovetop steamer, but this recipe adds alot of flavor and would be nice to serve to guests.

here is my adaptation of her recipe:
1/2 head of fresh cauliflower florets cut from the stem
1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese
1 cup of skim milk
3 tablespoons margarine
1 1/4 tablespoons flour
Parmesan cheese
panko bread crumbs
salt, pepper to taste

remove the cauliflower from the stem.  grate the white cheddar cheese or substitute Gruyere as Ina suggests. place the cauliflower in boiling water and boil for about 3-4 minutes.  drain.  in a saucepot, melt the margarine, while stirring, add the flour and cook to thicken a minute or so.  slowly, while stirring, add the milk, to make the white sauce.  this is an important step.  stir constantly to make certain the sauce is creamy without lumps. cook until it begins to thicken and just before boiling, turn off the heat.  add about 1/2 the cheese to make the gratin sauce.  add salt and pepper to taste.

prepare a casserole dish with spray oil.  spoon a couple of large spoonfuls of the white sauce into the dish.  

add the cauliflower florets to the dish.  pour the white sauce over the cauliflower.  top with the remaining grated cheese and add grated Parmesan to taste, topping with a few panko breadcrumbs.  i also sprayed the top of the dish with some spray margarine to encourage browning.  Ina suggested added 1/2 stick of melted butter, but i substituted here to reduce the calories. bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for at least 30 minutes or until brown on the top.

this is a very tasty recipe and would encourage anyone to taste cauliflower.

halloween decorating

every year i try to use dried materials from my garden to decorate for Halloween.  this year i had a large number of dried Chinese lanterns from the garden, as well as dried ornamental grasses for one arrangement. 

for my pumpkin arrangement, i used dried walker's low catmint which grows in abundance in the garden.  these materials dry very quickly hanging upside down on a rack in my garage.  the catmint has a great aroma when dried and seems to attract the neighborhood cats.

for indoor decorating, i use dried ornamental corn and have used the same popcorn kernels for years.  this arrangement has been done in tall cylinders, short fat glass containers and this year in a round pedestal glass dish.  

another table arrangement i tried this year used black licorice strings, which are not very easy to find.  i finally located them in a small neighborhood candy store about 25 minutes away.  these strings look creepy when covered in a glass dome and have been fun to look at during the season.

finally, every Halloween table must have spiders of some sort, so this year i found these black metal spiders at crate and barrel. they are quite realistic when placed on the table runner.