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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

almost famous chimichangas

over the years i have purchased a couple of almost famous recipe cookbooks, where individuals have submitted recipes that are very similar to restaurants nationwide.  here is a recipe for chimichangas that is very similar to those found in Mexican restaurants, however; this recipe is baked, rather than fried.  this technique works very well and this dish is very tasty.

if making this recipe for two, use one large grilled chicken breast. once the chicken is ready, prepare the rest of the ingredients.  on a sheet pan, brush two tortilla shells with a mixture of melted margarine and olive oil. 

in a skillet on the stove top, brown one chopped onion and mix with chopped fresh tomatoes.  heat until softened.  i usually season the mixture with a dash of chili powder, a dash of cinnamon, salt and pepper. mix in the chicken and then add these toppings to the shells on the sheet pan.  add some shredded cheese on top.  this could be mozzarella, monterey jack or Italian blend.  wrap the chimichangas into bundles and turn over so the more open end is at the bottom of the sheet pan.

brush the top with more of the margarine and olive oil mixture.  bake in the oven for 8 minutes on each side.  these will brown very nicely and become crisp.  when done and ready to serve, top with mild GREEN enchilada sauce, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, black olives, shredded cheddar cheese, green onions, sour cream and salsa.  any or all of these toppings are delicious.

these can be served with a side dish of Spanish or white rice.

brussels sprouts gratin

here is an excellent side dish that can be made with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or asparagus. Brussels sprouts gratin is a dish for those of you who think you don't like Brussels sprouts or haven't even tasted them in a long time.

this dish is spectacular.  how can you go wrong with cheese, cream and panko?

to make the dish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  prepare a 2 quart baking dish with canola spray.  bring a pot of water to a boil.  use one pound of Brussels sprouts, with the stems and outer leaves removed.  cook sprouts until tender about 8 to 10 minutes. 

drain the sprouts and chop into chunks.  transfer them to the baking dish and toss with a pinch of red pepper flakes.  salt and pepper to taste.  pour 1/2 cup heavy cream over the dish.  sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated white cheddar cheese. and then top with panko and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces.

bake the gratin until bubbly and golden brown, about 15 minutes.  serve with chicken, fish, pork or beef for your vegetable side dish.  i promise your guests will love this dish.

creamy pasta salad with celery

summer is just around the corner and it will be time for preparing menus for the barbecue.  here is one of my all time classic pasta salads.  it has a very light mayonnaise based dressing which has a brightness due to the lemon juice. i have used elbows, pasta shells, and for this photo, small tubular pasta.

i have made this recipe only a few times, but come back to it since the lemon juice gives such a fresh flavor to the pasta.  i found this recipe in Martha's everyday food magazine. i first made it in 2009.  i decorate the top with wedges of hard boiled eggs, but these are optional.  Martha served her salad alongside a marinated tomato salad.

to make the salad, cook 2 cups of pasta in a large pot of boiling water for about 7-8 minutes.  the noodles should be al dente.  drain and rinse the pasta in cold water. set aside.

whisk together 1/2 cup canola light mayonnaise and approximately 1/3 cup of lemon juice in a measuring cup.  set aside.

next, chop 6 celery stalks plus one cup of celery leaves.  also chop 1/2 cup of red onion in very small pieces.

mix the pasta, celery, celery leaves, and red onion together.  gradually add the dressing to taste.  salt and pepper as desired.  chill and serve.

seasonal recipes

for the past few months, i have been watching allen smith's new series on the create network.  it has been based on his most recent cookbook, seasonal recipes from the garden.  what i enjoy about allen, is that he grows so many wonderful things in his southern garden, and then steps into his kitchen and prepares very simple but beautifully presented dishes.

i just had to order his cookbook from amazon.com and when it arrived this past week, i was very pleased.  the cookbook is divided into sections based on the seasons and the fresh vegetables available.  the glossy pages are filled with beautiful photographs, and so many fabulous recipes.

many of the recipes are very familiar to me, as i have watched allen prepare them on television.  what doesn't come across in the book is his spectacular flower, herb and vegetable gardens which he presents on his series.  the perfect gardens are amazing at his home. 

so, if you are thinking about adding a new cookbook to your library, i highly recommend this one. and, i recommend watching allen on his syndicated and public television shows.

asparagus popover

spring is the season for the best tasting asparagus.  fresh from the market, these thin spears are perfect for making a delicious brunch recipe or for a light meatless dinner.  i love that this popover can be made in a   medium sized skillet.  it must be made in a skillet that has an oven proof handle, as the popover bakes for 18 to 20 minutes in the oven.

to prepare the dish, first purchase very thin and tender fresh asparagus.  the asparagus is cooked for about 3 to 4 minutes on top of the stove in boiling water to crisp-tender.   i drain and rinse the asparagus and cool down with cold water and ice before cutting into thirds.

i used less than one pound of fresh asparagus, with the bases removed.  then, in the same skillet, i melt 2 tablespoons of margarine.

 usually to do this this, i simply place the skillet in the oven.  but, it is important to watch the butter so that it does not burn.  while doing this, i  warm 1/2 cup of milk in the microwave.  this could be done on the stove.  then, when the coldness is just off of of the milk, i whisk in 3 eggs that are at room temperature, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  i also add just a pinch of sugar. mix well.

remove the skillet from the oven with the melted margarine, and place the cooled, parboiled, and trimmed into thirds asparagus.

pour the batter over the asparagus.  then sprinkle the popover with 3 ounces of shredded Swiss cheese or shredded Gruyere cheese or a mixture of both.  bake until puffed and golden brown on top.  sprinkle with parsley to serve.  this popover is very beautiful just out of the oven, but just as a souffle will fall, so will the lovely popover.  this does not change the taste.  this is a delicious dish and highly recommended for spring.

chocolate nut brownies

here is one of my tried and true recipes for brownies.  there will never again be the need to purchase one of those dreadful brownie mixes from the market.  these brownies are tasty, easy to make, and just the right amount to make for your family.  this recipe will serve approximately 6-8 people.  what is so wonderful about this easy recipe is that is it can be baked in a nine inch ceramic round or pie dish.  i like to top the brownies with a bit of whipped cream and a small drizzle of chocolate sauce, but they can be also served warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

here is the recipe i have saved for years from fine cooking magazine, fall 2003.  as usual, i have included my techniques as well.

preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  lightly spray the ceramic dish with canola oil.  in a medium bowl, mix 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup chopped semisweet chocolate.  i use 4 baker's squares, 1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix the ingredients very well.

the baker's squares work very nicely and by using my chocolate chopper, the chocolate is the perfect size for the recipe.  i purchase my cocoa powder at trader joe's, but any unsweetened natural cocoa powder will work nicely.

to the mixture, add 2 large eggs, and 1/3 cup of vegetable oil.  mix these ingredients and then scrape into the ceramic dish.  add chopped nuts to the top before baking.  i use chopped pecans.  bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  i check the center of the dish for doneness.  cool at least 10 minutes if wanting to serve warm.  otherwise, when desired slice into wedges and enjoy.

tip:  i highly recommend this chocolate chopper that i purchased many years ago at Williams-Sonoma.  it is very sturdy and i have used it successfully for numerous recipes.

spring rhubarb and garlic chives

 spring came early this year to midland, and many of my garden plantings are showing a strong start to the growing season.  all of my herbs have put forth new growth and my chive border is beginning to form a nice protection for my new mixed vegetable and flower garden.

i divided my garlic chives last fall into several substantial groupings, since they had begun to take over a small section of my fenced garden.  the focus of the garlic chives for me are the lovely flowers that appear later in the season.  these garlic chives are very tough plants.  i enjoy that they are known to confuse insects and pests, thus detering them from having lunch in my garden.  one of the keys to garlic chives is to give it room to grow, however; it doesn't mind less than average soil or even partial shade.    it seems to me that these garlic chives are some of the first plants to emerge from my garden just as the soil begins to warm.

just as i admire my garlic chives in the early spring, i also appreciate my rhubarb.  a gardening friend shared this rhubarb start from her mother's garden two years ago.  i enjoyed using the rhubarb last year, and can't wait to try some new recipes this year.

this rhubarb grows nicely in a partially shaded spot, but does receive about 5 hours of sun per day.  it is one of the few edibles that can tolerate that much shade and still produce a nice crop for the season.  rhubarb leaves are not edible, only the lovely stalks.  i do think that these leaves also detract other garden pests from my fenced area.

both of these early garden plants have encouraged me to begin to walk around and admire the beginning of a new garden season.

Monday, March 12, 2012

lemon thyme shortbread cookies

the temperatures in midland, Michigan have been so warm these past few days.  spring is coming and i will be in my herb garden again very soon.  in fact, some of my herbs are greening up already and just waiting to be used in many herbal recipes.

this inspired me to bake these cookies which use dried thyme leaves.  they are a great cookie and include an herb that usually isn't used in baking sweets.

to make the cookie, combine 3/4 cup of room temperature unsalted butter, with 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar in a mixer.  then add, 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of dried thyme leaves.

in another small bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups of flour with 1/4 teaspoon salt.  add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl slowly to combine.  roll into two logs and wrap in plastic wrap.  chill at least one hour.

remove and slice to bake on parchment covered baking sheets.  bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes, rotate and bake again to lightly brown, about 2 more minutes.

these are very nice tasty tea cookies and your guests will be interested to hear that the cookies include the herb thyme.

toasted ravioli

on a recent trip to the market, my husband brought home frozen cheese ravioli that somehow made it into our shopping bag. i think the person shopping before us didn't pick up all of their groceries !  i had not tried this recipe for years, but thought i would again, and it was actually quite tasty.

these cheese ravioli can be served with marinara sauce for a quick appetizer or even for a meal with a light pasta sauce and Parmesan cheese.

to make the toasted ravioli, remove them from the freezer and thaw the quantity to cook for the meal.  i thawed them in a glass dish and it took several hours.  when ready to cook, dip each into a small amount of egg beaters or egg yolks that have been beaten.

then dip into some panko breadcrumbs and brown in a small amount of canola oil.  the ravioli brown very quickly and can be placed on a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven and complete the cooking.  sprinkle with parsley flakes and serve.

these were crunchy and tasty and something different.

watergate salad

here is the recipe for the authentic Watergate salad, as served for years at the now famous Watergate hotel in Washington D.C.  this salad is sweet and wonderful to serve around st. Patrick's day since it has a tint of green from the pistachio pudding mix.

to make the salad:
in a large bowl, combine one 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple, not drained, with one small box of instant sugar free pistachio pudding mix.  mix very well with an electric mixer to combine.  next add 2 cups of mini marshmallows, 1 cup of shredded coconut, 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, and one 8 ounce carton of non dairy whipped topping. mix all ingredients very well.

place into a serving bowl and chill for at least 4 to 6 hours and then serve.  this is a perfect salad to serve with an informal meal or for a summer light fruit dessert.

this is a classic fluff salad that has been a favorite of many visitors to the Watergate hotel. 

mint meringues

st. Patrick's day is less than one week away, so it is time to plan something special to celebrate the day.  here is a fun, easy and quick recipe for a very light meringue.  with a hint of green, the fresh minty taste is just perfect for a simple dessert.

to make the meringues:
preheat the oven to 225 degrees. these cookies don't need much heat.  line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  beat 4 room temperature egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter with an electric mixer until they are foamy.  add
1 3/4 cups of confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time and continue beating until peaks become stiff and glossy.

use a large decorating tip on a pastry bag and pipe onto the baking sheet.  bake 1 hour and then turn off the oven and allow the cookies to stay in the oven for 2 more hours to dry.  remove from the oven and add sparkling green sugar to decorate.

these light cookies are wonderful with homemade pistachio ice cream.

serve them in a clear pedestal dish or crush them and serve in individual pedestal glasses with fresh whipped cream, layering the cream and meringues on top of each other. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

zoku pops

today the sun is shining in midland and the temperatures are rising.  i think the weatherman said it would be fifty degrees this afternoon.  sounds like time to pull out the Popsicle maker. 

this zoku maker has so many options and i have only begun to test it out.  since i purchased it late in the year, i really haven't had a full summer to see what creations i could design.  so, today was a first try for cherry vanilla cream Popsicles.

the directions come with the zoku maker, and for today's treats i tried maraschino cherries.  positive thinking will bring spring and summer sooner to midland Michigan.  the zoku must stay in the freezer for 24 hours and the freezing time for the individual treats is only 7-9 minutes.  the maker will make up to 6 Popsicles before having to refreeze. 

lots of fun for the summer months ahead.

turkey meatball sauce

turkey meatballs pair nicely with a lighter sauce for a change in routine from the standard tomato based sauce.  for dinner tonight, try using your favorite meatball recipe, or purchase premade meatballs from the meat counter at the market.

after the meatballs have baked for 20-25 minutes, add this sauce for something new.

to make the sauce:
heat 1/2 bottle of Heinz chili sauce with 1/2 cup of grape jelly in a saucepan. that's it.

pour the sauce over the meatballs for the last 5 minutes of baking time and serve with pasta or for a meatball sandwich with the trimmings.

sweet and just spicy enough to make the turkey meatballs taste terrific.

baked stuffed onions

if you are looking for an easy side dish that would taste great with chicken, beef or fish, here is one that i would recommend.  i found this recipe in the everyday food collection by Martha.  the prep time is about 30 minutes and the bake time about 30 minutes as well for nice tender onions.

i made two onions, one for each of us, however; go ahead and increase the recipe for your dinner party.  i am certain that everyone will love the taste and flavor from this dish.  to make the recipe, begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees.  peel and hollow out the inside of an number of yellow onions.

place in a ceramic baking dish and pour about 1/4 cup of low sodium chicken broth around the onions.  cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes.  remove the onions from the dish, and pour off the hot liquid.  return the onions to the dish and add the filling.

filling recipe
while the onions are baking, cook 4 slices of bacon oven medium heat in a skillet.  make sure the bacon is crisp and then chop the bacon in the skillet and add chopped onions saved from the centers of the large onions.  cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until onions are soft and brown.  remove from stove top and mix in about 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup of shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese and 2 tablespoons parsley either fresh or dried, salt and pepper.  stir. 

fill the onions with this mixture and sprinkle the tops with more cheese. i put the extra filling around the onions in the dish.   bake uncovered until golden brown on the top. this will take another 20 to 25 minutes.  serve as a side dish.  delicious !  the crispy filling is so tasty and the onions are so mild.