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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

halloween candy for the table

since we had made a trip to the old fashioned candy store in bay city last week, i had a nice selection of Halloween candy that was calling out for a creative display.

using chemistry glassware and beakers, i have the candy arranged.  black and orange gumdrops, peanut butter chews wrapped in orange and black paper, sugared pumpkins, black shoestring licorice, Godiva caramels wrapped in orange paper, and Reece's pieces each in their own chemistry container sitting on a circular serving tray.  i used orange ribbon and wove the ribbon easily around the beakers to provide added color and interest.

placed near my favorite wooden spider, the treats are very welcoming on my kitchen sideboard.

halloween tea

the republic of tea offers a few special flavors of tea for each season.  this year, i tried pumpkin spice and hot apple cider tea.  both of these flavors are the essence of fall and Halloween.

while i have been getting ready for the door to door trick or treaters tonight, i have been enjoying my pumpkin spice tea all day.  it is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves and has a wonderful relaxing aroma. the chill of the day has been taken away as i enjoy every sip.

the can says that adding a splash of milk to the tea will transform the tea into pumpkin pie in a cup. sounds amazing.

even if you are just a coffee drinker, i encourage trying these tea blends.  happy Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

caramel apples

October is a wonderful month for caramel apples.  actually, i look forward to caramel apple season each year. making caramel apples is a bit tricky, and i have tried several techniques in the past few years.

the best success that i have had is with honey crisp apples which are both sweet and firm, with a long shelf life when stored in the refrigerator.  honey crisp apples have a great taste when eaten raw for a caramel apple.  other types of apples do not have the same type of taste sensation, and may be too tart for eating raw.

to make the caramel apples:  purchase one bag of Kraft caramels and use 50 of the caramels.  unwrap each individually and place in a microwave safe bowl, adding two tablespoons of water.

microwave for one minute and then stir the caramel.  microwave for a second minute and stir until all the caramels are melted and smooth.

place sticks into the top of the honey crisp apples after washing thoroughly.  spoon the caramel from the top of the apples and allow to cover the apples as desired.

place the apples on waxed paper that has been treated with cooking spray.  decorate as desired. for Halloween, i use colored sprinkles, however; chopped peanuts can also be used. store in the refrigerator until serving on a dish that has been coated with cooking spray.  if the apples are not stored in the refrigerator, the caramel will not harden and stay in place on the apples.

game day chili

more than thirty years ago, my college room mate shared her mother's recipe for chili with me.  her recipe is the classic, which probably has been made by many others with variations over the years.  i have used this recipe for my husband's poker parties, as well as many game day meals.

to make the chili:  brown 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of ground beef with one chopped white onion.  add to a crock pot and add one large can of red kidney beans, one large can whole tomatoes, and one large can of tomato sauce.  then add enough water to just cover the mixture in the pot.  season with one teaspoon of chili powder.  simmer for several hours until ready to serve. 

top the chili with sliced green onions, sliced black olives, shredded cheddar cheese, and low fat sour cream before serving.  the four seed dinner rolls are a nice accompaniment to the dish.

four seed pan rolls

here is an all time favorite recipe that is wonderful for any occasion where a soft dinner roll would be needed.  these are made with frozen bread dough rolls and the seeds are added to taste and for flavor.

to make the dinner rolls:  purchase rhodes white dinner rolls in the frozen food aisle of the market.  i have used other store brands and they work equally well.  combine 4 teaspoons of each of these seeds in a small bowl:  fennel, poppy, and sesame.  i also add 2 teaspoons of dill seed.  mix the seeds together well.

next, in another bowl, beat one to two egg beaters/egg whites well.  then dip the dough rolls into the egg mixture, and then roll in the seeds.  place in a lightly greased 8-9 inch round baking dish.

cover with plastic wrap that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  allow the rolls to rise in the pan for at least 3 up to 5 hours.  i usually place the rolls inside of my cold oven with the interior light on, which seems to provide just the exact amount of warmth needed for dough rising.

when the rolls have risen, remove from the oven and take off the plastic cover.  preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the rolls for 15 minutes until golden brown. serve and enjoy.  the recipe can be adapted to include less variety of seeds and could also be made with refrigerated bread dough, baking according to package directions.

spinach brunch tarts

these brunch tarts are individually sized without a crust for great portion control.  they could be easily used for a breakfast or lunch, accompanied with a side salad, fruit, or even a breakfast meat.  the recipe will make 12 mini tarts.
the tarts are very tasty and will be nicely received by your family.  to make the tarts:  preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  lightly coat a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan with cooking spray. 

in a skillet, heat one tablespoon or less of olive oil and saute 10 ounces or one small package of whole white mushrooms, chopped.  add one small shallot which has also been chopped.  next, add one package of thawed frozen drained spinach and heat together.
cook these ingredients about five minutes.  if using fresh spinach, this step will take longer, about 10 minutes until the spinach is wilted.  when this step is complete, add a pinch of grated nutmeg for a wonderful flavor. 

in a separate bowl, whisk 4 eggs and 4 egg white beaters, with 1/4 cup skim milk, and salt and pepper to taste.  then, stir in 1/3 cup of grated fontina or Swiss cheese.  i used fontina.

ladle the egg mixture into the muffin tins, and then fill them with the spinach and mushroom mixture.  top the muffins with chopped bacon or chopped turkey bacon that has been pre-cooked. 

bake the mini tarts for about 20 to 25 minutes until well risen and browned.  cool in the muffin pan for about 4 minutes and then transfer to serving plates.  serve with greens, fruit, or any other favorite brunch side dish.

scotch rice krispie treats

this recipe for rice krispie treats uses peanut butter for a different flavor variation.  i have had this recipe for years and although there are many online, i find this one to be the old time classic.

at times, i have added a layer of melted chocolate to the top of these bars and also had a great result.

to make the treats:  place 3 cups of rice krispies in a large mixing bowl.  in a double boiler, melt 1/2 cup peanut butter with 6 ounce of butterscotch morsels. pour over the cereal and mix well until all krispies are covered.  press into a 9 by 9 square pan that has been prepared with baking spray and lined with waxed paper for easy removal.  press in firmly   chill for at least one hour prior to cutting into bars.  if desired, just after pressing into bars, melt 6 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler and spread on top of the bars prior to chilling.
great for fall and especially halloween as the children are running door to door gathering candy and treats for the holiday.

college football appetizer dip

tomorrow is another great college football Saturday with all the teams matching up for another win on the path to the holiday bowl game events.

here is a wonderful recipe for a hot dip that can be paired with crackers, tortilla chips or even celery and pita crisps.  this one is easy and well received by sports fans everywhere.  the dip can even be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator until game time, when it will take only 25 minutes to bake and be ready for the party.

to make the dip:  soften and spread 8 ounces of low fat cream cheese on the bottom of a ceramic dish or pie plate.  then layer about 6 ounces of salsa, any flavor.  then top with 8 ounces of grated sharp cheddar cheese, one small can of sliced olives, and then chop one bunch of green onions to garnish the top of the dish.  bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and enjoy.  i promise this will become one of your favorite hot dips for football game events.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

easy egg rolls and cranberry dipping sauce

here is a wonderful recipe for the Asian favorite served in many restaurants.  this is an easy recipe, and the egg rolls are extremely tasty.  as with any home prepared food, the cook controls the ingredients and can alter the recipe according to dietary preferences.  i have used this recipe for years,  and have adapted it to my liking.  it was taken from southern living magazine, the November 2009 issue.

to prepare the egg rolls:  stir together 16 ounces of shredded coleslaw mix, 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken or shrimp, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced ginger.  i use ginger from a tube found in the produce aisle of the market.
add minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste. using egg roll wrappers, brush water around the edges and spoon the filling into the center of each wrapper.  fold and tuck the wrapper as shown on the package.  press to seal. 

using an electric skillet, brown the wrappers in a small amount of canola oil heated to 375 degrees.  drain on paper towels and keep warm in a 225 degree oven until ready to serve. 

egg rolls can be served with cranberry dipping sauce or any other favorite dipping sauce.  shrimp, chicken or vegetable fried rice is an nice accompaniment.

to make the cranberry dipping sauce:  bring one 16 ounce can of whole berry cranberry sauce, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup light soy sauce, and 1/ 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger to a boil in a small saucepan.  cool and serve with egg rolls or mozzarella sticks.

crustless pizza quiche

over the years i have tried many gooseberry patch recipes.  every one seems to be a great reliable recipe. this one is from the 101 cozy casseroles spiral cookbook, and was offered as an online sample for my e-reader.  it was easy and quite tasty.  i changed a few ingredients and the quiche baked as suggested.

to make the recipe:  use 1/2 cup of turkey pepperoni and one 8 ounce can of sliced mushrooms, drained, and place in a 9 inch ceramic pie plate that has been sprayed with Pam.  next, in a bowl, whisk together 3 eggs and 2 egg whites egg beaters, 3/4 cup of skim milk, and 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano, and some fresh basil to taste.  pour over the pepperoni and mushrooms in the baking dish.  sliced green pepper and onion could be also added for additional flavor.

top with 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese.  i topped with some fresh basil from my garden as a garnish.  bake uncovered in a 400 degree oven for at least 30 minutes until golden and heated through. 

i usually insert a knife into the quiche to make certain the center is not runny prior to serving.  if still soft, bake another 5 to7 minutes until done.

served with a side salad or soup, this is a wonderful entree for lunch or dinner.

baking tip: baked bacon

bacon is a cured meat made from pork. bacon should only be consumed occasionally, as suggested in current research from the Harvard school of public health that there is a link between nitrates and COPD, heart disease and diabetes.

turkey bacon and other products without nitrates can be used to substitute for bacon requirements in recipes.  one of the techniques that i have found quite beneficial is baking bacon in the oven.

this is an easy way to prepare this product.  there is no turning, no twisting and no spatters on the stove.  simply preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake on a sheet pan for 20 minutes.  the bacon is arranged on the pan, side by side, and not overlapping.  the longer the bacon is baked, the more crispy the product.  remove the bacon from the pan, drain and blot dry in paper towels.

if an easy clean up is desired, line the pan with in foil.  the result is flat bacon with limited fat and great taste.

KIND bars

i usually don't promote prepackaged foods, however; i have found this wonderful product that is all natural made from fruit and nuts.  these bars have been on the market since 2003, but i recently found them in my gourmet food store.

if you have not tried them, i suggest you look for them soon.  some have antioxidants added, others have nuts and spices, and all are made with healthy grains.  i haven't tried any with chocolate, and have centered on using these for a healthy snack on the go, when i don't have a piece of fresh fruit available.

they are gluten free, low glycemic, a good source of fiber, have very low sodium, dairy free, no trans fats, and don't have any sulfer dioxide.

some of the best flavors are almond and coconut, pomegranate blueberry pistachio with antioxidants, cashew and ginger spice, and cranberry almond with antioxidants.  look for them in the health food section of your market as well, although not all of the flavors might be available.  check out the website for more information.

these bars are delicious and have under 200 calories.

rice krispie classics

after many years of making these rice krispie treats for a fall snack, i considered changing the recipe into one of the hundreds found online on various websites. i was interested to see if the newer versions were tastier or even just easier to make.

it is amazing to see how many alterations have been made to this classic cookie bar.  however, after reading through them, i decided that my old standard recipe that has been made for years is actually the best one around.  many of the new recipes have changed the amount of krispies in ratio to the amount of marshmallow.  also, i have noticed that the amount of butter changes in relation to the other ingredients.  after spending over an hour reading the reviews on the websites, i determined that these changes were not better based on others' opinions.  not one of the opinions was favorable with any of the dozens of changes.

the one secret to my rice krispie treats is the addition of a flavor.  i sometimes use vanilla and other times use almond extract.  this slight addition makes the difference in the rice kripsie treat.

my classic recipe:  melt 1/4 cup of butter, not margarine, as the oil is needed for the success of the treat, along with 3 cups of mini marshmallows in a microwave glass bowl for two minutes.  stir the mixture, which will puff up in the microwave.  then, microwave again for another minutes.  add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a couple of dashes of salt.  this makes the flavor of the treat.  add 5 cups of krispies. stir.

place in a ceramic dish that has been coated with Pam.  press down the treats firmly with a Pam coated piece of waxed paper.  i add sprinkles on the top for Halloween treats.  press the sprinkles down into the treats as well. pressing the treats firmly is an important step, or the treats crumble when cutting into bars.

allow the treats to cool down before slicing into bars, about two hours.  serve and enjoy for the fall season.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

fried green tomatoes

autumn is the time to enjoy fried green tomatoes.  when the temperatures dropped, i gathered all the green tomatoes from the vines in the yard.

since green tomatoes are firm, they work so nicely when battered, keeping their texture and shape.  i use 1/2 cup of corn meal and 1/2 cup of flour, mixed with salt and pepper to taste.

then, i use either buttermilk or half and half for coating the tomatoes before the batter step.

by coating the tomatoes, the batter adheres to the slices easily and gives the tomatoes the desired crunch upon eating.

so, to make the fried green tomatoes, first dip the slices into the milk, then coat with batter and place in a hot non-stick skillet.  brown and turn until crisp.

to serve:  stack into a tower.

cranberry apple crisp

it's apple season and after a wonderful trip to the cider mill last week, i was anxious to try a new recipe for apple crisp.  this one came from Susan Branch's book titled Autumn. the recipe was not only delicious, but it made the kitchen smell so inviting.

i used gala apples and adapted the recipe a bit to use some of the ingredients in my pantry.  the outcome was fantastic. 

to make the crisp:  preheat the oven to 375 degrees. spray a ceramic cooking dish with original spray. peel and slice 3-4 apples into small cubes. place in the dish along with 1/2 cup of dried cranberries and 1/2 cup of sliced almonds. i also added a sprinkle of orange peel. then, add 1/4 cup of water or apple juice to the dish.

mix the following ingredients together:  3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup oats,  3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and1/3 cup soft margarine.  sprinkle the mixture over the fruit. bake for 30 minutes.

serve hot with ice cream or cold with whipped cream.  as Susan Branch says, "it doesn't get any better than this."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

tomato tarts

one of the many ways i used my abundance of fall tomatoes was to make tomato tarts.  these easy appetizers are quick to prepare and very tasty.

using frozen puff pastry sheets, thaw one sheet for about 20 minutes.  when thawed, flatten the dough and divide into 16 squares.  place on a parchment lined baking sheet and top with cheese.  i used goat cheese, but Gruyere or Swiss would be another great alternative.

next, add the sliced tomatoes to the tops of the cheese squares, and then season with shredded fresh basil. i also added Williams sonoma pizza seasoning, lightly sprinkled on the tops.  

bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  check to see that the pastry puffs, but does not burn.  these are great quick appetizers for last minute snacks to make and serve. 

angel food cake with chocolate drizzle

here is an option for decorating an angel food cake for fall entertaining.  after making the boxed angel food cake, i simply drizzled melted chocolate with a spoon over the cooled cake.  i think it gives an appearance of a spider web, which could be a great feature for a Halloween buffet.

at the base of the cake, i used chocolate mint leaves, which i made from fresh spearmint leaves from my herb garden.  check out my blog post on chocolate mint leaves if interested on the technique to create this easy decorating option.

i kept the cake covered between servings, to keep the angel food cake fresh as well as the mint and chocolate bright and flavorful.

since angel food cake is a family favorite, it will certainly be served this way again.

chocolate leaves

as i was cleaning out my garden this week, i cut spearmint leaves from my herb bed.  after watching Martha for years demonstrating how to make chocolate leaves, i decided to give the technique a try on my own.

i washed the leaves and allowed them to dry on paper towels.  when dry, i simply melted 1/2 bag of ghiradelli dark chocolate bits within a double boiler on the stove top.

next, i placed the leaves on waxed paper and painted the leaves with a bristle brush dipped in the chocolate.

allow the leaves to dry for several hours and then use them for cake decorations.  i used my leaves this week on an angel food cake with great success.  the taste of the mint is so fresh and nothing like an artificial mint.  these chocolate mint leaves are refreshing and delicious.  i recommend them highly.

frozen grapes

frozen grapes have become my new "go-to" snack food.  they are simply amazing.  enough said.  i simply purchase the grapes, wash them and store them in the freezer.  when i feel like a quick healthy snack, i take a few grapes out of the bag.

the grapes are refreshing and very tasty.  it is difficult to believe that something so easy could be so good.  i am thinking that i may have to give them up for the winter months, as they really cool me down quickly.

i have only tried seedless purple grapes, but i imagine concord blue grapes would be spectacular, as they are my all time favorite type of grapes.

let me know if you like them too !