Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eggs in the Garden

On Christmas Eve morning, my mom taught my sister how to make "Eggs in the Garden" for breakfast.  Since you can use many different ingredients, it's really more of a technique than a recipe.  First, we chopped a variety of fresh vegetables that were on hand.  On this day, it included sweet red pepper, green pepper, red cabbage, spinach and onion.  In my opinion, onions are essential.

Then we chopped some ham.  Any meat, or no meat is fine.

The veggies and ham are browned in butter.  Beans are added (in this case, canned black beans).  Seasoning is added (in this case, a delicious Tuscan seasoning blend from Oil and Vinegar).  The sauteed ingredients are pushed to the outside edge of the pan, leaving an empty circle in the middle.  Crack an egg into the circle and cover the pan until the egg is cooked.  Your egg is in a garden, get it?  Slide the cooked garden and egg onto a plate and enjoy. 

We also made a Mexican version that was seasoned with taco seasoning and topped with fresh avocado, salsa and sour cream.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Breakfast

We had a very merry breakfast this morning: Chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes with sliced bananas, whipped cream (actually Cool Whip leftover from Thanksgiving), and Christmas sprinkles. 

Christmas is coming!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Math Cookies

Is there a more fun way to learn about math than making cookies? Probably not in second grade. Ehren and Christian's class got to make no-bake chocolate cookies to learn about measuring.

Pretty exciting stuff when you're in second grade.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Meal in One

Again this year, SuperTarget has a screaming pre-Thanksgiving deal on almost all the ingredients in a super easy dinner I sometimes make.  It's called the "Meal in One." 

(Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup: 59¢, Campbells's tomato soup: 52¢, Del Monte canned green beans: 49¢, Betty Crocker Instant Potatoes: 89¢)

The Meal in One is a completely stereotypical Minnesota hotdish, but ironically my sister's Montana mother-in-law taught me how to make it.  If you want to give it a try, here's how:  Brown a pound of ground beef.   Meanwhile, in another pan, prepare the instant potatoes above (or if you already have some leftover mashed potatoes in your fridge, skip this step).  Once the beef has been browned, add the contents of the cans shown above (one can of cream of anything soup, one can of tomato soup and one can of vegetables).  Stir together the ingredients and transfer to a baking dish.  Top with scoops of mashed potatoes and shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes or until bubbling.  That's it.  Hearty, tasty, and super easy.  Sometimes I add onions to the ground beef, and sometimes I double the vegetables.  Frozen vegetables are also fine.  It always tastes good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chef Ehren

Every once in awhile, Ehren gets on a creative streak in the kitchen.  If you tell him you're making a "secret" recipe, there's a good chance he'll like it {within reason}.  He's intrigued by the idea of secret recipes.  Sometimes, when he really likes one of my "secret" recipes, he tells me, "You should put that on the computer" (he means this blog).  Sometimes he dreams up his own recipes, secret or otherwise.

Tonight, I was trying to introduce the kids to Gravad Lax (cured salmon), which I picked up from Ikea.  I admit that even I have a love/hate relationship with cured salmon and herring.  Sometimes I love it, and other times, it gags me a little.  Anyway, I was pumping up the kids to try it, explaining that it's salmon, but you eat it cold.  I also told them how it's made by covering a salmon fillet with spices and sugar and pressing them into the meat to preserve it.  Believe me, explaining the process makes the food seem ten times more intriguing.  They all tried a little.  Anna liked it and asked for more.  Christian gave me the sideways thumb rating (not thumbs up, not thumbs down), which means it's just ok, but no seconds, thanks.  Ehren tried it and said, eyes lit up, "I have an idea!" 

He buzzed over the microwave and made what is commonly known as a "cheesy pizza" in our house: a corn tortilla topped with shredded cheese and heated in the microwave.  He cut the tortilla pizza into triangles with our pizza cutter and then proceeded to deftly tuck a small piece of Lax under the edge of the melted cheese on each triangle.  "Look mom, it's salmon-stuffed cheesy pizza."  Before you get too impressed, he only ate one piece of his cooking masterpiece.  This often happens with his "secret" recipes.  They don't taste quite as amazing in real life as they did in his imagination, but still, I love his enthusiasm.


Today when I realized it was sixty-five degrees out, I decided it was now or never. Time to plant my garlic and winter onions!  I'm always a little behind with fall planting, but this year I had an excuse.  Dan's been working on building new garden boxes below the main garden.   Because most of our back yard is a hill, we need to terrace to increase our tillable area.. The whole garden has been a disaster area work-in-progress since September.  

Our soil is poor and high in clay content, so before planting, Dan and I worked some dead leaves into the soil to loosen it and provide a few nutrients.  I planted one row of winter onions and one row of garlic.  This year's garden didn't produce as much garlic as I would have liked, so it was painful to raid my garlic jar for planting.  I planted the cloves as deep as I could push them with my finger, and I spaced them about 3-4 inches apart.

As for winter onions, I don't think many people know what they are.  You plant them in the fall and when they come up the next spring, you pull the green onions (scallions) and eat them while they're small (in the spring and early summer).  You leave a few plants, and after they flower, they develop heads of small bulbs.  In the fall, you harvest these bulbs (the sets) and plant them again for the next spring.  My grandpa always grew them, but somehow no one in our family saved the sets from his garden.  A few years ago, I found a seed catalog from Wisconsin that sold them.  The catalog called them "Egyptian Walking Onions".  My dad, my uncle and I have all been growing them now for a few years.  They are not quite as sweet as the ones my grandpa grew, and you can't pull them up easily (you need a small spade), but they're still enjoyable.  I wish, wish, wish we had saved sets from my grandpa's garden!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

You Just Never Know

Christian is definitely a finicky eater, but I've always counted my blessings in the fact that he likes many kinds of fruits and vegetables.  Lately however, he's been rejecting anything with skin, like grapes, peppers, and unpeeled apples.  He used to love all three of these things, so I've really been at a loss as to what to put in his lunch.  I mean, how many days in a row can the kid eat PBJ, a banana, chips and yogurt for lunch?  Anything else I put in his lunch goes untouched.  My goal is to go for high protein lunches with lots of fruit and vegetables and less sugar and refined carbs.  This has been working great with Ehren and Anna, but now that Christian is on strike against every plant product with skin, I'm at a loss.  Did I also mention that he has never eaten tomatoes, carrots, celery, raisins or craisins?  The other day, I had a little talk with him: "Christian, you know your body needs fruits and vegetables.  What can I put in your lunch besides bananas?"  His answer was "How about peas?"

He wanted the bagged sugar snap peas they sell at Costco.  So Friday night after work, I stopped at Costco for peas and some other groceries.  I also brought home a hot pizza.  When I got home, I thought the kids would be so excited about the pizza, but as I unpacked the groceries from Costco, they spied the bag of sugar snap peas.  Almost all together, they yelled, "PEAS!" and lunged for them like they were a hot fudge sundae.  Somebody asked in a desperate tone, "Mom, can we have some?"  When I casually told them "sure," they all started tearing at the bag grabbing handfuls of peas. They left the pizza sitting unopened on the table and even passed up a carton of fresh raspberries. Apparently they've really been missing Costco peas for the last five months while we've been eating out of the garden.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Almond Poppy Seed Muffins

I'm definitely in fall cleaning mode, even in the pantry.  So, in an attempt to use up the poppy seeds my Czech au pair Bara bought last year {for one of her many delicious Czech cooking projects}, the kids and I made almond poppy seed muffins.

I'm not an expert baker, but these were pretty tasty.

I had to make two versions, some with almonds on top, as shown above, and some with sugar on top, because my kids turn their noses up at the only nutritious part of the these muffins, the raw almonds on the top.

Almond Poppy Seed Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons almond extract
sugar or raw almonds to sprinkle on top (optional)

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix all ingredients until just blended.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners or butter and flour each muffin cup.  Spoon batter into muffin cups.  Sprinkle the muffin tops with sugar or raw almonds.  Bake for 20-24 minutes.  Makes 12 jumbo muffins, 18 medium muffins, or 3 pans of mini muffins. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

You Know It's Fall When...

You glimpse kids hugging pumpkins

or picking apples

or ooohhhing and aaahhhing over a perfect find

or devouring that just-picked apple with gusto!

Since we still don't have any fruit trees of our own, Anna and I did a little "apple research" at a local orchard.  Hope you're enjoying a beautiful fall day too!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Plethora of Peppers

It's practically raining peppers in our garden.  Hot, sweet, green, purple, red, yellow -- we have them all.  I need to find something to do with them.  I'm also trying to find someone who wants to trade me broccoli or basil or apples for some of our peppers.  If you know anyone, send them to me.

In other news, we have a beautiful Cinderella pumpkin,

and two more shaped like the one below.  We planted two varieties of pumpkin plants plus some seeds someone gave us.  We got three pumpkins.  Not exactly a bounty, but perfect for three kids.

And then there's the watermelon.  I'm not sure even one of these will be ripe before it freezes.  No matter what I do, I can't seem to grow melons!

The good news is that we are still cooking from the garden, or from other people's gardens, as the case may be.  These potatoes are from my parents and the corn is from their neighbors.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bicycle Errand Upgrade

Knowing nothing about my last blog post, guess what my wonderful husband was doing?  He was at REI buying me a bike rack and grocery panniers for my birthday!  I was so surprised and excited when I opened my present.  He is really good at picking gifts I love (and that, my friends, is not an easy task). 

After having read a lot of reviews of grocery panniers online, I was a little worried about the "heel strike" problem (where the back of your foot hits the bottom of the panniers as you pedal).  However, when I took my super fancy new gear for a trial run, I had no problems.  Sometimes having small feet comes in handy.  Actually, it was my husband's great installation.  I know he put a lot of care into adjusting and testing, and he's a perfectionist at these things.  Not having the weight of all the groceries on my back was so much more comfortable.  And the panniers snap off or fold flat when not in use (not that I've been using my bike for anything else lately).  These are perfect!  And just so you know, this won't be turning into a fitness blog anytime soon, but I just had to share my excitement!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bicycle Errands

If you live near my house, you might have seen me riding my beat up 80's StumpJumper mountain bike wearing Christian's school backpack.  And you might have been laughing a little.

I'm pleased to report that I have now completed five grocery runs on my bike.  By the way, five out of five times, SuperTarget has NOT credited me for bringing my own bag.  I guess backpacks don't count when you ask to pack the groceries in them yourself.  Also, I know what you're thinking:  "You can't haul groceries for five on a bike!"  And you're right, but I'm a bad planner, and I'm always running out for just a few things.  The big shopping gets done at Costco on my way home from work anyway.

When I first thought up this idea, I started shopping online for a proper bike rack and grocery panniers.  But... I have this problem.  I can shop forever for the perfect equipment for my latest great idea. but as soon as I spend the money on the equipment, it's almost a guarantee that I won't get out and do whatever it was I was planning {that's the problem with being a dreamer}.  This time, I decided I better just get out there and try a few runs before investing in any new equipment.  I found that as silly as I might look, the school backpack works perfectly fine for now. 

Besides physically feeling great after my little errands, maybe there will be other benefits.  At my annual physical last year, I discovered that my cholesterol level was borderline high.  I was supposed to get it re-checked six months ago, but I've been putting that off because I haven't really gotten my whole diet and exercise plan on track yet -- especially the exercise part.  Maybe if I can keep up the bike errands, I'll have the courage to go get it checked again soon.  I'll keep you posted.   However, there is this looming problem of winter.  I can promise I won't be biking through slush and snow with groceries.  Dry conditions?  Yes.  Wet conditions?  Forget it.  I've had that black stripe of wet road grit painted up the back of my pants and shirt before... when I was a biking fanatic in college.  No thanks.  Not going there again.  We'll see what other grand ideas I get this winter.

Friday, August 26, 2011


We managed to hit huckleberry season perfectly two years in a row.  Just returned from our second trip up Graves Creek to pick huckleberries.  We hit the jackpot today.  Just look at these loaded bushes!

Today's huckleberry team consisted of my niece Elsie,

Christian, Anna and me.

Found this beautiful mountain spring along the way.

Elsie, Anna and I made a delicious pie from the huckleberries we picked on Tuesday.  I'm thinking about making some jam with the ones we picked today.

Elsie's Simple Sweets: Chilled Fresh Huckleberry Pie

On Tuesday, our huckleberry-picking crew (Ehren, Christian, Anna, Elsie, Ethan and I) picked plenty of berries for a pie.  Elsie and I found this absolutely delicious blueberry pie recipe in an old Betty Crocker cookbook and made it with our fresh Montana huckleberries.  I don't even like blueberry pie, but I loved this recipe!

Chilled Fresh Huckleberry Pie

1 empty 9-inch pie crust (bottom crust only) baked
2 c fresh huckleberries (or blueberries)
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c water
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 c grenadine syrup
whipped cream

Pour the fresh, cleaned huckleberries into the empty pre-baked pie crust.  In a saucepan, mix together the sugar, water, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt.  Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and grenadine syrup.  Pour the mixture over the blueberries and chill for one hour.  Top with whipped cream and serve.

Did I forget the most important step? 
Sneaking a few berries before you make the pie.

While baking, Elsie and I were discussing the fictional bakeshop called "Nellie's Simple Sweets" from the Courtship of Nellie Fischer, a series of books by Beverly Lewis.  We both recently read this series.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

This spring, my dad bought a few packs of sweet orange bell pepper plants. It turns out they were mislabeled. They were actually hot banana peppers.

Since my parents do not eat hot peppers, guess what?  Their loss was my gain.  Here's Anna stripping the plants of their bounty.

I've been pickling hot peppers on and off for about ten years.  It's actually quite easy.  Pickling is safer and easier than other types of canning.  The high acid environment of pickled products inhibits the growth of botulism-causing bacteria.  Therefore, you don't need a pressure cooker for processing.  My small batch took just over an hour from start to finish.  If you want to try it, here's what you'll need:

Pickled Hot Banana Peppers

7 pint jars
7 sealing lids
7 jar rings
hot banana peppers (about an ice cream bucket full), washed and sliced into rings (stems cut off)
7 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cleaned
6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar

First wash your jars.  You can wash and sterilize your jars in one easy step in your dishwasher.  However, I never seem to time my dishwasher cycles right, so I just sterilize the old-fashioned way in boiling water.  I don't have a proper canner, so I use my big stockpot for sterilizing and processing.  Put a few inches of water in the bottom of your pot and flip the jars upside down.  Cover the pot and boil for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, start washing and slicing your peppers.  Warning:  Do not rub your eyes!  Ever!  You may want to wear gloves while slicing hot peppers because the oils get in your skin, and you can end up with burning skin for a few painful hours.  I usually take my chances, but one year, my hands were in so much pain I could hardly sleep.  Now I just try to avoid touching the seeds and juice as much as possible.  Frequently rinsing your hands also helps.

When the jars are sterilized, turn them upside down on a clean towel to dry for a bit.  Add more water to your canner (or stockpot, as the case may be), and bring it to a boil.  At this time, mix your brine in another large saucepan (6 cups white vinegar, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pickling salt, 1 tablespoon sugar), and bring it to a boil.  In a small saucepan, bring an inch or two of water to boil and then remove from heat.  Submerge your sealing lids in this hot water (the heat will help them seal better when you put them on your jars). 

When you are ready to pack your jars, add one to two cloves of garlic to each jar (depending on how big your garlic cloves are). 

Spoon in the sliced peppers.  Use the spoon to pack the peppers into the jars as tightly as possible.  Don't be afraid to press them down!  Leave about a half inch of head space at the top of each jar.

Pour boiling brine into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space in each jar.  Use tongs to remove the sealing lids from their hot water bath one at a time and place a lid directly on each jar.  Screw a ring onto each jar and tighten.  Place your jars into the boiling water in your stockpot and cover the pot.  Process the jars for 10 minutes (in altitudes above 6,000 feet, process for 15 minutes).

After processing, remove jars from the boiling water and allow to cool.  After the jars have cooled, check the lids to be sure each one has sealed.  Push down on the lid.  If it pops, it did not seal.  Jars that do not seal must be refrigerated and used first.  For best flavor, store jars for six weeks before using. 

Safety Tips for Pickling
- The level of acidity is essential for safety.  Never alter the vinegar/water quantities in a recipe. 
- Do not under-process your product.  Adhere to the processing times in a trusted recipe.  If you live at a high altitude, this will increase the required processing time.
- Cleanliness is very important.  Make sure everything you use has been washed thoroughly -- the counter, your tools, the produce, and of course all the jars, lids, and rings.  Sterilize your jars and keep the lids in hot water until the moment you put them on the jar.
- If you find a jar that lost its seal (the lid will "pop" when pushed) after it has been in storage, throw it out!

Uses for Pickled Hot Peppers
These pickled hot peppers are great in pasta salads and on pizzas.  I also use them in smoked salmon and cream cheese appetizers (take a Wheat Thin, spread cream cheese on it, add a piece of smoked salmon and top with a hot pepper slice).

Notes on Canning Jars
I don't buy canning jars.  I have inherited some from my mom.  Others were saved from foods I bought at the store.  If you have sealing lids and rings in your pantry, you can try them on an empty food jar before tossing the jar in the recycling bin.  For pint size jars, I have reused the jars from mayonnaise, sauces, salad dressing, and certain brands of jams and jellies.  Remember, you can reuse jars and rings, but sealing lids can only be used once. 

The pickling process I have been using for the last ten years comes from the Colorado State University Extension office.  I don't use the same varieties of peppers they describe, but otherwise I follow their pickled pepper recipe.  Also, they say that the pepper recipe will make 7 or 8 pints, but I consistently find that the brine is only enough for seven pints (and there is no extra!).  They also have an excellent list of food safety FAQs here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cherry Tomatoes and Dirty Fingers

Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from our garden.  
What kind of real gardner doesn't have dirt under his nails?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cool Cukes

Along with tomatoes, squash and other goodies from the garden, we eat a lot of refrigerator pickles this time of year.  I make them just the way my mom taught me (thanks, Mom!).

6-8 medium slicing cucumbers
1 onion
ice cubes
1/2 cup vinegar (either white or cider)
1/2 cup sugar
pepper (optional)
celery salt (optional)

Slice the cucumbers and onions into a large bowl.  If the cucumbers are fresh and have thin skin, leave the skin on (more vitamins!).  Sprinkle the top of the cucumbers with a generous amount of salt (3-4 tbsp).  Put 6-8 ice cubes on top of the salt.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or longer, up to 24 hours).  Drain all the liquid from the bowl.  In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix equal parts vinegar and sugar.  Shake the mixture well until the sugar is dissolved (or nearly so -- sometimes it's hard to get it all completely dissolved).  Pour the mixture over the cucumbers and stir.  You can eat right them away, but it's better to let the cucumbers marinate in the vinegar mixture for at least an hour before serving.  You can also add pepper and/or celery salt to taste.  Be careful not to oversalt the pickles if you use celery salt.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, but they never last that long at our house.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sizzling Squash

With all the squash coming out of our garden right now, I keep hearing this quote from Forrest Gump in my head:  "You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There's, um, shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried...." 

We've eaten squash almost every day now for a few weeks. We are growing zucchini, yellow summer squash, round zucchini, and patty pan squash.  So far, we've had squash kebabs, zucchini bread, zucchini soup, and sauteed squash.  I'm still looking for new ways to eat it (squash gumbo, anyone?), but the garden saute is an easy favorite. 

1 round zucchini
1 yellow summer squash
1 patty pan
1 clove garlic
1 mildly hot banana pepper (seeds removed)
1 corno di toro pepper (or any sweet pepper)
Italian seasoning
olive oil
sea salt
Parmesan cheese

In a saute pan (I love my new ceramic non-stick pan), heat a few tablespoons of olive oil on medium high.  Dice the squash, peppers and garlic.  Toss vegetables into the hot oil and add Italian seasoning and salt to taste.  Saute for about 10 minutes (or shorter if you like your veggies somewhat crisp).  Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is also good with onions.  For a richer dish, replace some or all of the olive oil with butter (this browns and caramelizes the veggies a bit more).  I also highly recommend the Tuscany Blend of herbs and spices from the Oil and Vinegar store for this recipe (but unfortunately I'm out at the moment!).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's a Beauty

Ehren has been keeping close tabs on the carrots in the garden.  We've been having this conversation almost daily for a couple of weeks:

Ehren:  Can I pick a carrot, Mom?  This one looks ready.
Mom:  You could eat that one now, but we want to let it get bigger.

Finally, today, he said, "Mom, you have to see this carrot.  It's ready."  And it was. 

In Ehren's words, "It's a beauty."

It was tasty too.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  Luke 12:27

One morning last week, I was looking around the house trying to locate Christian.  I wanted to let the kids know I was running out to the garden for a minute.  In the early morning, the squash and pumpkin blossoms open wide and bright.  I just had to go out for a closer look.

It turns out that Christian had the same idea.  When I went out to our tiny pumkin patch, I found him barefoot in his pajamas crouched down among the blossoms watching the bees doing their work.

Pumpkin blossoms as big as my hand, their radiance stunning in the soft morning light and shadows. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some Garden Goodness

This is the first year I have grown spaghetti squash.  I planted them because someone gave me a packet of seeds.  I had no idea if they would even grow, but despite the weak soil, they are thriving and taking over my garden.  The vines have grown over the row of peas on one side and over the row of beans on the other.  They have even started climbing over the fence!

We have two that are almost ready, and many more coming.  I will have to find some new ways to eat them (besides the traditional bake, shred, and cover with butter, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese).  I have to also mention that all the kids ate a huge plateful of sauteed zucchini and onions for dinner tonight.  Anna complained a little, but she finished her plate (with the promise of pizza to follow).

Speaking of Anna, she was my little helper in the garden today.

Here she is with a handful of green beans (that were a little too small, but that's OK).