Summertime and the Cooking is Easy

I just realized it has been over 3 months since I’ve posted anything.  March  through June is probably the busiest time of the year for me.  I work at a greenhouse/flower shop in addition to my other job, and this year I helped organize a new Circle for our county restorative justice program and train new volunteers.  I also attended a 3 day retreat and took a mini road trip to visit family.  The garden is up and growing, and today is too wet to do any weeding, so I had the urge to get back to my blog.

I’ve mentioned before that I love to make soups.  I guess I love dishes where you just throw a lot of healthy, good-tasting stuff together and it turns out so flavorful.  I have the same feeling about salads in the summertime, and I am so glad that my husband loves to eat them!  Our tastes in food are very different, but we both really like soups and salads – another reason I make them a lot.

I continue to cook quinoa often, and the salad I made today called for couscous, but I substituted quinoa.  It has other delicious things in it like dried cranberries, peas, fresh basil, toasted pecans, and chopped cucumber.  The dressing is simple with lemon juice and zest, garlic, and olive oil.  Delicious!

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Here’s the actual recipe:

1 cup pecans (I cut them in half)

1 1/2 cups couscous                 1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 tsp. turmeric                      2 cups boiling water

1 cup thawed frozen peas         3 scallions, very thinly sliced

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, diced

1/4 cup shredded fresh basil

Dressing:

zest of 1 lemon                          1/3 cup lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, minced            1/2 tsp salt        Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

1. Toast the pecans in a shallow pain in a preheated 350 degree oven, about 7 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Place the couscous, cranberries, and turmeric in a large bowl.  Pour in the boiling water, stir, then cover the bowl with a large plate of foil.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Remove the cover, then fluff the couscous with a fork.  Cover again and let sit 5 more minutes. *

3.  Stir in the pecans, peas, scallions, cucumbers, and basil.

4. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.  Pour onto the couscous mixture and stir to blend.  Let the salad sit for at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend.  If longer than 1 hour, cover and chill, but then bring the salad to room temperature before serving.  If you make the salad more than one hour before you plan to service it, don’t add cucumber until shortly before serving.

*I rinsed one cup of quinoa, then put it in a pan with 2 cups water and let it come to a boil.  Turn heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes.  After I removed it from the heat, I added the cranberries and turmeric and let it sit covered for 10 minutes.

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It’s so nice to have things like this in the refrigerator when you are too busy or it is too hot to cook.  Add some sliced melon, maybe some cornbread or focaccia, and you have a simple summer meal!

Christmas Cookies

I have cut way back on Christmas baking, but I still feel like I have to make a few goodies.  This year two family members are eating a gluten-free diet so I wanted to make something that they could eat – my mom’s recipe box and gluten-free Rice Krispies to the rescue!  I remember my mom making Rice Krispy Date Nut Cookies, but I don’t think I had made them before.  A really simple recipe, and no baking!

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Here’s her recipe and a few of the ingredients.  I also needed one egg, butter, sugar, and coconut.  I just mixed the egg, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup chopped dates, and 1 stick of butter in a saucepan and cooked for 5 minutes.  Then I removed it from the heat, added 1 tsp. vanilla and let cool.

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After it cooled, I added 2 cups Rice Krispies and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.

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Then I rolled them into balls (walnut size) and rolled them into coconut.

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I love dates, and I love these cookies.  Thanks, Mom, and thanks for all the goodies you made over the years.  I know it was your way of showing love. We will miss you this Christmas and the way you always won the dice game!  Seems like you always went home with the most prizes. We’ll be thinking of you.

More Cookies

I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for Cracked Chocolate  Cookies for a while now.  Chocolate chips in a chocolate cookie sounds so good, and they didn’t disappoint me.  I’m not a huge fan of regular chocolate chip cookies – oatmeal raisin are actually my favorite – but the double dose of chocolate makes these one of my new favorites.  Rolling the dough balls in powdered sugar makes them look so pretty when they come out of the oven.  I don’t remember my mother making these, but she must have.

I substituted butter for the shortening again, and it seems to have worked out okay.  The dough is a little sticky to handle, and I’m not sure if it would be that way if you used shortening, but they seem to have turned out fine.  The recipe says to cool them on foil, so I did, but I’m not sure why.  Maybe because they are a tender cookie and a cooling rack might wreck them??

Here’s the recipe in my mother’s handwriting and the finished cookie.

One last thought:  Why do I have the idea that cookie dough doesn’t have any calories?  I’m always careful to not eat too many cookies, and I know we aren’t supposed to eat cookie dough, but I can never resist, and this dough is delicious!

Soups and Stews

I can’t imagine the work that went into food production and preparation when my mother was growing up.  They raised all their own vegetables, fruits, chickens, cows, and pigs.  To preserve them, they had to can them because they had no freezer.  I’m sure the food tasted very good, but I can also see why when people in my mom’s generation were able to purchase convenience foods like boxed cereals,  canned vegetables and fruits, butter and margarine, and bread, they were thrilled.

One convenience item that was used a lot and still is, is Campbell’s condensed soup.  Cream of mushroom, cream of celery, cream of chicken, tomato, and many others are added to recipes for thickening and flavor.  I use them occasionally, but because I don’t have to cook everything from scratch, sometimes I just enjoy the extra steps involved in not using convenience foods. I also don’t like some of the ingredients in canned soup like monosodium glutamate and yeast extract.  Seems like we can afford the time to mix a little butter and flour and milk together and add some herbs or spices.

I made my mom’s Potato Soup this week, and I wasn’t sure I would like it because it has a can of cream of chicken soup added to it.  The first day it wasn’t anything special, but when we reheated it the second day and added a few extra potatoes, it was delicious.  And it certainly was easier to make than my recipe which calls for a lot more chopping – there are potatoes, onions, celery, and diced carrots in it.  I’ve decided I will stick to my recipe, but when short of time I will probably make my mom’s recipe.  Here it is:

2 tbsp. butter                1/2 cup chopped onion

2 c. potatoes, cubed (I used a few more)

1 1/2 cups water           1 can cream of chicken soup

3 cups milk                      1/2 tsp salt      dash pepper

Melt butter in 2 qt. saucepan over low heat.  Add onion, cook until soft, not brown.  Add potatoes and water, cook until tender 10-15 minutes.

Stir in soup, milk, and seasonings.  Blend well.  Simmer until heated through, stirring occasionally.

My husband loves any potato soup; I think he considers it the ultimate comfort food because his mother used to make it.  And, of course, it’s best if a grilled cheese sandwich goes along with it.

Most of the soups my mother made probably didn’t have a recipe – chicken noodle, vegetable beef, bean and ham – she could probably make them with her eyes closed.

Tomorrow I plan to make a beef stew from my mom’s recipe.  It also has cream of chicken soup in it along with cream of mushroom.  They go in the dutch oven along with potatoes, onion, carrots, celery, rutabaga, and water and cook in the oven at 300 degrees for 5 hours – I’m sure the house will smell great!

Recipe Number One

I remember my mother baking cookies often.  In a way I suppose they symbolize home and comfort and love.  She baked peanut butter cookies, gingersnaps, sugar cookies, icebox cookies, and the kind I baked today – Ranger Cookies.  I don’t know where the name came from, but there is nothing fancy about them, just a basic cookie dough with oats and coconut added.  They are good though, and I’m always glad to add oats to recipes for the added nutrition and fiber.

Here is the recipe in my mom’s handwriting which hasn’t changed over the years.  She has beautiful handwriting and even took a calligraphy class once because she enjoyed writing.

I used butter instead of shortening because I think shortening was one of the worst and most unhealthy things ever invented.  Maybe it made cookies crispy or something, but I prefer the real taste of butter.

I think they turned out great (and so did my husband and grandson)!  I’ll tuck some away in the freezer for my brother’s visit next week and ask him about his cookie memories!

A Million Recipes

Well, maybe not a million, but a lot.  I inherited my mom’s recipe box when she went into a nursing home.  She was a wonderful cook and baker, but I don’t cook much like her.  She was always into taste and presentation and everyone loved her cooking.  I want food to taste and look good too, but I don’t cook a lot of meat or traditional dishes, and I try to save desserts for special occasions.

Looking through her recipes today, I had the thought of trying to work my way through the recipes making all of them that are in her handwriting (maybe with the exception of sausage balls and oyster stew).  Kind of like Julie and Julia meet down-home cooking. I do enjoy cooking and baking, so I am looking forward to trying this. Friends, neighbors, and family, you might be getting some samples!

Potato soup and Smoky Salmon Spread sound good, and I’ll always remember her Pineapple Graham Cracker Dessert and Iced Oatmeal Cookies.  Maybe I’ll post some pictures and recipes of those I consider most successful.  It’ll be fun, and I’m sure it will make her happy!

Tabouli

Tabouli is a middle eastern salad traditionally made of bulgur, tomato, cucumber, and finely chopped parsley and mint, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. I made some today using quinoa in place of the bulgur.

Quinoa contains more high quality protein than any other grain and contains no gluten.  It is easy to prepare and easy to digest, and I have been wanting to use more of it in my cooking, so tabouli seemed like a good place to start.

I have green onions, parsley, mint, cilantro, tomato, and cucumbers in my garden and recently purchased a fantastic organic olive oil, so I just had to purchase two lemons for fresh lemon juice.  The herbs are easy to grow and don’t take up much room – you’d be surprised how often you use them when they are right outside your door!  The recipe is delicious and tastes so fresh and clean.  I will definitely be making it again!