Friday, September 28, 2012

Zuppa toscana

Earlier this week when I told the Hubs that we would be having soup and salad for one night this week he said, "Just so you know, I'm not very excited about that meal. I don't like soup and salad for dinner." Well, that's encouraging. NOT.

Have you ever been to Olive Garden and had their Soup/Salad/Breadstick lunch? The Zuppa Toscana soup is my favorite soup on their menu. Very hearty and filling, tastes like fall, full of sausage, potatoes and kale.

The original recipe may be found here. As always, I made a few minor tweaks, because I see recipes as guidelines and not set in stone. The result was delicious. 

Zuppa Toscana
1 lb mild Italian sausage
4-5 fist sized potatoes, cut in half and then sliced thin; I used potatoes from the garden. They were either Kennebec or Cobbler, I'm not sure which, and the skins were tender enough to leave on.
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz bacon, cut into 1/4" strips, sauteed and drained on paper towels. Reserve the bacon grease.
1 bunch of kale, large ribs and stems removed, and cut into 1/2"-ish slices
32 oz chicken broth
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2 (original recipe called for whipping cream, but I had 1/2 & 1/2 left over still from Shrimp and Grits last week...)

Brown the Italian sausage in a large soup pot. (I used the red Lodge Dutch oven I received for Christmas last year.)
Once browned, add the potatoes, onion, garlic and chicken broth. Cook until the potatoes are tender.
Add the kale, bacon and 1/2 & 1/2 and simmer until the kale is tender. 

 On the side, serve a salad:
Mixed greens
diced bell pepper
some of the bacon that you made for the soup
parmesan cheese
thinly sliced onion sauteed in some of the reserved bacon grease (so much better than raw onion!)
the only salad dressing we have currently is 3-cheese Ranch; we used a little but the salad really didn't need dressing. There was yummy but bad for you bacon grease dripping from the onion...

I also made dinner rolls (frozen, out of a bag). When they were finished baking, I brushed the tops with butter and sprinkled them with garlic powder and sea salt. 

Half way through dinner, the Hubs said "Olive Garden has nothing on you; this is so much better."

I'd say that's success. 

Mexican Cornbread Casserole

This recipe is adapted from the Cornbread Tamale Pie recipe in Joy of Cooking. I made several tweaks, and really don't understand why it was called "tamale" or "pie" to begin with because I've never had a tamale that had vegetables or beans in it, and this wasn't a pie at all. It was a casserole of deliciousness.

I increased the quantities of some ingredients, due to what we had on hand and due to the fact that I started purchasing the majority of our groceries at Aldi's and there are some items either not available there, or available only in large quantities.

Don't let the long ingredient list scare you; it is packed with veggies.

Mexican Cornbread Casserole
1-2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
15 oz. can corn, drained
28 oz. can pinto beans, drained
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 cup beef or chicken broth (I used bouillon)
2 boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, prepared per package instructions (so you need 2/3 c milk and 2 eggs)
4 oz. can green chilies, or several fresh jalapenos seeded and diced
1/2 c. shredded cheddar

After browning and draining the beef, add the onion and pepper and saute until veggies are tender. Use a large skillet. You may need to add back in some of the fat or some oil to keep the veggies from sticking.

Once the veggies are tender, mix in the corn, beans, tomato sauce, spices and broth. Simmer for a couple minutes until the kitchen smells so good you are starving.

Meanwhile, prepare the Jiffy mix and add the green chilies and cheddar.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 3 quart casserole dish (a 9x13 is 3 quarts!). Pour half of the Jiffy mix in the bottom of the pan. Pour the beef/veggie mixture on top, then cover with the remaining Jiffy mix.

Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden.

This is another one of those recipes that I ended up taking out of the oven early; I'm pretty sure our oven gets too hot. I'll be in the market for an oven thermometer that hangs on the oven shelf this weekend...

The Hubs and I enjoyed our casserole with some extra cheddar, sour cream and Sriracha sauce.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do you see what I see?

Let me get a little closer for you....
On our new property, we have not one but TWO persimmon trees! The deer haven't found them yet and Sunday night I enjoyed two fruits fresh from the trees. It's been half my lifetime since I last ate a persimmon.
The Hubs and I put flag-stakes in the ground for approximate locations of his shop, my garden and the orchard trees. Grapes and berries do not have their locations determined, but hopefully after my uncle comes and grades for the shop and garden we'll have a better idea.
Enjoying a new to me brew (tried it for the first time at Bagger Dave's yesterday) while the Hubs finishes mowing. The mower was a little too bumpy for me and my back started cramping. At some point we'll be in the market for a mower with a comfy-er seat and a larger mowing deck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Lemon Scones

This recipe is adapted from two different recipes in Joy of Cooking. I had some dried cranberries, a fresh lemon and some pecans I wanted to use.

Cranberry Pecan Lemon Scones
1-3/4 c flour
2-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick cold butter
2 eggs
1/2 c half & half
fruit/nuts to make 1/2 cup
zest of one lemon

Mix the dry ingredients together, then mix in cold butter with a pastry cutter.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Reserve some of the egg for egg wash later. Add half & half and mix into the dry ingredients.

Then mix in the fruit/nuts. I used cranberries and chopped pecans to make 1/2 c of goodies.
Also, mix in the lemon zest.

Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut into 8-10 scones. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush with the eggwash and sprinkle with sugar or salt.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes.

***I need to test this recipe again, because either there is a typo in the recipe book or our oven is way too hot. I checked on the scones at 10 minutes and they were already too done. Next time I'll reduce the heat to 350 or 400 and check on them at 10 minutes.

The actual recipe calls for heavy cream, not half & half. I had half & half left over from Shrimp and Grits last week, so that's what I used.

I slathered the scones in homemade almond butter and ate alongside a cut up peach and handful of blueberries. And Gevalia's Royal Vinter Spice coffee from Mom. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dinners week of 9/24

Recipes for this week mix in some old favorites with some new experiments.

Old standbys include:
Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn
Shake n bake chicken with baked potatoes and corn

New experiments include:

Cornbread tamale pie - from the Joy of Cooking
Zuppa toscana with salad and dinner rolls - YES this is someone's version of the Olive Garden soup. So looking forward to this recipe!
My lunches: Shrimp Quinoa salad

This recipe I've made once already and tweaked for this week:
Chicken tacos

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Deer chili

The Hubs is a hunter. He got a deer last fall that we're still working on. We have to clean out the freezer so we can fit more deer in this year!. 

This week it was a little cooler in the evenings and overnight than it has been. We had been sleeping with the A/C off and the windows open, but this week we've had to close the windows. 

Tuesday night I made deer chili and cornbread muffins. My chili recipe is pretty much the same everytime I make it, but this time I used the chili seasoning from Aldi's. I wasn't really impressed with it so I doctored it up a little. 

Deer Chili
2 lbs ground deer, browned
1 onion, diced, added to the deer after it is mostly cooked
2 cans chili beans
2 28oz cans of tomatoes (or two pints of home grown tomatoes)
1 packet of chili seasoning doctored with 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

After the deer and onion are cooked, add in the other ingredients and warm through. I typically don't have to drain the deer because it is so lean. 

Cornbread muffins
2 packages of Jiffy mix, prepared per package instructions
2 small ears of corn on the cob, cut from the cob

Mix up the Jiffy mix, then add in the corn. Cook per package instructions. 

We topped our chili with sriracha and shredded cheese. 

Shrimp and Grits

I don't know why I waited so long to have Shrimp and Grits. This recipe is from Joy of Cooking. I forgot to take a photo of dinner, but the Hubs and I both agreed this recipe deserves repeat appearances.

Shrimp and Grits

for the Shrimp:
1-1/2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined, then set aside
4 oz bacon, cut into 1/2" slices
1 onion, minced
1+ garlic cloves, minced (the recipe only called for one, but seriously? I love garlic, the more the better)
2 Tbsp flour
15 oz can of tomatoes (or a pint of home canned tomatoes)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper, pummeled in a mortar and pestle
1/2 c half & half

Reserve the shrimp shells and put in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until half the liquid is gone.

Saute the bacon in a large (I used cast iron) skillet, until light golden.
Add the onion and saute until almost translucent.
Add the garlic and saute a minute or so.
Add the shrimp and saute until starting to turn pink, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the flour and the reserved shrimp juice that's been boiling on the stove. Simmer until the liquid has reduced down. Then mix in the tomatoes and seasonings. Simmer until the liquid reduces down. Then add the half and half and simmer to desired consistency.

In the meantime, make the Grits:

3 cups water
2 Tbsp butter (NOT MARGARINE!)
1/2 tsp salt

Bring the above to a boil, then stir in 3/4 c old fashioned grits (polenta). Turn down heat and simmer until liquid has reduced. Then stir in 3/4 c water and simmer until reduced again. Then stir in half & half, a 1/2 c at a time (up to 2 cups), and cook to reduce, until at desired consistency.

The grits take forever to make. It's like making risotto.

We ate this with corn (because we didn't get enough corn from the grits?!). I put sriracha and an italian cheese mix on top of mine.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meals for week of 9/17/12

I'm trying to get the feel for how much food we need in the house to survive a week without additional trips to the grocery store. I'm not doing very well.

Thank goodness that I purchased (ew-processed in a box) seasoned rice and extra canned veggies, or we wouldn't have eaten much this weekend. 

I think part of the problem is that I plan out meals for Monday - Friday but forget there are a couple meals on the weekends that we eat at home as well. We usually eat out at least once on the weekend. Hopefully that will slow down though, so we only have "special" nights out, dates so to speak.

This week we're having:
Deer chili with cornbread muffins
Shrimp and grits with corn
Baked tilapia with rice and steamed broccoli

My lunches:
Falafel patties with rice and veggies, and cottage cheese
Salmon patties with veggies (I need to buy these veggies!)

the Hub's lunches:
Pineapple Quinoa with chicken and other veggies, similar to this quinoa recipe

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicken Tortellini Alfredo

This meal was about sneaking vegetables into the meal. It was relatively quick to prepare, but still gave me time in the kitchen to unwind with kitchen therapy aka chopping vegetables. 

Chicken Tortellini Alfredo
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and then cut into 1/2"-ish pieces
1 package of dried tortellini, prepared to package directions. (I used a spinach-ricotta tortellini.)
leftover veggies - I used about 4 oz of mushrooms, sliced; and about 6 mini sweet peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 jar Alfredo sauce

Cook the chicken. In the meantime, cook the tortellini. 

While the chicken and pasta are cooking, chop up the veggies. 

Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. Put the veggies in the pan with a couple Tbsp olive oil to saute and soften. 

Once the chicken is cut and the tortellini and cooked (and drained!), add to the pot with the veggies. Add the Alfredo sauce and cook until warmed through. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beef taco bake

This recipe is similar to the cheesy chicken rice bake I made last week. I tweaked it a little bit because the Hubs likes hamburger more than chicken. And I kind of forgot it was in the oven. I was packing for my first "business trip" with this job and forgot this dish was in the oven until I walked back in the kitchen and said to myself "What's baking??" Oops. 

Luckily, crispy cheese is kind of tasty and I had extra shredded cheese to put on top before packing it for lunches. The rest of the dish was pretty moist so I don't think the overcooking affected the flavor any.

Beef Taco Bake
about 2 lbs hamburger, browned and drained 
1 medium onion, diced
to taste: garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper
15 oz pinto beans, drained
15 oz corn, drained
2 cups of 5 minute rice, prepared per package instructions (so I ended up with closer to 4 cups of cooked rice)
shredded cheese (I used a taco cheese mix)

After browning the hamburger, mix the onion and spices in and cook until the onions are tender. You may need to add a little of the grease back in to keep the hamburger from sticking/burning.

In the meantime, prepare the rice. 

In a 9x13 pan, mix together the remaining ingredients, except for the cheese, which you spread on top. 

Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 or until cheese is bubbly, or in my case, starts to brown.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Meals for week of 9/10/12

Last week I had my eyes a little bigger than our stomachs. We didn't eat everything on the list. Turkey burgers weren't made until Saturday evening.

We ate out a couple additional times last week. With it being Labor Day last Monday, we took advantage of sales for furniture and a TV.

Here are our meal options for this week:

Taco bake with ground beef instead of chicken
Chicken with spinach tortellini and alfredo

Leftover jalapeno cheddar, and cheddar brats from last night
Butternut Squash Lasagna

I'm starting to eat oatmeal again since it cooled off!

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Sometimes in my kitchen I feel like I'm on Iron Chef America, and that I have a secret ingredient that I have to turn into something tasty.
Last night's "episode" consisted of this 4 pound butternut squash that I harvested from the farm garden about a month ago and has been hanging out under our sink since then. For size comparison, see my chef knife beside it.
I really love squash. But it tastes like autumn to me, and a month ago when I was sweating profusely I wasn't in the mood to make anything with it. However, I found a recipe on (where else?) Pinterest that I pinned to come back to when I was ready for squash. Here's the original recipe, which was squash stuffed shells. Aldis  doesn't have shells, so I opted for lasagna noodles. Here's my adapted recipe:

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1" cubes
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
couple Tbsp olive oil

Put the above in a mixing bowl and coat the squash cubes. Then put on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and roast for 40 minutes at 400, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Meanwhile, saute:
2 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
4 slices of bacon, previously fried and then cut into small pieces

Once the squash is finished baking, put back into the mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher. Add:
1/3 c cottage cheese
the butter/garlic/onion/celery mixture
1/3 c grated Parmesan

Layer the squash mixture in a 9x13 pan with lasagna noodles and Italian style cheese mix. I used 6 lasagna noodles, but I'm thinking I should have used 9 and put a layer on the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, the squash mixture stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Then cover with bechamel sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
about 2 c milk/half&half or mix
1/3 c Italian cheese mixture
1/3 c grated Parmesan
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Then whisk in the flour and sage. Cook for a couple minutes then whisk in the milk and cheeses. Pour over the lasagna and sprinkle extra cheese on top.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350, or until cheese starts to turn golden.

You'll notice I added bacon, and used cottage cheese in lieu of mascarpone. I have no other recipes that use mascarpone, and cottage cheese will be eaten as a side dish in our house. I added bacon so the Hubs would eat it.
Eaten for lunch with chocolate yogurt mousse on the side. The Hubs had a leftover cheddar-jalapeno brat with his for lunch today.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meals for the week of 9/3/12

This week I'm taking a little break from creativity. My kitchen is still kind of a mess, and most of my cookbooks are in a box in the garage, except for Joy of Cooking which my husband pulled out and put in the front seat of the truck during our move from Grandma's! This week's recipes are tried and true recipes. There's no thinking involved!

Shake and Bake Chicken with mashed potatoes
Michelle's turkey burgers
Sloppy Joe's
Taco Bake (same recipe as last week, but made with hamburger instead of chicken)

My lunches:
leftover burritos
Vegetable mixture: 1/2 a can each of black beans and corn, a handful of diced sweet peppers and half a mango with salt & pepper. Easy and delicious.

The hub's lunches:
bologna sandwiches (no joke, this is what he wanted to eat)
Taco bake

Breakfasts: muffins. I made these Sunday without using a muffin pan and they didn't turn out looking so good, but they taste good. Our variety of toppings: pecans, coconut, chocolate/peanut butter chips, dried cranberries and dried apricots.

Bee story

Stick with me to the end of this post, for a funny story.

Sunday, my brother and I set out to change the bee hive around a little. See here for how it used to look, with the honey super on top and the brood box on bottom. I went to a local bee meeting last week with lots of questions about my bees, the drought this summer, and the lack of honey. Turns out we were doing a couple things wrong:
1. The queen excluder should only be used if there are intentions of harvesting honey. Since it was so dry this year, this was our first year with bees, and the bees haven't stored anything in the super yet, we took the excluder off.
2. Because we had a drought this summer, I shouldn't have stopped feeding sugar water. Especially since we wouldn't be able to harvest honey for human consumption this year, we should have kept feeding the bees all summer so they would store up food for themselves to last through winter. If we were storing honey for humans to eat, we wouldn't want the bees to use sugar water, we'd want them to use nectar.

I added sugar water to their quart jar on Sunday, and have a gallon jug of it in my fridge ready for refilling.

The advice from the other beekeepers was to put the super on the bottom. This is because the bees were up exploring in the super, but not storing any pollen or nectar. If they have to go through the super to get to the brood box, they may be more likely to store in it.

So, time for the funny story. 

Sunday, I asked my brother to help with the bees. The brood box can be rather heavy when it is full of bees, brood, and honey and I thought an extra hand would be helpful. I grabbed the "hive tools" which for us consist of a bee brush, a metal putty knife and a flat screw driver. I also grabbed a spray bottle of sugar water and gave my brother the smoker and a lighter. Sunday was a little overcast, because we finally got rain, which was residual of the recent hurricane. I usually use sugar water spray to calm the bees when I am looking at them, but a lot of beekeepers use a smoker; I wasn't sure which we would need.

I removed the concrete block, outer and inner covers, and honey super and set them aside. Then I was working on removing the queen excluder, and removing the brood box (the deeper box) from the hive base. I was in my bee garb - long sleeves, long pants, solid toe shoes, elbow length gloves, and my hat with the head netting. My brother had on a baseball cap, jeans, cowboy boots and a long sleeve t-shirt, only because I convinced him that jersey shorts and cowboy boots were not proper attire...

I was leaning over and prying, and a bee got stuck in the folds of my netting. I couldn't tell if it was inside the netting or not, so I asked my brother to take a look at it. He turned to look and the bee flew out of the netting and into his baseball cap. My brother has long hair that is rather curly, that he wads up in a bun and puts in his baseball cap. He took off running toward the middle of the garden, yelling something incoherent like "there's a bee in my hair", threw the smoker and his hat, and started rolling around in the grass. Like "stop, drop and roll" rolling in the grass. I ended up rearranging everything without his help and putting the hive all back together, while trying not to laugh at my brother... I'm thankful neither of us were stung because the bees were not in a good mood after his yelling and flailing!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Even though there was a couple that lived in our house prior to us, it seems like a bachelor pad. There was no landscaping around the house, despite the fact that the condensing unit is a huge eyesore on the front of the house, the downspouts send out rivers of rain, and the water softener has made a small pond in the backyard. 

The last couple weeks there have been lots of perennials on sale at Lowe's for $1 to $3. I bought almost $100 in perennials. The most expensive were the lilac and elderberry which were $4 a piece.

Because of the water softener, I researched salt tolerant plants which include So Sweet Plantain Lily hostas, Entrapment and Stella de Oro daylilies, Tango Ladylike Asiatic Lily, Southern Comfort coral bells, echinacea and Sensation White salvia. I also planted a Brilliance Autumn Fern, which isn't listed as salt tolerant, but I thought might do well in the shade. I bought some of each and arranged them near the water softener outlet. This is kind of temporary for now as we're discussing regrading the backyard and adding a paver patio area with outdoor kitchen. It rained this weekend (finally!) due to hurricane Isaac and water ponds near the house in the backyard - no good!

Lilac at the corner
At the front of the house, near the condensing unit, is a mixture of Jade garden phlox, pink fountain gaura, "Jethro Tull" coreopsis, Sensation White salvia, Little Lemon goldenrod, and blue bomb speedwell. At the front corner is a Black Lace Elderberry. At the back corner is a dwarf Korean lilac.
Next on the list? Mulch!
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