Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Garden Oddity

It's been a while since I've done a garden update. Every day I feel like I learn something new. Yesterday I learned that I need to read my seed packets BEFORE I choose that packet of seeds. I had been picking cucumbers yesterday and as I did so I glanced down and noticed that my tiny cantaloupes were oranging up a bit. So I bent down to look one over and as I touched one it popped right off the vine. Shoot. I was annoyed with myself for disturbing one of the melons, but then I looked closer, and I smelled. The melon had a yellow-orange cast to it, and by golly, the stem end smelled like a cantaloupe. I was baffled. I mean, it's literally the size of a baseball. Surely if there were melons this size I would have seen them somewhere.

So I took my tiny melon into the house and took a picture of it next to a small 8 oz. coffee mug. See? It really is a tiny melon!

I had no choice but to slice it open, so I did. I cut it in half and it sure smelled good- the flesh was orange, the seeds scooped out very easily, and then I had the tiniest little cantaloupe at my disposal. I sliced it up into tiny wedges for the kids to snack on. In no time they'd inhaled the tiny melon. I thought it on the bland side, so I'm going to do my best to let the other melons get even riper on the vine. But baseball sized melons? I pulled out my seed packets and found the melons. Reading the back, sure enough. "Each vine bears sweet, juicy 4 1/2 inch melons". Great. While the are cute little melons, they are kinda useless. One melon is hardly enough for one person, let alone a family of four. So my lesson has been learned- read the seed packets carefully and look for hidden surprises.

Other than that...the garden has been a learning point this year. My broccoli are finally beginning to head up, and so far I've put up nearly 7 quarts of pickles. I should be able to pickle another quart today. My tomatoes are coming back a little, thanks to a few doses of Miracle Gro to try and salvage what I can. The lesson learned there is that tomatoes do much better in the ground. The tomatoes I am getting are very small from my patio bushes. I think next year I'll save the pots for herbs and peppers and figure out where to put the tomatoes in the garden.

I've pulled the last of the carrots, and I think I've decided that since I'm limited by my tiny garden space that I'm going to just spend the time living here learning about each vegetable and how to grow it best. Already on my list for next year's garden is chard, tomatillo, and fennel bulb. The zucchini are still doing okay, they'd probably like more space though. I've planted new rows of beets and radishes, and also some turnips and butternut squash for some fall crops. We've also been enjoying the dill plants a lot. Not just for the dill and adding a little to everything, but also for the gorgeous swallowtail butterfly caterpillars it attracts. Every day the kids check on the caterpillar progress, and any day I think they'll be making some cocoons- they're getting really big! And then there's those cabbage moths... Everyday I swipe dozens of eggs off my broccoli and Brussels sprouts (which are starting to form sprouts too). I get really annoyed with the moths, but then I see 4 or 5 of them playing around the cucumbers and they are busy pollinating those, so I can't decide whether to love or hate the cabbage moths.

With that, I think it's time for my daily inspection.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Anyone Can Cook!

Last Friday was an event for our family. We decided it was time to take our kids to their first ever big screen movie experience. Going to see a movie is just something that we've not been interested while our children were young. While they do on occasion sit through a movie at home, more often than not, Zander ends up playing while watching, and Abigail often does too. We just weren't sure they'd sit through an entire movie and not disturb other movie patrons. But we did think it was time and that Zander would be okay, so we took them to see Ratatouille.

Both kids loved it. There were a few times where Zander got a little frightened, but he recovered quickly, and both kids spent much of the movie giggling. Andy and I also enjoyed it a lot, but I have to say, it took me a while to get over the rats. I knew this movie was about rats, but I didn't expect them to be so realistic. (Of course they were- this is Pixar here.) I really dislike rats and rodents, and the group rat scenes took a bit to get over, but overall it was a very fun movie.

And while it was a fun movie, I loved the message that was put across over and over, and that is that anyone can cook. That's where I've been trying to go with this blog, and why I posted the poll last week, to see if I was going in the right direction. While every once in a while I do talk about a recipe that is a little daunting, I try really hard to keep Tummy Treasure user friendly. Meaning that anyone who can read and follow directions can cook my food. Another reason I posted that poll last week is that I really think there is a niche missing in food-blog-land for budget cooking. There are a few who do it on occasion, but it seems that budget cooking and good food rarely intersect. Why?

So while I am going to continue with Tummy Treasure as it is, you will see more often some attempts at combining budget friendly cooking with fresh seasonal cooking. I have found more than one site devoted to budget cooking, but so often cooking on a budget leads to not-so-healthy choices. One of my goals is to create an entire month's menu plan that combines budget cooking with fresh and healthy cooking. Hopefully I'll get going on that as soon as I find my motivation.

In the meantime, Andy's out of town this week, it's going to be in the nineties temperature wise, and I have no idea what the week has in store. Hopefully I'll have something to blog about. :-)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Missing Post

Sorry All. I had to delete the post from the other day about Pesto and all the comments. I had the worst spam I've ever seen and for some reason Blogger would not let me delete it this morning. I apologize if anyone saw it and was offended by it. It was awful and hurtful.

Anyone still interested in the Pesto recipe can find it right here.

Now I need to go figure out how to turn back on comment deletion.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A New Convenience Product

We have become huge fans of tostadas in our house. They make an excellent way to use up leftovers, and are also extremely quick to put together. I couldn't tell you what it really is that makes the difference to the kids when it comes to a tostada versus a taco, but I tell you, they eat the tostadas with relish- they love them. My only issue with them is the shells. We like them on corn tortillas best, and crisping corn tortillas can be done one of two ways. First, they can be fried in oil for the best flavor, but not exactly healthy. Second they can be baked in the oven, but there they go from soft to burnt in no time, so you really have to keep an eye on them. The whole "making of the tortillas" makes tostadas more time consuming and especially messy if you deep fry them.

Well last week when in the Hispanic section of the grocery store I spied my savior. The product that makes tostada night a weekly occurrence. And that is pre-made tostada shells. They are ready to go out of the package- crispy with corn flavor, and no partially hydrogenated fats so no trans fat. I could very well be the last person to discover these, but dinner went on the table last night in the amount of time it took to cook up some ears of corn- so less than 10 minutes. I had shredded BBQ chicken to use as the meat, shredded cheese, and the usual suspects of topping. Accompanied by sweet corn picked fresh that morning and sliced garden-fresh tomatoes. It could not have been better. These pre-made corn tostadas are the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread. A new pantry staple for us to be certain and at $2 for 10 servings- that's at least two meals for us, it's a reasonably priced pantry staple as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Everyday Pasta

I returned to my cookbook challenge this week and didn't even realize it. Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis is a book I picked up simply because. I enjoy both of Giada's other cookbooks and assumed this would be no exception. My kids love pasta, so a book devoted to pasta just couldn't be bad. The other night I was flipping through it looking for nothing in particular, and then I found dinner for the kids. You can read more about that here at Kids Cuisine.

The recipe for Little Stars with Butter and Parmesan means that I can add this cookbook to a completion on the Cookbook Challenge. The cookbook challenge has been sorely ignored by me lately. The biggest reason for that is because it is summer, and summer means salads and grill food- simple fare that doesn't require a recipe. With a great start this year, I'm only at 17 of my cookbooks used. That's better than none, but I'm afraid I have a long way to go yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Poll For My Readers

I have a poll off to the right here. I'm mostly just curious if there's something specific my blog-readers would like to see more of here. Please pick the one that appeals to you most, and feel free to leave a comment here if you want to provide some commentary as to why you chose what you chose. I'm looking forward to seeing what you think.

Zucchini, Zucchini

I really do enjoy zucchini. I keep waiting for my zucchini plants to start going crazy, but so far I have been able to keep up. I've even let a few fruits go and get large for shredding for zucchini bread. And while I could eat zucchini sauteed, roasted, or grilled any day of the week, yesterday I was looking for something different for my daily zucchini. I had in mind a sort of pie or tart, so I went looking for a recipe. All my usual suspects let me down. The few I did find were more like a quiche or frittata- and I did not want eggs. I did not want custard . Then I found a recipe on the FoodTv website from Ellie Krieger for a Cornmeal-Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart that sounded good. It was promising, and I thought I could use her tart shell as my base and sort of play with the ingredients a bit, as I didn't have the eggplant or quantity of cheese called for.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This was not a quick and easy recipe. I wouldn't say it was difficult, but it was time consuming and there were a lot of steps. Now that I've made it once, it will be easier a second time, but boy, I was very glad it turned out for all the work that went into it!

I started with the tart shell. I don't have a tart pan, so I just used a springform pan that I lined with foil. The crust came together quickly enough, and used both cornmeal and whole wheat pastry flour. This baked for a little while to set and then I attacked the vegetables. Not having the eggplant I planned on using double the zucchini, and then I thought of a lone piece of kielbasa in the fridge and I thought Andy might appreciate this more if it had meat in it. I roasted the zucchini and the tomatoes and assembled all the rest of the ingredients- the cheeses, basil, and at the last minute I decided to add some chopped artichoke hearts to the top. I also sauteed my onions and decided to saute the kielbasa with the onions- that worked very well.

When the roasted veggies were cool enough to handle, I began layering, and I have to admit, I wondered two things- one, I wondered if the crust would hold up, and two, I wondered if Andy would like this. This really could have gone either way. I popped the tart in the oven, made the kids their alternative dinner (because there was no way they were touching a zucchini tart) and simply waited for it to bake. It certainly smelled good while cooking, and I was looking forward to diving in and giving it a try. I served up his piece, and Andy just kind of looked at me like "uh, okay, I'll try it." One bite later though, he was impressed. Overall this was very good. I really liked the crust- it had the flavor of a cornbread from the cornmeal, and had the sandy texture of a shortbread. It also held up very well to the fillings. The fillings all melded together nicely, and I was very surprised that one slice, accompanied by a scoop of potato salad, made a very satisfying dinner.

My version of Cornmeal Crusted Roasted Zucchini Tart is very good, and I daresay, company worthy. Just make sure you have the time to devote to it, and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Perfect Day for a BBQ

Yesterday was the perfect summer day to have friends over. It wasn't hot, and it wasn't cold. There was a fantastic breeze that kept it from getting too sticky, and Andy wanted to grill some ribs and chicken. It couldn't have worked better. To accompany his BBQ chicken and ribs, how could I make anything other than potato salad, and how could we not slice up a perfectly ripe watermelon.

For the potato salad I opted to go with Emeril's Favorite Potato Salad, which I have made recently. I thought it would have the perfect balance of flavor with the BBQ, and I could leave out the eggs for our egg-sensitive friends without the potato salad suffering. Of course, after I had the potato salad combined, I was reminded that Emeril is a genius, because the potato salad is simple, yet amazing. My changes this time were to leave out the eggs, but add some chopped red bell pepper for color, and a tiny handful of fresh dill from the garden. Make this one a few hours in advance, because it really is spectacular after it's had time to combine.

Then there was the zucchini. One of our friends was bringing a broccoli and cauliflower salad (which was awesome, btw) but I also wanted to use some of the zucchini from the garden. Andy suggested dessert, but I lacked a few ingredients and really didn't want to run to the store. So in an effort to help me out, he spent a little while searching online for a recipe for me to do something different with the zucchini that used hands-on ingredients. The closest he came was a Summer Squash Casserole from Paula Deen. I looked at it, studied it, and came up with my own, lighter version that turned out very well. It was exactly what I wanted- onions and zucchini sweated on the stove top, and then cheese is added along with a crunchy topping, and the whole thing baked in the oven. It was slightly sweet from the onions, and the zucchini really shone. I'm afraid I missed taking a photo of it, but the recipe for my Zucchini Gratin is in the Recipe Trove for anyone interested.

The get together was perfect. The weather cooperated, the kids had a great time, and way too much food was had by all. Another friend brought a chocolate cherry cake that was the perfect way to finish the evening, and I must hunt her down to get the recipe, because I've never seen my kids so taken by a cake. They always eat a little, then leave the rest on the plate. In this case, although they both filled up on ribs, chicken, and watermelon, they were licking their plates of crumbs!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Oatmeal Scotchies

My first experience with oatmeal scotchies was as a young teenager. I had a friend who was 2 years younger than I, and we started hanging out Sunday afternoons for quite a while. We would go to her house after church every week and bake cookies and ride her horses. We were silly girls. Every week we'd make a different kind of cookie, and one of our trademarks was that we would bake a giant cookie to give to one of the boys that we hung out with regularly. Usually the crush of the week got the giant cookie. Like I said, we were silly girls.

In retrospect, her parents must have loved that we were hanging out all the time, because the kitchen was always stocked with all the ingredients that we could have possibly wanted for cookies. They never complained about the ingredients being combined and then given away to boy after boy. I had never had Oatmeal Scotchies until we made them together one afternoon. One taste of that dough and I was hooked. I loved butterscotch chips, and had only ever had them in a Tollhouse-like cookie, and that just wasn't very tasty. But butterscotch and oatmeal are made for each other. The oatmeal gives the cookies some texture and flavor that tempers the sweetness of butterscotch. A hint of cinnamon in the dough adds the perfect nuance to every bite of cookie.

I have adapted the cookie recipe over the years. I became discouraged time after time again as the cookies would spread too much and I'd end up with lacey, fragile cookies that didn't travel very well. So I took Nestle's original recipe and reduced the butter to keep them from spreading so much. A also reduced the oatmeal a bit, and added a handful of chopped pecans, because butterscotch and pecans are perfect for each other.

I still think about my friend every once in a while- and always when I make these cookies. I can't even remember the last time we talked, but I always think of her as I whip up a batch of Oatmeal Scotchies for my family. And I always wonder if her kids enjoy Oatmeal Scotchies as much as mine do.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on Being Green

Recently I decided to look into what else we could do as a family to continue greening up our lives and being more eco-friendly. We've been doing what we can as far as recycling and conserving energy goes. In fact, we've only turned on the A/C four days this year so far. And while we lay in bed at night feeling the cool breeze blowing through the house we're serenaded by the chorus of central air units outside. I truly cannot imagine what some of those energy bills are like. Ours just keep getting lower and lower as we remember to do simple things like turn off the lights more often or hang the laundry instead of using the dryer.

Did you know that you can tell your energy company how to spend your dollars that you pay to them? This is our latest attempt to think green. I recently went onto our power company's website and told them that we want to receive 25% of our energy from renewable sources. You can do this in increments all the way up to 100%. It does make the energy cost a little more, but as an example, our energy bill this month came out to $120 for the last month. By telling them that I want 25% of our energy from renewable sources our bill went up to $122. That's not a huge difference, and I don't feel quite as bad about having to run the dryer on a rainy day. According to the website, requesting a 100% change in our energy would result in about a $12 difference in our bill. That's still not a horrible thought- but since we're in saving mode right now, I felt at least 25% was better than none.

If you're interested in finding out how your energy dollars are being spent, contact your local energy company. It's my understanding that most companies are offering similar programs, and if they don't you can let them know that you want them to in the future. It can't hurt, and you'll be doing your part to go green.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Kind of Bouquet

Some people get excited about flowers.

Some people get excited about more exotic bouquets, like fruit or cookies.

For myself, nothing fills me with delight like that of the herbal variety. And when a friend stops by with a delightful handful of homegrown Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, I can't help but feel the love.

Now what to do with it...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

G is for Green Bean

The Cooking Light Bulletin Board is my favorite place to gather recipes. I've been on the board for so long that I know who's tastes match mine and I can always count on someone there having an answer to a question. This recipe is one that I've been making for awhile, but I don't think I've ever shared it. It's simple. Green beans sauteed in garlic butter-how could that be bad? This week I took it a step further and added some garden fresh carrots and zucchini and made it Garlicky Veggies, and it was just as good. Because it's quick and delicious, it's perfect for a weeknight. And should you have any leftovers, they are fantastic folded into an omelet the next day. Frozen green beans do work well for this, but since garden fresh beans are available right now, do try to get your hands on some. Jewel's Garlicky Green Beans are worthy of their superstar status on the CLBB.
In other news, yesterday on one of my other blogs the template I was using punked out on me, so I needed to find a replacement. Of course, after I did one blog and tweaked it and got it looking just the way I wanted, I had to do the rest of them. I still like the way this one looks, so I won't be changing it yet...but I have thought about it! So take a peak at my other blogs if you haven't done so in a while- I think they turned out really well. (And please let me know if you catch a problem I've missed!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Playing with Zucchini

When we got back from our camping vacation a week ago, I found a monster zucchini in the garden. It had been sitting on the conter all week, and I finally decided it needed to be dealt with. I cut it into wedges and shredded it up and ended up with about 8 cups of shredded zucchini. First up, I made a batch of Zucchini Bread. Then I portioned off two freezer bags with 2 cups zucchini each for future batches of bread. I gazed at the remaining zucchini and thought about what I would do with it. I thought about a few more loaves of bread, and pancakes, or maybe I could just see if the shredded zucchini disappears in mac and cheese or something. Or fritters. Ah- I was onto something.

A few months back when we had our Indian Feast with friends, one of our friends bought Pakoras at an Indian restaurant and brought them along. Sort of a veggie fritter- they were amazing when dunked into raita and chutney. Shortly after that I went out and bought some chickpea flour, since that's what was used in the pakoras. And then I never got around to making them, simply because I couldn't find a recipe. I determined my remaining zucchini was going to give me pakoras.

I began with the chickpea flour- also called besan or gram flour. I added some curry powder, granulated onion, salt, pepper, and baking soda, and then added water until it was of pancake batter consistency. The shredded zucchini were added, and then one grated carrot as well for color. I heated up some oil and made a sort of pancake in the oil. The result was close to what I was looking for. In retrospect, I should have added some garam masala to the flour as well. But other than that, they made a fun addition to lunch, and I'm looking forward to trying them again sometime. They may have been better dropped into a deep fat fryer instead of shallow frying- but I'm not sure I want to find that one out. And I'm sorry to say that I didn't use a recipe, so I don't have one to share. But matched up with some coriander chutney, these pakoras were pretty close to the authentic deal we had many months ago.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Welcome To The Family!

A big welcome to my new nephew, Isaac Christopher. Happy Birthday sweet boy! And congratulations Mom and Dad-enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Garden Update

I don't really have much to post about today, so I thought I'd share a garden update. I've really been learning a lot about gardening. I have decided that I need to keep a garden notebook so that I remember things for future reference. For example:

Many of my tomatoes have blossom end rot. This is a result of the soil not being properly amended for them. That's really sad, as my plants are full of tomatoes, but so far every semi-ripe tomato I have pulled has been rotting from one end. Yesterday I discovered that even my little pear tomatoes are beginning to show signs. For next year I need to look into some organic fertilizing options as well as continue with my composting- no doubt that will help a lot. Some of my zucchini have also had this problem, so I think all of my beds will need some TLC in the off-season.

I've also discovered bugs. Specifically, the Cabbage Moth and it's little offspring. It wasn't until they obliterated Abigail's cabbage plant that I decided to find out what was eating it. Turns out those little white moths- the cabbage moth, lay eggs on members of the brassica family. Most specifically the cabbage, but also broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. I don't have cauliflower, but I have the rest! Every day this week I've been heading out to the garden and spending time plucking those little green worms from my brassica's. Every single one gets shredded into my garbage disposal, and hopefully I'm getting ahead of them. I've also been using a mixture of vanilla and water to spray my plants- the thought behind that is that the vanilla scent will disguise the plants from the moths...we'll see if that works.

I've also learned that a trellis for cucumbers works very well- except that when it's up against a wall, I have a hard time getting behind the trellis to pick the cucumbers. But I have been managing, and three quarts of pickles now hide in my kitchen annex. Today I may have enough to do another jar. But overall, I've been thrilled with the garden. The green beans are keeping my daughter well supplied in snack food, and the zucchini is producing just enough to be able to keep up with it. We're all excited about the melon patch- at last count we had about 10 different melon babies, and we can't wait to be able to try the first one. I've also discovered that peppers do very well in pots. My banana peppers and jalapenos are producing very nicely...I just wish I had the tomatoes to turn them all into salsa.

Anyway, that's about it for today. I have to head out and pluck my daily worms. I would love any gardening tips that anyone has for me! I'm definitely learning as I go, and I'm discovering that organic gardening is definitely tougher than gardening with Miracle Gro. The end results so far have certainly been worth it. Today I'm also going to do some zucchini experimenting, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

*This book review is a cross-post. I enjoyed it so much, and feel it so worth reading, that I am sharing it on both Tummy Treasure, and The Savvy Bookworm.

by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara has been making a few appearances on my reading list lately. This one is a bit different, as it is not fiction. Not in the least. This is the chronicle of one family's attempt to eat local for the period of one year. Essentially, this book chronicles the way of life I so want to attempt, and as such, I loved it.

I grew up on Little House On The Prairie. I loved the books and would read them over and over. I can't tell you how many times I would read an account of food life and think that I could do that. As an example, in Little House In The Big Woods the family slaughters and preserves a pig for winter. It's a big deal, and as I finished reading Laura's account of the process, I felt certain that I could do the same thing if needed-even at the age of 10. I have always felt this deep-seeded desire to return to rustic life and grow much of my family's food and attempt raising our family's meat. We're still a long way off from doing just that, but for a few days I was able to live vicariously through Barbara Kingsolver and her family.

This book is so full of information, that it's hard to know where to begin a proper review. I learned so much about organic farming and why we really should be buying local. I'm still not 100% convinced that eating local all the time is the best way to go, but I loved seeing it done. With young children who practically live on fruit, I don't know how willing I would be to let go of our daily fruit ration- however out of season it may be. One of my favorite parts of this book was the argument against vegetarianism. Ms. Kingsolver actually used to be a vegetarian, and I have also considered it many times in the past. She clearly pointed out that we are designed to be a carnivorous species, and actually took us through the calendar year and proved that during the winter months we are designed to sustain on carbohydrates and proteins from animal products. I do agree with her wholeheartedly about sourcing meat as local as possible. If we lived in the country, you can bet that before I even finished this book I would have been out back building a chicken coop and ordering some chicks. Our family has taken almost exclusively to buying meat from a local butcher who gets all their meat products locally. The only exception is fish- and since we live in the Midwest, fresh fish is hard to come by.

This book was entertaining and informative the whole way through. As I'm reading their daily accounts with the massive garden, I kept heading out to my tiny garden plots, wondering how I could squeeze more into my tiny space. I found out that I am not insane to want to grow all I can and "put it by" for winter times. In fact, yesterday as I finished up the book, I promptly headed into the kitchen and put up three quarts of pickles. It may not be very much, but those cucumbers fresh from my garden will be a welcome addition to my Thanksgiving table. Provided they make it that long. While we are thoroughly enjoying every morsel that comes out of my garden, I am inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to try and save every scrap I can for leaner months ahead. At the end of harvest, as Barbara talked about the shelves lined with jars of tomatoes and bushels of root vegetables, I want my pantry to look the same.

And I learned about potatoes. Every year I consider buying a big 50# bag of potatoes from local farmers, and I always figure that we'd never eat them all before they spoil. After all, there are plenty of times where a 5# bag doesn't make it before the potatoes begins sprouting an shriveling. I learned in this book that I should buy the local potatoes in the fall and that they will likely survive until March or so without rotting from the inside out. Potatoes have a natural life cycle that permits them to sit in a root cellar for months without sprouting. When we buy potatoes in the grocery store and they begin sprouting shorty thereafter, that means that the potatoes are at the end of their life cycle and were easily pulled from the ground some 6 months ago in another climate. I never knew that! You can bet that I will be on the prowl for some bushel baskets to tuck in my larder and that those jumbo bags of potatoes at the farmer's market will be making their way into them this fall.

Same thing with onions! I always have onions go bad on me in my pantry- and this of course affects the rest of the onions. By purchasing onions at the farmer's market in the fall, I am ensuring that my onions will make it to early spring still intact.

I could go on and on about this book and all that I learned from it. Yes, there were some things that I don't particularly agree with in the book, but those were few and far between. Mostly I learned that it is entirely possible to do what I want to do, and do it in a way that doesn't leave us feeling deprived. The Kingsolver family ate well the entire year- they did not starve come the end of winter. Instead they looked ahead at what was to come, and they continue to eat locally as much as possible. You can see some of their progress and see some great pictures at their website www.animalvegetablemiracle.com. You definitely need to check out their turkeys. The turkeys get a few special sections of this book and I love that they give us a picture of them on their website- they are gorgeous birds.

So overall, read this book. It is an excellent book about sourcing food locally, and the many reasons for doing so. I know I will be going back to it time and time again to re-read a section here and there. Right now I'm thinking about sourcing some heirloom seeds for next year's vegetable garden. We'll see how I do.

Risotto Lessons from a Beet

I am a complete risotto novice. I've only ever attempted it once, to rather poor results. I've never even eaten it out- risotto is just not common on menus here in NE Wisconsin. My one attempt at risotto was a rather awful butternut squash risotto that just didn't do it for me. I figured Andy being gone was an excellent time to attempt risotto again because if it sucked he'd never even know about it.

My inspiration came, of course, from my humble garden plot in the backyard. I've been eyeing the calendar and my packet of butternut squash seeds, wishing I had a place to get some in before it's too late. Then when weeding, I realized that my beets were all of a substantial size and could really come out of the ground. So the first step to risotto was pulling the beets, preparing some for long-term storage and boiling some to slip their skins. While the beets were simmering away, I amended the soil where they had stood just moments earlier and happily planted my butternut seeds. I let the beets cool, peeled them, and then diced them and headed off to find my beet risotto recipe.

I've been planning on trying this recipe. I was a little leery, because I love beets as much as I love butternut squash, and I hated the butternut squash risotto. I forged ahead regardless, determined that risotto made with beets was going to be delicious and colorful.

I was not disappointed.

The recipe called for the addition of walnuts and gorgonzola and very little else- it's a simple recipe. Sadly though, when I pulled out the gorgonzola I found fuzz, so at the last minute I had to swap in some Parmesan and some Irish cheddar. After my risotto rested, I took the tiniest bite to check for seasoning, added some pepper, and then dug in wholeheartedly. This was my kind of risotto. In fact, this was my kind of beets. Comfort food in a bowl, I could not get enough. I do wonder how it would be with the gorgonzola, but I may be tempted to just use the Irish Cheddar next time anyway. Beet Risotto with Walnuts and Gorgonzola is another favorite way to use beets- and would be an impressive company dish, even if only for the color.
Just check out that color! My camera may not be the best- but it truly was this color on my plate. A bright, vibrant magenta- just screaming about all the antioxidants contained within. Since this risotto calls for cheese, I wouldn't consider it suitable for a vegan, only because I think it would suffer without the cheese. Vegetable stock could easily be substituted for the chicken stock though for a vegetarian version- I plan to do just that the next time. *Sigh* Beet risotto is a really good thing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cucumbers...In Soup?

Andy's away this week working out of town, so I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to try some "out there" recipes for me. Most often I am good at picking new recipes to try, but every once in a while, something is so different from the norm that I just have to try it, and when Andy is away, I use that time to play around. I started with the idea to make a cucumber soup with some of the larger cucumbers I have sitting around. A quick search however, brought up plenty of cucumber soups, but all of them contained copious amounts of sour cream or yogurt. One of my criteria for this soup was that everything be on hand, and since I am out of both sour cream and yogurt, every single soup was out. The ones that didn't contain sour cream or yogurt had plenty of heavy cream instead. I really wanted something lighter, and set out to make my own.

My original thoughts for a cold cucumber soup were quickly swayed to a hot soup as I surveyed the contents of my pantry and garden. But would cucumber be good in a hot soup? There was only one way to find out.

I began with potatoes. I wanted a creamy consistency without the heaviness, so I decided to begin with red skinned potatoes. Next, I was going to boil them with onions, but opted to use a vegetarian vegetable broth instead of just water for the boiling. After about 20 minutes, the potatoes and onions were soft, and I whizzed them up to a silken puree with my immersion blender. At that point, I checked for needed salt and pepper, and then added my garden vegetables. I wanted the cucumber to feature, so I used mostly cucumber with a few green beans and carrots thrown in for interest and color. Once the vegetables softened, I added some low-fat milk and a substantial amount of fresh dill from the garden. A few more minutes for the dill to permeate, and my soup was finished.

It was brightly flavored and delightful. The cucumber, cooked up, resembled zucchini or summer squash. The potatoes contributed all the creamy texture I could have hoped for, and the dill added a fantastic dimension of flavor. The occasional bite of a green bean or garden fresh carrot helped keep every bite interesting. I topped the soup with homemade croutons and Parmesan cheese, but it really didn't need the cheese. I could see potentially adding a few lardons of bacon in the future for a meat-eating crowd, but the soup really stood on it's own feet quite nicely. Zander didn't eat very much of it, but Abigail inhaled it completely. I call that a qualified success and I have named it Dilled Potato Soup with Cucumber and Spring Vegetables. A vegetarian dish with the cheese, a vegan dish without, either way it is an excellent addition to the kitchen garden repertoire.

Monday, July 9, 2007

C is for Cucumber

It had to be so. I'm in the middle of a wonderful explosion. Every day I head out to the garden and pick the cucumbers that are of pickling size and hide them away in the fridge, awaiting the moment I have enough to make homemade pickles. I also manage to find a handful of cucumbers that I missed before and are much to big for pickling, but perfect for eating. Our whole family loves cucumbers, but most often they are eaten straight up. The kids enjoy cucumber slices or spears plain or with a ranch dip to dunk them in. I thought I would try something a little different and make cucumbers in a sour cream sauce and see what they thought.

The result was that Abigail didn't want her cucumbers in anything- she was too busy relishing them straight up and eyed my cucumber salad warily- she simply wasn't interested. Zander, however, enjoyed the cucumbers- but not the onions. He really liked the sauce and probably would have eaten it with a spoon had I suggested it to him. While the onions are important to the flavor, and I wouldn't recommend leaving them out, it's certainly not difficult to leave the onions behind in the serving dish for the onion lovers to enjoy.Creamy Cucumber Salad is a great way to change up cucumber slices. My favorite way happens to be Mom's Fridge Pickles, but we're just getting started with the cucumbers, and there should be several more cucumber recipes to come.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Bars That Dreams Are Made of

"Erika, what are you doing?"

"I'm baking of course, what does it look like?"

"But it's 96º outside and muggy!"

Such is my devotion to this blog and my readers. And that is how much I truly love these bar cookies. They are worth turning on the oven for on a 96º afternoon.

But before I get to the cookies, a big hi there and hello to all of my local readers from the Seymour area. I'm glad you've dropped in and I hope you'll hang around from time to time to check out what's going on in my kitchen. Feel free to leave feedback at any time, and should you feel like you want to contact me, feel free to do so at tummytreasureATgmailDOTcom. Please poke around and let me know what you think! And for all my non-local readers, this was the week. I arrived home from vacation last night to find myself in the local paper. It was...interesting to say the least. The editor did a great job introducing me, I think, and I'm looking forward to see how the recipes get incorporated in the future. If you want to see the article, I think you can click here- you'll need to scroll down a little, and please let me know if that link doesn't work.

On to the cookies! I have become a recent fan of bar cookies. Normally I seem to reserve them for holidays, but they need so much more attention. They're so easy! Put ingredients in one pan, bake once and when cool, cut into squares. They're usually pretty economical, and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. This recipe is one I adapted from a recipe I found on Recipezaar. I've had a bit of an addiction to adding mini m&m bits to cookies lately, and I wanted a bar cookie that featured them. I found the perfect one, and set out to make it right away.

First, you make a shaggy cookie dough- flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, coconut,salt, and baking soda are combined and then melted butter is added. Everything is mixed together until combined and the majority of this mixture is pressed into the bottom of a 9x13 pan. This bakes for a while, and while it's baking, sweetened condensed milk is combined with peanut butter for a decadent creamy layer. Once the base is baked, the peanut butter mixture is gently spread on top, followed by chocolate chips, m&m's and the last bit of cookie dough. The hardest part of this cookie is to allow it the time to cool. These cut incredibly better when completely cool, so do what you can to resist cutting into them too soon. M&M Dream Bars have become an instant go-to cookie for me. The link will take you to my adapted recipe.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Back In The Game!

All week long I've been planning tonight's post. After a whole week away, I wanted the post to be insightful and wonderful. My initial plan had been to post about a bar cookie that I made for last weekend that is really out of this world. But first, I feel it necessary to bake a fresh batch so that I can have a photo for you and really give it a proper introduction. When we arrived into town around 5:00 pm tonight, we had every intention of stopping at the grocery store for the few ingredients I needed, as well as a few frozen pizzas for dinner. (Hey-sometimes we're entitled to a cheat night!) Then Zander spilled water on himself as we rolled into town and we opted to head straight for home. And once home...well, going anywhere sounds like an awful idea.

After a week of camping in the Wisconsin Northwoods, we have one massive pile of laundry and four filthy individuals needing some bathing, but before we got to any of that, we were all itching for a peek at the garden. We had asked a neighbor to water while we were gone if it didn't rain, and I was a little concerned with what we would find. What we actually found was dinner...and then some. My garden literally exploded! Tonight's cardboard pizza quickly turned into the most local dinner I can put on the table. Here is a photo of my garden gleanings.

I have a bucket full of pickling cucumbers which are past pickle prime, but are oh-so delicious for eating out of hand. I found a monster zucchini along with three smaller sized ones. Abigail was beyond excited to see the bean bushes were full of green beans. She immediately began munching away like a little bunny. I also pulled a few beets, lettuce, and a few baby carrots- real baby carrots, not the processed pretend baby carrots we can buy at the grocery store. Sadly my tomatoes are not doing very well- they appear to have a blossom end rot, and I can only hope that all my plants are not affected. But the rest of the garden looks fantastic and really was the best thing we could have come home to. (Well, almost, ideally we would also have had a message announcing the arrival of a new nephew...any day now!)

The salad was easy and showcased sweet beets in a way I've never eaten them before. I washed the greens and sliced the cucumbers and placed them in a bowl. I boiled the beets to slip their tender skins and sliced them on top of those. For a finishing touch a few cubes of forgotten Irish Cheddar and a simple red wine vinaigrette.

The pasta was just as simple.

Garden Fresh Pasta Primavera

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small zucchini, cut into coins
5 baby carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup tender green beans, stems removed, snapped to bite size
1/2 pound whole wheat pasta, cooked to al dente
salt and pepper to taste
basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, zucchini, carrots, and green beans. Saute for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cooked pasta, salt, pepper, and basil. Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan cheese.