Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yummy Summer Tomatoes

I am not one of those people who absolutely loves tomatoes.  You know - the ones who will eat tomatoes like apples or who put tomatoes on every sandwich and in every salad.  You'll find chunks of tomatoes in their soups and pastas.  Yeah, that's not me at all.  Most of the year my version of tomatoes are used relatively sparingly and pureed and seasoned beyond recognition. 

Except for in the summer.  When the local farms offer those big, red, plump, juicy tomatoes at the market.  Those tomatoes I love.

I was inspired to write about tomatoes because I purchased my first ones of the year at the market this weekend, dreaming of having them in salads all week.  After my market visit, I spent the weekend visiting farmer friends in another city (who grow the world's greatest tomatoes) and they gave me even more! 

I came home and will admit I did want to eat those tomatoes like apples.  Instead I opted for tomato-heavy salads.

My favorite way to enjoy tomatoes is in a caprese salad.  A slice of tomato, a basil leaf or two and a slice of mozzarella layered on a plate, drizzled with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar and freshly-ground sea salt.  With or without toasted french bread. 

My problem was I didn't have a ball of mozzarella, only shredded.  So I began thinking of other tomato salads.

My second favorite mixes equal parts of fresh chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with italian dressing.

I also had a few extra cucumbers, so this seemed like a better option.  But the smell of those basil leaves had my mouth watering for caprese.  I came up with this delicious solution:

Chopped tomatoes and cucumbers (I did more tomatoes than cucumbers) with chopped basil and shredded mozzarella mixed together.  For the dressing, I combined a packet of dry italian seasoning mix with olive oil and a bit of vinegar and water. 


I hope you try one of these recipes.  Please let me know if you have any questions or yummy taste reviews. :)

How do you enjoy your summer tomatoes?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chicken Cheddar Broccoli Soup

I love winter.  Actually, I really love all four seasons, especially in regard to their food-related qualities.  But now it's wintertime, and I'm appreciating the cold season's uniqueness.  While I absolutely love snow, and I love the winter holidays, and I love how things seem to slow down and allow more time for reflection and renewal, I also LOVE winter food. 

Soups, stews and chilis just taste better when the air outside is crisp.  A mug full of chocolately-sugary-creamy-coffee goodness fits with a warm blanket, cozy pajamas and a good book like a hand in a glove.  But only in the winter.

I have to confess.  I start looking forward to winter eating months in advance.  The first cold day of the season (you know, the one that happens smack-dab in the middle of fall marked by winter-haters complaints about what's to come) is celebrated in my house with a pot of something warm and filling and yummy.  Usually a beef stew, sometimes a chili. 

A few weeks ago, I was itching to try something new.  I had received an e-mail from one of our local farmers about what would be available that week.  Through the winter, our town doesn't have a formal farmer's market, but several farmers use an e-mail list to keep folks informed of greenhouse or other offerings they have available each week.  Inspired by farm-fresh, locally-grown broccoli and carrots available in December, I began dreaming up a homemade cheddar broccoli soup.

As I began thinking of more and more vegetables to add, I realized my husband would likely look in the pot and -- as much as he likes a can of cheddar broccoli soup for lunch -- ask, "where's the meat?"

Instead of coaxing him to try a bite, which I was confident he would love, I decided to skip that whole conversation and add chicken. 

I threw all the yummy, complimentary foods I could think of together in a pot and the result was finished off at a church potluck the next day.  Below is a recipe that very closely resembles the foods I used and process I followed that day.  (I did do some minor tweaking as the original result had too many peas for my taste, and also, the seasonings are a best guess on my part.  I love seasonings and dump a variety in until I get the taste I'm looking for.)

As always, feel free to use your favored brands and products and experiment, add, and change the recipe however you'd like.

Hope this helps warm you up on a cold evening!

3/4 lb to 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (or more or less to your liking)
32 oz chicken broth
1 pint half and half
3-6 carrots
3-5 celery stalks
broccoli florets from 4-7 heads of broccoli (I used A LOT of broccoli, but feel free to use less for your recipe)
1 cup frozen peas (I used a whole bag - it was too many)
1 box velveeta cheese (medium size box... maybe 16 oz... not the little box, not the really big box)
shredded cheddar and other cheese blends
1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon chicken boullion granules (optional)
2 teaspoon garlic (optional)
1 teaspoon house seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic mix, optional)

Put chicken and broth in a pot and bring to a boil.  While chicken is cooking, shred carrots and add to chicken.  Finely dice celery and add.  Chop broccoli florets to a very small size (I use very little of the stalks and stems) and add.  After 20-30 minutes, remove chicken from soup and chop or shred as desired.  Return chicken to pot. 

Continue to boil/simmer veggies until they are desired consistency.  I like mine very tender -- almost like "vegetable mush." 

Add half and half.  Cube velveeta and add to pot.  Add desired seasonings to taste.

If you'd like it a little more cheesy, add shredded cheese blends.  I added two additional cups of shredded cheddar (what I had in the fridge).

Variation:  This can be converted to a chicken pot pie recipe...
Increase the amount of chicken and veggies, decrease the amount of half and half and cheese.  The result will be a thicker consistency.  Pour into a casserole dish, and top with a prepared biscuit mix (such as Bisquick's garlic cheddar biscuit).  Bake in oven until biscuits are done. 

This is also a good recipe to freeze as a make-ahead meal.

Easy as pie

Whoever coined the phrase "easy as pie" wasn't a pie-maker, I've decided.  Maybe that person meant easy as eating pie.  I've been making pies for a little over a year now and I don't really think it's very easy.  Maybe the inventor of the phrase was just being sarcastic.

Even though pie-making is intimidating and difficult to me, I do enjoy it.  I think that's because I see it as a challenge, and because I feel as though I've witnessed a small bit of magic when a pie turns out well.

My first venture into pie-making came last summer as I was spending the day with my mom.  I had just moved back from Kansas and made it a point to spend at least one day a week with her until I found a job.  (As an aside, I later learned that she was praying at that time for me to remain unemployed so we could continue spending that time together.  A week after she quit praying for my unemployment I had an interview and the week after that an offer for the position I currently hold.  True story that has nothing to do with pie.)

We usually cooked on these days together and on this particular day I had a lemon meringue pie on my mind.  I was craving the tartness and wanted the satisfaction of creating it myself (or at least partially myself).

My mom was game and said she thought the cornstarch box had a recipe for lemon meringue pie.  I was sure we would need to make a trip to the store, but mom thought she might have everything we would need.  Still skeptical, I began naming ingredients.

As I said each ingredient she would pull it out.  Finally, sarcastically, I said, "do you have the zest of one lemon?!?!"

She walked over to the freezer, opened it up, and pulled out a small zip-bag of lemon zest.  "Yep.  I always save the zest when I get lemons because you never know when you'll need it."

Well played, mom.  She earned a new level of respect from me that day for her frugal and saving ways.

The pie that day turned out deliciously.  It was not only my first pie, but my first pie crust and my first meringue.  (For full disclosure, I have never been able to make a perfect meringue without my mom's help, special touch, magic or whatever it is she contributes to the pie-making process.)

That experience gave me more confidence to begin making more pies, and I encourage everyone to take the time to try making a pie from scratch.  No promises on the easy-as part.

The recipes I've used are readily available on the internet or other public sources.  As I mentioned earlier, the lemon meringue was taken from a cornstarch box (Ginger Evans brand, I think).  Whether the recipe calls for it or not, I usually use a homemade pie crust.  Mine is taken from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, but is fairly basic.

Here is the coconut cream pie recipe I use.  This is also my go-to recipe for whipped cream. 

The pumpkin pie recipe I use comes from Paula Deen.  I love spices, so I punch up the richness of the added cream cheese with extra cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, ginger, all spice, nutmeg, etc. 

I've been looking forward to apple pies or other fruit pies, but just haven't taken the time to try any of those yet.

Feel free to share your pie recipes, experiences and thoughts.

Happy pie-making AND pie-eating!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I had the idea for a food blog about a year ago.  I decided then that I would eat as much locally grown and produced food as possible and blog about it.  I set the lofty goal of eating only food produced in a hundred and fifty mile radius of my home.  No outside seasonings, drinks or ingredients. 

My love of all food got in my way.  While I am eating locally, I just can't bring myself to cut out the little things that put a meal over the top: freshly ground sea salt, cumin, sugar, Coca cola. 

But, in the spirit of that original idea I have decided to blog about some of my favorite delicious local ingredients - with some non-local ingredients thrown in, too.

At the beginning of fall, it is only appropriate that I begin with one of my favorite ingredients of the season: apples.  I am truly blessed to have a wonderful apple orchard at my local farmer's market.  You can check them out at www.ayresapples.com

I love just biting into a crisp, juicy apple.  My favorite is dipped in caramel.  I'm also a big fan of apple cider.  Fried apples.  Dried apples.  Apple pies.  Apple and pork recipes.  The list goes on.

There's one recipe, though, that has particular significance for me.  I've been making it for years and -- when I do it right -- it's delicious.  Everyone loves it.  And it has all the components that I look for in a great recipe:

A feeling of creation (not just heating up something processed or pre-packaged).

A great back story.

Use of local ingredients.

And, above all else, can't sit still and eat it delicious.

Here's the story:

My first semester of college was spent at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, KY.  There were things I liked and didn't like about it.  I enjoyed my work assignment in the Financial Aid Office on campus and made quick friends with the office staff. 

No big surprise, I talked about food a lot.  And it just so happened a local church was publishing a cook book that semester.  I showed interest in the cook book and received it as a Christmas gift in the office gift exchange.

Back home over winter break I flipped through the pages.  A 'Fresh Apple Cake' recipe caught my eye.  It was a cake made completely from scratch with one of my favorite ingredients.  I had never made a cake completely from scratch before and was intimidated, but with my mom in the kitchen beside me I worked up the courage to tackle it.

I've baked this cake dozens of times since and can't help but be reminded of the confidence it gave me and how honored I felt to be a part of it's history.  The recipe was actually contributed by the Financial Aid Director, Nancy Melton, a lady I came to greatly respect during my time at ALC.  The recipe was her grandmother's.  Ironically, her grandmother shared the same name as my great grandmother. 

In my own non-scientific rating method, I would say the recipe is moderately difficult.  And each time I make it, I think about the kitchen it was first prepared in.  How much more difficult it would be to make without modern conveniences.  How much more of a treat it must have been.

I encourage you to visit your local orchard, and try your hand at this delicious recipe.  (I've included my own notes.)

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients.  The mixture will seem drier than most cake batters, but will come out super-moist after baking.  I have found it is easier if the butter is melted prior to mixing.  Pour into a 9x13 inch greased pan.  Bake in a 325 degree oven until done, when toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.  Poke small holes all over the cake with a fork, toothpick or skewer.

Icing: (This also serves as a good caramel recipe for dipping apples, but will harden fairly quickly.)

1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoons white Karo syrup
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan on medium heat.  I use a 2 quart sauce pan.  The mixture will boil to the top, but not over.  (I used a smaller saucepan the first time and it did boil over.  There may be a second of panic, but I've never had the icing boil over in the 2 quart pan.)  Boil to soft-ball stage (234 to 238 degrees).  Immediately pour the icing over the cake as soon as it reaches this stage/temperature.

This cake is delicious while it is still warm, but we've found that the caramel seeps into the cake and it becomes even more delicious the second and third days.  Also great heated up and served with ice cream.

Enjoy.  And please let me know if you have any questions on this recipe and/or what you thought!

Recipe taken from "What's Cooking on Caney Creek?"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Food Inequality

A few weeks ago while driving back to work after lunch, I was overwhelmed with emotions I still can't quite describe.  Having just eaten a large meal, my thoughts turned to the next one.  I was trying to decide what to do for dinner.  I was leaning toward cooking instead of eating out and contemplating "what sounds good."

A now-forgotten recipe entered my mind, and at a stop light in front of a grocery store on the two-mile drive between work and home, I began lamenting that I didn't have all the ingredients for it.  I would have to make a very inconvenient trip to the store or settle on something else. 

And not the grocery store I was stopped next to.  I had visited it a couple times and judged the ambiance and freshness of produce and meat better at another local store.  One that is about two miles from my house in the other direction.  It's a real hassle.

Disappointed at my tough luck, I began thinking of things I could make with what I already had in the cupboard.  Head in hand, I pulled away at the green light and was hit with the thought of the millions of people around the world who had no lunch to eat that day and would have no dinner.  Maybe not the next day or the next either.

Hollow, starved people who would gratefully eat any food available to them.  For whom choices in supermarkets, grades and cuts of meat, and processed or fresh produce are completely foreign.  People who wonder how far they can stretch a pot of rice or beans.  When I only wonder how much I can eat and still fit in my pants.

In my car, I wondered how I would feel eating my big, juicy steak in front of their big, hungry eyes.  I was reminded of a recent trip to visit family and friends in Wichita where I literally ate myself sick trying to cram in as many restaurants, meals and visits with people as possible.  I felt even sicker when I looked into the eyes of a homeless man who had only what people offered him to eat. 

I was overcome and ended up with more questions than answers that day.  More overwhelming problems than workable solutions.  But, this is what I decided:

First, to do a little research.  According to worldhunger.org there are 295 million hungry people in the world even though more than 2700 calories are produced daily for them.  That's an inequality that should sadden and enrage all of us.

Second, to do something about it.  There are plenty of organizations, locally and globally, that work to feed people.  I'm getting involved with them and encourage everyone else to, as well.

Third, to think about the food I eat.  Differently.  While I understand that my leftovers can't be shipped to hungry kids in China, I can eat less to leave more for others.  I can eat smarter and more responsibly.  I'm not going vegetarian or vegan, but I do recognize that rice is more sustainable than beef.  And if I save money on the food I eat, then that money can be used to buy food for others.

Last, to be grateful.  The fact that I've only ever worried about what to pick to eat and not when I will get to eat is an amazing, amazing blessing.  So is the fact that I can choose between supermarkets and farmer's markets and family farms and backyard gardens.  I'm more thankful than ever at the delicious food I'm privileged to eat.  And I feel more responsible than ever to savor it and save it.

I still am committed to celebrating food, but I want as many people to join the party as possible. 

Invite others to your dinner table, too.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My food heritage

I had something else in mind to kick off the 'foodie' section of my blog, but I felt like I couldn't say anything without first explaining my deep-rooted, long-lasting love of food.

First of all, I was blessed to be born into a family of amazing cooks.  They could make dishes that would rival any gourmet restaurant and with only a small fraction of the resources.

Secondly - and probably the reason they could cook so well - I was blessed to be born into a family who put an extremely high value on good food. 

In my family, Jesus and food are the center of everything.  At the heart of celebration and sorrow are delicious meals.  Family time and holidays revolve around the dinner table.  It is how we communicate love and hospitality.  It is how we serve.

It is even -- at least partially -- how we define wealth and a life well lived.  In the clutches of poverty, our priority was to keep delicious food on the table more than acquiring personal transportation, a home phone or cable television service.  You'd often hear "we may be poor but we have what we want to eat" at our house.

And, in a type of "give me good food or give me death" stand, my grandfather refuses to change his diet despite suffering from several illnesses that could be made at least partially better through a change in eating habits.  He says with full conviction, "if I can't eat what I enjoy, then what good is living anyway?"

So it should come as no surprise that I love food.  I love trying new foods and recipes.  I love cooking for myself and others and sharing meals.  To me, a diet is one of the worst types of torture and food purchases are the hardest for me to restrict when budgeting.

Food is so much more than sustenance to live.  It is a celebration when I'm happy, comfort when I'm sad, love to those around me.  It is adventure and tradition and fellowship and self-worth.  Some of my favorite life memories include food: family meals, cooking on weekends with my best friend, cherishing some of the last meals my grandmother prepared, and eating with family and friends now.  Some of my hopes for the future feature food: more time, more resources, more opportunities to cook and eat more and more.

A few years ago, I began a quest for the most delicious food.  It has become vastly more exciting -- and complicated -- than I had first imagined.  I'm hoping this will serve as a chronicle for that journey - a mix of recipes, thoughts and feelings about the food we eat.

Here's to bellies full of goodness!