Sunday, August 17, 2008

(King Arthur Flour) Classic Whole Wheat Bread

Recipe...straight from the King Arthur Flour sack.

I'm still trying basic bread recipes before I begin experimenting further with grains with which I'm less familiar...milo, millet, teff, rice flour, ground garbanzo beans, clover flour, etc...

I wasn't going to use this whole wheat flour to make whole wheat bread, originally. It was bought with the intention of easing some whole wheat into those all-purpose flour recipes, a little at a time, to play with consistencies. My past trials with making whole-wheat bread rendered magnificent little masterpieces of bread-shaped doorstops so compacted and heavy they could be used in self-defense as instruments of blunt trauma. I had no wish to repeat those experiences...

Then I happened to read the blurb printed on the top of the flour sack, which goes something like this:

I just finished making my second loaf of 100% whole wheat bread from your recipe on the package. This is the best whole wheat bread I have ever tasted, and you are right when you say whole wheat doesn't have to be dry and tasteless. You are going to make me famous!
J.E. Newport Beach, CA

Well, who doesn't love a testimonial? Who can resist the promise that this recipe will produce real bread rather than wheat bricks? I examined the recipe printed on the back, and the ingredients were blessedly straightforward...the only ingredient I usually don't use was the dry powdered non-fat milk. But in a strange alignment of Breadmaking Fate circumstances, my Be Prepared hubby just happened to have a nondescript stash of powdered milk packets...and all the other ingredients were one I had.

The challenge was on!...

Here's the recipe, and if I can make this, anyone can. It yielded a fine-grained, moist loaf that was so irresistably fragrant fresh out of the oven that I couldn't wait till it cooled to slice into it...and slather a slice with butter...mmmm!!

Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread (from King Arthur Flour package)

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey, molasses, or maple syrup (I used honey)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (the King Arthur I used is hard red wheat flour)
1/4 cups nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Mixing: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a ligtly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple (You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for "dough" or "manual.") Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. (note from me: I had to add a tad more flour, and did all the kneading by hand. The second time I made this, I tried sticking to adding the least flour possible beyond the measurements already given, and did my kneading right in the big bowl I mixed everything in. There was less chance of it sticking to the countertop, as the dough is slightly sticky.)

Shaping: Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. Cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 30 to 60 minutes, or until it's crowned about 1 inch above the edge of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly. (note from me: after shaping the loaf and putting it into the greased pan, I took scissors and snipped three small slashes across the top to allow for expansion during the final rise. Instead of using plastic wrap, I rubbed a little oil over the top of the loaf and then put a couple of clean lint-free dish towels to cover it for the rise.)

Baking: Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (should register 190 F at center of loaf.) Remove the bread from the oven, turn it out of the pan, and cool it on a rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature after fully cooled. Yield: 1 loaf

(note from me: I tested it for doneness with the Thump test. It cooked in exactly the 40 minutes stated in the recipe. Whether it was done then or not, the final doneness test was performed by slicing the end of the loaf off and slathering it with real butter. Cooling it on a rack?? It was only cooled long enough to withstand all the slicing action needed to give rations to my ravenous family...yep, it was goooood!)

I was so happy this turned out well, and I immediately stirred up another loaf. The ingredients and quantities are so manageable it's not a big project to's just about a mix, with just a tad of kneading thrown in, and no real know-how necessary. If you want a hearty, fine-crumb whole wheat loaf that's not dry and clunky, this is a good recipe...especially as a vehicle for sandwiches, or melting butter and raw honey!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Naughty, Naughty Matzoh Crunch

Here's the recipe...or you can find it almost anywhere on the web, from folks who've nibbled on a piece, likely at Passover, and found they had a sudden sassy compulsion to tuck away a few know...far far from the madding crowd..."just in case."

Even if you're not eating for two, doing extreme sports with your blood sugar levels, or trying to invent the first edible chocolate mortarboard for graduation, you'll enjoy trying this, truly! It's just so easy to make.

A little TOO easy...

Here's the site where I nabbed the recipe, which was sequentially nabbed prior to that by millions who decided Marcy Goldman was onto a great thing. David Lebovitz tweaked it with the addition of vanilla and a pinch of sea salt...other than that, it's pretty much the real McCoy.

Here 'tis:

Matzoh Crunch

4 to 6 sheets of matzoh
2 sticks butter
1 cup (firmly-packed) light brown sugar (I used dark because that's what I had)
optional: pinch of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup sliced almonds or other nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Line a 11" x 17" baking sheet completely with foil (cover the sides) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then line with parchment paper over the'll help everything be easy to remove.

Line the bottom of the sheet completely with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

In a medium-sized heavy duty saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over medium heat until the butter begins to boil.

Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof utensil.
Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the syrup darkens and gets thick. (While it's baking, make sure it's not burning. If so, reduce the heat to 325 degrees.) I just set the oven right on 335 degrees, a good compromise.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips or chunks. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread smooth with a spatula and sprinkle with nuts or desired topping.

Cooling can be expedited by placing in fridge in single layers till set, or briefly in freezer. Break into pieces and store in sealed containers. Will keep for up to a week. (As if they'll last that long...!)

Sounds pretty straightforward. I do have to give credit where credit is due, since this recipe survived my every attempt to thwart its success. And I do have a few suggestions to make...

First, when toasting the chopped nuts, you MIGHT want to not get lost in a pleasant reverie, humming to yourself (as they sit in the pan roasting), sentimental about how your kitchen is smelling nostalgically like pan-popped popcorn...remember the days when you made it in a pot on the stove??

Yes, mmmm, that smell takes you back...and back...and then you start to also remember that some of those popcorns in days of yore DID scorch now and then. Hmmm. Yes, and they smelled a bit back to the present), well DRAT. Yes, they smelled exactly like that nice little pile of chopped nuts that's now charred into a lump of coal in the bottom of your pan.


Secondly, when measuring ingredients, you MIGHT want to actually READ the measurement amounts on the utensils instead of PRESUMING that anything in the miscellaneous junk drawer utensil drawer is going to be a standard measure amount. That way, you'd avoid assuming the measuring cup hold a cupful, after all, instead of 2/3 of a cup. Theoretically...

Thirdly, you might (and this is only a suggestion) NOT want to procrastinate making 6batches of a recipe you've never tried, with a cooking deadline of only 4 hours till quittin' time. 'Cause when shabbat gets here, it's quittin' time! and you MIGHT not want to be left with multiple layers of Matzoh Crunch cooling in your fridge just then, especially when you notice there's a strata of nut, chocolate, and cracker crumbs layering all your countertops and every crevice of your might need to excavate before your husband walks across it all and bestows baking compost throughout the house. Except for the bits that are STUCK onto the floor and wont come off without scrubbing, of course.

All this before DON'T want to leave EVERYTHING for the last minute, do you, huh, huh?? (bit o' sarcasm at my failed lack of planning in that department and its habit of repeating itself now and then...) :)

And of course, fourthly, you might want to set your timer for the CORRECT times to cook this and that, instead of panicking about 10 minutes into a step and wondering just HOW long that thing was SUPPOSED to boil?? My timer is shaped like a chicken, and is slightly deformed due to an unfortunate past misjudgement in stovetop-proximity ( a fact I try to subtly mask by taking blurry, overexposed pictures of it)

In moments of cooking duress, such as when I find I never SET the chicken timer, I confess all to the chicken timer. The chicken timer is myfriend. The chicken timer knows MUCH. Or maybe it's a rooster? Even if he's androgenous, he hears my most dire kitchen confessions, and he never tells. (But he sits a little uneasily the closer I move him to the hot stovetop these days...)

Before this gets any more disturbing, back to the food...

This treat is basically a sort of brickle or toffee in its hot liquid form before being poured over the matzah crackers and finished in the oven. The chocolate layer spread over it can be very thin. Here's a pic of the chocolate chips getting melty before being spread. They're going through that awkward teenager phase, sort of like chickens do between chickhood and adulthood. Not. So. Pretty.

Never fear...It looks like a mess while you're making it, but it finishes off nicely!

And thankfully, it's hard to mess up....even when you TRY :)

The only downside is the 42 pounds you can amass on your hips in a single night if over-indulging in this dessert. Don't even try to hide them...(remember, the chicken timer KNOWS...)

But if you're looking to store up some heat reserves in case winter really DOES last well into July this year, this is the recipe for you!


Going Green: Asparagus and Shrooms Sautee

It's enough to make the most devoted meat-eater rethink the entire position on vegetarianism...
This is one delicious meal. Fresh asparagus, snapped just to where it won't snap further...portobello mushrooms...the smallest grind of sea salt...a kiss of olive oil...
If there's an asparagus that can be grown in Florida, we'll find it!
It's the vegetable worth every minute of the three-year wait.

Take Time to Eat the Flowers

In perusing companion plants and beneficial flowers for the homestead, cutting garden, scent garden, veggie garden, children's garden, beneficial insect/pollinator planting, mixed wildflower meadow, green manure patch, cottage garden, herb garden, and potager/French Kitchen garden, my eye scanned familiar lists of favorites, and then some of them rang a bit of a bell in my memory. As stunningly, or sometimes modestly, beautiful as these flowers are when intermingled with the more utilitarian veg in our gardens (and I say "our gardens" in the community sense this year, since all our plants currently are in homely 5 gallon plastic buckets, ha!), there are many of them that can elevate the dinner plate to a riot of color and celebration.

I'm talking about edible flowers.

No, I'm not a gourmand, and I don't serve fluffy truffle-infused bits of mousse on white china to a family on Grandma's china...not that I wouldn't sample it if the opportunity arose! :) I'm a cook who's still learning, and my kitchen repertoire is pretty basic while expanding.

I do remember last year, though, and my dianthus plants. They did not survive the hot Florida summer, but the next time I try them, I'll situate them in a more comfy spot and give them a lot more nurture. The one thing I remember the most about them, besides their wonderful clove-like scent, was that I ventured to try washing and separating the flower petals, and using them in our salads. The salads went from lovely to stunning! There was very little flavor addition by using the dianthus petals, but the magenta, burgundy, hot pink, baby pink, blush, and snow white petals separated into tiny frilled triangles, and when tossed with fresh salad greens, that salad was a show stopper! It's amazing how much more appealing that salad become just by tossing in some flower magic!

Taking such a salad to a public gathering made for a lot of comments...what is it? what does it taste like? is it safe to eat??

Some people were just put off by the thought of consuming something otherwise thought to be for "looks only." I admit, I was in that category before engaging in some reading and perusing the lists of edible flowers and the notes on each.

It's worthwhile to look over some lists like that, if you're incorporating flowers into your garden this year, especially those herbs and companion plants. Many flower petals are edible!

There are things to note, such as the best time to harvest them (what time of day, etc), and particularly anything to be cautious about. With most flowers, it's best to remove all the bits except the petals, as the pollen on the stames can aggravate allergy sufferers or those who are pre-disposed to asthma (such as myself). Some can be used as freely as you like, others, more as a garnish but not consumed in large quantities.

When trying flowers as additions to recipes, it's best to sample a tiny bit and wait for a while, to be sure you have no sensitivity. In fact, it's like most new foods...see if your body is happy, and adjust accordingly.

That said, you also have to make sure you have the right plant...there are some plants that look similar but are entirely different. Don't eat anything you're not sure of!

Those are the precautions. The good news is that there are so many, many wonderful blooms and petals to choose from, there's sure to be a basketful your family can enjoy. Some can be stuffed, battered, frittered and fried. Some are delicious tucked into pitchers of iced tea, or a hot "cuppa." Some are beautiful candied, sugared, or preserved. Some can be pickled or used as garnishes. Some are wonderful for layering into a salad, sandwich, or slaw. Some can be made into wines.

There were some surprises to me as I looked over the lists: Tulips, Lilacs, Chrysanthemums, Gardenias, Okra blooms, Bee Balm, to name a few. I knew violets and Johnny-Jump-ups were edible, but I didn't know to limit the Johnny-Jump-Ups to mostly garnishes. It helps to compare lists, to see what one source cautions or expands upon.

There are lists available of poisonous flowers, too. They are worth looking over just to know.

Here are some great links to explore, as we re-assess those garden flowers and herbs with a new eye to the dinner plate:

Wouldn't some of these be a terrific addition to the homestead, and even the farmer's market or road-side stand salad mix or veggies, not to mention value-added handcrafted items such as homemade soaps, bath salts, handmade papers?

I hope you enjoy this experimentation as much as I'm beginning's so much fun to play with our food!

Trying Moroccan: Lemon and Green Olive Chicken

This is how the first experiment turned out. It was not difficult, though I'm unfamiliar with how it's supposed to look or taste and have no basis on comparison. It was an easy and delicious first try, though!

I found the recipe at

I started with this recipe for the simple reason that it was so very simple, and the only spices it called for were all ready in my spice cabinet...salt, pepper, ginger, and paprika.

Here's the recipe:

Moroccan Chicken With Olives

4 Pounds Chicken
2 1/2 Tablespoons Oil
2 Onions -- sliced
Salt And Pepper -- to taste
1/4 Teaspoon Ginger
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 Onion -- finely chopped
1/2 Pound Green Olives
1 Lemon/ Lemon Juice

Heat the oil in large sauce pan. Add 3/4 cup water gradually. Add onion slices, sprinkle with spices. Lay chicken on top. Cook over low heat, covered, one hour. Add finely chopped onion. Cook for another 1/2 hour. Place pitted olives in pan of cold water, bring to boil for 1 minute. Drain water. Add olives to pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Just before serving squeeze on lemon.

Serving Ideas : Serve with rice or couscous

Since this recipe includes green olives, I used olive oil for the first step of cooking the onion and spices. Can you see what I forgot?

Yup! The paprika! You'll see when it dawns on me something doesn't look right. One of the unknowns with this recipe is that it calls for 4 lbs. of chicken, but it never mentions whether to include the skin. Usually, I like to brown the skin before continuing. I read some other recipes, however, that included the skins and did not call for browning so, still feeling a bit insecure about whether I was doing it right or not, I just tucked em on the top of the onion and spices and let 'em slow cook as is, per the recipe. I confess the spice amounts seemed scant, so I added more.

At the same time, I sauteed some mushrooms to be incorporated later into the cous cous. Because you can never have too many sauteed mushrooms...and if nothing else turned out to be edible, I knew they would!

Here's a pic of the second step, after the chicken and spices cooked for an hour. My onions don't qualify for "finely chopped." Ah ha! You can see I now had reviewed the recipe and had added the missing paprika! (more than the recipe calls for, of course!)
I'm still insecure about how it's going to taste. At this point, the chicken is still pale and bland looking and knowing that the spice list called for NO GARLIC makes me pace about the kitchen, wondering if it will, indeed, be edible ;-) I deliberately force myself NOT to touch the garlic powder shaker. HOWEVER, my insecurity gets the best of me and I DO go ahead and add a few bits of fresh lemon to the bubbling dish. I keep having to shoo Jack away from the green olives till it's time to add them.
The recipe called for boiling the green olives for one minute, which also seemed sort of like a crime, since I had those wonderful olives I can only find at the deli...I didn't used the canned sort. But boiling and draining them before incorporating them into the dish did mellow them and make their mouth texture smoother and more buttery than crunchy...mmm.
Ahhh! They're added, and so is the juice of fresh lemons...and ah yes, well I did throw those clean lemon skins in, roughly chopped, for some more color and zing! (Told you I can't stick to a recipe) But I've still not added any garlic. Something genetically-programmed in me is battling against this recipe and URGING me to add garlic at this point...but....I resist. How will I ever know what it's supposed to taste like if I keep changing the recipe??

I serve it up, with rice pilaf and sauteed mushrooms on the side. Why rice pilaf?? Because I am short on time, I decided to make the boxed sort of cous cous and instead opened the boxed sort of rice pilaf. I have no idea if these things "go together," but we ate them...we feasted! I had some pizza dough in the fridge and decided to try making a skillet bread with some of it. I flattened a few balls of dough and cooked them on a flat oiled cast iron skillet set on a low setting. When they were done on both sides, I drizzled a small amount of olive oil over them, sprinkled GARLIC powder (ahhh, relief!), and a brief grind of sea salt...then chopped cilantro. Ohhhh, yeahhhh...this'll do me till I learn how to cook the more authentic middle eastern skillet breads.
And here is the final leftover...sorry for no pics of the main feast! We've now eaten on it for three days, and it's been good every time. Today's final plate was cous cous mixed with spinach leaves sauteed in a drop of olive oil and sea salt and folded all together when done, topped with chopped cilantro and a half lemon squeezed over the chicken and all. This last little thigh is all that's left, and the olive was lucky to have survived this long....mmm, supper!

Would I make this again?? Yes! I'll look to see what spices other similar green olive and lemon chicken recipes use, and might get all sassy with 'em. But even with these, it's delicious!
I still don't know about browning the chicken, or using skinless. I simply removed the meat from the dish when done and served it like that using some liquid as sauce, and overnight I refrigerated the remaining liquid (there's a lot) and skimmed the fat off the top the next day...that's the part it doesnt say to do, but there was a lot of fat at the top of the liquid.
The flavors are both subtle and distinct. The lemon and olives MAKE this dish, and adding a fresh squeeze of lemon when serving ramps up the taste for lemon lovers like my family.
Now that I've tried this, I'll move on to the next "Moroccan" experiment...I don't know how authentically Moroccan this is, but it's at least remotely North African/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern.
And whatever else it was or wasn't, it tasted great!

Trying Moroccan: Tagine of Moroccan Chicken

If only you could smell this cooking...

If only you could sit in my kitchen and taste it!!

Think spice markets, perfumed gardens, peacocks and nightingales, honeyed dates, hot mint tea, lattices and glowing tilework...and then inhale! Taste this recipe and you're THERE...

This was my second experiment cooking in what I think of loosely as "Moroccan Style." This recipe was found at this site, and promised a dish fusing flavors both savory and sweet.

The only problem is that I usually don't enjoy sweet flavors in conjunction with meats...probably just evidence of my upbringing. I'm open to change, as long as it's not a recipe asking me to dump a jar of marmalade over a perfect chicken breast and shout Bon Appetit...though I may be there someday, I'm not there yet :)

I chose this recipe because the spices were ones I have, though the list is longer than the last recipe's list. This one was also a chicken recipe, and the real hook was the word "Tagine" in the recipe title.

A tagine is a cooking vessel with a removable cone-shaped top and shallow-lipped round bottom dish that combines the benefits of clay cookery with a design that allows for slow-cooking, the conical top acting as a trap for the steam to return as condesation back to the stew. It's essentially part casserole and part stew pot, and is kept on a low heat to simmer for hours, which helps the flavors meld and mellow together into something quite wonderful. Or at least that's what I've read :)

Here's what my fantasy tagine looks like...and I've come so close to purchasing one, and's tight and I have a perfectly good pan with lid till I'm really sure that's where I want my money to go. Here's the one I saw on Amazon that captured my fancy...

Here is the recipe I made a couple of adaptations to, and cooked tonight:

Tagine of Moroccan Chicken

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
2 medium onions, sliced into thin wedges
1 1/2 teaspoons Garlic Salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon Saffron, crushed (optional) -- I substituted Ground Turmeric
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup raisins
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Slivered almonds, for garnish

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add chicken; cook 10 minutes, or until browned, turning once.
Transfer chicken to plate; cover to keep warm.
Cook onion in same skillet 7 minutes.
Add garlic salt, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and saffron, if desired. (I omitted saffron and substituted turmeric.)
Stir in tomatoes and honey.
Return chicken to skillet; cover and simmer 5 minutes.
Stir in raisins.
Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is done.
Serve chicken stew garnished with toasted, slivered almonds and chopped fresh cilantro on a bed of couscous, if desired.

Here are the 6 chicken thighs. After having made this, I believe any combination of chicken parts would taste great if it uses at least some dark meat. Mine were not thawed completely, so I added a few minutes to this browning stage. It doesn't really say whether to put a lid on them, but since they were on medium-high heat, I kept a lid on most of the browning time, removing it only toward the end when a lot of liquid started collecting. The recipe's directions aren't clear on this stage of the cooking.

While it browned, I collected the spices...

This is the point at which I continued on and removed the thighs to a plate and covered them to keep them warm. Next step was adding the thinly-sliced onion wedges.

Cook for 7 minutes...the dark stuff at the bottotm of the pan is the remains of the chicken browning liquid and the bits that stuck to the pan. They add flavor...these weren't charred, so I left the browned stuck-on bits right in there.

Into the softened onions and their fragrant liquid are added the spices, tomatoes, and honey, to simmer a few minutes. It is at this point I believe those who have actual tagines would move this from the pan to the tagine. The fragrance of the spices is incredible! Just one whiff of this is enough to make you hear camel bells, sand dunes and far away oases... You just want to put your nose right into the steam and inhale deeply...mmmmm!!!!

Ok, it felt strange putting cinnamon and honey into southern girl cinnamon roll training revolted against the very idea of swirling it among the other savory spices bubbling around the meat. But OH MY, what a MAGICAL combination of fragrance and flavor...!!

According to the directions, there is very little simmer time left till this is done. I added to it a little, because I had started out with semi-thawed chicken, and I like it nearly falling off the bone when fully cooked. Here, the raisins have been added. Just ignore that cinnamon-roll training, if it seems too strange that you're once again adding sweetness to a meat dish. Honest...this is awesome. I know...I've already eaten it! I have eaten and lived to tell the's...oh hang on, I'll go into raptures in a second...

Anyway, this is the step where you could leave it on to simmer very very low, covered, all day if you like, and then finish things off with a 5 minute cous cous. You can simmer it and then add the raisins, if you don't want them to disintegrate in the liquid too much. I used cous cous straight out of the box, one with natural ingredients in the herb packet. I like cous cous cooked in chicken broth or herbed liquid. Cous cous cooks up literally in 5 minutes, and is the perfect companion for this tagine/stew. It tends to absorb the savory liquid, and is very moist.

We enjoyed ours tonight served on a bed of herbed cous cous (out of the box!), with some torn spinach on the side.

Here's the last important note about this recipe. The garnish adds A LOT. I don't think it would have been the same without the finish of fresh chopped cilantro and almond slivers generously gracing each individual serving. There is just something PERFECT about the taste of the whole combination, so DO DO use these and consider them ingredients rather than just garnishes for visual appreciation. I also (as is our family habit) included lemon wedges to squeeze over the salad...and anything else you like, which means for us, everything on the plate :)

All in all, this recipe was a complete winner, and my husband was completely silent while eating it, he was that intent....heehee...

One single chicken thigh in this awesome tagine recipe made a whole meal when paired with savory cous cous and some torn greens.

If you're burned out on tomato-ey things, such as spaghetti and marinara sauces, don't look at this and think it's a re-hash of any tomato 'n onion duet you likely usually taste. No's...sublime!

It's not hot. It IS a flavor party! The "unusual" factor is not the sort you really have to try to develop an acquired taste's good straight from the first hesitant taste test.

In fact, there probably won't be leftovers, unless, like us, there are only two of you. If that's the case, you might be like me...looking forward to the next meal when you'll have an excuse to eat some more :)

Tamarind Drink with Zing!

What do you do when you're in the store and you see these?

Actually, they still had their shells on before this picture was taken. The photo shows the interior, and if you look closely you'll see there are long stringy fibers and lumps, which are the seeds, surrounded by a sweet and slightly sticky pulp. If you pull the strings off, you can pop bits of the fruit into your mouth and suck on them like candy...very tart candy! The seeds separate easily from the pulp...and they germinate here in Florida quickly, too.

These are tamarind pods, and they're found in that part of the produce section where I'm not really sure WHAT anything is, but where my husband lights up and exclaims, "oh, look! it's a (fill in the blank with a fruit I've never heard of)"

These are actually "local" to us, meaning they probably didn't come from just down the street, but are native sub-tropical fruits we can grow. And of course, in the name of experimentation with potential fruits we might grow, we taste! I found out tamarind is a favorite around the world, in proximity of the equatorial belt.

The pulp can be hand-squeezed into blocks or lumps from which segments are cut or pinched and formed into candies simply by compressing it somewhat and dusting it with powdered sugar, or a sprinkle of salt. It is delicious without either...nature's own Sweet Tart. It is also featured in local cuisines of nearly every subtropical country, in chutnies, sauces, condiments, and drinks. It's a distinctive ingredient in familiar-to-me condiments like Worchestershire sauce, Heinz 57, and Britain's HP sauce (my favorite being the HP Curry Sauce). When I heard it could be made into a drink much in the way lemons are made into lemonade, I wanted to try it!

And that's how we ended up with a bagful of pods, which have stayed in a glass jar ever since, until last night when I ran across a very simple recipe for a Tamarind drink. Essentially, you boil the peeled pods and remove as many of the strings as possible. You add some sugar to the liquid as a sweetener, and then strain the mixture a time or two to allow the fruity pulp through but removing the seeds and other bits.

Here's what mine looked like while boiling...I was only working with a handful of pods to begin with. Here are the pulp and seeds and you can see they are separating.

I strained it, and the pulp that was left behind I saved a bit of and added it back to the liquid, because it was the consistency of applesauce and tasted wonderful. The taste reminded me of a very complex, rich apple, very tart like a lemon's tartnes, but deliciously sweet. It reminded me of a tarter version of spiced cider...but different...but not "weird different." Yum!

This is how the liquid looked strained...I might not use as much water next time, but I have a feeling either way, it's really good. This was supposed to be set into the fridge and chilled to serve over ice, but frankly it was SO good that Jack and I divided it and drank it quite warm. He'd worked outside yesterday and was worn out, and he found it rejuvenating.

He pronounced it exactly as he'd remembered tasting in his childhood, and drank it straight down with gusto! Well, alright, it's a keeper :)

The even more delightful aspect of incorporating tamarind into drinks and meals is that it really packs a nutritional punch, which would account for its popularity in hot climates reaching from Africa across the Middle East, India and Eastern Spice Trails, the Far East, Central and South America, and all the Islands along the tropical belt worldwide.

We put a few seeds from one pod into some potting soil only a couple weeks or so ago. Looky what's coming up!

We now have about six baby tamarinds! If these are fertile and produce good fruits, they'll do so in about 6 to 8 years, and boy will the harvest be a whopper...a single, good, producing tree can average up to 350 pounds of pods a year! The fruits can be stored in the pod or hulled and seeded to store just the pulp.

And if there weren't already enough culinary uses for the tamarind, they are also traditionally used in some cultures to polish brass...

On the Wish List, we'll keep the tamarinds if they do well as they get bigger. What can you say for a fruit that's easy to store, adds a lot of flavor to life, is packed with vitamins and iron, and can be used to make a natural "soft drink" that rivals anything artificial out there? I love the fact that the seeds come up readily with no fuss and seem to thrive in the blistering heat. What's not to love? When the time comes that we can offer seeds we've saved, tamarind seeds are so plentiful I'm guessing they'll be among the first.

I'm so glad we tried this!

Farmgirl Fare Recipe: Susan's Farmhouse White Bread

With the wealth of excellent blogs and other websites out here, I've run across so many recipes I want to try. I'm always interested in recipes that are tried-and-true and are a "backbone" recipe of the family table. There are just so many good ones out here, I often get overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities, and procrastinate long enough that come dinner time we're back at square one again.

I'm overweight and don't need to be eating a lot of bread. Nevertheless, our approach to eating is never going to be all-or-nothing. I've found that we've needed to purchase a loaf or two of bread for this and that lately, and every time I put a storebought loaf into the shopping cart these days, I think to myself how I could have just as easily used ingredients I already have in the pantry to make a far more satisfying sort.

This always reminds me of my paternal grandmother, who home-made EVERYthing on her table, and fed her family a full meal three times a a manner rarely seen in any family I've ever met. I cannot aspire to that amount of committment because our days share far more demands than that would accomodate...and we simply don't need to eat those sorts of quantities. In the words of Mary Poppins, and in the spirit of eating wholesome home-grown foods in season, "enough is as good as a feast." It's a lesson I'm still striving to learn.

Reducing quantity and keeping quality is part of our goal of simplifying our meals, but I do aim to have them be overall much more satisfying, as we phase out the eating out and all processed foods. We're not there yet, but we're farther there now than we've ever been before. Awareness has been the first step, necessity is the taskmaster, and the satisfaction of it being better nutritionally and budget-wise is the motivation.

Presently, we're eating down our pantry goods, and this includes the white flour. The eventual goals is to incorporate more non-gluten flours, and when using the gluten sort, to learn to ferment them (sourdoughs, etc) and sprouting some of them...but for sure to grind the flours fresh at home. Like I said, it's a series of goals to shoot for, and we're not set up for it just yet, but are headed that direction.

The recipe I chose this weekend, because it looks delicious and basic and would incorporate ingredients I have on hand, is from Susan at Farmgirl Fare. I had seen pictures on her site, but the recipe was not available until the Year In Bread collaborative series was posted. Here it's her delicious Farmhouse White. It looks very much like the homemade bread my grandmother had on hand in some form every time the table was set. There was nothing as good as her food!

I'm a novice bread baker, and this was very easy recipe to attempt. The one mistake I made was in not adding the full amount of salt, and so mine turned out not nearly like it would have had I not forgotten this important ingredient. But it's still so good, it's not lasting long!

There are countless other recipes floating around out here in the blog-o-sphere that look very basic and delicious. I'm glad I tried this one, and I'd love to know some other of the most trusty and cherished bread recipes that are the backbone of YOUR family's meals...anyone care to share? I'm going to slowly try different ones so that some day I'll never go to the store again for bread at all...and it's so much more fun knowing recipes come from like-minded friends :)

What's your favorite bread recipe? You may have already written about it...if so, I'd love if you'd share the link! If you do, I'll to post it for everyone to try :)

Trying Moroccan: Peach and Honey Chicken

This is my third recipe to try, after having done a search on the internet under the term "Moroccan." It was delicious, and was by far the easiest to assemble and cook...not that any one of the recipes so far has been complex.

The sauce was so good I wanted to have something to absorb all of it! SO soooooo good!

There were a couple of things I adapted from this recipe; I did not have rose water as an ingredient, so I substituted the only thing I had on hand that had a subtle flavor/fragrance...a teaspoon of orange marmalade. Later I remembered I have some Guava Jelly somewhere in the back of the pantry...that might have approximated rose water a bit more closely. Ah well, next time.

The other adaptation was the cooking time. I did not use frozen chicken pieces, nor were the chicken legs very thick, but I had to cook them longer than the recipe calls for in order for them to be nearly falling off the bone. I don't like chicken that's difficult to release from the bone; cooking it longer did the trick for me with this.

When I cooked it, I was in a hurry to pack some of the legs for Jack's dinner overnight at work. The nice thing was that even after the three of us had eaten this meal, there was still a lot left over. So I took the leftover legs, put them into a Corningware dish, poured the liquid and peaches over, and left them in a very low oven overnight. Today, I will shred the meat, add it to the liquid, and serve it over cous cous with a green side salad.

And I'll garnish with the sliced almonds -- something I forgot to do last night when I served this, even though I had some on hand...oops! I might even throw some cilantro over all for some extra taste...for some reason, two of us have been craving cilantro lately, and haven't gotten it out of our systems yet!

The recipe I used was already adapted from another recipe, and it stated the original incorporated apricots rather than peaches. The amended recipe called for fresh peaches, but since I had canned, I used them, drained. They were already in syrup, so I omitted the sugar in the recipe.

I am not a sweet-tasting meat lover, per se. But I appreciate subtlety. And flavor! The sweet and salty liquid was only made better with the addition of the peaches, and I can see how this recipe would be delicious cooked in clay...something I don't have yet...which would enrich the flavor even more. I imagine the original recipe came from such, most likely cooked in a tagine.

Well, without further ado, here's the recipe and link!

1/4 cup margarine or butter
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon rose water
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste (I used a generous amount)
4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, with skin
1 pound fresh peaches, pitted and sliced
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds (optional)


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a glass measuring cup small saucepan, combine the margarine, honey, rose water, salt and pepper.
Heat in the microwave on medium heat until margarine has melted, about 30 seconds.
Place chicken in a baking dish and pour the margarine mixture over it.
Stir to coat the chicken completely. Place the dish of chicken into the oven.
Cook uncovered in the preheated oven until chicken pieces have browned, about 15 minutes (mine took longer).
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Add the peaches to the dish and sprinkle with sugar (if using drained canned peaches, omit sugar).
Continue to roast until chicken is cooked through, about 20 more minutes (it took mine 35-40).
Remove chicken pieces to a serving dish and pour the juices from the pan over them.
Garnish with slivered almonds.

Here's the first step: browning the chicken in the liquid at a higher temperature. You don't want pale chicken...

Here's the other step: adding the fruit, lowering the temp to 350 and putting it back into the oven for the remaining cooking time...

Here's the finished product...oops! I forgot to sprinkle on the toasted almond slivers! Notice there is nothing served with these. They smelled and looked so wonderful, it's all I wanted! But it would be great with a cous cous or rice prepared with chicken broth...mmmm...and of course a deep, green garden salad! The addition of hot toasted pita bread brushed with butter and honey would be awesome, too...

Tucked back into a ceramic casserole, the remains of the day will go into a very very low temp oven, later to be deboned and put back into the liquid to serve over whatever starch vehicle (rice, cous cous, mashed or roasted potatoes, etc) strikes the fancy! Yum!

Will I try this again. Oh yes! The flavor is not as unusual as the other recipes I've tried so far, and not spicy at all, but the blend of chicken juices, honey, and fruit was a perfect combination. This recipe is so easy, even a (supervised) child can make it.

Which is why I forgot the final ingredient?? haha!!

Latent Granola Instinct

I made granola. Granola I made. I am a granola-maker. Oh my gosh, I am now officially qualified to drive a beat-up VW van, stop shaving my legs, and burn patchouli incense...ha!
(I refuse to replace my curtains with love beads, though, or go braless in public) ;-)

I'm on a quest for simple foods...the sort we want available homemade but requiring very little expense, preparation, and fuss. The sort that's the backbone of the everyday, and will sustain us dependably despite the vagaries of future crop fluctuations...things that are easy to stockpile.

I've never realized my full granola/muesli potential. It was high time to take a stab at it...Jack was told by his doc to cut out ALL flour products, most simple starches, and must replace them with only straight-up whole grains.

It's time for me to embrace my inner granola...

I'm not sure what the differences are between muesli and granola. But I know I've wanted to try making this for years...years. Why haven't I tried making this, ever? I've tried soooo many other things, but I've just had a granola mental block. Maybe it was the long list of ingredients, many of which are not regular pantry items for us...wheat germ, bran, flax seed, sesame seeds, etc.

So, in complete muesli/granola ignorance and stubbornness, I waited too long and then found myself in the kitchen with a freshly-fermenting batch of Caspian Sea Yogurt/Matsoni, needing something earthy and crunchy to go along with its fresh, cool blandness for a morning breakfast, or simple evening meal.

I had box of generic old-fashioned oats, and dug around in the cabinets and unearthed a couple handsful of pepitas (pumpkin seed hearts) and some slivered almonds. And a look in the pantry found a pristine bag of sweetened dried cranberries. In haste and without a lot of foresight, I just put a layer of oats, pumpkin seed hearts, and almond slivers on cookie sheets and drizzled the last remains of my jar of honey over them all. I didn't add any salt since the pepitas were salted.

I put them in the oven for 30 minutes on 350, though now I know it should more likely be 300, and stirred every five minutes to make sure nothing scorched. If I did it again, I'd add the almonds the last five minutes. Anyway, when everything seemed pretty toasty and stirred, I put them in a jar and mixed in a full bag of the sweetened cranberry "raisins"...and hey, it was good!

I've since been perusing the recipes online for granola and muesli, all of which include some kind of oil or butter and some of which have different sweeteners. But I think they all fall back on the basics of roasted grains (with oats at the base of most recipes) and seeds and nuts, with varying degrees of dried fruits and perhaps coconut. Looks like it can be personalized to about anyone's preferences. But I have to say that even without the oil or butter, this mix I made was really great for sprinkling over yogurt for a hearty crunch, and definately makes a stick-to-your-ribs meal.

Here's a shot of what it looks like....but I'd never eat a bowlful like's powerful in small quantities :)

Ricotta, My Whey

I'm from Memphis...sorry, I couldn't resist! ;-)

Caspian Sea Yogurt, and What to do with the Whey

We're back to making Caspian Sea Yogurt. What's interesting is that our original live CSY culture was purchased (via internet)during the cooler spring months. It didn't get as hot during shipment as the culture we recently purchases did.

The yogurt produced from the milder-weather shipment was itself very mild, and had a unique honey-like consistency when poured. It endured a range of temps and fermentation times, and to make it was as easy as adding one part culture to 5 parts milk, any sort. We poured it into clean mason jars, covered each with a coffee filter and jar ring, and set them on top of the fridge to ferment anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. The consistency of the resulting yogurts ranged from a thin cream-type consistency to thicker, denser yet "slick" honey-type pourable yogurt. If we over-fermented some of it, it began separating into strata of solids and whey, and all we had to do was insert a knife or such down the side of the jar and pour off (and collect) the clearish whey liquid while the thicker solids remained in the jar. We stirred up the solids (which were not in fact solid, but just very thick yogurt) and store all in the fridge.

It was the perfect self-perpetuation yogurt, though it did not have the taste or consistency of what we'd come to think of as yogurt from the supermarket. This was more or less like cream, with a different viscosity, and Caspian Sea Yogurt is so mild, it's adaptable to eating straight or in almost anything else...smoothies, over granola or cooked oatmeal, you name it.

I grew to enjoy it, and Jack absolutely loved fact, craved it.

Then I killed off my culture :(

I left the jars on top of the fridge too long, too many repeated times, and also began mainly culturing the new batches with the whey...which is ok but I won't ever do exclusively any more. The end result is that there was no middle ground final product...all the CSY became solid and whey, half one and half the other, and was very very tart...a sure sign it was over-fermented. After a while, every batch was just too sour to enjoy eating, though not dangerous to consume. More and more batches went out to be poured at the base of our potted fig tree. Eventually, I faced the music and discontinued making the CSY till we could get a fresh starter culture.

I started making the CSY again a week or two ago, and the starter culture was shipped during excessively hot weather. I suspect that would explain the different consistency of my former CSY and the ones I'm making now. But thankfully, till we can order another in the cooler months of winter, this CSY still has much to love about cooking, no fuss, delicious...just with a bit of a different consistency than the first batch..not as "honey-like" to pour and quicker to form solids and whey. That's my first clue it could easily over-ferment, so I'm keeping diligent watch on the hours I leave them atop the fridge, before removing them to the fridge to halt the fermentation.

There is still some whey produced, and I pour it off after it's been chilled (easier then)and save it. Some of the solids make their way there, too, in with the poured-off watery whey. Whey is very tart and if you pour it off the CSY, the CSY is very mild and goes with more things.

So....what to do with the whey? If it is kept as is, it's still alive with probiotics...good bacteria that pump up the body's defense systems and increase immunity and digestion. However, I wanted to explore more uses.

It's said to be a good hair and body rinse, but I haven't tried that yet.

I saw mention that whey from cheesemaking can be used to make ricotta, and I wondered if the CSY whey would work as well, even though CSY is not a cooked hard cheese. The instructions were easy, so today I tried it out, just to see what would happen.

Making Ricotta from Caspian Sea Yogurt Whey

The instructions said to heat whey to 200 F degrees, stirring occasionally, then to line a colander with a clean pillowcase (or very tightly woven cheesecloth, not regular cheesecloth) and drain it through itand allow it to drain. Sounds easy!

I had heated 3 quarts of whey (shown in picture above), which had some CSY solids in it. At the end of the heating period (a few minutes)it foamed up and had to be stirred down. I settled a pillowcase-lined colander over a separate stockpot and poured the heated whey through it. Most of the liquid went straight through, and at first I thought there wouldn't be anything to show for the experiment. But with a rubber spatula, I gently scraped the fabric and there was a little something there...some ricotta. Yayy! Could it be that easy?

I let it drain a couple of minutes and scraped it together into a small pile. It probably made 3/4 - 1 cup, and was nicely moist. If I'd wanted it dry, I'd simply drain it longer. I lightly salted it, as the instructions suggested, and the flavor was delightfully mild and delicious! Refrigerated, it can be used over salads, to stuff pastas, to add to cheesecakes and sweet creamcheese desserts, or with chopped herbs for a spread for crackers or crusty dark homemade bread. I tasted it on whole grain crackers and nothing else, and it was great!

So ricotta can be as easy as Heat, Strain, and eat...who knew???

Are there any of you out there making Caspian Sea Yogurt? I wonder if kefir whey would also work...anyone tried it? One of the nicest things about fermented milk products is the ability to experiment and come up with really useful, easy, and delicious foods!

Gluten-Free Bliss For My Sis

Hi, sis! (wavingggg)

My sister is exploring the world of gluten-free foods, and forwarded me a link to a great gluten-free website. Different folks choose to eat gluten-free for various reasons, many times because of allergies or intolerances to certain grains. Wheat is the first thing to be cut out, but there are other grains as well...which can mystify the cook when faced with trying to round things out on the dinner plate without the standard selections of pastas, breads, and usual recipes incorporating wheat flour.

Thankfully, there are many other choices to be had, although they might be a bit off the familiar path. But unfamiliarity can be a good thing, and can result in delicious discoveries, and a more deliberate way of eating. The best result, though, is improved health, and for gluten-intolerant bodies there are yet other delicious choices available.

Here is a list of great links to gluten-free sites. On them, I've noticed a lot of creative cooking as well as recreations of standard favorites adapted to substitute non-gluten flours, and such things as ground almonds, xanthum, and tapioca.

I'm dabbling with the idea of easing us into more gluten-free habits ourselves, as I'm convinced it may be a better support for our systems which are presently overloaded with diabetes and weight issues. I may test some of these to see if we can detect any noticeable changes by eliminating gluten from our eating, and if it is playing a role as an irritant in what we eat.

If these sites are any indication, it certainly does not mean going without variety and would seem the only limits are ones imagination and creative flexibility.

Here are the links, first the one forwarded by my sis, and then the others I saw when doing some Googling...I'm sure there are many, many more to be found!

Gluten-Free Blogs and Sites


Enjoy! :)

Corn Tassell Tea

If dealing with fresh corn, this will only work if you have pesticide-free corn to work with...

You know those brownish tassels, or corn silks, that adorn shucks of fresh corn? They make one terrific herbal tea.

I began using them years ago when I ordered some in bulk to custom-blend some herbs for my own herb teas. I haven't done that in years, but with all the fresh corn coming in in our area markets, I was able to save some silks myself.

The dried ones I bought in bulk appeared brown, and these, after air-drying them, retained their lighter color. Their effect is as a very mild, gentle diuretic...very effective but not taxing to the internal organs. Since there is hardly any taste, any other pesticide-free herbs or teas can be added for flavor, if desired.

There may be a more scientific way to do it, but I simply pour almost-boiling water over it and let it steep a minute, then sip. It works for me any time I feel I'm retaining fluid, and I never have had an adverse reaction. I don't pretend to offer medical advice to anyone, so please don't take this post as such. I'm simply sharing something very simple that works for me...and is as close as that ear of corn. I hate to throw away wonderful, nourishing herbals :)

(Later Note: Oops! I forgot to mention that I drink the liquid but not the tassels. It can be strained off, if desired )

Tasha Tudor's White Bread

Here is the promised recipe from the recent breadmaking post.

This is from the Tasha Tudor cookbook, and I'll be writing more about her soon...she's someone whose life I greatly admired. This is a basic white bread -- I'm wanting to try some of her other breads, too. I started with this one, which yielded a slightly sweet basic white bread loaf. The one extra rising made the difference in texture.

I wrestled with the dough while kneading it the first two times, but after the second rising, it was beautiful to handle. Hope you like it as much as we do :)

White Bread, from The Tasha Tudor Cookbook

2 cups milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick)butter
1/4 cup sugar, or 1 cup honey (sugar gives a crusty crust, honey gives a soft crust)
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups water
11 cups unbleached flour, approximately
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water, 110 degrees F
1 teaspoon sugar or honey

Grease or oil four 5" x 9" loaf pans.

In a saucepan, heat milk, butter, sugar or honey, and salt till all are liquid (don't boil), then remove from heat. Put the mixture in a very large bowl and add the water. Then add 1 cup of flour. When the mixture is lukewarm, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of water with just a pinch of sugar or honey. Let sit for 5 minutes to proof. When the yeast is foamy, add it to the milk mixture.

Add enough flour to make a nice workable dough (you'll be using most of the flour), and knead for 10 minutes (on a floured surface).

Place into a very large, well-buttered bowl. Turn dough once to coat the top, cover with a warm towel, and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until double in bulk.

When the dough has risen the first time, punch it down and repeat the process.

At the end of the second rising, punch down the dough and divide it into 4 loaves, making sure to smooth out any air bubbles. Place the loaves in prepared pans, cover them with towels, and allow them to rise until nearly double, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the dough has almost doubled bake the loaves in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour, until they are a crusty brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from pans and cool them on racks.


The cookbook notes that if you wish to make whole wheat bread using this recipe, you can use half whole wheat flour and half unbleached white flour, allowing just one rising in the bowl instead of two.

I made mine into 3 loaves and a great batch of rolls. I hope this recipe works for did for me, and I'm NO breadmaking expert. Enjoy!

Crystal Miller's Hamburger Pineapple Bean Bake

When I was growing up and we had a garden (some years, not all of them) we usually ate a lot of pink-eye purple hull peas, which we lumped generically under the term Black Eyed Peas, though they weren't actually. They are one of the few vegetables I actually enjoy the taste of better when home-canned, rather than cooked fresh. Either way, though, they made a fantastic supper with sliced fresh garden tomatoes, green onions, and any other vegetable...and cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet.

That's really the closest we ever got to eating beans during my childhood, though I'm not sure why.

All these years, I've never really eaten beans except in the occasional pot of chili, or veggie soup. There may also be the reason that beans don't always agree with my digestive system... :)

That may be due to the fact I've not gotten used to eating them on a regular basis, though.

During the last few shopping trips to the grocery store, I've noticed how much prices seem to be soaring. I'm not sure if it's the prices, or if it's because I'm having to keep a closer eye on just how much I spend, since our gasoline bill now has edged out much of the discretionary spending cushion in our monthly budget. I'm enforcing a set spending limit now on every shopping trip, simply to keep track and make sure we don't come up short in other areas. I always had a limit, but it was more flexible...only now it is not.

That's fine with's pretty much the way I've lived most of my life. However, during that time, there are certain things we buy now that we choose differently, and have to pay for the difference. Milk is one such item. I like my family to have milk, and to have access to milk for drinking at least once daily. For the past few months, we had been driving to pick up real know, for our ***pets***... but that had to be curtailed because of the gasoline and the price of the milk. We turned to organic milk in the local supermarket, and sometimes they have a store brand organic, but most times it's sold out, and we have to buy from the other brands. We have a favorite brand, but it's just plain expensive, so I've cut back on our milk.

This is a sign of the times. In my childhood, we seldom had much money and I remember milk was a luxury item for us. We had it for cereal, but not just for drinking, and never more than a single helping per was bought, and rationed. When I became an adult, having milk for something other than cooking and cereal seemed like I was really living rich!

As I've tightened the belt with some items, I've been trying to substitute with others. I've been wanting for some time to experiment with beans.

I'm very unaware of all the different sorts of beans and their flavors and uses, but I've noticed fascinating lists of them, complete with pictures, in some of my favorite heirloom seed catalogs. Obviously, the rest of the world has been enjoying something I haven't yet discovered. It appears different beans have different uses in foods, and if I don't care for one, there are hundreds of others to choose from. As easy as they are to grow and store, and to cook, they will be a regular in our garden the next time we plant one.

They are just affordable as all get-out. It's time I began experimenting to see what some of our favorites will become.

I see a lot of bloggers using pinto beans, and yesterday I ran across an interesting recipe I thought I'd try. I just didn't want to spend all day cooking, but wanted some hot and hearty comfort food that would stick with us. Why I'm craving that in the middle of the blazing hot summer I can't tell you, but the urge was there, so I adapted this recipe and made a big pot along with some cornbread.

This recipe for Hamburger Pineapple Bean Bake is from Crystal Miller's wonderful site Homemaking Homesteader. What I liked about it is that it's not dependent on a tomato base. I've been using tomato in so many of my recent recipes, I wanted to try something different. The pineapple as an ingredient adds an interesting twist.

I tried it out last night when my daughter brought her boyfriend over for dinner. He ate several helpings, so I think everyone enjoyed it as much as I did, though my daughter who is picky picked out the pineapples. Nevermind though...this is the kid who picks the soft center out of homemade dinner rolls and leaves the entire outer crust because she doesn't like the texture. She only gets away with this when I'm not watching! ;-)

We're enjoying some of the leftovers today, and I'll freeze the rest. It's even better the second day!

This dish can be made in a slow cooker/crockpot or on low in a heavy pot. I substituted canned beans instead of soaking my own, simply because I didn't have the time that day for all the soaking. It is delicious with tortilla chips, or with hot cornbread, which is what we had. And because I'm a die-hard Southern girl, that cornbread went IN that bowl of meat-'n-beans! :)

Here's the recipe: (notes in parentheses mine)

Crystal Miller's Hamburger Pineapple Bean Bake (crockpot meal)

2 cups dried pinto beans (I used 4 regular cans of canned pintos)
1 cup dried black beans (I used 2 regular cans canned black beans)
12 cups water
1 T salt
1 lb hamburger
1 onion, chopped
½ cup chopped peppers (green or red or yellow) (I used 1 whole green bell pepper, chopped)
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T prepared mustard
2 T molasses
1 20oz can pineapple chunks
1 ½ cups bbq sauce
salt and pepper to taste

(I skipped this step and put the canned beans all in the crockpot) In a large pot combine the dried beans, water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce and cover and cook until the beans are soft, about 3 hours. Drain beans saving some of the bean broth to add later.

In a frying pan cook the hamburger, onions and peppers until the hamburger is no longer pink and the veggies are soft.

Put the beans along with the meat and veggies into a 5 or 6qt crockpot. Add the remaining ingredients and cook on low for about 5 hours. (If using canned beans, heat till tastes are blended...I heated about 2 hours in crockpot) Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.


In addition to the entree recipe, Crystal has a recipe for cake...using pinto beans...on the same page. Check it out!

Not long ago, Jayedee at Life In the Lost World posted several delicious-looking dessert recipes using pinto beans, including one for pinto bean fudge. I've been promising myself to try it soon! Check out her recipes. Who knew beans could be the secret to rich, nutritious, affordable desserts?