New Cookbook Review

The Homemade Pantry – 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making is a book I wish I had written and really wish I’d had back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was a stay-at-home mom. I did a lot of home cooking in those days, making my own bread, cereals, muffins, biscuits and all sorts of other things.

The writer, Alana Chernila, writes the recipes in a conversational tone and each chapter is begun with an anecdote from her own life experiences, as a child, a young woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, and when you put it all together you have quite a life story all mixed in beautifully with the recipes. I loved her honesty in discussing her family life. She is not a supermom with perfect children who eat every exotic and/or healthy thing she places in front of them. She deals with real life, real time constraints and very real (normal) strong-willed children. I felt like she could have been my friend and I’d have been happy to commiserate with her over child raising and cooking, while we grabbed a few minutes to have a cup of tea in a lovely cup.

The recipes…I have not tried a single one yet, but they all look fantastic and doable. “Pop Tarts” are the first on my list to try, and graham crackers, both chosen for the simple reason that I’ve never made either of them. I’ve made a number of her other items over the years – homemade bread, butter, granola, jam…..I’m not new to this party, but I’m eager to try her versions. If you ARE new to home cooking and baking, try a simple one and see how good it feels to cook something where you know all the ingredients that are in it because you put them there yourself!

Alana is also honest in recognizing that some of these things are NOT cheaper to make yourself, nor are they quick, but that the rewards are great. Each of us has to decide, on any given day, what is worth our time and the extra effort it takes to measure, pour, chop, slice, stir, whisk, mix, whip, fold, saute, roast and bake. Some days we can get ahead and make good things that will help get us through the days when we can’t keep our heads above water. We all have those.

This book was an enjoyable read for me and I read it straight through like a novel, instead of skipping all around looking for my favorites as I normally do with a cookbook. I am really looking forward to trying some of the recipes SOON.

I’m also enjoying Alana’s blog, “Eating From the Ground Up.” You will find the link on my Blogroll on the right side bar. Please go check out her entries about food and life. Enjoy!

Addendum: I got a chance to try Alana’s graham crackers and they were a success! The only thing I need to do is practice more even rolling and then get a fix on how long to cook for that thickness. I like them to be crunchy and some of mine weren’t because they were thicker. I also don’t care for having to measure them for cutting, which you need to do for consistency of cooking, as well as fitting together for peanut butter sandwich-ing purposes. ūüôā I might just cut them with round cookie cutters in the future to help with that. I definitely think they need the cinnamon sugar for the extra sweetness. But yes, they taste like the store-bought kind and even have the same texture. Bingo!

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Happy Birthday to me!

My most wonderful birthday gift just got installed today and I’m so pleased I could bust!¬† I’ve been wanting a pull-down cookbook holder for ages, so this year when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday I was ready with an answer.¬† I looked at many models online and most of them were wood-trimmed¬†and expensive.¬† I don’t have anything else with natural wood showing in my entire kitchen.¬† All my cabinets are white and my accessories are either black, white, stainless or chrome.¬† Then I found this clear acrylic one and it was considerably cheaper than most of the others, so that’s what we ordered.¬† Hubby and I were very satisfied with the quality construction of it when it arrived.

It is nearly invisible when closed:

Isn’t that cool?

It just holds my larger cookbooks and my only teeny problem is that shadow on the top 1/3 of the page, but I think I can place a small light nearby that will fix that.¬† My oven is 10″ to the right¬†of the corner, which means I’m standing in that corner when I’m cooking.¬† This upper cabinet is to the left of that corner and¬†right at my left shoulder.¬† Perfect.

Spring–not today.

We woke up to winter wonderland here this morning.  This is not at all typical for the region, but we were blessed with the beauty of it without much of the inconvenience.  It was nearly all gone by 4:00, except under the shade trees.  But in early morning it looked like this:

I’m so glad I brought in some spring time from my front yard, so I could still remember what season it really is.

I made a great dinner tonight that I will definitely duplicate on other occasions.¬† We had a wonderful pork tenderloin with a cocoa spice rub.¬† The recipe is one I found a couple of years ago in Food Network.¬† The recipe for the rub makes enough for several uses, and it keeps well on the shelf for several months, so it’s well worth the time it takes to put it together.¬† The meat is first rubbed with the spices and then seared with olive oil on all sides and finished in the oven.¬† It always takes longer to finish than what the recipe says, but it is always wonderful tasting.

I decided to not use a jarred applesauce with this wonderful meat dish (though I often do) so I found a simple recipe for Fried Apples to make it special.  I cheated with a box of original Rice A Roni, but it was perfect with our sweet pork/apple combo.  I can only handle so many things going on at one time, so I often opt for one dish that can just sit and simmer during that final half hour before the meal is done. 

The meal was outrageously good and Jim and I had to make ourselves stop eating because we were so full, even though our taste buds still wanted more. 

I’ve been productive lately, but have not finished the mose recent project, which is to recover our booth cushions from the camper.¬† It is a tedious project, but it’s going to make a huge change and will be the first real effort at gradually changing the color scheme from 70’s gold/brown to a more current grey-blue with¬†white and beige.¬† I decided to not replace the foam bases (outrageously expensive) annd just recover the whole thing.¬† Since the fabric is not machine washable and will be spot cleaned only, there was no need for a zipper, so I just fit it around, pinned it and took it to the machine to sew.¬† I only need to hand sew one end to finish it.¬†

But….the cushions were button-tufted, so I needed to remove the original ones and cover new metal buttons with the matching fabric and then sew them on when the cover was otherwise done.¬† As I said…tedious.¬† But I really like the new fabric and I’m looking forward to photographing it for here when all four are done. Yes, that’s two backs and two seats.¬† I’m going back to it now, so see you later.

Blueberry Pickin’ Day

Last Saturday hubby and I went out to pick blueberries at a local farm.¬† It’s been many years since I did this (25?) and I’d forgotten how easy and pleasant it can be.¬† In fairness, we had a beautiful day for it…not too hot…a little breeze and slightly overcast.¬† Bugs weren’t biting, so there was nothing unpleasant to deal with at all.¬† The bushes are high enough that you don’t HAVE to bend and stoop unless you want to (there’s lots of good berries down there though.)¬†

We came home with a plethora of berries for our 45 min. or so of actual picking.¬† This container was actually overflowing when we got it weighed. I think it was a one gallon container, but won’t swear to that.

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The little booklet was a gift from my sis-in-law many years ago.  I dug it out of my cookbook cupboard and found the recipe for these!

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They were good and the recipe made 24, so I surprised sis-in-law and my brother with¬†the muffins and some berries. (The odd looking muffins actually were made in a ceramic heart-shaped muffin dish.)¬† Julee took one of the heart ones to a wedding reception for the bride and groom to share ’cause she thought they were romantic. By evening this is all that was left of the 24.¬† Truly, they were not as sweet as I prefer, nor were they as moist.¬† They were more like a biscuit than a muffin, in my opinion, but fresh and warm, with butter melting on them, they were very rewarding.¬† I’ll hunt up some different recipes for next time around.

Anyhow, because my husband decided to bend over and work for the berries that were lower to the ground, he got a terrible twist in his back that has caused him untold pain this week and two trips to the chiropractor, to be followed by a few more.¬† He is still miserable and so my trip back to the berry farm, if I can make myself go, will be solo.¬† I’m so happy with the berries and the ease with which they are picked and stored (drop ’em in a bag and freeze ’em) that I’m going to try to motivate myself to go again.¬† It’s also a good 35 minute travel time.

I made a peach-blueberry crisp last night, too.¬† Not the kind with oatmeal and nuts for the “crisp” part, but it was a flour, sugar, butter topping.¬† OH MY it was good.¬† We had scoops of vanilla ice cream on it while it was still very warm and it was heavenly.¬† I didn’t have quite enough peaches, so I added a cup of blueberries and the taste combo was terrific. Uhhhh….no photos because we ate it too fast for that.¬† There is only about a serving left (saving it for Julee.)

EDIT:¬† Went back today for more.¬† It was very hot and sunny, so I had to quit after an hour, cause I was at my limit in the heat of the day.¬† But I did get about another 3/4 of a container, so woo hoo!¬† Hurray for blueberries for my freezer (jam, syrup, cobbler, muffins,¬†etc….)

Now about that radish-top soup…

So here is the result of the radish top soup:

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It tasted better than it looks.¬† Think “cream of broccoli” or “cream of spinach.”¬† I was intrigued by the idea of using every part of the radish for food.¬†¬† It’s just another venture into the area of being “self sustaining.”¬†¬† Fresh radishes are great in a salad, but you can’t freeze or can them, so you really have to eat ’em while they’re here and you’re done.¬† I hated throwing away all that green stuff from the top (good for compost, though) and then I found a recipe for using it and I was happy.

It is basically sauteed onion and potatoes with some seasonings and the radish tops simmered in chicken broth/stock.¬† Then it is blended (I used a regular blender, but you could use the immersion type if you have one) and a small amount of heavy cream added and heated back up.¬† If heavy cream bothers you (for fat, calories or other reasons) you could certainly use low fat milk or soy milk, though it won’t be as thick or rich tasting.¬† I think low fat yogurt would be a great alternative, or even fat-free sour cream.

This tasted very good with the sliced radishes on top just before serving for some crunch and I added goldfish crackers, too.  You could certainly up the protein and flavor by adding some shredded cheddar cheese and then you have cream of radish w/cheese soup. Yum.

I ate this with some fresh, crusty bread.  Croutons on top would also be good, but I loved my hot bread for sopping up the last drops in the bowl.

I’ll be honest.¬† Jim did not care for this; he said it was a little too “green” for his taste.¬† But he’s also not known for liking any soup without meat or beans, so keep that in mind.¬† I made this when he was unable to eat much as far as foods that needed chewing, but he was happier with his canned bean w/bacon soup.¬† To each his own, eh?¬† I’m just happy knowing it’s something I can add to my repertoire of “backyard” food.

Napa Veggies

The salad we loved so much at Rainforest Cafe was just called “Napa Vegetables.”¬† I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I did an online search and found the ingredients for it.¬† There were no quantities given, but I figured it’s a salad-how could I mess it up?¬† No one else here except Jim knows what it is supposed to look or taste like, so I felt free to experiment.

There were no ingredients given for the dressing, but I remembered the server saying it was just a “light vinaigrette.”¬† Okay, I can do that.¬† Online searching again netted dozens of vinaigrette recipes, so I took the most basic of them and sweetened it up.

It turns out it was still not as sweet as I remembered, but I’ll fix that next time.¬† Otherwise, I pronounced it a roaring success!

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They say we should “eat the rainbow” every day–I think we just about got it here!¬† We’re only really missing blue.¬† I’m telling you, this has everything but the kitchen sink.¬† Yellow and green zucchinis, red and yellow peppers, carrots, red cabbage, jicama (yes, jicama!) and golden raisins.¬†¬† I actually liked it better the second day, after it had marinated overnight.¬† The veggies soften a bit and the flavors blend and it’s just so good.¬† In fact, it was in this softened state when we ate it at the restaurant, but if you don’t have time to wait overnight and you want to eat it right away, go for it!

If you haven’t tried jicama in a salad, please give it a try.¬† It has a texture not unlike apple and a mild flavor.¬† It adds a nice crunch.

This is not a quick fix thing, guys; I’ll tell you that right up front.¬† I used a food processor so I could get get the nice thin slices and not take all day, but you still have to do a lot of cutting to get the pieces small enough for the processor.¬† I puttered with peeling, cutting and processing for at least 45 minutes and then worked on the dressing for other 20 minutes or so.¬† You could certainly take a short cut and use a good bottled dressing if you have one that you particularly like.¬† I don’t think there are any shortcuts for the rest.¬† You can buy many of these veggies sliced in the store, but they are not as thin, they are definitely more expensive, and you do lose some nutrients by using veggies that are cut ahead of time.¬† If you are going to have the processor out anyway (because some things just can’t be bought sliced or shredded), then by all means, just do all of it.

I can’t tell you how many servings I got.¬† We ate it for two nights, 4 people one night and three the next night, and there were still leftovers taken to another house to share with yet more people.¬† I used two small zuccinis, three carrots, one yellow and one red pepper, one jicama and only about a third of a large head of red cabbage.¬† Golden raisins I just threw in until I felt you’d get one in nearly every bite.¬† That’s a personal preference, because they are going to add sweetness.¬† Feel free to change the proportions of everything for your preference or for what you have on hand, but this amount of everything feeds at least 10 with very generous servings (seconds even.)

Warning! Domesticity attack!

So instead of cleaning out my car for the trip, I’m having this attack of wanting to shop, cook, bake and plan sewing & crafting projects.¬† Well, some of it is justified. I certainly need to have some small, portable projects to work on while I’m away, for times when I can’t do anything but sit in my hotel room or in someone’s house that I barely know (yes, I will be doing some of that.) ūüė¶¬† I need something to read, too.¬† I still have to find a book that I can get into, but that’s not usually an issue for me.

I went shopping today and one of the things I need to do is clothing shopping.¬† I didn’t get to that.¬† I went to the thrift store and got 5 items for $1.25.¬† Fantastic wool blazers and a corduroy dress.¬†They clear out their winter stuff just before spring¬†and practically give any winter stuff away. ¬†¬†I buy these things for the fabric for future use (not my size)—oh, and the buttons are fantastic.¬†¬† I got absolutely gorgeous 100% wool for small projects or a wool quilt I plan to make “someday.”

Then I went to Hancocks Fabrics and bought most of the fabric to make my grandson a new quilt, since he’s about to turn 13 and I last made him a quilt when he was 3.¬† He still has it and it’s falling to shreds.¬† That’s what everyone wants to see when they make their young loved ones a cuddle quilt.¬† They want to see that it was well-loved and used to pieces..¬† Of course, it had bright crayon colors and toy boats and airplanes on it–not at all the right thing for a 13 year old.¬† So he will be richly rewarded with a new one that has woodsy, nature designs–the perfect thing for a young man who loves to hunt and tramp the woods with his pop-pop Fred. Will try to post photos of the fabric tomorrow and will definitely have pics of the finished project….um–months from now.

The quilt is a project for after the trip.¬† I have another week off after my return from FL and I plan to make Julee another dress and then move on to the quilt. Haven’t made one in quite awhile, so I’m excited.¬†¬†

I went to Michael’s and found yarn to make special small projects that I can’t talk about here, because some of them might be for persons who MIGHT read it here.¬† But I’m happy I found some yarn that I’ve had trouble locating AND I’ve got plenty to keep my hands busy while traveling.¬† I’m still working on a baby afghan, but that will probably be done before I leave.

Then I came home and decided to make homemade soup that took hours.¬† My beef veggie soup is wonderful on the kind of nasty day we had today.¬† It was cold and rainy and this soup made us both happy, plus we’ll have plenty for other days when I DON’T feel like all that cooking.¬†¬† Days when I’ve come home from work wishing someone would just make me a cup of tea and tuck me into bed.¬† Might get a photo of that soup posted tomorrow, too.

Then it was on to homemade shortbread with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts on top!¬† Shortbread should be easy.¬† Heaven knows it sounds easy–there are only 3 ingredients.¬† But there is some science to it and I tried to rush the process, I think. ¬† Oh well, it looks fantastic.¬† Will take photos after I cut it, but I’m still impatiently waiting for the chocolate to go back to being solid.¬† The topping IS easy–I just¬†sprinkled about 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips on top as soon as the shortbread came out of the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes.¬† Then I spread it evenly to cover the shortbread and sprinkled chopped, toasted hazelnuts (substitute your favorite nuts or leave ’em off if your prefer ) and a tiny bit of fresh ground sea salt. I hope I can make myself take pictures before I eat them all!¬† Oh, I forgot, I’m supposed to be sharing these with my brother who just had surgery and has returned home.¬† Dang.¬† Well, he can stand all that butter and sugar much better than I can.¬† Hope he likes them.

Credit for the shortbread recipe goes to Amy Karol, from¬†her Angry Chicken blog.¬† She has a wonderful “cheat sheet” that she has posted with recipes for many of the things she makes repeatedly.¬† It is one fantastic page of basics you can keep on/by your fridge and it’s always handy when you need it. The basic shortbread is on the cheat sheet and she recently shared the chocolate topping idea with her lucky readers, too.¬† If you are a crafter, sewer, cooker, baker–a mom with young kids…any of those things, you can’t help but enjoy her blog.¬† Please check it out. (Link is provided in my blogroll.)

I was reading Amy’s blog tonight–after the shortbread–and lo and behold, today she has posted about making homemade butter. Oh my.¬† I know it’s easy and fun and fantastic, but do I need homemade butter?¬† And do I need another project of ANY kind this week?¬† Then I priced heavy cream. You only get about 1/2 cup/one stick of butter from a pint of cream, so it isn’t very economical.¬† But then, you do get the buttermilk too–for those wonderful buttermilk bisquits, hah!¬†¬† That sound you just heard was probably my heart valves clogging right up from fat and cholesterol.¬† Maybe I should just THINK about homemade butter and bisquits.

Look for photos tomorrow, if all goes well….no, not photos of my heart clogging–that was not a good transition there—photos of my yummy cooking and future sewing projects.

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