Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Garden fresh

Last night, my husband and I each made a delicious salad to go along with our meal. The salads were so fresh and good and were made from tomatoes, green bell pepper and a cucumber from our raised bed garden.
We've been eating the cucumbers for several weeks, and just a few days ago had our first, ripe and juicy tomato. Last night, we added a very tender and tasty bell pepper to our salad. I really love homegrown bell peppers; they are so much better than their thick-skinned cousins I buy at the supermarket.
Reggie and I have loved our little garden, outlined from 2X4s we found stored under my Daddy's shed. We visit the garden several times a day, just to check on things. Over the weeks, we've gotten excited over the first cucumber, the siting of the first watermelon and the first red tomato. I know, we're silly, but it's really been fun for us.
Our newest discovery this week was a few crop of tiny cantaloupes! I had given up on them and had decided I might just pull up the vines and plant pumpkins instead. Buy my patience paid off. We have five or six walnut-size, fuzzy green cantaloupes growing in the garden now with two more up to the size of an orange. Anna and I love cantaloupes and can't wait to see if these grow to be as sweet as some of the ones we've bought this summer.
This weekend, I'm going to make a roasted vegetable pasta dish and will use our abundant supply of grape tomatoes, a zucchini I bought at the farmer's market today, and one or two of my bell peppers. I know I'll be stingy with my peppers. I'm hoping to have enough one day to make some stuffed peppers.
I'm so glad Reggie and I decided to do the raised bed garden this year. We never had much luck with patio tomatoes and peppers. It was expensive to fill the plot with bagged garden soil and manure, but it was worth it. We've enjoyed working side-by-side, having something different to talk about and now relish in our little harvest.

Blueberry goodness

I hope you like blueberries because I have another delicious and simple recipe to take advantage of those plump berries in grocery stores and farmers markets right now.

My cousin Betty passed along the recipe for Blueberry Oat Bars recently. I stuffed it in my pocketbook and forgot about it until last week. I'm so glad I found it!

The recipe is a simple one-bowl recipe that mixes up in just a few minutes. There are no complicated ingredients; in fact, the only item I had to buy was the blueberries. Everything else was in my pantry or refrigerator.

I only made a few changes. The original recipe called for margarine, but I used butter. It also recommended a glaze of powdered sugar and milk added after the cake had cooled, but I opted for cinnamon sugar instead, which I sprinkled on before baking.

The result is a very moist cake with delicious berries enhanced by the undercurrent of cinnamon. This cake is delicious as a dessert but would be equally good for breakfast or brunch.

I'm already thinking of ways to expand on this recipe. It would definitely be good with apples and nuts instead of blueberries. And I'm thinking it would make a simple and tasty cake without the fruit. Just top the cake with chocolate syrup or frosting. It's so easy to make, you could mix it up on the spur of the moment to treat the family to a weeknight dessert.

But try it with the blueberries first!

Blueberry Oat Bars
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • Cinnamon sugar
Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and milk and mix well. Add flour and oats and mix until combined. With spoon stir in blueberries coated with flour or sugar. (I took 2 tablespoons of sugar from the 3/4 cup and tossed it with the blueberries).

Pour batter into greased 9x9 pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cool treats for July 4

There's something special about July 4. It's right in the middle of the lazy days of summer, when we're already in a laid-back mood.

It's not one of the high-pressure holidays. You don't have to buy gifts, cook a turkey or come up with the perfect card for your sweetheart. You just get to enjoy it. At my house, that usually means cooking on the grill or at least eating picnic foods, even if we buy the fried chicken from a restaurant and team it with locally grown corn on the cob.

And although the menu has changed from year to year -- maybe hot dogs one year and cheeseburgers the next -- I have made a flag cake almost every year since I had children. I know you've seen this cake: yellow cake in large Pyrex dish, frosted with vanilla frosting or Kool Whip and decorated with strawberries and blueberries to resemble the American flag.

This time of year, women's magazines have all kind of recipes that incorporate a patriotic theme, and most look fairly easy, from red and blue sprinkles on a cupcake to sugar cookies dyed red or blue and cut out in the shape of stars. Most are easy adaptations of recipes and decorations we are already familiar with.

I've been wanting to make ice cream sandwiches, and decided I'd give them a patriotic theme with red and blue M&M Minis that I sorted from a large bag of the candies. I've made ice cream sandwiches several times over the years, using different chocolate chip cookie recipes. This time I used my family's favorite chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe, adding some corn syrup because I read that would keep the cookies from getting too hard in the freezer.

I have a few tips if you're making your own ice cream sandwiches this summer.

First, find somewhere cool to assemble the dessert. My kitchen was hot when I put dollops of ice cream between my cooled cookies. The ice cream started melting quickly, and the M&M decorations I put on the sides immediately started to melt colors onto my vanilla ice cream before falling off altogether. I wanted to cry, but instead, I came up with a solution.

I placed my remaining ice cream sandwiches on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for several hours to harden the ice cream. When I was ready to serve them later that day, I dotted the ice cream with M&Ms Minis that had been chilled in the refrigerator. They must be served immediately.

If you want to avoid dealing with the M&Ms on the side of your cookie, mix them into the cookie batter instead, adjusting the amount of chips accordingly. When I make this cookie recipe, I use 1 cup M&M Minis and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

If you have any remaining ice cream sandwiches, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and return to the freezer until ready to serve. I found that if I wrapped the sandwiches in plastic as soon as I made them, the ice cream continued to melt and attach itself to the plastic wrap, making a mess.

For an easier version of this recipe, use ready-to-bake chocolate chip cookies instead of cookies made from scratch. You can also vary the ice cream flavor. Wouldn't a chocolate cookie be delicious with mint chocolate chip ice cream? And you can certainly vary the decorations on the side and use sprinkles or chocolate chips or even chopped nuts.

Pasta salads

When you're planning your July 4 gathering, you might want to consider a new pasta salad. You can make the dish in advance and keep it chilling until it's time to eat. And other than boiling the pasta, you don't have to worry about heating up the kitchen.

I asked readers last week to submit their favorite pasta salad, and I got two responses.

Laura Harris said her recipe is always a hit and feeds a crowd.

Marie Brown has a tuna salad made with a box of macaroni and cheese. She said it's one of her favorites.

Thanks to Laura and Marie for sharing their recipes!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips*
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Either prepare cookie sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

In medium bowl cream melted butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Beat in vanilla, egg and egg yolk until creamy. Mix in flour until blended. Add in chocolate chips until mixed throughout dough.

Drop approximately 2 teaspoons dough per cookie onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake at 325 degrees for 17 minutes or until top turns a light golden brown. Don’t overcook because you want the cookies to stay soft.

Makes approximately 28 cookies.

*I make this recipe often; it’s my family’s favorite chocolate chip cookie. I usually make it with 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup M&M Minis. I also omit the corn syrup if I’m not using them for ice cream sandwiches. I usually make them large, using my muffin scoop to form each cookie.

Ice Cream Sandwiches
  • Cooled chocolate chip cookies
  • Vanilla ice cream (I use the low-fat version.)
  • M&M Minis or other decorations, such as nuts or sprinkles (I find it works better to cool the M&Ms in the refrigerator.)
Make sure cookies are completely cooled. Find two that match up fairly well in shape and size. Put a scoop of ice cream on one cookie and make a sandwich with the second. The cookies should be firm enough to press down and flatten the sandwich some. Place the sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet and freeze. Just before serving, place decorations on the ice cream.

Pasta Salad
  • 1 box penne pasta
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Accent
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, sliced thin
  • 4 ounce jar pimentos, drained
Boil pasta according to directions. Drain and add additional ingredients.

Make 1 day ahead and refrigerate.

Laura Harris

Mac and Cheese Tuna Salad
  • 1 box Kraft Deluxe Mac and Cheese (prepared as directed and cooled)
  • 2 cans white tuna (drained)
  • 3 eggs (boiled and chopped)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup green bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet pickles
  • 1 jar chopped pimentos (drained)
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
Mix all ingredients, cover and refrigerate. Serves 6.

Marie Brown

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cool salad for a hot day

For lunch today, I had a real treat: a creamy pasta salad and perfectly ripened chunks of cantaloupe. I had prepared both the night before.

I thought about lunch all morning and how easy it would be to just dish it out and enjoy it when I got home. And I did enjoy it. In fact, I didn't know when to stop eating! (I know; that's bad.)

One good thing about this recipe, those of us who eat pasta salad at my house all loved it.

There's nothing ground breaking about this salad, no complicated ingredients, no tricky preparation. Just a straight-forward, easy side dish that's a little different from other pasta salad recipes I make.

I really enjoy pasta salads made with fat-free Italian dressing, but I've been craving a creamy pasta salad since watching one being made on a Food Network show a few days ago. The recipe wasn't given, although the diner cook did mention the ingredients while she was making the salad. I hopped up from my seat, grabbed some paper and a pen and jotted down the ingredients as she tossed them in her bowl.

I used that and a few other recipes as a starting point.

The dressing for this salad is reduced-fat sour cream and reduced-fat mayonnaise mixed with honey dijon mustard. I seasoned the dressing with some salt and pepper. The diner cook added onion powder and garlic salt, but I had neither. I used about a half cup of cubed cheddar cheese and about a cup and a half of mixed veggies including diced celery, shredded carrots and red, orange and green bell peppers. To save money, I bought the peppers and carrots from the salad bar at my favorite grocery store. That way I got three varieties of peppers without having to buy three whole peppers, which would have been too many for this salad.

You could use a number of pastas for this salad including elbows and seashells, but I used cellentani or cavatappi, a long, wavy tubular pasta known as double elbows that I've always enjoyed cooking with.

As the hot days of summer progress, I'm sure I'll be making more and pasta salads to eat at lunch. It's so nice to have a cool meal on a hot day.

If you have a favorite pasta salad recipe you'd like to share with our readers, send it to me at lisa@wilsontimes.com.

Creamy Pasta Salad
  • 1 pound cellentani or other pasta, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup vegetables, including shredded carrots, diced multi-colored bell peppers and celery
  • 8 oz. reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon honey Dijon mustard (any mustard would work)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Cool drained pasta with water.

Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Stir into pasta, along with vegetables and cheese.

Cool before serving.

Keep refrigerated.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Much needed shopping trip

I went to the outlet stores in Smithfield last night with my sister and our girls. Sounds like a simple enough trip, huh? Nothing worthy of writing about.
But it had a major significance for me.
Until my mother's death in February, we spent as much time as we could with my parents whenever Susan and the girls came to visit. We sent the sitters home, and we were the sitters both day and night. We clung to the time we had together, eating meals around their kitchen table, visiting on the porch, sitting in the den giving our parents a bedtime snack. There was no time to go shopping and no one to leave them with if we did. And although we missed our outings together, it was OK. It's how we wanted it.
But last night, we had no responsibility at home. We were free to go shopping.
We chatted all the way to Smithfield, all carefree and all excited.
We stopped at whatever shops we wanted and took our time.Susan and I browsed in a cooking store for well more than a half and hour as the girls made their way in and out of shops looking at T-shirts and earrings. We met up later and admired shorts and tops the girls tried on, offering advice and encouragement to spend money!
We stayed in the last shop until it was time for the employees to lock up and go home, but not before making a few more splurges.
On the ride home we talked about our trip, we refereed a silly play fight in the back seat, and we told stories on each other.
About halfway home, Susan mentioned how nice it would be if Mama was back home, ready to make a batch of popcorn on the stovetop for us. "And Daddy could make chocolate milkshakes," I said. We talked about how Mama would always fret if we didn't get home before dark and how she'd be standing at the door, arms crossed, looking for for our car lights to appear over the hill. "I was getting worried," she'd always say as she opened the door to welcome us in. We'd remind her we'd been gone less than an hour and only to Wal-Mart, less than a mile away, but that didn't matter, we were out after dark!
We all wished we could call call her and tell her we were on our way home, but we couldn't of course.
The mood got light again in the car, and a few fits of laughter and giggles broke out both on I-95 and again in line at Sonic when an uninvited and very large beetle made its way into our car. Actually there was a little screaming with that incident.
Regardless, there was plenty of laughter and plenty of smiles.
It was good to be happy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It's blueberry season in North Carolina, and that's good news for those of us who love them.

Blueberries are big business in our state. In 2008, North Carolina growers produced more than 28 million pounds of blueberries, according to the N.C. Blueberry Council. That's a lot of cobblers and muffins!

Although many of us in this region have blueberry bushes growing in our yard, the bulk of commercial blueberries are grown in Bladen, Sampson, Pender and Duplin counties.

Blueberries are antioxidant rich and provide a substantial punch of Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

My family loves blueberries, and in addition to our traditional blueberry dishes, I'm always eager to try new recipes once I can find the big, fat N.C. blueberries we love so much.

The most recent recipe I tried was blueberry jam. I make a lot of yeast breads, and I enjoy having a piece of toast and jam or jelly for breakfast with my bread. I'm almost out of my sister's peach jam and my freezer strawberry jam from last summer, so it's nice to have a new flavor in the house.

One of my favorite toast toppings is a blueberry fruit spread from Cascadian Farm, so I was eager to see if I'd like a homemade version as much.

There are several versions of this same Easy Lemon Blueberry Jam on the Internet. I was surprised to see that the recipe uses lemon Jello, not pectin. Often, it's the novelty of a recipe that intrigues me, and in this case, it was the lemon Jello that drew me in!

The reviews all point to how easy the jam is to make, and I found that to be true as well. The only change I made was to reduce the amount of sugar from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups.

It only took a few minutes to prepare and cook this recipe and have it ready for the refrigerator. The result is a very tasty jam with nice big pieces of sweet blueberries.

If you love blueberries, give it a try on toast, bagels or biscuits and enjoy the goodness of my favorite blue fruit!

I've also made Crumb-Topped Blueberry Muffins three times in the last month. They are so moist and good! The second time I made them, I topped them with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar instead of the crumb topping. Both ways are delicious. I'm sure I'll be making this recipe several more times this summer.

Lemon Blueberry Refrigerator Jam
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (3 ounce) package lemon Jello
In a large saucepan, slightly crush 2 cups of blueberries. Add remaining berries and sugar, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; stir in Jello until dissolved. Pour hot jam into jars or containers. Cover and cool. Refrigerate.

Adapted from allrecipes.com

Crumb-Topped Blueberry Muffins
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Fill 12-cup muffin pan with liners; you’ll probably only need 10 or 11.
Combine flour and sugars. Pour vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup. Add the egg and enough milk to fill to 1 cup mark. Mix liquid ingredients with dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups to about three-quarters full and sprinkle with crumb topping.
To make topping, mix ingredients with a fork.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Adapted from allrecipes.com

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trim down with new recipes

For my birthday last month, I requested several of those cooking magazine special editions found at checkout counters in grocery stories and in our favorite bookstore.

I do love looking through new cookbooks, and although I have enough of them, it's fun to me to have new recipes to choose from.

I especially like Taste of Home's Comfort Food Diet Cookbook. Although I've seen many of these recipes before in the company's magazines, it's nice to have them assembled in one book.

The book, which sells for $9.99, has more than recipes in its 144 pages. There's also plenty of information on how to eat healthy and get into shape.

I enjoyed reading the snacks section and getting ideas on easy afternoon snacks. Did you know there are only 45 calories in a cup of whole strawberries? And 2/3 cup of Cherrios teamed with 1/4 cup fat-free milk has just 93 calories. And, this is my favorite, you can have a 49-calorie snack when you enjoy two Hershey's Kisses.

There's a two-week meal plan using recipes found in the book, and the book's recipes are grouped by calories. For instance, breakfast recipes are divided by under 100 calories, 101-200 calories and 201-300.

One of the recipes I'm most interested in trying is in the breakfast section, Crunchy Apple Salad.

California Pizzas, in the lunch category and weighing in at 245 calories, is a delicious recipe I made several years ago. When my garden tomatoes get ripe, I'll be making that easy dish, which starts with a flour tortilla.

I also really look forward to trying Makeover Frosted Banana Bars. Yum.

The recipe I've already made from this book is Garden Primavera Fettuccine. This is a super-easy side dish, which I made even easier by using a bag of Steam Fresh mixed vegetables instead of fresh. This is the first recipe I've ever made using a jar of Alfredo sauce. I thought the sauce was very good and teamed nicely with the vegetables.

I'm always looking for a new side dish to serve my family, and I thought this was a very good alternative to a green salad.

Garden Primavera Fettuccine
  • 1 package (12 ounces) fettuccine
  • 1 cup fresh cauliflowerets*
  • 1 cup fresh broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup julienned carrot
  • 1 small sweet red pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 small yellow summer squash, sliced
  • 1/2 small zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup Alfredo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional
In a large saucepan, cook fettuccine according to package directions, adding vegetables during the last 4 minutes. Drain and return to the pan.

Add Alfredo sauce and basil; toss to coat. Cook over low heat for 1-2 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with cheese if desired.

Yield: 10 servings. 165 calories per serving.

Taste of Home

*Instead of using fresh vegetables, I made this recipe with a package of Steamfresh broccoli, cauliflower and carrot blend. I cooked the vegetables in the microwave, then added to the cooked and drained pasta.

Cappuccino Smoothies
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) cappuccino or coffee yogurt
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, optional
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows, divided
In a blender, combine the yogurt, milk, sugar if desired and chocolate syrup. Add ice cubes and 1/4 cup marshmallows; cover and process until blended. Pour into chilled glasses; top with the remaining marshmallows. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3 servings. 166 calories

Taste of Home