Wordless Wednesday: Great Garden Gifts!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa's gnomes have got you covered with great garden gift ideas.








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The Joys of Homemade Yogurt

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I love yogurt, but I hate how much it costs in the grocery store.  Especially Greek yogurt, which is my absolute favorite kind of yogurt because it is high in protein and low in carbohydrates.  For these reason, Greek yogurt works really well in my diabetic meal plan.

I have read the blog posts that explain how to make yogurt using a crockpot slow cooker.  There are also posts that explain how to make yogurt in your oven too.  I have to say, these methods seemed easy for a single batch, but for the amount of work involved, I didn't see these methods as doable in the long run.

Recently I have realized that I need to include more yogurt, and the helpful bacteria living in the yogurt, into my diet.  I didn't want to blow my food budget trying to do this.  So in a moment of clarity, I decided to buy a yogurt maker on Amazon.com. I also purchased packages of yogurt starter.

So far I have made two batches and I already know I made a good choice.

I picked the yogurt maker with the glass containers, because I love how glass is non-porous and easy to clean.  I also think glass transfers the heat from the yogurt maker base better versus plastic.  I also like having seven 6 oz. individual servings in the refrigerator, all pre-portioned and ready to eat in the morning.  

Here is the recipe I am using to make my yogurt:

Selena's Thick Custard-style Greek Inspired Yogurt
42 oz. whole mix
10 Tbsp. nonfat milk powder
1 packet yogurt starter mix

Pour the milk into a microwave-safe bowl and heat on HIGH for 8 to 10 minutes, until the milk reaches a temperature of 180 degrees F.  Add the nonfat milk powder and using a whisk, stir to combine.

Allow the milk to cool on the counter, until the temperature reaches 115 degrees F.   If applicable, remove the skin that formed over the milk as it cooled.  Pour out one cup of milk and add the packet of yogurt starter mix.  Stir until combined, then add the milk back into the bowl and stir with the whisk.

Pour the milk into the yogurt making containers, set them onto the base, cover with the lid and turn the yogurt maker to the ON position.  Allow the milk to develop into yogurt for 10 to 12 hours.  The longer you allow the yogurt to cook, the tarter the taste.  To stop the process, refrigerate immediately and allow to cool for at least three hours before consuming. 



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Cranberry Relish to Remember

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hmm, maybe I shouldn't admit this--it kinda of makes me sound old!  But I actually posses a cranberry orange relish recipe that I have been using since the late 1980's.  It's called Cranberry Relish to Remember from Jane Brody's Good Food Book.

Here is the weird thing.  Somewhere along the way, I sort of misplaced the my copy of this cookbook around the early 2000's.  But as the name of the recipe implies, I still remembered this relish and how darn tasty it was!

Through the magic of the Internet and some pretty good search skills, I located the recipe again in 2009.

What can I say?  This is a holiday recipe that holds a special place in my heart. It is a great accompaniment to turkey, as well as scrumptious on toast or plain yogurt.  Try it for yourself and I think you'll agree.

Cranberry Relish to Remember 

2 cups fresh, whole, sound cranberries
1 fresh, whole, sound and unpeeled orange ( I prefer a Valencia orange)
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
2 to 3 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur (I use Grand Marnier)

1. Chop the cranberries and orange together by hand, in a food processor or by forcing them through the coarse blade of a meat grinder. (I use a chop box with the fine dicing insert.) Take care not to let the fruit get mushy.

2. Transfer the fruit to a bowl, and stir in the sugar, salt and liqueur.

3.  Let sit overnight in the refrigerator before serving.


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Gala Apple Pie

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I hate it when I buy produce in the market, only to discover when I get home that the quality is much lower than expected.  This happened to me recently when I bought a bag of small Gala apples.

My first mistake, of course, was buying produce in a netting bag.  I thought I had given the apples a real good once over in the store, but when I ripped open the netting at home I discover that it hide some pretty poor quality apples, with uneven skins and lots of bruises.

I thought about returned them, but that was too much hassle.  I thought about throwing them out, but that seemed like a waste.  Then I thought about salvaging them by preparing slices for freezing.

So I pulled out my copy of The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food: Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Freezing, Drying, and Canning only to learn that freezing apple slices might be fast, but only produces an acceptable product that is best used in pies and baked goods. 

Which led to my next dilemma: Gala apples aren't considered cooking apples.

What make a good cooking apple is firm flesh.  It's that firmness that prevents it from turning to mush when you cook it.  Because of that firmness, cooking apples also tend to be tart.

By contrast, an eating apple has softer flesh and a high sugar content.

But I decided to forge ahead anyway, so I cut up the apples into water with some Vitamin C powder in it.  Then I drained the apples and place them in a bowl with 1/4 cup of sugar to drawn juice out of the apples and dissolve the sugar.

As they were sitting on the counter, I looked at my book again and saw a tip that said:
An easy way to freeze apples for pies is to prepare the pie filling as you would if you were baking right away.
That sounded like a good idea, so I hunted on the Internet for a Gala Apple Pie recipe and stumbled across this one:

1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon 
4 tbsp light butter (stick or tub) at room temperature
4 Gala apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 refrigerated ready-made piecrusts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine apple juice, sugar (and cinnamon) and butter in a bowl. Add apples and cornstarch. Place one piecrust in a 9" pie pan and fill with mixture. Slice the second piecrust into eight 1/2-inch-thick strips and drape over filled pie shell in a crisscross pattern; pinch edges to fasten to bottom crust.

Bake 55 1 hour 15 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle top with cinnamon.


Here is how I modified the recipe:
  • I used 1/4 cup of the apple juice drawn out from the apples and used the rest of the juice for something else.
  • I cut the sugar down to 1/4 cup, since I already sprinkle the apples with 1/4 cup sugar to drawn the juice out.
  • I added the cinnamon to the rest of the filling ingredients.
  • I lined a pie plate with heavy duty aluminum foil and then poured in the apple filling.  I place the plate in the freezer for about 24 hours until the filling was frozen solid.
  • I remove the foil from the pie plate and wrapped the filling using an additional piece of foil.
  • When I was ready to bake the pie, I removed the aluminum foil and placed the frozen filling between the pie crusts prepared as above.
  • I found I needed to bake the pie for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 F. 

Here is how it turned out and it was delicious.  It was quite a triumphant hit with the hubs.  All this from apples that were quite the disaster when I purchased them.





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Crockpot Baked Potatoes

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I had no idea you could bake potatoes in the crockpot.  When I stumbled onto this recipe, I thought it was such a novel idea that I had to try it this Thanksgiving.  And I loved the results!

This recipe is quite a find.

Over the years, I have discovered much to my disappointment that not all baked potatoes are created equal.  Even when eating out, a good baked potato at one meal doesn't mean you'll get a good one at the next meal.  Which means ordering a baked potato can sometimes be quite the gamble.

By contrast, slow cooking lets the delicious flavor of the potato come out.  In comparison, conventional high-heat baking yields a less-than tasty result according to the Diane Phillips, author of Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever (With More Than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes).

Sure enough, these were some of the best baked potatoes I have ever eaten.  And the leftovers were equally tasty made into twice-baked potatoes the following day, by placing them back into the slow cooker on HIGH for one hour.

Crockpot Baked Potatoes
Serves 4

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed and washed well
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Using a toothpick, puncture each potato several times.  Drizzle the potatoes with oil and then sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.  Arrange the potatoes into a 4 quart crockpot and cook on LOW for 7 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.  Turn the crockpot to WARM and serve.

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Crockpot Southern-Style Green Beans

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crockpots to the Rescue

When you plan to make a big meal for the holidays, you suddenly realize there is only so much room in your oven or on the stove top to make all the things you want to eat. Here is where a crockpot slow cooker can really come to the rescue!

Not only does the handy dandy crockpot free up room elsewhere in the kitchen, it also helps spread out the work on the day of your holiday event. Most crockpot sides need to get started 4 to 8 hours before you serve them.  Once you get them started, you'll have time to rest before the stove-top and oven made dishes on your menu need your attention.

Plus once they are cooked, just turn your slow cooker to warm and serve them buffet style right out of the crock.

Green Beans with Bacon...Yum!

This indulgent way to prepare green beans reminds me a whole lot of how my Grandma made them on the stove top for holiday meals when I was a child.  I discovered this year that the wonderful Musica Spanish Pole Beans I grow in my garden are absolutely delicious prepared this way.

If you remember my post on these pole beans, you'll recall that I save bummer crops by washing them, drying them, cutting them into slivers and then freezing them in Ziploc vacuum freezer bags.  Which means, I did all the prep work on these green beans way back in August--a real holiday time saver!

This recipe is so simple, you'll want to include it at your next get-together:

Southern-Style Green Beans
serves 6 to 8

6 strips of nitrate-free bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 pounds of green beans, ends snipped and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 peeled cloves of garlic
6 whole black peppercorns

Simply place all the ingredient into a 5 to 7 quart slow cooker, cover and cook on LOW for six hours.  When ready to serve, discard the garlic cloves and whole peppercorns and dish up using tongs or a slotted spoon.

Recipe adapted from Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever (With More Than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes) by Diane Phillips

Want to get a crockpot/slow cooker of your own?  Click here to browse the selection and compare prices at Amazon.com. A slow cooker also makes a great holiday gift for the time-strapped cook in your life.




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What The Seated Gardener Makes for Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 24, 2011



Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the United States and all around the world.

So, were you wondering what The Seated Gardener makes and eats on Thanksgiving?  Let me share what was on the menu at my home this year:

  1. At 12 o'clock: homemade cranberry orange relish and fresh steamed asparagus
  2. At 2 o'clock: Crockpot Baked Potatoes, slow cooked and delicious
  3. At 5 o'clock: a wing from the 9 pound Li'l Butterball turkey that was fried using a Butterball Professional Series Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer and seasoned with a Butterball Buttery Creole Seasoning Kit
  4. At 8 o'clock: Southern-style Green Beans made in the crockpot, featured the Musica Spanish Pole Beans I grew this past summer in my garden
  5. In the middle: Stove Top stuffing (my husband's favorite) with diced onions, celery, carrots and fennel
  6. Next to the plate: a glass of Sutter Home Fre White Zinfandel (alcohol-removed wine) in a Govino Recyclable Shatterproof Plastic Wine Glass
  7. Not pictured: Gala Apple pie
Check back over the weekend as I will be sharing the recipes I used to make this Thanksgiving feast.






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Wordless Wednesday: Some of My Kitchen Essentials

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Taylor 806E4L Weekend Warrior Waterproof Digital Thermometer

Bodum New Kenya 34-Ounce Tea Press, Black
Pyrex Prepware 8-Cup Measuring Cup, Clear with Red Lid and Measurements

Orka A68910 Silicone Square Steam Cooker 42 Ounce, Red

Hamilton Beach 33135 3-in-1 Slow Cooker with 2-, 4-, and 6-Quart Crocks, Stainless Steel 


Breville BOV800XL The Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven with Element IQ

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Product Review: "Chop Boxes"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I'm back again today with another recommendation for a product that will help make food prep in the kitchen easier.

The Vidalia Chop Wizard and Other "Chop Boxes"

This is another product that is perfect for those of you who have hand pain, pain that makes using a knife more difficult.  There are several different brands of what I call "chop boxes" on the market (you can see the variety here on Amazon.com), but what they all have in common is a sharp insert grid that uniformly chops vegetables, fruit, cheese and hard boiled eggs into cubes. 

The device relies on you pushing down on the cover, forcing the food item through the grid and into the measuring container below.

Here is a video I found on YouTube that shows the Vidalia Chop Wizard in action:





OK, so what the video doesn't show is that, if pushing down with your hands is a challenge, you can use your arm or other parts of your body to push.  I admit that I have actually used my foot to gently and slowly step down on a chop box placed on the floor, which worked quite well!

Pros:

This item really does chop!  It makes the most uniform diced onions, vegetables, fruits, etc. you have ever seen. It takes less time to dice onions using a chop box versus using a knife and cutting board.  Plus the measurements on the box portion of the container make it easy to see when you have diced 1 cup and are done.

Cons: 

I love this device and highly recommend it.  However, there is a learning curve to using a chop box successfully, which I will share with you below.  This advice really isn't a list of  "cons" per se, but more of a list of things you need to know before you use your chop box the first time.

  1. You do need to cut larger vegetables into chunks the size of the insert grid before dicing them with the chop box.  
  2. It can also get a little dicey when you try to chop dense raw vegetables like potatoes, yams and beets.  You probably won't be able to create french fries with this.  And I actually broke my first chop box trying to dice raw beets.  (What was I thinking?) 
  3. You also need to dice things like tomatoes and pepper with the skin side facing the cover, otherwise the vegetable gets mashed into the cover, not diced into the container below.
  4. Finally, you'll want to wash this right way after using so that bits don't get dried and stuck into the cover, which makes it quite difficult to clean.

Want One Too?

Here is a widget featuring a selection of chop boxes on Amazon.com, where Prime members get these items shipped free to them in two days.  (I personally own the Vidalia Chop Wizard.)





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Product Review:
The Clever Cutter

Monday, November 21, 2011


With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it's time to get smart about getting things done in the kitchen.  So I want to highlight an item I use in my kitchen that makes food prep fast and easy.

 
The Clever Cutter

If you have hand pain that makes using a knife difficult, you need to check out The Clever Cutter.  It looks like a pair of scissors, but is actually a combination of a knife and mini cutting board.

Pros:

The advantage of this tool is that you can cut fruits and vegetables right into the serving bowl, which makes preparing a salad a snap.  It is very easy on your hand when you use it because it incorporates a metal spring into its design.  It is easy to clean and is dishwasher safe.  The Clever Cutter can be stored in a closed position (with the knife resting on the white cutting board) for safer storage.

Here is a video I found on YouTube that shows The Clever Cutter in action (although I'm not sure who you call to get 2 for $10):



Cons:

Unlike a knife, it can not cut through everything.  The scissor-like configuration does make it hard to cut large items, like watermelons or a whole raw chicken into pieces.  It is also a little difficult to sharpen the knife part of the device, but with some practice it gets easier.

Overall:

This is an example of a Seen On TV product that actually works really well.  It does what it says and makes my life much easier.  This unconventional product gets used A LOT in my kitchen.  It is a definite winner, so much so that I am going to buy a second one *just in case* something unforeseen happens to the one I already own.

Want One Too?

Here is a link to the item at Amazon.com, where Prime members get this shipped free to them in two days.




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I Do Some of My Best Thinking in My Garden

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A lemon blossom
I find that I do my best thinking when I am out in my garden.

There is something about the simple tasks I engage in there, like pulling weeds, planting seeds, harvesting vegetables and watering, that allow my mind to relax and focus on the things that are most important to me.

Yesterday while I was harvesting some of the vegetables still growing from summer, I starting thinking about my priorities in life. Which lead me to start composing a list in my mind.  This is the end result: 
  • I need to put myself before other people
  • I need to put people before things 
  • I need to focus on mindfulness, not multitasking 
  • I need to value mistakes over perfection 
  • I need to focus on gratitude for what I have, not longing for what I want

It amazes me how much quality thinking I do in my garden.

Do you do much thinking in your garden too?




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My Husband's Favorites: Cowboy Mac'n'Cheese

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Since I shared with you my seasoning mix made with sweet onions, celery, bell peppers and parsley, I wanted to share with you another recipe that uses it.  It also features mild chili peppers, another vegetable that I grow in my garden.

This recipe got me thinking that I should dice up mild green chili peppers and freeze them in small batches for use in Tex-Mex inspired meals.

The biggest surprise for me with this meal is how much my husband loves it.  My hubby says he doesn't like mac 'n' cheese, but I made this and my hubby couldn't get enough of it.  He also loves my Turkey, Broccoli Mac and Cheese recipe.

Let me know if your hubby loves this recipe too!

Cowboy Mac'n'Cheese
serves 6

2 cans condensed cheddar cheese soup
3 cups water
2 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons Tex-Mex chili seasoning
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 16 oz. container Trader Joe's Pulled Beef Brisket in Smoky BBQ Sauce
1 16 oz. box or bag of dried elbow macaroni
2 cups Mexican shredded cheese
3/4 cup frozen seasoning mix
1/4 cup diced mild green chiles

Coat a 6 quart slow cooker liner with cooking spray.

Whisk together until smooth the cheddar cheese soup, water, beef broth, chili season and chopped garlic in the slow cooker.

Add the barbecue beef, elbow macaroni, shredded cheese, seasoning mix and green chilies to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

Cover and cook on LOW for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.  Check at 2 1/2 hours as the macaroni cooks surprisingly quickly in a slow cooker. 


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