Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tried and true

You might recall that my New Year's Resolutions were to try new recipes, make more crafts and be more frugal.

Have I become more frugal? I think so.

Have I done more crafting? But I am relatively caught up on laundry, so I think it evens out.

Have I tried new recipes?  Yes!  While I've made a point to blog about the new Martha Stewart and Everyday Food recipes I've tried, I've had great experiences with meals and desserts from other bloggers and websites.  Also,  Pinterest has become a great source of new recipes for me.  I have boards for general recipes, desserts and vegetable dishes, and I am trying something new as often as possible.

Here's what I've tried, along with the links and my reviews.

Creamy Garlic Pasta by the Cheese Pusher:  OMG this stuff is amazing. I love this recipe. I've made it as a side dish and seeing how it was inhaled by my family, I made it again. The second time around, I added diced cooked chicken to make it the main course. Yum!

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder by Lulu the Baker: this is another great recipe. I foresee creating a crockpot version of this for cool fall nights.

Baked Potato Soup by Mama Loves Food: this was okay. I think I experimented a bit with the amounts of ingredients and technique here (and we all know how that usually turns out for me!) so it wasn't as tasty as I had hoped. I'll try this again in the fall, and next time I'll be sure to follow the instructions.

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili by Reds:  this is pretty good (and a good break from regular chili), and as far as cooking/prep go, it's a breeze!  I like to combine any leftovers with rice to make my Tex Mex Chicken Casserole.

Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Sauce by this was okay. I didn't make the recipe as spicy as it could have been, but this was a hearty (and different!) dish. Serve with rice!

Blueberry Breakfast Cake from Alexandra's Kitchen:  this is so, so, so delicious!  It's so cake-like that I feel guilty for eating it as breakfast instead of dessert. Word to the wise, however...Alexandra mentions in the instructions that the cake might need 10 minutes or so longer in the experience is that it most definitely needs longer time in the over. Just so you know.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips (shown above) from Martha Stewart:  these are amazing. I could eat them all day long!  Keep in mind that I had a sheet of these burn, so at the halfway mark you'll want to keep a close eye on these and probably decrease the baking time.

No Bake Cookies from Lick the Bowl Good: these cookies were a favorite when I was a kid, and I still love them just as much.  I increase the amount of oats by one cup when I use this recipe.

Terribly Terrific Toffee from A Southern Grace: NOM NOM NOM  I've made this recipe three times in less than a week now, and I might do another batch or two this weekend. This toffee, based with plain old saltine crackers, is easy to make and even easier to eat. Give it a try!

In fact, give all these recipes a try! And if you have a recipe I might like, or that you'd like to see featured on The Martha Initiative, be sure to let me know. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Since my Blondkopfchen tomato seedlings were started way back in February at Little Miss' birthday party, it makes sense that these are the first tomatoes to ripen in our garden. In fact, I believe the first grape tomatoes turned yellow-orange at the end of June.

And of course, we ate them immediately.  And by "we," I mean the kids.

Little Guy assured me they were quite tasty.

Little Miss kept asking for more, and I had to stop her several times from picking the unripe tomatoes.

And now, Little Miss is absolutely hooked on fresh Blondkopfchen tomatoes. Every other day, we check the vines to see if any are ripe, and end up eating them right then and there.

A week or so ago there were almost 20 ripe at once. I convinced Little Miss to wait until dinner to eat them.

At least, I thought I had convinced her to wait.

But these little tomatoes are just too tempting for Little Miss.

As it turned out, we didn't have any tomatoes to go with dinner. 

I am totally okay with that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Martha Monday--Mojitos and a sandwich

In the July/August issue of Everyday Food, I marked ten recipes as must-do's for this month. Of the ten, six of them are for cocktails. Go figure.

Last week I made the Watermelon Mojitos on page 94. They weren't bad!

There are five cocktails featured on the "Instant Party" spread--everything from a Singapore Sling to a Painkiller. Once I've made my way through them all, I'll let you know my favorite. ;)

After the mojitos, I made the Pesto Chicken Burgers from page 13.  I didn't have any ground chicken on hand, so I simply used cubed breast meat.  The ciabatta rolls, pesto, chicken, melted cheese and tomato slice was a terrific combination--what a great sandwich!

I'm not entirely sold on the watermelon mojito (a regular mojito is more my thing) but I am smitten with these pesto chicken burgers.  I'll be making them again. Need something different for dinner? Give these pesto chicken burgers a try!

Happy Monday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

PW's perfect iced coffee

Last summer, I had a strict morning routine. Get up, get ready for work, get the kids ready for their day, leave the house, stop at a coffee shop drive-thru for an iced coffee, and proceed to work.  I did this every day. Without fail. 

I am like the tides.  And I like my iced coffee, okay? Scratch that, I need my iced coffee. Daily.

However, that daily iced coffee routine was cutting into my summer fun (read: yard sales) budget in a big way, and I'm sure it wasn't helping my waistline either.  This summer, in order to have both my daily iced coffee and money for yard sale purchases, I decided to make my own iced coffee rather than dropping $5.00 at Dunkin' Donuts each morning.  Enter The Pioneer Woman's perfect iced coffee recipe. 

 I gave it a try, and I love love love it! It has saved my mornings and my budget.  All you need to make it is coffee grounds and water, and then whatever accompaniments you demand of your caffeine serving. I like half-and-half along with a splash of caramel flavor in my iced coffee. 


After I took the above picture, I realized that some of the ingredients are hard to see.  So I rearranged everything on another countertop and took another picture:

You can see the ingredients and final product, but everything is blurry. When it comes to photography, I am certainly not The Pioneer Woman. Though it might help if I drank the iced coffee before I started snapping pictures in the morning.

Note to self: caffeine intake first, taking pictures second.

I am really happy with this iced coffee recipe. Not only does it taste exactly like what I used to buy at the drive-thru each morning, but it costs a LOT less.  Seriously, the savings is amazing! Last summer, I spent $20-25 each week just on iced coffee. This year, I spent just $20 on ingredients to make iced coffee all summer long. You do the math!

Really, math isn't my thing. You do it.

And give PW's perfect iced coffee recipe a try. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Martha Monday--Skillet shrimp and orzo

In the May 2012 issue of Everyday Food, there is an amazing one-pot recipe of skillet shrimp and orzo:

The ingredients are fairly simple, as is the process, and I just had to make it. The recipe calls for 3/4 pound of orzo, but as you might know, most boxes of orzo are a full pound. Rather than deal with the math, I put in all the orzo and two full cans of chicken broth.  And, since I used canned tomatoes, I added all of the juice. The orzo turned out just fine.

However, I got the crazy idea to GRILL OUT the accompanying shrimp (along with some chicken). As you can see, that did not turn out just fine.  Grilling simply isn't my thing.

Then, to add insult to injury, I wasn't watching the orzo closely enough during the cooking process and a small layer was burned to the bottom of the pan.  Not fine. I'd say cooking isn't my thing, but I will not let this one mishap diminish my quest to become Aurora's version of Martha Stewart. 


And because it is summer, watermelon is also my thing. A thing which, when following dinner, totally makes up for blackened shrimp and chicken and burned orzo at the bottom of the pan. Which is just fine with me.

I will be trying this recipe again. The orzo was delicious, and I can only imagine that by following directions and cooking the shrimp in the skillet that the entire dish would be amazing.  Give this recipe a try today, but please learn from my mistakes and follow the instruction.  Just in case, keep some watermelon on hand and you'll be just fine.

A note to Tenney in Hawaii:  your emails always brighten my day. Aloha!

A note to everyone: As always, thanks for reading. Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pesto with kale

Need a fun side dish for tomorrow's festivities?  By fun, I mean 'easy', and of course I'm referring to my favorite summer side Pasta with Pesto. YUM!!!!

But, now that I am a bona fide gardener, I'm putting a bit of kale in with my usual pesto ingredients (basil, olive oil, pine nuts and garlic).  Kale is a superfood so expect to be able to fly or have x-ray vision after you eat it.*

*This statement is probably mostly not true. Maybe.

Also, the addition of kale helps the pesto keep that awesome green color.  If you give this a try, and you really should I INSIST, be sure to keep the kale/basil ratio at 1:2.  That's one part kale to two (or more) parts of basil.  I think.  Really I'm not sure how to express that in mathematical terms, so just read the word parts and do what that says.

Have a wonderful (and safe) Independence Day!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Martha Monday--Fourth of July desserts

Independence Day is almost here...time for grilling out, parades and fireworks!  With the heat wave here in the Midwest, I am looking forward to cool desserts to follow the bbq.  And naturally, Martha has a bunch of ideas on her site.

Since it's too hot to turn on the oven, these Firecracker Ice Pops are worth a try:

This Mixed Berry Salad with Mint also looks refreshing:

But if your dessert needs to contain chocolate, then these super-easy Pretzel Sparklers are for you:

Should you feel the need to take a more traditional route and actually bake despite the soaring temps outside, then I can heartily recommend these Fireworks Cookies:

I made them last year and they were a huge hit. 

This Summer Shortcake is also a real crowd-pleaser:

I've also made this before, and it was delicious! 

My plans for the Fourth are still up in the air, but I'm sure they will include good food, good friends and good desserts.  What are your plans for the Fourth of July?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Butterfly and bee gardens

To help with pollination issues, I've planted two small butterfly gardens in the backyard.  The first and biggest is in the northwest corner situated under a locust tree, between the Wall of Tomatoes and the compost bins. It features sedum, asters and a few other flowers and shrubs that I just can't remember the names of.  Which I'm sure happens to Martha all the time.

The most prominent butterfly-attractor is a large purple butterfly bush. Next to that is one lonely milkweed stalk. For those of you not in the Midwest, milkweed is essential to the Monarch butterfly. The caterpillars feed on it, and it's usually where they make their chrysalis to turn into a butterfly. 

I've been told that milkweed is invasive. If so, I hope it invades the heck out of this corner of my yard. The more butterflies in my garden, the better!

Already the butterfly bush is working...see the bee collecting nectar?

There's another small gathering of flowering plants in the southwest corner of the backyard between the strawberries and the beets. This bee/butterfly garden is much smaller with one butterfly bush and two asters.  There are no flowers yet, but hopefully I'll see some action soon.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What the...?

Lots of kitchen scraps go in my compost bin: vegetable peels, seeds, apple cores, etc.  Early this spring, I turned the piles to help aid the breakdown of all that organic matter.  Despite my best efforts, something in the compost bin didn't decompose; instead, it's growing!

I really don't know what this plant is, just that it's growing noticeably bigger with each passing day. Already it has filled up the middle compost bin and is spilling over into the adjacent bins.  Seriously, this thing is growing 10x faster than anything else in my garden.  A testament to the power of compost, perhaps?

Based on the vining, leaves and blossoms, I'm guessing this is some sort of cucumber or squash.  Already a little something is growing. 

This mystery vegetable is really quite exciting. I just hope it isn't some sort of cannibalistic alien a la Little Shop of Horrors.  If it says to me "Feed me, Amanda!" then I'll know we have a problem. 

Just don't blame it on the compost.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New garden space

Yesterday, I shared my perimeter garden. In the spring, as I was starting a gazillion seeds in my dining room, it became apparent that I had more sprouts and seeds than I had space to plant them.  Whereas some people might cull their collection of seedlings and seed packets at that point, I simply decided to carve out some more garden space.

It's what Martha would do.

Here are my two brand-new garden beds on the west side of the backyard:

Each bed is 4'x16'. The first bed contains cauliflower, carrots and peppers.

The second new space contains winter squash (acorn, butternut and two other varieties), blue corn and summer squash (zucchini, patty pan and one other variety).  This bed in particular is flourishing.  I expect to be eating patty pan squashes in the next week or so, with zucchini ready shortly after that.

And because even after creating two new garden beds I still needed more room, here is the flower-bed-turned-corn-field area on the south side of the house. 

I have four planting of corn there, all planted ten days apart. My hope is that even if each section only gives me 10 ears or so, there will be time to eat and enjoy it before the next batch is ready for harvest.

So there you have 2012 Garden Extravaganza!  Math is not my thing, but I put my garden's area at 368 square feet.  I weeded everything over the weekend, and that task took me a full two hours.  All things considered that's not bad, though I'd rather have spent that time reading a book and eating bonbons.

I'll weed again in another month or so. In the meantime, I am ready for some strawberries and summer squash. Happy first day of summer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Perimeter garden

Last year, I made garden beds around the perimeter of the backyard but severely underutilized the space.  I was new to the gardening game, and I didn't want to get in over my head. Last year I enjoyed a good harvest from nearly everything I planted.  This year, I was determined to get the most use out of my garden space. 

I may have gotten in over my head.

Along the north fence with the pear and peach trees is the Wall of Tomatoes.  I believe there are 25 or so tomato plants along that fence, though I've lost track of the exact number. There's a pepper or two nestled amongst the tomatoes, and two basil patches thrown in for good measure. This area gets a decent amount of sunlight which hopefully lead to bushels and bushels of tomatoes.

Along the west side of the fence, I have two sections of potatoes. This is my first time growing potatoes so I have no idea what to expect. So far, not a lot is happening.

Moving south along the west side of the backyard, you'll find the broccoli. As with the potatoes, this is my first time growing broccoli and I really don't know what's going on here.  The broccoli is green and the leaves get bigger each week, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

I planted four varieties of eggplant: Epic, Fairy Tale, Gretal and Hansel.  In that order. Which is alphabetical, you might have noticed.  Which gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

I have two strawberry patches along the west fence.  All Star is a June-bearing strawberry, and Ozark Beauty is an ever-bearing variety.  Strawberry plants can take a full year to get established, but once they are the plants will last for several years.  While I won't get nearly enough berries for freezing or jam, there have been a few to nibble on. Yum!

Turning the corner to the south side of the yard (same side as the apple trees), you'll find my beet patch.  I first tasted fresh beets at Uncle Rich's house last November. They were delicious, and I was compelled to plant some of my own this year.

To the left of the beets is the kale patch. I've been collecting kale recipes on Pinterest for quite some I just need to pick this stuff and start cooking!

Next are the peas and carrots flanked by two more tomato plants.  The trellis is actually a broken baby gate I found by the side of the road. Peas don't grow very high, so I thought this support would be sufficient.

Pole beans are next.  The seeds I used were from last year, and so far only half of them have sprouted. At this point, I think that's all I'm going to get.  Soon, I'll get some trellis' up for the beans.

Trellis' are already in place for the cucumbers. For some reason, my cucumbers are not getting off to a great start.  Maybe they aren't getting enough sun?  Though last year, I did have one cucumber vine along this fence and it did just fine. Maybe they're just slow to get started.  I planted three varieties this year, and if I have a large enough yield I'll try my hand at making homemade pickles.

Finally, this last section is a mish-mash of the peppers and tomatoes I couldn't fit anywhere else.  I'm not complaining, though...there is no such thing as too many peppers or tomatoes.  Overall, I think I have 20 or so pepper plants (I'll share those pictures tomorrow) and 30 or so tomato plants. I lost count.

So that's my perimeter garden, which accounts for almost 3/4 of my total garden space. I'll share the rest of it with you tomorrow. 

Have a great day!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Martha Monday--Garden watching

Martha Stewart has some amazing gardens.  Her gardens, combined with her expansive property and animals, actually resemble more of a farm. In fact, that is how she refers to her property (named "Cantitoe Corners") in Bedford,  New York. 

Martha's amazing vegetable garden is....amazing:

My vegetable garden is not quite there, but I am working on it. Also, I'm working on getting a staff of 40 to do all the work my house and ginourmous garden will require. I'll keep you posted.

Martha does fancy things in her garden like install time-lapse cameras so she can monitor the progress of the peas:

I'm not into monitoring my own peas (at this point I am just crossing my fingers that I'll harvest some), but I have been keeping on eye on my neighbors' gardens.  Next door neighbors Sara and Yogita are doing a great job growing veggies in their backyards.  Both ladies have some great gardens coming up with everything from herbs to eggplants to tomatoes.

This is Sara's garden just next door:

That's Little Miss taking a peek inside.  Sara has cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and a few other things in there. Everything is growing at such a rapid pace!  My tomatoes are not this big and lush yet. I can only assume Sara is sneaking into my garden at night and sabotaging my tomatoes' progress.

Yogita also has a wonderful garden growing. This year, she doubled the space so she could grow more tomatoes, herbs, spinach, everything!  Yogi's garden is beautiful and looks like a miniature version of Martha Stewart's.  Behold:

And just like in Sara's garden, Yogita's plants are so much more lush and full than my own at this point.  Maybe they are both sabotaging me!  Of course, a more likely explanation is that they both water their gardens regularly. 

That, and the fact that they are better gardeners than I am is probably the real reason for their success.  No matter, I'll just steal their tomatoes while they are sleeping.

Don't worry Sara and Yogi, I am totally kidding about stealing tomatoes.  Though I will be willing to trade them for Ice Pops.  Let me know!

Happy Monday, everyone!