What I’ve Been Up To, Kinda Sorta… Wednesday, Aug 24 2016 

So…As always, it’s been busy. So busy that I never seem to have time to write. Seems to be the story of my life — which is fine. Busy can be a beautiful story, a fulfilling story…and a tired one too! I have spent years with young children, and now my “baby” is going to be twelve in a little over thirty days. I just can’t believe it — how did that happen!? A friend once told me “Don’t blink – they grow so fast!” She wasn’t kidding…

In the season of life I’ve been in for the past 16 going-on 17 years, there has been a lot of “stuff” going on in my kitchen…I have done everything from attempting pastries and candy-making, cake decorating, elaborate ethnic meals, plain ol’ standby meals, creative breakfasts, healthful eating. I have a plethora of cookbooks and I’m a fan of cooking magazines as well (if you don’t believe me, see my earlier post “Books versus Magazines…” http://wp.me/p32HQ0-6b). Needless to say, there is always something going on in the kitchen.

This month I am starting my bulk canning to take advantage of summer’s bounty and to gear up for winter. I am also attempting a few new things. So, here’s what I’ve been up to:

* Canned mojito mint simple syrup — so I can enjoy a real mojito all year long without having to wait until mint is flourishing again (as only mint can)…[Question: Is it pretentious to bring your own mint to a bar?? Don’t judge…]

If you’ve never canned anything before and want to learn, there are a few great sites I love. First, the Living Homegrown podcast is amazing! Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown’s blog and podcast, as well as the Co-Executive Producer and Canning Expert on the national PBS television series, “Growing A Greener World”. You can find her at (http://www.livinghomegrown.com/). The Ball company has been providing canning equipment and advice to home canners since its founding in 1880. You can find advice and recipes at their site: (http://www.ball.com/na). You will hear a LOT from new and seasoned canners alike about the USDA safety standards. You can access their Complete Guide to Home Canning files here: (http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html). This is a treasure trove of information that will help you get started. Just a quick FYI about that — I live in Amish country, where some people put up food by methods no longer approved for food safety. If you are starting canning, I suggest you start by following the guidelines and learning the science behind them before you go rogue. Lastly, any cooperative extention office and/or website should also be able to give you assistance – and maybe even offer instruction. I got my start through Penn State’s local cooperative extention office. I am so appreciative for the tried and true canning methods that they teach.

* Canned crushed tomatoes with fresh romas from my own garden. I consider this quite an accomplishment. I usually stock up on crushed tomatoes when they’re on sale anyway, but we had a bountiful year growing these (first time ever too), so I am pleased to offer my family something entirely homemade – with the side benefit of knowing exactly what went into the canning jar.

* Canned seasoned tomato sauce. When I say we had romas, oh boy did we! I am still not close to finished picking them either. God is always good!

* Started kombucha. If you’ve never tried it, it is a fermented drink that you make with tea and a culture called a SCOBY. This is entirely uncharted territory for me by the way. A generous soul from our church offered a SCOBY and I was really blessed to accept. I’d heard about and tried bottled kombucha from the store, but I always feel that if I can make something, it’s better to try. That way you know exactly what you’re getting. And kombucha is great in that you can use the SCOBY again. And then grow it enough to share. I’m almost finished finally with my first batch. I don’t know if the cupboard I kept it in was too warm – we had quite a humid week when I started. But it smells and looks about what it should look like based on what I’ve tried. This website (http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/category/kombucha/) offers some great information for beginners. The generous woman who offered the SCOBY offered this link for those of us trying it: (http://avivaromm.com/fermentationist?inf_contact_key=58b8ec11beca2a3d6c8da61e96c1b45477c928134406c8f23359394e1234f251). I haven’t had a chance to listen to this talk yet, but she raved about the speaker so I’m psyched to hear it!

* Began a sourdough starter from scratch. Yeah, you can buy them. But as I said – I believe in trying to make what I can. This is, like a SCOBY, one of those recyclable foods you can make and then use/give away. I have been anxious to try this, and so far it’s working. I used King Arthur organic flour just so it would be more healthful (read: non-GMO crap), but you can use what you have. I don’t always buy organic due to price, but I should. Some things that are happening in the food industry quite frankly scare me (okay, terrify!), so I’m still moving toward better choices for my family. And myself of course. I’m on Day 2 of this project. The recipe I have takes 5 days. It is pretty cool – I already have small bubbles and a slightly tangy smell to the starter, which is a good thing. So I’m on the right track with this too. (Yay me!)

I may not be as far ahead in my canning game as some people; but with the busy-ness of my season in life, I feel like I’m at least progressing. And any step forward is one step closer to success. It’s only when you cease to move ahead that you have failed.

If you’ve never tried any of these things – go play in your kitchen and take advantage of summer’s bounty!


seasoned tomato sauce

Being authentic… Friday, Apr 22 2016 

It’s been a long while since I posted a blog of any kind, and that thought kind of depresses me. But more than that, it has made me stop and think about who I really am and what things are really important to me. It’s easy to get lost in living and doing and being for others. At times that can be a positive thing, when you’re reaching out in selflessness. The danger is when you begin to lose your inherent identity, when you stop doing the things you enjoy that nourish your spirit, body, soul and mind…

And I was kind of teetering on the brink of losing the things that I enjoy — stuff like writing, singing, taking photos of things that inspire me, playing in the kitchen, reading, observing, taking time to notice the details…None of those things consume me so much that I’m unavailable to offer my time to others. But those things are all things that make me me. And in my busyness I stopped taking time to enjoy any of them, pushing myself into other not necessarily better things.

Another issue is that I often let other people define who I am rather than just be myself. I let others choose my likes and dislikes more often than I’d care to admit, and so I begin to be seen by others as someone I am not. I don’t want to hurt feelings or offend, so often I hide behind a mask. I still have genuine concern for others – but my feelings are not revealed in full. My identity becomes lost in the effort to please others. There is nothing at all wrong with being tactful or politely pointing out that you do not identify with certain aspects of things…It is much better to be honest and allow others to see the reality of who you are and what you stand for.

And another downfall in being open is that sometimes when you try to be unselfish you end up being a doormat. Sometimes you even begin to neglect the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional care of yourself to the point that you can’t be anything useful to or for anyone else. Balance can be so difficult to achieve, but it is necessary to fill you up so that you can pour yourself out for the benefit others.

So I am going to attempt to be the extraordinary person I was created to be – the me that was knit together by the Creator and formed with His perfect plan. Anything less is not authentic, despite my good intentions…

Now if only I can remember that…

Asparagus Quiche Sunday, Sep 13 2015 

I know, I know…despite all my promises to catch up and keep up, things just never seem to go according to plan. Let’s just say that sometimes things are a “little” hectic…(understated!) At any rate, now that my best friend has moved on to a new job and has therefore vacated the kitchen he took over, well — here I am again. Not that I didn’t play while he was here – more on that another time! – but I often deferred to his skills and quite happily took time to follow other pursuits such as reading…mostly cookbooks. To come up with new ways to play in the kitchen. (Yeah, I am hopeless…)

So now that D has moved on and I no longer have a personal chef kind of catering to my hunger whims (drat!), I have had to start meal planning again. Which is great – if you have your calendar handy so you remember appointments and other things that you need to work around. There are many nights when activities prohibit me from spending quite as much time as I’d like in the kitchen because of chauffeur duties and now, after years of being home, work. So it’s important to have a sort of repertoire of quick and easy meals, aside from pasta, to throw together. Besides that, my oldest daughter got married just last week, and I’d been canning peach jam for wedding favors. Yeah – busy!

One of the things I like to make for a quick supper is quiche. My family likes it served with a salad and maybe some (homemade of course) applesauce on the side. I’ve followed some of the classic, standard recipes over the years, but I must confess that I often tend to get bored with the same ol’ same ol’. Not that I don’t appreciate a good Quiche Lorraine, but…!

So, if I haven’t said so before…My usual method is to follow a recipe exactly the first time or two, to see what it should look and taste like, and figure out how it’s ideally constructed. After that, I start to maybe get a little brave. Maybe.

A quiche is a great opportunity to take advantage of seasonal produce because it’s almost a blank canvas, transformed by the variety of cheeses and the myriad types of other ingredients you can throw in there. While I haven’t discovered a way to quite veganize it wholly to my liking (still searching for the perfect vegan cheese…<sigh>), I have made meatless quiches as well as gluten-free, so it is easily adjustable for most diets/eating styles. And you can also experiment with the crust – adding fresh herbs or spices or even go “naked” without one. It is also a great way to use leftover meats, veggies, fruit, and even a bit of grain, though I’ve not experimented with that as much…Crazy, right? But oh-so-frugal if you have the chance to use what’s on hand or at the very least seasonal.

Since asparagus was lovingly showcased at the local farmers’ market in the not-too-distant past, and since the spears I bought were still thin and tender even though spring is long gone, I decided that an asparagus quiche with an herbed crust might be a good way to go. So, here’s what I did…



(If you opt to go “naked”, skip this step!)

I actually made my own from scratch, but you could use a pre-made crust if you’re pressed for time. This quiche fits into the bottom of a 9×13 pan, but you can use it for two 9″ or 10″ pie crusts instead. With our family size, the 9×13 works great and cuts into eight neat little squares, which I find easier for me. But neat little slices work just as well and are equally delish!

* I use a recipe that is close to the pie crust featured in Joy of Cooking, but you can use any standard crust recipe. I take 2 1/2 cups flour and sift with 1 1/4 tsp salt.

* Add 3/4 cup vegetable shortening that you have chilled and 3 Tbsp cold unsalted butter (sometimes if I forget I just use salted and decrease the salt above by 1/4 tsp, using only 1 tsp to sift in with the flour) and work those in with a pastry blender…

(Because one of my kids got out the actual blender when I was asking for help, I will note here that you do NOT use a regular blender – a pastry blender is its own kitchen tool, as pictured here on the left044. I’ve also heard it called a pastry cutter…terminology probably depends on your location). If you don’t have a pastry blender, you can easily use either your fingers, or a food processor. When the dough is worked together, it should be slightly crumbly, kind of like the consistency of cornmeal.

* This is where I vary my crust recipe from Joy of Cooking. (Their recipe uses 6 Tbsp ice water total.) I add 1 Tbsp ice cold water, then mix dough. I add another 1 Tbsp ice cold water and mix further. Then I add 2 Tbsp chilled vodka, usually from the freezer, and mix the dough until it comes together easily in a soft ball. I learned this trick years ago. The vodka seems to give the dough a very nice flaky finish when baked. I’ve done it this way for all my pies for years. If the dough won’t come together, add ice cold water 1 Tbsp at a time until it is smooth. Don’t add too much. The dough will be sticky and you will be disappointed with the results.

* At this stage, I may or may not add 2 Tbsp finely chopped herbs. I use whatever I have on hand, which is usually either cilantro or parsley, but sometimes I have chives, or even sage, rosemary and thyme (yes, just like in the Scarborough Fair song…).

* I then roll out the dough into a 9×13 size and place into a 9×13 pan coated lightly with cooking spray. If you use a buttery pie crust recipe, you can probably omit this step. Another note: I don’t pre-bake for this particular quiche, but if I’m using a recipe that has more egg/cream mix, I may for just a few minutes at 350*F so crust doesn’t get too soggy.


Now for the good stuff (not that pie crust isn’t good!!!)

* Trim rough ends from one bunch of asparagus and blanch, then cut into thirds (or smaller, if you’re not a fan of large pieces).

* Next, I beat 10-12 eggs in a 4 cup measuring cup until smooth, and add milk -or- heavy cream to the 3 cup mark.

* To assemble, I layer 6-8 slices of smoked Provolone cheese over the crust, then top with the asparagus. I then add 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I usually like mozzarella, but any will work). Pour the egg mixture on top, and distribute evenly. Sprinkle another 1/2 cup shredded cheese over the egg mixture. Cut 1-2 Roma tomatoes into slices and arrange neatly on top, then season with a little sea salt and pepper. I often will sprinkle a little grated Parmesan over the whole quiche.

* Set quiche into 350*F oven and bake 20/25 minutes. My oven is fussy, so I start checking it at this point to see if the eggs look set. If they are a little loose in the middle that can be fine because they will still tend to cook after you remove the quiche from the oven. Some people like their eggs very “hard”, so I will leave the quiche in the oven a little longer, but be cautious that you don’t overbake the crust. If you’re using a clear/Pyrex 9×13 pan, you can see the crust through the bottom. Once you do this a time or two, you’ll know just what time you want to take it out of the oven so that it suits your tastes. I cool slightly before serving because I don’t care for my eggs when they are piping hot, though some people may. Use your judgment when determining how done you like your quiche. As I stated earlier, this is a great way to use various ingredients and it’s really not too fussy.

Well…that’s my version of asparagus quiche. I love experimenting when fresh produce is in season! You will too – so go play in your kitchen!!

Until next time (which will hopefully be this calendar year!),


Fresh Start…and Stuffed Mushrooms Thursday, Jan 1 2015 

A fresh start…That’s what everyone wants on New Year’s, right? At least it seems to be a recurring theme every January 1st. Many preachers have sermons geared toward it, magazines are rife with articles on getting organized, there are checklists galore online to keep one focused. I am no different than the masses (well, kinda sorta!) — If I look back at 2014 all I see is a year of disaster, unwanted change and even some <gasp!> culinary failure. I won’t bore you with all of my New Year’s resolutions though…especially since I, like 92% or some such of the population, will fail to keep any. Does that mean I shouldn’t at least try? Well…no. Setting goals is especially important because if you fail to plan, you will often inadvertantly plan to fail. So — the one goal I have is to actually get more creative and absolutely play in my kitchen more frequently – and, in doing so, share more through my blog (lucky you!).

This past year my efforts were so obviously abysmal, many due to circumstances beyond my control – such as yet another (third) pregnancy loss, followed rapidly by the battle with cancer my father endured for long months and ultimately lost in October. I was so crazy-busy, stressed and depressed that I didn’t always have time to be in the kitchen, and even when I was in the kitchen I was often distracted – by others as well as by my own thoughts. That caused soooooo many failures, and the normal comfort foods like pasta or chicken-and-dumplings became a way of life when I wasn’t trying to push PB&J on the family. My creativity plummeted to new lows as I was desperately trying to keep afloat emotionally. But there’s that whole “If at first you don’t succeed…” maxim. Plus, I now know lots of ways some recipes just will not work! It will be quite the journey this year because I do have more structured goals (at least in my mind, if not on paper) for 2015. Including my constant transition to a healthier me. But…because I know I have a party to attend on Monday, I have already planned to change things up, at least as far as my healthy eating plan, after January 5th. Sounds like cheating, I know — but better to plan than to just give up. And I already used my juicer today and feel slightly less sluggish after a night of possibly excessive eating and drinking…So I’m trying.

Last night/this morning, we rang in the new year with family (immediate and a few “extras”), and I made stuffed mushrooms as one of the snacks. It was pushing midnight by the time I got them assembled and in the oven – mostly because I was trying to socialize somewhat. My chef friend, Damian, didn’t think he’d care for them because they do not feature meat or seafood in the “stuffing”. Rather, the filling is an easy mix of cheese. Well – I don’t know whether or not he loved them, but he conceded that they were “quite good” (I get nervous over a real professional’s critique). But Les and the kids wanted more — so guess what was on part of the menu for supper tonight (aside from Damian’s amazing gumbo)?!

Stuffed Mushrooms

Here’s what I did:

* Preheat oven to 350*F

* Coat a 9×13 pan with a bit of extra virgin olive oil.

* Take the stems out of 15-20 large button mushrooms (set stems aside) and coat mushrooms in olive oil, then place cap-side up in the pan and bake for about 15 minutes while preparing filling. (I hand-picked my mushrooms from the local farmers’ market, but I’ve seen loose mushrooms at the grocery store too.)

* Dice the stems of the mushrooms and saute in 2 Tbsp. olive oil 5 minutes with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

* In a mixing bowl, place one 8 oz. block of softened cream cheese, 2 Tbsp worchestershire sauce, 1 cup shredded parmesan (don’t use the powdery stuff!), 1 c. bread crumbs and the sauteed stems of the mushrooms.

* Use about 1 Tbsp filling to “stuff” the mushrooms and then place pan back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.
This is a really easy appetizer! I hope it encourages you to go play in your kitchen! Hope you all enjoy a very Blessed and very Happy New Year in 2015!



Cream Cheese Alfredo Farfalle Tuesday, Apr 22 2014 

Ok — so I am not always the amazing cook I like to think I am (GASP!). But. Some days I just want something quick and easy, that doesn’t mean I have spent absolutely forever in the kitchen. I mean, I like to play. But — who wants to always slave away in the kitchen when the sub-friggin freezing weather we’ve had has started to evolve into something resembling warm? I want to be out in the sun, at least a little. Plus, as far as cooking — it doesn’t help when your chef friend is elsewhere for the supper hour. (Oh how spoiled I have been!) The amazing thing though is that my children still appreciate my cooking…Oh yeah baby!!! And — thank God! I love to cook and thoroughly enjoy being in my kitchen a large portion of the time. But I am no restaurant — My philosophy is that if you don’t like it, we always have an abundant supply of peanut butter and (yes, homemade) jelly…No one has ever complained (much) about the alternative anyway. And I’m still providing the “food” portion of the whole food/clothing/shelter stuff, so we’re good — no need to call Children & Youth on me.

So last night was pasta night. It seems to be a “thing” on Mondays. Not only is it usually meatless, in keeping with the whole ‘Meatless Mondays’ movement (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/), but I find it to be fast and very simple, and — most importantly — a meal that stretches. Because I NEVER know who is coming for supper on a Monday. My oldest son has tons of friends who are members of the local fire department (which is really “local”…within obnoxious siren-hearing distance) and so over the years I’ve had many, many extras at my table on many a Monday. Usually my personal preference is a red tomato-based sauce, but let’s face it — some days monotony is absolutely BOR-ING! This past week I found a very simple cream cheese alfredo recipe that sounded pretty fool-proof, and it actually was pretty awesome. I can’t remember for the life of me where I found said recipe, so I apologize in advance for seemingly pilfering an amazing and tasteful dish.


Here’s what I did:

* I used two 1 lb packages of farfalle noodles that I bought on sale (yay me!!!). Boil according to pacakge directions. I like mynoodles al dente, but not everyone does…Some like them mushy and some like them almost raw. 053

* In a saucepan heat 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 8-oz block of cream cheese and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (do not skimp and buy the powdered stuff!!!) until the cream cheese is dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes.

* Add 1/2 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper.

* Stir in 2 cups thawed frozen peas and immediately remove from heat.


If you want to go crazy, maybe add some fresh herbs too (which I prefer this time of year when winter is giving way to some green…) This is one really rapidly pulled together and easy-peasy dish (no pun intended!). I hope you enjoy. Now go play in your kitchen!!!

Books versus Magazines…What’s Your Preference? Thursday, Apr 17 2014 

Okay…When you look at these pictures you will realize that I am pretty much crazy…Just look for all the books. And the, ahem…magazines. All related to food in some capacity. Yeah…048047













I mean — I may never ever be as organized as Heidi Swanson. [If you are not familiar with her, you need to read her amazing blog at http://www.101cookbooks.com] But here is a short synopsis — She discovered that she had a lot of cookbooks. So she resolved to attempt to stop buying more and actually try out the recipes. I admire that. I relate. I mean I seriously relate. I am addicted to the pursuit of a good book in general, but when it is a cookbook…well, I’m like an alcoholic at a liquor store…so much eye candy, not enough money. I mean, it is always my “intent” to use the cookbooks I have — at least before I make a new purchase. BUT. We all know about the road to the nether regions and how it’s paved with the good intentions of many…Such is my world.

I have a LOT — a LOT!!! — of cookbooks — see above pictures — and cooking magazines. I did not post the pictures of the other several bookshelves full because, well…you get the idea, right? I mean, you can see that I’m already way gone. I could fill up a room. You cannot possibly walk into my home and not discover that food is a passion of mine. I guess I am a hoarder. Of recipes. I mean — It’s almost an addiction. And (ironically to confess this on my own blog!) I really try to avoid my iPhone and the internet as recipe sources. Why? Because it’s so addictive. I mean, I don’t actually do that — I have recipes from every source imaginable at times. But I try to avoid the electronic versions when possible (which turns out is not always possible…). And the main reason? I guess you could call me old school…

I like the print version. I love the feel of the paper, the weight of a book, the colorful photos. I love jotting down notes. And saving those books. Heaven only knows what a field day someone will have one day trying to figure out what to do with my estate. I have developed relationships with my collection — I read and re-read them like they are friends, and find them even more interesting if they have stories before each recipe. And let me just add this little tidbit of (useless?) information…My collection of books is bad (as in overwhelming) as it is. But then there are the magazines.

I mean…I don’t have stacks and stacks that preclude me from passing through the halls or that fall over on people who try to sit at my table. But I guarantee my shelves are bulging…Those darn magazines — they are everywhere (!)…there are no rooms in my entire house (with the exception of the kids’ rooms, and even that is questionable once you dig through their personal messes) that does not have some kind of cooking magazine laying around carelessly. Or book waiting on some surface, usually bookmarked with a sticky note, or in a pinch a piece of paper. Mostly because I probably have left them there. I was most likely toying with the idea of experimenting with a new food, new technique or new recipe when someone called me away, at which point I set the darn thing down and promptly moved on.

Because (in case you missed it) — I. Have. Too. Many. Cookbooks. And. Magazines.

And I wish I could say that maybe it’s not all my fault. I mean — with magazines they’re published on a regular basis. So of course I have to keep current…And cookbooks keep me up to date on food trends. Right?? Am I overly attempting to justify? Probably…

So after all of this, my point is that I have a few questions for my readers – should you dare to answer.

* Do you prefer hard copy or electronic versions of recipes, magazines or cookbooks?

* What is your standard “go-to” recipe source?

Since I already answered the first question above, here’s the answer to the second…My standard “go to” book is (drumroll please…):

058The Joy of Cooking“. I may have talked about it before. This is my second copy. My middle daughter has my first one in her hope chest, with my bookmarked favs. The only bad thing about purchasing the updated version was trying to re-learn all those page numbers I had memorized! This is the kind of book I need to have a hard copy of. I need to take my time and look through the table of contents, browse each recipe, jot down notes on what I liked, what my family liked (or didn’t)…This is the kind of book that I will sit down with on a lazy Saturday morning before heading to the local farmers’ market, looking for inspiration. As I transition to healthier eating, I have collected many, many, many (!!!) other cookbooks – and magazines – that I enjoy. But this book is what rescued this housewife and enabled her to stop burning every meal, what gave her courage to keep cooking. And even experiment.

So break out your old standby, or find a new one, and go play in your kitchen!

Sweet Spring Sangria Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

Well, with the advent of spring in Pennsylvania once again — finally after tons of snow, ice and chill from the polar vortex (what is that?! and does that mean that there is or there is not such a thing as “global warming”?) — I am pleased to be able to resume shopping at the local farmers’ markets. Let’s face it…this indoor gal was not braving the below freezing temps to shop local. That is pretty shameful. I hope to do better next year. Of course it will help oodles if I can procure a warm winter coat. And gloves – yeah, gloves would be nice…

So. With the markets transitioning from traditional winter fare such as citrus into the fresh offerings of things like asparagus, peas, and spring onions, my shopping experiences have become a joy tempered solely by that horrible term “budget”. Most women spend tons of money on clothes, make-up, purses, shoes…Not me. I spend money on two things aside from my family — books, and FOOD. Seriously. I think I’d buy one or some of everything the market has to offer, with few exceptions. But alas, that will have to wait until I strike it rich via my writing career or singing or some such thing — haha! [note incredible sarcasm…]

And speaking of singing — One thing that I’ve incorporated into my life lately as a creative outlet, as well as a way to speak to adults instead of constantly engaging in conversations with only children, since January on a regular basis is a weekly outing to sing at a local bar through the amazing technology of karaoke. I am soooo grateful to live in the here and now rather than “back in the day”…I don’t think I could ever have done the whole guitar thing, and I play piano only slightly these days, so my singing would have been limited to “Happy Birthday” (all three — yes THREE! — verses) for my family. But karaoke – well, that offers possibilities! A lot of people get intimidated by the whole “do it in front of the crowd” thing, and I admit I am like that every single time. But in going back week after week I’ve gained a certain confidence in myself that I did not have before. Plus, I’ve found that a little alcohol is calming to my not-ever-going-to-sing-in-public jitters. I’m not in the habit of drinking myself into oblivion (no, not even in my college days!). So I appreciate partaking of something to kind of loosen up, as well as moisten my vocal chords. But what to have?? I am so lucky and blessed to have a best friend – Damian McCartney – who is a chef and seriously knows about food, alcohol and some bartending too. More on him and his interesting life story in a future post, I’m sure. But. He has recently relocated, from New Orleans to our humble little area of Pennsylvania, and so now I can go directly to him for help in the kitchen. He knows I like sangrias so he came up with one two days ago based on a Moscato wine — just in time for our weekly karaoke outing! I could probably drink a whole pitcher myself before venturing out for the karaoke fun, but then I better KNOW the song because I have doubts that I could read the words on the monitor!

If you are not familiar with Moscato, it is a light, kind of sparkling white wine with a lower alcohol content made from the Muscat Blanc variety of grape. I find it to be a really refreshing drink, and the transition to this spring sangria combines the best of the winter citrus with the reappearance of fresh mint after its winter hiatus.

053Here’s what to do:

* Pour half of a 1.5 liter Moscato wine into a pitcher.

* Take 6-8 mint leaves in your open palm and slap them to release the oils in the mint leaves, then add them to the wine.

* Cut 1 Cara Cara orange (or a blood orange) and 1 lemon in half; cut 2 thin slices from each fruit and add it to the pitcher of wine. Juice the remaining halves of fruit and add the juices to the pitcher.

* Thinly slice 1 ripe pear and add to the pitcher.

* Pour 1 cup of wine into a large glass and add 1/2 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add the mixture to the pitcher. We used orange blossom honey, but you could experiment. You want something light, though, so I’d probably avoid a buckwheat honey.

* Add as much of the remaining wine from the bottle to the pitcher as you can. I think we actually had maybe 1 1/2 cups of wine leftover — not that it went to waste anywhere! Stir gently and cover to let the flavors mesh a bit…or not.

If you like your sangria a bit stronger, take 2 1/2 cups of vodka and mix well with 1 cup of honey, stirring until the honey is dissolved, then add it into the sangria. You want to do this prior to adding the remainder of the wine, in which case you’ll have a bit more Moscato available to taste.

Enjoy! And if you do venture out to karaoke, sing a song for me! And I guess maybe one for Damian too…

A quick chocolate lover’s dessert Wednesday, Apr 9 2014 

Well, it’s already April! Can you believe it — the snow here in PA has finally (mostly!) melted and Easter is not that far away. I will be perusing the farmers’ markets and planning my Easter menu — once I decide on whether to make a brunch or a more formal supper. And with the advent of some nice weather, not to mention both a flat of strawberries and a case of lemons from a good friend, I have been canning (yes!) and will be posting about that in the future. Meanwhile, come play in the kitchen!

I made up a quick and easy recipe years ago that turned out quite nicely. It became a family favorite, and I was getting request for it all of the time. Everyone thought it was completely complicated, but it is simple. I call it a Hershey Pie – so named because I used Hershey bars in the recipe, though I have successfully experimented with other chocolate. I am sure there are tons of similar ones, but this one was not pilfered – at least to my knowledge. I mean, back at its creation there was no internet! (My children now find that unbelievable…)

I was influenced by lots of recipes for chocolate silk pie that relied on chocolate mousse made with gelatin (and you know how I feel about that — see my post about chocolate mousse here: http://wp.me/p32HQ0-2x). So I tried to figure out how I could create something somewhat similar. I have to admit that this recipe was developed out of my commitment to bring a dessert to a family function, back when my tastes (and therefore skills and ingredients on hand) were not quite so…”sophisticated”? Not sure what word I want to use, but you get the idea…I was a young lady just entering the work force and felt the need to be as generous as possible with my commitments – usually so much so that I ended up awake for long hours every night finishing up this, that or the other and still trying to get enough sleep so that I didn’t need to caffeinate myself to death in the early a.m. This recipe was developed out of sheer desperation on a night when I needed more sleep than there were hours to devote to cooking…And I am still using it as a quick treat. I must warn you, though I attempted initially to duplicate a chocolate silk pie, t is not at all “silky”. Freezing the pie makes the chocolate and Cool Whip firm up, so you might want to set it out to soften about 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

Hershey Pie

* Melt 2 of the large (4.4 oz) Hershey bars (I prefer the Hershey with Almond) in a double boiler. Be extremely careful not to get any water from the steam in the chocolate or it will seize up.

* Fold the chocolate into 1/2 of a large tub (16 oz) of Cool Whip.

* Pour mixture into a 9″ graham cracker pie crust and spread evenly.

* Top the chocolate mixture with the remaining Cool Whip.

* Sprinkle with shaved chocolate or slivered almonds.

* Freeze til set.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Very quick and simple. I appreciate the deep, rich chocolate flavor. As I said, I have experimented very successfully with other candy bars, and even using chocolate chips — but the Hershey bars are still my favorite. Is it because I’m blessed to live within 20 minutes of Hershey? Well, that doesn’t hurt! Try it and let me know what you think!

Potato and Pepper Wrap Monday, Aug 12 2013 

Some of you might remember me — I’m the one who has shamefully neglected my wonderful blog for the last few months in favor of busy-ness, experimenting, life…with a little depression mixed in here and there. Even my husband remarked that he hasn’t seen a blog post come through on his e-mail — and here I wondered if he ever read anything I wrote! [Joking — he actually reads most things…]

Since we last got together, dear friend, I have been bombarded with stress, ER visits (for self and children), financial woes and other such happenings, to include church activities, spending time with all the “extras” (children who are not mine technically but who call me “Mom” anyway), getting together our school situations (some cyber, some homeschooled, and one still in public school) and in the last week actually canning produce. I even volunteered to sit at a stand for our cooperative extension office and also attended a food swap I wanted to tell you about! It’s just been…busy. Hectic. Crazy. At times I admit my life feels like its own recipe — and a disastrous one at that! But I am thankfully focusing on contentment in my circumstances, as much as is possible, and just plodding on day by day. But I guess, in the words of my fav chef of all time — and a few other close friends who are, strangely, also into food — “It is what it is.”

With the summer 2/3 of the way through already, I have to admit I have been much less creative in my kitchen…We have been having light meals, lots of leftovers, and of course the ole’ summer standby — hot dogs on the grill, boiled, charred, whatever. All courtesy of amazing summer sales that I can’t pass up, having to feed this brood of 6 children and friends often. Yesterday was middle son William’s 12th birthday and he originally asked for steak, but thoughtfully reconsidered and asked for hot dogs, corn and s’mores. I wish I could impress you with amazing pics of a gorgeous cake (it was too humid, so the grocery store got my business…don’t judge!) or even fun at the campfire in our yard (it got rained out almost immediately). Alas, no wonderful pics of any of that. I will seriously have to work at it…

Maybe you will recall that I have been trying to cut animal products out of my diet. Meat is not as difficult for me as dairy, though I did splurge a bit over our vacation week. But things are getting back to normal…So no hot dogs — at least not for me. I was forced to look around in the kitchen, which is probably a good thing. I was really low on some staples, really overwhelmed by some produce (think peaches, corn…stuff I’ve been canning that I’ll share with y’all later). I have to say — I love a happy accident! Instead of hot dogs for me, this is what I came up with after a not-so-quick glance in the pantry…



What I did:

I sauteed three small new potatoes (a combination of red and yellow), which I diced, in a frying pan with about 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper and chipotle pepper powder, for about five minutes or until the potatoes were soft. [I usually don’t reach for the chipotle powder – I think I grabbed it on a whim after reading about how capsacin can help with colds, or with weight loss or something along those lines. In these potatoes, it really spices things up a bit and I’ll be experimenting with it again in the near future.] I added 1/4 of a large red bell pepper, diced, and sauteed another two to three minutes.

Meanwhile I warmed up two flour tortillas and filled them with several sliced cherry tomatoes from the garden and a small handful of grated sharp cheddar. Once the potato mixture was done (soft enough for my taste), I scooped some of it into each tortilla and rolled them up. Yum! I wish I had thought to add some spinach or something, but maybe that will happen in the future. I may even add some diced carrots to the saute, but it was really very filling and I was satisfied enough that I didn’t have to drool over the hot dogs.

I’m still here… Wednesday, May 1 2013 

Allergies, a cold, homeschool portfolios and the classic disease called “procrastination” may have kept me from blogging in the last how many (!!) days, but I have not disappeared completely. AND I have been and am still playing in my kitchen!

Stay tuned for a series on my adventures in canning, as I have recently scored some great deals at the local farmers’ market. And keep a lookout for posts on my ever continuing quest to eat healthy…an oxymoron because I just LOVE to bake! Well, all of that and more will be up-and-coming now that the kiddies are spending more time outdoors with the onset of the lovely spring weather. It gives me more time to perfect my recipes, try new things and review new cookbooks – as well as blog!

Thanks for sticking with me thus far. Hope you’re enjoying the weather where you are!


And remember — It’s always fun to play in the kitchen!

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