Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rainy Day Blessing

Sometimes blessings come in very small packages.
My Tuesday began with frustrating disappointment. It was to have been an eagerly anticipated flurry of activity but waking to tornado warnings and heavy rain completely devastated my plans. Taking my favorite first cup of early morning coffee to my favorite porch to sit in my favorite chair, I intended to listen to the wind in the trees and watch the sheets of rain march across the pond, and thoughtfully rearrange my busy schedule. But that, too, was eliminated as a possibility. My chair was occupied.

There, in the chill and damp, deposited in the center of the seat cushion, a tiny ball of kitten had taken refuge from the storm.Now, it's not that I'm not a cat person; I am. It's just that a dozen or so years ago, I developed allergies that make their proximity to me very unpleasant, so my coffee cup and I reluctantly went back indoors. No sooner had the door closed behind me than I worried that the shivering little fellow was being soaked by the windblown mist. At first, I moved the chair to a more sheltered location and decided to spend the day attending kitchen chores that I might keep an eye on the porch and its intruder.

Before long, a box filled with towels heated in the dryer found its way to the porch, eventually followed by a saucer of warm milk. As the day progressed, the unlovely eyes were tended with diluted antibiotic drops.My hands were washed a million times with antibiotic soap and rinsed with peroxide as I braced for the aftereffects of having touched a CAT...Eek! I busied myself in the kitchen, put on a pot of soup and checked the kitten, set a loaf of bread to rest and checked the kitten, did the dishes and checked the kitten, cleaned the refrigerator and checked the kitten. In the dim light of early evening, I stepped to the porch yet again and was startled to find the scrawney mother cat positioned between her baby and me. She hissed once, jumped off the porch and turned to stare defiantly. I went back inside and watched through the side-light as she returned and hungrily finished the kitten's milk. Ugh, I thought...'if I feed her, she will stay' and I couldn't deal with that. On the other hand, she was hungry. Throughout the evening, mama cat stayed close, was given warm milk and tuna. By bedtime, the wind and rain had moved on to other places and mother and baby were comfortable curled together and sleeping in my favorite chair. And as I curled comfortably in my own bed, I smiled, realizing that it had been a very satisfying and productive day.

At first light, the two of them were gone. My favorite spot for morning coffee had been returned to me but it seemed like a lonely place on Wednesday morning so I had my coffee at my desk.

White Bean Soup

Bean soup and fresh baked bread - the perfect meal to warm a chilly, rainy day. A ham, even a small, half ham can be the basis for several meals.First: Baked ham slices served with "Sweet Potato Pone"
Second: A "Scalloped Potatoes" casserole with diced ham
Third: Sliced ham for breakfast, omelets, sandwiches or pizza
Fourth(and best of all): A big pot of White Bean Soup!
1 lb. Dry White Beans (cover with water and soak overnight)
1 Ham Bone
3 Onions - coarsely chopped
1/2 bunch of Celery - finely chopped, include leafy tops
1 Tbsp Garlic - minced
1-2 c. Instant Mashed Potatoes
Salt & Pepper - to taste

Rinse beans that have soaked overnight. In a large pot, bring beans, ham bone, onions, celery, garlic and 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil. reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Remove ham bone and cube the meat. Add the cubed ham back to the pot with enough of the instant mashed potatoes to bring the soup to the consistency (thickness) you would like.

Wonderful served with warm, homemade bread. My favorite rustic bread recipe and method comes from Artisan Bread in Five, makes up in a matter of minutes in a single container, doesn't require kneading and goes from last night's refrigerated dough to warm and ready to eat in one hour and ten minutes. Yummmmmmmmmmmm.

Sweet Potato Pone

From the first time I saw the old movie "The Yearling" I have been curious about "Sweet Potato Pone" and have researched it for years. Long before I ever baked my own hundreds of pones of cornbread, I wrapped many a slice or square in a napkin to take with me outdoors to play, just as young Jody did with his sweet potato pone in the yearling story.
The recipes I have found, vary greatly but inevitably result in a dense, custard type pudding, much like cooked pumpkin pie filling. Surely, that is not appropriate for a little boy's pocket. So, I've been experimenting and am getting closer. When and if I ever get it right in my own mind, I will share the results. In the meantime, the recipes found through the following links provide an inexpensive and mouth-watering accompaniment to ham.
Recipe #1 at - Recipe #2 at Gumbo Pages - Recipe #3 at Bella Online - Recipe #4 at Ambergriscaye

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween - Impromptu Centerpiece

No money. No time. Or completely forgot?!?!

Try a nest of little ghosts for a quick, easy, inexpensive and even edible centerpiece. Melt Almond Bark according to package directions. I used the microwave and it took only 90 sec. Dip washed, unpeeled pears in the melted Almond Bark and set on wax paper to harden - only a few minutes. Use raisins or cloves for the eyes.

Thanks to Michelle for this fast, fun and frugal idea.

Autumn Harvest Cake

This is the best cake I have ever tasted in my very favorite sweet flavors.
I'm sure that somewhere there is an actual recipe for a cake similar to this but I don't have it. All I got was a phone call from an excited daughter who loves the combination of dark chocolate and orange as much as I do. She rattled off ingredients but had no measurements or instructions so I made a couple of adjustments and experimented. Here's what I came up with and it worked perfectly.
Autumn Harvest Cake
1 box Devils Food Cake Mix
1 can Libby's Pumpkin - to replace the oil called for on box directions
3 Eggs - according to box directions
Water - according to box directions
Zest of 1 Orange

1 jar Orange Marmalade
1 can Dark Fudge Frosting

Mix according to package directions except: Omit the Oil. Add the can of pumpkin and the Zest. Bake as sheet or layer cake. Split in half to double the number of layers. (I cut a sheet cake in half & split each half to make 4 layers) Spread marmalade between the split layers and frosting topped with marmalade between the two actual halves. Frost the entire 4 layer cake with the remaining frosting. Enjoy...and, by the way, it's even better the second day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Egg-ghoul-y Eyes

Hard boiled or deviled, for the children at home or for a party, these blood-shot eyes fit right in with the season.Crack, but do not peel, hard boiled eggs. Add a good amount of red food coloring to water and soak the eggs for a couple of hours. Rinse, peel and prepare as usual. Top with an olive slice. Although I used a larger leaf of lettuce for the purpose of this photograph, it occurred to me that you actually can cut egg shapes from lettuce leaves and place them on top of the deviled eggs before turning them over on a serving plate. That way, the good egg filling will not be left behind as guests serve themselves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas - Our Way

Yes, half a chicken can serve 12...and, the colors are right for FALL!

Once upon a time, in my days as a single mother, when money was scarce and hungry mouths were many, I often threw together just what we had on hand. One result became our family-famous, signature meal - Chicken Enchiladas, our way. You will not find these in restaurants or the recipe anywhere online but they are served from Florida to Alaska and many states in between. My sons have taught their wives. My daughters have them requested again and again for church functions. they are quick. They are easy. and, yes, they are a bargain.

2 c. Cooked Chicken (2 - 5 oz cans may be used)
2 - 8 oz blocks Cream Cheese
1 or 2 cans Green Chilies - chopped (2.25 oz)
1 or 2 cans Sliced Black Olives (2.25 oz)
1 Onion - chopped
Salt - to taste or as you see fit
12 - 16 oz Grated Cheese (Cheddar, Colby, Jack or a blend)
Flour tortillas - 10 - 12 large or 20 - 24 small
1 - 8 oz can Tomato Sauce
Salsa - 8 oz of your favorite

Can't believe I left the onion out of the photo :(
Put the first 5 ingredients into a bowl; add salt as if salting French fries. Add 1/2 the grated cheese. Mix thoroughly (we use our hands).
Mix the Salsa and Tomato Sauce together and spread a very small amount of the mixture in the bottom of a greased pan. 9" x 13" works well for taco sized tortillas. I used a broiler pan for these burrito sized tortillas.

Form a small "rope" of mixture along the center of a tortilla, roll it up and place it in the pan. When all are made, spread the remaining sauce over the top. (This process is more like basting bar-b-q sauce than pouring liquid.) Top with the remaining half of the cheese. Bake 20 min at 425.

NOTES: Amounts are not critical. You can use more or less of almost any ingredient. However, if you make only half this recipe, still use 1 can of tomato sauce with perhaps a little less salsa.

When made with smaller tortillas, my husband generally eats two and one is quite enough for me. At this size, we discovered that one was quite enough for him and a single half did it for me. So, after the enchiladas cooled, I cut the entire pan-full in half, separated and wrapped each one individually for freezing. With 21 halves in the freezer, I am ready for last minute meals for 2 or 10 or more with only 30 sec. in the microwave on "Defrost" plus 1 minute on "high".

Serve with chopped lettuce & tomatoes topped with sour cream or with refried beans or try this easy

Spanish Rice recipe:

2 c. uncooked white Rice
3 c. cold Water
1 - 8 oz can Tomato sauce
2 Tbsp Yellow Mustard
1 - 2 tsp Salt

Combine in saucepan with tight fitting lid. Cover. Bring to a vigorous boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Do not lift lid. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir before serving. (Leftover rice may be packaged and frozen for later use.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall - It's all about Pumpkins

Pumpkins range in color from almost white to a deep rust with all shades of yellows and oranges in between. From the winter fruit that grows to 1,300 lbs in Alaska to the tiny ones we tuck into a bowl of apples for a centerpiece, the pumpkin is truly versatile. Pumpkins are nutritious, loaded with Beta Carotene (Vitamin A) and Vitamin C and loads of fiber. Check this link to Heritage Farms for more in-depth nutritional information.

The small "sugar" pumpkins which are used commercially for pie fillings have a stronger flavor than the large "cow" pumpkins we carve for Jack-o-lanterns. they are actually, and were originally, grown as feed for livestock. However, the large pumpkins are certainly usable for pies and breads and by increasing the amount of spices recommended in recipes calling for canned pumpkin, I doubt that anyone could tell the difference.

Today I'm decorating with pumpkins.
I've been dragging out these very inexpensive, orange, plastic pumpkins for years and decided to so something different with them this season. I started with thoughts of Halloween...a simple matter of masking and black paint.

Mid project, I visited one of my favorite decorating blogs which was making use of white pumpkins and it caused me to do an immediate about-face. Fortunately, I also have white paint and liked the results so well that I took a brush to my larger pumpkins, too.

This great shaped squash got nothing more than a couple coats of white paint.

Considering the possibility that there might me such a thing as too much stark white, this plastic pumpkin was "antiqued" by simply rubbing it with Old English furniture polish and rubbing off the excess.

My oldest daughter surprised her sister and me with a craft day of making these adorable little pumpkins.

They are made from 2' lengths of clothes dryer vent hose, the two ends wired together with floral wire. They are first spray painted solidly with orange and then sprayed lightly with a dusting of a burgundy color. The stems are corks and the silk, fall leaves add the finishing touch. It occurred to me that these would make a really cute topiary, threaded onto a dowel, secured in a terracotta pot and dressed with moss.

A note about blackboard paint...

It is said that a touch of black always adds class. That is fine and appropriate for the decor of many of my friends. But my look is so very Florida Casual that I worry about things like that. Blackboard paint has become my bridge between two worlds. Too much white, or "light" IS boring and the addition of a touch of black does give the eye a place to "rest". My shabby frame was cheap, cheap, cheap...simply painted and distressed. The original (and ugly) picture inside was painted over with the blackboard paint. The freshly painted piece of slate, only yesterday displayed a blue and white, Made in China family of snowmen. I bought it at a yard sale for a quarter. Now it makes a statement and serves as background for the little pumpkins.

And, speaking again of a couple of days, I'll be cooking fresh pumpkin, roasting seeds, making pies and breads and will share methods and results with you.