Simple Sunday Supper

Today has been a simple day. Church, lunch and an afternoon with family watching movies and reading books. It has been a nice day just the three of us.

It seemed only right for us to have a simple, traditional meal. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

Ingredients

2 lbs. of ground beef (chuck or round)

1 medium onion, diced

2-3 tbs parsley, chopped (Italian parsley, don’t mess with the curled stuff—it’s bitter)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 1 ½ cups oats

1 bell pepper, diced (optional)

1 egg

1 small can tomato sauce

Salt and pepper

Oats ... that's what I use instead of bread.

Dump all the ingredients in and give it a stir.

Tomato sauce and a stir.

Then add the tomato sauce and egg.

One fresh egg.

I always put my meatloaf in a cast iron skillet. You can use a loaf pan or Pyrex dish.

Everyone should have a well-seasoned iron skillet.

Cast iron is an awesome conductor of heat.

Press the meat into the pan. Next make the topper (this is optional).

A sweet ketchup-based sauce does the trick.

Topping

½ c. ketchup

1 tbs mustard

¼ c. brown sugar

2 tbs. whole grain mustard

Salt and pepper

Top with the sauce.

Pour on top, spread out to the edges. Then place the pan in a 375 degree oven. Bake for 45 min or until done all the way through.

Baked to perfection.

Yummy! Sunday supper.

The Best Medicine

Today I went to visit my 82 year old grandmother. She had her gallbladder surgically removed on Tuesday. We visited her and took food to her and my 93 year old grandfather. Neither of them can hear well so they don’t have stuff on like the TV or radio. I think it’s kind a cool because it’s so quiet at their house. Noise overwhelms me and I really don’t like loud music, noisy kids, gaggles of teenagers or squawking birds or yappy dogs. The quietness of her house is soothing to me, but then again I took my 4 year old son to visit too. He’s really loud and rambunctious. But he was just what MawMaw needed.

Next week we’ll take her a plate of turkey and dressing and pie, especially since “no one can cook anymore,” she told me of the food that someone had brought her.

Jdubs and MawMaw

Remembering Aggie Bonfire

I met Tim and Janice Kerlee this spring.  They were the guest speakers at our annual Aggie Muster. Their presentation is remarkable…they explain the Bonfire Memorial in great detail with pictures and describe the meaning of the each of the symbols throughout the entire structure, which are quite numerous.

Losing Bonfire happened just a few weeks before I graduated, and hardly a week goes by without me thinking about that day in some way. It helps that my office is adorned predominantly in Aggie stuff, including a picture of the last Aggie Bonfire in 1998. In my sitting area I have a copy of the Texas Monthly issue about Aggie Bonfire. Nonetheless, it’s still something I keep fresh in my memory because from time to time something will trigger a memory of that day. I don’t remember eating or where I parked or any of the normal details of my day-to-day life.  Just the invisible mourning shared between my fellow Ags and the confusion that weighed heavily in all of our hearts.  We all waited patiently and rather quietly outside the perimeter fence watching rescue workers try to save my fellow Ags. RC Slocum’s football team assembled and were among the folks who were toting logs off the stack.

It was the first and last time I’d been a part of a national news item, much less one that was so near and dear to my heart. I don’t know that I even realized if was even a single camera at the Polo Fields when we were out there.  Obviously, there were.  There were helicopters in the sky and news vans everywhere, but I didn’t even think to notice them. I didn’t have a mobile phone back then so I was out of touch for most of the day. My mother was miserable, I’m sure, but she worries a lot.

Part of the Kerlees’ presentation was the picture that the Dallas Morning News ran on their front page of Tim’s decimated body. His hips were crushed, his legs were detached from his body and his arm was broken. He was in shock and wasn’t in pain, although very uncomfortable from having his body broken the way it was. People in the rescue crews said that he told them to go help the others before they helped him. His parents got to see him before he died in the hospital.

Tim Kerlee, Jr was Janice and Tim Sr’s only child, and they lost him twelve years ago today. It makes me think about my son quite a bit when I remember her talking about Tim Jr, and I wonder how I would respond if my only child died doing something he was so passionate about. I wonder how many Aggies still think about that picture of Tim Jr in the newspaper and get angry that the DMN ran it in the first place. I wonder if the next generation of Aggies or the leadership in place on campus can ever get close to comprehending the dedication and spirit that Aggies such as the twelve who died that early morning had, as well as the others who were there and injured or had to help dig their brothers and sisters out of fallen stack. We hear about Tim so much because he was the last one to fall, but there are 11 other Aggies that rarely get mentioned.

I can’t do anything other than wonder, but I still do and I do it regularly. I hope you do as well.

Here X 12. Fightin’ Texas Aggie Bonfire.

Miranda Adams, ’02
Christopher Breen, ’96
Michael Ebanks, ’03
Jeremy Frampton, FTA Class of ’99
Jamie Hand, ’03
Christopher Heard, ’03
Tim Kerlee, Jr, ’03
Lucas Kimmel, ’03
Bryan McClain, ’02
Chad Powell, ’03
Jerry Don Self, ’01
Scott West, ’02

Working Weekend Garden Plans

Last night in the dark I made one final, final harvest from the garden. It was 28 degrees this morning 6:30 a.m.—a pretty hard frost. So everything should either be dead or cease to produce at this point, which is right on schedule for this part of the world.

I went a little crazy planting the night shade varieties.

My peppers have flourished in these warm days/cool nights. This stuff is lucky to be alive considering the hot, dry summer we had. I have water bills to prove how precious this produce is!

This is what my garden looks like right now.

Sad garden.
Dead, dried leaves soon will be fodder for the compost bin.

Everywhere I look there are leaves… so this weekend will be all about clearing the refuse for the compost bin and pulling up all the remnants of night shade varieties hanging on.

After all I have pansies, lettuce and broccoli to plant! This will be the first venture for me to try to grow cole crops (and cold crops) over the winter. (Want to know the difference between cole and cold? Read more …)

I’ll be back tomorrow with something more.

Falling in Love with the Fall Garden Center

I had to be in Wichita Falls today for an appointment. So before coming home, I made a stop at Smith Gardentown. What a treat! I love to visit garden centers, farms and nurseries at all times of the year. This time I was just looking and trying to get ideas for Christmas for the various horticulturalists and ornithologists in my life.

I drove up and instantly loved the place because there were ducks on the pond, Canada geese grazing and little garden statues of pigs.

Canada geese!
A little concrete piggy for the Kentucky Pig!

I love to visit farms and nurseries in the fall because it shows me what plants look like in the fall – whether the foliage is colorful, evergreen or if a deciduous plant has pretty bark.

Little Henry will be a definite addition to my garden. Beautiful spring blooms, beautiful fall foliage!
Opuntia Prickly Pear-- Thornless!

In the hustle bustle of the spring some plants get overlooked, like this really cool cacti! A prickly pear without the prickles.

Then there are the perennial favorites … a Shumard Oak. I have one just like this in my front yard and this photo reminds me why … It’s beautiful and well adapted for our area.

Shumard oak tree -- excellent tree for North Texas.

A place with a friendly cat that comes meowing for affection is always a good sign. Two cats who are friendly and want attention and are neutered means that the people here care for lots of living things – not just plants.

This cat chased me down so that I could pet it.
Kitty #2 sleuthed across the patio to get a scratch.
Swiss Chard-- excellent for the fall kitchen garden. I think this is the "neon lights" seed mix.
Mixed pansies ... happy pansy faces.
Some of the greatest rose gifts are the blooms in the fall.

The garden center is always a good place to get gift ideas for the gardener. Look at these beautiful garden globes. We can just file that under the “pretty-stuff-momma-can-never-have-because-she-has-a-boy-and-a-dog-that-is-OCD-with-spheres.”

I can never have pretties like this ...
Cloche terrarium ... nice coffee table gift for the gardener.
A flag for everyone (at least in my divided house).
Bird feeders and houses for all the little finches in your life.
Happy pansy face, y'all!

Sugar Squash Dumplings

I recently discovered an awesome fall squash called sweet dumpling. Like most fall squash, it’s versatile and easy to cook. And it is so sweet. And the name of the squash itself gave me the idea for making a squash filling to go into a dumpling.

Sweet dumpling squash. I was able to take a picture of this before the sun went down. Amazing what natural light will do for a photo.
You can use this same basic method to cook all fall squash.
Baked sweet dumpling squash.
Mashed sweet dumpling squash. These photos are taken inside under harsh, yet inconsistent lighting.

To make dumplings we have to bake the squash first. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and hallow out the seeds with a spoon. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, give it a squirt of cooking spray and give the cut side of the squash a squirt too. Then place the squash cut-side down on the pan and put into the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the flesh of the squash is fork tender. Scoop out the cooked squash, leaving the skin behind then mash the squash in a bowl.

Ingredients

3-4 C. cooked sweet dumpling squash (see above)

½ of a medium onion, finely diced

2-3 sprigs of rosemary, finely diced and divided. Half for the squash mixture and half for the butter sauce.

¼ to ½ stick of butter

½ C. Parmesan cheese

1/8 tsp ancho chili powder

1-2 tbs herbs de Provence

Wonton Wraps

Salt and pepper (not pictured)

(other equipment needed: bowl of water and a pastry brush)

While the squash is baking, finely dice the onion and sauté with butter and olive oil. Add herbs de Provence and a pinch of the rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste. Let it cook down until very soft. Then add the squash to the onion mixture and give it a good stir. Let it all simmer together, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and let cool for a few minutes, then add the Parmesan and rosemary. Add salt and pepper, if needed. But be careful, Parmesan is very salty on its own.

Add Parmesan and rosemary. Give a good stir.

Give it a good stir then add the chili powder.

A little chili goes a long way.

Put your wonton wrappers on a cutting board. You will need to work quickly because we will seal the wontons up using the water as the “glue.” But wontons are very sticky once they get wet so faster is better.

Put a dollop of squash mixture down on each wonton. It’s about 1 tablespoon of squash per square.

A dollop ...
Brush with water to seal the top and bottom of the wonton togethe.

Brush all four sides of the wonton with water, then put a second wrapper on top. Press together with your fingers. Be sure to get all the air out of the stuffed center part as possible. Then crimp the edges with a fork to seal it tightly. Place the dumplings on a flat surface until you can cook it. Get a large pot of water boiling then place the dumpling into the water to cook. You will have to do this in batches. Each batch will take about 3-4 minutes to cook.

Not the greatest photo, but hopefully you get the idea.
Out of the boiling water.

After the dumplings have cooked. Place them on a plate or cookie sheet. Don’t bunch them up into a bowl or they will clump together and tear when you try to move them.

Last step, toss the dumplings in brown butter sauce. To make the sauce, put a plug of butter into the pan, get it hot, add a little salt and pepper and a little pinch of the rosemary. When the butter is bubbly and starts to brown, add the dumplings, toss to coat with butter, add a pinch or two of rosemary. Let the dumplings toast and get a little brown.

Put on a plate and sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top. Yummy!

Sugar squash dumplings, y’all.

Pumpkin Pies – that taste good even though they aren’t perfect

I made this last week for the annual Thanksgiving family night dinner at my church. In preparation, I looked through several of my recipe books for a good one.

They all had the basic same ingredients except for one, which actually called for canned candied yams. Yep. Candied yams, which a good Ag woman knows that a yam is really just a sweet potato. Real Yams are imported from the Caribbean or Africa.

I’m a big fan of Cook’s Illustrated. It is by far one of the best producers of recipes in the U.S. They have new recipes but they also reexamine old favorites to get the best version of, say chocolate brownies. They definitely have a flog-it-to-death approach when it comes to research and trials and tasting. These magazines and cookbooks aren’t cheap but they don’t have any paid-for promotions, product endorsements or advertising.

Cook's Illustrated rocks!

I was feeling very sassy and took their recipe and deviated from it. (This is a big-time no-no. Baking is a science but it’s also an art—so until you get a feel for what you are doing, stick with the recipe.)

Pumpkin pie ingredients.

2 C. cream (you can use half n half)

3 Large eggs + 2 egg yolks (you will need a total of 5 eggs)

1 tsp. Vanilla

1 Can or (15 oz pumpkin puree)

1 Can candied yams (15 oz.)

¾ C. sugar

¼ C. Maple syrup

2 tsp. Grated fresh ginger

½ tsp Ground cinnamon

¼ tsp Ground fresh nutmeg

1 tsp Salt (use table salt)

1 Pie crust (see Never Fail Pie Crust or you can use the refrigerated, pre-made dough)

  1. You have to bake your crust a little before you put the filling in. Use pie weights or you can do what I did and line the pie crust with foil and throw a few pennies in as weights. Bake pie crust in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. After the crust bakes for a 15 min, remove the foil and weights then place pie shell back in the oven to cook for 10 more minutes. Remove crust from oven when it just starts to brown.

    No pie weights, no problem. Lots of cookware is made from copper, so why no pie weights?.
  2. Whisk cream, vanilla, eggs and yolks and set aside. While your crust is baking, make the filling. Combine the pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a pot. Heat it until it gets to a sputtering simmer. Continue to let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Mash it with a potato masher (or a fork). Stir constantly for another 5-10 minutes.
    Pumpkin, yams (aka sweet potatoes), sugar, syrup, spices.
    Keep stirring until it's done. It will get all creamy, sticky and thick.

  3. Remove from heat and let mixture cool for 5 minutes. Then add the cream mixture and whisk together.
    Let it cool before you add the cream and egg mixture. You don't want eggs to scramble.
    Whisk together cream mixture and pumpkin mixture.

  4. Strain mixture thru a fine mesh strainer. Use a rubber spatula to push solids through to make a smooth, creaming liquid. When all the solids thru you can, give it one more stir then pour into the pie shell.

    Mr. Potato head helped me strain the solids thru a sieve.
  5. Pour into the warm pie crust. Place in the hot oven (400 degrees) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and finish baking for 25 to 30 more minutes. When the center is set (or the instant thermometer reads 175 degrees), remove from oven and let cool at room temperature for 2-3 hours until custard set.
Nearly perfect pumpkin pie -- just put a dollop of whipped cream on that little hickey.

Tah-dah … And there you have a pumpkin pie that tastes good even though it’s not perfect.

Fall Color in North Texas

We spent Saturday night in Fort Worth this weekend. We had a blast with good friends, sampling wine, eating delicious food. But on our way to and from the big city we got to see a lot of beautiful fall colors.

Rock Creek Bridge.

I lived in Michigan for 6 fall seasons, with some of the most beautiful fall colors you can see anywhere. But it’s got nothing on Young County.

One-eyed barn.

This old barn looks like it’s winking at you. Not a lot of fall color around it but the picture was taken in the fall.  And it’s one of my favorites so I thought I’d add it in here.

In the Rock Creek area. Love the contrast of colors.

Now all we need is a strong, gusty wind to blow all the leaves off the trees.

Oak leaves.
I have no idea what kind of tree/shrub this is, but it's bright red. Awesome.
The hydro-electric plant. AKA "the Fairy Castle"

Of course the day couldn’t be complete without a beautiful sunset over the “fairy castle.” Thanking the trusty iPhone photography capabilities.

Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk pie is a real winner at any function. It’s old-fashioned goodness. And it’s so easy and non-fussy, I’m almost ashamed to share the recipe, (almost, but not quite). This is easy to double too, then you can take two yummy pies to grandma’s for Thanksgiving. This is another recipe that is hard to mess up and very novice-baker friendly.

A buttermilk pie in all its glory!

Ingredients:

2 C. Sugar

½ C. Butter (one stick)

2 tbs Flour

1 C. Buttermilk

3 Eggs, beaten

1 tsp Vanilla

(One pie crust in a 9 inch pie pan/plate.)

Mix sugar and flour then beat in the butter.

Add the buttermilk …

then the eggs and vanilla and stir it all together.

Get out your wonderfully prepared pie crust (see Never Fail Pie Crust). If you’re in a bind, the refrigerated pie dough will work fine. Pillsbury is my favorite brand. Pour the sugary goodness in.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until your pie is GBD (Golden Brown Delicious).

This is actually a pumpkin pie, but the image makes me laugh with Elvis Parsley and Days of our Chives standing guard over the baking pie.

Never Fail Pie Crust

Literally a page from my grandmother's cookbook.

In 1975 my grandmother published a cookbook titled Food for Body and Soul. In it are some wonderful recipes that are passed down for generations. (more about my grandmother’s cookbook in another post).

The Never Fail Pie Crust is one of those great recipes. This crust is easy to handle and doesn’t require a lot of precision, like most baking does. It’s always soft, yet flaky. Because this recipe uses shortening instead of butter, it comes together very easily. It’s Never Fail, because anyone can pull this off, regardless if you’ve developed a “feel” for the dough.

Pretty standard pantry ingredients for a pie crust.

Ingredients:

3 C. All-purpose flour

1 tsp salt (use table salt)

1 ¼ C. shortening

1 egg, well beaten

1 tbs vinegar

5 tbs water

All in.

Put them all into the food processor, and let it rip.

[If you don’t have a food processor, cut in the flour and shortening. Then add the wet ingredients.]

When it comes together in clumps, it’s ready.

Pretty much flour and lard.

Pull the dough out and shape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make your pie filling. This dough doesn’t need to be chilled necessarily, but it is easier to work with when it’s cold/cool.

Hanging out in the fridge, waiting its turn.

When you are ready for it, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. This recipe makes enough for a double-crust, deep-dish pie or two single-crust pies. This can be rerolled without toughing and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

A beautiful pie crust.

Happy Pies, Y’all.

 

(buttermilk pie recipe coming next.)