Archive for December, 2009

I’m headed out to celebrate the new year with friends but wanted to give you a teaser of an appetizer I’m taking:  barbeque sausage-cheddar bites.  These are a lighter, tastier variation on the bisquick sausage balls of the 1970s and 1980s.  I made them with turkey sausage, a good smokey-maple barbeque sauce, local raw-milk cheddar, whole wheat flour, leavening agents, and lots of garlic and red chile flakes.   They are as light as fritters, but I baked them.  Mmmmmmm. Want specifics and pictures?  Come back next year! Meanwhile, enjoy a fabulous night and the new year blue moon.

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Okay, I’ll admit it.  When I have a hankering for a  summer-fresh tomato in December, it can be hard sticking to a pledge to eating locally and in season.  Darn those June photos of tomatoes!

I reassure myself two ways.  First, I know that any tomato I buy anywhere near here in December will taste nothing like home-grown summer tomatoes. Second, it’s time to start tomato seed.  By mid-February, I’ll be putting plants in the ground, protected by Wall-o-waters, and by June (or maybe late May?!?), I’ll be picking tomatoes.

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A few years ago the non-profit Environmental Working Group released its “dirty dozen,” a list of the produce that generally has the highest rates of pesticides.  On the list were peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.  In many locales, home gardeners can plant the trees and vines whose fruits appear on  the dirty dozen.  Producing fruit from trees and woody vines will take many years, however, so let’s look to what you can grow this year.

Various types of strawberries grow well throughout the United States.  If you are willing to wait a couple of years, you can start from seed.  If you’d rather have strawberries within a year, start from crowns.  You can purchase crowns at your local garden supply store or online.  Just remember that your strawberry patch will produce for years, so be cautious about where you plant it.

Sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes all grow well in the Ozarks.  Celery does not, but it may grow well where you live.  I can cut my organic food bill substantially by growing what works here.  The key is accepting that you’ll be eating certain things seasonally.  Spinach and lettuce, for example, do not survive hundred-degree (F) summer days in the Ozarks, but they’ll grow really well in the fall and spring (and the winter, with a little help).   Note that I use chard and mustard greens for summer.  I can’t grow regular celery, but cutting celery (same flavor but much smaller stalks) will grow here.  I can easily grow sweet peppers, but I grow few standard bells and opt instead for smaller peppers that will ripen more quickly and produce better than bells (plus they’re really cute!).  If you live much further north than here, you’ll definitely want to start with plants instead of seed for peppers, to be sure that they have plenty of time to develop fruit.  With the “dirty dozen” as your guide for gardening, you can still eat clean and organic without breaking the bank.

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Some of my favorite seed suppliers almost all have fabulous collections of seeds either in single packets or groups of packets. Today I’ll highlight a few multi-pack collections.

Botanical Interests offers several gift-wrapped multipacks, including kids’ favorite seeds to grow, Italian favorites, bountiful harvest, fragrant flowers, and Asian cuisine.

Renee’s Garden’s multi-pack collections include a kids’ garden too plus easy-to-grow collections, more fragrant flowers and cottage garden flowers, and more.

Burpee has a Money Garden collection for those wanting to weather the recession.

Seeds of Change has several collections too, including a Natural Dyes collection and a White House Seed the Change collection.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has tins with giant and smaller collections.  Baker Creek has excellent ratings through garden sites, but I am wary of ordering from them after reading some negative ratings on Dave’s Garden’s  Garden Watchdog, where consumers can rate companies.  It sounds like they are a relatively small outfit that still does things the country way but have not coped well with expansion.

Dave’s Garden’s  Garden Watchdog is an invaluable resource if you want to protect yourself in online ordering!  Be sure to rate your favorite (and most disliked) sites while you’re there.

What are your favorite suppliers’ seed collections?

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Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009, just like the rest of the blog.  
Feel free to post short excerpts with full links to this blog.

I like to mix up muffins regularly because they give us healthy, wholesome breakfasts and healthy snacks for little money.  Making muffins from scratch only takes a few more minutes than making them from a mix, and you know your scratch muffins are full of good things instead of chemicals.  This morning we had double delicious apple muffins.  I’ll talk after the recipe about how healthy they are.  Feel free to skip that if you’d rather think they’re decadent!

This recipe makes 6 muffins, perfect for a medium-sized family (or a small family who wants muffin snacks later!).  If you can get organic ingredients and farm-fresh eggs, by all means use them.  We do!

Dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain oat flour (or just use old-fashioned rolled oats, all wheat flour, or flax meal if you don’t have oat flour–remember:  use what you have!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) ground cinnamon
  • pinch/sprinkle of allspice
  • 1/4-1/3 cup chopped walnuts  (I just crush them in my hand as I’m adding them to the mix)
  • optional:  small handful of raisins or currants

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 apple (like Gala, McIntosh, or Arkansas black)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce or apple butter  (oh, yes, this is the double-delish part:  apples and apple sauce!)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk or kefir (or milk mixed with yogurt if you don’t have either one in the house, or just milk if that’s all you have.  Like I always say, use what you have!)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (brown or maple okay–or more, up to a quarter cup if you’re family is addicted to sugar–use less if you used apple butter instead of apple sauce)

Optional:  cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 6-cup muffin tin.  Get a 1-quart (small) mixing pitcher or bowl.  (Using a pitcher will make everything easier to pour into the muffin cups.)

Begin by chopping the apple.  I like to cut my apples into halves, quarters, and eighths first, so they I can remove the minimum amount of core.  Since I use homegrown or organic apples, I wash them well but do not peel them.  The peel is both healthy and pretty.  Your apple pieces should be no more than 1/2 inch cubed each.

Make-and-eat directions:  If you are going to make the muffins right away, you can mix everything together immediately.  Just start with the dry ingredients and then add your wet ingredients.  Stir well to combine but do not over-stir. Pour into prepared muffin tins.  Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar (optional).  Bake the muffins for 20 minutes.  Let them cool briefly in the pans and then turn out to cool (or just turn them on their sides to cool.)  Enjoy!

Night-before preparation, for even quicker morning baking: If you want to eat these on a school day (or get them ready for the kids to bake in the morning while you sleep in!), you can mix together all the dry ingredients separately from all of the wet ingredients.  In the morning, preheat the oven (350′ F) and grease your muffin tin.  Then combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Bake for 20 minutes and eat or take them with you!

Dutch oven directions for camping:

Follow the directions for night-before preparation to mix your dry and wet ingredients separately.  Put both in separate camp-worthy containers.  Freeze the wet ingredients if you won’t use them for a few days.  The morning you want to eat your muffins, use 6 metal cupcake “papers” in the bottom of a small Dutch oven.  Put on the lid and add coals top and bottom and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Alternatively, you can just grease the Dutch oven itself and make this recipe coffee-cake style.  Cut the finished cake into wedges.

What’s good about these muffins?

These muffins are great whether you are watching your cholesterol, concerned about high blood sugar, or trying to keep your intestines in good shape.  With both soluble and insoluble whole grains as well as a lot of apple, little sugar, and almost no fat except for the good fat in the walnuts, these muffins are wholesome health food.  Don’t worry, though; your family will never notice!

Healthy snacking: These muffins make great afternoon snacks or even a light dessert.  For a snack, try spreading two halves with some natural warm peanut butter.  (Making the peanut butter warm will help natural peanut butter spread without tearing the muffin.)

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Tonight I’m just not sure what to make for dinner.  We have few things that “have to” be eaten except for leftovers.  I thought of making turkey pot pie, but that would leave the potatoes.  I thought of making shepherd’s pie, but I’d prefer to make it with ground meat.  So I’ve decided to make Shepherd’s Pot Pie.  I can use everything that I’ve got left over, plus I can add carrots, celery, and some chopped onions.  You could substitute other leftovers for these.  How about butternut squash cubes?  How about mashed sweet potato as the topping?  It’ll all work–unless those sweet potatoes were loaded with sugar or marshmallows!

  • turkey, cubed
  • leftover green beans (cut small) with turkey bacon
  • leftover mashed potatoes, loosened with a bit of milk to make the mashed potatoes more easily spreadable
  • leftover gravy
  • leftover dressing (known as stuffing to some of you!)
  • onions, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid
  • carrots, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid
  • celery, chopped and sauteed and then cooked in leftover bean liquid

Prep the onions, carrots, and celery, beginning with the onion and adding the carrots and celery after the onions have sauteed a little while.

Then add the leftover bean liquid to help everything soften.

Cut the beans into small pieces.  Dice the turkey. Stir together everything except the gravy, dressing and mashed potatoes.  Add a little dressing to flavor the mix.  Add sufficient gravy to moisten everything. Put the mix in well-greased individual pie pans or ramekins (or in one big casserole).  Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Bake at 350-375 degrees F until the mix is warm and bubbly and the mashed potatoes are nicely browned.  Depending on how much milk you added to the mashed potatoes, you may need to broil the pies briefly to get the tops to brown.

You may also be interested in a more traditional shepherd’s pie: https://ozarkhomesteader.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/greek-inspired-lamb-shepherds-pie-with-ozark-grown-ingredients/

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A dying garden can be depressing, but it can also hold the seeds of your future, literally.  This spring I let some red winter kale go to seed and then gathered the spiky seed pods to keep through the summer.  I scattered them on the ground a couple of weeks ago, and now I have a profusion of free red kale seedlings, which we should be eating within a month or two.

I also gathered seed pods from garlic chives.  I’ve sprouted some to add to salads.  Others I’ll keep to start a new garlic chive bed and to give away to friends for their own gardens.

Here is a cabbage that decided to grow entirely of its own accord.

And, voila!,  borage plants, all volunteers, with amaranth seeds, awaiting spring.

A volunteer cilantro plant awaits a Mexican or Vietnamese dish.

And here my husband collects flower seeds.

We even had dozens of volunteer tomato plants produce this year before frost hit.  Your garden  can give you so much, if you just give it a little time to show its offerings!

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We are visiting family outside the Ozarks tonight, but we are getting snow here and expect to find snow at home too.  A white Christmas is always a beautiful gift!  I want to wish all of my readers a merry Christmas. Thank you for visiting the blog!  If you, like so many Americans, are suffering from financial losses, may you remember that this holiday is about love, not stuff you buy from stores or trinkets you hang on your tree. I hope you’ll enjoy holiday-friendly ideas and recipes like Christmas lettuce, breakfast casserole, grits casserolechocolate-chip gingerbread, turkey gravy, turkey brine, and turkey hash.

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I first had breakfast casserole in 1980, when my great-grandmother died.  It’s hard to believe that it was three decades ago.  I’d love to know more about the bigger history of this dish, but for now I’m content with the family history.  Dear family friends brought the casserole to the house, and it became an instant classic.  Two things–okay, maybe three–make it good.  First, you can make it ahead and save only the baking for when you serve it.  Second, it has all of your country breakfast basics–bread, eggs, and meat–with nothing processed, like I see in some other breakfast casserole recipes.  Third, it holds well for seconds and thirds.  It’s even pretty darn good on day two, if there’s any left after the initial breakfast.

Here’s my basic recipe, designed for a large casserole dish, up to 9×13 (smaller dishes okay if they are deeper):

serves 6-10, depending on how hungry they are!

  • 6 slices of whole-grain bread, torn into bits
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • 1 pound turkey sausage (yes, you  can use pork sausage)
  • optional:  2 teaspoons each rubbed sage and crushed red pepper (this will include bits of the red flesh part and the seed, but the name will vary)
  • 1-2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Begin by browning the sausage, breaking it up as you go.  If it’s standard commercial sausage, you may want to add about 2 teaspoons rubbed sage and 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper (0r more!).  If it is pork sausage, be sure to drain it well. Now grease your casserole dish.  Put the torn bread in the bottom of the pan, spreading it out evenly.  Next evenly sprinkle on your well-seasoned sausage.  Then spread evenly the grated cheddar cheese.  Finally, beat the eggs and milk together, and pour the mixture over the rest of the casserole.  That’s it.  You can now refrigerate the dish.  In the morning, put the casserole dish in the oven first and then set the oven to 375 degrees F.  (By adding the casserole to the cold oven, you’ll reduce the chances of breaking your casserole dish, which could happen if you put a cold dish in a hot oven.)  Bake the dish for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the shape of your dish.  The breakfast casserole should be set thoroughly, and the top should be nicely browned.  To serve, you can either cut the casserole into slices, or just let your guests scoop it out themselves.

You can also pre-bake and freeze the casserole, but it’s not quite as good as baking it the morning you eat it.

By the way, I’ve also made *three* breakfast casseroles in large outdoor Dutch ovens to feed a crowd on a camp out.  This recipe is that versatile!  I just pre-browned the meat and pre-grated the cheese and froze both.  Two kids who were early risers broke and “beat” the eggs in large zippered bags while I tore the bread.  Follow the directions as above, add coals, and in a little less than an hour you’ll have breakfast for two dozen people!

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Grits can be really good comfort food.  Grits casserole elevates them to big-family breakfast.  Start with either the crock pot/slow cooker or stove top method of grits.  Season your grits to taste with salt and pepper.  Then you can add eggs and sausage or bacon and cheese and bake and Mmmmmmmm.  First, add a bit more milk to your basic grits recipe.  For each egg you’re planning on adding, add 1/8-1/4 cup of milk.  For each serving of grits you’ve made, you can add an egg, a piece of two of bacon, cooked and crumbled, or the equivalent of a sausage patty, cooked and crumbled.  (We use turkey sausage and turkey bacon.) Add about about two tablespoons (or more) grated cheese like sharp cheddar, gruyere, or monterey jack per serving.  Mix everything together, and put it in individual baking dishes or one big casserole.  Bake at 375-400 degrees for about ten minutes, until the casserole slightly browns on top.  Serve and enjoy!

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