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Archive for February, 2010

We eat a lot of salad around here with various permutations and combinations, but two have come to have names.  One we call “favorite salad #1.”  No, I have not posted about it yet.  You’ll just have to come back to find out about it.  (Grin.) Tonight I’m talking “Favorite salad #2.”  Favorite salad #2 is Mediterranean in influence, incorporating some things we grow and some things we buy.  Actually, this salad has a larger percentage of non-local products than we usually eat; maybe that’s what makes it name worthy.    The ingredients are sweet, tangy, salty, and ever so slightly bitter, making for a wonderful blend.  For each individual salad, layer the ingredients from top to bottom in roughly this order:

  • 1-2 cups mixed baby greens, big pieces gently torn, or in summer chard and/or mustard greens
  • optional if in season:  cucumber, quartered lengthwise and then sliced thinly–put on outside edge of greens
  • course grated carrot (a couple of tablespoons per salad)
  • 1-2 thinly sliced radishes
  • 1-3 dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon of feta cheese (goat cheese feta makes it really special)
  • a few sliced pitted kalamata olives
  • optional if in season:  halves or quarters of cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons slivered or sliced almonds, toasted (325 degree F for 5-7 minutes)
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried black currants
  • optional:  chives, thin slices to garnish (I cut these with kitchen scissors straight over the salad)

You can serve this salad with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing or get even more non-local and try it with a store-bought Mediterranean-inspired dressing like Drew’s Lemon Goddess Tahini or Annie’s Goddess Dressing. Both of these are tahini-based dressings, the sesame paste featured in  hummus (chickpea dip). We like the salad with Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern food.  In the winter it may be a part of a big meal.  In the summer, it may be the meal all on its own (or maybe with some watermelon, mmmmmm).

Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Do you have a favorite salad combo?  We’d really like for you to share it with us.

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Tonight I had planned on making pizza, but life intervened and I ended up with less prep time than I’d planned.  Given that I had good chicken bratwurst, red and green cabbage, onions, and some wide whole-wheat Amish noodles, I decided to go with a German-inspired meal.  I was going to serve it with traditional baked apples.  I thinly sliced the onions and cabbage.  Then I sauteed the onion until it started to caramelize.  I pulled it out and sauteed the bratwurst in some brandy in the same pan.  Then I cooked the noodles al dente and tossed them in a smidgen of butter.  I was about to saute the cabbage in the bratwurst liquid and then pull everything together, with the noodles in the bottom of each bowl and then the cabbage mixed with onion and the brats on top–when I saw the four apples I’d gotten out.  I’d pictured them with cinnamon, slowly baked, but that wasn’t going to work now.

I quickly quartered, cored, and peeled the apples.  I tossed them first with a pinch each of cinnamon and ginger.  Okay, I used more than a pinch of ginger, maybe a whole teaspoon (or more?), but I decided that’s too much. I also sprinkled on a little salt.  I added about a half inch of water in the bottom of the little casserole dish.  Then I popped the spiced apples in the microwave for 4 minutes on high.  Humph.  They tasted good, but they looked microwaved.  I was going to reach for brown sugar, when I decided something savory would be better.  I decided to toss them with honey and a sharp mustard, about a tablespoon or two total.  Then I popped them in the toaster oven for 10 minutes at 375-400 degrees F while I finished cooking the main dish.

The apples weren’t photo-worthy, but they were golden brown (all that mustard!), tangy and sweet and spicy.  They worked really well with the rest of the meal.  They’d be good this way with a pork roast (if we ate pork roast).  My husband spooned out the leftover sauce from the apples and added it to his cabbage, onion, brat, and noodles mix.

Ingredients:

  • 4 apples, quartered, peeled, and cored
  • pinch of ginger
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • sprinkle of salt
  • splash of water
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon mustard

Put the apples in a small glass casserole dish with the cinnamon, ginger, salt, and water and microwave on high for 4 minutes.  Add the honey and mustard and bake at 375-400 degrees F for 5-10 minutes, until the apples are bubbly.  Serve.  Enjoy.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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Apparently our household commitment to seasonal, local food hit its limits this week when my husband found some beautiful organic blueberries and I found some organic strawberries.  We bought them.  Tonight I served them with pound cake made from scratch.

Pound cake used to be a once-every-few-years kind of thing in our household, because with today’s smaller families and healthier outlook, we just don’t need a big heavy cake.  That’s why tonight I set out to make pound cake in miniature, using really wholesome, organic ingredients.  The concept is simple.  You need a few things to make pound cake:  (1) equal parts by weight of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs; and a tube cake pan, so that the heavy cake batter bakes all the way through to the middle.  Hmmmmm.  I can weigh and divide.  I have two mini tube pans. Yes, this plan could work.  I made not pound cakes but ounce cakes!

This recipe serves 4-8 people, depending on how hungry they are and what you serve with the pound cake. If you make it 8 servings, each serving will have a little over two hundred calories–much better than if you ate a big wedge of full-sized pound cake!

Special supplies

  • two miniature tube pans, each of which will hold one cup of batter with room to expand as they bake (about 4 1/2 inches wide at the top)

Ingredients (as always, organic is best!)

  • 1 stick of real butter, a little softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla
  • optional:  1 teaspoon brandy
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (use a 1-cup measure, and you can just add in the other dry ingredients instead of getting an extra bowl dirty)
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 shakes/grates of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Begin by creaming the butter with the sugar. Then divide the eggs into yolks and whites. Add the egg yolks to the butter and sugar and mix until creamy. Stir in the vanilla and brandy.  In the measuring cup, add the rest of the dry ingredients to the flour.  Gradually add the flour to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture.  Now, in a separate, very clean bowl and using very clean beaters, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Do you see those stiff peaks on the egg whites?  That’s what you want.  Fold about a third of the egg whites into the rest of the batter to lighten it.  Then fold in the rest of the egg whites.  Spoon into well-greased miniature tube cake pans and bake at 325 degrees F for about 35 minutes. Let the cakes rest in the pans for about 15 minutes and then slide a thin knife around the outside edge of the cake and around the tube center. Turn the cakes onto a grid to finish cooling.Do you see those cracks on the top?  That part has a delectable crispy crunch.

Mmmmmmmm.  Real ingredients.  Food like my grandmother used to make.  Cake worthy of blueberries and strawberries.  Enough to satisfy your taste for sweetness and richness.  Small enough that you can indulge without guilt.Where’s my fork?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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Today I learned about a new phenomenon in rural North Carolina:  crop mobs.  Using “word of mouth” and the internet, a mob of  “landless farmers and the agricurious,” as Christine Muhlke puts it, meet at a small-scale, sustainable farm to help lend a hand.  The farmer provides lunch.  During the day, volunteers may help bring in a hand-dug potato harvest, or they may clear a field of rocks.  If they have carpentry skills, they may work on a greenhouse.  Most importantly, they may be enabling a farmer who’s trying to do things environmentally right to preserve his or her farm along the way.  Sustainable farming is labor intensive.  These extra hands get a chance to see farming up close and learn about it, to get together with old and new friends, and to contribute to the locavore movement.  Read more about it here.  Now that I know about the concept, I hope to help start an Arkansas crop mob–but I think it’ll have a different name.  Arkanfarmers?  Arkanhands?  If I can get something similar established here, I’ll let you know.

Do you know of other programs in your community?  Do share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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Enchiladas: I need help

We like spicy food–hence why I had several dozen pepper plants this year.  We like the flavors of Mexican food.  We both make pretty darn good fajitas.  We make decent burritos.  We do just fine with prepared taco shells.  My enchiladas are embarrassing.

Until recently, I have to confess that I did my best to create enchiladas without ever have seen the process of making them by an expert. My husband told me that the solution to my rolling issues was to make them like in New Mexico, stacked and not rolled.  Then I watched the new chef from Mexico on the Food Network making enchiladas. She dipped the tortilla in sauce to get it to roll better.  I thought:  ah ha!  I see what my enchiladas have been missing.  Tonight I generously spread my home-canned tomatillo sauce (again, my own recipe) on both sides of my lovely allegedly authentic corn tortillas and stacked them to keep them moist as I filled and rolled.  Even as I placed them in the casserole dish, they cracked.  Again.  And in the end they were both too moist and too dry.

So, internet surfers with a world of expertise, please help my enchiladas.  What’s your favorite authentic enchilada recipe?  What do you do in the process?  Do you have a sauce recipe that works well?  We don’t eat red meat but can adapt beef and pork recipes to our dietary limitations, if you can help me figure out the rest of the process.

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Among the seeds that I grew for the first time this year was a fresh-eating soybean (edamame:  pronounced Ed-uh-mommy) called “beer friend.”  “Beer friend” grows on compact bushes and can be harvested in two relatively painless rounds.  My single seed packet yielded two big, full gallon bags of edamame, blanched in salted water and quickly frozen.  Of course, I’m not confessing to how many of the salted, blanched soybeans I munched while I was blanching the rest, plus we ate a whole bunch freshly blanched too.  I will not only grow “beer friend” again; I’m planting twice as much as I did last year.

“Beer friend” soybean is supposed to be a favorite snack in Japan, and I can see why.  To eat the edamame, give it a quick blanch in salted water and then let it cool enough to pop the beans out of the pod.  These are definitely finger food!  They are sweet, buttery, and so fresh flavored that I’m sure the whole family will love them.

Soybeans, as beans, will grow best if you pre-soak them (to give them a little head start on sprouting) and then coat them in an inoculant of helpful bacteria before you plant them.  For that reason, I recommend that you let your younger children calculate how many feet of planting you’ll have for the number of seed and prepare the row but not do the actual planting.  (You can do that!)  At least in our climate, “beer friend” edamame needed nothing more than planting and harvesting.  Since these are a bush bean whose swelling pods will make it clear when it’s time to harvest, I think they’re perfect for little hands to come back in the end and gather.  Let your children harvest them and wash them, and then help them with the blanching.  Then it’s snack time!

If you have soybeans that you’d like to save to enjoy through the winter, dip the soybean pods in boiling, heavily salted water for a minute.  Then drain them well and put them on a cookie sheet to freeze individually.  As soon as the exterior is frozen, put them in containers and try to eliminate the air.  Now when you want a little bowl for an appetizer, just pull out however many you need, microwave them for about 30 seconds (per small bowl), and serve.

Your soybeans can also help the rest of your garden grow.  I interspersed my soybeans among some of my corn, a heavy nitrogen feeder, so that the beans helped return nitrogen to the soil.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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Today’s post on selecting seed is focused on a single plant:  Red Peter peppers.  Truth be told, the naughtiness in me took over the first time I ordered these, but the flavor, color, and drying quality had me coming back for more. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) As just about every seed source will tell you, red peter peppers have an unusual shape.  They look, as one source politely noted, “anatomical.”This picture (with brightly colored radishes too) does not do full justice to the “anatomical” nature of these peppers, nor to to their rich color and flavor.

Red Peter peppers have what I’d call a nice amount of heat.  They give you a broad but light burn.  Their flavor and odor have hints of flowers and raspberries, like good hot peppers do.  What really won me over was that Red Peter peppers dry so well.  Red Peters start out a beautiful Christmas red, but unlike cayenne peppers, for which the color dulls over time, Red Peter peppers’ color just get more intensely, deeply red.  Like cayennes, Red Peter peppers have thin walls and thus easily dry, even in the humid South without a dehydrator.  Given their good drying qualities, they are superb for crushing and adding to recipes all winter long.

I suppose you might end up having to explain the origins of the name to the kids, but other than that, I see these peppers as ideal for a family garden.

A few seed sources (not an endorsement!):

Plant source (again, not an endorsement!):

Photographs from Dave’s Garden:  http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/60750/

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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As you select your seed for summer, consider planting a flower garden for your salads this year.

If you look closely in this salad, you’ll see two of my favorite edible flowers, borage and pinks.

Borage is the beautiful blue flower that is shaped like a star.  Borage flowers taste ever so slightly like cucumber or watermelon. The leaves are edible too, but since they are a little furry, they aren’t my favorite.  Pinks are in the same family as dianthus and carnations.  Just be sure only to eat flowers that you know were produced without pesticides.  In other words, please don’t bite into your carnation corsage!

In the foreground of this photograph are the unopened buds of chives.  Chives form puffy, porcupiney balls.  I pull the individual frilly petals out and sprinkle them in salad for a really mild onion or garlic taste.

Are you serving chicken salad?  Consider adding the purple tiny trumpet-shaped flowers of traditional sage.  For a splash of color, add the ruby red flowers of pineapple sage.

Other edible flowers include

  • nasturtium:  one of my favorite, both the flowers are leaves taste like mild horseradish; the leaves look like tiny lilly pads, while the flowers come in brilliant bright colors. Pull the petals out of the tough base.
  • calendula:  like a small golden daisy, calendula has sunset-gold petals that are lovely in salads and sprinkled on top of pasta.
  • violets:  violets are sweet additions to salads of baby greens or as edible garnishes on cakes and cupcakes; they can also be crystalized, but I’ve never attempted it.
  • pansies:  like violets, pansies are sweet, but I prefer them in salads.
  • rose petals:  sweet like violets and pansies, with similar applications.

Consider planting edible flowers this year.  You’ll love how they add vibrant color and new flavors to your meals!

Have you used edible flowers?  Which are your favorites?  Do you have questions about edible flowers?  Ask away!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome. Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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A few weeks ago, the Arkansas Department of Education made available a comparison, school by school, of students’ grades and standardized test scores.  Not surprisingly, almost all schools’ grades of A and B were higher than the students who had been judged proficient in basic subjects, and some schools’ disparity was shockingly high.  And schools were only considered to have grade inflation if 20% or more of students with As and Bs didn’t make proficient on the standardized test, a rate that ignores the fact that any student with an A or B who can’t make proficient on the standardized test probably does not deserve the grade that he or she got.  You can read more about the analysis here and here (PPT download–beware; it’ll start automatically as soon as you click the link!).

News like this should serve as a warning to students, parents, educators–and colleges that may now view applicants from grade-inflated schools with suspicion.  The student has not really been doing A and B work.  The student may not be ready for college.  The student may not be ready to graduate from high school.

If you are an educator or administrator at a school with grade inflation, your task is simple.  Grade harder.  Teach more.  Either help colleagues who are inadequate or lax to be better, or help administration to remove them from teaching.  Otherwise your whole school will continue to suffer, and ultimately everyone’s jobs will be at stake.

What if you’re a parent?  Learn how to ask the right questions of your child.  Don’t just ask, How was school today? or Do you like Mrs. X? Ask detailed questions about how your child’s teacher teaches, about how your child spends time in school.  Don’t complain about homework.  Do your best to help with it–but not do it.  Check to see if your child’s school system has grade inflation.  If you see signs that your child is spending more time playing games and watching movies in class than learning, that he or she never has homework, that the student isn’t progressing academically, ask at your child’s school what’s going on in the classroom.  Ask how you can help make it better.

If you don’t live in Arkansas, check with your own state department of education to find out whether your school system has grade inflation.  If the department does not track these statistics, contact your state legislator about making tracking a requirement.  Then follow through.  American education has been on a slow decline since the Reagan years.  If we don’t turn it around, all of our children’s futures are doomed.

Have you been successful in helping to turn around your child’s school’s performance?  What did you do?  Did you enlist other parents?  Did you volunteer at your child’s school?  Did you contact the media?  Let me and other readers know!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.

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One of the reasons I hear from people about why they don’t like cast iron is that they prefer a non-stick surface.  A well-seasoned cast iron pan can actually do a better job of cooking products (and releasing them when it’s time for you to eat) than a standard non-stick pan.  Non-stick pans are also made with toxic substances that get released into your food and thus you when the pans get too hot or when they get scratched.  Give me a good cast iron pan any day!  They add iron to your food instead of petroleum products.

Today I’m using a medium-sized cast iron frying pan that I bought at a yard sale in Wisconsin in the 1990s.  I was yard saling with a friend, and after I gave up the first cast iron pan we found that day–priced at one dollar–, he said the next would be mine.  Sure enough, at the next place, there was this pathetic pan, a little rusty but overall just fine.  It was priced at ten cents.  I felt a little guilty buying it.  I’m pretty sure I cooked a few things for my friend in it over the years.  Anyway, it’s that ten cent pan you see here.

Let’s look at some cast iron basics:  frying an egg.  Begin  by getting your well-seasoned pan hot, and then add a little oil and a little butter.  No, I’m not talking lots of it.  If you use a good oil spray you can go with a few squirts.  Cast iron that’s been well cared for really doesn’t take any more oil than non-stick pans.  Crack your egg and drop it in the pan.Gather up the white that’s shifted to the edges and continue cooking until the white is mostly set.  

For sunny side up, reduce heat and cook until the yellow is set to your taste.  For over easy, flip (it’ll do so just as easily as if you had teflon), cook for a minute or two more, and serve.

No, this isn’t rocket science, folks.  It’s just making healthier choices for your family, one frying pan at a time.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL for this site and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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