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Whisk Broom

Today in the Ozarks the skies are dark, pouring an icy rain that makes me wish we had a fireplace.  If I had a fireplace, I’d have an even harder time carrying through with my holiday giveaway.  Earlier this fall, I wrote about my summer visit to the Ozark Folk Center, near my home in Arkansas.  I purchased two beautiful handmade brooms.  One is a standing broom for my own home.  The broom works so well and glides so easily that I genuinely do more of my share of sweeping than I did before I got this household treasure.  I also bought a gift for one of you, my dear readers, a whisk broom made in the same historic style as my standing broom.

As with the standing broom, every detail on this whisk or hearth broom is natural.  The broom measures a foot long and 8 inches wide at the base.  It retails for $25.  This broom also works as well as the standing broom, whether you decide to use it to sweep your hearth or whether it becomes your whisk broom to tidy up the end of a sweeping session.  Of course, it can also just be a decorative feature that might fit your country holiday or year-round decor, hanging next to your fireplace or in your kitchen.

If you are interested in winning this hearth broom, please post here with a special holiday memory or tradition, even if it’s just a sentence. It doesn’t have to be long or eloquent; just share a little.  If you’d like two entries, please post about this giveaway on your own blog or tweet it, and then indicate here in a separate comment that you’ve shared it.  Entries close Sunday, December 5, at noon Central Standard Time.  I’ll announce the winner, selected randomly, by Dec. 6 at noon, so that I can get your address and get your gift in the mail to you in time for holiday decorating.  Regardless of which winter holidays you celebrate, I wish you a happy, healthy season!

Legal stuff:  I am not a spammer and will keep your information private.  Readers from outside the US are welcome to post and enter, but you are responsible for any customs charges.

Entries are officially closed.  I’ll post the winner by noon on Monday.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Recently a Canadian reader, Anita, who has fallen in love with Southern food asked me for my squash casserole recipe.  I said I’d be happy to oblige but would need a few weeks for two reasons:  first, the squash crop around here was in the summer lull (argh, squash bugs!), but most importantly because I needed to actually come up with a recipe.  I make mine a little differently every time, just as I do with most things that I cook and bake.  Anita remembered a casserole she’d had in Georgia that was creamy, with a buttery flavor.  She hoped it did not involve the ubiquitous can of Campbell’s soup that has made most “casseroles” since the 1950s.  I’ve certainly had the souped up casserole at many a potluck, but that was not my favorite squash casserole; my favorite was my grandmother’s.

While my mother-in-law was visiting, I made a squash casserole as my mother-in-law said she did, using milk, mayonnaise, and egg as the binding agent.  It definitely was not what we were looking for, having a heavy feel, and I knew my own grandmother had used a white sauce.  I hunted to see if my grandmother ever wrote down her recipe, or if she had gotten it from that trusty 1899 cookbook that belonged to her mother.  No, that cookbook made no mention of a casserole at all, the concept of a casserole having been foreign (literally) in much of the Southern United States until the introduction of Campbell’s “casseroles” in the mid-twentieth century.  (The infamous green bean casserole with canned soup dates from 1955, by the way.) I surrendered to the inevitable; I had learned how to make squash casserole at my grandmother’s side, and I needed to just give up looking for a recipe and create my own.

My grandmother’s version of squash casserole would have involved either a standard white sauce with cheese and egg or evaporated milk with cheese and egg.  Today I’ll give you my white sauce version, using the dangerously easy cheese sauce with all real-dairy ingredients that I posted in May.  I’m going to give the recipe in proportions for one or two medium yellow squash, with the variations for more.  Remember as you select your casserole dish to keep the squash mixture at about 2 inches depth in the dish.  That way, every serving can have a good amount of the crunchy topping.

A couple of casserole sizes:

  • 1-2 squash:  Try using one of those cute little .4 L Corning casseroles
  • 7-8 squash:  Go for a 2-quart casserole dish.

Recipe for 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and tiny pat of butter (better!)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 medium-sized sweet yellow onion, cut into very thin slices  (If the onion makes you cry when you cut into it, use less.)
  • 1-2 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • dash of salt, pepper, and, if you want, a pinch of Italian herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup dangerously easy cheese sauce, cooled sufficiently to avoid cooking the egg.
  • 1/4 cup more freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • fine, dry bread crumbs (like Panko) or fine cracker crumbs, sufficient to cover the top of the casserole in a thin layer (about 1/4 cup)

Saute the onion in a heavy pan in the olive oil and butter mix just until the onion starts to get a little color.  Add the squash and saute it with the salt, pepper, and herbs until a bit of the liquid in it yields and is cooked off.  (The salt will help this process.)  Let the mixture cool a bit.  In a measuring cup, add the cheese sauce to the beaten egg and stir well to combine.  Start layering the squash and onions in a lightly greased casserole dish, then pour on a little cheese-egg mixture, then more squash and onions, then more cheese until you’ve used it all.  Sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar on top, add your bread crumbs, and bake, covered, in a 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Take off the lid and let the casserole brown on top, about 5-10 minutes more depending on what type of crumbs you used.  Let the casserole cool about 5 minutes and then serve.

Let’s multiply to make bigger casseroles:

For 3-4 squash, use 2/3-1 onion, 2 eggs, and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce.  For 5-6 squash, use 1 to 1 1/2 onion, 3 eggs, and 3/4 cup cheese sauce.  For 7-8 squash, use 1 1/3 to 2 sweet onions, 4 eggs, and 1 cup cheese sauce.

As my husband tucked his fork into his serving of casserole last night and put it in his mouth, he sort of made a face.  I was downhearted.  I’d already tasted the casserole and thought it was blog worthy.  I waited a few minutes and asked him what he thought, explaining my quest.  It turned out, he was thinking about his master’s class in statistics when he made the face.  He went into Food Network judge mode to extoll the virtues of the casserole.  He described the squashy, cheesy portion of the casserole as almost custardy, with a fluffy lightness that balanced the richness of the cheese.  He pointed out that the fine crumbs had contributed to the lightness of the dish with their crisp coating on the top.  He liked the flavor too.

To be sure, there are plenty of squash casserole recipes out there, and this is just one, Anita.  If it doesn’t fit your memories of the squash casserole you had in Georgia, I’ll happily go back to the kitchen to work on it more.  My late-planted squash is about to produce a bonanza.  I’ll end up freezing a few squash casseroles by the time the season is over, for use in the winter.

Do you have a favorite squash casserole recipe, with or without canned soup?  Please share!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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You can make just about anything in an outdoor Dutch oven that you can make in an oven in the house.  Yesterday I roasted a whole chicken from Falling Sky Farm with rosemary, garlic, and lemons in a 12-quart Dutch oven in the back yard.  The process is so simple that I hesitate to post it, but I know some readers would like to do more Dutch oven cooking, so here goes.

Make a brine of 1 cup salt, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 cup sugar, heated and dissolved in water, with enough additional water and/or ice to completely cover your chicken.  Drop in several crushed juniper berries and twigs of rosemary. Be sure to use a non-reactive pot–no cast iron, aluminum, or plastic for this stage.  Brine the bird at least 24 hours.

Remove the bird from the brine and discard the brine mixture, rosemary, etc.  Stuff the bird with more fresh rosemary, 2-4 cloves of sliced garlic, and about half a lemon.  Season the bird’s skin with a little more salt and pepper.  Now you’re ready to roast!

 

seasoned, uncooked chicken

 

Start charcoal, preferably using a chimney with the bottom loaded with newspaper to avoid having to use lighter fluid. (Ick!)  Get the coals hot.  Put the chicken in a lightly greased outdoor Dutch oven, either by itself or with potatoes as we did.  Add the lid.  Put the Dutch oven on top of about 8-12 coals.  Add more coals to the top.  Rotate the whole oven *and* the lid every 15 minutes or so.  Your chicken will roast in an hour to an hour and a half, depending on size.  You may need to add coals as you go, so do keep an eye on whether you’ll need to fire up some more.

 

Dutch oven with lid lifter inserted

 

Be sure not to let ashes in the Dutch oven when you rotate the lid!

Our 5-pound chicken roasted for an hour and a half, and it was definitely over the minimum safe temperature of 165-170 degrees F. It was also incredible juicy, with super rosemary and garlic flavor, all thanks to roasting in the Dutch oven.  And our house stayed sooooo nice and cool!  I wish I had a food stylist on staff to make it clear how gorgeous this bird was, but I’ll trust that you’ll give the recipe a try and decide for yourself.

Oh–do you see that juice in the bottom?  It’s the incredibly flavorful base for gravy.  Let everything cool a few minutes; then remove the bird and veggies to rest.  Whisk a little potato flour or whole-wheat pastry flour into the juices. Heat to boiling with a little sherry and let thicken.  Serve on the side.  Do be careful–this mixture includes the brine and may already be a little salty for some folks.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  All rights reserved.

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Hot:  the three letters should speak for themselves. Our thermometer was registering 103 degrees F in the shade by noon.  It showed 108 degrees F (again, in the shade) before the day was over.  I think it could be off a few degrees, but even if it is, temperatures have been running ten degrees F  or more over normal for days, with little relief in site.  We’ve had one measurable rain since mid June.  It’s miserable.  We’re losing trees.  We’re losing plants that are supposed to be able to take the heat.

I remember back in the 1970s when scientists said we were heading into a mini ice age.  Then came the acceleration of global warming, to nullify the effects of other cyclical climate change.  Does anyone else remember the summer of 1988?  I was in Boston, where we had week after week in the high 90s with no air conditioning for relief.  We ran from sprinkler to sprinkler, sought out fountains, and even, um, “borrowed” a crew van and skinny dipped in Walden Pond, all to try to cool down.  That year was one of more than a dozen record breakers since then, with each one signaling scientists to look more closely at climate data.  And despite a few bad apples among global warming scientists who complained about critics and tried to figure out over now-public email how to discredit them, the science that indicates global warming is real is now overwhelming.  It’s warming, and some of the blame can be found in our lifestyles.

Have you noticed higher temperatures, earlier springs, later falls, or other possible signs of climate change at your homes?  How are these changes impacting your family? your garden?  your animals?  your budget?  Do you see signs that seem to discredit global warming?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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My 83-year-old mother-in-law is visiting this week, and it’s been a real lesson in how folks used to do things versus how they do today.  She has talked a lot about what it was like growing up in rural Arkansas as tenant farmers in the 20s, 30s, and early 1940s.  Some of her brothers and sisters weren’t able to finish high school or even 8th grade because her father needed them in the fields.  They ate a lot of beans and cornbread.  And she didn’t know you could buy a loaf of bread already made until she was in her late teens.

Several times since she got here, she’s commented, “If you keep feeding me like this, I may never leave.”  You see, after being raised on home-cooked meals, which we have most nights, she got out of that habit after my husband’s father died several years ago.  And even more recently, splitting time between my two sisters-in-law’s homes, she has become accustomed to “supper from a bag.”  When I asked her what she meant, she replied, “Oh, you know, McDonald’s or something.  I’m going to have to re-learn how to eat out of a bag when I go back there.”

I reminded her that we live a dozen miles or more from the nearest fast food, and that by the time I go pick something up, it’s not fast anymore.  Our local groceries don’t carry those pre-roasted little chickens nor the pick-up-and-bake pizzas.  We can’t get anything delivered here–except Lou Malnati’s (and, no, they aren’t paying me; we just splurge on their pizza packages  about once a year when they go on sale.) Our really good meals are also a lot cheaper than take-out.  Tonight, for example, we had wild salmon simply grilled with a butter-dill sauce, corn on the cob, and an old-fashioned squash casserole (for my mother-in-law), all for much less than a bag of burgers would have cost.  It also took me about the time to make everything from scratch that it would have to get the infamous, unhealthy bag.  And I got to stay here and chat with my mother-in-law and husband and drink a little wine while I cooked.

Planning ahead for cooking at home takes a little time when you first start doing it, but the longer you do it, the easier it gets. I try to think of creative meals while I’m walking, showering, whatever.  I bought a little blackboard at a craft store and put magnetic strips on the back, so I can keep it on my fridge.  I take it down and write out menus based on what we have in the garden and the freezer and fridge.  It makes it easy for my husband at a glance to see what I’ve got planned for my cooking nights, and I don’t lose track of good ideas or food that we need to eat.

If you eat out of the bag more often than not, why?  Have you considered making more home-cooked meals?  (I’ll bet if you’re reading this blog, you have!)

If you cook most of your meals at home, what inspires you?  How do you manage it?  Do you have a simple planning system?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I can’t get enough of summer fruit.  Every day I gorge on melons and berries, knowing that their days in my farmers’ market and garden are limited.  It’s peaches, though, that not only make me know it’s summer but that also take me back to my roots.  There simply is nothing in the world like a ripe, fresh, juicy peach.  I eat a lot of them fresh, but it’s cobbler that makes me think of family.

Some day, I’ll part with my Georgia grandmother’s recipe for peach cobbler, which in fact is a deep-dish pie with a crunchy crust that you dish out with a big spoon.  Some day, I said.  Not today. Today I’ll give you the quicker, easier but still incredibly tasty version that I make for our smaller, slightly more health-conscious family.  We’re going to make it in a cast-iron skillet for ideal caramelization.  The topping, based on part of my grandmother’s cobbler pastry recipe, is amazingly simple (equal parts butter, sugar, and flour), and you will no doubt find its formula useful for sprinkling on muffins and coffee cake as well as cobblers.

For an 8-inch cast iron skillet you’ll need:

  • 4-5 ripe, large peaches
  • 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tablespoons (or less) sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold butter
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch or 2 or 3 of nutmeg

For a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or deep pie pan) you’ll need:

  • 6-8 ripe, large peaches
  • 3 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tablespoons (or less) sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch or 2 or 3 of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Begin by peeling the peaches and removing the pits.  I do this by slicing the peaches in quarters first.  Then slice the peaches into 8 pieces each.  Toss with the first sugar and flour listed.  Put them in your cast iron skillet or pie pan after making sure that your baking vessel is well-buttered.

Next cut the chilled butter into the larger quantities of sugar and flour using a pastry cutter or just a fork.  Just be sure to keep the butter cold; we’re not making cookie dough, and the resulting mixture should retain discrete tiny pieces of butter encapsulated by flour and sugar.  Sprinkle in the nutmeg.  Crumble the butter mixture on top of the peaches and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-45 minutes, until the  peaches are bubbly and the top is golden brown and crusty.  Serve with a small scoop of real vanilla ice cream on top. Mmmmmmm.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler

Peach-blueberry cobbler:  Add fresh or frozen blueberries on top of the peaches.

Peach-bramble cobbler:  Add blackberries on top of the peaches.  I think this is my favorite variation!

Blackberry cobbler:  You got it–go all blackberries.  Try a pinch of allspice in the blackberries or a splash of lime juice and/or zest.

Blueberry cobbler (for Leigh):  You may want a bottom pie crust for this variation.

Fall Variations:

Apple cobbler: Use apples (a bit more thinly sliced than the peaches) with cinnamon mixed in with the apples and cinnamon and a tiny pinch of allspice with the nutmeg in the topping.  You could also add cranberries for a really festive touch, but first chop them and toss them with more sugar, as they are very tart.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  For all other uses, contact me.

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Several years ago a friend whose mother had been in the antique business told me he had a rustic chicken coop that I could re-purpose.  I was skeptical but went to see it.  It wasn’t a chicken coop.  It was a six-bay nesting box that had been thoroughly cleaned and varnished.  I was immediately taken with the piece and decided to purchase it for the princely sum of $15.  I cleaned the piece up a bit more and then tried it out in various locations and for numerous uses.  My favorite was displaying antique quilts in them.  Unfortunately, right now it is not in an ideal location for you to see the rustic beauty and convenient service of the piece, but I’ve included one close-up shot.

I’m thinking a lot of nesting boxes today because we have discussed getting chickens as soon as we get back from our summer vacation.  Imagine my surprise when fellow blogger Polly’s Path told readers that Georgia Farm Woman is having another nesting box giveaway!  Oooh, if I win I can start my chickens for sure late this summer!  Of course, now that I’ve told you, Georgia Farm Woman could have lots more entries for the giveaway.  Go ahead; check out these great modern nesting boxes.  I hope one of us wins!

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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