Monday, November 30, 2009

Rainy Day Spaghetti

I love a big plate of spaghetti on a cold rainy night. I made this sauce a couple of summers ago after my mother-n-law gave us a variety of peppers from her garden. I had some Ragu Traditional Recipe spaghetti sauce in the pantry, so I thought I'd see what it would taste like with peppers. I really didn't expect it to come out good, but it did. My husband loves it. See, it pays to play around in the kitchen. The sauce has never tasted as good as it did the first time. My mother-n-law's peppers were the key. Last night I played with it further by adding some mushrooms. I think I'll add them from now on. Here's the recipe:

Ragu with Peppers
1 pound ground beef
1/2-1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 med-large jalapeno pepper, diced
1 anaheim pepper, diced
8 oz button mushrooms, chopped coarsely (optional)
1/4-1/2 tbs red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper (3-4 turns of the grinder)
13-oz jar Traditional Recipe spaghetti sauce from Ragu

1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove from the pan, drain, and set aside.
2. Add olive oil to the pan. Then add garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms, red pepper flakes, and black pepper to the pan. You may need to reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring here and there, until onions are translucent.
3. Add beef back to the pan and stir. Add the spaghetti sauce, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

I serve mine over half whole-wheat and half regular spaghetti noodles and top it off with fresh parmesan cheese that I slice off with a vegetable peeler. The sauce tastes even better the next day.

How I Cut Peppers

I had to cut some peppers for dinner last night, so I thought I'd share with you how I do it. This method keeps my fingers from getting too "hot" and I don't have to fool with those pesky seeds. I cut Jalapenos and other small peppers this way also. Sorry some of my pictures are so small.

First, I cut off each end of the pepper.

Then, I cut off each section of the pepper leaving behind the core, seeds, and white membranes.

Then I cut each section into slices that are about 1/4-inch wide. It is easier on you and your knife if the inside of the pepper is facing up. It is harder to cut through the pepper skin-side first. Next I gather the slices into a bunch and cut. Voila, diced pepper.

I usually go back and cut off the good parts of the top and bottom of the pepper too (the petals of the flower).

I keep a produce bag or a mixing bowl next to my cutting board for my garbage (which I should be composting instead of just throwing away). I learned this from watching Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals while I was in college. Rachel taught me a lot about cooking back then. Right now I'm a little burned out on her. She has cooking shows, a magazine, cookbooks, and even her own talk show. Oh, and a line of pet food. One can even go out to Kohls and buy the official plastic Rachel Ray garbage bowl to put next to a Rachel Ray cutting board. I'm assuming she has her own cutting board. I don't think I've actually seen it.

Anyway, keeping the garbage bowl or bag on the counter keeps me from making such a mess and keeps me from having to go back and forth to the actual trash can.

Happy pepper cutting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I had some not-so-helpful company in the kitchen.


and Deuce

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

After the muffins, I still had plenty of puree left, so I decided to make some soup. I had seen recipes for black bean and pumpkin soup in the past, so I finally decided to give it a try. We always have cans of black beans in the pantry. They are one of my favorite foods.

I didn't follow a recipe for this soup; instead, I looked at several recipes online and then concocted my own using what I had and what sounded good. I do this a lot. I have so many cookbooks and cooking magazines, but I rarely follow a recipe verbatim.

My soup was good. I've always been pretty good with soup. Here is the best recipe I can give you at the moment. Due to my pinch-of-this-pinch-of-that-method, the measurements are approximations.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 pat of butter (about 1/4-inch thick)
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2-1 tbs minced garlic
1-2 tbs canned chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1-3 tsp ground cumin powder
1/4- 1/2 cup cooked ham, cubed (we had leftovers from Thanksgiving)
1/4 cup beer (whatever's in the fridge)
2 15-ounce cans black beans (I used the whole can drain and rinse if you want)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1-1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 15-ounce can beef broth
15-30 ounces of water (I used my beef broth can to add enough water to make soup thinner)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sour cream for garnish, optional (I used fat-free sour cream)

1. Heat oil and butter in large soup pot (I used a 6-quart pot) over low heat. Add garlic and let sit for a few minutes to infuse garlic flavor in oil. Turn the heat up to medium, add onion, stir and saute until onion is translucent. Add chipotle peppers, cumin, and ham and stir.
2. Add beer to deglaze pan. Stir and scrape bottom of pot.
3. Add the next 6 ingredients, through salt and pepper, and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer as long as you want (I usually let soups simmer at least 20 minutes).
4. Puree soup(I used my immersion blender), bring back to a boil, and simmer a few more minutes.
5. Serve warm topped with sour cream (optional).

Back to the Pumpkin

Well, my pumpkin pie cheesecake turned out ok. A little disappointing since I stayed up until 1 a.m. with it. I toasted my pumpkin seeds last night and they didn't turn out very good either. I think I may have let them sit out too long before toasting (48 hrs vs 24 hrs). I'll try them again next year. The photo was taken of the seeds before they were toasted or cleaned completely.

I had plenty of pumpkin puree left, so I tried to make muffins. Well, I thought I was going to make muffins, but the recipe was really for biscuits. It helps to look at the title. Just to let you know, baking is not my strongsuit. On top of that, I always add this or that or swap one type of ingredient for another. I eyeball my ingredients too. Yep, that looks like a teaspoon. If I was paying attention to the fact that I was supposed to be making biscuits, I would not have substituted half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. I would not have added ground flax seed either.

I continued on and luckily I had a set of unopened biscuit cutters that were bought for some unknown reason at some unknown time. I've never used any type of pastry cutter before. I actually need to purchase one of those pastry blenders I keep reading about in recipes. The two knives method isn't working so well.

The biscuits tasted good but were a bit tough. They were not fluffy or flaky like biscuits should be. And of course they were a bit grainy. The orange-honey butter that I put on them was very yummy, though. I feel sure that they would have been wonderful if I had followed the recipe, so here it is. I found it in my 2003 November issue of Cooking Light on page 176. I use whole nutmeg and grate it with a microplane. Freshly ground tastes much better and lasts longer than the alternative.

Pumpkin Biscuits with Orange-Honey Butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup fat-free buttermilk

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

Cooking spray

1/4 cup Orange-Honey Butter

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (flour through nutmeg), cut in chilled butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Combine buttermilk and pumpkin, add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead lightly 5 times. Roll dough to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 12 biscuits with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450 degrees for 11 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with 1/4 cup Orange-Honey Butter. Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1 biscuit and 1 teaspoon butter).

Orange-Honey Butter

Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Yield: 1 1/4 cups (serving size: 1 teaspoon).

Humble Heart Farms

I picked up my pumpkin when I visited Humble Heart Farms last Saturday. It is a goat farm/dairy that makes delicious goat cheese in a variety of flavors. I've been buying cheese from them at the farmer's market for months now. I was excited to attend their open house to see all the animals and taste some different products.

It was a lovely drive, about 20 miles or so, to get to the farm from my house. And the animals were very cute. One hundred or so goats, a couple of horses and dogs, sheep, geese, and farm mice. Yes, even the mice were cute. Frosty, the goat kid, was the star (photos below). He was like a little puppy wandering around among all the visitors.

I got close to the fence to take some pictures of the goats, and this dog was keeping a close eye on me the whole time.

The owner gave us guests a tour of the farm and explained the process of milking the goats and creating the cheese. The idea of being a farmer and living closer to the land is appealing, but I'm just not cut out for the realities of farm life...too much manual labor and too many crack-of-dawn mornings.

I have a new favorite flavor of goat cheese now...the Rio Grande. It is usually sold out at the market, so I was finally able to taste it Saturday. My husband and I also like the French and Smoked Paprika. I also got to sample some grilled goat burgers and lamb sausage. The lamb sausage was ok, but I really liked the goat. I bought a pack of the goat burger patties as well as some lamb chops. I have never eaten lamb chops before. The lamb sausage I tried was actually the first lamb I've ever tasted.

I buy my beef from another small family farm, but I got to sample some other grass-fed beef while I was at the farm. 273 3 Ranch was there with information about their farm as well as some delicious roasted beef. I was given a cracker topped with moist, flavorful beef kept warm in a crock pot. It had only been seasoned with salt and pepper. Did I mention that it was delicious?

I discovered that Humble Heart Farms makes goat milk soap as well and has plans to start making ice cream. I bought some Sandalwood Citrus soap for my husband, and I am loving the Green Tea Cucumber I bought for myself. I can't wait to go back next year and see all the baby goats in February and hopefully get to try some of that ice cream before long.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


One of these greenish-colored heirloom pumpkins is baking in the oven right now. Man did it take a while to cut that sucker open. It took even longer to rinse off all of the seeds. I think it was worth it, though. It is nice to get back to basics. No canned pumpkin for me this year. Well, there really isn't canned pumpkin for me any year, because I come from a sweet-potato-pie-for-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas family. I'm going to roast my first batch of pumpkin seeds from scratch sometime on Friday, and hopefully the meat of the pumpkin will become part of a delicious pumpkin and cream cheese pie before I go to bed tonight. I plan on using the rest of the pumpkin in some muffins. I'll save those for the weekend.

More later about where I got the pumpkin...

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thank you for stopping by my new blog. I was inspired to start it after picking up a copy of Tara Frey's book Blogging for Bliss. It features some lovely blogs written by creative individuals, and it also includes information on how to build your own beautiful blog. I love that blogs allow us to see the great little moments and things of the everyday live's of people near and far away. It brings that beauty and knowledge into our own worlds. I am wishing and doing a little to make my house a home, preparing to start a family, and dreaming of having my own small business someday soon. It is nice to see how other people accomplish these things and know that it can be done in many different ways.

I will be blogging and posting photos of my scrapbooking projects, the recipes that make their way into my kitchen, my dreams of motherhood and business, and all of the things around me I find inspiring and beautiful.

Thank you to Shabby Miss Jenn Designs for the blogwear and thanks to Lie Fhung of Ztampf for the photo frames and tag in this post. She creates some amazing digital scrapbook designs.

The photos were taken last month of a cotton field near our house that I pass at least twice a day. I finally decided one day to grab the camera and stop the car. It is a shame that I could not capture the richness of the colors with the camera. The speckled white of the cotton fields are often the closest thing we get to snow in Alabama.