Garden Update

A few weeks ago, I posted My Garden Plan, and I've got some updates on its progress.

With the help of SmartGardener and the weekly To Do reminders and emails, I've already got some seeds started, and I will be starting more this weekend.

Last weekend, I started green onions (I'm growing Evergreen Bunching). Using an empty egg carton with the top half removed, I filled 10 of the egg cubbies with seed starting mix, and placed 2 seeds in each cubby. The egg carton is sitting on the window sill in the kitchen, where I can see it and remember to water it every few days. I've got 1 square foot of my garden plan allocated for green onions, and that space will accommodate 16 plants.

I also purchased the Succession Planting Smart Add On from SmartGardener ($1.99 one-time cost), so I'll be using that tool to remind me when to start another batch of green onion seeds (every few weeks). Succession planting like this will give me a more steady supply of produce throughout the growing season, instead of planting 20 plants all at once and having a one-time overload of a particular item!

Green onions are best if they're used when fresh, but they can be cleaned, sliced, and frozen for later use, and that's exactly what I plan to do.

This weekend, my SmartGardener To Do is to start my bell pepper seeds (I'm growing California Wonder). I'll use the same method I used for the green onions, except I'm only going to start 6 seeds. I've allocated 6 square feet of my garden plan for bell peppers, and I'll be succession planting them as well.

Bell peppers can also be cleaned and frozen for later use. In our house, we eat a lot of bell peppers in things like fajitas and Italian dishes, so I'll go ahead and slice some to freeze for that type of use, but I'll also probably prepare some stuffed bell peppers as freezer meals (more on this topic when the time comes).

Are you planning a garden this year? If so, what seeds have you started or will you be starting soon, and what do you plan to do with your harvest?

Buttermilk Pancakes

I modified this recipe from one I found at AllRecipes a few years ago. These are The Man's favorite pancakes, or panclocks, as he calls them. :) He rarely orders pancakes in restaurants anymore because he says they don't even come close to these!


(serves 3-4)
1 c flour
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/2 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 egg
1 c buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat and lightly grease a large skillet or griddle. (I like to use my 2-burner cast iron griddle for pancakes.)

Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar together in a bowl. Add the egg, buttermilk, and butter; stir together lightly, but keep it lumpy. Let sit for 5 minutes. The batter should look thick and a bit bubbly.

Drop 1/3 cup of the batter onto the cooking surface, spreading lightly with the bottom of the cup. Cook until lightly-browned on each side, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Menu: Week of 2/26

It's that time again...another weekly menu!

Sunday: Pancakes, Bacon, Fruit - I've been reading everywhere about the Kiwanis pancake and sausage breakfast, and it's given me some cravings! Must. Have. Pancakes!

Monday: Chicken Taco Soup - I've got some shredded chicken thighs in the freezer that will be perfect for this recipe! It should work out well in the crockpot, too, so dinner will be ready when I get home from work!

Tuesday: Tacos/Quesadillas, Mexican Rice - A trusty standby meal. I've been wanting a black bean and corn quesadilla for a while now, so I think it's time to make it happen.

Wednesday: Cheeseburgers, Sweet Potato Fries - I'm changing Wednesdays from "Burger Night" to "Between Bread Night" since I just can't bring myself to make burgers every week anymore. Keep your eyes peeled for some different Wednesday night sandwich options.

Thursday: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Green Beans, Homemade Bread - What could be better than spaghetti topped with homemade marinara and homemade meatballs? Well...nothing, unless you add homemade bread and Farmers' Market green beans to the plate!

Friday: Homemade Pizza - I think this week I'll make Chicken Parmesan pizza...sounds good to me!

Saturday: Buffalo Drummies, Twice-Baked Potatoes - A few weeks back, I caught a great sale on chicken drumsticks (the same week I got the thighs), so I bought 5 pounds of them. I brought them home and separated them into two gallon freezer bags. Into one bag, I poured a bottle of Sweet Baby Rays Buffalo Sauce & Marinade (The Man loves this stuff), and some olive oil and seasoning into the other, then I put them in the freezer. I'll just set the bag in the fridge to thaw the night before, then roast the drummies at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. The potatoes can be in there as well. Easy dinner!

Unfortunately, I didn't get around to writing up recipes for last week's menu items because we've all been sick. :(

Mangia Bene!


Menu: Week of 2/19

Another week has come and gone, and it's time for a new menu. This past week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we had dinners consisting of many of The Man's favorites. This week's menu is inspired by last's night's perusal of my Facebook photo album of foods I've made. While I was flipping through photos, I realized that many of them are photos of baked goods, but I did find a few dinner-worthy goodies that made my mouth water. And since The Munchkin hasn't been feeling well the last day or so, I haven't had much time to plan, so we'll be digging into the trusty freezer stock for a few meals.

Sunday: Chili - We have a few containers of chili in the freezer that we need to devour to make room for some new goodies. This will also make a quick and easy dinner, in case The Munchkin is still feeling yucky.

Monday: BBQ Pork, Roasted Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli - The BBQ pork is another freezer find. Several months ago, I put a pork roast in the crockpot, shredded it up and froze it in containers. We've also got some hamburger buns we need to use up, and potatoes were on sale last week, so we've got a pretty good stock of those as well.

Tuesday: Chile-Lime Chicken Tacos, Mexican Rice, Black Beans - I made this quite a while ago, and it was pretty good, so it's time to do it again!

Wednesday: Chicken & Noodles, Green Beans, Homemade Bread - Chicken & Noodles always goes over well, and I've kind of been craving my grandma's homemade noodles, so... :)

Thursday: Farfalle (bow tie pasta) with Sausage and Veggies, Homemade Bread - For Mother's Day 2009, I made a Greek-inspired feast, complete with baklava (yum!). One of the dishes I made was Orzo with Tomatoes and Oregano, and to the leftovers, I added grilled peppers, onions, and Italian sausage. I want to recreate this dish, but since I can't seem to find orzo, I'm going to use whole wheat farfalle.

Friday: Homemade Pizza - Our pizza last night was so good on the Olive Oil Dough that I want it again! We ended up sharing with my parents, both of whom were quite impressed with the white pizza with prosciutto and artichoke hearts. My brother had a small piece of the leftover pizza today, and he agreed that it was quite tasty. The Man also thoroughly enjoyed his pepperoni and marinara version. And since I only used 4 slices of prosciutto and a few marinated artichoke hearts, I plan to do it all again this week!

Have you tried making your own pizza? If so, what creative topping combinations do you love?

Saturday: Chicken Pot Pie - I roasted 5 lbs of chicken thighs today, and tomorrow I plan to pull the meat off the bone to have on hand in the freezer. But I'll save some for this ultimate comfort food on Saturday.

You may have noticed there are no recipes to accompany this menu. Several of these meals are just things I've thrown together off the top of my head, so I don't have recipes for them, but I will try to compile some as I go this week. I'll post them as soon as I can.

Mangia Bene!


Local Find: Oak Tree Organics

Those of you who know me probably also know that I'm a huge fan of the area farmers' markets. I love seasonal, locally-grown produce, and I'm even happier if it's organic. Locally grown produce is known to be higher in nutrients and has a much better flavor, since it's picked when it's ripe, not days or even weeks before it's ripe (to withstand shipping times and be ready to eat when you buy it at the store).

Recently, I found out about a local, organic farm in Ashland. They offer CSA shares at $275 for a half share and $550 for a full share. Basically, this gets you a load of goodies each week for the 20 weeks of the growing season (May - October). It's quite a commitment, especially since you don't know what you'll get each week. I think it would be interesting to try to do things with the different produce, but since I've planned a pretty decent garden this year, I'm going to hold off on the CSA until I see how my own garden fares.

In addition to the CSA, Oak Tree Organics offers an online market each week (even right now). And, there's no commitment like there is with the CSA. Here's how it works if you sign up:

  • Every Sunday, you'll receive an email listing the produce that is available and the cost.
  • You email back with your order.
  • You receive an order confirmation on Tuesday.
  • You pay for and pick up your produce later in the week (they offer several different pickup options, like Springfield & Jacksonville).
I've signed up for the emails, and a few of my coworkers have done the same. I've been told that their salad greens, even this time of year, are wonderful! I have yet to purchase anything, simply because I haven't had a need for the items they've got at the moment, but they are going to have some potatoes and carrots in the coming weeks, so I'll probably get some for us. I think this, in addition to farmers' markets, is a brilliant way to support local farmers. It's also healthier and definitely tastier than store-bought produce!

If you're interested in either the CSA or the online market, you find more information on Facebook. Also, here's in an interesting article about the farm.

I hope you'll help support the Wallace family! By doing so, you'll reap the benefits of locally-grown, organic produce. Your taste buds will thank you! :)


Menu: Week of 2/12

My apologies for the late post...I've been trying to post menus on Saturday, but we had guests last night, and I was busy canning marinara. This week is a week full of The Man's favorites. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I guess I'm feeling generous! LOL

Sunday: Whole Wheat Spaghetti & Meatballs, Peas, Homemade Garlic Focaccia - I'll be using some of the meatballs I froze a while back. I've got them thawing now, and I'll throw them in the oven about 30 minutes before dinnertime. I'll also be using homemade marinara (on the stove now to cook all day), and I've already mixed up a batch of Olive Oil Dough for some focaccia. Check out the recipes...

Monday: Corn & Potato Chowder - The Man has requested that we have this again, and since it's fabulous and cheap and easy to make, I have no obligations! :) And I may even make a crusty little loaf of bread for dipping.

Tuesday: Fettucini Alfredo, Steamed Broccoli, Homemade Garlic Foccacia - Tuesday nights are usually Mexican night at our house, but this Tuesday is Valentine's Day. The Man and I don't buy each other gifts for Valentine's Day (I keep a steady supply of chocolate in the house and flowers die, so that kind of stuff isn't necessary). But, we do celebrate our love with a wonderful meal together. His favorite just happens to be my homemade alfredo, so that's the plan. He'll be thrilled!

Wednesday: Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans - I'm burnt out on making burgers every week, and I'm sure you're tired of seeing that on the menu. But I don't want to rob The Man of the experience, so I'm going to make meatloaf. I've also got green beans from last summer that I'd like to get eaten up so I can restock this year.

Thursday: Biscuits & Gravy, Scrambled Eggs - Yes, occasionally, we have breakfast for dinner. Although my homemade buttermilk pancakes would be his first choice, we have some sausage gravy in the freezer that we need to use up. I doubt he'll argue, since this meal is also a favorite of his!

Friday: Homemade Pizza - I'm watching the Olive Oil Dough rise as we speak! I came across some prosciutto in the freezer yesterday, and I've got a few artichoke hearts left, so I'm thinking I'll pair those items with leftover alfredo sauce and call it dinner! (The Man will want pepperoni...) Prosciutto is a splurge for me...it's pretty pricey around here, and it's not always easy to find except in little bitty sealed packages at the grocery store (though if you know of a place, please share!)

Saturday: Perfect Sesame Chicken, Brown Rice - I didn't get a chance to make this last week, so it's on the menu again this week. And since it's a bit more labor-intensive, I've planned it for a weekend dinner this time.

Mangia Bene!

Mangia Bene!

Eat Well!!

I swear my DNA is at least 2/3 Italian, but if you look at me and my family, you'll quickly learn that this is not the case. However, for most of my life, I've been in love with cooking and eating Italian food. This infatuation runs deep enough that 6 years ago, a friend (who is half Italian) and I went to Italy and immersed ourselves in the food, the culture, the language (which I'm terrible at), and the wine...oh the wine! It was a truly remarkable experience - I cried when I first saw the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower is awe-inspring, and the Roman Forum is almost haunting. It was amazing to stand amongst the remains of structures built that long ago and to see Caesar's funeral pyre.

Anyway, I digress...back to the food!! In Italy, the pasta is fresh, the pizza is simple, with toppings that rest happily on a cracker-thin crispy crust, and the flavors are amazing! Italian restaurants here in the states don't even come close! So, when I cook Italian food at home, I do my best to bring the true spirit of Italy into my kitchen. I try to cook with the best ingredients and keep it simple...basically, I let the food do the talking. Here are a few of my favorite, easy-to-make Italian recipes:

Basic Marinara
(makes 9 pints)
3 T olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz tomato paste
10 lbs Roma tomatoes, peeled & roughly chopped
fresh herbs (Italian parsley, basil, oregano)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft and translucent.

Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking over low heat for at least 8 hours. Add herbs at the end, just before serving.

This sauce is great for canning and freezes well.

Olive Oil Dough (from ABin5)
2 3/4 c lukewarm water
2 packets, or 1 1/2 T granulated yeast
1 1/2 T Kosher salt
1 T sugar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
6 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a 5-quart bowl. Using a mixer with a dough hook, add in the flour until completely incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a lidded, but not air-tight container. Let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in size (about 2 hours). Store in the refrigerator or use immediately.

Preheat the oven to 425, with an empty broiler tray on the floor of the oven.

Grease a cookie sheet with a bit of olive oil and set aside.

Dust the surface of the olive oil dough with flour and cut off a 1 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball. Flatten it to 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick round, using minimal flour. Place the round on the prepared cookie sheet.

Top the dough with fresh herbs, sauteed vegetables, or whatever your heart desires. Finish with a light drizzle of olive oil.

Allow the focaccia to rest and rise for 20 minutes.

Place the cookie sheet on the center rack in the oven and pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray. Quickly close the oven door.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Pizza crust
Preheat the oven to 550, with a pizza stone one the center rack of the oven.

Dust the surface of the olive oil dough with flour and cut off a 1 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball. Flatten it to 1/8-inch-thick round, using a rolling pin if necessary and using flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Transfer the dough to a corn-meal covered pizza peel.

Top the dough with the toppings of your choice.

Turn on your kitchen exhaust fan now (the cornmeal from the pizza peel will smoke at this temperature.)

Slide the pizza directly onto the pizza stone. Check for doneness in 8-10 minutes, and turn the pizza if it is cooking unevenly. It may need up to 5 more minutes in the oven.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Mangia Bene!


Super Bowl Food

Not only do I enjoy watching football, but I also enjoy the food that comes along with the festivities of the Super Bowl (and the commercials). And I'd like to share a few of my favorite Super Bowl munchies (only a few of which I'll actually be making for tomorrow).

Looks Like Shit But Tastes Good Dip
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cut into chunks
8 oz shredded cheddar
12 oz salsa
1 lb ground beef, browned

Combine all ingredients in a crockpot. Cook on low until melted. Serve with tortilla chips and your favorite taco toppings.

Puppy Chow
1 box Rice Chex
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups confectioners' sugar

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate. Add peanut butter and mix until smooth. Remove from heat, and add the cereal. Stir until coated.

Pour the powdered sugar into large plastic bag, add coated cereal and shake until well coated.

Bacon-Wrapped Lil Smokies
1 pound bacon, cut into thirds
1 (16 ounce) package Lil Smokies
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wrap each 1/3 strip of bacon around each sausage and secure with a toothpick.

Arrange the sausages on a baking sheet and sprinkle them liberally with brown sugar.

Bake until bacon is crisp and the brown sugar melted, and about 30-45 minutes.

Note: These can also be layered in a crocktop on the low setting until the bacon is done.

Enjoy the game...and the food! GO BEARS! (hehe)

Menu: Week of 2/5

It's time for the coming week's menu! I'm going to keep this brief tonight...

Sunday: Super Bowl Food! A friend is bringing pizza for lunch, and then we'll graze on junk food the rest of the day. Stay tuned for recipes...

Monday: Pasta Fagioli - We didn't end up making this last week, so we'll try again this week.

Tuesday: Tequila Lime Chicken/Shrimp & Mexican Rice - I made this recipe with shrimp a few months back when several of my girlfriends came over for dinner, and it was a hit. So I'll be trying it with chicken and shrimp this time.

Wednesday: Sloppy Joes - This might make a nice alternative to burgers...with homemade sauce (recipe below)

Thursday: Sesame Chicken - We'll see how this turns out...The Man isn't sure he'll like it, but he's willing to try it.

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: Jambalaya - I've been craving this again, and The Man agreed he has too.

Sloppy Joe Sauce
(serves 4)
15 oz tomato sauce
1 1/2 t mustard
1 t garlic powder
1 1/2 t brown sugar
1 T vinegar

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add to 1 pound of browned ground beef and serve on hamburger buns.

And there ya have it! Mangia Bene!