My Farmers' Market Spoils - Week 2

This week, rhubarb takes center stage in my produce basket!

Rhubarb and I have been buddies since I was a kid. My grandma grew rhubarb in the corner of her garden, and every summer, I would go to her house to help pick and cut stalks to be used in delicious pies. She didn't really need my help since she only had one rhubarb plant, but she never turned down my willingness to help. (Smart grandma!)

She would arm me with a small (a very dull, as I remember) paring knife, and we would go out to the garden to cut away. I remember hating how big the leaves where and how they always tickled my face when I would try to get to the bottom of the stalk to cut it. But I was thrilled to help, nonetheless, because I knew what the reward would be. :)

After we had cut all the worthy stalks, we would haul them to her picnic table and sit, straddling the bench. We would cut off the leaves (which are quite toxic if eaten) and the whitish bottoms of the stalks, and she always had a pot of water for cleaning the stalks. Then we would go to work, cutting the stalks into little chunks, about 1/4" in size.

We would measure 2-3 cups of the diced rhubarb and put it in freezer bags. She would usually use some fresh, but I can never remember a time when grandma didn't have rhubarb in her freezer. I bet if I paid her a visit right now, she could offer up several bags of rhubarb in mere seconds!

I distinctly remember two dishes my grandma made from rhubarb: rhubarb sauce (as she called it) and a very interesting rhubarb pie. The rhubarb sauce was basically rhubarb cooked with sugar until it got all mushy and basically formed something like preserves. It was great on toast...or a spoon...and it was always simple to make. The pie was unlike any other pie I've ever had. Most pies consist of fruit mixed with sugar and thickened with a starch of some sort. This pie, however, was made with those little chunks of rhubarb I so vividly remember floating in a wonderful custard-like filling. There is no top crust, but don't worry, you won't miss it! The custard filling forms a crunchy top that I cannot even begin to describe! And it couldn't be eaten without vanilla ice cream! :)

Ah...such fond memories! :)

Now a few facts:

  • There has been much debate over whether or not rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. I don't really care which it is...it's tasty!
  • Rhubarb looks like and has a similar texture to celery, but it is red/green in color and very tart. It is beautiful in both color and flavor.
  • The Man hates it with a passion!
Ok, that's enough facts...if you want to know more, Google it. :)

How about a recipe?

The following recipe is for the pie I mentioned above and comes from my great grandma Hattie. It's absolutely wonderful, and even if you don't like rhubarb, I strongly suggest you try this pie. It's definitely unlike anything you've ever eaten. (Oh, and don't forget the vanilla ice cream!)

Rhubarb Pie
1 1/2 c sugar
3 1/2 T flour
1/2 t freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 t Kosher salt
1 T butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
3 c rhubarb, cut into 1/4" chunks
crust for 9" pie (you only need one crust)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, nutmeg, salt, butter, and eggs. Whisk until combine. Gently fold in the rhubarb and set aside.

Sprinkle an additional teaspoon of flour in the bottom of a 9" pie plate. Carefully lay the prepared, cold pie crust in the pie plate and give it a decorative edge.

Carefully scoop the filling into the crust.

Place the pie plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips while the pie is baking. Tear aluminum foil into strips approximately 3" wide (you'll need about 3 strips of 12" foil). Fold the ends of the foil strips together to make one long strip, making sure the shiny side is continuous. With the shiny side of the foil facing out, carefully wrap the edge of the pie plate and connect the ends of the foil strip. Gently fold the foil over the edge of the crust. This will help prevent the edges from getting too brown while the pie bakes.

Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes until the filling is set, then remove the foil strip. Return the pie to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until the crust is a golden brown.

Let the pie cool completely before serving (with vanilla ice cream!). (This is the most difficult step in the process because the pie smells so wonderful, and it begs to be eaten. But I assure you, it is worth the wait to let it cool so the filling doesn't run all over the place.)

Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

A quick note about nutmeg: nutmeg can be found whole in most grocery stores and ground fresh with a microplane when needed. It's a little bit more expensive, but it's well worth the added cost because the flavor of freshly ground nutmeg is much more intense than pre-ground nutmeg, but pre-ground nutmeg will suffice if you don't have whole nutmeg on hand.


Garden Update

Last night we got some rain. Well, actually, we got quite a bit of rain...and some sizable hail...all in the course of an hour. So this evening, I thought it might be a good idea to go check on the veggies in the garden. Here's what I found:

My onions are doing great! The tops are nearly three inches tall, and I'm so excited to have green onions (scallions) and yellow onions! But I'm getting impatient...

The parsnips and carrots took a bit of a beating from the hail last night, but there are a few of each with good, hardy tops. I'll keep succession planting so I can hopefully have plenty to can.

The peas are doing wonderfully! They're climbing the trellises like crazy, and we've even got some good pods forming.

Just a few of the many pods 

I sacrificed a pod to see how things were going...not bad!

A few of the pea plants were broken by last night's hail, but I think they'll pull out of it. I've still got eight square feet of space to fill with succession plantings, so I think we'll be alright. :)

Last week, I planted four new tomato plants to replace the four the critters ate. I also bought and applied a natural deer/rabbit repellent to deter future critters. But, alas, only two of them survived critters. And after last night, the remaining two are gone as well. :( However, I will not give up. I will get more plants this week, but this time, I'm going to go ahead and put the cages around them, and then I'm going to wrap the cages in some sort of small fencing. I'll teach those critters!

The two jalapenos and three of the four bell peppers are doing well, but the fourth bell pepper took a bit of a hit from the hail. I'm going to wait and see if it can pull through before I consider replacing it.

I think it's gotten a little too warm for spinach and arugula, but I do have a few sprouts popping up, so time will tell. On the other hand, the lettuce is doing quite well! I plan to get some more seeds in the ground this coming weekend to keep the salad bowl going.


The green beans have barely survived the critters, but I'm still succession planting and crossing my fingers for a good crop.

And finally, the herbs. The parsley was slow to start and just started doing well last week. And then last night, the hail beat it up. The basil is also taking its sweet time, but the cilantro is growing like a weed! If any of you want some cilantro, please let me know! It's screaming to be a part of your next Mexican meal!

Did I mention that this smells absolutely fantastic?

So far this year, gardening has been a bit of a roller coaster. Between critters and hail, we've suffered a little bit of loss, but the amazing success of the peas and cilantro have given me hope. This is a learning experience, and I'm having a blast with it!

How are your veggies doing? Are they thriving? Are you having to overcome any pests?


My Farmers' Market Spoils - Week 1

This past Wednesday, the Old Capitol Farmers' Market opened up. I just happened to have the day off, so The Munchkin and I drove up to Springfield, grabbed my friend Megs, and headed downtown to scope out the local produce. Normally at this time of year, the market is light on produce, but because of the warm winter, the stands were overflowing! We found everything from asparagus to zucchini! There were a few new vendors this year, and the veteran vendors were there as well.

The three of us strolled up and down the 3-block stretch of goodies, stopping to check out new things, and chatting up a few people along the way. It took us a little over an hour, and along the way, I grabbed a quart of strawberries, a pound of asparagus, two giant bunches of carrots (with tops so tall, they were cascading out of the basket on the bottom of The Munchkin's stroller!), some locally-made rotini pasta, and a raspberry lemon croissant to share (for good measure LOL).

To top it off, we stopped at Cafe Moxo for a drink, some people watching, and to share our croissant. It was a beautiful morning for the opening morning for our adventure, and we had a great time!

Here are a few ideas/tips for the things we picked up this week:

Asparagus can be a bit woody, so I strongly suggest resisting the urge to buy the fattest spears in the bunch. I tend to prefer the thinner stalks because they are more tender and flavorful.

To prepare asparagus for any kind of consumption, rinse it thoroughly, then hold one end of the stalk in each hand and bend it until it snaps. You may have to rock your hands back and forth slightly to adjust where the stalk bends until you find the weak point, but eventually you'll find it. Throw the bottom portion of the stalk in the compost or trash since it's probably tough. You won't miss it, I promise. :)

Asparagus ideas:

  • Grilled/Sauteed: Drizzle asparagus spears with olive oil and give a light sprinkling of Kosher salt. Toss the spears on the grill or in a skillet and cook until tender (about 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears), turning every few minutes to ensure even cooking. Or you could try this Sesame Asparagus variant, if you like sesame oil as much as I do.
  • Asparagus Frittata: Here's a good, simple frittata recipe.
  • Grilled Asparagus with Cilantro Lemon Butter: I like this concept since I have an abundance of cilantro in the garden, but I don't completely agree with the method or ingredients. I would use regular, unsalted butter (rather than light) and full-fat sour cream simply because I don't agree with all the extra stuff added to "light" versions of anything. I also wouldn't boil the spears before grilling...I would just put them directly on the grill. I'll give it a shot my way and see how it goes.
Fresh, locally grown strawberries are wonderful and taste a million times better than the ones you buy at the grocery store. The first difference I always notice is the smell. Typically, grocery store strawberries don't have anywhere near the aroma of farmers' market strawberries. The second difference is the color. The strawberries I always find at the store are mostly white in the center. If you do find a store-bought strawberry that is red all the way through, it's probably so mushy that you don't want to eat it. Farmers' market strawberries have an intense red color that goes all the way to the center, and they're not mushy! And finally, the taste. Farmers' market strawberries actually taste like strawberries! ("The schnozberries taste like schnozberries!" LOL) It sounds corny, but it's true. Do your own taste test, and see which one you think tastes better...I dare ya!

To prepare strawberries, rinse them well and remove the tops. That's it!

Strawberry ideas:
  • Strawberry Bread: The original version of the recipe I posted last week.
  • Ummm...fresh!: With farmers' market strawberries, you might even find that you don't need sugar. It's worth a shot, right? After all, we all need to cut back on sugar.
  • Cheesecake: If you're feeling really ambitious, make a cheesecake and top it with fresh strawberries (and I don't mean the boxed kind!). You'll appreciate the freshness of the strawberries in conjunction with the rich, creaminess of a good cheesecake. The recipe in the link just happens to be my favorite (and there are several variations listed at the end).
  • Buy lots of them: Clean them well, remove the tops, and freeze them for use year-round.
Carrots come in an array of colors, and are wonderful fresh or cooked! Farmers' market carrots are generally sweeter than the store-bought carrots. You'll also notice that farmers' market carrots usually have smaller roots sprouting off, and they may not be as "pretty" and uniform as store-bought carrots, but looks aren't everything. It's what's on the inside that matters!

To prepare carrots, rinse them well. Peel them with a vegetable peeler and trim off the tops (and bottoms, if necessary).

Carrot ideas: 
  • Can them: I recommend hot-pack canning. There is a wealth of information on the internet, but check out the Ball website first.
  • Steamed: Bring a 1/2 inch salted water to boil in a large frying pan or saute pan. Add carrots, cover, and cook until carrots are tender and water has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  • Carrot Rice: I found this recipe a while back, and the combination of ingredients intrigued me. I can't wait to try it.
What are your favorite recipes for these ingredients?

Menu: Week of 5/20

It's been an exciting week in our house starting with Mothers' Day on Sunday, my birthday on Monday, the opening of the Old Capitol Farmers' Market with The Munchkin and my good friend Megs on Wednesday, and ending today with time spent at the Highland Games and Celtic Festival (and later attending my cousin's high school graduation party). It's been a great week filled with great family and friends! I'm looking forward to the week ahead!

Here's what's on the menu this week (with fresh produce from the market): 

Sunday: Biscuits and Gravy, Market Strawberries - Sunday evening breakfast is catching on around here, and I love it! And the strawberries are SOOOO good - they taste so much better than the ones from the grocery store (which we think taste like wax)!

Monday: Chicken and Cheese Lasagna, Steamed Market Asparagus, Garlic Bread - I've been craving some lasagna, and I have some fresh mozzarella in the fridge that will make it so creamy and yummy. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Tuesday: Taco Pasta, Chips and Guacamole - This will be a great way to use up the 1/2 pound of ground beef from the burgers we had last week, and The Munchkin LOVES this meal. I don't think I posted my modified version of this recipe, so I'll have to do that this week...maybe Wednesday when I'm home with The Munchkin.

Wednesday: Meatball Subs, Chips - I'm going to hunt for some yummy bread at the Farmers' Market this week to make this extra-yummy! 

Thursday: Jambalaya - We weren't home tonight to have this (as originally planned), and we already have all the ingredients, so we'll just rearrange the schedule a bit and have it this week.  

Friday: Leftovers - I know, I know...Friday is pizza night! But we have another graduation to go to, so dinner will have to be quick, easy, and probably a "fend-for-yourself" kind of thing.  

Saturday: Cheesy Broccoli Chicken Orzo - This is another re-do from this last week...we've already got the ingredients, so I'm going to go ahead and use them up.

Mangia Bene!


Menu: Week of 5/13

Yet another week has come and gone, and it's time for another menu. Let's just get right to it.

Sunday: Grilled Pizza, Fresh Green Salad - Yes, this meal is a little out of place on the weekly menu, but we have invited my parents and my brother and his girlfriend over for a little Mothers' Day cookout. My brother requested grilled pizza, so that's what we're doing (he's so spoiled!). I'm thinking about making an arugula pesto as a sauce option. I'm drowning in arugula!

Monday: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Corn, Focaccia - We didn't eat this for dinner tonight, as originally planned, so I'm going to use this meal for my birthday dinner. It's tasty, quick, and easy! :)

Tuesday: Chicken Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, Black Beans, Chips and Queso Blanco - I found a recipe for Queso Blanco on Pinterest this evening that I'd like to try, so I'm gonna go for it this Tuesday!

Wednesday: Cheeseburgers, Fries, Salad - I'm kinda diggin' "Between Bread" night, especially in the middle of the week! Wednesday is also the first day of the Old Capitol Farmers' Market, and I just happen to have the day off. The Munchkin and I are going to go geek-out on produce! :)

Thursday: Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Orzo - Orzo is making yet another appearance this week. I'm almost out, though, so I'm going to have to get some more to feed my addiction. :) 

Friday: Pizza - Yup! We like pizza! 

Saturday: Jambalaya - This will add a little spice to our Saturday evening.

Mangia Bene!

Strawberry Bread

The other day on my way to work, I was munching on a scone I bought for a quick, on-the-go breakfast. My first bite took me back to my childhood and a bread my mother used to make all the time. So when I got a chance, I sent her a text and asked if she still had the recipe. She said she did, and told me she had actually been thinking about the very same bread the day before. So, we made a plan to get together today and spend some quality time together making the bread.

The original recipe uses strawberries, but as a kid, my mom made it with cherries, and today, we modified the recipe to use dried cranberries. We want to try a strawberry-rhubarb, but we haven't made it that far yet (I'll keep you updated).


Here's the original recipe (variations below):

(makes 2 loaves)
1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla
1 t Kosher salt
1 t lemon juice
4 eggs
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 c sour cream
1 c strawberry preserves3 c flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease two 8"x4" loaf pans.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Add baking soda, sour cream, and preserves; blend well. Gradually mix in the flour until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the greased pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until bread pulls away from pans.

Cherry Bread: Substitute fresh, pitted sweet or sour cherries (depending on your preference) for the strawberry preserves.

Cranberry-Orange Bread: In a small saucepan, cover 1 c dried cranberries with water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, drain, and use in place of the strawberry jam. Replace the lemon juice with 1 t orange extract.


Avocado Egg Salad

Today for lunch, The Munchkin and I shared an avocado - she ate it plain, and I had it on my salad. She and I both LOVE avocado, but The Man...well, not so much. Anyway, we didn't quite eat half of it, and since avocado tends to brown pretty quickly (and I didn't want it to go to waste) I decided to do something a little different with the remaining half. Normally, I would make guacamole, but I am fresh out of jalapenos (it's a little early for fresh, garden peppers).

Also for lunch, I had hard-boiled six eggs, but I only used one on my salad. The remaining eggs were going to be used on salads the rest of the week, but my brain had other ideas. The following recipe was the result of my brainstorm.


(serves 3-4)
2 T mayonnaise
1 t yellow mustard
1 T fresh chives, finely chopped
1 t fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 t Kosher salt
1/4 t garlic powder
5 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1/2 avocado, diced

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, chives, cilantro, salt, and garlic powder.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the egg and avocado. Gently fold in the dressing from above until the egg and avocado are thoroughly coated.

My favorite way to enjoy any egg salad is between two slices of good-quality pumpernickel bread, topped with fresh greens.

I hope you enjoy my latest concoction! What is your favorite avocado recipe? I'm always looking for new ideas!


Menu: Week of 5/6

So it seems my AD/HD has gotten the best of me this week. I usually post on Saturday night, but we were at my brother's house to watch the UFC fights (I like to watch grown men beat the crap out of each other). The evening ultimately turned into a play date for The Munchkin and two other little cuties. It was a blast to watch them play together!

 Then Sunday, I took The Munchkin to Washington Park for the MS Walk and to support a friend who was recently diagnosed. To say it was hot would be an understatement, and The Munchkin and I were wiped out! She fell asleep in the car on the way home, and I fell asleep on the couch a few hours later.

All-in-all, I managed to create an entire weekend for myself full of things I enjoyed, and I decided everything else could wait. Evidently, that meant this blog post, too. :)

 So here we are...better late than never, right?! And I've posted a new recipe for tonight's dinner! Check out the link below.

Sunday: Leftovers - Honestly, I was too worn out from the heat to cook, so we pulled a few leftovers out of the fridge and noshed on random foods.

Monday: Orzo with Sausage and Peppers - Since I found orzo in one of the grocery stores in Springfield, it seems like I want to eat it all the time! And this is a great way to use up some sausages I had leftover from a cookout (I sliced them up, tossed them in a freezer bag, and stashed them in the freezer for this exact purpose.)

Tuesday: Tacos, Black Beans, Mexican Rice - It's been a while since we've actually had tacos on Taco Tuesday. I'm actually looking forward to it. :)

Wednesday: Panini, Chips, Cottage Cheese - I'm still working on a fun combination for the sandwiches. I've got some cooked chicken in the freezer, so I'd like to use it, but we will see what the evening brings.

Thursday: Tater Tot Casserole - I'm hoping it will be cool enough outside to justify turning on the oven to make this, 'cause it sounds pretty good.

Friday: Pizza - I've been looking for a good recipe for a potato pizza, but I can't seem to find one, so I may just invent my own with alfredo sauce, spinach, and thinly sliced potatoes. I'll let you know how it goes! :)

Saturday: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Broccoli, Grilled Flatbread - I'm hoping to have a relaxing weekend since it's Mothers' Day weekend, and *almost* my birthday, so this one is right on par!

Mangia Bene!

Orzo with Sausage and Peppers

Orzo might be one of my favorite forms of pasta. It's extremely quick-cooking, and looks a lot like rice. Orzo is quite versatile, and can be used in a main dish or a side dish.

I often use orzo to make light dishes with fresh vegetables, since it doesn't hold sauces as well as larger pasta shapes. Here's one of my favorite dishes using orzo.


(serves 4-5)
 1 quart water
1 t Kosher salt
1 c orzo
1 T olive oil
1/2 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
2 Italian sausage links, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I like to use my homemade marinara)

Fill a medium saucepan with water, leaving about 1 inch at the top. Add the salt, and bring the water to a full boil. Add the pasta. Stir and bring back to a boil for 8-10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers, onions, and sausage. Saute until the veggies are tender and the sausage is warmed through (or fully-cooked if the sausage was not cooked before).

When the pasta is cooked through, drain well (I like to use a mesh strainer for orzo so I don't sacrifice any to the plumbing gods). Return to the saucepan and add the sauce.

Stir in the veggie mixture and serve.

This recipe, sans meat, is also a favorite of The Munchkin's. She decided to forego the spoon altogether tonight and dive in with both hands!