Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Night Minestrone

It's a big change from my old Monday night routine of a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with potato chips and a dill pickle spear to go along with the Antiques Roadshow.  Not that Shaun minds that yummy combination for a Monday night meal which was my forever go-to when I was a single gal!  Seriously, he said that I was going to turn into a bacon, egg and cheese if I wasn't careful.  Monday nights have definately taken a turn in especially in the last several weeks since I discovered this delicious concoction. 

After trying some of the best soup I'd tasted in a while, I came up with my own version that in my opinion may just have it beat!  Gee whiz the smell coming from the kitchen with his soup is fantastic and paired with a simple grilled cheese sandwich it makes for a perfect and quick Monday night meal.

The following recipe is based on what I used that I had on hand.  I use pasta sauce and tomatoes that I canned last year.  The pasta sauce is purposely pretty chunky with tomatoes and I love it!  It's also a great chance to use frozen vegetables that have been laying around in the freezer for who knows how long. 

I also used basil that I froze last year from the garden.  It's so simple to do and handy to have.  You just chop it up fresh, place it by the tablespoonful in ice cube freezer trays, top with water and freeze.  Once they are frozen just pop them out and put them in freezer bags to use whenever a recipe calls for fresh basil.  Fantastic in soups like this one!

Monday Night Minestrone
1 medium sized can spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce
1 large can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 chicken bullion cubes, or 2 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
1 chopped onion
1 bag mixed vegetables such as a bag of frozen carrots, celery and onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup each zucchini and squash (from the garden last year)
3/4 cup macaroni noodles, uncooked

In a large pot combine the first 8 ingredients, bring to a boil and let cook for 20 minutes.  Add zucchini, squash and noodles.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes more stirring often to prevent noodles from sticking to the bottom. 

Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese on top and a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.  Absolutely scrump and lucky for me it goes perfect with my Antiques Roadshow!

Maybe sometime I will figure out how I can link the recipe to where it can be printed easily!  Now wouldn't that be handy for ya!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seed Packet Template

So as I was blogging earlier I was brainstorming too! Multi-tasker that I am! I came up with a template for seed packets for me and to share with you! Click here to print the packet that I created. I also have a blank template that you can download and create your own packet design here. Adding templates and downloads is a first for me here. If it works well I may have more in the future. Please let me know if you have trouble and I'll try my best to fix it so it will work for you. I printed mine on used paper from the office that is a light green color which made it all the more fun. Directions for the seed packets are as follows. Cut out packet along black lines. Make folds along light gray lines. Fold back over, fold over bottom and side flap and glue or tape them down. Once you put seeds in them you can fold down the top flap and glue or tape it shut whichever you prefer. Be sure to label them on the front as to what kind of seeds you are saving.
This one is my first attempt. The template available had better flap sizes. And my make-shift taping job will get better. Hey, I was excited to get this up here!

Have fun!

Seed Balls

Last year I decided to add flowers to our garden that I could cut for the table. I grew zinnias, cosmos and had one humongo (yea that's a word in my extensive vocabulary)marigold that I grew from seed. I grew them all from seed which makes a gardener all the more proud. They ended up on the table, in beautiful pictures and the remnants of them in seed form found themselves in jars on the top shelf of my goodie cabinet in the kitchen. Over the winter I pondered on what to do with all the seeds. I can just picture them lining the fields of our farm with red, pink and orange blooms. But what are you supposed to do, just throw them out there? Without tilling up the ground where they'll go they would either get eaten by birds or wash away. The areas that I have to put them aren't the best in flat ground. I needed a different approach. I remembered reading about making seed balls out of red clay, potting soil or compost, water and seeds. Combining these ingredients, besides making a mess, creates little balls of seeds with their own ecosystem. You can throw them where ever and they'll stay put. The spring rains will dissolve them in their soil and the seeds will come up without having to break the ground. The clay holds them together.
I found a place in Nashville where you could buy powdered clay pretty cheap and also bought a bag of Black Gold compost potting soil. No I do not compost... I know.. I should and one day I feel that I will take this step in gardening. I am afraid of attracting unwanted critters to eat the scraps it takes to make compost. It's just one of those things.

Back to the balls. There is a really good tutorial here. I realize that I should have made my own tutorial and please forgive me for not doing so but this stuff makes the kind of mess that you don't want to get on your camera. Never-the-less it was fun and I hope that it brings rewards that line our farm with beautiful blooms this summer. In the spots my weed killing husband misses that is!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pretty Little Things

I love a good Saturday early morning phone call with my sister that begins with "yard sale" or "estate sale" and ends in "see you in a few." It means there are deals to be hunted for and found. Deals that we are durn near professionals at finding. We aren't the coo coos that show up as the homeowners are rolling out of bed or still unpacking boxes. We figure they get all the junk out of the way so the good stuff can be seen. And good stuff we found this past Saturday! We hit two estate sales but could have actually called it quits after the first one. The prices were oh so right to begin with but as we walked in the door, this being the last day of the sale, we heard the words "Half Off." Music to our ears. The pickin' began and here's what I found.

I ADORE stitch work, needlepoint. These were made by a lady named Betty Smith and range in dates from 1975 to 1979. There were a lot more there than the five that I bought but these were my faves.
These little geese were my first pick ups. No makers mark or dates that I could find. Aren't they just a pair of cuties though. For fifty cents I couldn't say no to them.

This pair of cookbooks turned out to be a real find once I got them home. My guess is that they are part of a book-a-month club. They are full of separate cookbooks on subjects from The French Cookbook to The Lunchbox Cookbook. They are from the mid fifties and are so colorful and jam packed with recipes.

These two prints are actually framed ceramic tiles that could be taken apart and installed. The sayings are from Poor Richard's Almanac (whatever that is)and have great vintage kitchen appeal. Not sure what I'll do with them yet but the more I look at them the more I like them and for a dollar... couldn't leave them behind.
The trunk actually came from a yard sale that I didn't want to stop at. When you can see tons of kid clothes and toys from the road I am liable to opt out. Not my sister... she's a true picker. There were two trunks, this one being a little smaller than the other (and locked!) They had three dollars marked on them and when we showed interest the homeowner dropped the price to two for five dollars... sold. We wound up flipping a dime to see which one got which one. The enamel teapot (enamelware being my other love besides my husband and pets) in it's orange glory was a great find by my sister. We speak an unspoken language when it comes to enamel... I get it. She gets the roosters :) She held it up and I held out my hands and wound up buying it for one dollar. Word to the wise and curious... Trophies are "in" in home decorating. Coming to a mantle near you.
I have to begin summing this up but it is hard to do. I came home with a trunk, and chair and two sacks full of goodies from two estate sales and two yard sales and all was picked, bought and home within a three hour time span. I told you.. we are professionals here. Don't mess with us and don't get in our way... we'll see you at the next sale down the road.

Here's the overview pic. It includes everything but the chair... I think. It may not look like much to you. You may have chosen totally different items. Or you may have sat your happy tail on the couch. But these are my Saturday morning treasures carefully chosen and picked. Keep in mind that the opportunity was there to bring home much, much more but I am married and I want to keep it that way. And the season has just begun.

Oh and here's the chair... and my FooFee. Thanks for your interest in my worldly goods. Not worldly really... just Springfield.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Helpful Potato Trick

A wise old dude up at the feed mill (as my husband described him)told Shaun's Dad about this little trick.

Two years ago, as we did not grow potatoes last year, we grew potatoes on our farm and Shaun's Dad grew potatoes on the farm next to ours. While the potatoes did turn out fantastic, both stored and canned, we had a time fighting potato bugs. I have a book, Rodale's, Successful Organic Gardening, Controlling Pests and Diseases, which is handy to have as it has pictures and describes just about any problematic insect one might find in their garden. This book calls our potato bug Colorado Potato Beetle. These little reddish orange bugs with black spots (in their larvae stage) nearly devastated our crop eating leaves and stems which wound up killing several of our plants.

On the next farm over, no bugs were found. Potatoes were put out at the same time only about a quarter of a mile in distance from each other yet Gary's potato plants had no bugs. We found out what he had done and are well on our way to giving it a try for ourselves this year and I am going to share the tip with you. How it works I'm not sure. If it will work... I intend on finding out. The canned potatoes were like gold to me, all the way to the last jar. I aim on canning more this year.

Buy a regular pack of potatoes which you can find at the hardware store or feed mill this time of year in whatever variety you wish. Take each starter potato and cut the ends off. Not a huge chunk just chop off a sliver. Next, in order to make more plants, cut each potato in to fours. If it is a large starter you can make six. Slice across and the across each piece again. Lay the wedges on a tray and store in a safe place, away from bugs or mice, or dogs, or cats. In about a week the potato starters will heal, as Shaun calls it, and will be ready for planting. Once in the ground each one will sprout, a plant will form on top of the ground and little to big potatoes underneath amongst the roots and hopefully this little trick has worked and the bugs for the most part will stay away from the leaves and stalks. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Quick Marinade

So, Sunday when we got home from church we laid out some venison steaks from the deep freeze to allow them to thaw in the sink in time for supper. Long about four o'clock I got the steaks apart, which were still a tad frozen in the middle, and put them in a cold water salt bath to get any excess blood out. This also takes the "strong" taste out if there is any. While they were soaking I realized that I was out of our normal "go-to" marinade that we like to use. It's a store bought bottle brand that I can usually mix a little water with and get two, maybe three soakings out of.

Now, I've been highly addicted to a couple of sets of The French Chef with Julia Child over the last month that I rented from the library. J.C. drops mention of wine in every show that she does. From using it in dishes to what wines for with the dish that she made. Well.. maybe not the baking, Queen of Sheba cake episode... I'll have to watch it again and see.

Needless to say.. she got me thinking. I drained and rinsed the steaks and put them back in the bowl. I added a generous helping of red wine to the bowl and sprinkled the tops of the steaks with fresh cracked black pepper. YUM. After allowing the steaks to rest for a good half hour, I flipped them over and peppered that side of the steaks. At this point I felt like they were missing something. I wanted a bit of bold taste outside of the red wine and pepper. I looked in the refrigerator and pulled out the Worcestershire sauce, poured in a tablespoon or two and swished it a tad to blend. After about another half hour the grill was hot and the steaks went on. Shaun took it from there. I did tell him it was OK to add a touch of seasoning, McCormick's Garlic and Onion medley, to each side. He likes to chef it up when he's at one with the gas grill.

When the first bite of these steaks went into my mouth I knew I had done something right that day. I absolutely love the smell in my house when I have included wine in a recipe. This marinade didn't exactly fragrance the entire house but it was fantastic. Juicy, elegant, magnificent.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Starting Seeds

Gardening is one of those things that can yield fantastic rewards. From beginning to end, delight to worry, raw ground to water, the whole experience begins with a single plant. Have you ever thought of starting your garden from seed? I'm going to help you learn how. I have yet to build our entire garden from seed because during spring and early summer I turn into some sort of plant buying nut! I can't resist the beauty in greenhouses and possibilities of what the plants may produce for me someday. Starting plants from seed, purchased seed or seed that was saved from you garden last year, has a different kind of reward. To walk down the rows of veggies and think " knew you when you were just a seedling" feels great. Today let's go over starting tomato seeds.

Now, you're going to need seeds which are available at any hardware store and even at the dollar store this time of year. To prepare the seeds, take one section of paper towel and fold it in half several times. Run the paper towel under water to soak. Place seeds on one end of the paper towel and make one last fold over to cover seeds. Allow seeds to germinate in the wet paper towel for at least 24 hours. Keep the paper towel moist at all times.

Next, you're going to need pots and dirt. You pots can be peat pots, egg shell cartons, re-used six packs and flats from last year. I prefer newspaper pots. They are cheap, a new use for old newspaper and you can plant them right in to the ground. It just makes more sense to me. To make a newspaper pot tear a folded sheet or newspaper down the middle then across the middle. That means that one big folded piece of newspaper would make four pots. Take one of the small sections and fold it long-ways twice. Using a juice glass, roll the newspaper around the glass, fold under the bottom of the glass and, sitting the glass upright, press on a table to make the bottom. Or you can buy a paper pot maker here.

Place dirt in pots leaving 1/2 inch at the top. Place one or two seeds in each pot and cover with 1/4 inch or potting soil. Stores have special "tomato dirt" available, I've not used this before. I find good ole potting soil does the trick just fine. Place the paper pots on a pan with a lip, something that will hold water. Pour water into the pan just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Within 10 minutes or so the pots and dirt will absorb the water. Cover the pots on the pan with saran wrap and place your pan of pots in a warm location such as on top of the refrigerator until seedlings appear. Water the pots twice a day, morning and evening. Like anything else, if the soil is dry.. water is needed... if it is really moist don't water. You don't want to soak the poor things to death.

Once seedlings appear, and they probably won't all at the same time, place the tray in a sunny window. Keep watering as needed and just baby the heck out of them until they are big enough to go outdoors which would be after the danger of frost. In our area, Middle Tennessee, now is the prime time to begin your seeds. We usually plant our garden on May 15th. Mainly because Shaun's Granddaddy said so. We figure he's done it more times than we have so he probably knew best.

You can begin just about any seeds this way. Be careful to read directions on the packets that you buy. Some herbs need to be planted on top of the soil, some more shallow in dirt than others. Some are just too small to need the paper towel soaking and can be started right in the pots.

Isn't this tine parsley precious?

Small greenhouses can be used inside. Last year I used a bench in our spare bedroom with a heating vent underneath it and draped a thin quilt over the bench to hold in a little heat. It was definitely a make shift green house attempt. This year Santa brought me a small green house to start seeds in. I have it in the basement and have a heater rigged up on the bottom shelf that comes in intermittently keeping it at a tropical temperature between 85-95 degrees.

It has worked great so far and when the seedlings are ready to spend a little quality time in the sun, a little at a time at first, they can do so in this green house, tied down!, without fear of wind or rain abusing them before they are strong enough to handle it. I encourage you to give it a try.
I will offer up a packet of Black Cherry Tomato seeds for free if anyone is interested. Just leave a comment with you email and I'll get in touch with you.