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Saturday, 28 June 2014
French Inspired!
Topic: Education and Values


My subconscious mind has been focused on France while I practice flute for next month's Bastille Day recital, and think about what menu to have. It also didn't hurt to have a facebook friend post beautiful streetscapes from her recent stay in Paris to keep the inspiration going.

So, I guess it's no surprise that I felt like a “French dinner” should be my Birthday dinner yesterday and thatI'd walk around the farm and see what other French inspirations I have incorporated.

I did make Alton Brown's recipe for Coq au Vin which takes many hours but is worth the results! You can find his recipe on the Food Network site.



And, I made this lovely Boulevardier Cocktail which is: 1.5 oz Rye Whiskey, 1 oz. Campari, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth and



can be shaken over ice and served straight-up or over lots  of ice which is my choice.

Finally, I created a lower carb, Almond nut crust, French tart-inspired cheesecake for my “Birthday Cake”




French Tart Cheescake w/ Almond Nut Crust 

Using a prepped tart pan (8”):

Process 1 cup of sliced almonds to crumbles in a mini-food processor.

Mix with 1 Tbsp softened butter or butter-and-canola oil spread

Press into the bottom of the tart pan and bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Make the filling, using a hand mixer, combine:

12 oz softened cream cheese

½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 fresh egg

½ cup of pure cane sugar or Stevia-sugar blend

½ tsp each vanilla and almond extracts

Spoon mixture on top of the roasted nut crust, bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until set. Remove and chill until serving. Can add a squirt of whipped cream when you serve if desired. Makes 6-8 servings.


Then, I walked around outside and realized that trips to France inspired the wrought iron (actually wrought aluminum-no painting!) little garden fences and the streetlight that lights our barbeque area. But I know that real “French inspiration” is tucked into the subconscious mind and influences how I visualize many things. After all, the French have inspired our civilized society and our quests for truth, beuuty, and knowledge whether in art, music, literature, philosophy, medicine, sciences. And so I go back to practicing French Baroque flute pieces...




Posted by Karen at 15:19 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 28 June 2014 15:21 CDT
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Friday, 20 June 2014
Dry flower petals!
Topic: Crafts

June ! 

The month of graduations, weddings, anniversaries... your garden blooming with flowers!

It's filled with so much activity, that it's easy to "forget" to do something extra.But, I am here to remind you of one of the easiest Summer crafts to do with materials that you'll have readily available thanks to all of those celebrations and your garden...

Drying flower petals !

There are many ways suggested, but I am concentrating on the easiest today because I also know you have no time to deal with an activity.

Whole bouquets

These can be removed from the vases (or if they were hand held bouquets, they may be ready to go directly to the hanging step.).  

Clip all wet stem and leaf material off. Tie kitchen twine around the dry part of the stem near the base of the flowers. Invert and hang upside down in  a cool, dark, and  NOT humid place. I like my laundry room area in the basement.You can even clip the tied bouquet strings onto a hanger and hang it on your drying rod, away from the clothes. 

It wll take weeks to  the fully dry a bouquet but you won't have time to work with the flowers until Fall anyway.  Then, snip off the flowers from the stem and create a floral potpourri! You can add scented oils and create your own "house blend."

Flower Petals 

This is much quicker than drying whole flowers.

Remove clean, dry, non diseased or damaged petals from flowers. Roses work extremely well and come off with a firm snap using your thumb. Otherwise, use small, sharp scissors. Remove each petal individually. You don't want to macerate or bruise the petals. 

Next, place the petals in between sheets of newspaper on a flat surface in a cool, dark, NOT humid,  place. The petals should be a single layer thick with newspaper under and over.  Leave them alone and check for dryness weekly, should take 1-2 weeks depending on your humidity. This is the best chance for retaining color, as other methods such as sun drying or microwave will bleach out more color. 

Once the petals are dry, store in an airtight container--glass jars are great. 

They'll be ready for you to float in your fountain for a romantic party, to make potpourri from, or...my favorite idea... make some floral scented sugars. This is done by layering fragrant petals between pure cane sugar in a glass jar (see Oct 26, 2013 post for details for geranium scented sugar)







Posted by Karen at 09:00 CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 August 2014 21:19 CDT
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Sunday, 8 June 2014
Herb based Marinades--the joys of the growing season!
Topic: Garden

Fresh herbs--the joys of the entire growing season!

I hope you have lots of these peeking up at you--whether the marvelous, woody perennials or the newly planted annuals--they are all up and growing wherever you are in any zone now. (And, if not, it's not too late to plant them!)


It's also time to use these fresh herbs daily and what better way to include them but in Herbal Marinades.

Marinading and grilling are made for each other--



And, if you have a mini-food processor and a basic recipe plan, there is no end to your personal creativity with this culinary "art" medium. Every culture has its own marinades and you can "fuse" concepts and make an original  multicultural style. 



My basic plan for Marinades using Fresh Herbs is to select:

Approximately 2 parts olive oil, to 1-2 parts acid-based liquid, a bit of salt, and several handfuls of fresh herbs, adding extra spices to your personal plan.  Put the whole batch into a mini-food processor, pulse several times and then you have your herbal based marinade. Always marinade food in the refrigerator and don't add any tenderizers beyond simple fresh ingredients, also don't over-salt.  ALWAYS marinade food in a non-reactive pan such as glass, Pyrex, stainless steel.

Oil--I usually choose olive oil, though you can use canola oil, or even combine canola and sesame if doing Asian inspired marinade.

Acid based list: Wine, any citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime), vinegars, Yogurt and kefir (yes, these are acidic!) , mustard or other spices that are processed into acids, usually vinegar. You can mix within the list, too.

Herbs: Almost every fresh herb will work alone or in combinations to create a great marinade. Don't forget everyone's favorites: garlic, onions, shallots.

Spices and Zests: likewise, this list is endless from dried pepper blends to exotic spice blends. Added or not to your herbs. 








 In  the final picture below, I've made a marinade for a 3.5 lb boneless leg of lamb which I plan to indirect grill. Marinade is a great idea for this lean cut of meat.

I have used 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard,  about 1/2 tsp.salt, a couple large cloves of garlic,  and a couple handfuls of fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and even a little mint (I rinsed and stripped the leaves only from the stems.) Pulse several times in the mini food processor, pour over the entire lamb and refrigerate.

I let this marinade overnight--and then will indrect grill for Sunday dinner.

With a fresh tomato, greens and feta salad, some quinoa and lentils--sounds good to me! 





Posted by Karen at 15:41 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 8 June 2014 16:03 CDT
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Friday, 6 June 2014
Make a Banana Split Pie (lower carb, of course!)
Topic: Entertaining/Party

Happy Birthday to my husband! 

Of course, a birthday celebration is in order, and that would normally include a Birthday Cake! But we are always trying to lower those carbs and --by the way--he already had an Atomic Cake from staff at work!

So my mission is to create a celibratory, but not too heavy or carb-y--Happy Birthday dessert.  It's hot, my husband and nephew and a good friend have been making hay for hours and still have more work to go--likely birthday dinner will be late or even deferred until tomorrow. But you have to have something to put a candle on!

So, here's a Banana Split Pie that should fit the bill.

 Banana Split Pie

Make and bake a 9 inch pie crust and cool.

Next, mix  4 oz softened cream cheese with 1 Tbsp milk and 1 tsp vanilla. Add to that, 1/2 of an 8 oz. container of  thawed Cool Whip.

Spread this mixture on the bottom of the baked and cooled pie crust.

Thinly slice 1 ripe banana and layer this on top of the Cool Whip mixture.

Next, whisk together 1& 3/4 cups milk and 1 box of Sugar free, instant Chocolate pudding.  Whisk for about 2 minutes, then spread on top of the banana layer.

Finally, top with the remaining 1/2 carton of Cool Whip. If you want a little fancy, then put this into an icing bag and pump into a pattern on top of the chocolate layer. Or you can just spread on top and even sprinkle some slivered almonds on top if you'd like. 







Posted by Karen at 17:29 CDT
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Saturday, 24 May 2014
Asparagus and Feta Cheese Quiche
Topic: Garden

More Asparagus!

How lucky was I to walk out to the garden to water some transplants and find plenty more asparagus ready for picking. Enough so, that I plan to grill asparagus to serve with a little lemon butter --alongside steaks on the grill tomorrow.

But today...I made a great Asparagus Feta Cheese Quiche! Enough for brunch and extra in case some one stops by randomly for a glass of wine!

 Asparagus- Feta Cheese Quiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make or defrost a 9 inch, deep dish piecrust.


Steam 1 cup volume of ¾ inch pieces of fresh asparagus. (Easiest way is microwave for about 2 minutes with about 1 tsp of water in a covered microwave-safe bowl.)

Combine in a 2 cup measuring cup: 4 fresh eggs and add sufficient milk to equal total volume of 1 ½ cups. Place in a bowl and whisk together.

Add 5 oz. crumbled feta cheese (the cheese is packaged in this size.)

Now add the asaparagus to the egg mixture and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour the filling into the piecrust and place in the oven.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees until the quiche is fully set.

Serve warm for brunch, lunch or a meatless dinner. I have a quick chopped vegetable salad with a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing alongside.

Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Another option is the serve chilled slices of this quiche as a fancy appetizer or interesting first course for a dinner party, topped with a yogurt dressing.

Yogurt dressing:

3 Tbsp Greek plain yogurt , 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tsp. finely minced onion, salt and pepper.

Posted by Karen at 10:59 CDT
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Saturday, 17 May 2014
Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I don't often post dessert recipes, but this is a kind of backlash for my sister. Apparently one of them (you know who you are) posted a recipe on social media for a 3 layer carrot cake smothered in frosting all over and in-between the layers!

I love my sister. I have to save her from this madness with my recipe for her that will substitute for that carrot cake...a new recipe that will give her all the great flavors--but be better for her.  I know, she'll want the spicy fragrances, the richness, the texture...the cream cheese frosting. But I don't want her to go into a carb coma. (Even a little slice of a three layer carrot cake is ridiculous, isn't it?)

So here goes...



Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray-oil prep an 8” x 8” baking pan.

Combine in a mixing bowl:

2 eggs

½ cup pure cane sugar

1 cup of canned pumpkin

Next, combine the following, then add to above:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sift again even if labeled pre-sifted

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice blend (or cinnamon, with dash of cloves and nutmeg)

½ tsp. Salt

½ tsp. Baking soda

When thoroughly mixed and smooth, pour into the prepped pan.

Bake 30 minutes.

Cool at least an hour.

Then spread with the following Cream Cheese frosting:

Combine 4 oz. cream cheese with 2 Tbsp. Butter and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Soften these at room temperature, but you can also microwave about 15 seconds to soften to easily mix-able texture.

Add 1 cup of confectioners' sugar and stir until smooth and spread-able.

Frost the pumpkin cake when it's cooled.

Sprinkle top with a little cinnamon or Pumpkin Spice blend or even some roasted, chopped pecans as desired.

Pumpkin's not just for Halloween! Try it!



Posted by Karen at 18:49 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 18:53 CDT
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It's Asparagus Time!
Topic: Garden
It's Asparagus time-- what a healthy, high fiber and low calorie, nutrient dense vegetable.


Finally, your garden asparagus are shooting up and ready for picking almost daily, right?
In Germany, it's time for Spargelfest (asparagus=Spargel), where restaurants try to out-do each other with their creative takes on asparagus dishes. Their prize asparagus is often the "white" asparagus, which it the  same asparagus but picked from under mulch while it's still white, before its exposed to sunlight.They are milder, but require more prep time because they need to be peeled before cooking. 
I'm fine with using the green asparagus and cooking them as easily as possible, saving my time for creative dishes.
For me, cooking asparagus means steaming, either in a steamer on top of boiling water on the stove --or--easier yet--in a glass dish with a little bit of water in the microwave for a few minutes.
Here's a great little breakfast-brunch dish:
Asparagus with Scrambled Eggs on Toast
 (for 2) 
Steam 8-10 asaparagus spears and keep hot.
Toast 2 slices of rye or pumperknickel bread
(I found a bread that swirled both)
Scramble 4 eggs in scant olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Make yogurt sauce as follows:
3 Tbsp. Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp finely minced onion
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Butter the toast. Divde between 2 plates.
Arrange 4-5 asparagus spears on each toast slice.
Spoon half of the eggs next on each. 
Top with half of the yogurt sauce on each

Doesn't that look delicious?
And that same yogurt sauce would go very nicely on a vegetable dish, maybe drizzled generously over a platter of boiled potatoes and asparagus ???


Posted by Karen at 10:16 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 18:51 CDT
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Friday, 9 May 2014
Mexican Inspired Beef Brisket- indirect grill or oven bake
Topic: Recipes

Who doesn't love Mexican inspired seasonings and flavors? For the recent Cinco de Mayo, I decided to incorporate the flavors into a beef brisket. I was lucky enough to make this on the indirect grill, but easily could adapt it to oven roasting, like we typically make beef brisket. Either way works, understanding that brisket is typically tougher and needs that slow roasting in juices and/or prolonged indrect grill with slicing of the meat thinly. Compare the meat to your usual corned beef brisket preparations for example.

So, here's the recipe and remember, if it's a chilly Spring day when you decide to make this, you can use the oven preparation. Here's a picture of the brisket with the marinade on, before cooking.



 Mexican Inspired Beef Brisket

Beef brisket- about 3 lbs.

Place brisket in a glass /Pyrex baking dish .

Combine together:

1 can (14.5 oz) Rotelo diced tomatoes and green chilis

1/3 cup Salsa Verde

2 Tbsp. lime juice (can sub. Lemon juice if lime not available)

1 tsp. dried, minced onion

½ tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

Pour the marinade over the brisket, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours.

You can either roast or grill.

To Roast: replace the plastic wrap with aluminum foil, bake covered for 2-3 hours at 325 degrees until tender.

To Grill: remove brisket from marinade and place in the middle of a preheated grill, if gas--using the outer grill bars, middle off, or--if charcoal, then set up for typical indirect grilling using a kettle grill. Close cover and “indirect” grill until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees about 2 hours.

I served this with refried black beans, a garlic vingarette green salad and topped with the typical trio of guacamole, red salsa and sour cream (ok -I used Greek plain yogurt).

Posted by Karen at 09:16 CDT
Updated: Friday, 9 May 2014 09:17 CDT
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Thursday, 1 May 2014
Easy Shepherd Pie and a New Casserole Dish
Topic: Recipes

I love a bargain!

Especially when you least expect to find one.

I was recently in a "supercenter"--just running in for a couple of last minute staples when this great looking casserole dish caught my eye.

There was a clearance rack of miscellaneous items in the middle of a runway, that I had to walk around in order to get to my printer ink cartridge--I couldn't miss it!

I had to buy it. The price was ridiculously right at under $20. 

I know, I have lots of casserole dishes but look at the lovely design with sturdy handles, and the domed lid and the textured sides and perfect COLOR.

You might think about this as a gift for Mother's Day if you have a mother who loves these kinds of things.  

AND--Here's a great recipe to try in the new casserole dish.


Easy Shepherd's Pie

Prep casserole dish with a little spray-oil.

Make a batch of mashed potatoes separately for your topping (about 2-3 cups depending upon your preference) You can also “doctor” these up by stirring in some shredded cheese.

Start with a large skillet:

Brown 2 lbs. ground beef (grassfed, of course!)

Add and cook together with the beef:

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

1- 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juice

1 pkt. Lipton Beefy Onion dried soup and dip mix

½ cup of water

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

Dried or fresh thyme leaves and Herbs de Provence (I sprinkle herbs liberally, you can adjust these to your taste preferences)

Salt and pepper to taste (remember there's already salt in the soup mix)

At the end:

Stir in 1 cup of frozen peas or a “country mix” of frozen vegetables.


Bottom layer is the beef mixture.

Top with mashed potatoes.

Sprinkle a little cheese or parsley, paprika, chili powder for color.


Uncovered at 350 degrees until heated through and the potatoes are lightly browned about 45 minutes.




Posted by Karen at 11:49 CDT
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Saturday, 19 April 2014
From Antarctica to Ireland in a week!
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to Everyone!

 It's amazing how quickly one week of Spring weather can turn "tundra" into greenery--I know there's much more coming, but I thought I'd shoot a few scenes around the Farm to give you an idea about it's annual renewal. 













There are plenty of goldfinches around the backyard...













 And rooster with hens in the barnyard! 














A barn interior ready for Spring! 














Lots of loafing cattle (we're still feeding hay of course, but who can resist an afternoon nap in greening pastures....)













or under some pine trees?













Zoey, our llama, seems up for a photo op!













 The Shepherds love their 'Gator rounds of the Farm














Especially when there are some surprises...


Again, the neighbor's Charolais bull invaded my herd for a one night stand... 

 But he is a cutie...Happy Spring!

Posted by Karen at 15:52 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 19 April 2014 16:03 CDT
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