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Saturday, 11 October 2014
Frosty Mornings and Hoppin' John
Topic: Recipes

Frosty Mornings

Did you wake up to a scene like this?




There's frost covering the grass, trees, lawn chairs and table. While this will be melted off in a couple of hours, the rest of the day will still be brisk. And you likely will be filling it with fall chores like raking leaves, chopping wood, cleaning gutters...Or maybe you'll be lucky and take a wonderful hike in the woods or just take an extended walk with the dog? You won't want to be inside with this brisk, clean and fresh day facing you.

But you'll likely have a big appetite for something hearty by the end of the day. This is soup and stew weather! And if you don't want to sit indoors all day cooking, then let your crockpot work while you play outside.

You might want to try my variation on “Hoppin' John”. The traditional Hoppin' John, which I've posted on for the last two years, is a dish made for January 1st, with ham and black-eyed peas and cajun-styled seasonings, cooked in a stew pot on the stove, and is served over long-grain rice.Today's equally hearty and spicy variation uses common lentils, and is served over brown Basmati rice. Better yet, it's made in the crockpot.

Crockpot Hoppin' John with Lentils

4-6 servings

Saute together in olive oil, until softened:

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ Spanish onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 carrot, thinly sliced (optional)

In the crockpot, add:

1 (14.5 oz) can of Rotello diced tomatoes with chilis, and the juice

1 (14.5-16 oz) can of chicken broth

1- 1.5 lb ham steak chopped (or equiv. leftover ham) chop in larger pieces, not diced.

1/3 lb. dried lentils

1 cup frozen, fresh or canned corn (I had a frozen corn, black bean,chil blend that I used)

Add the above sauteed vegetables to the crockpot.

Stir in the following seasonings:

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning blend ( or equiv basil, oregano, thyme)

1 tsp. ground Cumin

Few to several shakes of Cayenne pepper. (This is essential but your taste preferences will have to determine how much heat you like)

1 bay leaf (place at the end so you know where to find it and pull out before serving)

Don't add salt until it's cooked and you can then decide if you need more.

Let this cook for at least 6 hours on “low” , or more if you're still out of the house.

Serve “as is” or make some basmati rice and ladle the stew over it.

I used Lundgren's brown basmati rice in my rice cooker. Note that this rice has both the USDA Organic label and, in the lower right corner, a separate “verified non-GMO” label. Since so much of our rice is now GMO, it's worth looking for these labels if you are concerned about the status of the rice you're buying.

Now, curl up in front of the fire with a bowl of this unconventional stew. (I think this may become my new “traditional” Hoppin' John.)

Posted by Karen at 10:58 CDT
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Saturday, 4 October 2014
Autumn "To Do" List
Topic: Home Environment

It's Autumn and that means it's time to change our home environment and coordinate with the season. It's also time to harvest our gardens and enjoy the next several weeks between harvest time and the next seasonal holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 Make a pot of chili--this "chili mac" is a variation of Cincinnati chili and has a topping of Greek yogurt for extra probiotic nutrition!

Next, bring in those pumpkins and winter squash, you might even find a really cute baby pumpkin, like I did!


Now, dig up a few herbs and re-pot as houseplants for the winter.I'll be taking some cuttings of this rosemary for roast chicken Tuscan beef during the winter!

So, let's conclude the day of Autumn "to dos" by re-decorating our homes with flowers and plantings that can tolerate the cold temperatures. 

No time?--then just place potted mums in the birdbath and make a statement. 


And re-decorate that front door with a new fall wreath. That's an easy switch!  

Posted by Karen at 14:46 CDT
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Monday, 29 September 2014
Dinner in a Bowl
Topic: Nutrition and food safety

Do you agree that the "Dinner-in-a-Bowl" picture looks yummy?

And that it would appeal to a number of picky eaters, too--whether a fussy child or temperamental senior!

Yet this simple "dinner-in-a-bowl" contains all sorts of protein and nutrients--five different vegetables!-- and it's even lower in carbs than you might think at first glance. 

Allow me to deconstruct the photo:

First we have a beautiful, over-sized bowl with a raised edge. This allows you to put ingredients that have sauces that can move around the bowl without spilling. You can slide foods into each other and co-mingle the flavors. (I know some people don't like their foods touching, so might not like this idea, but most kids and gourmands love it!).

BTW- I found 4 of these great bowls on a clearance rack at Target!

Then we have a base of mashed "potatoes", but look closely--they are NOT typical because these mashed "potatoes" are really half mashed cauliflower, and then we have baby greens added besides. So, even your picky eaters will never object to eating this combination, presented this way. I cook equal portions of cut-up potatoes with fresh cauliflower florets together in the same pot until done, then drain and mash together with butter, salt and pepper. Extra milk isn't necessary because of the retained liquid in the cauliflower. Finally add a good handful or two of tender, fresh baby greens and stir in to blend. If using larger leaves, simply chop them into smaller pieces so the heat from the potatoes and cauliflower will wilt them and soften.

Next, we have a slow-cooked, grassfed beef roast--simply prepared in the crockpot, covered with 1 can of French onion soup or beef consomme (undiluted). Remove the roast to a serving dish, slice or rough cut into chunks, depending on the type of roast used. I have a pot roast above. Whisk about 1 rounded Tbsp of flour to thicken the reamining juices,using the High setting of the crockpot, cooking until just barely thickened. 

Finally take the opportunity to add one more vegetable blend, maybe something simple like the peas and carrots shown in the picture.

You have now served your family meat and potatoes--but with such a nutritious twist that they have 5 different vegetables in that bowl with their delicious beef.

And I'll bet everyone's plates are empty when the table is cleared.

Posted by Karen at 12:04 CDT
Updated: Monday, 29 September 2014 12:30 CDT
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Thursday, 11 September 2014
Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Topic: Recipes

Fall Is Showing Up Early

At least in northwestern Illinois, that is. It's brisk, cloudy, and chilly. Of course, the 46 degree morning temperature provides a great excuse to put the first fire in the fireplace.

And it's also an excuse to make a pot of soup, made all the better by including some Super-Foods. Mushrooms are a favorite because they are great sources of B vitamins and one of the highest natural sources of selenium and have that unique flavor property referred to as Unami.

This time I chose to make a pot of Hungarian Mushroom Soup. It has unexpected paprika and dillweed in its creamy broth, and is sure to be a favorite lunch on the chilly days we can all expect in the coming Fall season.


Hungarian Mushroom Soup

4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

½ large onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

Saute together in a heavy soup pot until cooked and tender.

Then add 1 LB. Sliced fresh mushrooms and saute with above until cooked.

Add the following seasonings:

1 tsp. Spanish paprika

2 tsp. dried dillweed (or equiv. fresh)

1 tsp dried parsley (or equiv. fresh)

½ tsp dried thyme (or equiv. Fresh )

1 Tbsp. Soy sauce

several grinds of black pepper

Then add 2 & ½ cups chicken broth and heat through.

Whisk separately, 2 Tbsp. Flour in 1 cup of milk, then stir into soup.

Cook until thickened about 10 more minutes.

Add more chicken broth, if desired, for a thinner soup.

Taste and adjust seasonings, including adding salt if desired.

Finally, add 1 Tbsp. Lemon juice and stir in.

Ladle into soup bowls and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.



Posted by Karen at 12:19 CDT
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Friday, 5 September 2014
Topic: Garden

It's Time to get Pickled!

We are now post-Labor Day--meaning the hours are ticking away until there's no more fresh garden produce. And the days are already percceptively shorter with the clock now starting the countdown to final harvests.

Sure, there's more time for the final hay cuttings ...and apples ...and winter squash and potatoes and pumpkins. And woody herbs will be around for a bit longer.

But soon, there won't be any more cucumbers and peppers.

SO-- it's a great time to make the perfect homemade, straight-from-your-garden, crunchy condiment, a quick recipe that you can pull out of your refrigerator and put on that holiday buffet table …


Over the past couple weekends, my sister Chris, and I have been making Refrigerator Pickles, using variations of the many recipes found on the internet from other bloggers and even some famous chefs, who all have their take on these classic country condiments.



Chris prefers the sweet Bread and Butter pickles, with her own special twist of ZESTY and hot (jalapenos!) to put her own signature on it.


I made the classic and crunchy Garlic Dill Pickle (above) 

What both of these recipes share are the following qualities:

Basic Rules for all Refrigerator Pickles:


Chris' Zesty and Sweet Bread and Butter Pickles

9 pint jars

Cook the following together in a large pot:

6 cups white vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar

6 cups sugar

1 tsp tumeric

1 Tbsp. Yellow mustard seeds

½ tsp ground clove

½ tsp red pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped garlic

Simmer above together about 30 minutes. 

In a separate large bowl, combine the following:

9 cucumbers, sliced into disks about 1/4” thick

1 large onion, thinly sliced and separated

2 large jalapeno peppers, finely chopped

½ cup of salt

Let this sit together about 30 minutes, then rinse and drain.  

Next, fill 9 wide-mouthed pint jars with the cucumber mixture. Press down to compact as needed.

Ladle the hot vinegar solution into each jar, covering the mixture with liquid to within ¼ inch of the top rim.

Apply the lids and rims. (Chris likes to invert her jars while cooling, even though we're not doing traditional canning.)

Allow to cool on the counter, then refrigerate.

Wait one week before sampling! 


My Garlic Dill Pickles

9 pint jars

Cook together in a large pot until a low boil:

7 cups of water

1 cup of white vinegar

½ cup salt

Prep 9 cucumbers by slicing each of 9 cucumbers in half, into roughly the height of your pint jars.

Then slice each half into about 6 wedge slices, to have the typical pickle wedges.

Put 6 whole black peppercorns and ¼ tsp. Yellow mustard seeds on the bottom of each of 9 jars.

Put 1 fresh dill head on the bottom of each jar ---OR--1 rounded tsp of dried dillweed in each jar.

Put 1 large, peeled clove of fresh garlic in each jar.

Next, hold your jar horizontally, and pack each jar with the cucumber slices. You should be able to get about 12 slices in each jar.

Finally, ladle the hot water, salt and vinegar solution over the pickles until it is ¼ inch from the top.

Apply the lids, allow to cool on the counter, then refrigerate.

Wait one week before sampling!


Posted by Karen at 15:44 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 6 September 2014 07:34 CDT
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Sunday, 31 August 2014
The BEST Falafel Dinner Salad
Topic: Garden

The Best Falafel Dinner Salad

I know that's quite a claim, but I've been working at it--trying recipes for awhile now and I think I've cracked the code.

First, you have to start with a great base of bitter greens dressed simply in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. In the photo above, I've used 2 types of kale greens, the Italian and curly blue varieties. Rinse and then de-vein the kale leaves. Tear or chop into small pieces. Place in a glass bowl and toss with lemon juice and olive oil, equal parts, lightly but thoroughly. Then plate the greens, dividing into 3 servings on large dinner plates.

The next layer is simple chopped fresh tomatoes and cubed or sliced cucumber.

Salt and fresh ground pepper each salad.

Next--Make the Tahini sauce for the falafel as follows:

3 Tbsp. Tahini

3 Tbsp. Lemon juice (or equal parts lemon juice and white wine vinegar)

1 tsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp mint leaves, chopped

This thin, but potent, sauce will be drizzled liberally over the falafel patties.

Now make the falafel patties which will require a food processor and then frying the patties in a heavy skillet in olive oil.

Combine the following in a food processor, processing each addition with pulses until the consistency is a coarse grind.

1 can of rinsed and drained chickpeas (16 oz)

4 cloves of garlic

½ medium onion, chopped

Small handful each fresh cilantro, parsley leaves

Put the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the following:

1 tsp. Cumin

½ tsp. Cayenne pepper

1 tsp. Ground Coriander

1 egg

4 rounded Tbsp. Flour

Heat 2-3 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Form the patties by dividing the mixture into quarters in the bowl. Then, divide each quarter with a large spoon, creating 3 patties from each quarter for a total of 12 patties.

When the oil is heated, drop a pattie off a large spoon, then pat it lightly to form roughly 2 inch patties, about 1/2-3/4 inch thick. See the picture. Fry about 5 minutes. Turn with a spatula and fry the opposite side also about 5 minutes. Add scant more olive oil if needed.

Plate the falafel patties between the 3 salads already plated. Then drizzle the tahini sauce over the falafel patties and serve. Such a great way to celebrate the multitude of fresh herbs and vegetables we have this Summer!



Posted by Karen at 19:28 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 31 August 2014 20:25 CDT
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Saturday, 23 August 2014
Use your Crockpot and Create a Great Dinner Salad
Topic: Education and Values

Crockpot in Summer?

Even when it's so miserably hot and humid? And you have no appetite for anything?

You Bet!

This is the perfect time for a crockpot assist with dinner.


Remember, your main course can be cooking while you're at work, it doesn't heat up the house, and needs no supervision.

So why not try this simple recipe for a delicious Savory Mexican-inspired Dinner Salad?

And the crockpot is the main reason it's so easy!

Put a lean, boneless pork or beef roast in a lightly oiled crockpot, pour on top of the roast- one cup of prepared salsa or enchilada sauce --red or green-- then cover and cook on “low” all day.

When you're ready for dinner, remove the roast to a large plate and shred the meat using 2 forks. Return the meat to the juices in the crockpot.

Make a salad with Romaine (or other dark leaved lettuce or combination of salad greens), chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded chopped cucumber or diced jicama,  and one can of rinsed and drained black beans.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the salad ingredients. Add a dressing made with equal parts citrus juice and olive oil dressing (your choice lemon, lime, combination, some orange?). Add chili spices, salt and pepper, maybe some citrus zest. Toss together –40 times, remember?

Plate the dinner salad with a base of the prepared salad. Using tongs, place meat on top. Add a dollop of sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese, crushed corn chips, etc—your choice.




Leftover shredded meat can be used to make enchiladas, a burrito casserole or tacos for another night's dinner!

Posted by Karen at 12:47 CDT
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Tuesday, 19 August 2014
Build a Better Burger
Topic: Entertaining/Party

Build a Better Burger

Everyone thinks they have the secret to a great burger, right? But I am going to suggest that, unless you are seasoning within the meat and forming your own patties, you have not yet reached that pinnacle!

Seasoning ground beef patties on the outside is great if you are making blackened, Cajun burgers. Blackening herbs are traditional French herbs de Provence with the addition of salt and cayenne pepper, then applied to the outside of the meat or fish, and fried or grilled over high heat. High heat “blackens” or scorches these externally applied seasonings giving the desired outcome. So, it's not a problem if that's what you want.

But if you are making a custom burger on the grill or pan, is that what you want? Or do you want a juicy burger, seasoned throughout the meat served on the perfect bun and with the perfect acoutrements, depending upon the final product you desire? ( Would you ever make a meat loaf or meatballs by just seasoning the meat on the outside?)

Here's a recipe from Julia Child re-printed on Food Network. Just reading through this recipe will make you re-think your approach to the humble hamburger.


Author: Julia Child

Recipe type: Main

Cuisine: French, Beef

Prep time:  10 mins

Cook time:  15 mins

Total time:  25 mins



  1. In a large pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp butter and cook the onions slowly for about 10 minutes (until very tender but not browned). Place in a mixing bowl.

  2. Add the beef, soft butter, seasonings, and egg to the onions in the mixing bowl and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend thoroughly. Correct seasoning. Form into patties ¾ inch thick. Cover with waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

  3. Just before sauteing, roll the patties lightly in the flour. Shake off excess flour.

  4. Add 1 tbsp butter and oil to a pan over moderately high heat and when you see the butter foam begin to subside, saute the patties for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, depending on how you like your hamburgers (rare, medium or well done).

  5. Arrange the patties on the serving platter and keep warm for a moment while finishing the sauce. Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the liquid (broth, wine or water) and boil it down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated pan juices, until it has reduced almost to a syrup. Off heat, swirl leftover butter into the sauce until it is absorbed. Pour the sauce over the hamburgers and serve.


Now that you've read that recipe, think about how you might season your ground beef forming the seasoned meat into patties yourself.

I usually make 2 lbs of ground beef into 8 patties. So, I might take the easy route and put my ground beef into a large bowl. Add an egg, some Worcestershire sauce, a packet of Lipton's dry onion soup mix, maybe toss in some fresh parsley and hand mix. Then I'll divide the thoroughly mixed blend into quarters in the bowl.

Once you have quarters, then each quarter is divided into 2 patties.

Place these on a waxed paper-covered plate with waxed paper in between layers, cover and refrigerate until grilling or pan-frying. You can make patties the night before a party and be ready for company the next day!

Once you make burgers by seasoning the patties throughout the meat with your personal blend of seasonings and “secret ingredients” (maybe even changing the MEAT!!!), and forming your own patties...you'll truly make the best burger!

Posted by Karen at 18:44 CDT
Updated: Monday, 25 August 2014 21:05 CDT
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Thursday, 14 August 2014
YOU own your reality!!!!
Topic: Education and Values

My artist friends—and aren't we all?--think about this...your environment is under your control, so...

you can create anything!~

If that's true, then—consider this....make your world....your stage....your personal space.

My beloved and brilliant sister and I recently saw the movie...The Hundred Foot Journey.

If you are lucky, you'll see it in your community—it's in limited theatres.

So, of course, walking out of the movie, I craved Indian food and ….the environment of Provence!

Directly to ACE hardware for Provence blue and exterior doors painted within the next 24 hours.

YOU can create your own reality. And if it just takes 1 quart of paint...how lucky are we?

See your garage door and outside doors –not as exterior doors—but as the entrance to your gardens—why not?

create your own reality...one quart of paint!




Posted by Karen at 17:40 CDT
Updated: Thursday, 14 August 2014 17:49 CDT
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Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Homemade Marinara Sauce-the "QUICK" version
Topic: Recipes



Everyone loves homemade marinara sauce. There's nothing like the fragrances wafting through the house and nothing like the taste of homemade compared to anything you might purchase in a jar. The best of the best is creating sauce from your own vine-ripened Roma tomatoes at the peak of freshness.

But sometimes, it's the middle of winter.

And sometimes, you can't afford the time it takes to skin and seed the loads of tomatoes it takes to make the “just one quart” that you need/crave NOW. (If you do have that time, then read my recipe for canned marinara sauce from old postings last year!).

Today, I invite you to make my version of Marinara Sauce from canned crushed tomatoes, but “doctor” the seasonings so it becomes your own new recipe.

And substitute fresh herbs from your garden if you can. I believe you will never buy a jar of sauce again.



Quick” Homemade Marinara Sauce

for 1 quart

2 TBSP olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

In a large saucepan, saute the garlic in olive oil about 2-3 minutes to bring out the flavor.


1-- 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (Roma preferred)

½ cup of dry red wine (or 1 TBSP vinegar, if not using wine)

1 TBSP cane sugar

Stir together in the sauce pan. The wine (or vinegar) increases the acidity and the sugar will bring out the tomato flavor.

Stir in seasonings:

1/2-1 tsp salt (acc. to your taste)

½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 TSP each of the following dried spices: parsley, basil, oregano

(You can substitute fresh herbs or equivalent amount of adried Italian blend. Some people also like to add fennel seed.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low simmer. Slow-Simmer for an hour. If you want the sauce especially thick, then simmer longer to “reduce” the volume.

Now serve that sauce over a bit of pasta—but if you are avoiding pasta, wouldn't this sauce be nice on medallions of grilled chicken or sliced steak???



Posted by Karen at 10:16 CDT
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