Tag Archives: Fiesta Friday

Rhubarb | First Shoots Are Up

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the garden for the first signs of life. We have a winner! Rhubarb is sending up shoots of tightly curled leaves. Those other leaves are some sort of weed. They are suffering the effect of temperatures in the mid-20s last night. The rhubarb was not harmed.


I also defrosted the extra freezer downstairs this week. There were three containers of frozen rhubarb pieces from the crop last year. Looks like I need to make another pie. Last weekend I made a pie from some of last year’s frozen rhubarb. I added blueberries, red raspberries, and blackberries.

Angie at Fiesta Friday found out and wondered why I didn’t share it with the others at her blog. “Too busy”, I told her. Lucky for me, I took a picture of it. My cousin said it looked very patriotic with the red, white, and blue colors. Those stripes were from the leftover dough trimmed off the rim of the baking dish. It wouldn’t win any prizes at the state fair for looks. But, it tasted marvelous. It only took Melanie and I three days to eat it.


If you are curious about my techniques for harvesting, cutting, freezing, and ultimately, what recipe I use, go to this previous post. All the details are there. Here is the printable recipe form.

Gramma Brown's Rhubarb Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 3 C of cleaned and sliced rhubarb. Add some berries if you wish.
  • 1.5  C of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 T of flour
  • 1 pie dough pre-made from store or make your own


Preheat oven to 425˚ and line a pie pan with dough.

Cover the rhubarb and berries with 1/2 C of sugar and set the bowl aside.

In another bowl, combine the remaining sugar, flour, and eggs. Stir to mix.

Combine the two bowls of ingredients and stir to mix.

Pour into the prepared pie pan.

Bake for 30 minutes on center rack.

Let cool completely before serving to let it firm up.


Chicken Posole Stew

Loosely based on traditional posole recipes, my rich chicken stew takes advantage of summer ingredients. But because so many summer ingredients freeze well, you can enjoy this hearty soup any time of year.


When I cook soup, I have ONE rule: use approximately as much liquid as solid. That has a fudge factor, of course. Use less liquid when you want it thicker and more when you want it thinner. This simple rule has served me very well, and served my household many years of delicious soups.

The “recipe” below is very loose, filled with approximations and guesses. I did not measure anything here. Using the rule above, it has somewhat less liquid than solid.

Chicken Posole Stew
3/4 – 1 pound cooked chicken, diced into small bites
4 – 6 cups chicken stock
(I roasted my chicken on Tuesday and made my stock from the carcass.)
1 carrot diced
1 onion diced small
(My onion was a summer CSA onion, diced and frozen.)
1/2 zucchini diced
1/2 yellow squash diced
2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and diced, with juice if possible
(My tomatoes were from our garden, processed and frozen. You could use a can of diced tomatoes instead, including the juice.)
1 cup corn and black bean salsa
(This was also from the summer — fresh from the field sweet corn and tomatoes. You could substitute jarred salsa, or frozen corn separately. Or leave it out.)
2 hot peppers seeded and diced tiny
(I used a jalapeno and a Hungarian pepper, both from our garden and frozen. You could use a bell pepper but you’d lose the zing.)
1 can white hominy, drained

In large pot heat fat (I used bacon grease and a little canola oil) to saute carrot. Add onion, zucchini and squash, tomatoes, corn salsa, and peppers. Add chicken stock and let it hang out, simmering until the vegetables soften. Add diced chicken and drained hominy. Heat until hot through.

Note — I didn’t add any other seasonings. I didn’t add salt. I didn’t add pepper. I didn’t add cumin or oregano or cilantro or anything. You could. But taste it first to see if you really want it. If you like it hot, you might want another jalapeno, or even two.

Serve with corn bread. Make sure you have lots of butter and honey available for the corn bread. You may want a beer with it, too!

Homemade Ketchup!

Last week we made ketchup. Why, when the basic bottle of Heinz tastes so familiar? Three reasons. First, we ran out and needed a replacement. Second, we had garden tomatoes from last year to finish, as this year’s are beginning to ripen. And third, we continue to choose less processed foods when reasonable to do.

This seemed reasonable.


We had three sandwich-sized freezer bags with tomatoes left over. When those were thawed, the excess liquid was drained off. Here is the basic recipe.

Chop fine one medium onion and saute in vegetable oil until soft. Add a clove of chopped garlic and continue on heat. Add the tomatoes. (Ours were processed for the freezer, skins and most of the seeds removed, and in big chunks. In addition we added about 10 frozen oven-roasted tomatoes to deepen the flavor. These had skin on, which was pulled out as they softened and began to cook down.)

Add about 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a sprinkle each of cayenne, allspice, and clove. Remember a little can go a long way. Better to start with not much of each of these, especially the clove and cayenne. Add a bay leaf and salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally until thickened, about an hour. Remove the bay leaf.

Let cool and then process in the blender until smooth. We have a food processor, not a blender, and our ketchup is still textural. We like it that way.

Caution: this doesn’t have all the preservatives and chemicals that store-bought brands have. Though there is salt, sugar, and acid — all natural preservatives — don’t assume this will last like store-bought. The recipe on which this is based suggested a refrigerator life of about 3 weeks.

The flavor is more complex than Heinz. The clove and cayenne add layers you don’t get from the store. We’ve enjoyed it on fried potatoes and are looking forward to something meatier, like meatloaf or hamburgers.



Home Made Ice Cream

Summer is a great time for ice cream. The home made kind is a special treat. As kids, many of us remember getting out the ice cream maker. You needed a big tub, lots of ice, salt, the maker, and some people to crank the handle until it was too hard to turn. After the ice cream was finished, someone pulled out the beater and put it in a cake pan. Several kids would gobble up the ice cream stuck to it. You finally got a bowl of it with your favorite topping(s).


Today, it is a lot easier to make ice cream. No salt is needed for some machines. Our maker has a mixing tub we keep in the freezer. Inside its walls is a liquid at room temps. It freezes when stored there, ready at any time.

IceCream1Our recipe is from the instruction booklet. It is reliable and can be altered for variety. Today, we made vanilla. In the third ingredient, we used a cup of half-and-half with a cup of whipping cream instead of two cups of heavy cream. Sometimes we only use half-and-half. Mint Chip is great with peppermint and green food coloring. Try whatever recipe you like.

Mix up the potion and set it in the freezer for 30 minutes to give it a good chill. The machine freezes it in a shorter time when pre-chilled.


Here is the mix ready for the pre-chill. Stir it for long enough to dissolve all the sugar grains.

IceCream2After 30 minutes in the freezer, pour it into the machine and turn it on. It takes ours 25 minutes.

IceCream3The machine has an opening in the top to let you see the consistency of the ice cream. When it looks ready, turn off the machine and open it up. Looks good, huh? You can’t have any yet. It is going into the freezer for a few hours to get more firm. The bottom photo shows it ready to go in the freezer.




After a few hours, dish it out, add toppings if you like, and enjoy a great summer treat. Yum 🙂





The Magic Day: Calendar Tricks for Geeks

by Melanie and Jim

Amaze your friends! Astound your neighbors! Confuse your enemies! Calculate the day of the week for any date, all without consulting a paper OR electronic calendar!

Several years ago my dad, a brilliant man, told me about a calendar trick he used. The trick allowed him to figure the day of the week for nearly any date. While other people were still looking in their paper planners (back in the old days,) he already knew.


Original calendar layout  jks Lola – publicdomainpictures.net | Noted dates by Jim and Melanie in IA

In 2014, Friday is the MAGIC DAY, a reference day around which the calendar trick revolves.

Let’s begin with the easy ones:
the 4th day of the 4th month and
the 6th day of the 6th month and
the 8th day of the 8th month and
the 10th day of the 10th month and
the 12th day of the 12th month

ALL fall on the same day of the week, the MAGIC DAY. In 2014 the Magic Day is Friday.
Note that for the EVEN numbered months starting in April, the day and month match up.

Besides those:
the 9th day of the 5th month and
the 5th day of the 9th month and
the 11th day of the 7th month and
the 7th day of the 11th month

ALL fall on the same day of the week, the MAGIC DAY. In 2014 the Magic Day is Friday.
Note how 5 and 9 match up [think “9 to 5”] and 7 and 11 match up [think “7-11”].

That leaves January through March. February and March are simple.

For February, the LAST day of the month is the Magic Day (Friday this year), regardless of whether or not it is leap year.

For March, since the LAST day of February is the Magic Day, the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th of March also fall on the Magic Day. Pi Day is the Magic Day!

January is more difficult, but because the last day of February is the reference day, the last day of January is the same day EXCEPT in leap years. In leap year it is the day before the reference day. For example, in 2012, a leap year, the last day of January was Tuesday, not Wednesday. (Go ahead, check the calendar and see.)

Once you know these rules, you can move backward or forward in any month to determine the day of the week. For example, my son’s birthday is on the Magic Day, and mine is two days later. This year his birthday is Friday, so mine must be Sunday.

The reference day progresses through the years. It becomes one day later every year, except in leap years when it advances two days. In 2011, the Magic Day was Monday, and it progressed two days to Wednesday in 2012. In 2013, it was Thursday, and in 2014, it is Friday.

These days when so many people carry smart phones, it may not be as useful as it used to be. But I don’t have a smart phone. I have a dumb phone, and I still use these rules. Do you think you are geeky enough to remember and use these rules?

Basil Pesto | Food of the Gods

Sweet basil, fragrant, green, versatile. It’s used in Italian cooking as well as Asian. For those who keep a kitchen garden, it’s also easy to grow.

It’s spring. As the air turns sweet with the budding trees and greening grass, thoughts turn to gardening. We’ve lived in this house for 12 years now, and each year Jim plants a garden in a small area of terracing on the south side of the house. His crop always includes tomatoes, and now it has a permanent rhubarb plant. The other items vary. This year he’ll plant pole beans again, as well as hot peppers. For herbs, he’s tried dill, rosemary, peppermint, and basil. Basil, sweet basil. We come back to it, year after year. Reliable, delicious, and apparently not attractive to the deer, it grows easily and prolifically.

And most importantly, we use it. All of it.

A popular use of raw basil leaves is the Caprese salad, simply made from slices of juicy tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Some people like a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, as well.

Photo from the blog slowtrav.com

But our favorite use of basil is pesto, what I’ve come to believe is one of the foods of the gods. And because I love it so much, and because I love you so much, I will share the recipe with you.

Basil-Walnut Pesto



Basil Pesto Sauce

  • Servings: 15-18 3-oz cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

by Melanie and Jim in IA

Two batches of the recipe below uses the full product of about one basil plant, grown to full-size and likely beginning to flower already. We make it in an 11 cup food processor. If your food processor is smaller, you can do it in smaller batches keeping the proportions the same.

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, or 1 T minced garlic
  • Process these on pulse a few times to get them started.

Fill the food processor with washed basil leaves, and add

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup grated or slivered Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 T salt
  • 1/2 T pepper

Process. Stop once and scrape down the sides, and process until smooth.

Once the pesto is done, spoon it into 3-ounce unwaxed paper cups and freeze it. You’ll have 15-18 paper cups when processing in two batches, each paper cup nearly full. After it’s frozen, we drop them into a 1 gallon zip-top bag and keep in the freezer to use, one scrumptious lump at a time. You may also spoon portions into ice cube trays to freeze.


Curses! The 3-ounce paper cups we’ve always used are Dixie cups, a brand owned by the evil Koch Brothers. Once these cups are gone, we will not buy more. Other people often recommend spooning it into ice cube trays, popping the lumps out of the tray once frozen. That would work, too, but the capacity for each would be less, so you will need to adjust the amount used in recipes.

You may have noticed the recipe uses walnuts rather than pine nuts, the more traditional ingredient. Pine nuts could be substituted, I suppose, but they cost approximately twice as much as walnuts per pound, and we like the walnuts anyway. Another thing you may notice is the consistency. Unlike many jarred pestos you can buy at the store, this is thick and far less oily. In fact, it uses about half the oil you would use if you made pesto from a traditional recipe for immediate use. I LIKE having half the oil, both for how we use it and from a portion-control standpoint.

What Should I Do with the Pesto Lumps?

Now that you have pesto, you’ll love using it! Here are some ways you can use it:

Green Pizza
Use one thawed pesto lump as your sauce, instead of red sauce. Top with your favorite toppings, bake and eat! I especially love mushrooms, chopped artichoke hearts, black or kalamata olives, mozzarella, and a little feta on mine.

Pesto Pasta
Boil your pasta (penne, rotini, farfalle, or your favorite) as directed. (Oops! Can’t use Barilla pasta anymore!) Heat one lump of pesto in another pan, loosened with a spoon of pasta water. Top the pasta with the pesto, grate Parmesan cheese on top, and eat!

Pesto Rubbed Roast Chicken
Thaw one lump of pesto, smear most of it under the skin of a whole chicken, and massage the rest onto the chicken. Roast as usual.

Pesto Rubbed Pork Loin Roast
Yep, same as the chicken except you’ll rub it all on top, not under a skin.

Pesto-Marinated Pork Chops or Chicken Breasts
Place meat in a zip-top bag. Thaw a lump of pesto and dump it into the bag. Add a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar. Marinate in refrigerator up to 2 or 3 hours. Cook the meat as usual.

If you need more ideas of how to use it, find 50 things to make with pesto at this foodnetwork site.

How do YOU like to use pesto? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Corn Pancakes with Pulled Pork

We couldn’t wait to eat! Photos came after a few … mmm … lovely bites.

Last summer we enjoyed a bucket-list trip to Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. (Posts with photos are here, here, here, and here.)

One day after a long morning of driving and hiking, we were ready for a big lunch in a spectacular setting. We stopped at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, settling in to eat and enjoy the view. I ordered a stack of corn pancakes layered with pulled pork and drizzled with maple syrup. And I haven’t stopped thinking about them since!

Usually we eat pulled pork on a bun, barbecue style. But recently I had some pulled pork and no buns. Hmm… Time to try the cornmeal pancakes! I found this Betty Crocker recipe, which uses Bisquick, right up my alley. I modified it a little for the recipe below:

Cornmeal Pancakes
3/4 cup Bisquick® Original baking mix
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup frozen corn kernels

Spray griddle with cooking spray or coat lightly with vegetable oil. Heat over medium heat. Beat baking mix, cornmeal, milk and egg in medium bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Stir in cheese and corn.

Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto hot skillet. Cook until puffed and dry around edges. Turn; cook until golden brown. Makes about 12 pancakes.

For our scrumptious meal, layer two cornmeal pancakes around pork, flavoring with a good barbecue sauce to taste. (We also used a touch of Jim’s homemade hot sauce, which added a nice spark.) Drizzle with maple syrup and enjoy!

And what about that pulled pork?

Start with a 3-3.5 pound boneless pork shoulder or butt. This is the same cut but may be referred to by either one. (My butcher distinguishes between them by bone-in or not, but this doesn’t seem to be universal.) This is NOT the same cut as a pork loin roast. The loin also makes a great meal but it isn’t going to cook into the lovely shreds that a butt will.

I cook it in a slow-cooker. This can be either a crock-pot style or the pan-on-burner style. I’ve used both and they both work fine. RESIST the temptation to lift the lid with either cooker. Let the pot retain the heat and moisture. Just leave it alone. That’s the beauty of using the slow-cooker anyway.

Now, there are as many recipes for pulled pork as there are cooks who make it, and if you cook like I do, you read through a bunch of recipes each time you try something new, and then consolidate their thinking into your own process. So while I’ll tell you this is MY recipe, I won’t be so silly as to suggest it is THE recipe.

Pulled Pork
3-3.5 pound boneless pork shoulder or butt roast (may come as two pieces of meat tied or netted together — untie them if they are)
onion chopped small, about 1/2 of a large onion or a whole small onion (more onion to taste!)
salt, pepper, and chili powder
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup or less ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar

Place the roast in the slow cooker with the fat side up. Pour the vinegar into the pan. Salt and pepper the top of the roast and add a dusting layer of chili powder. Spread the brown sugar over the top. Dump the onions on the roast. Don’t worry that half or more will fall off into the pan. Cover the top of the roast with ketchup.

Put the lid on the pan and cook on medium-high for at least 4 to 6 hours. (Know your slow cooker — I have two and they cook differently.) Don’t take the lid off until at least 4 hours have gone by. Then you might check for doneness. If you stick a fork in the meat and twist a little, shredding it, it is done. If you’re a stickler, check the internal temperature. It should read at least 145 degrees.

Once it’s cooked and the heat is turned off, remove the meat, leaving the juices in the pan. Shred the meat and return it to the pan.

Reheat for serving. If you’re making this for a party and not serving with the corn pancakes, consider buying junior buns, the term used around here for buns that are smaller than typical hamburger sized. Though the seasoning provides a barbecue essence, many people will want to top their sandwich with barbecue sauce, too.

“What’s the Right Mixture …

of quality and class-based shame poor people should aim for in their meal planning?” Jon Stewart asked Tuesday night, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

His rant mocked the indignation of entertainers on Fox News, hysterically claiming that food stamps can be used for everything from Las Vegas trips to dog food. They deserve to be mocked. Accurate information is shockingly easy to come by, as to what actually are eligible purchases.

The Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA lists eligible and ineligible items:

Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:

Foods for the household to eat, such as:
breads and cereals;
fruits and vegetables;
meats, fish and poultry; and
dairy products.
Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.

Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:

Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
Any nonfood items, such as:
pet foods
soaps, paper products
household supplies
Vitamins and medicines
Food that will be eaten in the store
Hot foods

SO! Fox News is RIGHT! People can buy seafood with food stamps!

That’s right. But benefits aren’t for a certain number of meals at any cost. It’s a scrip, worth an amount of money. And food stamp benefits are small enough, most households won’t choose pricy foods often. With an average monthly per person benefit of $133, beneficiaries have less than $4.45 per day to feed themselves. Budget constraints necessarily lead to choosing cheaper substitutes most of the time.

Yes, it’s all about trade-offs. If a family receiving food assistance chooses a steak and a birthday cake in their small monthly budget, then Happy Birthday and Hallelujah to them! Let’s not begrudge the small celebration. After all, the rest of the month may be more meager for the choice.

Linking up with Angie at The Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday.

Chili Sauce | Homemade | First Try

For Fiesta Friday #4 hosted by The Novice Gardener, I decided to try making chili sauce from some frozen peppers I raised 3 years ago. I got a recipe from Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network site. Recipe is at the bottom of this post. I added a tablespoon of semisweet chocolate chips for a layer of mole flavor. The hotness of the sauce turned out a little hotter than Tabasco Sauce. It should work well for future cooking projects.

One of four frozen Poblano chili peppers with only the stems removed.

Thin sliced along with about 10 Jalapeno and 4 medium Habanero.

I want to see the rest.

People Gotta Eat

by Melanie and Jim


One of my favorite quotations is from Mother Teresa. She said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” In other words, we all have the capacity to make someone’s life better, even if we can’t change the world.

Sometimes our impact is through a kind word or gesture. Other times we literally feed someone. Today Jim and I had the opportunity to do something more rare. We fed a hundred.

Several times a year the Johnson County (Iowa) Democrats and OFA (Organizing for Action) prepare and serve for the Free Lunch Program. The program provides a free hot meal six days a week to anyone who shows up. On average, more than 130 meals are served a day. There is no obligation, no expectation, and no religious or other preaching. From the website:

Respecting the dignity of the guests has been the cornerstone of its service. “An open door, a full plate, no questions asked.” This guiding principle of unconditional respect and hospitality has been as integral to the program as the hot, nourishing meals.

We have helped with this service for a couple of years. Our roles have varied from meal prep, to serving, to clean-up. It takes more than a dozen people to pull this off. Today we had a crew of seven to fix the meal, and we helped with the prep. I stirred up two big pans of cornbread, helped with the dessert, and readied three large bowls of greens for salad. Jim and I also got the dining room ready, moving chairs from tabletop to floor, and wiped tables off.

The menu today was a popular one we’ve used before: baked chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, baked beans, cornbread, two kinds of salad, hard-boiled eggs, and peach crisp. It was good to use a familiar menu, because we were in an unfamiliar location.


It was fun to see the faces of some other volunteers as they came into the new facility. The former location was in the basement of the Wesley Center near downtown. It was the home of the Free Lunch Program for 30 years. The kitchen was small and very crowded. One large center island served for food prep and storage of dishes, cups, silverware, hot pads, etc., in the compartments below it. The serving room was full each day. Storage and freezer space was in three different locations. Equipment was on its last legs.

The new location has ample room in the kitchen and in the dining area. There is new and donated equipment to make the work easier. There is a lot of shiny stainless steel. Front doors unlock automatically at 11:30 and re-lock at 1:30. Folks come in and head for the bathrooms and then some hot coffee. Serving starts at noon. Any food leftovers are offered for take-home.

It is a wonderful change from the cramped and dated space before. Mary, the person who has been in charge for the entire time of the program, is beaming with happiness about the new facility. She feels she has accomplished her primary goals and announced her retirement from the position last September as work progressed on the new location. As of today, no one has been hired to fill her post. They had better get moving. Mary deserves a break from her years of hard work.

This post may be an unusual addition to the list, but we are linking up with the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. We hope you all have a great weekend, and next time you fill your belly with delicious food, please remember Mother Teresa’s exhortation. Because people gotta eat.