Wednesday, November 20, 2019

That's Just 'Souper', Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Sage Soup for the Soul

It's Fall and the weather is finally starting to realize it.  This summer past has been a scorcher, the hottest on record as a matter of fact.  The leaves have long reflected change, partly because of the drought, their colors mottled with striations of yellows, limes and browns.  They present crunchy underfoot, falling in the day's cool sunlight, their last hoorah!  Fall, sweet Fall, welcome. You bring my birthday, and the things I love most about the seasons; chilly crisp air, sweet, warming baking smells and favorite time of year.  Better late than never, am I right? 

A friend inquired about what I could do with a pumpkin, dropped during decorating, but viable. She utilized the seeds inside by roasting and seasoning.  The following recipe is what I did with the pumpkin meat, after roasting it off for approximately 40 minutes, drizzled with olive oil and lightly sprinkled with kosher salt. My friend was pleased with results and so was my family of tasters.  I served this with everything bagels, toasted and smeared with some Plant Butter, Coconut, it's delicious. I've also tried the Almond Plant Butter and it's Ahhhmazing too! Bettertarian by design.
The following recipe will help kick Autumn into full swing. Unlike some of the traditional Pumpkin soups, this one isn't the type to stick to your spoon like ice cream, it is a thinner, broth based soup with a small amount of milk.  Of course you can adjust as desired, by adding less broth or milk, but I find this way most pleasing.  The thicker ones are to me like baby food from the jar, delicious I'm sure, but just not my favorite. Alas, you can decide for yourself and enjoy the delicious results.

4 cups Roasted Pumpkin*
5 cups chicken or veggie stock
3 tbsp. yellow onion, diced
2 tbs. Vermont cultured butter or other butter, plant or animal based
2/3 c. milk, I used 2%
1 1/2 to 2 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 Sage leaves
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Immersion Blender, optional but Optimal

In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, heat to medium high and drizzle with olive oil.
Add butter, then onions and cook until translucent and fragrant, stirring often, about 3 minutes.
Add stock and pumpkin and use immersion blender to combine and smooth.
If you don't have one, you can press the pumpkin through a sieve before adding to pot and that will aid in creating a creamy, but not thick texture.
Check Seasonings and SPST.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer for several minutes.
Stir in chiffonade of Sage.
Remove from heat and stir in milk.
Place back on burner and simmer for several more minutes, taking care not to let boil.
Serve with toast, crackers or everything bagels.  Great as is.
Serves 6 to 8.

*Note:  I used the regular carving type pumpkin for this recipe, the sugar pumpkin or 'pie pumpkin' featured above is for decoration and other uses, including but not limited to pies, baking vessels, serving bowls, etc...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Summer Sensational: Yellow (Straight Neck) Fried Squash Rings

 Summer's super awesome selection is enough to fill a Culinarian's eyes and heart with amazement and bliss.  I love this time of year, because with a surplus of veggies and fruits, come floods of creativity and ideas to help utilize the 'spoils of war' that gardening and gardening with friends can bring!  A family friend, Vee, brought me some of his yield, as he had more than he knew what to do with.  His wife was at capacity for now, so I gladly accepted his bounty.  Not all of my garden items  are faring well and this haul filled in the blanks perfectly.  He also brings me messes of  fresh and delicious greens in the cooler, fall months.
 The above recipe is a result of the gifts pictured below and will soon become a favorite of yours.  I used a two step system of breading for this recipe to help the squash retain its shape, texture and crunch!  Once your station is set up, the rest goes quickly.  They taste amazing fresh from the paper towel and also at room temperature.
There is an almost limitless array of dipping sauces to accommodate this crunchy gem, I opted for ketchup and Boom Boom Sauce.  Sweet  Chili Sauce is also a good choice! Next time, I'll probably make some Cauliflower Egg Rolls w/ Awesome Sauce Sauce as accompaniment, it's magic!  Well, back to the recipe, you're sure to enjoy and make it a part of your summer sensational lineup!  This is a great recipe for the kids to assist in, easy to handle and a fun shape! These guys are right up there with onion rings and can be served together for a fantastic crunch fest! For UBER crunchtacity, use Panko instead of Italian bread crumbs!!!

2 medium to large straight neck squash, the bottom halves, about 3 c.
cookie cutter or small hollow gadget , large enough to press out center of squash
3/4 c. buttermilk, fat free if desired
1/2 tsp.onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 egg
1/2 c. water
2 c. seasoned flour
1 1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs
canola or vegetable oil for frying
paper towels for draining
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Rinse and pat dry outer skins of squash.
Cut largest part of squash into about 1/4 inch slices.
Stack into piles and press out center with cookie cutter/gadget.
Pour buttermilk into medium bowl and blend in onion and garlic powders.
Fold and toss squash in buttermilk blend.
Prepare Breading Station:
Pour seasoned flour and bread crumbs into 2 separate shallow vessels.
Beat egg with water and SPST.
Arrange dishes in the order, buttermilk, seasoned flour, egg wash and bread crumbs last.
Starting with buttermilk coated slices, dredge in seasoned flour, shaking off excess, dip in egg wash and toss to coat in bread crumbs. You are now ready to fry!
Once oil has reached 330 to 350*F, carefully add breaded slices, not crowding the cooking vessel.
Cook until rings float and are golden brown, about 3 minutes per batch.
Drain on paper towels.
Serve with desired dipping sauces.
Yield depends on how many squash you want to serve, 2 medium will yield around 16 rings.

Fresh bounty of  veggies: clockwise from left: yellow squash, okra, green beans, poblanos, jalapenos, tomatoes, peppers and corn!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lemony Guava Beignets w/ Raw Honey Drizzles

I ran across some fresh guava fruit at the supermarket and jumped at the chance for me and my family to experience exotic and common foods in their original form.  We've had many beverages that contained guava, but never in pure form , as a stand alone drink.  They were small and fragrant, exuding an almost surreal amount of tropical delight, filling our noses with its fruity perfume, screaming 'take a bite, I am bliss'.  Alas, the smell for me was the best thing about the purchase, until I came up with this recipe.  The taste was that very unlike its aroma, quite bland, slightly watered down.
 The seeds that ran along both sides, although labeled as edible, were decidedly too risky considering the cost of dental work, past and future, so I pressed them through a strainer, to discard them altogether. 
I felt the guava could use some help in the flavor department, so I added fresh lemon zest and the juice.  It brightened its profile considerably.  I then added 2 tbsp. of raw cane sugar to cut the off putting taste and a pinch of Himalayan pink salt.
I substituted the guava mash into my beignet recipe in place of water and fried them as usual.  I drizzled the still hot beignets with raw organic basswood honey and showered them with some powdered sugar.  They were a hit.  This recipe changed my mind.

I look forward to trying them again, because they are incredibly nutritious and harbor healing properties and benefits for your digestive/immune systems and skin, even helping to control blood sugars, cold and cough relief, dysentery, even scurvy, plus many more amazing and superfood qualities!  Maybe the next batch will help me see why they have been coined the "Fruit of the Gods". There are many different types,  I purchased the yellow fruited cherry guavas.  I need more experience with these, so the jury is still out, I want to find some that taste more like it smells. Until then, full steam ahead for a tropical and Creole taste bud adventure that is this dish!

1 c. unbleached AP flour
1 stick butter, unsalted
4 large eggs
2/3 c. guava paste
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. raw cane sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla
zest and juice of one lemon
Oil for frying
Honey for Drizzling
Confectioner's Sugar for dusting

Melt butter over medium high heat, add paste, water, sugar and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and vigorously stir in flour, until a sticky ball forms, that pulls away from the sides of saucepan.
Add eggs, one at a time, stirring aggressively until incorporated.
Add vanilla and lemon juice/zest and incorporate.
Fry in heaping teaspoon fulls, careful not to crowd cooking vessel.
Drain on paper towels.
Transfer to Serving Dish.
Drizzle and Dust!

I forgot to get a photo in before I prepped the guava, so I pulled a stock photo from the internet that looks like the fruit I had.

Ninja Foodi Sensei: Prosciutto Wrapped Brie w/ Raspberry Chipotle Fruit Spread

This recipe  was a cinch using my Ninja Foodi and the results are in...Fantastic!  You will obviously have to be a fan of ripened cheese and Italian Style ham, but I don't think that will be a problem.  I used a store bought specialty fruit spread from Sam's Choice, which completed the circle with it's sweet and heat, pairing nicely with the creamy textures of the Brie and the saltiness of the prosciutto.
I used items from my herb garden and garden as garnitures for a bright and colorful presentation.  This recipe pairs well with warm, crusty breads, crackers, crudites and fruit.  Don't forget the wine! Prep is a cinch and the rest is smooth creamy, crispy and delicious history.

1 wheel of Brie
1 pkg. 3 oz.  Prosciutto or 6 slices
olive oil for brushing


Arrange slices of prosciutto in an overlapping fashion.
First, imagine the work area is a clock.
 Start with a piece at 12 o' clock, then place the second piece at 6, overlapping the bottom half of slice with the other.
Continue by adding a slice facing 3 o clock, the another at 9.
The last two pieces are to be added midway between the 12 and 9, then add the remaining slice between the 3 and 6.
Center wheel of cheese over the portion of the ham 'clock' where they all overlap.
Begin to fold the slices in, starting with the 12 o'clock, this way the flap is secured under the other slices and keeps the wheel from oozing cheese or the slices from peeling away, compromising its presentation.
If there are spots where the cheese is not covered, simply tear off small portions of the flaps to cover it completely.
Brush the wheel with olive oil and place in the Ninja Foodi on the rack.
Press the crisper button and set temperature to 400*F.
Set timer for 5 minute increments.
Check after each 5 minutes to see how the crisping is going.
The exterior should be crisped by the time the 15 minutes is up.
Let stand for several minutes before handling and use caution.
Arrange as desired and cut out a small section ro release the cheese.
Use a small sharp knife to cut portions of the prosciutto and cheese together.
Serve with crackers, warm breads, crudites and freshly cut fruits.
Serves Many.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Spread it Like Jam

Photo taken in Clarksville, Va.
This entry is simple and just for you
It's about loving yourself and what you do
About taking the time, to enjoy your view
About accepting the differences, between me and you
Maybe taking those walks, put off for days
And expressing your desires in varying ways.
Make your tomorrows today, and your laters right now
Unleash your inner artist, some way, somehow
Loving thy neighbor and lending a hand
Teaching your doggy a new command
Wearing that color, you think is all wrong
Go to karaoke, pick a random song.
Support an organization, recycle, reuse
Turn the cannots into some can do's.
Give a compliment to a stranger, hold the door for a change
Try to smile instead of grimace, this world is your stage
Let the sunlight in, instead of shutting it out
When there's call for action, React, no time for pouts
Try a new recipe, cook something wild
Grab a coloring book, love your inner child
Watch a magic show, a circus will do
Catch the matinee at a theater near you.
Love the skin you're in, our flaws and all
Not everyone was meant to be skinny or tall.
Be an ear to be lent, let some steam off sometimes
Have a coffee or Boba, you've gotta unwind
Love the moment it takes to think about rest
An afternoon nap, when your schedule lets
Bake some goodies like cookies, maybe bake some loaves
Give the gift that keeps giving, it will come back in droves.
Stock is skyhigh, from Love's demand
Laugh as loud as your lungs can stand
Model your actions, with kindness and respect
Give out the Love, you plan to get
Love is the answer, Love is the key
Love is what binds us, you and me
Take time to be peaceful, put quarrels aside
Accept different cultures, with arms open wide
Make each day our best day, we can't go wrong
Hand in hand with Love, is where we belong.
Spread it like jam.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Pasta Bake Ninja

I just love love love my Ninja Foodi!  It truly has single handedly made my oven a lonely soul.  I love that my slow food recipes have been sped up dramatically.  I love that I can set it and walk away, being free to do other things.  Normally, I'm always leary of getting too far away from the kitchen, especially when I have recipes that require hours of simmering, braising or baking.  With my Ninja Foodi, the specific functions do their thing and even turns itself off.
I rarely use the oven because now I can crisp and roast, air fry and sear or saute, all in the same pot.  The pressure cooker aspect is a beast!  At first, I was somewhat nervous, afraid I'd do something wrong and cause an explosion to level the house, like a scene from the Die Hard or Lethal Weapon series lol, but of course that was me being apprehensive from lack of experience.  After I read my  manual many, many times over, I felt I had gathered the strength and prowess to manipulate this sophisticated new toy and the rest is delicious history. 
My go-to on an easy night is often a pasta bake.  I add the cooked ingredients and top it with cheese and set it on 'air crisp' for about 3 1/2 minutes and reveal a masterfully browned, ooey, gooey, one pot, one dish meal, that can't go wrong. Just throw in a salad and some fruit and your labors for dinner are done!  I brown the beef and veggies in the Ninja and make the sauce, but I still like to do my pasta on the stovetop, I fear the dreaded over cooked pasta!  My Ninja has instruction for pasta and even rice, but I feel most comfortable doing them as a sidecar, as opposed to an all in one deal.
If you are shopping for a new gadget or appliance, definitely consider this guy, I knew we were meant to be.  I've cooked everything from air fried or roasted chicken to pig tails and "Pad BowThai" Pasta in this vessel and I keep getting better and better at it.  Make the Ninja Foodi a part of your wish list and be glad you did!  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Greens Machine!

Growing greens at home can be a time and money saving venture.  Aside from adding some natural beauty to your surroundings, growing greens, especially for fresh salads and components to smoothies, can be an enriching and nutritious endeavor, easy enough for the kids to not consider work! Plus kids respond well to foods they help cultivate!  When children know where their food comes from, it builds awareness and appreciation for the efforts put into growing the foods we love.  I found it key to instill in my girls the origin of the fruits and vegetables in the supermarket. They knew from an early age, that food starts first as seeds in dirt and grows, not magically waved into existence as mature, ready to eat food. Strawberry Shortcake videos and movies helped along the way too.  "How a Garden Grows" is one of our favorite songs from the series. It's awesome when our children can learn and be entertained at the same time, the lessons are more likely to stick. 
The above greens are some I grew in a vintage sink, leftover from a remodel years ago.  The basins are nice and deep, able to hold lots of fertile organic soil.  The drains in the bottom help to keep the soil from getting soddy and too moist.  I positioned the sink on stands about 1 foot from the ground.  It's in the back yard, where the morning sun hits the greens first thing.  I water them in the evenings to avoid scorching the tender leaves.
I used a sweet gourmet greens seed mix and also some micro greens from the brassica family.  I like the mixed variety because it contains at least 6 different types of greens that would otherwise have to purchased separately, saving time and money.  If they grow too big for micro, simply add them to your salads for added superfood and antioxidant power.  Texture and color are everything when it comes to a nice salad and this mix hits all the right notes, just throw in some other garden goodness like cucumber, tomato, fresh herbs and carrots. I have some colorful carrots growing too! I am so excited, as it's my first time and I love the bursts of color they'll add, from fresh salads to pot roast!  Recipes to follow. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Plum Crazy!

Plums, which are a part of the stone fruit family, are in full swing and the getting is more than good, it's great!  These beautiful and delicious treats came from a local man's home, and were free to pick.  My children and I enjoy plums regularly, and being in season makes for a sweet deal and satisfying snack, especially when chilled just a bit. Plums are loaded with vitamins, minerals and benefits your body can use.
Plums are great for helping the body to absorb iron.  They have measurable amounts of vitamins C,  copper and vitamin K.  Dried plums are prunes, even though we hardly think of them as such.  Soluble fiber in plums is a good part of  managing weight and also stabilizing blood sugars.  The antioxidant properties found in these guys, like the ones found in blueberries, can help fight off free radical that damage cells in the body, in turn are fighting off certain cancers!   Not bad for something that can fit in the palm of your hand huh!?
Ask around your neighborhood, you may be surprised what free gifts in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables that are literally ripe for the taking!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Old Fashioned Blueberry Hand Pies

Summer has sprung and so has an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, and berries!  A delicate and delicious blueberry is a great choice for a handheld pastry, individually portioned for on the go home made treats.
Blueberries are packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  Anthocyanins are the antioxidants that give blueberries their brilliant color.  These vital superpowers help to thwart damage done to DNA by free radicals.  Also, other beneficial  properties include but are not limited to a good source of calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, magnesium and more, supporting healthy bones, regulating blood pressure and lower LDLs.  LDLs are low density  lipoproteins and also the undesirable one, the favorable one being HDL  or high density lipoproteins.  Blueberries are good to and for you and in season.  Have some fun with it.
These hand pies were a real hit with the whole family.  My neighbor gifted me a huge 2 lb. bag of these tasty little morsels.  I also made a pie, smoothies, blueberry pancakes and more.  My girls snacked on blueberries by the bowlful.  The finished pies may be frozen too, so don't be afraid to make extras.


1 lb. fresh or frozen blueberries, (I used frozen Maine blueberries, small and sweet)
1/4 to 1/3 c. pure cane sugar or to taste
1 c. unsweetened apple juice
2 tbsp. cornstarch, mixed with a little water to make a slurry
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4-9 inch roll out pie crusts
zest of whole and juice of 1/2 lemon
parchment paper for baking
egg wash for brushing tops, if desired
Place blueberries in a medium sauce pan along with all other ingredients except  the butter,vanilla, lemon juice and cornstarch.
Bring up to a boil over medium high heat and let cook for about 10 minutes, allowing to reduce as it cooks.
Once liquid has reduced by about 1/3, remove from heat and stir in cornstarch.
Allow berries to return to a boil, stirring often and thickening.
Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
After about 2 minutes, remove from heat and stir in butter.
Allow to cool before making the individual hand pies.
Use a pastry cutout of desired shape.  You will need two cutouts per hand pie.  You will be baking them in a 350*F oven.

Place small portions in center of bottom crust, as too much will overflow excessively.
Press around edges of pies to seal in filling, using a fork or device, dipping the fork in flour to aid in sticking.
Vent top crust with knife or using cutout gadget..
Brush with egg wash if desired.
Space out evenly on baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake until golden  and filling is bubbly, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Yield depends on size of cutouts.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Heard it Through the Grapevine

I just wanted to take a moment to be proud. I am a Google Local Guide and I have reached over 1,000,000 views on my photos on Google Maps. I remember when I had only just begun.  I look forward to bringing more photos of places travelled and useful content.  I have much more to come, so stay tuned.
The above photo is of a bunch of grapes on my vines. I planted her 5 years ago. This is her biggest harvest yet! I have a red one too! I remember when she was just a pup lol. Just like this vine, I started off very tiny with my website and grainy photos, working with what I had. I look back over my articles past and can see my progression and growth, just like my vines.
I feel truly blessed to be able to share these moments with you and I hope to continue on for as long as life let's me. Thanks for sharing this moment with me. See you again soon. :) 

Grilling: Fire and Blood

Tackle pesky flare ups and flavor your food at the same time by using this simple and easy hack.
Tie a bunch of fresh herbs by the stems and place them in a vessel with water.  When grilling, place nearby to douse flare ups and flames without compromising integrity of grill heat, especially charcoal.
 While battling the flames, you can flavor the proteins and veggies, with an aromatic bouquet of fresh herbs, namely parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro and rosemary.  You can use just one or a combination, depending on your personal tastes and what you are grilling.  You can even throw a splash of Vermouth in there to really set it off, not too much of course, safety first!


I just wanted to take a moment to say Happy Holiday and please be safe if you are going to travel.  Be careful in these oceans, lakes and streams.  Be mindful of your guests if you are entertaining.  If you are drinking, don't drive and don't let your friends and family drink and drive.  On behalf of the Smith Family, we wish you the happiest and safest holiday, from our Family to yours. Happy Independence Day, be thankful for those liberties we have, still denied for some.  Eat, drink and be merry!
My daughter Bronwyn insisted on this drink when we were in Morrisville, NC, so I decided to live a little and get one too.  I normally stay away from sugary drinks and make them follow the same suit.  This particular day was our departure day from a fantastic BLACKGIRLSCODE workshop weekend, hosted by LENOVO, so I made me a kamikaze of flavors and it was alright.  "Frazil" it's called.  I think the name sold me.

The beautiful Lenovo campus where BLACKGIRLSCODE workshop was held.

Mexican Pasta Salad

Put the Fiesta in your festivities with this simple and delicious recipe, perfect for your upcoming cookouts and any time you want to go BOLD Southwestern with an Italian and Southern American Twist. Taco Tuesday or any day just got better!

1 lb. mezze penne
1 can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small yellow squash, halved and sliced thinly, about 3/4 cup
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped red or yellow onion
3/4 to 1 c. mayonnaise
4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1 banana pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. pure cane sugar, optional
1/2  tsp. celery seeds
2 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
juice of one lime
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Cook pasta according to instructions on package, in salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes.
Shock pasta in cold water to retain texture and shape and drain.
In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise with 1/2 of cheese and all remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Fold veggies into dressing, then fold in pasta.
Transfer to serving dish and garnish with remaining cheese.
Refrigerate until time to serve for flavors to marry, at least an hour recommended.
May be made a day ahead.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Complementary Beverages: National Independent Beer Run Day

In moderation, a nice IPA can be just what you need to beat the heat.  This spectacular brew featured above, goes will with fun in the sun and food, especially grub on the grill.   A dear friend of mine picked this up for me to see if I would approve.  He was applauded for a job well done.  It complimented our seafood fare perfectly too.  It is filled with citrusy notes with great body, fragrant and potent, a couple will do nicely.  There are even hint of grapefruit, very bright and complex, yet smooth.  I got these before we went on vacation, I still have one left.  This is all I've caught since fishing season kicked off, a good catch though might I add. I'll keep trying. Remember, the 3rd of July is National Independent Beer Run Day, so keep the craft beer brewers and small batch businesses in mind and celebrate responsibly!

Fourth of July: Decadent Frozen Desserts

A great way to celebrate Independence Day is with thanks, fellowship,  good food, grilling, booze  fireworks and fantastic desserts. With summer in full swing, any attempt to stay cool is welcome.  Nothing like frozen pie on a stick to round out a magnificent evening.  What's better, this pie is a Roasted Pumpkin Cream Pie, recipe by yours truly.  If you can't get into pumpkin, freeze your favorite pie and cut into serving slices. I used corn on the cob sticks to hold my pie in place, placing the stick in the pie after about 1 hour into freezing process.  Dip the slice of pie into dipping chocolate and place in freezer again, until nice and set.  To add festive and wonderful flair, place in individual sleeve and add colorful and relevant ribbon to tie it all off.  You can give them out for dessert or as a parting gift from the fantastic blowout of a cookout you had.  Your friends will remember it for years to come. 

Coffee and Painting, Painting and Coffee

I made some time for myself and took to painting as a special treat with my spare time.  My girls painted too and had completed their masterpieces early on in our trip.  I was determined to not be the one left behind, considering it was my idea as one of our family activities while out of town. This picture is inspired by 5 o'clock in the morning and my 'constant companion", coffee.  Usually when I buy coffee out, it's always a bit too strong, I prefer a weaker version to sip on throughout the day with less of a caffeine imprint. The coffee for sale is designed to be a one stop shop, strong enough to do the trick in one cup.  I enjoy coffee, hot or cold, day or night, kinda weak, I probably need to work on that, but that's something for another day!
 My painting is inspired also by impressionism and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets of our vacation.  I hadn't painted since high school and was rather nervous and apprehensive about actually producing a finished product.  Uneasy at first, but as I stayed vigilant and decided it was a judgement free zone, then my painting started to come together.  With the absence of some of the colors, unfortunately forgotten at home, I did my best.  After about roughly 1 hour, I felt my project was complete.  I like it! 
Genesis completed her painting at the Cabin, it's title is "Ladybug Madness" and I think it's awesome. She is an aspiring artist and wants to continue in the Art field.  She certainly is creative enough and brimming with ideas.  Bronwyn completed a painting too, I may add her photo later, she is at a tweenage impasse right now, and I didn't want to upset her applecart, so depending on her mood, we'll see if I can share.  Tweens and Teens, they are so like whatever!

Fish Tips For the Summer!

I have done my share of cleaning fish, especially over the past 5 years.  I cleaned and butterflied  about 26 fish yesterday alone! My brother in law has really gotten into his hobby, when spare time permits.  He works for a paving company, making roads, both private and public, driveways and parking lots better and safer for us as drivers.  For that I would like to send out a big Thank You on behalf of motorists everywhere.
We have access to many fishing outlets here in these beautiful mountains.  Where we live is the second oldest incorporated town in Virginia, second only to Jamestown!   We are residents of the Leesville Dam and Leesville Lake area, plus there is Goose Creek and other waterways and ponds to choose from.  Goose Creek is where many people enter the river to float into the Staunton River, which runs by our  nearest town and my high school Alma Mater, Altavista.
There is avid hunting in this area as well, full of wilderness, full of life.  We have bears, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, moccasins, both water and copperheads, too many  deer, even the rare black coyotes, which is just a product of genetics.  I saw one that had been hit in the road one morning, it looked like a skinny bear cub with a dog's face. I was only able to glean  this description going about 45 mph, on my way taking the kiddoes to school.  When I came back through, it was gone, taken for its coat or picked up by VDOT, the first theory probably the most accurate.
Luckily, one of  my sisters and her husband, who is an avid hunter and "angler" came through and got out to investigate and clarified my best guess, having never seen one before.  But Yeah, the phrase "Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My" for sure.  This area is amazing from  the nature and natural beauty standpoint.  The people are pretty solid too.
Back to the lesson at hand, tips and tricks for cleaning and deboning smaller or pan sized fish, because let's be honest, we are not always going to bring home a whopper, plus these  are most the flavorful in my opinion. I like to use a small pile of salt to help anchor my grip on the fish. This way, you can scale this guy more efficiently, which is the first step if the fish has scales.   I line my cleaning station with cardboard if possible, any will do, empty pizza boxes are perfect for this kind of job, absorbing all the excess yuck while you work.  After scaling, you are free to remove the head and entrails.  The featured fish is a white perch.  This my technique to butterfly your protein. Gloves are advised, particularly for the hand holding the fish while you work.

I lay the fish on its back  and hold it like a book I'm about to start reading.  I start at the top and carefully but firmly, make a cut through the bones along where the rib bones meet the back bone. I cut all the way down til I get to the stomach area.  I then lay fish on its side and place a hand firmly on the top run my knife down along the backbone, all the way to the tail.  The fish should lay flat at this point, like an open book.

At this point you can carefully remove the rib bones and the largest sharp part of the fin on the left side shown. Note:  I am left handed so this whole plan is flipped for you right handed souls lol.
You can remove the rib bones by carefully sliding your knife under the bones at the top or bottom of the ribs and working the knife upwards or downwards, pressing against the ribs.  Repeat on opposite side.  Scrape belly flaps to aid in extracting bones from this portion.  Normally, I would use my filet knife also,  the chef's knife is to cut through the bone, but it fell down behind the damn sink.  Drat!
After you remove all the yuck with a few good swishes and salted soak, at least 1 hour, your fish is ready for whatever comes next! Well, gotta go, just got a mess of fish from my fisher guy/bnl Will, back to the lab I go, because, "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I'll always remember that banner Mr. Temples, our beloved band director put up in the band room, he was possibly the best band director to ever live, just Phenomenal! Today's Catch of the Day, Bass! Stay tuned for fresh, new recipes featuring these 'puppies'.

The remaining bones are easily pulled out with the fins.  Extreme Caution Advised, especially for Children and Inattentive Adults!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Cherry Cherie Fo Ferry

Snacking on the road can get pretty unhealthy if you are not careful.  So when you see a farmstand, get out there and grab some goodness, your body will thank you for it. We got these cherries from Moore's Farm Stand in Clarksville. Moore's offers a delectable array of fresh fruits and veggies, locally grown and done so with love.   I remembered how delicious they were the year before, when we grabbed a bag for the ride home nibbling.  They were super juicy and fantastic.  This year I stopped by and we got several cantaloupes and peaches and rounded it out with a pound of cherries.  The cherries are only $5 a bag and worth every penny.  Admittedly, this batch did not trump the bag from last year, but they were still Yum!
Cherries are a wonderful fruit choice, full of good for you vitamins and minerals.  They are rich in antioxidants, some that may slow down aging process and promote cell growth.  It is suggested that they help thwart belly fat, ease insomnia and aid in digestive health.
From the  Stone Fruit family,  cherries are also said to help with joint pain and inflammation of the joints, making it excellent in the treatment of the gout, which is a painful inflammation affecting the joints of the body, especially the hands and feet.  Cherries also help stave off infections.  It's a Win Win situation!  My oldest sister has the same name, spelled differently, Cherie.  I wonder if she knows how good her name is for her? 

Oxtail Imposter: My New Favorite Oxtail Stand In

I was at the grocer in Lynchburg, which is about 40 minutes from where I live and ran across these gems and I was most pleased with the results.  I was browsing about in the meats section, when I thought about some oxtails.  They can run rather expensive and I was hoping to catch them on sale.  I actually don't think I've ever seen them on sale, reduced yes, on sale, nope...Anywho, since I get them for special comfort meals, a couple times a year, usually in the cooler months, I decided to pass, for another time when they were more in my head than on my mind.
I noticed the cow neck bones nearby and became intrigued.  I couldn't recall a time that I'd seen them for sale, pork, yes, but not beef.  I figured they would be full of flavor because of the lean to bone ratio and would render a lot of collagen goodness when cooked down to the jus.  Best of all, it was only a fraction of the cost of the oxtail. I said to self, 'What the Hell,  let's give it a go'.
I washed the cow necks in cold water and placed them in my Ninja Foodi on pressure cook mode. I made sure I threw in major aromatics like whole garlic cloves, celery and onion . I also added about 1 cup, mini sweet peppers; red, orange and yellow.   I added a bay leaf as well and some bouillon with water, enough to cover.
I pressure cooked the beefy bones for 1 1/2 hours.  After that, I placed them on sear/saute to render the juices down to a sultry broth, composed mostly of  the broken down veggies.
Once reduced, I was left with an amazingly tender and most delicious oxtail contender. There was an unctuous broth filled with beefy flavor and delight.  This is a dish you can cool and refrigerate, then remove the excess fat that has solidified.  Then you will be left with a hearty dish to consume with nice crusty bread or potatoes if you wish.  I used sandwich bread to envelope the goodness, it was most satisfying. The lush chunks of meat slide easily off the bones, bathed in it's own succulent gravy.
My sisters Bonnie, Hollie and Gayle loved it too!  We now have another comfort food dish for our culinary repertoires.
Cow Neck Bones can really stand in for an amazing and rustic meal, full of flavor and high on delivery.  I guess it's just the Country in me, but I think it's most definitely here to stay in my comfort food rolodex.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Great American South Fried Catfish

This is just a little something to make you want to grab a rod and reel, some buddies, maybe beers and go fishing!  There's nothing like some fresh caught fish, fried and piping hot from the oil.  With summer and fishing in its prime, you could go out and snag the Big One, securing your fish tale to tell to all that will listen, from here, to the end of time!  I made this dish for a very special person's lunch.  I filleted and prepared the catfish, but It was his son that brought it in.  I was glad to be a part of the action.  I enjoy fishing too, though I usually take a book! 
Fishing is all inclusive and a relaxing affair, even though you may not like putting bait on your hook. Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is good for you, and a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family. Taking time to throw a line can help you gain your proverbial fish tale, a story to be told to whoever will listen, now and until the end of time! Quit Wishin', Go Fishin'!!!

Surf, Turf and Earth: A Trifecta of Taste Matrimony

Surf and Turf  (seafood and red meat) are on menus all over the world.  I like the combo, but I also love to throw a little Earth in there too.  The Earth is a delicious Portobello mushroom.  It is common to get a steak smothered in onions and mushrooms for a flavorful and amazing bite, time after time.  Not often if ever, do you find a whole portobello topping the steak, which is what I did.  Vegetarians can omit the Turf and have a magnificent Surf and Earth ( portobello and shrimp). Vegans can swap out the Surf and Turf, for Earth and Earth ( portobello and potato).  Keto-Gurus can have it as is, minus the potato, everybody wins.
The above photo is of my dinner of "leftovers" in our hotel room.  It was a lovely room equipped with a cute little kitchenette, so we were able to bring along and store all the provisions we didn't use at the Cabin.  I made it a point to cook all perishables and place them in foil and zip locks to be easily reheated from our cozy and spacious lake view room at Hotel Magnuson.

Our Twilight view from our balcony of Buggs Island Lake, breathtaking!

For dinner, on the eve of our last night, I treated myself to a sit down dinner date meal, party of one, with a view of the gorgeous sunset out of our window.  The meal included a grilled ribeye, sliced and piled high, drizzled with my favorite sauce, Rufus Teague, Honey Sweet,  grilled asparagus, an amazingly flavorful and smoky grilled portobello, topped with some Smoked Gouda w/Bacon cheese, melted down into its woodsy gills.  I popped a potato in the microwave for a quick and pillowy, light side, sprinkled it  with tangy and bold blue cheese and finished it off with some steamed, seasoned shrimp!
I know the disposable plate and "lazy plating" doesn't do it justice, but Hey, it's a leisurely occasion, in a no stress zone and in the end, a little less cleanup for the 'ole gal. I am ole gal. lol

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Power in Flowers

Nature makes the most wonderful things.  The brilliant colors of the rainbow burst with life here, there and everywhere.  Signs of  burgeoning luminescence spread its cheer from house to house, lawn to lawn.   We envelope ourselves with the gardening spirit and wholeheartedly take on the task of being gatekeepers to the fledgling slips and plants, some seeds.  Old, new, borrowed and blue flowers adorn and vine along trellises and walls, little patches of happiness for all to see.  Some of these precious flowers turn into our beloved squashes; zucchini, crooked neck, spaghetti, pattypan, butternut, acorn and even pumpkins! Yes, pumpkins are in the same family as squashes called cucurbits. 
Other flowers bring our salad accessories like tomatoes and cucumbers!  It's such a wonder that flowers bring forth perfect morsels, designed for our bodies, just as it is. Magical. When you see flowers in a garden, you can best believe that there are goodies and delicacies to come.  Some of these gifts are for canning, some for immediate gratification and some for sharing.  There is power there. They can sustain us...if we let them. They have the power to cleanse, mend and heal, they help prevent.
Flowers can show people that we care, brighten our spirits, showing love and condolences, thank yous and welcomes, they bring wishes of well being when we are down.  They mark milestones and special occasions; pruning and caring for them offer respite, therapy and exercise, a gaggle of benefits, just being themselves.
And to think, all of this is happening inside these tiny little seeds, preordained to become its alter ego, edibles or adornments. All that DNA, packed inside vessels, some smaller than a mustard seed, the same one made reference to in the bible.
They already know what to do and how to do it, like magic.  They can grow in the most dire straits, against all odds and still flourish! We could only hope to be as efficient.  

Hoppin'Good: Getting Your Summer Legs Ready

They may not look appetizing, but these legs are some good eatins', for those who dare to try!  Frog legs have their most popularity in the lower portions of the states, namely Louisiana and the bayou area.  I'm glad they made their way up.  Frog Legs have been popular in French, Chinese, as well as other international cuisines for centuries.
I threw in some fresh rosemary for more fresh depth of flavor!

Frog Legs may be baked, broiled,grilled, sauteed or fried.  I like texture and flavor of the fried method, because it enables the protein to be cooked with a protective coating which helps retain moisture.   This past week, I decided to do something a little different with my legs. I cut them apart, for aesthetics and for appetizer appeal.   I marinated them in an egg and milk bath overnight.  I also added a bit of Wye River Seasoning,which is Ah-mazing on your seafood or anywhere you want a taste of the rivers and oceans, try it on popcorn!

The overnight bath helped to develop the flavors of the legs and removed any possible river fishy taste, which I have noticed before and don't particularly prefer.  The meat came out nice, white and not dense.  The crunchy outer crust was a perfect compliment to the supple and juicy interior.  They were very satifying to me and the crew.  Besides,what goes better with a cozy cabin in the woods, with family, on Buggs Island Lake, like some crispy fried critters and catch of the day catfish, steam grilled to flaky perfection, blooming with fresh rosemary (brought from my herb garden) and banana shallot, butter and olive oil! My sister Bonnie really "put her foot in it" Man oh Man!  We tag teamed the menu and entertaining and kicked a$$!  We'll go more into that phrase in a later post, it's actually a pretty interesting one.
 Our spread that day consisted of grilled ribeye steaks, burgers and hotdogs. There was the grilled, whole catfish foil packs, steamed large shrimp, grilled asparagus, yellow rice, whole portobellos, deep fried frog legs, two magnificent cheeses, Champagne and Smoked Gouda with Bacon with crackers, various libations including Tropic Canon IPA which is loaded with citrusy goodness and Summer Shandy, which complimented the menu perfectly.  Ahh, delicious memories of this week past. If only vacations lasted forever...

Pairs deliciously with Summertime and Grilling Seafood!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Culinarians Retreat: What I Do When I'm Not Cooking, Writing Recipes and Adulting

 When I am not cooking and writing recipes and have the time, I am literally reading material of or pertaining to the culinary world.  I have subscriptions to various magazines including my favorite, Saveur, a fascinating publication covering cuisine from around the world, plus the latest  intel on kitchen gadgets, trends, food origins and much more! The photography is bananas!
I also have a penchant for books with names of food in the title. Just about  every book I purchase, if it isn't a cookbook, contains the name of a food item, for example I Loved, I Lost, I Ate Spaghetti by Guilia Melucci, an entertaining account of a woman searching for love and what she cooks along the way.

This is a lighthearted, laugh out loud book, you won't soon forget.

All or Nothing by Jesse Schenker is a page turning book about a once wayward chef, battling drug addiction and his journey to becoming a guy at the top his game.

The late great Anthony Bourdain left us so soon, but also with a bevy of stories and adventures via his many books and also one of my favorite shows, Parts
Unknown, I even watch it on my computer  before bed, when possible, to fall asleep with visions of travel and the uncharted places I can finally visit virtually, thanks to him.

I have many, many more, but these are a few examples, feel free to check them out!
When we go on vacations, daycations and staycations, I always have a book to read with me, hoping to steal away to grab a few minutes here and there to whet my literary palate.  Of the two books in the above caption, I chose to start reading the one pictured here with the coffee. The other is called Gold, Fame, Citrus. Coffee is my drink of choice when reading, any time of day or night, my "constant companion"!
I finally had time to start it at 5 in the morning, the last day of our vacation.  I am hooked already.  It is the perfect compliment to Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, as it is an account of the restaurant industry through the eyes of a waiter! I've been both  the cook and the waiter, so these books are relevant and most interesting!  I'd love to get back into Waiter Rant, but our lawn is screaming 'I missed you, look how much I've grown, I'm a good lawn, reward me with a nice haircut' and my gardens never saw the rain we saw on vacation!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hot Dog Hacker!

Nothing beats a smoky, grilled hotdog in the summertime, especially with a spoon or two of homemade chili.  Of course I include just about any combination of the usual suspects like mustard, ketchup, slaw, kraut, onions, you name it.  Problem is, sometimes we go a little overboard and we end up wearing more toppings than the hotdog. Enter the criss cross.  I find that when I score the hotdogs both ways, several things happen.  It will cook more quickly.  The surface area is increased, so there is more smoke forward flavor throughout.  More nooks and crannies make more opportunities to get some caramelization properties.  Most impotantly,  the cross hatches give the surface texture and the toppings something to hang on to.  I know right. The presentation is a bit more interesting with this effect also.  Next time you want to add a little pep in your hotdog step, score your hotdogs on the diagonal, then diagonal again from the other direction, careful not to cut all the way through. Grill as usual and enjoy the results.

The "OOH Chile" Blended Burger w/Truffled Peach and Jalapeno Aioli

This burger is BANANAS.I am proud of my creation, even though I didn't win the Bon Appetit Blended Burger Contest.  Now, I can share it with my readers!


For Burger Blend:
24 oz. Western style Beef ribs, chilled and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks
8 oz. Polska Kielbasa, skin removed and cut into 1/4 inch chunks
8 oz. BABY BELLA mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/4 inch chunks
1 tsp. nutritional yeast

For Assembly:
Fresh Butter Lettuce and Red Curly Lettuce
8 slices Pepper Jack 
8 slices Sharp Cheddar Cheese 
8 slices fresh tomato 
8 Brioche Buns
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
I used Himalayan Pink Salt, fine grain

For Aioli: (can be made ahead)
1/2 c. Mayonnaise of choice 
1 small peach, de-seeded and grated
1/2 JalapeƱo,cut lengthwise, seeds removed, 
grated, (more depending on preference) 
1 small clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 tsp. roughly chopped Parsley and Chives 
Zest of 1/2 Lemon  
1 tsp. lemon juice
Drizzle of Truffle oil or to taste
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and let flavors marry for several minutes or make ahead for more developed flavors. 

For Burgers:
In a medium bowl, toss meat and mushrooms together with the nutritional yeast.

Using a grinder attachment ( I used my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen-aid, fitted with the small grind plate, but any grinder will do. 
Process the meat into a well mixed burger blend. Process only 1 time.
Form 8 patties.

Cook burgers over medium high heat using  a grill pan or on the grill for about 4 minutes per side.
Flip the burgers once, and continue until internal temperature reaches 160° or desired doneness.
Transfer to platter and let rest for several minutes while you assemble the rest of the burger. You may add the cheese slices now, a slice of each type per burger.

To assemble the burgers, start with lightly toasted bun, if desired.
Spread Aioli on top and bottom bun.
Add burger, tomato and lettuces.
Makes 8 Fantastic Blended Burgers!

When your tween age daughter likes something you make from scratch enough to request it for an upcoming workshop out of town, You've got yourself a winner!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ending Discrimination: The Ugly Food Movement

We as consumers, naturally want the 'best' and 'most' for our buck, or at least what we perceive as such.  Now that is all fine and dandy as certain things go, for instance; we wouldn't pick up a loaf of sandwich bread that is already smooshed or a carton of eggs with cracked ones or even a box from the shelf, that has either a razor type slash or is slightly marred in any way.  
This of course is understandable, but sometimes this attitude makes certain very special produce a target to be forgotten.  We all love the perfectly round and bright tomato when picking our fruits.  We want to eat the rainbow and the colors to match. We want the stuff of legend and much falsity like the burgers and food scenes we see on television and in ads. We want the straight, perfect carrots like the ones Bugs Bunny always had.  The banana must be free of bruising and the pepper should sit upright when placed on the table.  You get the drift.   The 'ugly' produce is left in back or never even makes the cut when the buyer checks the crates or boxes.  Poor little veggies... "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

A simple truth, resonating from words, centuries past.  Let's give these loving morsels a chance, your carrot cakes,veggie medleys, casseroles and risottos will taste the same, if not better. Especially if you're going to cut it up anyway.   Better because we are doing a service to the energy it takes to grow produce.  Better because of the land usage and care the farmer, commercial or residential, has put into the finished product.  Better because the poverty levels in the United States are still rising. Children are hungry during the summer without school breakfasts and lunches to supplement.  
We are at the helm of  being some of the most wasteful consumers in the world.  We snub the ugly produce, while some long only for basic sustenance of a meal, that they didn't have to wait days for...
We must set aside the superficiality of our exacting standards, as far as food image is concerned. 
On a lighter note, the people in the know, myself included, are fine with the imperfect produce and are  able to cop these babies at a discount, saving upwards of 30  to 50% off, which for any economically savvy individual means lower food costs for the family. I think their design makes them special and unique, individuals among minions. Betterthaneverians. Not to mention the fun you can have guessing all the things it resembles. Thanks! And while you're at it, get on board and enjoy the bumpy, gnarled, Siamese twin looking ride! Be kind to the "Ugly" and "Imperfect" Produce and it will certainly be kind, delicious and money saving to you and for you! 
Stop Hating, Start Eating.