Monday, December 15, 2008

Toast Nuts For Better Flavor

Monday Morning Blog

Recipes take a lot for granted.

They assume you know the details of fine cooking.

Toasting nuts before adding them to recipes is a given. Recipes assume you know to do this without being told.

Toasting nuts before using them in candy and baked goods improves their taste tremendously. Toasted nuts add zing to salads, too.

You should always toast nuts lightly even if your recipe doesn't suggest it.

When nuts come in direct contact with oven heat (like a topping for cakes, baked casseroles or veggies) it's not necessary to toast them before hand. The nuts will automatically toast during baking.

There are 3 easy ways to toast nuts. They all work well. Use which ever method you like best.

Be careful not to burn them. Burned nuts will ruin your recipe.

Cool toasted nuts before adding to recipe.

1. Microwave, stirring now and then, till fragrant.

2. Put nuts on a cookie sheet and oven toast at 350 degrees stirring once or twice until lightly browned - about 15 minutes.

3. Melt a little butter (margarine or oil not recommended) in a frying pan, add nuts and stir till golden and fragrant. Blot on paper towels. You can also pan toast nuts dry (without butter).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Roll

Monday Morning Blog

Save on Cash - Splurge on Taste

One of the best ways to save at Thanksgiving is with a home made dessert.

Purchased desserts are tempting but they're priced sky high and often don't taste as good as they look.

A home made dessert is economical as well as delicious.

Home Made Pumpkin Cream Cheese Roll

A Thanksgiving classic. Looks hard to make but it's so easy.

Buy this yummy dessert at a fancy pastry shop and expect to pay $20.00.

Make it at home for around $4.00 - a big difference!

Serves 8-12
Pan size: Uses a jelly roll pan (11 X 15 with 1 inch sides)
Baking parchment needed

There is no shortening or baking powder in this recipe

1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3 large or extra large eggs (3/4 cup)

Position oven rack so cake will bake in center. Preheat to 350 degrees. Line pan with parchment paper. Do not grease. Cut 2 more pieces of parchment paper the same size. Set them aside.

Whisk dry ingredients together in one bowl. Whisk pumpkin and eggs together in another bowl. Combine both bowls, whisking briefly to blend. Do not over mix.

Working quickly, spread batter into prepared pan. Batter will look skimpy. Don't worry.

Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes or until top is just starting to brown. Cake top should not be moist.

Remove from oven and immediately use knife to release cake from sides of pan. Pick up the knife as you move it. Do not drag knife through cake.

Without cooling the cake, put a piece of the reserved cut parchment paper over the top and invert cake onto cooling rack. Carefully remove the paper the cake was baked on and discard.

Working quickly, put the third piece of cut parchment paper over the cake and roll up from shorter end to shorter end with the paper in between the cake as it rolls up. Roll up firmly but don't squeeze cake.

Let cool, seam side down, at least an hour. The paper remains in place during the cooling.

2 (8oz) packages regular cream cheese (softened - light or fat free not recommended)
1/2 cup sugar

Using an electric mixer, whip cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Gently unroll cooled cake. Do not flatten cake. Remove inner paper and discard.

Lightly dollop filling over cake and spread evenly. Use the exterior paper to re-roll cake then discard. Place on serving dish, seam side down. Refrigerate.

Dust with powdered sugar at serving time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cold Weather Salads Put Good Health on Your Plate


Monday Morning Blog

Summer is gone and so are the garden fresh greens, cucumbers and tomatoes we enjoyed as salads.

But don't worry, there's a seasonal abundance of healthfully delicious, winter greens and veggies ready to take their place.

Cold season salads are easy on the budget plus they're an environmentally responsible alternative to the high cost of out of season, out of region, hot house grown greens, tomatoes and lettuce.

Cinnamon Carrot Salad
Great with chicken or beef. Divine with stew. Make it a main dish salad by adding some nuts or tofu.

Serves 2-4

1 pounds carrots (washed, peeled and cut into strips 2 inches long X 1/4 inch wide)
1/4 cup white raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons lemon juice (bottled OK)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 cloves garlic (finely minced)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice blend or cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground dry ginger
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Put one inch of tap water into a medium pot. Cover. Bring to a boil on high. Add carrots and optional raisins.

Cook, partially covered, until carrots just begin to soften - 1 or 2 minutes. Drain. Whisk remaining ingredients together. Toss with hot carrots and raisins. Chill.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Eat Better and Save Money with Easy Home Made Soups

Monday Morning Blog

The next time you're in the grocery store, check out the never ending varieties of soup that stock the shelves, round out the salad bar and wait patiently in the freezer case. There's a lot of soup out there.

Stores and manufacturers love selling soup becaue it's a high profit item and they make a bundle.

When you buy you're wasting your hard earned money. A two serving size can of brand name soup easily sells for $2.00. Gourmet, take out soup jumps the tab to 6 bucks.

Non cooks think making soup is hard. It's not. People pressed for time think soup is time consuming to make. It isn't.

For fraction of the cost and in less time than you think, you can make soup that's better, fresher and healthier than any you can buy. Every penny counts these days.

Home Made Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

The ingredients are so simple, just peas and water. Jazz things up a bay leaf. Add some carrots and potatoes if you'd like. Even a splash of cream.

Serves 4-6

1 (one pound) package dried green split peas
12 cups water
1 bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash peas by putting them into a deep bowl and covering them with tepid tap water. Swish peas around and drain into a colander. Repeat 2 more times. Remove and discard any badly shriveled or discolored peas.

Put washed peas into a large pot. Add water and bay leaf (optional). Partially cover pot and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat and simmer about an hour or until peas have disintegrated and soup is desired thickness. (If the soup is thicker than you'd like, stir in some water.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Old Fashioned Ham Hock and Split Pea Soup

Prepare Vegetarian Home Made Split Pea Soup omitting bay leaf. Add one or two ham hocks at the beginning of cooking. When soup is done, remove ham hocks and cool until easy to handle. Shed meat and return to soup. Discard bones and rind.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Made, No Knead Artisan Bread Takes the Bite Out of Sky Rocketing Food Costs

Monday Morning Blog

Bread shouldn't cost $5.00 or more a loaf. It just shouldn't.

Get your food budget under control and enjoy crusty, homemade artisan bread with this super simple recipe. Costs about 65 cents to make.

No special equipment or bread making experience needed.

Time Is On Your Side

Time, not effort, is what turns flour, water and salt into crusty, artisan bread. Nature does the work. You get the credit.

Just five minutes of your time is all it takes. No kneading. No kidding.

No Knead, Crusty Sour Dough Bread
Got gourmet pals coming for Sunday brunch? Start the dough Friday night. Bake it Sunday morning.

Makes one loaf
Pan size: A seasoned, cast iron pot with lid that's 8 inches round X 4 inches deep works well but any similarly sized, heavy, heat safe pot with a lid will work. Make sure the pot and lid handles can take the heat of the oven.

3 cups all purpose flour (bread flour not recommended)
1/4 teaspoon dried yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt (or 1 3/4 teaspoons regular salt)
1 3/4 cups warm tap water (about 100 degrees - see tip below)
2 teaspoons regular or quick cooking grits or polenta (instant not recommended)

In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast and salt. Stir in water (just use a spoon) mixing only enough to combine. Mixture will be a sticky batter. Cover bowl (a plate works well). Put bowl out of the way (where it won't get bumped or jostled) in a warmish, room temperature place for 24 hours.

Next day, stir dough and fold it over itself once in the bowl. Replace cover and put out of the way for another 18-24 hours. (The longer, the better.)

After second rising, you're ready to bake. Position over rack so bread will bake in center. Place empty pot and lid separately into cold oven. Do not cover pot. Set oven temperature to 450 degrees. Let pot and lid preheat along with the oven.

When oven is pre-heated, carefully remove pot and lid placing on a heat safe work area. A well seasoned, cast iron pot will not need greasing. For other pots, lightly mist the inside bottom with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of grits or polenta over the bottom of heated pan.

Gently and without stirring, quickly pour dough all at once into center of hot pan. Try not to disturb dough more than necessary. Use a rubber or plastic scraper to guide dough into pot.

Don't fuss with dough or try to smooth out dough. The loaf should look free form and ragged-y.

Immediately sprinkle remaining 1 teaspoon grits or polenta over top of dough and cover with hot lid. Carefully place hot pot back into preheated oven.

Bake (covered) 30 minutes. Open oven. Remove cover without removing pan from oven. Continue baking (uncovered) until loaf is nicely browned - about 15 minutes more.

Remove pot from oven and immediately tip to remove bread onto a cooling rack. (Bread will easily fall out of a well seasoned pot. An unseasoned pot may require coaxing.) Cool bread completely (top side up) before cutting. Store uncovered (even after cutting) or in a paper bag to preserve crispness.

Karla's tip:
No thermometer to test the temperature of the water? Use your finger.

Here's how: Measure the water then stick in your finger to a dept of one inch. If you can leave your finger in the water to a slow count of 5 and it feels comfortably warm, it's the right temperature. If you have to remove your finger, it's too hot.

Rosemary Sour Dough Bread
Crush 2 teaspoons dried rosemary between the palms of your hands and add to flour mixture before adding the water. Continue with recipe.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How Fresh Is The Fresh Fish You Buy?

Consumer Wise
Getting the biggest bang for your hard earned buck

Everyone knows that eating fish is a healthy thing to do but take a close look at what you're buying. Things can get pretty fishy!

The next time you're in the fresh fish department of your favorite grocery store, take a good look at the tags that identify the fish. Does it say "previously frozen"?

There's nothing wrong with buying frozen fish. It's convenient, usually less expensive and is great to have on hand for family friendly, budget conscious meals. Since it's often frozen right at sea, it's "fresher" than fish that's been refrigerated for several days.

The problem with thawed, previously frozen fish being sold as fresh is that it's marketed as if it was "fresh" with prices higher than if you bought the same fish frozen and thawed it at home.

Lets not forget, too, that it's been sitting on ice for a while loosing moisture and getting stale. Not exactly what you envision as fresh is it?

So what's the solution?

If you live in a coastal area, it's easy to find places that sell really fresh fish but for most of us, you just have to shop around.

In Warrenton, Virginia, there's a darling gourmet food, wine and gift shop called The Town Duck that uses a clever method to market their guaranteed fresh, never been frozen fish.

Each week, e mails are sent out listing what fish will be available that week depending on the season, market prices and what's been caught.

Customers email back their orders and arrange for pickup on the designated day.

You'll see interesting fish like bronzini, black cod, wild rock and artic-char in addition to perennial favorites like salmon and tuna.

"Our scallops are particularly good because we get them dry, says long time owner Annette Johnson. "They're unprocessed, nice and white and plump-y. They don't shrink with cooking like wet scallops do. Wet scallops (the typical kind available) are processed and come in a preservative liquid."

Johnson aims for American fish but doesn't shy away from quality. "Prince Edward Island (Canada) has some gorgeous mussels right now and there's marvelous salmon coming from Scotland." Johnson insists that the fish she gets comes from waters she knows to be unpolluted.

The Town Duck
New larger location
100 Main Street
Warrenton, VA 20186
(540) 347-7237

Open 7 days a week

Fresh fish must be ordered in advance so get on The Town Duck's email list.


Easy, Town Duck Fish
Spread fresh fish fillets or steaks with a little crushed garlic and a thin smear of "Lemonaise". Bake until fish flakes.

(Lemonaise is a prepared sauce made by Ojai Cook. It's available at the Town Duck and gourmet shops everywhere.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Naked Chicken

Cooking Naked

(How To Cook Like A Pro Without Using Recipes)

  • Wouldn't you just love to effortlessly whip up a fabulous dish?
  • Itching to develop a knack for knowing what goes with what?
  • Want to spend less money and eat healthier with less time in the kitchen?

Learning to cook without recipes is simply a matter of learning to cook "naked".

When you cook naked, you experience food on many levels so get ready for a magical mix of aromas, tastes and sublime interaction. (Bet you thought this was about cooking in the buff!) Once you learn to cook "naked" you'll never look at food the same way again!

Cooking naked is easier than you think plus cooking without recipes will save you a ton of money. You'll eat better, be healthier, have more energy AND feel incredibly accomplished.

So what are you waiting for? Let's get into the kitchen!

Chicken 101

We'll begin with chicken. Chicken is the little black dress of the kitchen. It's versatile, goes with everything and everyone likes it. Chicken never goes out of style and people never get tired of it. Dress it up or dress it down. If you've got a chicken in your fridge or freezer you're set for any occasion.

Choosing a Chicken
Forget about cut up raw chicken, chicken breasts, rotisserie chicken, deli cooked chicken and frozen breaded chicken. Even on sale you're spending too much.

What you need is a whole, raw bird - the bigger the better. Bigger birds are older. They have more meat, less fat and more flavor. The ideal chicken is free range, all natural and locally raised. That's important. Don't worry that a big bird is more chicken than you'll need. You'll freeze the extra.

Naked Chicken
Before you can dress a chicken in a fancy sauce, you have to experience it naked.

Naked chicken (cooked, plain chicken) is the beginning of a gazillion recipes. Using the slow cooker is the easiest way to cook chicken plus you get a bonus of a pot full of gorgeous chicken stock. You'll save loads of money on purchased chicken stock alone when you use this cooking method - which, by the way makes a yummy meal on it's own. If your slow cooker comfortably holds more than one chicken, save on the electric by cooking an extra chicken or two at the same time.

Here's how:

Get a chicken and put it into the sink. (Thaw it first if it was frozen.)

Give the chicken a good wash under tepid running water. Let the water run over the bird, through the bird, under the skin, around the legs and wings. Always wash chicken longer than you think. You can not over wash a chicken. Drain.

Put the chicken into the slow cooker. Cover cooker. Set temperature to high. That's it. There's nothing else to add. No water, no salt, no pepper, no anything. A good chicken doesn't need assistance.

Cook about 4 hours or until meat is no longer pink, starts to fall off the bones and there's lots of broth in the pot.

To eat the chicken, naked:
Put chicken and some broth into a shallow bowl. Top with a sprinkling of fresh herbs if you happen to have some. Basil, thyme or parsley all work with chicken. Serve with a crusty loaf of bread for dunking. Add a bottle of chilled, white Virginia wine and some sliced, very ripe tomatoes from the garden. Voila, as they say.

To use naked chicken in other dishes:
Turn off the slow cooker. Remove the lid and let the chicken cool until it's easy to handle (about 20 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a heat safe bowl. Pour the broth into another heat safe bowl. Refrigerate both. When they're cold (like in about an hour) cover both and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, use your fingers to remove all the meat from the bones. (Try to keep the meat in big chunks but don't obsess about it.) Remove the meat from the neck bones, too. You'll also have (although not always) a heart, liver and gizzard. They're perfectly OK to eat but I usually give them to my dogs as a treat. They adore them! Discard the bones and the skin. On to the broth.

The fat from the chicken will have congealed and risen to the top of the gorgeously gelled broth. Using a spoon, scrape as much of the fat as you can (again without obsessing) and discard. Some people like to save chicken fat in the freezer to use for other recipes. You can save it if you want to but I don't. I save beef fat and bacon fat but not chicken. Why exactly, I couldn't say. That's just what I do.

Next: "No - Recipe" Recipes for Naked Chicken


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Sunday, June 1, 2008

pH Alkaline Diet Food Chart

I recently wrote an article for the Fauquier Times Democrat Weekend newspaper responding to one they ran concerning Susan McCorkindale's despirate search for a way to control her son's self mutilating cheek chewing, endless, bloody scratching and horrific nail biting.

In my article I mention that uncontrolable nail biting is linked to a diet that's overly acid.

A lot of people feel (myself included) that by keeping acid foods low in the diet and keeping alkaline foods in abundance, optimal health is achieved.

Here is a basic food quide to determine which foods are acidic and which are alkaline.

More indepth charts are available in books and on line.


Each day, strive for 80% Alkaline Foods/20% Acidic Foods. If you miss a little, just keep going.
(Some days you may even eat all acidic foods.)

Take a baby step each day. There's no rush.

Learn to choose alkaline foods rather than acid. Don't worry about getting enough acid foods. You will. They're the ones we eat out of habit.

Alkaline Food Chart

The idea behind this is that, like amending the garden soil to grow the healthier plants, amending the body's soil (the blood) will keep you the healthiest.

This food chart is presented as educational and is not a substitute for competent medical care. Always get your doctor's OK before modifying your diet. Dietary changes may effect medications you are taking.

Most Alkaline
Stevia (herbal sweetner)
Lemons, Watermelons, Limes, Grapefruit, Mangos, Papayas
Asparagus, Onions, Fresh Vegetable Juices, Parsley, Spinach, Broccoli, Garlic
Olive Oil
Herb Teas, Mint Teas, Lemon Water

Maple Syrup
Rice Syrup
Dates, Figs, Melons, Grapes, Kiwi, Berries, Apples, Pears, Raisins
Okra, Squash (any), Beets, Celery, Lettuce, Zucchini, Sweet Potatoes, Carob
Flax Seed Oil
Green Tea

Least Alkaline
Raw Honey
Raw Sugar
Oranges, Bananas, Cherries, Peaches, Avocados
Carrots, Tomatoes, Corn, Mushrooms, Cabbage, Peas, Potato Skins, Olives, Soybeans, Tofu
Canola Oil
Amaranth, Millet, Wild Rice, Quinoa
Soy Cheese, Soy Milk, Goat Cheese, Goat Milk, Whey

Lowest Acid
Processed Honey
Plums, Processed Fruits and Fruit Juices
Cooked Spinach, Kidney Beans, String Beans
Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds
Corn Oil
Sprouted Wheat Bread, Spelt, Brown Rice
Eggs, Butter, Yogurt, Buttermilk, Cottage Cheese
Venison, Fish

White Sugar
Brown Sugar
Sour Cherries, Rhubarb
Potatoes (without skin), Beans
Pecans, Cashews
White Rice, Corn Meal, Buckwheat, Oats, Rye
Turkey, Chicken, Lamb

Most Acid
Artificial Sweeteners
Blueberries, Cranberries, Prunes
Peanuts, Walnuts
Wheat, White Flour, Pastries
Cheese, Homogenized Milk, Ice Cream, Sour Cream
Beef, Pork, Shell Fish, Sausage
Beer, Soft Drinks, Alcohol, Wine


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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Great Gardening Tips from Professional Landscape Designer Donna Hackman

I visited Highland Spring Farm in Marshall recently for a private tour the lushly planted English style gardens created by landscape designer and home owner Donna Hackman.

Hackman spent twenty plus years planting and working her garden as a labor of love.

Here are her tips for your own fabulous garden:

Highland Spring Farm boasts hundreds of beautiful roses all grown without chemical sprays. It's hard to believe, I know, but landowner Donna Hackman doesn't want to poison even one bird just to have pretty roses. "With a little tough love, roses thrive in our area."

1. Choose rose varieties that you've seen successfully grown in other area gardens with similar growing conditions to your own garden.

2. If a rose doesn't perform well, move it to another location and see what happens. If it doesn't work well there, try moving it one more time. After three location attempts, if it still doesn't grow well or continues to be diseased, yank it out an throw it away.

"Never give plant that doesn't perform well to someone else. If it doesn't perform for you, it's not going to perform for them either."

3. Use "Bayer" brand rose food to feed your roses. It takes care of aphids.

4. Cut back roses that bloom only once per season hard after the blooms have faded. You'll get stronger roots and more growth the following season.

5. Let repeat bloomers flower in the early spring then, as the beetles begin to appear, cut off all the new blossoms and prune back lightly. This encourages strong root growth and better blossoms just as it does with roses that bloom once per season. The bushes will bloom again after the beetles have naturally cycled away.

"I know we think that repeat blooming roses (even Knock Out roses) should keep blooming and blooming but why struggle with them (and Japanese beetles) all season long when it's so easy just to enjoy them at their prettiest?"

Recipe for Raised Beds
"Top soil costs a lot of money to buy. Use organic matter that you have around the garden to stretch and amend the soil you already have."

Place a thick layer of flattened cardboard boxes and/or newspaper at the bottom of your bed. (Don't use the glossy advertising pages or magazines.)

Top with a thick layer of leaves and/or grass clippings.

Cover the whole thing with top soil to planting depth.

Over time, the cardboard, leaves and grass clippings will decompose so your planting material may shrink. Top off your beds as needed with additional soil, leaves and grass clippings.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch - That is the question
"I've got so much going on in the garden that I don't have time to mulch. I plant everything close together so (as the plants grow) they naturally spread out and block the weeds."

The shade that close planting creates keeps the ground moist plus, as a bonus, tall growing plants can lean on neighboring plants for support so there not much staking to do either.

Planting Pergolas
Got a pergola?
"Try planting it with clematis," Hackman says.

"People typically plant roses or wisteria on pergolas but roses bring (Japanese) beetles and wisteria brings bees. Either way you've got annoying bugs buzzing around just when you want to sit outside under the pergola."

Clematis is an easy care, vining plant that flowers May to June leaving behind a lush, green, bug - free cover on your pergola for the rest of the season.

Herons Coming Home To Roost?
Herons love to take up residence anywhere there's a pond full of fish and plants. While they're beautiful birds to look at, they'll eat your gold fish and munch on your (expensive!) water plants.

Hackman feels that commercial heron repellants detract from the natural beauty of a pond so she devised an inexpensive (and practically invisible) way to keep herons in check without harming them.

"I get cheap fishing line and randomly crisscross it under the water in the pond - looping it around the submerged potted plants. I don't make any real pattern, I just create an underwater grid that will annoy the heron by prevent him from walking around the pond in search of food."

The grid pattern is large enough so a heron doesn't get trapped. "He's free to leave anytime he wants - but without lunch."

Word seems to travel fast in the heron world because Hackman's pond isn't the rest stop it used to be.


Land Trust of Virginia Garden Party

Highland Spring Farm will host this year's Land Trust of Virginia Garden Party to save our land from development. It will be an educational and inspirational event!

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Tickets - $45 per person
Refreshments by Celebrations Catering
Call 540.687.8441
Sponsorships available

Can't plan in advance? Don't worry. Tickets will be available at the door.


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Friday, May 2, 2008

Whip Up Easy Vegetarian Mexican Lasagna For Cinco de Mayo

Want a super easy main dish for Cinco de Mayo?
Need something quick for a festive pot luck?
Think vegetarian cuisine is boring?

Try my

Vegetarian Mexican Lasagna
Serves 4

1/2 pound (8 oz.) ground, vegetarian meat
1 (12-16 oz.) jar salsa (any type made without sugar or corn syrup)
6 (5 1/4 inch) corn tortillas
1 (16 oz.) can vegetarian or fat free refried beans
1 cup regular sour cream (low fat or fat free not recommended)
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheese (cheddar, jack or Mexican blend)
1 (3-4 oz.) can sliced black olives (drained - optional)
Balsamic vinegar for serving (optional garnish)

Position oven rack so casserole will bake in the center. Preheat to 400 degrees.

Lightly mist an 8 -10 cup non metal casserole with cooking spray. If it has a lid, mist it, too, other wise mist a piece of foil to use as a lid.

Cook the veggie meat according to package directions.

Put 1/2 the salsa in the bottom of the prepared casserole. Top with 3 tortillas (cutting to fit). Spread tortillas with 1/2 the beans, 1/2 the meat, 1/2 the remaining salsa, 1/2 the sour cream. Top with remaining tortillas and repeat layers. Sprinkle top with olives and cheese. Cover with lid or loosely with foil.

Bake in preheated oven until bubbling - about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, if desired.

Serve with shredded iceberg lettuce and some vinaigrette dressing or extra balsamic vinegar.

Karla's tips:
Vegetarian "meat" is readily available in the freezer section of grocery stores. My meat loving husband even enjoys it.

Most salsa comes in 16 oz. jars but a little more (say 18-20 oz) won't hurt so use it all unless you don't mind the leftovers.

Refried beans are loaded with lard. Lard is pork fat. Vegetarian refried beans are made with oil instead.
Make fat free "refried" beans by mashing 1 (15-16 oz.) can of un-drained kidney beans. Add a little water or broth if necessary to make it spread-able.

You probably think it's strange that this recipe calls for fat free beans then calls for full fat sour cream. The fact is that regular sour cream tastes and cooks so much better than the low fat or fat free kinds. Food must always taste good!

Unless you're a label reader, you'll be surprised to learn that most packaged, pre-shredded cheese is dusted with an invisible film of starch or cellulose to keep it from sticking together.

Look for pre-shredded cheese without additives or get a block of your favorite cheese and shred it in the food processor.

Meat lovers can use lean ground beef in place of the veggie ground meat.


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Friday, April 4, 2008

Mr. Mother Earth Shares The Green

How we love to peek and peruse in other people's gardens! It's a time honored, Fauquier County tradition.

I got an up close and personal tour of Harvey Ussery's garden - homestead in Hume recently as part of the "Integrated Homestead" seminar Ussery gave at Airlie.

His homestead, called Boxwood, is two and a half acres of managed, organic systems that together provide Ussery and his wife Ellen with most of their food year round plus plenty to give away. It's amazing how much a small parcel of land will produce when properly managed.

Trying to explain Ussery's homestead in the limited amount of words allotted to me here is like trying to explain the universe in a sentence - but here goes:

Boxwood is an interactive oasis of mutually beneficial life forms all of which grow, work together, mature and are recycled to keep the blessings of life in motion.

Yikes, what a mouth full.

Under Ussery's tutelage, we toured his homestead as he explained the subtle nuances of life's already perfect systems. He showed us how using nature's methods in our own gardens and homesteads ("homestead" is the term used for the self sufficient life style) would be infinitely better (and cheaper) than fighting against them.

For example, instead of power tilling the soil for a garden bed, Ussery partners with nature and lets his chickens do the work.

Chickens naturally love to scratch the ground. Instead of viewing chickens as destroyers of grassy areas, Ussery positions a movable chicken coup over the plot he wants "tilled." The chickens scratch like crazy and break up the sod leaving a gorgeously rich area ready to plant - all without expensive fuel for a tiller, back breaking work or even purchasing feed for the chickens.

Ussery's incredibly healthy looking birds dine on a nutrient rich diet of natural habitat greens (we'd probably call them weeds), worms and cut, cover crops. It was an amazing lesson.

The day went on and so did the explanations of how the homestead is an integrated system where everything has a place. Thorny berry bushes become a fence line to keep rabbits out of the garden. Destructive bugs are feed for chickens, ducks and geese. Mushrooms decompose fallen trees while providing gourmet fare for the table. Rose hips (rose seed pods) become a tea that's higher in vitamin C than orange juice. I jotted down every concept even as Ussery's quick cadence caused my head to spin and fingers to cramp.

Harvey Ussery is a frequent contributor to Mother Earth Magazine. If you happen to hear about a seminar or talk he's giving, run - don't walk and sign up fast. You'll never look at a bug, weed or worm the same way again.

Ussery jam packs every moment with insights that will connect you with the earth as never before. It's as if he's learned the secret handshake and is taking you under his wing to mentor. Ussery exudes a profound sense of the majesty (actually he called it magic) of life and a reverence for how it all works.

If ever there was a Mr. Mother Earth, it's Harvey Ussery.

For more information visit


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Harvey Ussery and the Integrated Modern Homestead Seminar at Airlie

Do you know about the Integrated Modern Homestead seminar at Airlie?

Harvey Ussery of Hume, Va, is giving the seminar this Friday, March 28, 2008, from 9 AM-5PM and there couldn't be any better place to host it than Airlie.

Airlie ( is a gorgeous natural/organic conference and research center in Fauquier County.

Harvey is a frequent contributor to Mother Earth News, Backyard Poultry plus a host of other publications and is a wealth of experience in holistic, synergistic and energy saving back yard food production.

Saturday, Harvey is hosting the group for a tour of his 2-1/2 acre homestead that produces most of the food that he and his wife need. The tour is from 9:30AM-Noon.

The work shop costs $100 per person ($80 for Friday and included lunch/$20 for Saturday)

To attend the workshop, contact
Pablo Elliott, Director for The Local Food Project at Airlie
540-347-1300 (EX- 3163)

See you there!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Baking and Eggs

Eggs are a gift and blessing from Mother Nature.

They're nutritional powerhouses that lovingly embrace our bodies with goodness.

For those who love to bake, good, fresh eggs are treasures worth their weight in gold.

The better the egg, the better the cake (or cookie or tea bread etc.)

Over the last few months we searched high and low around Fauquier County, VA, for sources of great eggs.

We searched for eggs with golden rich yolks that stood up high in the center of a pool of thick white with a fresh, country aroma. We wanted eggs with thick shells - a sign that the chicken has been well fed on a nutritionally rich diet.

Sadly, what we universally found in the grocery stores were eggs of average but passable quality.

Watery whites, flat (spreading) yolks, paper thin shells and virtually no aroma were the rule and it didn't matter if the eggs were store brand, a natural brand or a name brand.

Price-y organic eggs were the most disappointing of all - perhaps because their expensive price tags left them on the shelves longer than battery chicken - farm eggs.

A bit better (but still not great) were the Egg-land's Best brand of eggs. They were fresher, the yolk was more yellow (almost most orange) and fresh smelling. They were worth the extra money they cost.

The best eggs were (surprise!) from local farmers who raised chickens but to find eggs you really like, you have to shop around. What the chickens are fed and how they're kept will affect the quality of the egg plus the taste.

So if you love to bake, you're got to focus on the quality of the eggs you use.

The better the egg, the better the baking.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Wilted Mustard Greens Salad

I'm getting the garden ready for spring planting.

I've been attending lots of garden seminars lately - especially at Airlie (that oh-so-gorgeous research facility and conference center here in Fauquier County, VA) through their local food project..... in fact, I'm going to Harvey Ussery's Integrated Homestead workshop this coming Friday.

But here's where I'm going with this.... the "hot" seed category for home gardens this year is "greens." These aren't your grandmother's old southern greens to be boiled for hours but rather a whole new fresh world of taste-y, light or no cooking greens to feed our good health as well as our palates.

There's not much in the garden yet.... it's way too early..... but mustard greens are around (in the green houses, at the grocery store and maybe, just maybe under some mulch).

They're a spicy vegetable that's typically cooked and served as a hot side dish.
In this recipe, however, the greens are served as a salad. Yes (surprise!) they can be eaten raw and you're going to find them quite nice.

Break with the southern tradition of boiling mustard greens to death and try this pepper-y salad. It's pungent so, unlike lettuce salads, keep the portions small. You're going to love it!

Wilted Mustard Greens Salad
"Wilted" means the greens soften slightly in the hot dressing but are sturdy enough to retain most of their character.

Serves 2-4

2 cups washed, stemmed and shredded mustard greens
A few red onion rings (to taste, sliced 1/16 inch thick and separated)

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon cornstarch or 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
Dash black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Put greens and onion rings into a heat proof bowl. Set aside.

Prepare dressing by whisking remaining ingredients (except vinegar) together in a small pot. Bring to a boil, whisking, over medium heat then cook one minute more.

Remove from heat and whisk in vinegar. Immediately pour hot dressing over salad and toss to coat. Serve at once.

Karla's tips:
Don't like mustard greens?
This hot dressing works well over spinach and that old stand by, iceberg lettuce. Other greens or lettuce not recommended.

Want a milder salad?
Mix spinach and/or iceberg lettuce with the mustard greens for a total of two cups greens for this amount of dressing.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to Guide to Choosing Cheese

Cheezy Information

Choosing cheese is tough these days.

Domestic - Imported. Sharp - mild. Grated, shredded and chunk.

Stay close to nature and you'll get the most nutritional (and flavorful) bang for your grocery buck.

Check the labels for the information your need to know:

1. Good quality cheese is pure and simple.

Milk or cream, enzymes or rennet and usually salt.

It doesn't matter what type or kind of cheese you're buying... cheddar, feta, mozzarella, cottage , ricotta or goat.

Good cheese doesn't require binders, fillers or starch so ask yourself why they're added.

It may take some searching but there are plenty of high quality cheeses readily available that don't contain additives.

2. Orange cheese has coloring added.

Your don't need to eat artificial coloring if you can help it. You already get plenty in food your have no control over.

Sometimes annatto is used as the coloring. Annatto is a natural coloring derived from grape skins and many people feel it's OK.

Blue cheese, by the way comes by its blue color naturally. Blue cheese (as a rule) is not colored.

3. Shredded cheese is dusted with an invisible film of starch to keep it from clumping.

You don't need added starch in your diet plus the starch keeps you from tasting the cheese fully.

4. Shaker style, grated cheese had cellulose added to keep it shaking freely.

Like the starch in shredded cheese, the cellulose gets in the way of the flavor.

5. Nothing beats the way that whole milk cheese melts.

Low fat cheese doesn't melt; it just gets rubbery.

6. Avoid cheese made with corn syrup.

Corn syrup is more often found in prepared cheeses, spread and blends than in chunk cheese but you just can't be too careful these days. You MUST always read the label.

Corn syrup is added for a variety of reasons. It helps the cheese product flow through machines for packaging. It acts as a preservative. It's used for flavoring. And its cheap so it sometimes is used to extend the ingredients and reduce manufacturing costs. In other words, it replaces the dairy nutrients of a cheese product with nutritionally void, empty calorie carbs.

7. Skip ersatz low fat cheeses.

Some cheeses are naturally low fat. These are delicious to eat, good for you and should be enjoyed for what they are.

Manufactured low fat cheese (like fat free cream cheese) are pale imitations of the real thing and not worth the calories.

If fat is your concern, learn to modify portions to make real cheese something to be savored.

When buying cheese, stay close to nature.

The cheese (and your recipes) will taste great and be more nutritious.


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bringing Home the Bacon

We all know that bacon is full of nitrates and nitrites that are known to cause cancer yet bacon continues to be one of our most popular meats. We eat million of tons of it each year with no end in sight.

Bacon is served on almost every breakfast sandwich and on fast food galore. Nearly every salad you get these days has bacon crumbled on top.

Nitrites and nitrites are added to pork as part of the curing process that turns it into bacon. These additives are not necessary to make bacon but are actually preservatives used to extend bacon's shelf life so it can be shipped great distances and stay in grocery store display cases without spoiling.

Nitrates and nitrites are permitted in bacon because it's felt that the risk of food poisioning outweighs the risk of cancer.

But here's the thing. We're eating more bacon than ever before so we're getting more nitrates and nitrites than is generally acceptable. Plus nitrates and nitrites are used in other foods, too, like hot dogs, smoked sausage and ham so they all add up.

What to do about nitrates and nitrites in bacon

Read package labels and choose bacon that is free of nitrates and nitrites. They're readily available from local and region producers.

Not available? Ask your grocery store to stock it. It's out there and it's about the same price as the nitrate and nitrite laced stuff.

Nitrate and nitrite free bacon is not as red and will be slightly browner in color.

Often, there's less fat which is means the bacon will be more meaty (and that's a good thing!) so be sure to cook it at very low heat until the fat can render.

You probably won't notice much, if any difference in taste but you body will thank you.

One good regional brand of nitrate and nitrite free bacon is from:
Meadow Run Farm
Distributed by
John F. Martin & Sons, Inc.
PO Box 137
Stevens, PA 17578

It's available at the Farmer's Wife in Remington, VA


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Valentine's Day - Family Friendly Ideas

Valentine's Day is not just a day for lovers but a day for all those you love.

Here's some simply ideas for reminding our family and friends that they are loved.

1. Make pancakes in heart shapes by placing 2 tablespoons of batter in a "V" shape with the bottom of the V slightly over lapping. Quickly, before the batter has a chance to set, use the tip of a spoon to round out the tops to make a heart.

Two tablespoons of batter (one tablespoon for each side of the V) makes a 3 inch pancake.

2. Cut sandwiches into heart shapes using a cooke cutter.

3. Put a piece of parchment or waxed paper onto a cookie sheeet. Drizzle some melted chocolate into 1 inch heart shapes. Chill briefly to set. Use chocolate hearts to top ice cream, frosted cup cakes, fruit salad or yogurt.

4. Tint vanilla frosting pink with marachino cherry juice and use to sandwich 2 heart shaped cookies together.

5. Using a cookie cutter, cut heart shapes out of bread. Toast. Serve for breakfast buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

6. Don't forget you beloved pets!

Make extra toast hearts (skipping the butter and cinnamon sugar) for your dogs. Be sure to let the toast hearts cool to room temperature.

Take an apple or carrot to your horse.

Cats can be finicky but you might try shaping their moist food into a heart shape or give them a little extra cat grass.


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Friday, February 8, 2008

Quick and Easy Fish Meals for Lent

Here's some quick, meatless meals for Lent - but they all make easy dinner party fare, too.
And fish is something we should all be eating more of anyway.

None of these ideas requires specific measurements.

Poached Orange Salmon: Put about 1/2 an inch of orange juice into a frying pan. Add salmon fillets. Thinly slice your favorite vegetable (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash or whole snow peas are all nice). Cover and cook over low until salmon flakes easily - about 10 minutes according to thickness. Serve over rice spooning some of the pan juices over the top.

Salsa Fish
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Pour (to taste) your favorite salsa over the top. Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Serve over rice or pasta, spooning some of the pan juices over the top. Some fresh fruit (particularly mango, pineapple or papaya) would be nice with this.

Italian Fish Parmesean
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Pour (to taste) your favorite thick pasta sauce over top. Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top of the cooked fish and replace cover. Cook until cheese melts - a minute or so. Serve over cooked pasta, spooning some of sauce over the top. Add a salad or some broccoli sauteed with garlic and olive oil to round things out.

Fish Florentine
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Remove fish and keep warm. Put a few handfuls of fresh spinach into the pan juices. Cover and steam briefly - about a minute. Serve cooked fish on a bed of the steamed spinach. Sprinkle with some bread crumbs to garnish.
Carrots or steamed mushrooms and rice would be nice with this.


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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Giving Up Things For Lent

I've never been really good at giving up things for Lent.

Oh, I was better at it when I was young. Easter Sunday was always a testament to my fortitude and stick with-it-ness.

Now that I'm older, giving up things for Lent just leads me to a dismal sense of failure. My good intentions evaporate after only a few hours of resolve.

But last year, I had an epiphany.

I came to the realization that my whole life was about giving stuff up. I routinely gave up cake, ice cream and candy. I gave up over spending and using my credit card. I gave up impulse buying, eating saturated fat, staying up late, high heeled shoes and jumbo lattes with extra cream.

So I asked myself what there was left to give up for lent. The only thing left, I surmised, was to don sack cloth and rummage around with a begging bowl.

Then came the epiphany.

Instead of giving up something for Lent, I would DO something for Lent.

What a freeing moment that was.

Each day, I did a little something - not much, just a little something more than I typically did.
I walked the dog five minutes longer.
Picked up the cat when she wrapped herself around my legs and gave her a nuzzle.
I vacuumed my husband's car, weeded a flower bed I had been avoiding, sorted my old books and took a bag to the library re-sale shop. I even called an elderly aunt who was difficult to talk to.

By Lent's end, I felt re-born.


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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tips to Cut Rising Food Costs

Bill Walsh, Executive Editor of the Fauquier Times-Democrat Weekender, wrote a column in the Friday, February 1, 2008 issue about the escalating cost of groceries. His column is called Food for Thought.

Here's some tips to help you get your food dollar under control.

1. Weight the cost of home made vs. convenience foods.
Convenience costs money. The closer you stay to basic, from scratch ingredients, the better.

2. Shop less and you'll spend less.
If you normally shop once a week for food and spend $100 each time, shop every 10 days - 2 weeks instead.

You won't spend $200. More likely, you'll spend $150-175. The reason is you'll buy less impulse and snack foods. Plus you'll save on gas and the drudgery of grocery shopping.

3. Shop on Tuesdays.
Tuesday is the day that grocery stores are the least likely to be crowded. You'll have the whole place to yourself and the check out lines will be short.

When you're not stressed, there's less pressure and you'll make better choices.

4. Shop the top and bottom of the shelves.
Eye and thigh level is premium space in grocery stores. Eye level tempts you. Thigh level tempts your children.

Manufacturers pay grocery stores to display their products at eye and thigh levels.

In general, above eye level (on the higher shelves) you'll usually find smaller and local start up company products. Below thigh level, you'll find bulk and store brands.

5. Buy what's on sale.
Be flexible. Don't plan to serve salmon when chicken is on sale. Take advantage of price reductions.

6. Make the high mark up foods from scratch.
Soups, salad dressings, stews, cakes, cookies and deli salads are all high profit foods for the manufacturers. This means that the cost of the ingredients is a fraction of what they can charge.

With a little practice and a good cook book, you can make these better, cheaper and healthier.

When you have these foods under control, invest in a bread machine and make your own bread. Paying $5.00 for a loaf of bread - especially when you family eats 2, 3 or more loaves of bread a week is a real budget buster!

7. Never waste food.
Limp veggies go into soup. Left over stew goes into the freezer for a day when there's no time to cook. The bones from Sunday's roast chicken becomes stock. Dried bread becomes crumbs.

8. Don't buy soda.
Soda is a treat - a dessert, actually. Soda is NEVER a beverage. Soda is an empty calorie "food" that cost a fortune. Serve soda only on special occassions.

9. Concentrate on good health.
Buy good quality, fresh foods from local sources (whenever possible). It will taste better and feed you body the nutrients it needs. You'll have better health and will spend less on medical care.

10. Skip the junk.
Chips, dips, lunch meats, hot dogs, smoked sausage, white flour products, packaged cereals, prepared frozen meals.... I could go on and on.

All these foods may be fun to eat but they're horribly expensive when you consider the amount of food value they contain. Plus they are full of preservatives, nitrates, sugar and fillers.

Read lables carefully. Compare foods. Stick with fresh and local whenever possible.


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Friday, February 1, 2008

Green Housekeeping - Spruce Up For Spring

Is Your House Making You Sick?

It's an icy day here at Cheesecake Farms. Too cold and damp to work outside so I thought it would be a good day to work inside.

Our fireplaces are roaring brightly, giving off their loving warmth.

What's on my mind this morning is my (our - and hopefully your) continuing quest to live as healthfully as possible in our ever changing, ever urbanizing, ever polluted world.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not about to give up central heating and my truck but there's a lot we can do to insure that we take the best of what modern life has to offer tempered by an understanding of the basic principles of nature.

This is a good kind of day to spruce up (or plan on sprucing up) you house for spring.

As you're sprucing (or planning to spruce), consider whether you're adding toxic chemicals to your home environment.

1. Cleaning products.
All commercially available cleaning products are based on ammonia, baking soda, soap, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt and alcohol.

Why pay a fortune for commercial products that also contain fragrance, colorings and a host of other chemicals when you can "clean green" for a fraction of the cost?

2. Laundry detergents and additives.
There are a lot of fragrance and coloring free products on the markets these days but unfortunately they cost more. (Shouldn't they cost less because they have less stuff in them?)

Some work better than others (it's a function of the water in your area) but they're worth a try. Get a small box at first to see if you like them.

Try to give up fabric softeners and drier sheets and instead add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cheap, white vinegar to your rinse water. It will naturally soften your clothes and towels without adding fragrance (no vinegar smell either!) plus your 100% cotton towels will absorb better.

3. Room freshners.
Adding lots of synthetic frangrances to the air will make you sick and allergies get worse.

A great, cheap trick to freshen a musty, cigarette or pet smelling room is to pour about an inch of cheap white vinegar into a 4-6 inch bowl and leave it to evaporate for a day or two. (Keeping the door closed speeds up things.) NO vinegar smell will remain - just fresh air.

4. Paint.
Always choose indoor paint for indoor jobs. They have less additives and give off less toxic chemicals as they dry. There are also new "green" paints on the market.

Whatever paint you use, crack open a window and shut the door when you're done to chase away the fumes even faster.

5. Carpet and Throw Rugs.
Polypropylene gives off a "cheap carpet" smell that never seems to go away. These fumes cause headaches and migraines in addition to upset stomachs and vomiting.

Wool and cotton are great, of course, but a good, inexpensive carpet is that old stand by - nylon. Wears well. Can be washed. Colors stay true. No smell.

Nylon carpet has some draw backs (but so do wool and cotton). It isn't absorbent and you'll get static shock if your house has a dry heat instead of steam.

Before you carpet a whole room, get a 100% nylon throw rug and give it a try.


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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Super Bowl Snacks - Bacon Horseradish Cheese

I thought I was finished with snacks for the Super Bowl, but you just can't have too many snacks!

Here's an easy thing to do with cheese. Scoop it into a bowl, pack it into a crock or mold it into a football shape. Serve with your favorite hearty crackers, crusty bread or bagels.

This is yummy stuff!

Bacon and Horseradish Cheese

Makes 2-1/2 cups cheese spread

3 tablespoons butter (margarine or oil not recommended)
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 (12-16 oz.) package bacon (cooked, drained and coarsely crumbled)
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese (regular preferred but low fat or neuchatel will work, too)
2 teaspoons horseradish (or to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Melt butter in a frying pan over low heat. Add onions and cook till soft and transparent - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool mixture to room temperature.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese till fluffy. By hand, fold in cooled butter/onion mixture (scrape out pan well), crumbled bacon and horseradish. Taste. Stir in additional salt and pepper if desired. Refrigerate to blend flavors.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Super Snacks for the Super Bowl

Hot and Sizzling Off Sides Onion Bagels

This is the easiest, cheapest, most impressive snack you'll ever make.

The recipe many sound strange but put these mundane ingredients together and you have a great snack! You probably have the fixings around right now!!

Makes 2
(Adjust the quantities for a crowd)

1 bagel (any type except sweet bagels - cut in half)
2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard
2 teaspoons Miracle Whip
Onion slices to cover bagel (cut slices 1/4 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon Mrs. Dash's Original Spice Blend
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)

Position broiler rack so bagels will broil 2 inches from heat. Preheat broiler to high.

Spread cut side of each bagel half with 1 teaspoon mustard then 1 teaspoon Miracle Whip.

Cover entire top of each bagel half with slices of onion (overlapping a little is OK but don't pile).

Spread onion (and any parts of the bagel that the onion didn't cover) with mayonnaise. Use 1 tablespoon per bagel half even if you think it's too much.

Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon spice blend over each half.

Broil, onion side up, 2-3 minutes or until mayonnaise sizzles and lightly browns. Watch carefully they'll burn quickly! The onions should be semi soft.

Serve immediately.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Snack for The Super Bowl - New York Pizza

Laura Ruby, Editor of the Fauquier Weekender Newspaper, came up with the most marvelous idea for Super Bowl refreshments. She orders in food from the cities the teams represent and has it shipped Fed-Ex.

For this year's game, she's ordering pizza from New York and clam chowder and lobsters from Boston. Not cheap, but what great fun!

Here's a very easy recipe for a New York pizza that you can whip up in a flash for a fraction of the cost of having pizza flown in....

Karla's True Grits New York Style Pizza
Make 1 (14-16 inch) pizza

3 tablespoons old fashioned (coarse) grits (not quick cooking or instant)
1 batch dough (recipe follows)
2 cups thick pasta sauce (your favorite - about 20 oz.)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups shredded, whole milk mozzarella cheese (or to taste)
Pizza toppings (as desired)

Grease pan. Sprinkle grits evenly over bottom. Press dough over grits to fill pan bottom.(Dampen hands will cool water to prevent sticking. Do not use flour. It's OK if dough shrinks back from edges.) Lightly rub 1 tablespoon of oil over dough.

Spread sauce to within 1/2 inch of edges. Sprinkle with oregano. Top with cheese.

Toss toppings in remaining oil and distribute over cheese. Use a plastic scraper to get all the oil.

Let rise in a warm place until edges have doubled - about 1 hour.

When dough is risen, position over rack so pizza will bake in center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 40 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cheese has melted.

Using a bread machine makes this a snap!

1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons regular salt)
4 1/4 cups bread flour (not all purpose flour)
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 package)

Put ingredients in order into a bread machine. Set on "pizza dough." Continue with recipe after dough cycle is complete.

By hand: Mix all dry ingredients together. Stir in water. Knead 10 minutes or until elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double - about 45 minutes then continue with recipe.

Karla's tip: Large pizza pans (disposable or reusable) are available in most grocery stores.


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Super Snacks for the Super Bowl

Super Bowl Sunday is the day when we pay homage to the snack food industry.

Or as my husband says, it's the day guys wait for all year long.... non stop T.V. and everything you eat is on a chip.

Here's some quick to make (but hearty to eat) snacks to help feed hungry guys.

Peanut Butter Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

1 (15-16 oz.) can chick peas (drained but not rinsed - also called garbanzo beans)
4 cloves roasted garlic (or to taste - recipe follows)
3 tablespoons peanut butter (natural, no sugar added)
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Pulse everything in the food processor till smooth. Refrigerate to blend flavors. Serves with chips, pita bread or raw veggies for dipping.

Roasted Garlic

Rinse a whole head of garlic (or several if you want extra to keep in the freezer for other uses)
and wrap in foil. Bake in the oven till soft when squeezed - 1/2 hour to 1 hour depending on the temperature of the oven.

The temperature of the oven doesn't matter - any where from 250 degrees to 400 degrees. The most efficient way to roast garlic is to roast it when you have meat, something Italian or something Mexican cooking in the oven at the same time.

Leave the soft, roasted garlic in the foil to cool. Use immediately or keep frozen in a wide mouth canning jar. Do not use a plasic bag or container. The garlic smell will work it's way through and make EVERYTHING in you freezer (including the ice cream) taste of garlic.

Great Bowls of Garlic

Makes 2 1/2 cups dip

1 (15-16 oz.) can kidney beans (drained but not rinsed)
3/4 cup salsa (any heat)
3 cloves roasted garlic (or more to taste - see previous recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste

Pulse everything in the food processor till smooth. Refrigerate to blend flavors. Serves with chips, pita bread or raw veggies for dipping.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Karla's Cooking Made Easy - Gravy 101

Whether or not you realize it, soup and gravy are very similar (and both very easy) to prepare.

Gravies are thickened liquids prepared in the same way as cream soups.

Home made gravies (including white and cheese sauces) are so much better tasting than anything you can buy and much cheaper plus commercial gravies have way too much salt.

The gravy liquid can be stock, pan juices plus water, vegetable juices or milk - even a combination.

A thickener is a starch like flour, cornstarch, arrow root, finely ground bread crumbs or dry, instant mashed potatoes.

Other ingredients are added for flavor.

Here are the three basic ways to make gravy.

1. Starch is mixed into a bit of cold liquid (to dissolve it and separate the molecules) then whisked into the remaining liquid and the whole thing brought to a boil.

2. Starch is whisked into warm, melted fat (butter, chicken fat, bacon drippings or oil) to separate the molecules (this is called a roux) and cooked a minute or so before the liquid is whisked in and the mixture is brought to a boil.

3. Bread crumbs or dry, instant mashed potatoes are stirred into the bubbling broth of a finished recipe. The crumbs or potatoes absorb some of the liquid thickening it.


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Friday, January 18, 2008

Karla's Cooking Made Easy - Soup 101

I spoke to a group of health professionals recently about the power of food as medicine for the body, mind and soul.

During our question and answer period, I was asked if chicken soup really had health benefits. "Yes !" I most enthusiastically responded.

I was shocked to learn that no one in the group ever cooked home made soup or even knew how to make it. The universal reason was that making soup was "hard".

Soup is probably the easiest, most healthful, most economical and most widely loved food you can cook! Just browse the canned soup aisle the next time you go grocery shopping. All those companies wouldn't be making soup if they didn't make a hefty profit off it.

So here's the basics:

1. There are two kinds of soup: broth based and milk based.

2. There are no real rules.

3. It's the best place to use up left overs.

Let's begin.

Basic Broth Based Soup
Put some broth into a pot. Use bouillion cubes and water, canned chicken broth or home made broth (recipe follows). Add fresh, frozen or canned (with their liquid) vegetables, canned tomatoes, rice, noodles, potatoes, canned beans, cooked meat, chicken, sausage or shrimp (leftovers are perfect). Bring to a boil partially covered. Reduce to simmer and cook until everything is tender and hot. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Add a little thyme, Chinese red chili garlic or cinnamon, if desired.

Easy Home Made Broth
Put a chicken into the slow cooker and cover with water. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt. (Salt may be omitted.) Cook on high (covered) 4-5 hours or low 10-12 hours. Cool. Use broth and some of the chicken for the soup. Save the rest of the chicken for another use.

Basic Milk Based Soup
Melt 1/2 stick butter in a large pot. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour (all purpose or whole wheat). Cook 1 minute. Whisk in 4 cups milk. Heat to simmer. Stir in vegetables, pasta, rice or whatever you'd like. Add additional milk, if necessary for desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

So what are you waiting for?

Let's get into the kitchen!


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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Karla's Cooking Made Easy - Curds, Custards, Creams and Puddings

When you understand how ingredients effect a recipe's outcome, cooking is easy.

Curds, custards, creams and puddings are all made from similar ingredients except for the thickener. It's the thickener that makes the difference.

Curds (think lemon curd) are thickened with an acid and eggs.
Citrus juice (orange, lemon or lime) is mixed with sugar, butter and eggs. The acidic juice interacts with the protein of the eggs making the mixture thick. Generally made only on the stove top.

Custards (think coconut custard pie) are thickened with eggs, only.
Whisking eggs with milk or cream, traps the milk or cream in the viscous egg. Baking "hardens" the protein part of the egg keeping the milk or cream trapped. Custards can be made on the stove top or in the oven.

Creams (think chocolate cream pie and pastry cream filling) use a starch and eggs to thicken.
You might mistakenly call these puddings but if the recipe is made with both a starch (like corn starch, arrow root, potato starch, tapioca or flour) and eggs, it's really called a "cream". Creams use less starch in preparation than puddings because eggs do part of the thickening. Creams are generally made on the stove top.

Puddings use starch, only.
A starch (like corn starch, arrow root, potato starch, tapioca or flour) are stirred into cold milk or juice then cooked. Puddings can be made stove top or in the oven.


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Learn the Basics of Cooking and Baking

Question: How can I tell if a recipe I haven't tried before will come out well?

Answer: It's easy, once you learn the basics of cooking and baking.

1. Study basic preparation techniques.
You'll be able to tell at a glance if what the recipe is asking you to do is consistent with proper cooking or baking methods.

2. Bone up on spices and flavorings to learn what goes with what.
Learn the classic taste combinations and you'll be able to tell if what the recipe is calling for makes sense.

3. Develop an understanding of ingredients and what function they perform in a recipe.
Salt, for example, is added for more than just taste.

In yeast doughs, salt helps regulate the speed at which the yeast grow so the resulting dough is nicely textured.

In pickling, salt draws out moisture so the pickles become crisp.

When cooking pasta, salt is added to the cooking water to slightly change the boiling point so the cooked pasta comes out firm and not mushy.

With a basic knowledge of ingredients, you'll be able to tell if what the recipe is calling for (and the amount) sound right.

4. Sometimes you just have to experiment.
That's part of the fun of cooking. You may get disappointed occasionally but often you get a great result!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Saving Money On Food

Question: Help ! My grocery bill is going through the roof!! How can I save money?
Answer: It's easier than you think plus with these easy tips, you'll be eating better and getting better nutrition!

1. Buy less prepared food.
No need to go cold turkey but if you cut down (and hopefully cut out) convenience foods, take out and deli items you'll be saving a bundle.

2. Shop the perimeter.
Dairy, eggs, meats, fish and produce are located around the edges of grocery stores. That's where you'll the best value for your food dollar.

3. Learn to make the basics.
Soup, salad dressings, sauces for vegetables or pasta, cakes, muffins and cookies are all high profit items for the manufacturers which means you're paying more than you need to. These basic foods are easy to make for a fraction of the cost. They'll taste better, too!

4. Make your own pizza.
Use premade crusts (like Bobolli). (And maybe someday learn to make your own dough.) Home made pizza is easier than you think. Your results will be DELICIOUS and you'll save a fortune!

5. Learn to make bread
No need to over do. Start off with one loaf once a month. Besides tasting great, you'll feel incredibly accomplished! When you're ready, get a bread machine. You'll never buy another $5.00 loaf of bread again!

6. When buying frozen vegetables or fish, buy them without sauce.
The only frozen foods you should be buying are plain vegetables and plain fish. Add your own sauces for a fraction of the cost.

Frozen meals, entrees, side dishes, breakfast foods and similar items are expensive versions of better quality food you can prepare yourself.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How Can I Loose Weight?

Question: I've tried EVERY diet on the market and I just can't seem to loose weight. Help!

Answer: Keeping your weight under control is frustrating but can be easier than you think.

1. Watch your carbs.

Carbohydrates are every where and carbs are readily stored as fat when we get more than we need for our life style.

Choose regular, natural and old fashioned foods not low fat or fat free.

Low fat and fat free foods have fat removed but carbohydrates are put in to replace the fat that was removed.

Convenience and prepared foods often have carbs added. Shredded cheese, for example, is dusted with a invisible film of starch to prevent it from sticking together.

Read the ingredient labels of the foods you buy and choose ones without added carbohydrates.

2. Move, don't exercise.

Regimented exercise (like jogging, hitting the tread mill or working out in the gym) is not for everyone.

But movement is and if you move your body a little bit more than you are right now, you'll drop pounds effortlessly.

Walk the dog five minutes more. Climb a flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator. Cook dinner instead of picking it up at the drive through. Dance around the house. Pull out a few weeds or dig in a plant.

Movement does not have to be hard, complicated or regimented. You don't need special clothes, equipment or a trainer. Just move your body. All movement counts and it adds up fast.

When you move you stimulate body, mind and soul.

When you don't move, you hybernate, pack on the pounds and feel blue.

3. Don't diet.

Eat healthy, clean foods (natural foods without additives) and eat until you're just full.

Give yourself an occassional treat.

If you crave something, have a bite or two and really savor the flavor before swallowing.

Dieting is punishment. You body has only done what you've asked it to do (store the food you've fed it) and that's nothing to be punished for!

Embrace and love your body by doing right by it. Give it what it wants in the amounts it needs.

You'll feel so great you'll want to keep it up and feel great everyday!

4. Breath deeply.

Burning calories is no different than burning logs in your fireplace. Both need oxygen to get the fires going.

Breath in through your nose slowly, counting to ten. Let your chest expand as you take in the breath deeply.

Exhale slowly counting to ten again.

Start with one or two complete breaths (in and out) and work up to a few more every now and then but not so many that you become light headed.

The increased oxygen will help you burn calories. As a bonus, deep breathing helps you feel calm and focused, too!

5. Keep at it.

You didn't gain you extra weight overnight so don't expect it to drop off in a few days.

If you follow these four tips faithfully, your pounds will melt away and not come back.

But the key is "faithfully" follow the tips.

You are at the weight you are because of the life style choices you've made.

Make different choices and you'll have a different result.

It's really that easy!


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Monday, January 7, 2008

How Can I Save Money On Food?

Question: Food is getting so darn expensive. Help!

Answer: Food is not getting as expensive as you might think.
What's gotten expensive is the convenience of our food.

Instead of cooking from scratch, we're paying others to do it for us.

This doesn't mean you can't take advantage of convenience foods - just be aware of what convenience costs and plan accordingly.

Companies are in business to make a profit so items that are abundantly available are those that yield the highest profits for the manufacturer. Salad dressings, cake mixes, gravies and sauce mixes are only a few examples. Foods with a low profit margain are not as abundant.

Learn to make the foods that cost more than they're worth and you'll be on your way to big savings plus you'll be eating better!

Use conveneince foods when you really want them but understand that you're paying a premium for someone else doing the cooking.


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Saturday, January 5, 2008

What Should I Eat To Be Healthy?

Question: There's so much confusion as to what to eat or not eat to be healthy, how do I know what's good for me?

Answer: It is incredibably confusing!

Each of us has similar yet totally unique needs for foods that give us good health.

You already know what a healthy diet should be so build on what you know.

Here's how:

1. Choose foods that are healthier.
Eat seafood more often. Have red meat occassionally but make it lean. Fill in with poultry, eggs and a little tofu.

2. Have some soy.
Sprinkle soy bean nuts on your salads. Have a glass of chocolate soy milk as a bed time snack. When you eat Chinese food, choose a dish with tofu like Buddha's Delight or Hot and Sour Soup.

3. Eat many colors of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and veggies are colored according to the nutrients they provide. The darker the color, the more you get. By choosing many colors, you're getting a broad range of nutrients.

For example, red and pink fruits or vegetables (like beets and strawberries) provide similar nutrients. Not the same, of course, but close enough to count as a rule of thumb.

Orange and yellow (like squash or oranges) are also similar. As are broccoli, green beans and green apples.

4. Eat what appeals to you.
Assuming you eat a healthy diet, the foods you like are the foods your body needs. Our taste buds guide us to good health. Don't force down foods that don't taste good to you just because you're told they're healthy.

5. Broaden your horizons.
Be adventurous! Every once in a while try a new food or a new preparation method. There's such a big delicious world out there it's a shame to miss out!


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