Breakfast Casserole

We’re sixteen days into our kitchen remodel, and that means that I’m not doing much cooking since our kitchen is not fully functional.  However, breakfast is a must for me, so I used the toaster oven to whip up a breakfast casserole for the week.  Breakfast casserole is a fast, easy dish that is easily adapted to whatever ingredients you have on hand (think fresh herbs, peppers, leftover roasted veggies).  We still have lots of peppers coming out of the garden, so I added poblano pepper to this batch.  I make this dish most Sundays to eat for breakfast during the work week.

First, you’ll need eight farm eggs.  Use store-bought if you must, but you’re missing out!

Next, crack the eggs and whisk in the milk, sour cream, salt and pepper.

Stir in the diced peppers and Canadian bacon (or bacon, if you prefer). The measurement for the diced peppers and meat is a guideline; more peppers or meat can be used to your liking.  This dish is a good way to use up bits of leftovers in the fridge, such as leftover salsa, or a slice or two of cooked bacon.

Next, pour into a baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes until eggs are set but still moist.  This reheats in the microwave beautifully!

Breakfast Casserole
Author: 
 
This recipe was adapted from the Brunch Oven Omelet recipe published in Betty Crocker's 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook on page 174.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 eggs
  • ⅔ cup sour cream
  • ⅔ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup of diced peppers and herbs of your choice, or combination of
  • 6 thin slices Canadian bacon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Heat the butter in the baking dish, in oven, until melted.
  3. Tilt the dish to coat the bottom.
  4. Whisk eggs, sour cream, milk and salt until blended.
  5. Stir in the diced peppers, and Canadian bacon.
  6. Pour into dish.
  7. Bake about 30 minutes or until eggs are set but moist.

 

Half Sour Pickles

We’ve got a bumper crop of cucumbers from the garden right now, and fermenting is an easy, quick way to preserve them.  I find that it’s less work than canning, and the crunch of a fermented cucumber is hard to beat.  I’ve been referring to The Art of Fermentation by the fermentation guru, Sandor Ellix Katz, for guidance.  He recommends a 3.5% salt brine to make a crunchy, short fermenting pickle, and I’ve used this brine with great results.

To ferment cucumbers, you’ll need some basic fermenting equipment: a one quart canning jar, a weight, a lid with a seal and an airlock.  For the salt, I’m using Himalayan salt that I purchased from Fermentools, but you can use any salt that you prefer to make the 3.5% brine.  The weights I’m using are from a four piece set called Pickle Pebbles.  We made lids for fermenting with a box of the Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage caps.  Frank drilled a hole in the middle of each one and then placed a BPA-free food grade silicone grommet in each hole.  A reusable food grade silicone seal goes inside each cap and a plastic airlock goes on top.

To make pickles in a one quart jar, I used approximately one pound per jar.  You may need more or less than this depending on the size of the cucumbers.  I have found that the smaller cucumbers result in the tastiest, crunchiest pickles, so save the big cucumbers for another use. After cleaning the cucumbers in water, remove the blossom end and slice into spears or leave whole.

Make the brine by adding Himalayan salt to filtered water and stirring to dissolve (if you choose to use a different salt, use a ratio of 1 tablespoon of sea salt or pickling salt to two cups of water to make a 3.5% brine).  To help the cucumbers stay crunchy, Katz recommends adding “grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves, or other tannin-rich plant materials”.  I’ve got a Champanel grapevine in my garden, so I’ve been using one grape leaf in each quart jar.  The leaf goes in the very bottom of the jar, and then you pack the cucumbers in the jar along with dillweed or dill seed, and garlic if you like.  I also sometimes add a dried chile or fresh pepper along with some black peppercorns or mustard seed.  Fit in as many cucumbers as you can, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.

Place the weight in the jar, and pour the brine in until the cucumbers and the weight are fully submerged.  Place the seal in the lid, and then screw on the lid and add the airlock.  (The airlock should have water in it up to the top line).Ferment for about eight days in a 75 degree kitchen, taking care to keep them out of direct sunlight.  Fermentation could occur in a shorter or longer time period than eight days, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.  I would taste the cucumbers after a few days to get an idea of how far along they are.  There is really no right or wrong answer; they are ready when they taste good to you.  The jar on the left below is fully fermented while the two on the right are the ones prepared for this post.

After eight days, my pickles are ready.  Remove the weight and the airlock, put on a new lid and refrigerate.  These will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Half Sour Pickles
Author: 
Serves: 1 quart
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb pickling cucumbers, blossom ends trimmed
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 1 dill head, washed or 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1 grape leaf, washed
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled (optional)
  • 1 dried chile or 1 fresh pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Add the salt to the water to make the brine.
  2. Place the grape leaf in the bottom of the jar.
  3. Add the dill head, or dill weed to the bottom of the jar.
  4. Add the pepper and garlic, if using.
  5. Pack the cucumbers into the canning jar, leaving ½ inch headspace.
  6. Add the weight. Pour the brine over the cucumbers until the cucumbers and the weight are covered.
  7. Place the seal in the lid, and screw the lid on the jar.
  8. Put water in the airlock, and attach the airlock to the lid.
  9. Ferment for about eight days, tasting along the way as needed.
  10. When the pickles taste ready to you, refrigerate.

Spring Planting, 2017

Red lasoda potatoes were planted mid-January, and are getting to be a good size by late February. These will be ready to harvest in late April or early May.

The mesquite trees were beginning to bud by late February, which is usually a sign in our area that the danger of a freeze has passed.  We took this as the green light to start planting the spring garden early this year, beginning on February 24.

We put in a variety of tomato plants: one yellow pear, six celebrity, and fifteen roma.  I’m hoping to have lots of tomatoes to can.  Also planted were a variety of pepper plants: two cayenne, six poblano and two grande jalapeno. One fennel plant was added because we lost all we had in a severe freeze earlier in January.

               

We spread a load of Kitchen Pride mushroom compost on the garden the first weekend in March.  We also did some more planting: six Red Deuce tomatoes, six Homemade Pickles cucumber plants, two dill plants, two lavender, and lots of marigolds.

One of the tomato plants that was planted in February already has a bloom just a couple of weeks later…looking forward to having homegrown tomatoes once again!

Ranch Dressing

All of the broccoli, radishes, and cauliflower coming out of the garden this month inspired me to create a personal size veggie plate with ranch dressing.

First, put a cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.  Add onion powder, celery leaves, marjoram, dill, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Parsley would be good, too.  Add some lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Stir in the buttermilk and mix well.  Add more buttermilk if needed to thin it to a pourable consistency. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for about a week.

It works equally well as a dip for veggies or drizzled over garden fresh lettuce.


Ranch Dressing
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried celery leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together.

 

 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

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Have you ever read Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School?  This book is a great resource for beginner or experienced cooks. Flinn brought together a group of people who were not confident in the kitchen and offered them classes on kitchen basics such as chopping, braising, taste testing, and saving money on groceries with the goal of teaching them how to choose and cook delicious, healthy food, and then documented the entire process in her book.

What I loved about this book was how Flinn makes the case for cooking at home.  She’s able to demonstrate that many dishes that people often prepare from a mix, box, or jar can easily be cooked at home if you buy the ingredients and cook from scratch.  As well, she talks about all the added ingredients in store bought foods, which caused me to really look at food labels.  Flinn points out that salad dressing often has many ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce or recognize, and there is usually added sugar.  This inspired me to stop buying salad dressing–I easily and quickly make it at home.

basket-of-lettuce salad

There’s lots of lettuce coming out of the garden now, so I’m sharing my balsamic vinaigrette recipe that was inspired by Flinn’s book.  It has raw garlic and oil in it, so it should be eaten within four days.  Once it is refrigerated, the oil often solidifies, so just take it out of the fridge ahead of time and then shake as needed to combine.

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I like to use this vinaigrette on a salad made with mixed kinds of lettuce and topped with diced honey crisp apples, a little feta, kalamata olives, and chopped walnuts.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper (less can be used; season to your taste)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (or the juice from about a whole lemon)
  • ¾ cup olive oil
Instructions
  1. Pour the vinegar in a bowl with the garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne and whisk until salt dissolves.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Whisk in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly. (Or place all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake to combine.)
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Oven Fried Chicken

The first cookbook I ever cooked from was Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  I turned to this book first as a kid learning to cook and later as a mom feeding two hungry boys.  When my kids were growing up, I often made oven fried chicken and my version is based on the recipe in this book.  My son Trent really loves this dish and it’s the one he most often requests me to make when he’s craving comfort food.  He’s a college student now and recently became interested in cooking it himself, which inspired me to post the instructions in case I’m not available for a phone consult!  This post is for you, Trent.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay the chicken on a clean cutting board and season with salt and pepper.

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I buy one pound packages of chicken that contain two large pieces, so I cut these in half to make four pieces total.

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Line the baking dish with foil for easy clean up.  Put the butter in the baking dish and melt it in the oven while the oven is preheating.  Be sure to remove it as soon as the butter is melted so that it doesn’t burn.

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While the butter is melting, dredge the chicken in the flour to coat both sides.  Gently shake off the excess.

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Now sprinkle the paprika liberally over the chicken. The paprika helps give the chicken a nice brown color.

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Take the hot baking dish out of the oven.  Lay the chicken, paprika side down, in the melted butter.  Sprinkle paprika on the side facing up.

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Put the chicken in the oven and bake for ten minutes; then turn it over and bake ten more minutes or when the juices run clear when cutting into the thickest part.

img_2135-chicken-is-ready

 

Oven Fried Chicken
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound of chicken breasts
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Line a baking dish with foil.
  3. Heat the butter in the baking dish until melted.
  4. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  5. If necessary, cut the chicken breasts into the desired number of pieces.
  6. Coat the chicken in flour.
  7. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of the paprika.
  8. Place the chicken, paprika side down, in the baking dish.
  9. Sprinkle the side facing up with the remaining teaspoon of paprika.
  10. Bake uncovered for ten minutes.
  11. Turn the chicken and cook about ten minutes longer or until juices run clear.

Dried Bay Leaf & Crushed Red Pepper

Bay leaves and red peppers are both plentiful in the garden now. A quick way to preserve both is to dry them using the dehydrator.

Wash the bay leaves and let them air dry on a towel. Place in a single layer in the food dehydrator and dry according to the manufacturer’s recommended time.  Mine took a couple of hours in my Sunbeam dehydrator.  Store in a glass jar and use within a year or place in the freezer to keep them fresh even longer.

washed-bay-leaf bay-leaf-in-dehydrator

Follow the same process to dry the peppers, but first, while wearing gloves, cut each in half and scrape out the seeds and veins.  I used cayenne and jalapeno peppers in this batch and they took about five hours to dry.  After they were dry, I crushed them using my Pampered Chef chopper and then stored in a glass jar with a shaker top.  I’ll be sprinkling this on pizza soon!

assorted-red-hot-peppers red-hot-peppers-in-dehydrator

First Honey Harvest

Shortly before Labor Day, Tanner harvested the honey from the beehive for the first time.  He removed three frames and put the honey in food grade plastic buckets (he scored these at the grocery store bakery for a buck each!), leaving the frames to drip in the buckets for a few days until as much honey as possible had been collected.  Total harvest was 13 pounds (not counting what we ate along the way).

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When all the honey was collected, we needed to put the frames back in the hive.  Frank opened it up and took out the temporary empty frames that Tanner had put in while the honey was being harvested.  The bees had been busy; they had started new honeycomb in the empty frame.

bee-on-honeycomb new-honeycomb

There was 1.75 pounds of honeycomb from this harvest, so I made a couple of candles.  I put the honeycomb inside a cheesecloth bundle, and then set it in a pot of water on the stove to melt to clean the beeswax.  As it slowly melted, the cheesecloth trapped the grit and impurities and the clean beeswax rose to the top.  I then let it cool and harden and had enough to make two candles in small canning jars.  To make the candles, I placed a tabbed wick into each jar and poured in the beeswax.  I used wooden skewers taped to each other to hold the wick in place while the wax hardened.  Then I trimmed the wicks and the candles were ready.

beeswax-candle beeswax-candle-2

Meet the Bees

Tanner and Karlee recently became interested in beekeeping and have put a hive in our backyard. The bees are Italian honey bees and have been here for about six weeks now.

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Tanner is smoking the bees to calm them so he can open the hive and see how things are going.

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This is what the hive looks like when the top has been removed.

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Here, Tanner and Karlee are holding frames lifted from inside the hive.

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