Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mrs. Dicksons Candy

          This is the kind of recipe that you know will be good! Bespattered and dog eared and smeared and barely readable. It has been used so many times. I know it by heart. But I always take it out and let it sit on the counter and get a few more splatters! Its just comforting. I think of the history, and "How many years have I been making these now??" And you know, I really don't know. A long time. Just a long time. They always turn out just perfect. Never had a batch mess up. Mrs. Dickson really knew what she was doing!
           Mrs.Dickson? Well, I didn't know either. For a whole lot of years. I thought she might be fictional, like Betty Crocker. Then one day, the iron horse cowboy and my friend Marty (he's an iron horse cowboy, too!) were having coffee and conversation and I put some chocolates out for snacking on. "Um hm", says Marty, " Mrs. Dicksons." Marty is not fast with words. He ate another one and kept silence. So I had to ask. Seems Mrs. Dickson was his neighbor when he was growing up. His sisters used to visit her and and learned how to make these candies. This was out in Washington Satte. About as far away from New Hampshire as you can get, by land!
           I had first gotten a lovely box of these chocolates from my sister for Christmas. Yup. Many moons ago. The iron horse cowboy claimed, (and still does) that they are the best chocolates. Ever. Get the recipe, he says. I did. There you see it. In her perfect handwriting. I can start out like that, but after a few lines, it gets messy. I don't know if she still makes, them, but I do. Every Christmas. Many batches. Gifts for everyone who needs something special. My grandkids wouldn't think it was Christmas if they didn't get their baggie of chocolates.

                                                            Mrs. Dicksons Chocolates    
                                                    Here's what you need:
                                                       4 cups nuts, coarsely chopped ( I use walnuts )
                                                        1 cube butter or margarine
                                                       2# powdered sugar
                                                        1 cup angelflake coconut
                                                       1 teaspoon vanilla
                                                         1 can Eaglebrand Milk
                                                        18 oz. chocolate chips
                                                          1/2 slab parafin, melted
                                  I use my kitchen Aid for this. It's easier, as the fondant is quite stiff. Dump your powdered sugar in the mixing bowl. Melt your butter and pour it over the sugar. Add your nuts, angelflake, vanilla and eaglebrand. Mix thoroughly. Take the bowl off the mixer and cover it and put in the refrigerator for a hour or so. Now you form it into balls. How big? How big do you want your candy to be! I make mine fairly small because then I get more candies.
                                  I cover a cookie sheet with wax paper to put the balls on. It makes about two cookie sheets full. Put them in the freezer. They are ready in about an hour, but I often just take them off the coookie sheets and put them in bags until I have time to dip them. The more frozen the better.
                                 When you're ready for the big job, you need to melt your chocolate chips and parafin together. I do it in a double boiler. It just works best for me. I'm sure you could use the microwave. You want it in some thing fairly deep so when you dip the balls in the chocolate they are completely covered. When the chcolate is melted, dip the balls in with whatever you have handy. I use tooth picks, because the iron horse cowboys chews them in lieu of smokes, so I always have hundreds of them around. When one gets too chocolately, just dash it and get another one! Work with only a few at a time, and leave the rest in the freezer.If they are at all soft, they fall off the dipping stick and drown in chocolate. Not a nice demise. Hold them over the chocolate to drip, then place on your wax papered cookie sheet. It's tedious. It takes awhile. But you don't have to do them all at once. You can save some for another day. Put them back in the freezer to harden. We leave them in the freezer. They taste better nice and cold, and they never get so hard you break your teeth or any thing.

                        I wonder if that sweet little neighbor lady in Washington ever realized how far reaching her kind heart was? All those miles and all those years and all those hundreds of Mrs. Dicksons candies! Well, I've gifted them to teachers and preachers and doctors and lawyers and cowboys. And friends and neighbors and relations and strangers. They all know of her! Pass it on. Try your hand at the best chocolates in the world. Thank you, Mrs. Dickson!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Anna Pavlova, You Are A Friend of Mine

        Along time ago, somebody in a fancy hotel in New Zealand, made her a special dessert, and named it for her! Imagine! Nobody ever did that for me, not even in a humble kitchen! But, oh! I am so glad for that chef...Can you imagine a world with out Pavlova? The iron horse cowboy can. He doesn't count Pavlova as MAN food. So I have to make it for when girls are coming for treats. Never had a pavlova? Don't you just love that name? Doesn't it sound rather beguiling?
       Yet it is so simple to make. Funny, how sometimes the most complicated seeming things are really so simple! Let me say, a pavlova is also gluten free, so no excuse for unelegant GF desserts! A Pavlova is not too sweet, it melts in your mouth, you can do it up with any number of good things, you can make it days ahead of serving it, it looks really special, it tastes marvelous...well, I could go on and on.
       Anna was a tiny litle Rusian Ballerina. Famous around the world. Danced until she was in her fifties. Died suddenly from pnemonia. But inbetween living and dying, she went to New Zealand and had her very own dessert! They served it to her with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and kiwi, which is , of course, very New Zealandish! I bet she just dived right in and gobbled it up. Ballerinas work pretty hard, don't you know, and are actually very muscular and strong. I try to imagine twirling around on my toes and it just makes me dizzy. She was most famous for her Swan roles. She had to dance around in a feathered costume! It is amazing!

       So. For Pavlova you need egg whites. So If you make things that use all kinds of egg yolks - voila - you have a good excuse to make Pavlova!

                                          3/4 cups sugar
                                         2 tsp. corn starch
                                         4 egg whites
                                          1 tsp. cider vinegar
                                         1 tsp. vanilla
                                          sprinkle of sea salt
                              Turn on your oven to 200 degrees. Mix 1 Tblsp. sugar with the corn starch
                              and set to the side. Beat your egg whites until stiff.. This is where you are so
                              thankful for your KItchen Aid! It takes awhile and if you had to do it with a
                             hand mixer or a whisk, you would never, ever make Pavlova! When the egg
                             whites are nice and stiff, add the rest of the sugar a little at a time. Continue
                            beating until they are thick and glossy. Add the corn starch and sugar mixture
                             and the sprinkle of sea salt. Gently fold in the vinegar and vanilla.
                             Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. I make individual sometimes, so
                            you just drop spoonfuls on the paper and with the back of a spoon make a nest
                            in each one. This recipe will make six. Or you can make one large one, with a
                             large nest in the middle. Bake for one hour. Then turn the oven off and leave
                           them in until they have cooled completely.

                   After they have cooled, you can keep them tightly closed in a cool dry place for a week, but that would be a long time to wait for good eating! Quickly! Right away! Fill that nest with whip cream and pile on the berries! I am a total blueberry fan, but you can use what ever you like. Or, and this is the good thing about Pavlova, it is so diverse! You can fill it with pudding, or custard, or just fruit. You can use saucey berries if you don't have any fresh. You can just pick one up in your hand and munch it. Ice Cream? Yogurt? Let your imagination (and taste buds ) run wild.
                   Another thing, if you use brown sugar, the Pavlova will be a lovely  latte color. Which reminds me, you can use coffee or cappacino or chocolate powder, too, to add your favorite flavor. 

            Beautiful? Gooodness. Those are champage grapes on the side. Teensy tiny grapes that fill your mouth with sweetness and pop. Introduced to me by my old boss, Chef Barry. How about we send the iron horse cowboy off on his iron horse, and I'll dance up a Pavlova. We'll have it with strong black coffee, and silver spoons, and we will be giddy with happiness. You can tell me stories, or play me a song, or we can swirl around on tiptoes and pretend we are Annas.
           You never know what might happen in the Raggedy Garden Kitchen!


Monday, August 26, 2013

The Queen of Hearts

   The Queen of hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summers day.

        The iron horse cowboy ate them...
        And that's okay. I made them for him. And giving credit where credit is due, he did share them with his friends and relations. (Like Rabbit, we have lots of friends and relations). That's a good thing.
         Tarts are so much fun, and easy, too. Just make your favorite pie crust, either from scratch, from a box mix, or a ready made one. Roll it out and cut circles with whatever makes the size you want. A regular bisquit cutter makes a nice tiny one. A canning jar ring works for larger. A wide mouth ring will be a nice manly size!

Sometimes I do hearts, like for a tea party or something. Pie crust is messy. Or else it me, the queen of hearts. I always have a huge mess when I do pie crust. That is half the fun! Anyway, transfer your cut out pieces to a cookie sheet. I use baking paper, cuz filling always oozes out, and throwing away baking paper is easier than scrubbing burned pie filling off cookie sheets. Then plop a dollop of filling on each cut out. It should just fill the middle. Then put another cut out on top . Seal the edges with a fork. Brush each one with water and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake at 350 for about 15 to 20 minutes. I recommend cooking your filling first, or use canned, because they cook too quickly to actually cook apples or other fruit.
You can top a regular pie with pastry cut outs, too, which looks real clever, if you want to impress anyone. But once you cut into it and it disappears down the gullet, well, all that work..for what?? I like pie when it's still warm, and ice cream melts all over it. So you can't do that with tarts. You have to wait till they are cool enough, and then they are excellent finger food. My apple tree is on overload this year, so I have to invent ways to use them up. Apple jelly and apple sauce uses up lots of them. If I am thinking of feeding friends and relations, though, I go for apple bars. I make two big cookie sheets at a time. That's tricky, rolling out such a big portion of pastry, but it can be done. I frost them while they are still warm with a powdered sugar glaze, and every body loves them.

Oh, my! I would hate to see the pile of apple peelings I've made in my life! Thank goodness I always know of a pig pen that appreciates lots of apple peelings! Just make sure you get them to the pigs before they ferment. Although a bunch of drunk pigs lolling around and leaning against each other is hilarious. (They sleep it off quickly).

The iron horse cowboy makes a quick get away with his tarts!
      The guys up at the Garage will be happy!  If you come over, we can eat apple somethings, and have a good chat!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New England Sistahs Tackle Fried Green Tomatoes

           Dusk falls over the Raggedy Garden. The stars have fallen along the fence, see? The perfect end to a Monday. So we've all heard of Fried Green Tomatoes. Some of us have read the book. Some have seen the movie. I had them before. When I was south of the Mason Dixon. I even had a BLT with the T being the fried green kind. Now being the time of plenty of green tomatoes, I thought I'd do up a batch and see how these New Hampshire girls would like them.
            Green tomatoes are pretty. Smooth, apple green, shiny. They are hard. When you slice them up, not too thick, now, so they will cook quickly in the hot oil. Yes. You get out the trusty cast iron skillet, fill half way with oil of choice and let that oil smoke, girls. Let it get smokey hot.
             Buttermilk. You have that in a bowl, and soak those green tomato slices in it. Cornmeal. You take those slices out of the buttermilk and dredge them in the corn meal. You can add any spices or salt and pepper to the cornmeal, if you wish.
              Then carefully drop the dusty yellow slices into the hot oil. Only as many as will fit with out crowding. Only as many as you can handle easily. They bubble and crackle and brown up quickly. You won't have to flip them if your oil is deep enough. Take them out with a slotted utensil and let them drain on paper towel. Dish them up, sprinkle with salt and pepper, dip in ranch dressing, spead with a little mayo.. use your imagination.
               Some of us picked them up and ate them with our fingers. (Remember, fingers were made before forks!)  Others cut them and forked them daintily into their mouths, others took a bite and spit them promptly back out. Well, each to their own. It tasted pretty much like a deep fried pickle.

.               They look quite good. Truth to tell, nobody said, "That was good, let's do it again someday." But it was fun and Charlie said he had one more thing knocked off his bucket list, so that counts for something!.  The iron horse cowboy ate his but he forgot to taste it because he was too busy talking . It's a bad habit of his. He did that to me once at the fair where he saw a buffalo burger stand. "Go buy me a buffalo burger," he says, busily talking to some long lost acquaitance. So I brave the long line, shell out extravagent amounts of cash, get back through the crowds without losing the burger. Hand it him. He eats it with gusto, still expounding to said buddy. Later on the way home I ask if liked buffalo burger? "How would I know? Never tried it", he says. Sigh.
              Have a tangy geen tomato day, where ever you may be!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Raggedy Garden Smorgasbord

  Smorgasbord.. " a widely varied collection or assortment." From the Swedish, where I have roots. You are invited to the Raggedy Garden Kitchen Smorgasbord. Here there is always coffee. ALWAYS coffee. The kind of coffee that perks away in an old Corningware coffee pot. White, with a blue bouquet. You have to be on the ball, with this pot. Else it perks up a storm and boils over. All over the stove. Huge mess. You would think I would have it all under control after all these years, but no..I still manage to not pay attention and make a mess, at times. Sigh. Perked coffee is very hot. (Because its boiling!) So keep that in mind if you drink coffee here. Every one is always burning their tongue. All coffee is good. At least,lush that I am, I have not ever had any that I could not drink. But perked coffee is especially good. It has drip coffee and K-Cups beat by a mile. Or you can have tea. It does not take long to heat up some water. And a little smackrel of something to go with the coffee. Iron Horse cowboy insists on that. He will try to shame you into having food, if nothing else works, like presentation, or shouting, or force feedng. Midnight to two o'clock in the morning coffee calls for eggs and toast, by the by!

There is usually bread rising  here. A big bowl, covered with a damp tea towel. It is how my grandmother taught me, all those years ago. We sure had fun, her and I, in the kichen. She spoke mostly Finnish, I spoke none, but we baked. Bread is so versatile, you can use any flavor of flour, or sweetening, or liquid  that you want. The basic sweet roll dough she taught me, works for any sweet breads. The most fun was doughnuts. She would cut them out with the cover from the (percolator) coffee pot. Now, there were some doughnuts! No spindley little store bought kind! These were raised, and you had to open your mouth wide to take a bite. Soft and sugary and warm. When we were done baking we would clean up the kitchen, sit down with coffee for her and hot chocolate for me, and sample our wares. Then and only then, would we share them with the others.

     So, wooden spoons and other wooden ware? Do you have some? I use mine all the time. If its something quick, a good sturdy wooden spoon works just as well as getting out the mixer. I always use a wooden spoon to mix yeast dough. And when it gets too stiff, then I go in with my hands. That way I can feel when its the right amount of flour, and I know when its smooth and elastic, and I can wash and butter the bowl, turn the dough in it and cover it with the tea towel to rise. For years I made eight loaves of bread every day, and later I did alot of bread baking for the local resturant, so I speak from experience,

    Maple. Thats an integral part of the Raggedy Garden kitchen. We make it, every spring. Sweet golden amber, sweet maple fragrance, sweet maple taste on the tongue. It's hard work. It takes a family, and alot of hours and cold and tramping through snowbanks, and the good weary feeling when you fall into bed and asleep before your head hits the pillow. And, Oh! the pancakes and waffles and french toast taste so fine. A lot of other things, too. Like brussels sprouts, and potato salad  and meats of all kinds. True North American product. Thank you Lord, for giving us sweet maple.

Awww. Sweet Potato. I like it baked, with butter and sour cream, and salt and pepper. Yup. In the microwave it bakes up in a couple minutes. ( Maple goes good on sweet potato, too, if you want sweetness.) Another way is to scrub them, slice them up as french fries, roll them in olive oil, sprinkle them with sea salt, bake them at 375 for about 20 minutes. When I was in North Carolina, I had them at  Southern Sisters with a dipping sauce of sour cream mixed with brown sugar. To die for!

Sea salt. Smokehouse pepper. I recommend you head for the nearest grocery and find some Smokehouse pepper. You can find sea salt every where now. It's the "in" thing. It really does enhance any thing you sprinkle it on. Like caramels, chocolate. Why? Why does it make stuff taste so good? I don't know. But that pepper, it has ambience. Smokey, mild,  the grains are big enough to see. I don't like pepper that looks like dust. I'm addicted. I put it on everything.

Blue berry jam. Nothing can compare to jam made from wild blueberries. They are tiny. Its hot and muggy and buggy when you have to pick them. It takes a long time to fill you bucket,, especailly if you try not to get any sticks and leaves and bugs. But its worth it. Oh, yes. It's hot while you are scalding jars, and boiling fruit and stirring the pot. But it is so worth it. So, so worth it. You will beleive it when you take a bite of that piece of toast, all warm and melty with butter and blueberry jam.

          Quaint old cook books. I just love them. Just imagine directions for a picnic like this! I have new ones, too. I read cookbooks all the time, loving words, and dreaming over pictures. A kitchen would not be a true kitchen with out a few well used cook books. The kind with stains on the pages and notes in the margins, and pages torn out. A smorgasbord of recipes and memories . A smorgasbord of loving and living.  Come again!

Friday, July 5, 2013

From the Herb Garden

     Herbs have so many variables. They are beautiful to look at. They add flavor. They have healing  and cosmetic uses. They are steeped in legend. They are fragrant. When dusk smudges the sky, and the first prickles of starshine appear, when I have finished sweating over the dish sink, then I go out into the cool of the evening. Not really very cool, but much cooler than in the kitchen. Sitting on the granite stoop I let the quietness wash over me. The night wind whispers. First I hear it whispering to the pines and hemlocks. High up, tossing the tips of the trees.  "Mini-wawa" said the  Gitchee Gummie pine trees. I have heard them, there by the lapping of the water. "Mini-wawa" they murmur to the night wind. Here they speak of silk and satin. Barely hearable swish of silk, bearly hearable swash of satin. The wind dips down into the aspen tree, shake, shake, "taffeta, taffeta", the large leaves whisper back. Like a taffeta party skirt. Like a dance in the dark. Swooping lower, my face is cooled and kissed with the night wind. It carries the sweet fragrance of newly cut hay, of the swampy place up the lane, of the heat of a dying day.
      The air is heavy. The fog swirls in on the wind. Thats when I can catch the scent of the herbs. In the heavy humid evening air. The dill, the mint, the thyme, the lavendar. The pineapple sage, the fresh clean parsley, the apple scented chamomile. It all hangs there, flavoring the dark, calling in the moths, gathering strength for the morrow.
        Parsley. Who can get along with out parsley? Fresh green color, fresh green scent. You can chew it - it freshens the breath. You can use it for garnish. You can cook it in anything. You can use it as filler for bouquets.It is rich in vitamins, minerals and chloropyll. You can have it year around. Just dig some up in the fall, and it will thrive on a sunny window sill.
        Thyme. Thyme will just thrive and grow, any where. You can grow between rocks, if you have that in mind. When it floweres, bees love it. So if that scares you, snip it when it starts to bloom. Thyme dries easily, for winter use.Thyme is the herb of courage, bravery and strength. It is an ancient herb. It is one of the herbs still used by pharmacuticals to this day. Thyme honey is much admired. 
      Dill. Lovely, feathery, dilly smelling dill. Fresh sprigs for cooking -fish- snipped on potatos and eggs. Wait till the flowers become seed heads. Then dry them for pickles. Once I accidently used them in bread instead of caraway seeds. It was amazingly fragrant and tasty.The name dill actually comes from the Norse. It means "lull". Supposedly has sleep inducing properties. The ancients beleived it was an absolute charm against witches and evil. The wind blows it around. Once you grow some, you will find it popping up all over the lawn. And that is fine! It's best to be safe from evil witches!
       Chives. Sturdy, chive-y, can't kill it if you try chives. WIth its onion like tops and purple flowers, it's a joy to behold. And use. I mean, what can't you use chives with? Eggs, potaos of all kinds, pastas, salads, meats. Freshly chopped on top of anything, it just adds panache! Meriweather Lewis wrote of finding them (he called them shives ) along the Columbia River, and early explorers found great patches of them growing near the Beaufort Sea.
       Chamomile. sweet fragile looking, tiny daisied flowers. Yet it stands for patience and strength in adversity. Everyone knows that a cup of chamomile tea is good for what ever might ail you. Like naughty Peter Rabbit, who had to take some and go to bed, while his sisters had berries! During the Revolutionary War it was refered to as the Rebel flower, because, " it flourishes the
 more, the more it is trampled upon. Chamomile dries nicely, keeping its scent, and also will self seed. It was used as a strewing herb, back in the days when you needed to strew fragrant herbs on your dirt floors. 
        The lemony herbs. Lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon scented geraniums. All, of course, used for fragrance and tea. Neccessary if you make potpouri. Verbena will grow into a huge shrub in warm climates. I have to take mine in for the winter and it makes a nice green houseplant. Balms were believed to make the heart merry. So drink your tea! Every morning. And have a good day.
         Lady's Mantle. Named for the Virgin Marys cape. A fast growing, filling up space herb. The yellow - green flowers dry well. The dew collects in the cup of the leaves. They say, if you gather those dew drops, and wash you face, you will be beautiful. Well.. the dew feels cool and silky on my skin. And a girl can always use a little help!

             Italian herbs. Easy to grow. Easy to use. Basil, oregano, marjoram, savory. Pesto. Tomatos. Sauces.  Oregano and marjoram are basically the same thing. Oregano is loved by the fairies, in case you want some of them in your garden. Savory is for beans. It was first planted by the Satyrs!
             Lavendar. Mostly used for its sweet smell, but it can be used in cooking. Lavendar Lemonade is a drink fit for a king. A good king, not a bad one!. It gives a delicate flavor to cakes and cookies.
             Mint. Now here is a hardy one. It will take over your growing area. Which is okay, if it spills out into the grass. Just mow it and walk about in it, and enjoy mint. There are many different kinds of mints, from chocolate, to orange. Better to plant in a contained space, if you don't want it to spread. It will give you delightful minty flavor to any thing you wish.

         Here is Hearts Ease. Also callled Johnny Jump Ups, for the way they will jump up all over the lawn. Sweet, lovely things. Gauranteed to make happy thoughts. It is bad luck to EVER destroy one of these. Best not risk it. Let them grow where they will. They are completely edible. Look beautiful on frosted cakes, in salads and make a lovely purple jelly. If you are sorrowing over some thing, find some Hearts Ease at a friends house. Dig it up and go plant it . Your heart sorrow will be eased. I know. I tried it!
                                                       Buttermilk Chives Dressing
                                            1 cup real buttermilk
                                             1/4 cup mayonaise
                                            2 Teaspoons Dijon mustard
                                            2 Teaspoons prepared horseradish
                                            2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
                                             1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
                                            1/4 Teaspoon garlic powder
                                            1/4 Teaspoon coarse salt
                                            1/2 Teaspoon pepper
                    Whisk together buttermilk, mayo, mustard and horseradish until smooth. Gently stir in chives, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Let it rest in the refrigerater for about twelve hours.
                      I usually have buttermilk around, because the iron horse cowboy likes to have a nice cold glass now and then. ( It's the old scandinavian coming out.) Also, I used horseradish mustard instead of horseradish and dijon, because, along with buttermilk, goes sandwiches with horseradish mustard!
                     This made wonderful potato salad, by the way. It looks real fresh and pretty with the bright green snippets of herbs.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Praise of the Lovely Potato

  First off, Several readers have told me how they have benefited from using cast iron for their cooking. Almost identical stories about how they were anemic and could never give blood, but after using cast iron for about a year, the counts went up, and they were able to donate. (Besides feeling more frisky!) So, there you go. It's worth a try.
     Many years ago, I saw this potato bin at a yard sale. I really wanted it, but I didn't have that much money. I shamelessly flirted with the guy, and he sold it to me for $2.00 dollars. I tell you, it works. And I'm glad I did it, too, because I use this everyday, and its charming and its practical and it should last me the rest of the time that I need a potato bin.
     Believe me. I am a potato pro. If I heaped up all the potatos I've dealt with all these years. It would be a pile bigger than my house. The iron horse cowboy is of the opinion that you have to have potatos every day, at least once, in order to survive the vagaries of life. He always says he is not a fussy eater, beacause all he likes is meat and potatos, so what what could be less complicated than that? I leave it to you to make your own judgement. (I sometimes like noodle-ey stuff, too ).
      Potatos are really quite lovely. They look nice. Even the lumpy full of dirt, just from the potato field ones. They are so versatile. You can't even imagine how many different ways you can make them. Any meal of the day.

      You even have a choice of color. Red, white, yellow, even blue and purple. I did try the blue ones, once, but it just looked too, something... they tasted fine, though. I like the tiny little ones. You don't have to cut 'em or peel 'm. Just put 'em in the pot and give 'em a boil. I found out you don't have to peel potatos, ever, if you don't want to. The skins are the healthiest part anyway, so why waste the time and product? When I had seven teenage sons at home, I went through ten pounds of potatos every night. I learned pretty quickly to not worry about peeling. The peels give a great texture to mashed, are a bonus to boiled, fried, or scalloped.
       Once I even tried to grow potatos. I cut all the "eye pieces"  and placed them in my lovely, crumbly soil that I had hoed my trench in.It was pure luck that the property we bought when we came to New England was all loam and sand to make it friable. No rocks. No rocks. It is unheard of around these parts. You know all those stone walls? They picked those rocks to try to make pastures and gardens. But more just come popping up with the frost every winter. It's a losing battle. Mostly the farmers pulled stakes and moved west. They probably went out and ran that prairie soil through their fingers every day, and said a thank you prayer. For no rocks.
       Any way, I soon had four lovely, long rows of the most beautiful potato plants you would ever want to see. And I hoed out the weeds and hilled up the dirt around each plant, just like you are supposed to. Oh, I had a good feeling about those potatos! They blossomed. Sometimes, I'd even sneak a peak underneath. Yup. Little teeny tiny spuds. Can't wait. Then, alas and alack. I go out to do my daily hoeing, and what do I see? Potato bugs. Millions of 'em. On every plant. Just munching away. I ask you.. Where do they come from? I never have seen another potato patch around the neighborhod anywhere. They are called Colorado potato beetles. Did they fly in from Colorado in the night? Or did a couple sneak in and have an orgy?
         So, I bribe my boys to go out and pick the little critters off my plants. They get empy coffee cans and go out to slay the enemy. Its  a losing battle, too. Just like the rocks. You cant squish 'em fast enough. Any how, they don't care about any other plants, thank goodness. I know, I could have bought chemicals. But, you know. That just ain't right. So the beautiful potato plants all fell down. I mean, I dug up what I could. It was a pitiful small bowl of pitiful small potatos. All my hard work. I should of sat down and cried. But I didn't. I cooked 'em all up and ate 'em for supper. (The spuds, not the bugs.)
       "We have potatos for breakfast and potatos for noon. If it weren't for potatos we would soon be undoon." Old colonial saying.  So lets start with potatos for breakfast!
          First you have to cook potatos for supper the night before. Sneak out some before you mash them, or eat then as boiled potatos, just incase everyone is really hungry and they eat them all. Then there wouldn't be any left. Sad, but true. 
                  Breakfast Potatos
        ( We call them home fries, here in New England.)
           And they are NOT hashbrowns. Period.
            Heat up your cast iron skillet. You want it to be smoking hot. Drop in a dab of butter (or margarine). It will melt and turn smokey and brown. Add chopped onions. How much depends on how much you like onions. Of course, if you don't like onions, then leave them out. Add your chopped potatos. You can cut them the size you want. I like them fairly small. Then you sprinkle them liberally with Lawrys Season Salt. This is esential to good home fries. Trust me.
             Be careful when you put them in the skillet so you don't get burned with smoking hot butter. Stir just enough to mix everything evenly, and then let 'em cook. Thats it. You want them to get a nice brown crustiness to them, so when the bottoms get crusty, flip 'em over and brown the other side. Umm Hmm. Fry up some eggs and you just got a real good thing.
                 If last nights potatos were mashed, you do pretty much the same thing. Get your cast iron smokey hot. Add your butter (or margarine). Shape the cold mashed potatos into nice thick patties, slide 'm into the smokey butter. Little sprinkle of Lawrys. Let them get nice and crispy, then turn them over and crisp the other side. Add eggs. These are good with a little butter or sour cream, too, if you like all that good stuff.                                        


Of course, there's no law saying you can't eat other kinds of potatos for breakfast. It's a free country, here in the good old USA. Another day, we will talk about potatos for the other times of day.
By the way, these CAN be made for lunch or supper, too. No law against that , either!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cowboy Cake

        YEE HAW! for chocolate cake. Everyone has a recipe or a box mix. This is our most used, most eaten, most bragged about cake. My kids all knew how to make this before they started first grade. It is that easy. At that time, at our house, a 9x13 cake lasted for one night. So , yeah, we made a lot of them. This is another no fuss, no mess recipe. Mix it in the cake pan. Stick it in the oven. Take it out. Eat it.
       I don't know where the original recipe came from. It's in alot of cook books, under many different names. The iron horse cowboy always invites folks over for cowboy cake, so there you have it!

      Find your favorite 9x13 cake pan. You don't even have to grease it. Just start with the dry ingredients.
                                        2 1/2 cups flour
                                         1 1/2 cups sugar
                                        1/2 cup baking cocoa
                                        2 teaspoons baking soda
                                        1/2 teaspoon salt
      Stir these all together with a fork. Wooden fork works great! Now pour into the pan:
                                        2/3 cup cooking oil
                                        2 tablespoons vinegar
                                        1 tablespoon vanilla
                                        2 cups cold coffee  ( you can use water...I'm sketchy on if it will taste quite as good!)
        Carefully blend these wet ingredients with your trusty wooden fork. Or not. Try not to make a floury mess by folding it in slowly. Now mix:
                                         1/4 cup sugar
                                         1/2 teaspooon cinnamon
         Sprinkle this over the cake batter. Of course, you've already preheated your oven to 350. Slip it in! Bake 30 to 40 minutes. Done deal!

          Moist, chocolatey, crunchy sugary cinnamony topping. Scoop out a large piece and dollop on the ice cream or whipped cream. Sigh with satisfaction.
           ** We have made this gluten free by just using GF flour mix and even though some people think they might die or get ill if they eat something gluten free, they never know the difference. Just don't tell those kind of folks.
           ** No. There are no eggs in this cake, so its handy if you run out and you still want to bake.


              Put on your hat, and your cowboy shoes! We'll hit the trail and lope on in to the Raggedy Garden for some cake!                

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Corn Chowder for a Crowd

                 Here it is, in all its splendor! My cast iron"crock pot". Really a dutch oven. It holds six quarts ( a gallon and a half). The legs are a nice feature, as the pot doesn't sit directly on the heat source. This is nice if you keeping something hot for a longer while. It has the wire bail handle, but I always pick it up with the ears, as it just seems more stable. This pot is quite heavy, especially if you have the cast iron cover on it, too then it weighs eighteen pounds! I thoght I was crazy and couldn't read a scale. So I had the iron horse cowboy weigh it. He was all mystified at WHY, after all this time, I want to know how much it weighs. When not in use, it sits on my wood cook range, which has a fire all winter, by the way. It has squatted there for, well, alot of years.
                  Well, I was feeding a crowd on a cool May day in New Hampshire.  A perfect corn chowdah' day. For corn chowder you need:
                    Bacon (1 lb.)
                    Onion  (1 large)
                    Potatos ( how potato-ey do you want your soup?)
                    Chicken soup base Make your own, or buy. I use gluten free chicken buillion powder)
                     (You can use a vegetable base or broth if you need vegetarian)
                     Creamstyle corn (three cans)
                     Large bag frozen whole kernal corn ( you can use canned or fresh, if its that time of year)
                     Maple syrup (about a quarter cup. If you don't have this around, sugar works just fine. We make our own maple syrup, so thats what I use.)
                     Milk, or half and half
                     A flour roux or cornstarch (because of a gluten free loaded family, I use cornstarch for all my thickening. I have not tried making a roux with GF flour. It might work just fine.)

                 Cook the bacon. Spread the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 15 to 18 minutes. Until its nice and crisp. Take it off the pan and let it drain on paper towel. SAVE THE BACON GREASE! Thats what gives chowdah its unique flavor. Of course you skip this part if you don;t eat meat. Just sayin'..it won't be near as good.

                I par cook my potatoes. I just think its quicker and they stay nice and firm. Peel, or not, some spuds are better with skin. Like tiny red ones or new potatoes just from the garden. Dice then up as big as you like to find them in your soup. drain and set aside until you are ready to put the milk in.

                  Dice up a nice fat onion. Vidalias are the best. They are so sweet and they don't make you cry. Sorry, any Walla Walla Sweet fans. We just don't find them around here. In the cast iron skillet they go, with the bacon grease or a nice dab of butter.  Saute them so they turn translucent and soft.Good old wooden spoon works fine for this!

                   Dump the onions and all that good bacon flavoring into the big dutch oven. Add one quart soup base, maple syrup and corn. Bring to a boil. Now is the time to add your roux, or your cornstarch. Roux is just butter and flour cooked to a golden colored paste. If you use cornstarch, you need a lot for this much chowder. I used about 3/4  of a one pound box. Mix it with cold water, so its thick and not lumpy. Then add some of your hot broth and mix it into the cornstarch, then add it to the pot. Stir occasionally while the chowder simmers. Let it get quite thick. Then add your potatoes and milk. For this much, I used about six cups of milk. If you thicken with cornstarch, it will get thicker if you are keeping it hot for a longer time. Just thin it down with water, milk or broth.

                     Do a taste test. Add salt and or pepper if you think it needs any. Usually between the broth and the bacon, its salty enough. I confesss to be addicted to McCormacks Smokehouse pepper, so I give it a generous sprinkle. Recommend you try it! Of course, warm fresh bread, butter, and you have yourself a real deal meal. Have an iron horse cowboy who won't eat your cooking? Make him a hot dog.
                     If you don't need this much chowdah, just shrink the amounts. Its flexible. Its easy. Its delicious. Come on over!