Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Four Family Meal Exchange

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Jerk Chicken with Island example of what each family took home
Last year (about this time) I had this brilliant idea to start a meal exchange group. I thought about how people enjoy having meals made for them, and also sharing favorite meals/recipes with others. So I combined these ideas and formed the first "Four Family Meal Exchange" group.

I started by emailing everyone I knew who 1) regularly cooked for their families, 2) kept a clean kitchen, 3) were reliable, 4) lived close by, and 5) didn't have any food allergies/special food needs. I told them of my big plan, and asked if anyone would be interested.

Here's what I emailed:

"Hi all! I am e-mailing some friends who like to cook to see if anyone is interested in joining a Meal Exchange group. Below are the details. Take a look, and if you are interested, email me.

Four Family Meal Exchange

Each month, you will be assigned a week (always the first, second, third, or fourth week of the month). Sometime during that week (you decide what day is best for you, and it can vary from month to month), you will prepare four main dish meals. You will set a time for the others to pick them up. Then throughout the month, three meals will be prepared for you!

1. Food restrictions: No food restrictions. Meals do not have to be catered to children's tastes.

2. No boxed/packaged meals. This can be discussed some more. We're open to the use of some packaged foods - dried pasta comes to mind – but not "meals" like Kraft Mac 'n Cheese or Hamburger Helper.

3. If someone will be out of town/unavailable for a cooking date, the two parties should arrange an alternate plan (maybe put it in the freezer to be picked up later).

4. The group will invest in 3 - Pyrex 9" x 13" covered baking dishes (all the same; $8-10 each). When you've finished your meal and cleaned your dish, drop it off at the home of the next person who cooks. (Note: your dish doesn't have to be made in this pan. It's just an easy way to prepare the meal, and have it ready. For some meals-like soup- you would need to use something of your own.)

5. When it's your turn to cook, determine a "pick up" time. Email the time to the group with at least 24 hours notice. If the chosen pick up time does not work for you, you need to contact the person cooking and make alternate arrangements."
Right away a couple people responded. Within the week we had a group! COOL!

A couple months later, after friends heard us talking about our group, we got a second group off to a start. (They do things the same way, although they have allowed for some food restrictions, which meets the needs of the people in their group.) So, now we have two separate groups going.

A year later, three of the original four in our group are continuing. We've asked another friend to join us next month, and we're hopeful she'll say yes, and love it as we do.

What do I like most about this? The two best parts of this exchange are having someone else make dinner for us three times a month. LOVE that part! I also love the variety we are adding into our dinner rotation. It's so easy to fall back into old stand-by meals, and not experiment with new recipes. With the meal exchange, we've found some yummy recipes that we've made again.

What kinds of recipes have we made? Here is a sampling:
Beef & Vegetable Pot Pie
Chicken Casserole w/Potato Chip Topping
Chicken Parmigiana
Traditional Lasagna
Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary & Garlic Lasagna
Stuffed Shells
Pan Roasted Chicken & Vegetables
White Bean Chili
Layered Mexican Chicken
Cajun Curry Chicken w/Rice
Beef & Bean Chili
Penne Pasta w/Chicken & Vegetables
Black Bean & Chicken Burritos
Chicken Casserole w/onions, potatoes
Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Casserole
Sausage/Egg Breakfast  Strata
Pecan Crusted Chicken
Chicken Lasagna Alfredo
Rice w/Beef & Spinach
Italian Pasta
Enchiladas w/Tomatillo Sauce
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Crustless Spinach Quiche
Chicken Bog
Creamy Pasta w/Spring Vegetables & Shrimp
Ham & Chicken Tetrazzini
If you are interested in starting a group, here are some further suggestions:

Flexibility: Flexibility is important, but also involves more communication. Maybe you think you'll always cook on Sundays. But plans change...meetings & events come up. A Tuesday may work out better for you when your week comes up. When you have a choice, you can pick what works best for YOU during your assigned cooking week.

Save money: If you plan well, you lower your costs & save money! When your cooking week comes up, look at what the “loss leaders” are at the grocery stores. Are chicken breasts or beef on sale for a great price? Vegetables? If you look at what's on sale, then look for recipes using those ingredients, you can keep the costs down.

Why four families? It is easy to break up a month into four parts. It's easy to quadruple recipes. For people just starting to cook in large quantities (also known as “batch” cooking) having to make more than four meals can be overwhelming. We want this to be fun, not a chore!

Have a smaller family? If your family is on the smaller side, you will probably get two meals out of this! can put individual servings in a freezer bag/container and save it for later.

E-mail! We e-mail the group, letting them know what our cooking dates & pick up times are.

Un-cooked meals: Sometimes our family already has dinner plans on a member's cooking night. Or maybe I simply know that the following day will be hectic, and I'd like to use my meal that night. If the meals are prepped, but not oven-baked, most can be popped in the oven the following day.

Casserole/oven-baked meals: Finding something that others can just pop in the oven simplifies the cooking.

Include the recipe: This way they will know the time and temperature for cooking the meal. Also, they will have the recipe so they can make it again!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Crazy Peach Day

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It's prime peach-picking time here in the Willamette Valley. I had big plans to go picking on Friday morning, and then can on Saturday. Katie and her friend, Rebecca joined me on Friday to go picking. Peaches are SO easy to pick. The ripe ones just fall into your hands when you touch them. They are so easy to pick that it only took us about 20 minutes to fill our buckets. Upon weighing them, we learned we'd picked 95 pounds! Yikes! I was hoping for 50...

Unfortunately they are soooooooo delicate. By Saturday they looked like they were a week old! The perfect unbruised peaches were full of brown spots. When my friend, Jen, came over, she looked at the peaches and asked, "What happened to the peaches???"

Another friend, Julie, was also there. We started with her peaches: Nice perfect peaches from the Farmer's Market. How the heck did hers make it to market, to her home, to my home, picked at least a day before ours and look so good???? Well, for one thing, she took hers home in nice little nestled pockets in a box, whereas mine were just sitting in a box, able to smoosh into each other. Her peach seller also advised her to lay them out on newspaper when she got home; not to leave them in the box. That would help absorb moisture. (AHA! Mine just sat in their boxes for a day....I'll remember this tip next year....) we went to can over 100 pounds of peaches. (Thankfully a couple friends took some off of my hands on Friday, so I was down to 85; Julie brought 20.) Quickly we realized we needed a second canner. I have a lot of friends with canners. Most were participating in the Hood to Coast marathon, however, and weren't home. Another had hers in use. Tricia, however, had one we could use for a few hours. WHOOHOO!!

We started at 10:30, though I started getting ready at 9:30. By 2:00 we were pooped. We were about half through. Jen and Julie stayed longer than we anticipated, but needed to go. I was ready for a break too! After an hour break, I went back to it all, working until about 9 p.m. Finally they were all done. 47 quarts! (The last two were frozen, as I simply ran out of steam to can two more jars....)

And, I still have half the pears from the other day to do. I'll get to those tomorrow. In the meantime, here they all are:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nice Neighbors...

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As I was on my way to an appointment today, 4 little girls caught my eye. They were standing in front of their house (just around the corner from mine) waving down cars with their handmade sign. It was a nice day, so I figured they were selling lemonade. As I glanced back at them through my rear-view mirror, I realized they had a box of pears on a table. I turned the car around and went back.

The girls were thrilled that someone stopped to buy their pears! When I asked how much for all of them, they told me they were free. I felt guilty taking ALL those pears without giving them anything, but they kept insisting. Their mom came out and told me she'd just canned 12 CASES of pears, and these were leftover from the two trees in their yard. She was hoping someone would come by who was into canning. !!***me***!!

I gave the girls several dollors worth of change as a thank you, put the pears in the car, and went on my way. Tonight I went through them and they are going to be great! Most of them are not quite ready...maybe in a day or two. But there were some that were REALLY ready. So though I wasn't planning on it, I canned 9 pints this evening. I hardly made a dent in the box of pears! As slow as I am at canning (prepping pears takes me FOREVER), I think I will be turning half of these into pear sauce!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blueberry Coffeecake Scones

Pin It Have I mentioned we live in the land of berries?? A couple weeks ago we went blackberry picking with our niece and nephew, who were visiting from Virginia. It was a spur of the moment thing, but the girls (Katie and Clara) wanted to make a cobbler. A cobbler only takes 2 cups of there were plenty leftover.

The next night Brian decided he wanted to make blackberry scones. So I dug through my Cook's Illustrated recipes (the first ones I check nowadays...) and found two. The only problem is that they called for a couple ingredients that we didn't have on hand (cream and lemon zest) Then we remembered this little book we bought YEARS ago called, "Simply Scones." He found a recipe called "Blueberry Coffeecake Scones" and made it the next morning, using blackberries instead of blueberries. It was easy and yummy! (They are not, however, the best scones we've ever had. That honor goes to Red Chair Bakery in Bloomington, Indiana.)

Recently I decided to try it with blueberries, and here are the results! (The only things I did differently from the recipe were not using lemon zest, and skipping the topping.)

So, while I still want to try Cook's Illustrated's versions, I like the fact that THIS recipe can be made without a special shopping trip.

Blueberry Coffeecake Scones

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet (or do as I did, and use a well-seasoned baking stone) and set aside.

Mix together in a large bowl:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cut into the mixture, until the mixture is course:
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

In a smaller bowl mix together:
2 large eggs
1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp grated lemon peel

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring to combine. (The dough will be quite sticky.)

Gently fold into the dough:
1 1/2 C fresh or frozen blueberries (or blackberries!!)

Lightly flour your hands and pat the dough into a 9" circle on the baking sheet.

Prepare the topping my mixing together:
3/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C brown sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 C cold unsalted butter (cut into the mixture)

Sprinkle the topping over the dough.

Using a serrated knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges.

Bake 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean.

Place on a wire cooling rack for 15 minutes. If necessary, re-cut the wedges with the serrated knife. Can be served warm or cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kid Friendly Food

Pin It Most of the things I usually cook have dozens of ingredients. Sometimes it's hard for me to do things the easy way. It's rare that I'll make something with just 4 ingredients, but this recipe is one I loved from my childhood. I've made it for Katie, and it is one of her favorites. I'm almost embarrassed to post it, because's so plain and simple, yet it's VERY kid-friendly.

The ingredients: a bag of shell noodles (cooked), grated cheese (2-3 cups of grated colby, cheddar, etc.), 2-3 regular sized tomato soup cans, and about a pound of cooked ground beef. There really isn't an official recipe. You just prepare the above items, place it into a baking dish, mix it up, and heat until the cheese is melted and it's hot throughout. I usually cook it for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

What do we call it? Sadly, we've never given it a name beyond "Shells". Which is really confusing when Katie requests "Shells" for dinner and I get excited thinking she's wanting my yummy "Stuffed Shells" recipe (will post that sometime in the's delicious!). This happened a month or so ago. I went ahead and made several batches of Stuffed Shells (had to have some to put in the freezer for future dinners), only to have a semi-disappointed child who wanted "Shells" for dinner....

As soon as we went through the planned meals that week, I went ahead and made her what she wanted: Shells.

Katie's "Shells" are a little different though. She's a vegetarian (has been for over a year now). So in place of ground beef I add the soy "meat" to hers. I've used both the GimmeLean tubes and the Gardenburger bagged kind, and both seem to work.

Anyway, if you're looking for something quick, easy, and kid-friendly, you might want to try it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What to do with all that applesauce?

Pin It Last year I went a little overboard on making applesauce...especially when you consider that we are not big applesauce eaters! What in the world would I do with it all? I gave some away, I made some fruit leathers, and turned some into apple butter. Still, nearly a year later, I found a I still had a bunch of quarts and pints of applesauce leftover. So I made more fruit leathers!

Fruit leathers are so easy to make, but the timing isn't always easy. With the American Harvest tray set I have, I find it takes 12-13 hours to make 12 trays of them. And then, throughout the day, I find I need to rotate the trays, as the top trays are closer to the motor/fan. So, every hour or so, I simply take the top tray and move it to the bottom.

To make the leathers, simply place scoopfuls of applesauce (or other fruit sauces) onto the solid fruit roll sheets that are sold as accessories for this dehydrator. Get the sauce as smooth as possible, as thick spots will take longer to dry. (And, try to keep all of the sauce inside the fruit roll sheets. A little attention to detail early on will expedite the cleaning process!) Place the sheet inside a tray, and start stacking them!

How do you know when they are done? Keep going until there aren't any sticky spots/lumps of sauce/moisture on the tray. Once they're done (and some trays will be done before the others) carefully peel the fruit off the tray, roll up, and cut. I cut them into three pieces because that makes them last a bit longer!

Monday, August 13, 2007

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER...

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These are the only chocolate chip cookies that have ever turned out for me. I have tried Tollhouse's and Hillary Clinton's versions, among many others. I've tried non-stick, air-insulated, stoneware, foil-lined, and parchment-lined pans. I've had so many ovens....with hot/cool spots in all different places. No matter what I tried, my chocolate chip cookies were pathetic: hard and flat.

Then one day, many years ago, a woman named Van (Van was an older woman who attended “Arthritis Aquatics” with me in Bloomington, Indiana.) brought a plate of the YUMMIEST chocolate chip cookies to some event. They were fabulous! She said that key to their success is in the ingredients. She told me not to substitute brands. She swore by Gold Medal flour.

An added bonus: they can be made in one large mixing bowl!

Now, while I present her original recipe here, I must admit I make one little alteration to the recipe: I use about half of the recommended chocolate chips! So, that's why my photo may not be quite as mouth-watering to those of you who are die-hard chocolate fans. But trust me...whether you like a little or a lot of chips, these are GOOD!!

Van’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks softened margarine. (Fleischmans is recommended. Do not use reduced fat margarine, butter, or a spread. Do not soften in the microwave.)
1 C brown sugar
1 C sugar

2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ TB vanilla
1 tsp salt
3 C Gold Medal all purpose flour

Stir in:
2 C chocolate chips

Drop by small ice cream scoop onto foil lined* cookie sheet. Preheat oven & bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Makes 4 1/4 dozen cookies.

* I have stoneware and air-insulated cookie sheets and don't line them with foil. Both pans work equally well with this recipe.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Empty nest

Pin It So, after a few quiet days, my daughter and I decided to open up the birdhouse and remove the nest, cleaning it out for the next year. We slid it out, and placed it in a box (which is now on a shelf in the shed...can't throw it out, but don't know what to do with it!). Here is a pic of the nest still in the birdhouse:

Once we had the nest in the box, we searched a bit to find any evidence of eggs. We only found one little egg, with a TINY hole it in. The only other egg we'd found was found on the ground a month or so ago. So, I'm now assuming that the little bird we saw peeping out of the whole for three or four days straight was the baby fledgling.

On a whim, we decided to check out the other birdhouse in the yard. When the birds first came back to the yard, we saw them making a nest in the other house. However, this house never seemed to have much activity. They focused on the one above.

When we opened the house up, we were very surprised to find a full nest and THREE EGGS!! We quickly took a picture and put the nest back in the house. Some internet searches have confirmed that putting back a disturbed nest is the best thing to do. I also learned that birds really don't abandon their babies/nests when humans have touched them. So, here's a picture of the nest. I don't see any birds going in/out of it, so I'm really not sure what will happen to these eggs. Will they just sit there?? We'll check it again at the end of the summer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Daily posts

Pin It Well, I'm finding it's REALLY hard to update daily. Life just seems to get in the way, whether it's the mad dash to finish Harry Potter before someone spoils the ending for me, or going camping with family. So, while I had good intentions, I'm just not going to be able to live up to them! Check back weekly though!