Friday, May 27, 2011

Porcupine Meatballs & Spinach Rice Bake

Rice is always on hand in my pantry. Rice finds its way along side stir fry, and sweet and sour chicken, can be flavoured with broth as a nice simple side dish, and as a key ingredient in many different casseroles. I just added a large 20 pound bag of my favorite rice to my pantry- our family loves Golden Star Jasmine rice (see above). For years I just bought any brand of plain rice, then I tried Jasmine rice and just love the way it cooks up every time. Jasmine rice is more expensive, but it is worth it, the twenty pound bags are much less per pound.

This week I made two dishes with rice as the key ingredient, and decided to share these old family classic recipes.

The first recipe is for Porcupine Meatballs, my mother made these for dinner when I was young, and her mother made them for her. This is a wonderful very easy recipe that stretches out a pound of hamburger quite well.

Porcupine Meatballs

Preheat oven to 375 F.

1 lbs hamburger (I use a little over a pound like 1.4)
1 egg
1/2 c. rice
1 T dried minced onion
30 oz. crushed tomatoes (I like the Italian flavored type)
water (amount varies)
Italian seasoning

Mix hamburger with egg, onion, and rice until well combined. Form into a dozen meatballs, place in a baking pan, give them a bit of space, as they expand. Pour tomatoes over the meatballs, then add water so that the meatballs are more than half way up in liquid, but not so much water as to thin out tomatoes, if you need to, depending on you dish size, you can also add more tomatoes. Sprinkle in some Italian seasoning, and using a fork, carefully incorporate it into the tomatoes, without damaging the meatballs. Cover pan with foil and bake at 375 F. For about an hour and a half. To check if they are done, the rice will be poking out of the meatballs like little porcupine quills, and the rice should be fully cooked as well as the meat being fully cooked. Wonderful served alongside broccoli and french bread and topped with a little parmesan. Here are the step by step pictures.

The next recipe is another family classic- Spinach Rice Bake, this is a very easy dish to make and is wonderful as a savory side dish and can even be a wonderful vegetarian main dish. Tonight I served this alongside Turkey Kielbasa, in the past as a vegetarian main dish I have served this alongside fruit and muffins.

Spinach Rice Bake

Preheat oven to 350 F.

1 package of frozen spinach thawed and drained
2 cups shredded cheese (Cheddar, Cheddar jack or Mexican blend)
3 eggs
2-3 cups of rice (depending on how much you want to make)
salt and pepper to taste

Steam rice according to package directions. While it is steaming, in a large mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs, add two cups of cheese, thawed & drained spinach, and salt and pepper- mix until combined. Coat a covered casserole dish with pan spray. When rice is done steaming, add it to the spinach mixture, and stir until well combined. Then transfer to casserole dish- cover and bake for about half an hour at 350 F. Just long enough to heat it through and set up the egg mixture.

Rice is a wonderful staple to add to your pantry- and can be used in so many ways. If you cook rice as often as I like to, I would highly suggest a rice steamer- I don't often like a lot of kitchen appliances, they are difficult to store and clean. I like my crock pot and toaster oven and for years that was about it- 2 years ago I was given a rice cooker as a gift, and absolutely love it, it makes rice cooking so simple. I have an inexpensive model, not one of the expensive fancy ones, and it works wonderfully, well worth its space on the counter. For another great rice recipe, check out my blog post recipe for Sausage Rice Casserole

Hopefully I have given you some new ways to use rice- or reminded you of some old classic ways. Happy Cooking!

Our Rock & Mineral Collection

I am, by nature, quite a collector. I like to catalog my collections, and keep them for posterity. Rock and minerals were probably my first collection. I had a cardboard box with a nice flip open lid that was my nature collection as a child- it was very dear to me. I would add feathers, seashells, rocks, whatever little piece of nature I came upon that caught my eye. I would hope every young child has a box or drawer for their nature finds- both of my children have had one since they were very young. Bringing home a special rock, shell, leaf or feather from a family vacation or just a walk in the park is a great way to build memories.

This is a rock with a fossil in the shape of the letter A (for April), that I found on a walk with my friend as a young girl. I was so excited to find this!!

My nature collection took on more of a rock and mineral theme after I took my first class trip to our local science museum OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). I was in love with OMSI from my first visit (I love science & nature), it was a wonderful trip. I was able to bring a small amount of money, to bring home a souvenir from the science gift shop. The shop was amazing, in particular, one wall of the shop was filled with individually packed rock and mineral specimens, at very reasonable prices. So that is what I chose to bring home. I believe my first rock was a piece of pink talc- a soft pink rock! Perfect. From then on, I would work very hard to earn school trips to OMSI, which were used as incentives for good academics/ attendance. I also would request of my Grandma Irene, every year when she would take me somewhere special for my birthday, that it would be to OMSI. Every trip I would bring home another rock or two.

Here are a few still in their packages from OMSI when I was a child.

Now as a family, we continue to build our rock collection, always on the lookout for that special new rock. Ebay has also been a source for special rocks & minerals to add to our home. They make wonderful gifts as well. I tuck our rocks into nooks in the book cases, we have a shelf of them in our office (see the top picture) which is nice to look at as a break from computer screens & paper clutter. The children have them in little spots throughout their rooms.

One wonderful tip for organizing a collection of rocks is a tool box with individual sections. Here is how I keep mine.

Bigger rocks find their way out to the garden as well. When we moved to this house, the backyard was not landscaped, and was a big pile of very rocky dirt. We had a good time finding all sorts of stones that we worked into our garden. I am very excited about a new rock addition to our garden- my husband is working with a friend to help them move, and they never finished a pond project, so we were gifted with a wonderful bunch of landscaping stones- can't wait to plan a project for them.

Some collected rocks out in our garden.

Rocks and minerals are such a beautiful part of nature. I am always amazed at the detail God puts into every one. I hope I have inspired everyone to start up a collection of their own- or pull out one you already have to share with the kids. I will leave you with some wonderful rock themed bible verses.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. Psalm 18:2a

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:4

Of course we mustn't forget the wonderful story of the Wise man building his house upon the rock in Matthew 7:24-28

Have a wonderful day!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Azaleas & Lavender - Our May Garden

May is a beautiful time in the garden- two of my favorite flowers put on their beautiful show- Azaleas and Lavender. My favorite azaleas are the deciduous variety-I just love their colors. I have had azaleas in every garden I have ever had - I look forward to their flowers every year- a sign that summer is just around the corner.

Another favorite flower of mine is Lavender. I just love this plant- the smell is so peaceful, both the flower and the blue gray leaves look wonderful in the garden. The center of my backyard garden is a globe spruce surrounded by lavender. My lavender patch is always full of all different types of bees- anyone who knows me well, knows that I have never been stung by a bee, and am quite frightened of being stung. For some reason the bees on the lavender do not scare me- they are peaceful- and they happily buzz away while they work.

This year my lavender patch will need some repair, due to my lab puppy Zoey who loves leaping through it- she has broken quite a few of the stems, and I will have to replant a few this year. I just hope her fondness for the lavender doesn't get her stung- now that they are blooming, and covered in bees, every time she bounds in- you can see upset bees trying to get out of her way- so far she has been too fast to be stung- but the baking soda and Benedryl are standing by.

Another of my favorite plants in bloom, that I plant in my rock garden by the moss, is Thrift. I have always loved Thrift's happy pink Blossoms- perfect plants for rock gardens- it is a perennial that will slowly grow larger every year- I try to put a new one in every year.

The vegetable starts are doing well. I have been working on hardening them off, they should be ready for the garden beds by June. Last week I planted my green beans, and summer squash, can't wait to watch them sprout. Hope everyone is having a beautiful late spring.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of those who have been hit with Tornadoes- God be with you.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rustic Cinnamon Molasses Coffee Cake

Some mornings I love to start out the day with a cup of hot coffee and something sweet. When I was a child, my mother used to whip up the best coffee cakes for breakfast- they were delicious. Coffee cakes are very simple to make- just a few simple ingredients- I don't even get out the electric mixer- just stir it up in one bowl. This morning I was in a coffee cake mood - I decided to make one of my simple favorites. Rustic Cinnamon Molasses Coffee Cake. Now, I call it rustic because, when I make a nice simple recipe like this I imagine old fashioned country livin' women, throughout the past, mixing up a simple cake like this. The whole wheat and molasses give it a hearty old fashioned taste, nothing fancy- just good and real. Here is my recipe.

Rustic Cinnamon Molasses Coffee Cake

1 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
2 big twists of the sea salt grinder ( or a pinch or two of regular salt)
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1c. milk
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg beaten
1/3 c. oil
top with sugar in the raw

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a bowl mix up dry ingredients, then to the same bowl add all of the wet ingredients, mix until everything is well incorporated, batter will be slightly lumpy. Pour into a greased (I just use pan spray) round pan - a cake pan or a pie pan will do just fine. Top with a good sprinkling of Sugar in the Raw. Bake at 375 F. Check at 25 minutes- cake will take about half an hour but could be a few minutes more or less - knife in center should comeout clean.

Variations- You could switch the molasses for some fresh blueberries, or dried chopped dates, or chopped apples- what ever sounds good to you. Perfect with tea or coffee. The kids love to have a warmed up piece after school as well.

And a side note about my coffee- I used to spend quite a bit purchasing fancy coffee from the local Starbucks and other coffee shops- I was convinced that all other coffee was undrinkable- I'm from Oregon, what can I say. The amount of money both my husband and I were spending was unacceptable for our frugal budget. Then one evening my mother in law came over for dinner, and brought a coffee maker and some Folgers and made a pot of coffee-it smelled good so I tasted it, and it wasn't bad. Then I remembered as a child this is all anyone would drink- I know, because I was in charge of making endless pots for my mom, and stepdad, and gram, as well as my aunt and uncles who would come visiting throughout the day. It was just fine for them. I have heard wonderful stories of hubby's Great Grandma Florence making coffee by boiling grounds on the stovetop or in the old percolator and using real cream fresh from the farmer. Anyway- Sue, my mother in law, said I could keep the coffee maker as well as the rest of the Folgers, since I liked the coffee -Thanks Sue:) - So now for over a month I have been brewing my own coffee, and it tastes just fine. I like my coffee with a little lowfat milk in it, and to add a litle sweet cream flavor,and for fun, I top it with some whip cream. I have saved a ton of money.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful week- we have been having beautiful sunshine- what a wonderful time of year!!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24 (NIV)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Honey Baked Lentils

With summer BBQ season right around the corner, I wanted to work on a recipe for Honey Baked Lentils. I had seen a recipe in one of my old cookbooks, but it called for too many steps, and ingredients I didn't have. Then I remembered that my mother used to make us very yummy baked beans by adding brown sugar, ketchup, and yellow mustard to canned Pork and Beans. So I came up with this easy version of Honey Baked Lentils.

Honey Baked Lentils

1 lb lentils- sorted and rinsed and cooked according to the package directions (this takes about 45 minutes )

When the lentils are done cooking- add in to the lentils the following:

1/8 c. yellow mustard
1/8 c. molasses
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
1/2 c. ketchup
1/8 c. of your favorite honey BBQ sauce (optional)
1/4- 1/2 t. liquid smoke (optional)

Stir in the ingredients and give it a taste- you may prefer a touch more sweetness, or a little more mustard. Then pour into a casserole dish and bake at 375 F. for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I cranked up the oven to 400F. for the last 20 minutes to bake the cornbread and the lentils did just fine.

This is a wonderful side dish for a BBQ- tonight we had it with cornbread and grilled sausages (any good beef or polish sausage would be great). Of course butter and honey were out for the cornbread as well. Very yummy, and lentils are so quick to cook up compared to other beans. Lentils are a great pantry item to keep on hand.
Children who don't normally like beans are sure to enjoy this sweet dish, hope everyone gives it a try.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

One Giant Weed

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day- whenever it is not a rainy day, I get right out to the garden, in NW Oregon you never know when the rain will be back. Our new puppy Zoey had been at work in some of the garden beds, and we needed to get them cleaned up, I also wanted to get a few more things planted, and make progress on some weeding.

Because we have a lot of rain here, mixed with some rather warm days, weeds can turn into jungles in under a week. I am always amazed at how they grow- I like to leave a few dandelions- especially now that I know my goldfinch eat them- and sometimes there are pretty pink flowers that pop up- I enjoy some of the "weeds" in the garden, they can be pretty sometimes. If there is a plant I am unsure of, I often let it grow a bit so I can see what it turns in to. I mainly focus on removing poison weeds, and the real aggressive weeds that will choke out my flowers and ground covers. I even read an article recently about making sure to leave some weeds near the veggie garden so pests will eat the weeds instead of the veggies, I am going to try this out a bit this year.

Anyway, I was out surveying the garden, deciding what needed to be done, when I came accross a huge weed. I am pretty sure it is in the thistle family. Such a huge weed for a tiny garden. I used to get these out in my large pasture, and every year I used to let one grow. I decided that I would leave this giant and watch it grow as well- I am hoping it is a pretty pink thistle- I will post it's progress in my garden updates.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. ~ A. A. Milne

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Homemaker blog hop

Our New Lab Zoey

Early this year we had a new addition to the Musgrove household- a wonderful female black lab. We named her Zoey.

Gary, my hubby, is a realtor, and was helping a client with the moving process. They had purchased a dog for their 8 year old son- but the dog was too rambunctious and jumped too much- it wasn't a good match- so they wanted to find a new home for her. I have a real fondness for black labs- I just love 'em. We had to get rid of our dog Cordelia who we had a little over a year ago- because she turned out more Mastiff than lab- and was huge. I was having a difficult time training her- we felt she would be better off with a childless family- and a larger home- wonderful dog- but not the right fit. I was really sad to let her go- my dogs are like children to me- I get attached quickly. We also have another Lab- Xena- she is a little over 7 years old, but very old for her age- and doesn't really care much for other dogs. Me and Xena have been hanging out together for the last seven years- and I didn't want to disrupt her life too much- her and Cordelia didn't get along very well, and it was very stressful for her. So I was leery about trying again for another dog- but have wanted another dog for quite some time. Gary brought the dog home for a trial day to see how she would work out.

We fell in love with Zoey right away- except for our son- who although never had an allergic reaction to dogs before got hives from her when she would lick him. Since she was such a great dog- smart & sweet, and as it turned out, a pure bred w/ papers, we decided to wash her up, and wait a few days to see if Joe's allergies cleared up, which for the most part they did, he will only get hives from her if she licks him- so he just doesn't let her. Xena also seemed to tolerate her pretty well, although full of massive energy (like all lab puppies), she respects Xena's authority. Zoey is a wonderful puppy, as well as smart, I think she'll grow up to be a wonderful dog.

I will say though- puppies are a lot of work, very messy critters, and mischievous, she has ruined a few shoes, she likes to steal laundry, there was an incident with a hot/cold gel pack that she broke open, and shook around the entire bedroom in a matter of minutes, she is mesmerized by the birds in the backyard and would chase them for hours if we would let her, she also likes to "landscape" my backyard- and decided the day lilies needed to be dug up. Lab puppies are great for homes with older kids, who can tolerate boisterous jumping, and endless tennis ball throwing. Labs are lovable, but get big, Zoey is still learning not to jump on people, she gets so excited, I can see why her previous family's 8 year old wouldn't have enjoyed that.

Zoey is a loveable addition to our home- her puppy antics are endearing. She is intelligent and training her will be fun. She has been with us now for a few months, and I look forward to watching her grow up.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Black Bean Hummus

Yesterday was a wonderful Mother's Day- church was nice- my class made big paper flowers for their mom's, then all the kids enjoyed passing out real flowers to all the mother's at church. After church I had a nice visit with my mother and sister & my little niece and nephew had fun playing with Sarah and Joe. Since we were in town, we stopped in at Target- and I had a lovely "no complaints" stroll through, to look at all their new summer housewares. After stocking up on a few new colorful dishes, and a bunch of goodies for our two labs, who we felt a bit guilty about leaving for the day, we headed home for a nice dinner. Gary prepared one of my favorite meals- Taco's with all the fixin's and chocolate cake for dessert. The kids were excited to give me their gifts- Joseph built me a new bird house for all of the Swallows flying over our yard, Sarah made me a cute Mother's Day card/art project along with some Facebook Credits for the games I enjoy, and Gary bought me a bottle of the very fancy gourmet Champagne Vinegar that I have been eyeing for weeks. It was a very nice Mother's Day.

I am eager to get out and garden, but the weather is not cooperating, I am hoping for sunshine sometime this week so I can get out and do some planting. My seedlings are doing great, and about half of them are ready to transplant. While I have been waiting for our sunshine to return, I have been busy in the kitchen.

I love making my own Hummus- I love hummus with pita bread or chips or Naan bread- but can't eat the store bought because of the sesame tahini ( I used to love sesame but started to develop an allergy to it similar to my tree nut allergy). This isn't really a problem though, because making your own Hummus is super easy, and is a good healthy snack. This week I decided to make a black bean hummus- which turned out very yummy. Here is my recipe.

Black Bean Hummus

1 can drained and rinsed black beans
juice of half a lime
1/3 cup olive oil (more if needed)
cumin and garlic powder to taste
dash of sea salt

I put all of the ingredients into a mini food processor/chopper that I have, I imagine you could use a full size one as well- blend until beans are pureed. If it looks like it needs a little more oil to blend up right add a tiny bit more. I started out with a few dashes of cumin and a couple of garlic powder- and added a little bit more after tasting until I got the taste to my liking. Me and Gary had it for a nice snack- then later added it to the top of our lunch salad which turned out very good. To make regular Hummus I just switch the Black beans for Garbanzo Beans, and switch the lime for lemon, and sometimes use a tiny bit cheyenne or red pepper flakes. Great way to get the family to eat beans!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Yesterday was my wonderful husband's birthday. He loves good food, so every year for his birthday I make one of his favorite dinners. This year we had steaks- from his parent's neighbor's beautifully raised cattle, along with baked potatoes with sour cream and chives from the garden, homemade cole slaw, and steamed veggies. Gary is not a huge fan of regular birthday cake- so his request was pineapple upside down cake. I have always made this cake completely from scratch using my favorite easy cake recipe passed down from my grandma- One Egg Cake. Here is the recipe for One Egg Cake as well as the recipe to turn it into a wonderful pineapple upside down cake.

One Egg Cake

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

4 T. softened butter- I melt mine almost all the way.
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 c. flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. lemon extract (optional- I do not use this)

Cream butter, add sugar gradually and beaten egg. Add sifted flour and baking powder and milk, mix, add vanilla. Mix until thoroughly blended- I often do this by hand. Bake in a greased round cake pan. No time was given in the original recipe- I believe mine took 25 minutes- but start checking around 20 minutes- cake should be raised, and lightly golden, and knife should come out clean from center when done.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

4 T butter
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 cup brown sugar
8 maraschino cherries
plus batter of One Egg Cake above

In a round cake pan put 3-4 T. butter and melt in oven while you are mixing cake. Mix up One Egg Cake batter- keep an eye on butter- remove from oven when melted.
Using a mesh strainer- drain crushed pineapple- use a spoon to press out most of the liquid. When butter in cake pan is melted remove from oven and make sure to swirl butter around bottom of pan- then put a thin layer of brown sugar over the butter- start with half a cup- add more if needed to cover bottom of pan- then slice cherries in half and arrange evenly around brown sugar layer cut side facing up. Then spread crushed pineapple over the cherries and brown sugar, at this point I like to spray pan edges with pan spray just to make sure sides of cake don't stick, then pour cake mixture over the pineapple and carefully spread evenly to edge of pan. Bake for 25 minutes- might take a little longer- cake should be raised and golden, and knife inserted in center should come out clean. When cake is done, remove from oven, and while the cake is still hot, carefully invert cake to cake plate - put cake plate upside down over cake- using oven mits carefully hold both plate and cake pan while flipping- give topping a few seconds to settle down, then carefully remove pan.

This classic cake is always moist and yummy, our whole family loves it! This is also the perfect beginner baker cake recipe- being able to whip up a quick cake, without a mix, from a few simple ingredients is a wonderful skill for any homemaker.

Happy Birthday Gary!!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Garden Update

Yesterday the sun came out- we had a really nice break from the rain, and decided to get out to the garden and amend our soil, as well as fill some new pots. We purchased two new blueberry bushes, this time we decided to try out the compact variety for our smaller pots. My grandma had a couple of the compact blueberries on her deck that were so loaded with blossoms I had to give them a try myself. Now we have five full size, and our two new compact blueberry bushes. We are big on blueberry muffins, breads, and pancakes, so every year I add a couple new blueberry bushes to our yard. This is a perfect fruit plant for the small garden- I grow my large bushes in large wooden half barrels, and my small ones will go into medium size pots. We are still eyeing some of the dwarf & semi-dwarf fruit trees- I may add one here in the next couple of weeks if I can decide on a spot.

I am still working with my tomato & pepper seedlings- and they are finally starting to look like they might just work- but just in case they don't turn out- I purchased twelve veggie starts that were very healthy looking and on sale for only .99 cents- a couple bell pepper, a couple jalapeno, 4 Roma's,a couple early girls, a yellow pear, and my favorite cherry tomato- sungold. I still need quite a few more peppers but they were mostly sold out- so I am hoping the seeds I planted will fill that gap.

We all worked together to weed our raised beds, as well as work in amendments. I wanted to build two more raised beds, but all that lumber was not in our budget this year- so I am trying a method that has been very successful for my grandma- who yields pounds and pounds of veggies, every year, from her teeny tiny yard- the large plastic tubs with rope handles were on sale for just under $6.00, so we purchased 5, and drilled holes in the bottom and filled the bottom with a layer of rock and gravel for drainage- then filled with a nice soil mixture- tomatoes and peppers do really well in these pots, so I will probably be growing my tomatoes here- my grandma even grows her zucchini in these pots, and they do really well.

This weekend also marked the return of a large portion of our goldfinch- they were visiting the feeders in large groups. A group of them were also all over a dandelion plant- they must eat the seeds or something, I had no idea, so I looked online and the seeds of dandelions are one of their natural foods, so I will be sure and leave some of my dandelions alone. I can watch these happy little birds all day.

We had a fun day- the sunshine was beautiful, it was great to be working out in the garden. The whole neighborhood was alive with children playing, families gardening, and the smell of BBQ dinners. Even with the return of our Oregon rain today, yesterday proves that our warm late spring and summer are just around the corner.