beef and eggplant skillet recipe

Ground Beef and Eggplant Skillet – A favorite eggplant recipe!

beef and eggplant skillet recipe

Ground Beef and Eggplant Skillet with Summer Vegatables

I have one question for you today:

How do you feel about eggplant?

I personally have mixed feelings about this common summer vegetable.

First of all, you can hardly deny that eggplant is pretty. It is a shiny, deep purple and looks plump and delicious…..until you reach the inside. That’s where eggplant, in my opinion, loses it’s appeal….and that’s the main part we usually eat.

I also find that many do not care for it’s mild, yet unique taste and somewhat spongy texture.

My family also has mixed feelings about eggplant. And I do not consider them to be fussy eaters. Whereas I pretty much like it (although to me eggplant leftovers often leave something to be desired), I can’t say I love it. My guys seem to either dislike it or tolerate it, depending on the recipe.

There are a grand total of approximately two recipes I can think of that my husband and sons really like that feature eggplant.

This recipe is one of them.

So why even bother with eggplant if it’s so low on our list of foods we like?

Well, first of all, we get plenty with our CSA farm share, and I am of the belief that whenever possible, I do not turn down “free” food, especially if it is healthy. I also like to use what I have, so if it happens be an eggplant, I am bound and determined to make something good out of it.

I originally found this recipe (with a similar name), in a lovely, family cookbook I purchased from a local farm stand many years ago. They not only published a cookbook full of practical and delicious recipes, but most of them feature many of the vegetables you would typically find on a local farm or grow in your own garden. I go to this book often when looking for tasty vegetable recipes to use up nature’s bounty.

I have since found a similar recipe online, as well (see link below).

I hope you find this, as we do, to be a useful and delicious way to use your eggplant. It makes use of tomatoes, green peppers and onions, which are also in good supply this time of year.

 

Ground Beef and Eggplant Skillet

(adapted from Cooks.com)

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 eggplant, peeled and diced (*or cubed, based on preference)

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped or sliced

2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 cup tomato sauce (or use jarred spaghetti sauce)

1/2 tsp salt

ground black pepper, to taste

1 tsp basil

1/2 tsp oregano

Brown rice (approx. 4 servings)

Instructions:

Brown beef and garlic. Add eggplant; cook and stir 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients (except rice). Cover and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

Notes:

  1. Fresh herbs may be used in place of dried; use about three times as much.
  2. Recipe may alternately be served over potatoes or noodles.
  3. Can be made ahead and reheated; tastes great!
  4. Feel free to adjust the amounts of eggplant, ground beef and vegetables, based on your preferences and what you have on hand.
  5. This recipe makes enough for the four of us (mostly tall adults), to eat with leftovers.

 

I hope that this gives you an enjoyable way to have your eggplant … and eat it too.

*****

How do you feel about eggplant? Do you have any recipe suggestions for eggplant, especially for those of us who are not in love with the vegetable?

 

 

homemade blueberry pancakes with butter and syrup

How To Make Easy, Healthy, Delicious Homemade Pancakes

 

homemade blueberry pancakes with butter and syrup

Homemade fresh blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup.

Happy Fourth of July, friends!!!

Today I realized that it would have been nice to share a festive, patriotic recipe with you, but truth be told, I didn’t make any special holiday recipes this time (sometimes life just happens), and what I really had planned to share was a recipe for homemade pancakes.

Well, this is the beauty of this homemade pancake recipe. They are they quick and simple to mix up (with basic ingredients you probably have in your pantry), they can be made much more healthy than store-bought pancake mixes (by using part or all whole grain flour and healthy add-ins), and they’re economical. And what’s more, with the addition of an endless variety of ingredients, they can be changed up to suit any special occasion or holiday!

pancakes on griddle

The pancakes in my photos are made with fresh blueberries, but you can leave them plain or include any number of different add-ins to create the pancake of your liking. I’m including a list of many ideas for add-in ingredients for your homemade pancakes, but the variety of options is really endless! I often separate out some of the batter and make two varieties at once, just for fun.

If I were planning ahead for the Fourth of July, I would probably add blueberries and strawberries to my pancakes, and serve them with some nice, white whipped cream. Or leave the pancakes plain and top them with fresh blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream. Or put blueberries in the pancakes and top with strawberries and cream. For Canada Day (July 1st), I would just use red raspberries or strawberries and cream. You get the idea.

I got the original recipe for homemade pancakes from a good friend of mine, who is easily the best baker-mom I know of. She and her now older daughters are always posting photos on Facebook of such delicious recipes and baked goods that I’m often tempted to put down what I’m doing, jump in the car, and drive the roughly three hours to get to her house to “share” in the deliciousness. The recipe was jotted down on whatever note-pad paper we had hanging around at the time when she was at my house. For sentimental reasons, I will probably never throw away that original, food-stained, but cherished, hand-written page.

handwritten homemade pancake recipe

Homemade pancake recipe from my dear friend, Donna.

 

A few helpful notes before we begin (if you’re really hungry, you may skip ahead to the recipe below, but I think it will be worth the read):

  •  Although it seems to be cheating somehow, I usually just add all the ingredients to my mixing bowl in almost any order, and thoroughly mix them together. No need to dirty two bowls and be all fancy about the order of ingredients.
  • In an effort to use healthier oils, I prefer not to use liquid oils such as corn or canola (although you certainly can, and I did for years), but instead, melt a little butter or coconut oil to add for the required oil. ( I did find out the other day, however, that if you wish to use coconut oil, you’ll need to be mindful of the fact that it will start to harden and form little lumps in your batter if it comes in contact with cold ingredients.)
  • I like to make these healthier by using at least half whole wheat flour, and very often add some ground flax meal. We are at the point in our family that pancakes made with plain white flour actually taste a little bland to us, so ramping them up with whole grains is, in my opinion, the way to go!
  • The milk measurement can be adjusted according to your preference for thinner or thicker pancakes. Factors such as the other ingredients you use and even temperature may affect the thickness of your pancakes, so I recommend trying a smaller amount of milk at first, then adding more if you decide your pancakes are too thick.
  • Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve tried this yet, but I’m sure that alternate milks such as almond could be used. I’ll try that soon and let you know.
  • I prefer to use a griddle to speed up the process of making a large number of pancakes, but of course a good, old-fashioned frying pan is fine. I have a nice quality non-stick griddle, but many folks are opting for cast iron (such as this one). I am told that cast iron is wonderful, but as of yet, haven’t used one regularly myself. With cast iron, you may even be able to cook pancakes on your grill outdoors!
  • You may need to experiment to learn your ideal temperature for cooking your pancakes. Generally, medium heat is best. (See this article for more great pancake-making tips.)
  • I cook my pancakes in butter for best flavor, also eliminating the need for serving additional butter on the pancakes (but you may still add some if you like).
  • I love to use my largest cookie/baking scoop from my set (from one of my favorite direct marketing companies) to scoop out the batter. You can find a similar set on Amazon here (for a top-rated, but expensive set), or here, (for a less expensive, but functional set). I would love to try this pancake batter dispenser.
  • I usually make four times the amount called for in this recipe, since with my two tall older sons and 6’4″ husband, a single batch would not even feed us any more. Also, I love to have leftovers. So I will make life easier for you by including a second ingredient list with measurements for a quadruple batch as well. You’re welcome. 🙂
  • To keep your pancakes warm (while you cook up the rest), place an ovenproof casserole or cookie sheet in your oven set to a low temperature (200-250 degrees F). In warm weather (if you just can’t stand to turn on your oven), you can put the casserole dish in your microwave and close the door, or into a large toaster oven like mine, set on low heat.
  • If you have any left over pancakes (or purposely make extra, as I do), you can keep them in the fridge for a few days, or freeze them for later use. Save your money, and serve your own healthy, tasty pancakes from your freezer on busy or lazy mornings, instead of purchasing inferior store-bought packages!

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for homemade pancakes. I hope you discover as I did, that it’s so much better than using a mix from the store, and almost as easy. It’s definitely worth the extra five minutes or so!

pancake ingredients

What you will need (plus sugar….see next photo).

 

making homemade pancakes (batter)

Adding the brown sugar.

 

making homemade pancake batter

Adding nutritious flax meal to the batter (optional).

 

adding fresh blueberries to homemade pancake batter

Adding some fresh blueberries.

 

Healthy Homemade Pancakes

 

Ingredients (single batch):

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour (I use at least half whole wheat flour)

1 Tbsp sugar (I prefer brown)

2 Tbsp. oil *

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

3/4 to 1 cup milk

(* Plus additional butter or oil in which to cook pancakes.)

 

Ingredients (quadruple or my “normal” sized batch):

4 eggs

4 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil*

2 tsp. salt

4 Tbsp. or 1/4 cup baking powder

3 to 4 cups milk

(* Plus additional butter or oil in which to cook pancakes.)

 

“Add-in” ingredient ideas:

  • vanilla or other flavored extract
  • ground flax (or flax meal), for added health benefit
  • fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries, or other berries or combinations
  • sliced bananas (or mashed ripe banana)
  • fresh, frozen or dried cranberries (or other dried fruit/berries, such as dried cherries)
  • chocolate chips (or other flavored chips)
  • cinnamon and chopped apple or applesauce
  • pumpkin puree (store-bought or homemade) and pumpkin pie spices
  • chopped apple and almond (use a little almond extract and slivered almonds)
  • coffee granules and chocolate (powder or chips), for mocha flavor
  • peanut butter (or peanut butter powder) with banana or chocolate chips

 

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients. Fold in any “add-in” ingredients of choice. Heat griddle or frying pan to medium heat. Add butter (or oil) to melt. Drop desired amount of pancake batter onto hot griddle. Cook until pancakes bubble and edges look a little dry. Flip and continue cooking until golden brown.

Hold pancakes in a warm place. Add more butter as needed to cook the remainder of the batter.

Serve with pure maple syrup or other desired toppings. Enjoy!

making homemade pancakes with bubbles before turning

Pancakes are ready to flip when they are covered with bubbles and the edges seem dry.

 

cooked homemade blueberry pancakes

Hot homemade blueberry pancakes.

 

Optional topping ideas:

  • pure maple syrup or other syrup of choice
  • flavored syrups or jam
  • fresh, cut up strawberries (or other berries) and whipped cream
  • applesauce
  • yogurt
  • peanut butter or almond butter

 

homemade heart-shaped pancake

Freestyle heart-shaped pancake.

 

heart-shaped homemade pancake

Sometimes I finish off the last of the batter by making a giant or heart-shaped pancake (which usually goes to my husband). 🙂

 

homemade blueberry pancakes -2

Yummy!

 

Now that you have the recipe, what are you waiting for?

Enjoy your delicious, homemade pancakes for breakfast, brunch or even a “breakfast-supper”!

*****

Please let me know how you like this recipe. If you are a cast iron griddle user, please share your experience with us, especially for cooking pancakes. Do you have any personal ideas for add-in ingredients or toppings to share?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

poached egg sandwich and coffee

How to Eat an Egg Part 2 – Poached Egg Sandwich

poached egg sandwich and coffee

 

It’s been awhile since I talked about eggs. Earlier I shared with you  an egg recipe for Potato and Onion Pie that I like to make for my family. I think it’s about time for another.

Since it is finally really, really feeling like spring (or even summer in some cases!), and I think we’re safe even in New England (and New York State?), from any more late snowstorm surprises, I’ve decided it’s a good time to give you another egg recipe.

I know, we get eggs year round, but in spring it just feels right. The chickens are finally able to come out of their coop and poke around in the real outdoor world. Easter may be long past, but I keep seeing bunnies all over our yard, and that makes me think of eggs. (Really? You know; Easter chicks and bunnies; whatever.)

Anyway, unless you have a high cholesterol problem and have to avoid too many eggs, or have an aversion to them as I did for the first part of my childhood (when I would beg for a hamburger every time my family went out for breakfast), I think we can all agree that having eggs on hand is one of the simplest, quickest, cheapest and most filling meals we can get on the table. We can enjoy them at breakfast, as a simple lunch ingredient, or even for “breakfast” at dinner.

I often make this meal idea when I’ve either neglected to eat enough for breakfast and it’s quickly approaching lunch-time, or when all else fails and I need something substantial for my noon-time meal. Sometimes I just plain feel like eating eggs.

So today I’d like to introduce the poached egg sandwich.

poached egg sandwich

Poached egg sandwich with tomato, greens and cheese on whole wheat toast.

 

Poached egg sandwich with avocado 2015-09-18

Poached egg sandwich with spinach, avocado and cheese on whole wheat toast.

Just to note, if you prefer a fried or scrambled egg, that could work nicely as well, but then you will be consuming a little more fat in your sandwich, but more importantly, you’ll have to change the name.

Several years ago I “invested” (a whole three dollars or so, I think), in this plastic, microwave egg poacher at Walmart:

Microwave egg poacher from WalMart

You can get one almost exactly like it here on Amazon….or if you prefer silicone with the option of cooking in boiling water, check out this model.

I know that some are avoiding plastic these days, so there are other options, too. My parents used to have little metal cups to be used for this purpose in boiling water. I’m not sure they’re around any more, or perhaps they still come in some pots and pans sets. I’ve even seen a stoneware version made by one of my favorite direct marketing companies, which I assume is also for use in the microwave.

You can, of course, use the “authentic” egg poaching method of dropping the raw egg directly into swirling, boiling water as described on this page. There’s a nice video presentation, and the gentleman doing the demonstration just happens to have a lovely accent, which I find quite pleasant. In fact, I may have to try this, as it certainly is the ideal way to make a nice, runny-yolked, poached egg.

Which ever method you choose, simply poach your egg (or eggs), to your liking.

adding salt to egg uncooked poached egg

Before I close my egg poacher, I usually add a pinch of sea or Himalayan salt, a little fresh ground pepper (here’s a nice set with both), and sometimes garlic, dill or another seasoning of choice.

seasoning on raw egg

My favorite addition to my poached egg to add flavor, nice color and most importantly, nutrition, is greens. A little spinach is nice, micro-greens are incredible (if you can get your hands on some), or a little of any green you have on hand will work. You may chop it up if the leaves are especially large or of a tougher texture (like kale).

Add your greens to the top of each egg.

spinach on raw egg

 

Top with a little shredded cheese if you’d like. (Yum!)

Meanwhile, prepare your bread. Almost any type of bread will do, but most often I use an English muffin or bagel. A roll would be nice, a croissant exquisite,or a nice, thick slice of homemade bread would be comforting. Apparently in the photos I took for this post, both times I used just regular whole grain wheat bread from the store, and it still turns out a delicious egg sandwich.

Toast your bread while the egg(s) cook.

Once everything is done, carefully put your egg on top of your bread of choice.

making poached egg sandwich

At this point, you may top with additional fresh greens or lettuce and tomato, and add a slice of cheese (if you did not add shredded to your egg cooker). You could also add your seasoning at this point, rather than to the uncooked egg, if you prefer.

Fresh herbs are a nice option, too, and my husband and sons would probably go for a little hot sauce or even ketchup (although I prefer mine ketchup-less).

You could even go one step further and add a slice of cooked bacon or ham for a more hearty sandwich. (Why do I think the guys would like this idea?)

Another really nice topping is avocado, which also significantly boosts the health factor.

Poached egg sandwich with avocado 2015-09-18

Poached egg sandwich with spinach, avocado and cheese on whole wheat toast.

You may top the egg with a second piece of bread and eat by hand like a sandwich (think “healthy egg mcmuffin”), or do as I usually do and eat with only one piece of bread and serve open-faced.

Now your healthy, colorful egg sandwich is complete.

Go ahead and eat.

poached egg sandwich (partially eaten).

And think about chickens…..or spring…..or bunnies…..or spring chickens (which I am not, since a rather significant birthday is quickly approaching for me).

And please don’t forget to tell me how you liked it!

*****

Have you ever made a poached egg sandwich? How do you prefer to poach your eggs? When it comes to toppings, are you more of a greens, tomato and avocado person, or would you prefer bacon, cheese, or a nice slab of meat?

 

 

 

Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

Simple Breakfast Recipe Idea – Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits

Do you like yogurt? How about fresh berries or other fruits?

I really enjoy these foods, especially as a light breakfast (or let’s get real here; as a start to my healthy breakfast). We often enjoy yogurt as a healthy part of our breakfasts around here, and always have some kind of fruit first thing in the morning as a habit.

Here’a an idea that many of you, like me, probably find obvious and do on a regular basis.

But as I’m fond of repeating, many of my “obvious” ideas may be something you’ve never thought of, just as some of your “everybody does this” ideas may be enlightening to me. I think you’ll find that these ideas will be a staple on my blog, since these are simple tips that we can share to make our lives easier, less stressful, more healthy, save time and energy, and generally allow us to save our motivation and focus for the things in our lives that really make us flourish.

I’ve already shared tips about putting paper towels in lettuce and about re-using free hangers you already have. I’d just love to hear from you in the comments about any other “obvious” tips you use, or simple foods you make on a regular basis that help you. Maybe we’ll learn from each other.

Back to fruit & yogurt.

Constructing fruit & yogurt parfaits

A “real” shot of my kitchen counter-top at breakfast time.

I often make these yogurt parfaits when we have some assortment of fresh berries (one of our favorites!), with just bananas (which I almost always have on hand), or with any assortment of fresh cut up fruit. It can even be made with thawed frozen fruit or canned fruit, but will have a softer consistency in that case.

 

Fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries

Fresh washed strawberries (cut up), blueberries, and blackberries.

These parfaits can also be made with any assortment of tasty, healthy toppings to add extra flavor, texture, and color.

If you’re one of the resourceful people who make your own yogurt (I have yet to try that), that would be phenomenal! Or purchase good, healthy yogurt without too much added sugar.

If you’re using plain, unsweetened yogurt, feel free to sprinkle a little raw sugar over the top on each dish or mix into your fruit or berries, but try to keep it to a minimum. Most sweetened yogurts already contain an ample amount of sugar.

All you need to do is layer everything in a glass bowl, clear drinking glass, or cute parfait-style dish for each person. You can simply use a layer of each, or divide the ingredients and make several repeating layers (especially if you’re using a tall glass or dish).

Banana-yogurt parfait with dried cherries 2016-05-25

Banana-yogurt parfait with dried cherries (plain and orange-creme yogurt).

 

Simply layer the following into each individual dish:

  1. yogurt – a single flavor, plain unsweetened, or a combination of the two (my favorite)
  2. fruit or berries of choice – try mixed fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries; bananas and/or melon or pineapple; a fruit-cocktail-like mixture of any cut up fresh fruits you have on hand; or even thawed frozen fruit or canned fruit
  3. serve as is or top with topping(s) – granola (store-bought or homemade), healthy trail mix (store-bought or homemade), dried fruit or nuts (I particularly like dried cherries and/or almonds or homemade trail mix made with these)

 

Berry & Yogurt Parfait (top view)

 

In the above photo, I made do with what I had on hand, and the parfaits turned out pretty tasty! We only had a little plain yogurt left and one single-serving of (fruit-on-the-bottom) blueberry Greek yogurt, so I mixed them together. I layered the cut up strawberries, the yogurt mixture (I barely had enough for four bowls), then the blueberries and blackberries, and then I topped it off with my yogurt blend mixed with a little scoop of whipped cream I also had in the fridge. I added a dollop to the top of each bowl for a little treat. Voila!

I don’t think I’ve ever constructed these parfaits ahead of time and I probably wouldn’t recommend it, as the flavors would blend together and I think the fruit will absorb moisture from the yogurt. But who knows? It may work just fine. I may just have to try that idea and let you know how it turns out.

If you wish, you may cut up the fruit or strawberries before hand and store in the fridge as a time-savor in the morning .

You can also put out the ingredients and let your family or guests build their own yogurt parfaits to their liking. This would even be a nice idea for a special holiday breakfast or brunch.

I hope that you’re already enjoying your own homemade fruit and yogurt parfaits, or that this gives you another simple, healthy idea for breakfast. Perhaps it will just give you some ideas for new combinations or toppings that you’ve never tried.

Breakfast foods with instructions for son

Am I the only one who leaves instructional notes with food on the counter for my family?

Here’s to quick and healthy breakfast ideas! Enjoy!

*****

Do you make your own fruit & yogurt parfaits? Do you have any suggestions for ingredients that I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

 

 

Spring Ham-Bone Soup (in red bowl)

Spring Ham-bone Soup (A Use-What-You-Have Recipe Idea)

Spring Ham-Bone Soup (in red bowl)

So here’s what I did today, on the first mid-seventies, beautiful, sunny, May, spring day here in New England.

I made soup.

Well, I usually “menu plan” by having two or three recipes planned for the week, featuring either ingredients I just purchased (usually on sale), or meat and other foods I’ve transferred from freezer to refrigerator to thaw. It usually works pretty well, except for once in awhile when my timing is off, and suddenly it seems we have either too many leftovers to eat in time, or too much raw meat to cook in time; “in time” meaning before they spoil and we are forced to throw them out, or eat them and become sick; hasn’t happened yet, thankfully.  I’m sure that a daily menu plan would be best, but for now I don’t have that as a regular part of my routine.

All that was to say that today was my day to make soup with the frozen leftover Easter (and Christmas?) ham and ham bone that was in my freezer, because that’s just how it worked out.

Fortunately, there was still enough cool air coming in my open windows (yay!), to make both cooking and eating this soup still enjoyable. I won’t be planning to make soup in July or August, by the way.

So here’s the deal. Not only did I have a nice ham bone and a good amount of leftover spiral ham to use in the soup, but what I did not have much of was vegetables. My grocery shopping will be happening tomorrow. (Can you see what a great plan I had this time???)

I really didn’t feel like making the traditional split pea soup that can be found on the package of dried split peas (and I’m not even sure if I had those; I didn’t check my basement food storage area).

But never fear, I used what I have (I’m a firm believer in this practice), and if I do say so myself (and I do), I made a pretty tasty and healthy soup!

While I will share roughly what I did and the ingredients I used, this is not a recipe, per se. Rather it is an idea, that you can use to whatever degree you like, using what you have on hand. If you really want to buy, cook and eat a spiral ham, almost run out of both fresh and frozen veggies, and make this exact soup, be my guest…..but that’s not the idea.

Spring Ham-bone Soup cooking

 

How I Made My Spring Ham-Bone Soup:

First I half-filled my six quart pot (the big one I usually use for soup, unless I’m using the really big 8-qt. one), with cool water. I put in my ham bone and cooked it for a good half hour to an hour.

Sometime within that first half hour or hour (see; I told you it wouldn’t be exact), I added some onion (from my yellow onions which were growing stored downstairs, as well as a few frozen sweet pepper strips from my freezer (frozen from an excess of green and red peppers this past February). I also added just a little celery (since I only had two small stalks left), and three measly carrots, chopped, to the water.

onion growing sprouts

I let all of that cook for probably an hour to two. Meanwhile, I cut up the ham, cut up some more onion and the little bit of celery that I had scrounged, and ran up and down the stairs to work on a load or two of laundry (although you don’t have to do that part when you make this soup).

Over the course of the next hour or so, I strained the cooked veggies out of the broth (I usually run the whole pot of liquid through a strainer, but decided it wasn’t necessary this time), leaving the carrots (since they were still in pretty good shape). Then I added these additional ingredients to the broth, roughly in this order:

  1. frozen cubed butternut squash (from last year’s CSA, but cut up and frozen some time this winter when I discovered a spot forming one squash)
  2. chopped onions (about one med. to large size),
  3. baby carrots (the one type of fresh veggie I had in good supply),
  4. the two small stalks of celery, chopped,
  5. the remainder of my frozen green and red pepper strips (probably about two cups),
  6. some frozen, chopped kale (from last summer’s CSA, I think), and
  7. the cut up ham.

Please note that between adding each (or almost each) ingredient, a little time is needed to let the broth heat up, come to a simmer, and cook a little, depending on the type of ingredient and whether it was frozen or not. Usually about ten minutes works well, but use your discretion.

ham bone soup cooking (with steam) 2016-05-11

Last, but not least, I added some fresh ground pepper, about a teaspoon of granulated garlic (since I am also out of fresh cloves), and a few shakes of nutmeg. Notice I did not add salt (on account of the already-salty ham), and decided that the nutmeg would go along well with the squash.

I think that’s it. It was surprisingly tasty considering I had added no broth or bouillon to the water. The flavor came from the ham and vegetables and my few spices, and I think the butternut squash broke down and added a little texture and sweetness to the broth as well. I may have to add that to my ideas for using up extra squash, and remember this good method for adding sweet flavor and thickening any appropriate soup.

Spring Ham-Bone Soup (close-up)

I hope you enjoyed my little spring soup-making story and that it gives you some ideas to use next time you have a ham bone and maybe not quite enough veggies in your kitchen…..even if it is sunny and warm and heading towards eighty degrees.

Now we have some nice leftovers for lunch this week, and can look forward to grilling those fresh sausages I purchased from a small local store tomorrow.

*****

Have you ever made a variety of soup from a ham bone other than traditional split pea? Have you ever tried to make soup out of whatever ingredients you have on hand (or items gleaned from cleaning out your freezer)? What do you have hanging around in your freezer or fridge right now that could be used to make a good spring soup?

 

 

 

 

green smoothie in mason jar

How To Make a Simple Green Smoothie (It’s more simple than you think!)

green smoothie in mason jar

Recently, I explained how I freeze bananas to use for baking and smoothies. Well, my wonderful and insightful sister thought that maybe some more detailed information on what to do with frozen bananas would be in order. Perhaps she’s right.

So let’s talk smoothies. I use banana (especially frozen bananas), in almost every smoothie. We usually have them on hand, they add a wonderful smooth texture, and most of all, you can’t beat bananas to sweeten a smoothie (especially one with greens).

I just assumed that any old person could make a smoothie. And maybe you’re one of those who can. (If so, feel free to share your favorite smoothie recipe with me!).

But maybe you’ve never attempted to make one. Perhaps you thought you needed one of those nice, expensive smoothie machines to make one (and you don’t), or maybe you just buy smoothies that other people make (also expensive).

So today I want to tell you how easy it is to make your own green smoothie.

I have made smoothies for years, but only occasionally. Even though I really enjoy smoothies, here are some reasons that kept me from making my own:

  1. I just didn’t realize how easy it is.
  2. I thought it would be too time-consuming (especially for breakfast before a busy work day).
  3. I don’t have a fancy “smoothie maker”.

Hopefully, this post will help you realize how simple and quick it really is to make delicious and nutritious smoothies in your own blender!

Years ago, my first few tries at smoothie-making mainly consisted of frozen fruit (or unfrozen fruit and a few ice cubes), some juice (for liquid), and optional yogurt (which I usually added for taste and protein). These tasted delicious and were somewhat healthy, but contained more sugar and lacked the nutritional boost of greens.

purple smoothie

But now my “go-to” smoothies are made with greens. Once I figured out what flavors tasted good together and got myself and my family used to a slightly less sweet smoothie, I can’t hardly “leave” out the greens. (See what I did there? “Leave” out the leafy greens?)

One reason I began to try to work with greens in my smoothies is because I had access to good, free greens. If you have your own garden, you likely have plenty of fresh greens.

When we started getting more greens from our CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm share, I didn’t want them to go to waste. We usually try to cook and eat them (they can be prepared and enjoyed like spinach), but if I have a lot, I put some aside in freezer bags for future smoothies.

Swiss chard

Farm fresh Swiss chard greens (and a little turnip green).

red and golden beet greens

Golden and red beet greens.

This past year I really had it good while I worked at an indoor microgreens farm. Microgreens are highly nutritious. In fact, WebMD states that they contain, “up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts.” You can read more about that here.  One of the awesome benefits of my little farm job was being able to help myself to greens from the employee fridge. So this past summer, we had a delicious and nutritious green smoothie for breakfast probably two to three times a week.

kitty in wheatgrass

Our kitties love greens, too. 🙂

Mostly I’ve just been “winging” it with my smoothies. But over time I’m getting pretty good at it, as well as coming up with some favorite ideas.

One thing I have learned (through trial and error), that makes all the difference in good smoothie-making is that you need enough liquid. Even if you like it thick, a blender requires sufficient liquid to operate. Some in my family prefer an even thinner smoothie than I do, which can be accomplished by adding even more liquid and/or not using as much frozen fruit (as the ice makes it thicker).

green smoothie in blender

You can make a wonderful, healthy green smoothie right in your blender!

Simple Green Smoothies is a great site with loads of good information on making green smoothies. They even run a free 30-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. I really like their poster (scroll down on this page), with their basic green smoothie “formula”.

This is roughly what I’ve been doing, but it makes life even easier to simply remember two cups liquid, two cups leafy greens, and three cups of fruit. I love that this recipe is simple, but versatile. Some additional optional ingredients that I would add to their list are as follows:

  1. microgreens (leafy greens category) – the healthiest, if you can get your hands on some
  2. beet greens (greens category) – never throw out the healthy greens from your beets!
  3. 100% fruit juice (liquid category) – Be aware that this option will add natural sugar to your smoothie, but may be desirable, especially if your family is “new” to green smoothies.
  4. fresh or frozen cranberries (fruit category) – full of antioxidants as well as many other health benefits 
  5. PBfit or other peanut butter powder – contains all the goodness of and 85% less fat than regular peanut butter (“boosts” category)
  6. Powdered whey (“boosts”) – excellent source of protein (explore here)

Be sure to note that you need to use at least some frozen fruit in order to thicken and chill your smoothie. Alternatively, you may add a few ice cubes, but I prefer to pack my smoothie full of flavor and nutrition without added water.

blueberry green smoothies

Green smoothies are not always green (with blueberries).

green smoothie

Mango-chard smoothie.

So now that you have all this green smoothie information at your finger-tips (and hopefully a good supply of frozen bananas), what are you waiting for?

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Please do share any great smoothie tips with us here! Have you tried making a green smoothie yet? Are you the proud owner of one of those coveted special smoothie makers?

 

 

 

 

 

hanging bananas

Life Cycle of a Banana

bananas and tomatoes on my counter

I’m sure I now have you all on the edge of your seat, breathlessly awaiting an in-depth study about how bananas are grown and harvested, but that is not the topic of this post. (Sorry.) Neither will I discuss what happens after you ingest bananas…..(no further comments necessary!).

Today’s post is just about the life cycle of a banana at my house. Or more specifically, what on earth do I do with bananas that could be interesting enough to write an entire post about them on Simply Flourishing Home???

banana pile

Let me start with the fact that I know this will be a boring post for some of you experienced bakers, smoothie-makers and banana-keepers.

***But one thing I realized before I began blogging is that many times it’s that “obvious” tip to us that someone else just needs to hear. I have lived for almost fifty years, and cooked and baked for over twenty-five married years, and I’m still learning some great hacks and tips for all areas of my life.

***So at the risk of boring you or causing you to feel I’m insulting your intelligence, I have decided to sometimes share a simple tip or idea, for those of you who for whatever reason, find yourselves “out of the loop”. I would, of course, also welcome any tips and tricks for home-making that my readers would be willing to share in the comments. Share the wealth!

So back to bananas.

Bananas are a healthy, convenient, economical, portable fruit. I try to keep them on hand at all times for a quick, easy morning serving of fruit. They are also invaluable for baking and smoothies!

Let’s talk about banana nutrition.

I won’t go into great depth here (as I am not a nutritionist nor a banana expert), but suffice it to say that a bananas possess a whole slew of health benefits. They are naturally fat and cholesterol-free, provide a high dose of potassium (which is beneficial to your heart, muscles, nerves and kidneys, and can help lower blood pressure). They also contain a healthy dose of vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and fiber, and aide in the digestive process.

In case that’s not enough for you, this interesting article discusses 25 Powerful Reasons to Eat Bananas, and claims several additional health benefits, many of which I had never even heard before today.

In our family, bananas are consumed several times per week as is, but we also depend on them for moist, delicious baked goods and to thicken and sweeten our healthy smoothies.

lots of bananas

So what’s the best way to be sure to have bananas on hand at all times in case the urge strikes to bake fresh banana bread or create a delicious smoothie?

Stock up on bananas whenever you have a chance. Thankfully, they are one of the cheaper foods to begin with, but if you happen to catch a sale, find some on the reduced-produce rack at your store, or “adopt” them from someone who for some reason has extras, then go for it! (I used to gratefully receive bunches on occasion from the school cafeteria where I worked, before vacation days when they would be sure to spoil if left.) I often buy an extra bunch on purpose to keep my freezer-stock supplied.

Just a side note here. I have tried (I thought with some success), that trick of wrapping the banana stems in foil to retard the ripening process. Although I had come across some reason to believe it is effective, I now realize through a little research that most people believe it makes no difference if you wrap the stems in foil or plastic wrap, or separate the bananas. I looked at several write-ups and videos, and in the end, I can’t find anything scientific to back up the idea that any of these methods actually makes a difference.

So if you notice any foil on my bunch of bananas in the photo, just ignore it. Until I conduct an actual experiment myself (which I will surely share here), I will refrain from further wasting foil on my banana stems.

So just what do you do when you just have too many bananas, or they are too ripe for your taste to eat?

overripe bananas

Most of you who care anything about baking know that bananas can be stored in the freezer until you need them for baking. For years, though, I threw the entire banana in, peel and all. This works, but when you take it out of the freezer and let it thaw, you now have to remove the blackened peel and are left with a soggy, slimy, mess. It still works and tastes fine in a recipe, but it leaves something to be desired in appearance and texture (in other words, it’s gross!)

One day, my life was forever changed when I made an important discovery; not to the whole world perhaps, but to this avid baker. I don’t even remember where I learned this idea, but it is to simply peel the banana BEFORE you freeze it.

freezing bananas

Yes, that’s it.

Some of you are probably saying, “Duh. Of course you peel them first. This is a waste of my time.”,  (to which I will refer you back to the above starred paragraphs), but I will share it here in case you, like me, need someone to tell you.

Now I simply peel and break each ripe banana into quarters or thirds and throw them into a freezer bag. This way, they can be easily taken out to thaw before baking, or warmed slightly in the microwave to soften if you are in a hurry.

Also, this method works great for thickening and sweetening smoothies! Simply place as many frozen banana chunks as desired into your blender (or fancy smoothie-maker, if you have one), along with your smoothie ingredients and life is good.

So that’s it, folks! The life cycle of a banana in my house.

Stay tuned to find out about two of my favorite related baking tips that I plan to share soon. One has something to do with pumpkins, and the second is about muffin dough. I can’t wait to share them with you!

Now, I think I’ll go and make some banana muffins.

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Do you love to bake with bananas or add them to smoothies? Have you ever tried freezing them? Are you willing to admit that you also wrap your banana stems in foil???

 

 

 

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

How To Eat an Egg Part 1 – Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

I’m all for quick, easy meals, especially for supper at the end of a long, busy day (as in, most of the time).

But I also want to serve my family as much real, healthy food as possible, without driving myself insane.

One way I accomplish this is to rely on some easy, quick meals made with ingredients I regularly keep on hand.

Enter, the egg.

Now I won’t try to convince you of what kind of eggs to buy. My favorite, and I think the best option, would be a local, farm-fresh egg, which we indulge in on occasion. There are also many different kinds of “healthy” eggs available for purchase at the supermarket, but do your own research and be careful of misleading labels and information. (For some interesting and informative reading about healthy eggs, read this and this.)

The meal budget for our family of four grown humans (three of which are tall men), does not regularly allow for farm-fresh eggs. After doing a little informational reading, I feel it’s a healthy compromise to purchase regular, store-bought eggs most of the time.

This food staple can be one of the cheapest, money-saving meal options out there, especially if you shop special sales or buy in larger quantities (or best option yet, raise your own chickens like my dear sister). I usually buy a large quantity from my local warehouse-style store (mine is BJ’s Wholesale Club), and try to stock up when they offer a coupon.

If you have stronger convictions about eating “healthier” eggs and a grocery budget to match, feel free to use your special eggs. Also, if high cholesterol or other issues prevent you from indulging in unlimited eggs, use whatever egg substitute you currently purchase. The cost will be increased, but I’m quite sure it will still result in a cheaper protein option than most meat-based meals.

Today I’d like to show you one of my favorite ways to eat an egg (or several).

This is not my very fastest, easiest egg option (more egg ideas to come), but moderately easy and fast, and uses “regular” staples you’ll probably have in your house. I think it’s a nice, supper-friendly option with the addition of potatoes.

The original recipe came from the Land O Lakes Treasury of Country Recipes, a book I’ve owned for years.recipe book

I got it when a salesman left us a sample to browse at work  (before they got all “fussy” about allowing such things at places of business), and liked it so much I later searched for and purchased a similar book in the same series for myself and another family member. Although the cookbook is still available today, I had no luck finding the recipe online by Land O Lakes. I did, however locate essentially the same recipe printed here.

Many friends have complimented my cooking and baking, but in reality I’m not one to invent too many recipes from scratch. One day I figured out that a primary reason people think I’m a good cook is because I’ve learned to recognize a good recipe. Often I tweak it to make it healthier or to use ingredients I have on hand, but I usually start by following the directions.

Since I don’t currently own an oven-proof skillet, for this recipe I use either a large ceramic pie plate, a glass casserole dish, or my deep dish stoneware baker. I usually add more potatoes than the original recipe calls for, since I like them and am often needing to use up extras before they get soft. I also use whatever cheese I have on hand that sounds good (most often shredded mexican or chedder).

So without further ado,  I present Country-Style Potato & Onion Pie.

 

slicing red potatoes

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

(4-6 servings; 50 minutes)

 

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup (3 small) new red potatoes   *(I usually use more, about 4 or 5, and whatever type I currently have.)
  • 1 med. onion, sliced 1/8 “, separated into rings
  • 1 cup (or more, because cheese!), shredded Swiss cheese   *(or whatever type you’d like)
  • 1/3 cup chopped
    fresh parsley (or about 1 1/2 Tbsp. dried)   * (Try other herbs; I like to add some dill.)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 8 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 med. ripe tomato, sliced 1/4 “

 

1.  Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In oven-proof cooking dish or skillet melt butter in oven (3 to 4 min.).

3. Add potatoes and onion. Bake, stirring once, for 15 to 20 min. or until vegetables are crisp-tender.

potatoes and onion in stoneware 2

4. Meanwhile, in small bowl stir together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, parsley (and/or other herb of choice), and shredded cheese.

5. Pour over baked potatoes and onion; arrange tomato slices on top.

6. Return to oven and continue baking for 17-22 min. or until eggs are set and lightly browned.   *(I often find it takes longer, especially if I’ve used larger quantities.)

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

Country-Style Potato and Onion Pie

 

I like to serve a nice, fresh salad with this meal, or possibly cut-up fresh fruit.

*****

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do, and that it makes for a few easier, more enjoyable evenings for you and your family!

Do you depend on eggs for quick and easy meals, too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homemade croutons

Making Something Delicious Out of Nothing (How to Make Your Own Croutons From Random Bread Scraps)

homemade croutons

Lately I’ve been inspired to do some serious decluttering. That topic, in itself, could be another whole series of blog posts (of which I am not yet the expert).

But for today, I am going to share with you an easy little recipe that will help you to declutter your freezer.

Did you know that you can make your own tasty, inexpensive and not-filled-with-gunk croutons? These taste so good, you’ll probably have to do as I do, and politely ask your family members NOT to consume them all before you get to enjoy the croutons on your salads.

The original recipe came from my trusty Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (1989). This is the one basic recipe book I chose and purchased when I was newly married (yes, we were married in 1989).  I have used their recipe as a guide. A modern rendition of their recipe can be found here, along with some more options for you to try.

I will now demonstrate how to make delicious croutons from your leftover scraps of old bread.

It should be noted that the way to make this recipe out of “nothing”, is to create a habit of keeping any scraps of bread you don’t use in your freezer.  I don’t know about you, but I seriously hate to throw away food. Part of this is likely because of how I was raised. My parents were frugal and taught me not to waste, but I especially learned from my grandparents, who told us stories of surviving The Great Depression. Not only that, but wasting food is too much like throwing hard-earned money out of the window.

The next best option would be to take advantage of your local supermarket’s “day old” bread rack. Most markets offer at least 30% off of day old bread, and often much more savings can be found. (Again, a topic for another post!)

So either find some fish or ducks to eat your stale bread, or make croutons (but I recommend the latter).

You could make these with fresh bread and they’d be just as yummy, but I love creating something delicious to eat out of stuff that cost me nothing, since it could easily have been thrown away.

I toss any of the following into the bottom section of my freezer, usually right in their original bags:

  • any variety of slightly stale store-bought bread (but especially good are artisan or bakery breads)
  • extra unused rolls from hot-dogs and such (even the cheap white-bread kind)
  • heels from your bread (the part that no-one really wants to eat)
  • leftover homemade bread that is no longer of optimal freshness (mine are usually leftovers from the bread-maker after two or three days).
stale bread

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I usually triple or quadruple this crouton recipe, depending upon how much stale bread I have accumulated and/or how many croutons I wish to make. I also really like to mix several different varieties of bread for more flavor and visual appeal.

 

Homemade Croutons

Here’s the ingredient list (for a single recipe):

  • about 2 cups cubed bread
  • 1/4 butter or less (the real stuff; no margarine!)
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (alternately you may use other seasonings such as 1 tsp dill or 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese; my favorite combination is to use both garlic and dill)

 

  1. The first step is to assemble your bread. If it is frozen, you either need to take it out of the freezer at least a half hour before you want to use it (preferred), or “cheat” and use your microwave on a low setting (being careful not to overheat the bread and make it mushy).

white bread cubes

dark bread cubes

2. Next, you need to cut the bread into whatever size cubes you’d like. Some recipes suggest tearing the bread, which is also an easy option if you don’t prefer cubes (like some of us “neat-freaks”).

mixed bread cubes

3. Melt the butter and stir in your seasonings.

melted butter and seasonings

pouring butter and seasonings

4. Toss the butter/seasoning mixture and bread cubes thoroughly. (Start stirring quickly before the liquid starts absorbing into just one section of your bread.)

mixing bread and seasonings

5. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. (I love to use my Pampered Chef stoneware, but any cookie sheet will do.)

unbaked croutons on sheet

6. Bake at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. Stir the croutons and bake at least another 5 to 10 minutes. You will need to take out your pans often to see if they are done. Always stir the cubes if returning them to the oven.

croutons in oven

7. The croutons are done when the edges are lightly browned and they are slightly crisp. Be careful not to overcook them; they will “harden up” a little when they cool. Cool on pan until they can be stored (if you can refrain from gobbling them all up right away!)

finished croutons

8. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in your fridge. Enjoy!

 

Besides being delicious on salads, homemade croutons make a delicious snack (just ask my sons). There are a variety of other uses for croutons, including as a topping for baked fish or chicken.

crouton topping for baked fish

 

baked fish with crouton topping

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So tell me, do you love croutons? Have you ever made your own? I’d also love to hear of any other delicious ideas for using your homemade croutons in the comments below.