Monday, September 24, 2012

Telluride Black Bean Tortilla Bake

While scanning the cookbooks at the library looking for one to check out (because I certainly didn't need to BUY any more) I came across Don't Panic - More Dinner's In The Freezer:

There were quite a few recipes that intrigued me, but once I saw the Telluride Black Bean Tortilla Bake, I knew I had to try it that week. However, the name didn't sound too appetizing to the "Pickles".
The Boy: What's for dinner?
Me: Telluride Black Bean Tortilla Bake.
The Boy: (screwed up disgusted looking face)
Me: (showing him the contents of the pan which looked very similar to chili at this point) Is there anything in here that looks unappetizing to you?
The Boy: Oooohhh! That looks GOOD!
The sauce is a mixture of ground beef, onion, chopped up mexican stewed tomatoes, enchilada sauce, black beans, chili powder, black pepper and cumin.

Half the sauce is layered in the bottom.  Then tortillas filled with cream cheese and green chilies are placed on top of the sauce.  The rest of the sauce is poured over everything. Cover with cheese and bake.

The "Pickles" ate every bite.

Since then, we have had this dish a LOT.  I make two batches at once and freeze one for later. I even made it in the crock pot when the house was too hot to turn on the oven. We have since changed it up some and layer the tortillas on top of everything  instead of in the middle.

Pour your sauce in the pan, layer tortillas on top, sprinkle with cheese and bake until the cheese is melted and the tortilla edges are crisp.

Then we serve up a whole tortilla with a mound of the black bean sauce, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole and tortilla chips.

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Canning Solo

It was my first attempt canning solo - no one to ask for help and just an instruction sheet that came with the jars as reference. I think I did okay.

I emptied about 5 quart bags of cherry plums from the freezer into a huge pot to cook down. I wound up with 17 half-pint jars of jam. I think we've got enough to last us a long while even if I give half of it away!

Then there are still 2 quarts bags of cherry plums in the freezer...that was quite a harvest!

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Quick Berry Cobbler

I love cobblers. Peach cobbler, blackberry cobbler, cherry cobbler, it doesn't matter. Add some cream or ice cream to the dish and I'm in heaven!

Years ago, my best friend passed on a cobbler recipe she acquired from her mother's best friend, Robin. It's one of those "magic" recipes. The crust starts on the bottom and ends up on the top. It's fast, it's easy, and it's very good...perfect for a weekday dessert!

Over the weekend, I cleaned out my deep freezer and came across random bags of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries that I had purchased earlier in the year on sale and froze for later use. I saved the strawberries and blackberries for The Girl to take in her lunchbox (they stay pretty well frozen until lunchtime) but decided to make some cobbler with the remaining berries.

Robin's Quick Cobbler

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sweetened fresh fruit or canned fruit (drained) or pie filling

I dumped my frozen berries into a glass bowl, topped them with 1 cup of sugar and set them aside to thaw.

Mix all the dry ingredients together then stir in the milk. The batter will be pretty thin - a bit thinner than pancake batter. If you are using really juicy fruit, you may wish to add 1/4 cup flour to the batter.  I should have done that here since the batter soaked up a lot of the berry juice. That doesn't usually happen if you are using a drier fruit or pie filling.  Pour into a greased baking dish. I usually use an 8x8 square pan or 9x9 square pan but this time I chose to use my 1 qt French White dish.

Top the batter with 2 cups of fruit.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Serve warm with cream, whipped cream or ice cream.

Aside from changing out your fruit, you could also use brown sugar instead of white (maybe half and half?), add a sprinkle of cinnamon or a dash of vanilla to the batter, use a different flour, etc.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cherry Plum Picking and Homemade Jam

Cherry season was a couple months ago but the supposed cherry tree in our front yard seemed to be in no hurry to produce ripe cherries.  Back in July while other folks were talking of their bountiful cherry harvests in other areas, I was looking at mostly yellow (and VERY tart) fruit.

They gradually darkened over time and now with the sudden drop in temperature I found myself in a hurry to pick every fruit off the tree before the first frost (which has been known to come this early).

I still hadn't been able to figure out what kind of tree this is. It sure LOOKED like a cherry tree, but here it was, mid-September, and most of the berries had still not developed a deep red color. They were also WAY too sour for a Rainier cherry tree (and I was hoping they would ripen and sweeten with time).

Here are my observations:
  1. Blooms in March, harvest in September.
  2. The fruit looked like cherries.
  3. The flesh is yellow and most are still pretty firm.
  4. The stems are short and don't usually come off with the fruit. If I shake a branch hard enough, the fruit rains down on us and we can just go around and pick them up.
  5. The tree leaves are tiny compared to cherry trees.
  6. The tree is very hardy and grows profusely, even with the extreme heat, cold and drought that we have had here in Colorado.
  7. The branches are VERY twiggy making it difficult to climb up for the higher fruit.

The Girl could eat them fresh but The Boy and I shivered from tasting the sourness.  Still, we gathered them up. Better to make something from them than let the fruit rot on the ground and create a mess in the yard. I was able to fill up this container in about 15 minutes.

Something needed to be done with all these berries!  They were turned into just over 2 quarts of pie filling (8 cups pitted fruit, 3 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup cornstarch). I originally used 2 cups of sugar but the resulting pie filling was still much too tart so the additional 1 cup of sugar was gradually added. There were 2 cups of pitted fruit left over that I froze for later use.

Although these are in jars, they're stored in the refrigerator for  a cobbler in the near future.
Once the "Pickles" got home from school, they headed outside to pick more fruit.

Of course, seeing 2 children and their crazy mother outside on step stools and a ladder picking some unknown fruit from a tree got some attention in the neighborhood. While Aurora is not exactly big city living, it is still very urban compared to our last home in the woods.

After some discussions with neighbors (including some who mentioned the fruit's strange similarty to plums) I searched again on Google. Instead of looking for cherry tree varieties, I searched for "looks like cherries tastes like plums". They did have a distinct plum scent when you stuck your nose deep into the bowl.

It looks like the mystery tree in the front yard is a Cherry Plum Tree. In fact, once I started looking up more information on the cherry plum, I started finding LOTS of photos similar to mine.

Cherry Plums could be sweet. They could be sour. They could be yellow. They could be red. They could be purple.  The tree leaves could be green or purple. The blossoms could be white or pink. No wonder I had such a time identifying this tree!

Finally figuring out what the fruit was made me really excited about picking more! We wound up filling up our original container again PLUS a huge colander - about 2 1/2 gallons worth!

Then I found a super-easy 2-ingredient recipe for Cherry Plum Jam at California Monkey Momma. The instructions didn't call for de-stoning the fruit. They would be strained out later. That was a big plus. I didn't feel like spending another afternoon removing seeds.

I've never made jam or jelly or preserves before. Even so, I was determined to use this fruit. I strayed away from the recipe a bit, straining out the seeds and skins before adding the sugar. The first batch I made yielded 3 cups of juice & pulp. I wound up adding 3 cups of sugar to get a sweet/tart flavor. Once it boiled down, I wound up with just over 4 cups of jam.

This jam would look great in canning jars!  But it went into freezer containers instead.

Even though I've had a lesson in canning food, I don't have the supplies I need to do it properly. That will have to wait. Maybe I'll be ready when the apple tree across the street is harvested...

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Canning Lesson

"Would you like some tomatoes?"

I think that question is one of my favorites to hear...especially when my tomato plants weren't producing much of anything. I was invited by a neighbor to help myself to their huge bounty of tomatoes so of course, I grabbed a big bowl and followed my neighbor to his house.

The Girl and I ooohed and aaaahed over the tomatoes for a long time. These are just a few of the Romas...a box 3 feet long and 2 feet deep...

And those large Romas in the photo...they are about 5-6 inches long...biggest Romas I've ever seen!

There was also a box full of beefsteak looking tomatoes - perfect for tomato sandwiches! One slice of this one would cover a slice of bread!

I filled my bowl full and was then handed a bag with onions, jalapenos, anaheim peppers, bell peppers and cucumbers! I was so happy to see all of this and astounded that someone had a garden that produced so. much. food.  I mean, the soil here is so poor. I can't imagine how long it took to amend it to be able to produce veggies like this! And it wasn't damaged by the hailstorms, either.

 I felt like I had hit the jackpot! The Girl and I couldn't stop thanking our neighbor for his generosity!

Once I learned he knew how to can food, I asked if he could teach me. I was limited to freezing and drying my produce and for years I've wanted to learn how to can foods. I was invited over the following day to help he and his wife deal with the remaining massive pile of tomatoes.

I skipped home with our produce. Fridays in our house are taco nights and I had most everything we needed for Pico de Gallo in my goodie bag of fresh veggies.

Of course it tasted good, but I couldn't get over how incredibly FRESH the pico tasted! Yum!

The following day, I headed down the street with my apron to spend the entire day washing, blanching, chopping, pureeing and CANNING tomatoes!  

We made salsa, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. After about 5 hours, we still had 2 big bowls of tomatoes ready to juice, 2 pots of sauce cooking down on the stove and 2 boxes of tomatoes that hadn't been touched. I had a blast!

I can't wait for the pickling lesson!

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Harry Potter Birthday and Making Hermione Granger's Wand

For years, The Girl refused to watch any of the Harry Potter movies. I suppose she WAS a bit young for it back then. When Elder Boy was clamoring for everything Hogwarts related, The Girl was just a little sprout. In fact, she wasn't even a thought when Elder Boy's Harry Potter years started!

Just recently...last month in fact, The Girl was on her way to a birthday party with a friend. They are fortunate enough to have a dvd player installed in their minivan so she watched part of The Sorcerer's Stone on the way to the party and back. She came home after the party talking about nothing but that movie and wanting to watch it again (as well as all the others). Luckily, we were able to find the first two movies at the library. The next four movies were all currently borrowed and unavailable at the time...and every week following. Thankfully, Elder Boy brought ALL his movies (the first four) and all his books (the first 6) with him on a recent visit over Labor Day Weekend. We've watched them all several times throughout the last week.

Within this last month, The Girl had declared she wanted a Harry Potter birthday cake and was going to be Hermione Granger for Halloween.

The cake wasn't much of a problem. I came across a cute Hedwig cake I wanted to try to duplicate so I pinned it.

I decided at the last minute to not include the Hogwarts book in the cake design. I didn't want to have too much cake. So I wound up with something similar that The Girl kept ooohh-ing and aahh-ing over because "He's soooo cuuute!"

You can find a "How-To" for the cake at The Creative Cake Maker, my cake decorating blog.

The Girl's recent orthodontics banned Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans. I couldn't make my chocolate covered pretzel rods and call them "Wizard Wands" because the pretzel rods were also on the "not allowed" list. Oh well. We'll save them for next year since she insists she'll want another Harry Potter birthday and she SHOULD have her expander off her teeth by then.

The Hermione Granger Halloween costume was coming together nicely (we figured she could also wear it for "Book Character Day" in the spring). The area thrift stores all had 50% off on Labor Day so The Girl and I spent the day shopping together.  We found a white school shirt, a grey cardigan, a grey plaid skirt and some Mary Jane shoes. We also found a burgundy tie that I striped with gold ribbon. I already had some thick grey knee high socks she could use (though they might wind up being thigh high socks on her).

I was able to locate a set of three Gryffindor Patches on Amazon.  I only needed one patch for the cardigan, but if I am able to make the robe in time for Halloween, I would need a second patch. Having three at my disposal would come in handy. Her costume came to about $15 so far (including the patches).

In the days leading up to The Girl's birthday, there was a lot of "discussion" about the wand.  She had originally found a plain stick in the yard that was going to be used for the wand.  That was all fine and good until she saw an advertisement for Hermione's wand in one of the movie cases...

Yes, it's beautiful, but  unfortunately the ad worked. She suddenly wanted to spend $30 on Hermione's wand...and if I wouldn't buy it for her, she would from the money she had been saving all summer! NOOOOOO!

Mr. LH talked her down to a MUCH cheaper plastic version he spotted online but I didn't want to also have to pay the shipping...and I remembered the disappointment I had in the plastic Harry Potter wand Elder Boy had years before. It was bulky and cheap looking. I think it might have even said "Flipendo" over and over again...or maybe it was just Elder boy saying it repeatedly...or it was his video game...or all three...

The day before The Girl's birthday, I happened to notice a thin bamboo stake outside (it was originally used to hold up one of the hydrangea plants in the store).  It was just the right length for a wand. Then I thought some clay might work well to form the wand around this bamboo stick. I could even make the vines and leaves. But I didn't have any clay. I DID have some SUGRU that was part of a prize package from Instructables this summer for my crochet  Lego Minifigure).

SUGRU is a silicone rubber that you can mold. Once it cures, it's permanent. Sounded good for my needs. I'm sure there are better uses for this stuff but it needed to be used on SOMETHING before it passed its "use by" date which was coming up fast. I got to work and "sculpted" Hermione's wand. I wasn't exactly trying to keep it a secret since I was molding it at my kitchen counter, but when I set it aside to cure an hour later and The Girl had still not seen it, I hid it away.

The wand before painting

On Sunday, The Girl was so impatient about celebrating her birthday and opening her presents I thought a diversion was needed.  I pulled out the wand so we could both paint it. It had been curing for 24 hours. I didn't know if I could/should even paint this stuff but I did...with acrylic paint.  The Girl was bouncing everywhere when I pulled the wand out but she soon calmed down enough to help me paint it. We covered it with a light brown base and made sure none of the colors from the SUGRU were showing.

The bamboo stick in the middle was hollow so I was able to fashion a wire hanger into a stake that fit in the base of the wand holding it upright for curing, painting and drying...VERY handy!

Then we lightly swiped it with a darker brown to kind of bring out the details of the vines and leaves.

The wand after painting

Once the paint dried, I covered it in a clear coat of matte Mod Podge (I couldn't find any of our polyurethane in the garage).

I think it looks pretty darn good. In fact, the nicest compliment came from The Girl when she said "It looks like we bought it!". The cost? FREE. Can't beat that!

The Girl using her wand to zap the cake

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