Archive | November, 2011

Lessons from a Spinach Salad

30 Nov
by Deanne

With a beautiful bowlful of spinach sitting in the fridge, I decided to try making a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. If you love bacon like I do, you’ll agree this is an excellent way to eat your spinach.

The recipe that looked the most interesting is from The Pioneer Woman. The recipe appealed to me because the onions and mushrooms were cooked rather than served raw as they are in most recipes for this salad. I also appreciated the step by step pictures Ree, the Pioneer Woman, took while she was preparing the dressing and salad.

I read the recipe a few times, gathered up my ingredients and put the bacon in a small frying pan to start cooking. It wasn’t long before I noticed the bacon had burned while I was cutting the mushrooms and onions. :( (But I would not be defeated!)

I discarded the bacon and started over. My son came into the kitchen and told me that I needed to cook the bacon on medium heat. (Silly me, I had the heat too high and the bacon burned because I wasn’t watching it.) I remembered his advice when it was time to cook the onions.  I cooked them gently over medium heat and they caramelized very nicely, so nicely that my chef husband complimented me. Before I knew it, I was munching on a lovely bacon-y salad.A photo of the salad

While eating my salad I pondered, “What lessons have I learned that can help me in my future cooking adventures?” I reflected on 2 lessons that apply to cooking in general not just to preparing spinach salads.

1.   Cook at the appropriate temperature…not too high and not too low.

Starting with the burner on high is a bad habit that started when I began cooking as a teenager. I did it then because I was impatient and didn’t really care that much about the food or ingredients.

Now, I know I can preheat the pan and adjust as I go. Also it’s important to cook at medium to medium-high heat when using non-stick cookware. And now I’m more careful with my ingredients because I don’t want to be wasteful.

2.   Start again, if a misstep will affect the overall taste of the dish.

This is a habit I picked up as a young wife—I would just keep going if I made a mistake in the cooking process. I suppose I didn’t want to throw out food because of the cost/ waste or admit that I’d made a mistake (because I wanted to be a perfect wife…who cooked perfectly all the time).  Unfortunately this led to sorry tasting dishes and a bad attitude about my cooking abilities.

Back then, if had taken the time to start over a few times, I would have felt success instead of failure. This time, because I truly wanted to learn (which involves learning from one’s mistakes), I discarded the burnt bacon and started over, cooking it to crispy perfection. Here is an encouraging tip that shows me others have made the same mistake.


Reviewing The (39) Most Common Cooking Mistakes on Cooking Light gives me hope. I did do a few things right when I was making my spinach salad—I carefully caramelized the onions rather than trying to speed up the process and I read the recipe all the way through before I began.

I look forward to my next cooking adventure, even if there are a few mistakes along the way. I feel a bit more competent because the salad tasted great and satisfied my craving for warm bacon dressing.

Are there any bad habits you’ve had to overcome as you’ve learned something new?

What a week for our leafy greens!

28 Nov
by Francine

Saturday and Sunday (Nov 19 & 20) our greens were covered by a fluffy snow blanket.A photo of our snowy lettuce

By Monday the snow was melting and the sun was shining, but the temperatures were still in the 40s.

Then Thanksgiving arrived with lots of sunshine and warmth.

A photo of the lettuce bed(In this photo, you can see that some of the lettuce is wilted and brown, while the rest is full and green.)

There are lots of dry tree leaves that blew into the raised beds throughout our windy fall. As I was cutting lettuce, I discovered that as I pulled away the dry tree leaves, the lettuce was green and perfect. Perhaps the dry leaves acted like an insulation.  A photo of me cutting lettuce

Another theory as to why our leafy greens have held up so well after the snow is that they needed a drink, and they didn’t mind if it was a slushy snow drink. We had a very dry summer and fall…the snow, melting snow and warmer temperatures were probably just what the plants needed to give us pickers some gorgeous late November greens.

A photo of the leafy greens

A closeup of the lettuce

I picked another big bowlful! (And I was sure thankful to spend a lovely afternoon in the garden.)

A photo of the lettuce I picked

Since Thanksgiving a frigid wind has blown through, some freezing stuff has fallen from the sky, grey clouds have hung thick in the sky and this morning the sun rose without a cloud in the sky(…ah yes, life on the open prairie of MN).

A photo of the morning frost

A photo of the frosty greens

Every time I take scissors and a big bowl into the garden I think, this will definitely be the last time I pick lettuce, and yet time and time again I fill a bowl full.  I’m very glad that Dad didn’t dig up the garden at the first sign of chilly weather…we would have missed out an a wonderful autumn of leafy green salads.  It’s been such a treat to see what these leafy greens have done.

There’s still a bit of sunshine left in the day. I think I’ll head back to the garden and see what I find today.  Maybe today will be the last day for picking leafy greens…or maybe not. :)

Our Thanksgiving Plate

26 Nov
by Francine

A photo of our Thanksgiving(This hugely portioned plate is my brother’s.)

This year Luke (brother) took the lead on our Thanksgiving feast and we did many things differently.  We skipped the turkey and we made everything gluten and dairy free (due to the dietary requirements of the chef, Mom, Grandma and I).

  • Instead of turkey we had roasted pork shoulder with an onion and apple gravy (because of the pectin in the apples, the gravy didn’t need a thickening agent). This was the unanimous favorite of our Thanksgiving meal.
  • We had roasted and mashed sweet potatoes with a coconut and ginger sauce mixed in.
  • The corn muffins had a touch of sage, which I dried back in September.
  • Quinoa with roasted vegetables somewhat took the place of the stuffing.
  • We kicked up the cranberry sauce with ginger and orange…boy was it tasty and tangy!
  • For dessert (not pictured) we had a pumpkin crisp. Dad roasted and pureed a pumpkin leftover from our autumn decor. The pumpkin puree was mixed with the usual spices and topped with oats, nuts, cinnamon and coconut oil. I made coconut whipped topping—I did this by emptying a can of coconut milk into a cold bowl, then I whipped until thick with the electric mixer.  It turned out just like whipped cream made from whipping cream…it’s cool to know there’s a just-as-good dairy free alternative to something so tasty.

Did you enjoy a traditional feast this Thanksgiving or mix it up? Did you have to consider any special diets when you planned your meal?

Thanksgiving is all about a good meal and a thankful heart. I hope you enjoyed both this year with your loved ones!

Joy from Cooking?

24 Nov
by Deanne

At my wedding shower in 1979, I was given a copy of Joy of Cooking. As a nineteen year old and soon to be wife, I was excited to cook. But (as I’ve mentioned before), I’ve had many cooking failures over the years. I think my cooking mistakes stem from approaching new things based on intuition more than on study.

When it came to cooking, it woA photo of my bookuld have been better for me to acquire some basic knowledge and skills that would have aided me in creating meals for my family.  After many years (and sorry tasting meals), cooking became a chore—something that had to be done to feed my family instead of a chance to learn and grow.

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the USA, and I feel thankful that I am no longer burdened by the chore of cooking. Steve, Francine and Luke enjoy cooking and none of them are afraid to roll up their sleeves and learn new things, even though they approach learning in the kitchen differently. They create interesting meals so it’s no longer up to mom (me) to get food on the table.

With this sense of thankfulness, I now feel that I want to cook. I feel hopeful that there may even be some joy in learning to cook. While my son is busy preparing our Thanksgiving meal, I pulled my 1975 version of Joy of Cooking off the shelf. Along with finding the book, I discovered they have a website with an interesting history. I’ll keep you updated as I flip through the dusty pages and click through the site.

 How about you, is cooking a joy or a chore?

Giggles on a Sunday Afternoon

20 Nov

In the quest for all things local, one can run the risk of sounding like this couple.

But it’s always good to laugh, even if it’s at yourself. :)

A Bowlful of Spinach

19 Nov

It’s a good thing I harvested the spinach yesterday afternoon because it’s snowing today!
A photo of the spinach harvest

A photo of the hole-y spinachThe spinach didn’t do so well in the late summer; the bugs chomped away at it. But the recent cold weather has eliminated the bugs and left us with the healthiest spinach of the season!

A photo of the healthy spinachNow…what to do with all this lovely spinach?

Does anyone have a spinach recipe they’d like to share?

A Windy November Harvest

18 Nov

On Wednesday we harvested all of our spring onions and cut back a lot of our lettuce. The lettuce had grown thick because of the nice weather we had last week. 

On Wednesday a chilly wind blew through, and we knew that we needed to get our lettuce onto our plates (or at least stored in the fridge). 

A photo of Deanne digging up the onions

A photo of the onions

A photo of Francine cutting back the lettuce

A photo of the lettuce on Nov 16