Category Archives: Cooking & Recipes

Berries & Dairies: U Pick While U Can

 

I just went berry picking at Shuqualak (pronounced “sugar lock” Farms in Frierson.

There’s usually plenty of berry options at local farmers markets, but there’s something about donning the straw hat and watching the sun rise as you head to a rural berry patch to pick your own.

Broox and Judy Burris run the blueberry and blackberry operation started by Broox’s father in  1986. The land has been in Broox’s family since 1916. He’s the fourth generation owner.

Shqualak Farms
Judy Burris outside the Shuqualak Farms berry barn.

During berry season, the farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There are about four acres each of blueberry and blackberry bushes. Check out the Shuqualak Farms Facebook page for up-to-date status.

Since I did get up before dawn, I was the first customer that day. I got a chance to chat with Judy, a fun person and a great source of  information on how to get the best berries. “A gentle touch and they fall in your hands. If you have to tug, they’re not ripe enough yet.”

Shuqualak is a town in Mississippi. Broox’s father came across the town while traveling and felt it would be a good name for the farm since he called his wife “Sug” and the Choctaw Indian name meant “hog heaven.” He asked the mayor of Shuqualak if it was OK to use it.

So it’s Shuqualak Farms, but you won’t find any hogs there, no sugar cane — just blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor as well as antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese and a host of other nutrients that put them on many “super food” lists.

Shuqualak Farms is off Highway 175 and a 20-minute drive from the edge of Shreveport.  I have ridden this route several times with bicycle groups. Just before you get to the Shuqualak Farms turn, you’ll pass Bit’s Country Store, our bicycle group’s stop for breakfast.

Whether you’re on a bicycle or not, I suggest you stop in and grab a sausage egg biscuit. The biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.

Bit's Country Store
Taking a Hwy 175 bicycle break at Bit’s Country Store. This was a previous trip. No good way to transport blueberries and blackberries on my road cycle.

Highway 175 intersects Harts Island Road, a popular Shreveport bicycling route. It’s about 11 miles from the LSU Pecan Station to Bit’s Country Store and less than a half mile from the store’s biscuits to Shuqualak’s blueberry and blackberry bushes.

In Louisiana I’ve always thought April was for strawberries, May was for blackberries, June for blueberries and July was the best time for peaches. But that may vary from year to year and by fruit variety.  Like autumn fall color, berry season is short so you want to pick while you can.

“Mother Nature has the final say. This year we didn’t have a winter so the blueberries that normally just begin to get ripe June 1 have been early this year,” Judy said.

Shuqualak Farms blackberries
Blackberries are just now getting ripe.

After you’ve filled your bucket, return to the Blueberry Barn, an old farmhouse built before the turn of the century, and sample a blueberry popsicle. You can buy some to take home or buy the syrup to make your own.

Blueberries and blackberries are $14 for five quarts if  you pick your own. Blueberries also are usually available pre-picked for $20.

There’s also smaller kid’s buckets, picnic tables, harness buckets so you can pick with two hands, even canes to borrow for balance.

I came home with two generous gallons and information from the Ark-La-Tex Blueberry Growers Association, including recipes for pie, muffins and such. But the first thing I made was my go-to blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes from the She Wears Many Hats blog. I doubled the amount of blueberries!

Blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

Shuqualak Farms

 

 

 

 

Are You Arugula or Collards?

I’m not normally a cold weather gardener, but a couple of years ago I planted some butter crunch lettuce and it did well. Last year, I tried arugula. It did well too so I planted it again this year.

I like the peppery bite of arugula–added to other salad greens or eaten on its own with a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and a little parmesan cheese.

My husband and I have different tastes in greens. He loves collards. and planted a beautiful winter crop s a couple of years ago. I don’t like them and wouldn’t eat them. (He ended up eating very little as his low-carb diet didn’t allow for the cornbread to accompany them).

At least we had a pretty view out the back window on dreary winter days.

I don’t like like  mustard greens or turnip greens either. Hubby accuses me of being snooty with my greens because I do eat spinach and arugula.

But I counter by reminding him that I do not eat kale, despite its trendiness.

I’ve liked arugula ever since it started appearing in restaurants everywhere and was glad to discover how easy it is to grow. I  just planted a packet of seeds in the garden in late September, thinned the plants after a few weeks and started harvesting in early December.

I wish I had covered them during recent cold snap with temperatures dipping to 19 in our area.  I lost a few plants. I may try to get another crop in for spring before it gets too warm. Arugula does best in cool weather.

Here’s a guide to growing arugula from Bonnie Plants.

Hubby doesn’t eat arugula–not even in salads. And he certainly doesn’t think it’s a suitable pizza topping as it has become at those upscale pizzerias

So I eat my arugula alone. My favorite  way is the method pictured in the header photo for this blog: top naan bread with fresh mozzarella and red grapes and bake until the mozzarella browns. Remove, add arugula and freshly cracked black pepper.

Another is  this simple salad that I found at Gimme Some Oven blog.

The picture below is an arugula topped omelet at Brennan’s in New Orleans.

How do you like your arugula?

Kickstands and Bundt Pans-Pound Cakes for Christmas

I used to think pound cakes were for old people, in the category with congealed salads. Or in another of my labeling systems, a  layer cake with icing was like watermelon. A pound cake was like cantaloupe.

You had to be about 50 to prefer them. I figured now that I am pushing 60, it’s time to get out the Bundt pan.

Growing up, pound cake was something I ate when the other Christmas goodies were gone. (Well, before the fruit cake.) It was great for Christmas breakfast.

However, since my mother died in 2011, pound cakes are among what I miss at Christmas.  They were always moist and sometimes indulgent, even though I don’t remember her putting a glaze on one. Coconut pound cake. German chocolate pound cake. Sour cream pound cake. Those would always be on the holiday rotation.

My mother wasn’t a big Christmas person and often complained when she thought people were overdecorating for the holidays,  but she enjoyed baking. Not only would she make pound cakes and banana nut bread, chess squares and magic cookie bars–and all types of balls–bourbon balls, sausage balls, orange coconut balls.

But today I’m remembering pound cakes, which are making a comeback. A good part of it is the growth of Nothing Bundt Cakes, which has 175 locations in the United States and Canada. Nothing Bundt Cakes has elevated the pound cake with generous frosting, a variety of sizes and flavors such as “pecan praline” and “white white chocolate.”

And since I’m mixing food with business stories, let’s explore the Bundt pan. The pan was developed by Minnesota-based Nordic Ware during the 1950s. It really didn’t sell well and Nordic Ware considered discontinuing it. Then, in 1966, a woman used the pan to make the Tunnel of Fudge cake, which won second (not first) place in the Pillsbury Cook-Off.

Sales exploded. Nordic Ware trademarked the Bundt pan. Now there are castle and vaulted cathedral Bundt pans and dozens of variations on the classic fluted shape with the hole in the center.

I don’t remember my mother ever making a “Tunnel of Fudge” cake as she was a scratch cook and didn’t use cake mixes. But she did use her Bundt pan,

Some large pound cakes call for a tube pan (straight edges rather than fluted but still with the hole in the center). If you want some tips on whether or not to use a Bundt or a tube pan, check this website.

Call it growing older or refusing the extravagance of those  over-the-top multi-layer cakes gracing these covers of December food magazines, I’m craving the simple goodness of a moist slice of pound cake this Christmas.

Here’s a link to a recipe my mother used for German chocolate pound cake. I believe it originally was on the package of Baker’s chocolate. I particularly like it because it calls for three items I don’t typically stock in my pantry–shortening, baking chocolate and Swan’s Down cake flour (recipe doesn’t specify the latter, but I always use on the rare occasions that I bake cakes).

ingredients-1266-x-804

Going to the store to get them  brings back warm memories of my mother’s baking.

Here’s the sour cream pound cake my mother also liked to make.

 

Roasted Jalapeno Hummus From Minimalist Baker

I’m finally getting some jalapenos on the one plant in my garden. Last year I planted half a dozen jalapeno plants, and I had 127,661 jalapenos. Or so it seemed.

How many jalapeno poppers can I eat?

“Plenty” is really the answer, But since I’m cutting back on cheese-stuffed anything, that includes poppers. I scaled back on the jalapeno plants and looked for healthier ways to use the ones on my lone plant.

There’s nothing really special about backyard jalapenos.  Supermarket ones are totally fine. But jalapenos are easy to grow. That gives a novice gardener like me more confidence.

Really, I like just about anything with jalapenos. When I scarfed down the green jalapeno peanut brittle I bought in the Texas Hill Country a few years ago, my eyes were opened to the possibilities jalapenos could bring to many other things.

Here’s a good selection of jalapeno recipes assembled by The Huffington Post a few years ago. I’m interested in trying the Grilled Mascarpone and Roasted Jalapeno Pistachio Pesto Cheese Sandwich–now that’s a mouthful!

I was over at the Minimalist Baker blog one day and noticed this roasted jalapeno hummus recipe. Since tubs of Sabra’s hummus are becoming almost as common as ketchup bottles at our house, I figured I would try making my own with my backyard jalapenos.

This was easy as Minimalist Baker usually has recipes of 10 ingredients or less. The only baking here is roasting the jalapenos and garlic. At first, that intimidated me, but I forged ahead and loved the smell of both jalapenos and garlic roasting in my oven.

Recipe: Roasted Jalapeno Hummus from The Minimalist Baker

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 2 per two Tablespoon serving

You can easily adjust the heat in the recipe by adjusting the amount of jalapenos. I used two and left just a few seeds in because I like a little kick.

Refreshing Watermelon Any Way You Slice (Or Ice) It

We have been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. David and I have already gone through about a dozen. At 92 percent water, watermelon is helping us stay hydrated.

Truth be told, I have just as much luck with seedless watermelons I get at the supermarket as the ones I pick up at farmstands. Luckily, most of the stores in Shreveport get their melons from Texas, so that’s local, depending on what part of Texas they come from.

Still,  it is hard for me to pass by a farmer sitting on the tailgate of a 40-year-old truck  in the 97-degree heat with a load of them.  Sometimes I get a real winner, sweeter than the supermarket ones–like the giant one I got from Ryan Farms in Dixie, Louisiana, earlier this summer and another one we purchased along a  south Arkansas back road.

Earlier this week my refrigerator was full, and I had another watermelon on deck (the floorboard of my car). So, I thought it would be fun to experiment with some refreshing watermelon frozen novelties. Surprisingly, there aren’t many watermelon-flavored treats in the supermarket freezer section other than a few made by the Popsicle brand. So I consulted Pinterest and found a few healthy ones to try .

My husband is a watermelon purist and believes eating it any other way but straight is gilding the lily.  I sort of agree, but I love ice cream novelties and frozen treats. I’m glad to have some new ones to add to my stash of Push Ups, Nutty Buddies and multiple flavors of Outshine bars.

Refreshing Watermelon Treats
Refreshing Watermelon Treats

In the photo above, the treats are as follows going clockwise from the the Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream cone with links to the recipes.

Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream-eating Greek yogurt is perhaps the most significant diet change I have made during the past three years. Multiple blending repeats made this recipe a bit cumbersome for me, but I liked the taste. I used banana to make it creamier as suggested.

Watermelon Ice Pops-these were my favorite. I substituted Splenda for the sugar. Adding lime sherbet for the rind and chocolate chips for the seeds was so much fun! (Why can’t you find lime sherbet in pint containers?  Does anybody know?) This recipe says 12 servings, but I only got 6 using the five-ounce cups.

Watermelon ice pops
Chocolate chips are the seeds in this watermelon ice pop

Watermelon Lemon-Limeade Pops With a Jalapeno Kick. I did as one of the commenters suggested and added some jalapeno to give it a little kick.

Creamy Coconut Watermelon Pop. This was supposed to be a milkshake but didn’t turn out thick enough for me. I poured it in a mold, and, voila, another frozen treat variation.

 

 

Tomatoes Day 30: Tomato Gravy From Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

It’s the final day of 30 Days of Tomatoes, and it’s a good thing because the tomatoes are waning in my backyard garden. The heat is taking its toll, and the stinkbugs are sucking all of the juice out of my remaining crop,

I hope you have enjoyed this blog launch as much as I have. The highlight for me has been using some of thecookbooks that I had never cracked open.

One of them was Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, a Christmas gift from my husband several years ago. After receiving this cookbook, I declared no more cookbook Christmas presents, but I have had to apologize profusely. Why did I wait seven years before using it? It’s one of the best southern cookbooks out there with classic recipes, and the writing is spectacular too.

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea author is Mississippian Martha Hall Foose, the former executive chef of the Viking Cooking School. Viking makes high-end ranges in Greenwood, Mississippi, and operates a  cooking school there.

Hall lives on the family farm in Tchula, Mississippi but had pastry school trainng in France so she adds a sophisticated flair to some of her Deep South dishes. There’s actually a dessert called Sweet Tea Pie in the cookbook. Some other recipes have interesting names such as “Sold My Soul to the Devil-ed Eggs” and “Swimming Pool Orange Sherbet.”

I also made her Lady Pea Salad featured on the cookbook cover, and soon I am going to make her Baked Sweet Onions — Vidalia or sweet Texas onions baked in apple juice and topped with summer figs and black walnuts (never combined those two in a recipe).

To end our 30 Days of Tomatoes, I’m including this simple Tomato Gravy recipe.  It’s too hot to cook anything for very long, but you can probably handle seven minutes for this yummy recipe.

Recipe: Tomato Gravy From Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

Note: I’ll cut the blogging down to twice a week and return to more general farmstand, bicycling and road trip topics.

Tomatoes Day 29: Tomato Vinaigrette

A couple of years ago I took a Summer Salads cooking class through LSU Shreveport’s Continuing Education.  The instructor, Tulin Melancon, is from Turkey (“Melancon” comes from marrying a Louisiana man) and had lots of ideas on making Mediterranean-style salad vinaigrettes.

She advocated making flavor-intense vinaigrettes and using just a little instead of drenching salads with calorie-laden dressings.  She is a delightful instructor and a great cook so if you ever have a chance to take one of her classes, I highly recommend them.

This recipe is similar to one she shared. I have been using a lot of basil lately so I used mint as she used in her vinaigrette.   I also have an abundance of mint in my herb garden. I used a combination of spearmint and peppermint  and was pleased with the tomato and mint pairing. I also added shallots.

You can play around with the ingredients. Add lemon or lime juice or honey. I cut the olive oil in half and liked the intense balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard with the tomatoes and mint. You could even substitute chicken stock for some of the oil to cut calories.

So give yourself a break from the bottled salad dressings and taste the freshness of homemade salad vinaigrettes.

Recipe: Tomato Vinaigrette

Tomatoes Day 26: Garden Fresh Bruschetta From Spend With Pennies

When I searched for tomato recipes on Pinterest during the last month, this recipe from Spend With Pennies came up again and again.

I took the hint and tried it last night, and I am suggesting you do the same tonight. It’s super simple, and I only added one thing — grated parmesan.

I love reading frugal living blogs as well as food blogs. Blend frugality and food, and I’m even more excited. There’s moneysavingmom.com. You don’t have to be a mom to like some of her tips. My youngest daughter likes to fill her freezer with these breakfast burritos from moneysavingmom.com .

Then there is budgetbytes.com with the tagline “My Stomach is Full and My Wallet is Too.” Each recipe lists the price per ingredient and then a total per serving . But don’t expect rice, beans and Ramen noodles. Beth, the author, Iives in New Orleans so she has the city’s food reputation to uphold.

There’s so many more — thriftydecorchick.com  and livingwellspendingless.com  are two of my other favorites. But I have digressed away from Spend With Pennies.  The name comes from its origin as a shopping deals blog, but Holly, the author,  is now making it into more of a food blog catering to everyday cooks. I can’t wait to try her Dill Pickle Pasta Salad. She still tracks online shopping bargains and also has a lot of thrifty DIY projects.

Spending an hour reading through some of these reminds me of a time — long before blogs or Amazon or ebay — when I was a young stay-at-home mom trying to stretch one income. There was a writer who sent out a newsletter and wrote books under The Tightwad Gazette name.  It stirred my frugal creativity at the time, although some of her suggestions were mighty extreme. She retired the newsletter 20 years ago, but if you ever wondered what happened to her, I found an interview on another popular frugal living blog, the simple dollar.com.

Recipe: Garden Fresh Bruschetta

Weight Watchers SmartPoints. 2 for the bruschetta spread including parmesan. Bread will add 4-5 per slice.

Tomatoes Day 25: Pasta With Fresh Tomato Sauce From Martha Stewart

This is my go-to meatless “pantry” meal when I don’t have anything fresh to cook, and I don’t feel like going out. Boil some pasta, add some canned petite tomatoes and tomato sauce and top with sautéed peppers, mushrooms and onions.

Sometimes, I top with toasted pine nuts or olive mix. The olive mix is a Louisiana thing. The best known is from Central Grocery in New Orleans, but I much prefer Shreveport-based Monjuni’s.

This is pretty good with the canned tomatoes, but it’s extraordinary using fresh tomatoes. I strip most of the seeds from the tomatoes. I’m not militant about it. I’m OK with leaving a few seeds in. Fresh tomato sauce can be a bit runny, so if you want it a bit thicker, stir in a little tomato paste.

I’m not usually drawn to Martha Stewart’s recipes, but I’m sharing this because it’s simply good. In fact, since I have so many tomatoes this year, I may make a couple of batches of fresh tomato sauce to freeze.

I’m so glad our grocery stores have expanded their cheese sections and offer good parmesan cheese. Martha Stewart would not even think of doing anything but grating her own. And I agree with her on that for this recipe.

Recipe: Fresh Tomato Sauce From Martha Stewart

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 8 for the sauce served with a cup of pasta

Tomatoes Day 24: Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Tostada from Weight Watchers

I am declaring it too hot to cook for the rest of the week, and I’m tempted to say the rest of the summer. So, we will be grilling out, mixing pimiento cheese and throwing together quick meals like this.

I was sitting in my Weight Watchers meeting last night–hungry and wondering what I was going to eat for supper. Then, I flipped through the Weekly (publication with recipes, exercise tips, inspiration, etc.) A recipe similar to this was there. I had all of the ingredients already. Supper problem solved.

I made a few changes. I picked up some corn relish from the Mississippi Farmers Market over the weekend and spooned some of it onto this tostada. I didn’t have green chile peppers so I just chopped up some jalapeno. I left the jicama and avocado out and went heavier on the tomatoes because we have a lot!

Recipe: Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Tostada From Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 4 per tostada