Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Recipes: Fruit Salad

It's been getting warmer here in the midwest and living in a bilevel house, heat rises and it gets pretty warm up here. My kitchen is naturally situated upstairs and if I bake, which I love to do, it gets really hot in here. 

I've been thinking about different desserts I can make that don't require baking in the oven, and the first thing I thought of was fruit salad. 

Below is just a sampling of the fruit salad recipes you will find on Old Fashioned Living:

Layered Fruit Salad


2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
3 medium bananas, sliced
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 cup seedless grapes
1 pint blueberries

2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a sauce pan, bring to boil all ingredients for sauce except vanilla; simmer 5 minutes. Add vanilla and cool. Meanwhile, in a large clear glass salad bowl, arrange fruit in layers in order listed. Pour sauce over fruit. Cover and refrigerate several hours. 10-12 servings.

Tropical Blueberry Salad

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh or canned pineapple chunks
1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 kiwi, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
In a microwaveable bowl, combine brown sugar, orange juice . Microwave on high 1 minute. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add vanilla. In a large bowl, combine blueberries, pineapple, mango and kiwi. Stir in sugar-orange juice mixture until blended. This can be served in pretty bowls, or you can top slices of pound cake, angel cake or biscuits with it. Adapted from a North American Blueberry Council recipe.

Cherry Fruit Salad

2 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1 small fresh pineapple, pared and cut into segments
1 orange, peeled and cut up
1/2 small honeydew melon, cut into spears
1/4 cup toasted almond slices

1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp. orange peel

Arrange fruit on serving dish, sprinkle with almonds. Serve with dressing. Serves 4. Dressing: Combine all but peel, blend until smooth. Sprinkle with orange peel.

Five Fruit Salad

1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup blueberries
1 cup watermelon
1 banana, peeled and sliced
1 peach, pitted and cubed

Pour juice over fruit and refrigerate until cold-overnight is best.Serve in pretty wine goblets or glass bowls. Serves 4.

To see more on Old Fashioned Living:

Summer Fruit Salads
An Elegant Fruit Buffet
Watermelon Recipes
Selecting Summer Fruit

Or our friend's:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thrifty Thursday: Making Simple Syrup

Simple syrup (also known as sugar syrup) is basically 2 parts sugar and one part water, boiled together until the sugar dissolves. Why make simple syrup? If you are like me, you enjoy iced tea and lemonade in the summer. You would also know that if you need to sweeten your drink and you add a spoonful of sugar to a cold beverage it doesn't dissolve well. Many finer restaurants serve simple syrup aside a glass of iced tea as a sweetener. It's also used by bartenders to sweeten certain cocktails.

A week or so ago I shared some strawberry recipes with you. Well I happened to have a freezer bag full of strawberries from the last batch I bought. I have been cleaning out my freezer in preparation of my new side of beef, so I decided to try to make some simple strawberry syrup as I absolutely love my tea flavored (no one else here appreciates that) forcing me to flavor one glass at a time. I usually just add a splash of cranberry juice from a bottle, but felt this was a perfect way to reuse that strawberry juice that was draining from my thawing strawberries.

This can be made with any frozen fruit's juices, next time I'll try blackberries as I have some of those in the freezer as well. Once you've made the syrup, store it in a small glass jar with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator indefinitely. 

How to Make Simple Sugar Syrup

1 part water
2 parts sugar

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan, then add the sugar to the pan. Stir to combine until sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. Pour cooled syrup into a jar and store in the refrigerator.

How to Make Simple Strawberry Syrup

1 part strawberry juice from thawed strawberries
2 parts sugar

If possible, place a fine grate cooling rack over a cookie sheet. Place the frozen strawberries on the cooling rack so that the juice drips down onto the cookie sheet. If you don't have a fine grate cooling rack, just thaw the berries directly on the cookie sheet. Remove the thawed berries and carefully pour the juice into a measuring cup. Make note of the measurement and pour juice into a saucepan. Add two times the amount of sugar that was in your measuring cup (so if you had 1/4 cup strawberry juice, add 1/2 cup of sugar). Bring juice to a boil in a saucepan, then add the sugar to the pan. Stir to combine until sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. Pour cooled syrup into a jar and store in the refrigerator (I used a small glass empty spice jar).

Use one spoonful of syrup to sweeten and flavor your tea or lemonade. :)

To see my post on uses jars as glassware, be sure to visit my cooking blog! This is an entry into this week's Thrifty Thursday event. Visit and see what other thrifty ideas are out there!

Readers Questions & Answers

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. ~James Dent

One of our reader's asked for an old fashioned meatloaf recipe. I found this one at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and it's a good basic recipe. The only change I would make is to use a lean ground beef like ground round instead of regular ground beef.

Classic Meatloaf

1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1 egg
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Heat oven to 350°F. Measure 1/4 cup tomato sauce; combine with topping ingredients. Set aside. Combine remaining tomato sauce with remaining meatloaf ingredients in large bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Shape beef mixture into 8 x 4-1/2-inch loaf on rack in broiler pan. Spread topping over meatloaf. Bake in 350°F oven 1 hour to medium (160°F) doneness, until not pink in center and juices show no pink color. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into slices before serving.

Another reader asked me to explain deadheading a little more, as far as cutting the top only or the stem etc.

The reason you deadhead is so the plant's energy goes into producing more blooms this year or in the case of plants like the peony or bulbs- into next years blooms. Look at the plant and if there is just ONE bloom per stem, then remove the stem and the dead flower. Don't remove the leaves, JUST the dead bloom where the seed head will form and the stem that bloom is on. Some plants that have a lot of tiny blooms, can be "sheared". You wait for the blooms to pretty much finish, then gather as many as you can in your hand and cut all of the off. Continue until you've done this to the entire plant. Sweet Alyssum is an example of a plant to do this with. When deadheading you can also pinch off any brown or yellow leaves that are looking ragged. This will neaten up the plant as well. If a plant has a stem that has more than one bloom on it, then just snip off the dead flowers, and leave the stem.

Remember, leave the foliage of your daffodils and tulips alone until it turns brown on it's own, then you can clip it off. If they are forming a green bulge at the top of the stems, that is a seedhead, and you can clip that off. The leaves are soaking up sunshine, rain and nutrients which will go into the bulb for next year's blooms.

Fresh cherry recipes and tips:


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meals in 30 minutes or less?

Is it really possible to walk into the kitchen and make a home cooked meal, using fresh ingredients, not convenience foods, in 30 minutes or less? Most people would say no. Even celebs like Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee depend on prepackaged, preservative laden foods to cook their quick meals. While there's certainly nothing wrong with that, some prefer not to use prepackaged foods, whether it be because of a heart healthy diet, being more aware of what they eat, or perhaps they just like the freshness that real ingredients lend. 

Again, every once in a while using a prepackaged product is ok, but it's certainly healthier to use fresh or even frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grain rice and pastas, and real herbs and spices instead of frozen dinners, minute rice, and seasoning envelopes. 

So how can you do all of that if you work full time, go to school, usher kids to and from sporting events, clean the house, do the laundry, take the dog to the vet, pay your bills, visit grandma in the nursing home, attend doctor's appointments where you sit in the waiting room far longer than you should, help kids with homework.... (catches breath.). Well, with some extra effort, and yes it does take some extra effort on your part, you can begin to convert yourself over to using more fresh ingredients and less of the prepackaged stuff.

One of the most time consuming things when preparing a recipe from scratch are all the little things that have to be done before you actually cook. These include measuring, chopping, mincing, and slicing. There are quite a few things that can be done ahead of time to help you make fairly quick meals on busy weeknights. Here are just a few:

Chop and Store
Chop, mince, or dice your veggies ahead of time and store in zipper sandwich or gallon storage bags, depending on how much you make. If you use chopped onion in a lot of your recipes, chop it up, toss it into a zipper gallon bag and squeeze out the air. Store it in the freezer, then just grab what you need when you need it. Same goes for other veggies such as bell peppers, garlic, and mushrooms. All of these can be frozen and then just tossed into soups or the skillet for sauteing. Of course, you wouldn't want to freeze these if they are to be used in salads, so store some in the refrigerator if you need them fresh. Also, when you are chopping onion for one recipe, go ahead and chop extra to toss into a bag.

Measuring dry herbs and spices
I personally prefer to make my own homemade taco seasoning. It tastes so much fresher and everyone loves it. It's a pain to measure though, so I make several at once, using 4 or 5 different bowls. Once they are all measured out, I store each one in a zipper sandwich bag, then I roll up the sandwich bags and lay them together, then I wrap them all in foil together and store in the cabinet. I do this with my chili seasoning too, and you can do it with just about any dish that calls for several herbs and spices to be added at the same time. 

Make Two Meals
When I make a meatloaf, I make two or three of them. Once the meat and seasonings are all combined, I put the extra into freezer bags, flatten out the meat in the sealed bags, mark them with a Sharpie, then lay them flat to freeze. Once frozen they are easily stacked on top of one another or standing up in the freezer. I posted something similar with making meatballs, I can make several batches and not have to roll all the little buggers in one sitting. If you enjoy Chicken Piccata, Schnitzel (or pork tenderloin sandwiches), or Chicken Fried Steak, always make extra. Layer between sheets of wax paper and place in freezer bags for future meals. If you enjoy marinated steak, pork chops or chicken, place extra fresh meat in a freezer bag, add marinade and place flat in the freezer. When you are ready to grill, remove from freezer and thaw and your meat will be perfectly marinated.

Always, Always, Always Read the Recipe
I can't say this enough. When you want to make something, be sure to read the entire recipe through. It's an awful feeling to get halfway through making something only to find out that something has to simmer for 2 hours or chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Menu Plan
Sitting down on your day off and taking half an hour to go through your recipes, build your grocery list and write down what meals you are making for the week is a huge time saver. Also, knowing what you will be making each night removes the stress of "what the heck am I going to make tonight"? You'll know that morning before you head out the door what needs to be defrosted. Also, be sure to make use of the meals you made extra of! So if you have a meatloaf in the freezer or a package of Chicken Fried Steak breaded and ready to go, add it to your menu plan. 

Freezing Vegetables and Fruits
Frozen fruit is great for smoothies or making jams. There are many recipes that call for frozen fruit, so instead of tossing out and wasting fruit that is getting too ripe, toss it into a freezer bag and use it for a refreshing summer drink. For vegetables, you can prepare your own for freezing through a method called blanching. I don't do this too often, only because it's fairly cheap to buy frozen veggies and I just check the package to make sure there aren't any preservatives or additives. Last week I posted about making your summer corn on the cob last throughout the winter, which includes the process of blanching. There's a handy chart on oChef with blanching times for different vegetables.

Crockpots and Pressure Cookers
Using a slow cooker is great for those days you'll be gone all day, especially for those that work outside the home. Toss in the meat, a little liquid, seasonings and some veggies. Cook on low all day and you'll come home to a wonderful smell and a cooked meal. Pressure cookers, on the other hand, are another very handy tool. Pressure cookers have come a long way from years ago when you heard horror stories of the appliance exploding in kitchens everywhere. I use my pressure cooker fairly regularly and it has definitely saved me from those nights when I forgot to put the roast in early enough, or I want shredded chicken but don't have hours to wait. For example, I place a 3.5 pound chuck roast in my pressure cooker, cover it with water or broth, position the lid and rocker and 30-35 minutes later I have a roast with meat that just shreds. Slow cookers as well as pressure cookers are fairly inexpensive these days, if you don't have one, you may want to check them out. Here's an article on pressure cooker recipes, some basics of using a pressure cooker, and one on slow cookers (crock pots).

Fastest Meal Ever
Do you have a favorite FAST hot cooked meal aside from grilled cheese? Mine is meatless spaghetti. I make my own sauce, but it's not rocket science. One 6 oz can of tomato paste, an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, 18 oz of water (3 tomato paste cans), a couple shakes of Parmesan cheese, several shakes of dried basil, a couple shakes of garlic salt, and some ground pepper. Put the water on to boil for the noodles. Put the sauce ingredients into a saucepan and stir to combine, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. When water boils add your spaghetti noodles. By the time the noodles are done your sauce is ready and you can eat. Butter a couple pieces of bread and you're good to go :) I have 6 people to feed, so I double this recipe.

Hope some of these ideas helped. Do you have any tips along these lines?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Garden Tidbits: Simple May Be Better

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. ~Arnold H. Glasgow

Today I wanted to share some thoughts that have been running through my head lately. When I lived in the city I grew herbs, flowers and vegetables in raised beds and did a lot more than I thought possible with limited space. We moved the the country and I tried to go too BIG, too FAST. The result was discouragement on my part and I ended up having to move plants around. This year I finally decided that with our busy schedule I needed one raised bed to grow just what I really wanted to. My husband and I put together a 10 foot by 4 foot bed out of pine. Simple. I planted 8 tomato plants, then I sowed seeds for beans and cucumbers in front of a wire trellis, and filled in the rest of the space with basil, dill and nasturtiums. It's right beside our garage in full sun. It's easy to water, weed and then harvest. I'll share pictures later after it fills in. It took me years to figure out that I was trying to do TOO much. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed try scaling back what you grow, and think smaller. It may be this will be better for you too.

A note on's better for the plants and lawn to water less often but deeply when you do. Some of you may not even need to water extra as you are getting too much rain. If you have drought conditions use thick mulch and water when you can.

Remember, many plants and flowers don't respond well to sprinklers--it can even cause rot and mildew. As a general rule it's better to water well in the morning, and not in the evening. Container plants may need two or even three waterings for hanging plants if it's extremely
hot and/or windy.

For tips on growing and using oregano go here: