Category Archives: Eating in Season

The No-Acre Homestead, Faster Than the Speed of Sound

At least that’s what it feels like around here, lately. Despite not keeping at all current on posts, the No-Acre Homestead has been plugging along, if not flying at warp speed. I’m going to try to post more frequently, albeit much more briefly. Hopefully, that will keep the lines of communication flowing better than they have been!

Here is today’s offering…harvested from our Edible Driveway during my first cup of coffee.

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Red cabbage, harvested at dawn from the No Acre Homestead

The red cabbage was planted in November, and produced all winter. All in all, we had nine heads of cabbage, and countless loose leaves plucked as we needed them, from a circular raised bed just 30 inches across.

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The fertile cabbage bed, just 30 inches across. Filled with scrumptious compost, it kept us stocked for over half the year.

Now that’s intensive planting!
And, no one can deny that red cabbage is indeed ornamental. People plant it in their front yards all the time, but rarely seem to eat it.
If there’s one thing that’s true about life here at the No-Acre Homestead, it’s that we never let good food go to waste!
Happy gardening.

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Capsaicin Balm

I am always trying to learn more about natural approaches to wellness. I enjoy the connection to the environment as well as the sense of accomplishment when I concoct a solution to an ailment in my own kitchen or garden. Lately, I’ve been dealing with some irksome pain, and trying to moderate my use of those harsh oral pharmaceuticals with all of their troubling side effects. I’ve learned that there are so many options available for topical pain relief. Arnica, aloe, menthol, eucalyptus, and willow bark, for example, are all wonderful additions to the herbal medicine chest, and very helpful. Last week, however, my doctor recommended trying a capsaicin rub for persistent neurological pain. Our discussion jogged a distant memory about neurotransmitter function, the role of the mysteriously-named Substance P in pain sensation, and the unusual effects of capsaicin on the sensory system.

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A bowl of seriously hot peppers. These dried on the plant in the garden, and I picked them just before using. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

In a nutshell, Substance P delivers the message to your central nervous system that you are in pain.  Capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, blocks Substance P from being made. No messenger…no message delivered.  The cause of the pain is not affected, just the feeling.  So capsaicin acts as an analgesic, without the nasty side effects of a lot of the prescription drugs that are recommended for chronic pain. Capsaicin balms and rubs are available over-the-counter.  But some have ingredients to which I am sensitive.  And all of them are darn expensive.

Thank goodness I have a kitchen!

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I used some tiny hot peppers and regular grapeseed oil to begin. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

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I didn’t bother to trim the peppers, because I planned on straining the extract. I just put them in a small saucepan, covered with the grapeseed oil, and snipped around with some scissors to increase exposure of seeds and ribs. I brought the whole thing to a simmer, and then turned down and left for a day with the lid on. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I was so excited by the aroma and color on the next morning that I forgot to take a picture.  But I did pour the whole thing into a mesh strainer to catch the spent peppers.  The extract could certainly be used at this point as a muscle rub (isn’t that easy?) but I know I tend to get a little clumsy when I am in pain.  Oil would guarantee a mess, and probably some unintended discomfort if I splashed it anyplace sensitive.  So I took another step.

Because I wanted to firm up the extract, I added 2 Tbl vegetable wax (the pellets in the photo) and a dollop of vegetable glycerin to maintain pliability (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

Because I wanted to firm up the extract, I added 2 Tbl vegetable wax (the pellets in the photo) and a dollop of vegetable glycerin to maintain pliability (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

 

This was stirred until it was completely melted.  The color is just amazing. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

This was stirred until it was completely melted. The color is just amazing. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

Then, because I wanted to make sure that the balm was really, really powerful, I decided to add a few aggressive shakes of cayenne powder to the mix.  I brought the pot to a simmer again, to make sure all the essential oils of the cayenne were released.  Then I cooled just slightly to handle.

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My super-duper straining apparatus. I wanted to make sure any cayenne particles were removed. So I used my jelly funnel and a muslin bag (real cheesecloth would work, too) The jar is the final vessel for the rub. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I had to work somewhat quickly, because the vegetable wax hardens as it cools.  I’m sure there’s another use for the lees and the muslim bag, but, encrusted as it all was with spicy wax, I just tossed them into the compost.

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The final product. Homemade capsaicin balm, no artificial ingredients and costing just pennies. It looks and smells delicious, is food-grade, and feels great on sore muscles. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I haven’t used enough of the homemade capsaicin balm to know if it will help me stay off some of the pharmeceuticals.  But I can tell you that it definitely feels warm and wonderful directly on sore muscles!

Do you have any home remedies that you rely on?  Feel free to share your recipes!

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Homemade Chicken Stock

Okay, my input here is not much of a recipe, but I was inspired to share it by something I read on one of my favorite blogs this morning. This time of year, it seems we go through bone stock as fast as I can make it. I use bones leftover from roast chicken dinners and grilled hot wings to make our stock, but Nicole at Cauldrons and Cupcakes has streamlined the process of turning chicken into chicken vegetable soup. What a great smell to come home to! Stock or soup simmering away is one of my favorite memories of walking into my grandparents’ kitchen. They always had something in progress on the stove.

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Bone stock in progress. Mostly chicken bones, with a few turkey bones in the center. I tossed in some bay leaves, first time ever, because I had just a handful that wouldn’t fit in the storage jar. The smell is home-sweet-home.

I use a slow cooker here, and add a few tablespoons of vinegar to filtered water and the contents of the ‘bone bag’ from the freezer. I set the cooker to ‘low’, and let it go for a day, or until the bones are soft enough to crumble when pinched. I add water if the level gets low, or if we start scooping out broth before the bones have given their all. When all the minerals have been extracted from the bones, I strain the stock into freezer jars, and dump the bones into the compost. Sometimes I add them to the pets’ food for a treat.

You’ll notice that I don’t add any seasoning when making my bone stock (the picture from today’s batch is a once-in-a-lifetime occurance, based on a storage crisis) That’s because unseasoned stock can be used in a wide variety of ways, and each application will have its own seasoning needs.

Good food requires good ingredients.  Pastured chicken makes the best soup! (photo courtesy of Mother Earth News)

Good food requires good ingredients. Pastured chicken makes the best soup! (photo courtesy of Mother Earth News)

The basic bone stock can be used as the base for a great chicken soup, just like Nicole’s recipe.We also use the stock instead of water when we make rice, for extra richness and minerals. We mix it in the pets’ meals to boost the nutrition for our picky eaters. And if we feel like we’re ‘coming down with something’, I stir in hot pepper, ground ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar and a whipped egg to make a germ-defying hot and sour soup. The stock stores wonderfully in the freezer in the wide mouth jars with the plastic lids…just thaw gently before you need to use it.

Although the recipe takes a long time, it is not very labor-intensive. Most of the time is spent waiting for the stove or slow-cooker to slowly extract the important nutrients and minerals from the bones. It’s a great project to start one day with plans to enjoy the results on the next several days. Coming home after a long and cold day and knowing that there is a hot meal waiting for you is incredibly satisfying!

Chicken soup is almost magical in its health-giving properties, so indulge yourself, and enjoy the flavor of home.

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Gorgeous goodness in a bowl of homemade chicken vegetable soup. (photo courtesy of Cauldrons and Cupcakes)

Update: part of the inspiration for this post also came from a WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, wherein we were instructed to use a photograph to illustrate the word “Home”.  For me, of course, Home is tied to Food.  For other unique interpretations, take a look at some of the other entries, below.  (Most people have far superior photography skills than me, so the pictures are actually nice to look at)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | West Coast Kayaker
  2. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Jill’s Well
  3. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | rarasaur
  4. Homeless! | بيسان
  5. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Lucid Gypsy
  6. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home of God | My.Vivid.Visions
  7. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | The Polar Panda
  8. WP Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Jag gör världen vackrare
  9. weekly photo challenge : home | bodhisattvaintraining
  10. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Sasieology
  11. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Chronicles of Illusions
  12. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | En snögummas tankar om livet
  13. Gamlebyen Skole « Cardinal Guzman
  14. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Efrata Denny Saputra Yunus
  15. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « britten
  16. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Life with a Neurotic Cat
  17. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home of Lotus | My.Vivid.Visions
  18. Home is where the heart is « I solemnly swear i am upto no good!
  19. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « cumakatakata
  20. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « cumafotofoto
  21. Weekly Photo Challenge – Home | breathofgreenair
  22. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Meg Travels
  23. weekly photo challenge : home | Time To Be Inspired
  24. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home! « ranDom muZings
  25. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | The Evolution of X
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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Smashed Sunchokes

Every so often, we get a vegetable from the CSA that is a little daunting to use.  I’ve been perplexed by Romanesco, celery root, and black radish at first.  There have been vegetables that I’ve been just overwhelmed with when the season and conditions were so perfect for them that they produced in abundance. (See anything I wrote about squash last year, but also I usually get fed up with lettuce and any baby greens by the middle of May)  But even those things were either stored or grated into stir-fries or stews or salads so that nothing went to waste.  The only vegetable that consistently stumped me was the sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the Sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the sunchoke.

For some reason, when I’ve researched recipes for the sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem Artichoke) I found only old-style techniques that involved peeling it, which was frustrating and wasted lots of the vegetable because of all the deep crevices.  And the recipes were either bland (boiling it and serving with salt and pepper) or seemed intent on disguising its mild flavor completely (gratin and hot sauce). The time and effort just didn’t seem worth the result.  It wasn’t until this week that I learned that peeling is optional (!) which made me far more patient with experimenting with its unique and delicate flavor.  The result is a side dish that’s as comforting as a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, but with less work, more fiber, and less calories.  I think I’ve found a new vegetable to love…finally.

Smashed Sunchokes

  • Clean equal-ish  amounts of sunchokes and potatoes.  Leave the skins on :) You may need to cube the potatoes if they are large…the pieces of potatoes and sunchokes should be roughly the same size.
A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

  • Fill a large pot with water, salted if you wish, and get those tubers boiling.  Keep them going until fork-tender, then drain.
About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on.  Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on. Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

  • Put the empty pot back on a low burner.  Toss in some real butter and swizzle around the bottom of the pot.  Then dump the veggies back in, and smash with an old-fashioned potato masher.  The idea is to soften everything into comfort-food consistency, but still have lumps.  Why?  Well, the peels and the sunchokes will not get as smooth as the potatoes.  Don’t even try.  Go for lumps, and celebrate them.  Salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particulary pretty.  But your tummy will think they're beautiful.

Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particularly pretty. But your tummy will think they’re beautiful.

I am really happy that I have finally made peace with the sunchoke, as it’s practically the definition of eating locally and seasonally in Anne Arundel County.  They were being cultivated by the Native Americans when the first explorers came here.  The plants, which look like very tall, multi-stemmed sunflowers, grow prolifically in our climate.  They are perennial, so they will come back year after year, with little work on the gardener’s part.  And they are easy to store…just  leave them in the ground until you are hungry!  They will keep until mid-February, when they start to sprout.  Or store them at home however you store your potatoes.  Fresh vegetables all winter long…and no canning or peeling required!

Please share any recipes that you have for sunchokes.  I’m eager to expand my recipe base for these slightly lemon-y, slightly potato-y, low carb vegetable.

 

 

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Brown Rice Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Despite the shenanigans of the past week, it seems that nothing is ever so stressful that it puts me off my feed!  Thank goodness for our winter CSA, and relationships with local farmers.  Instead of completely reverting to processed junk food during trying times, I can still make satisfying comfort food using healthful ingredients.  My waistband may not know the difference, but at least my liver should be grateful that I’m pigging out on seasonal and chemical-free food.  This concoction was inspired both by an old stand-by of mine from my misguided high-carb youth, and a recent kale-and-bacon recipe from Things My Belly Likes.

What could be more comforting during these cold, wet days of winter than a warm meal based on pork, cheese, and pasta?

Brown Rice Pasta with Sausage and Kale

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet, brown 1/2 pound of crumbled Italian sausage.  Add finely sliced onions and diced mushrooms, and 4 cups of cleaned, chopped kale. (No, it’s not too much kale, trust me!)  Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.  Toss together, cover the skillet, and turn the heat to low.

Four cups of kale cooks down and snuggles in with sausage, onions, and mushrooms.

Four cups of kale cooks down and snuggles in with sausage, onions, and mushrooms.

In a medium pot, cook 1/2 package of brown rice spaghetti according to directions.  Meanwhile, grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and thinly slice the green stalks of 4-6 scallions.

The brown rice pasta makes this dish gluten-free.  Feel free to substitute wheat products if you are not sensitive.

The brown rice pasta makes this dish gluten-free. Feel free to substitute wheat products if you are not sensitive.

Drain the cooked pasta, and add a touch more olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.  Toss the pasta in with the sausage/kale mixture until well-coated.  Add the scallions and Parmesan.  Serve with crushed hot pepper.

There are so many layers of texture and flavor in this two-pot recipe.  So rich and comforting!

There are so many layers of texture and flavor in this two-pot recipe. So rich and comforting!

This makes a main course for two people.  If these two people are extra-hungry, add a fresh salad made of hoop-house greens tossed with oil and vinegar with some finely-chopped fresh winter veggies. If you are really watching your carbs, you could eliminate the pasta entirely, and just add a few more cups of kale to the original skillet (and cut down the housekeeping to just one dirty pot, to boot!)

Enjoy, and stay warm.

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Braised Mock Tender

This recipe came out of one of my self-imposed cooking challenges, wherein I have committed to using every cut of beef I can find, at least once.

In one sense, the challenge is even trickier because, at least for us, it requires the services of a butcher, to say nothing of the other hands required to transform a field of grass into a serving of meat for our table. ( And I am dead-set serious about knowing where our food comes from and how the animals lived, and died, to become ingredients for our meal). Luckily, we have crossed paths with some adventurous farmers and butchers during this quest. I don’t even know how many different cuts of beef exist…it seems each cow will offer up a different combination, and I am very appreciative of the knowledge and craftsmanship that is needed to maximize the gifts of each animal.

Cow

Grassfed animals (photo courtesy of Eat Wild)

So, all that being said, what ended up in our cooler last week was a new-to-me cut called ” mock tender“. I researched text and web to get some information, without much success. It seems to be a pretty rare piece of beef ( yes, you can wince now.) The most helpful recipe I found was on Jersey Cook. I adapted it to what is in season and in our pantry now.

This is a very camera-shy recipe. My poor photography skills are familiar to you, but even Jersey Cook commented that she had a hard time taking a good picture. The taste, though, is wonderful. The beef flavor is true, and the slices are tender enough to use a spoon. The mix of colors, textures, and flavors hits all parts of the mouth. And, like all good stews, the leftovers were even better.

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Braised Mock Tender Winter Stew. The flavor is far more vibrant than my picture.

Braised Mock Tender Winter Stew
(I used my largest covered pot throughout this recipe. The slow-cooker would have been great, but it was being used to cook pork for the pets. Priorities, you know.)
Our mock tender came in the form of a roast. It was about 2 pounds, the size and shape of a toy football. If you have the time, you could slice it into steaks up front. I left it as a roast to the end.

  1. Heat 1 TBL olive oil in a large, heavy pot. Season the beef with salt and pepper, and then brown on all sides. Remove beef from pan for more work space.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add 3 sliced carrots, 1 large chopped yellow onion, and finely chopped garlic to (garlic powder would work here, too) Stir while heating gently, until the onions are translucent and the carrots soften.
  3. At this point, you need to add an acid to help break down the collagen in the meat during stewing, as well as a liquid to keep everything moist. Red wine and beef stock are usual, but that would have put a too big a dent in our pantry. I used 1/2 cup dry vermouth to deglaze the pan, and then added one can of diced tomatoes. Use what you have, remembering you can always add flavor as you go, but you can’t take it out if it’s overpowering. For seasoning, I keep it simple with thyme (fresh or dried) and bay leaves.
  4. Swizzle everything around, then add the beef back to the pot, add water to cover, put the lid on, and turn down to a low simmer. The roast took 4 hours to get the texture I wanted. If you cut it into mock tender steaks first, the time would be about half.
  5. At least a half hour before serving ( a whole day, in my case) add 3 or 4 cups of fresh spinach ( a bag of frozen spinach is fine). No, it’s not too much greenery…it cooks down, and it’s good for you, anyway. Then fold in 2 cups cooked cannelleni beans ( that’s one can of white beans, drained). Heat everything through, gently.

What you will have is a one-pot meal, and a great way to stretch 2 pounds of an inexpensive cut of meat. The vegetables are seasonal or pantry staples, which is another way to keep grocery bills in check. This is lighter than the standard meat-and-potatoes stew, with loads of fiber and nutrients from all the veggies.

Adapt this to use any tough-but-flavorful cut of beef you have. Let me know if you discover any tips or tweaks to make this even better. Enjoy!

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: White Pizza, Chesapeake Style

I am almost embarrassed to affix the title “Somewhat Weekly” to this recipe, since it’s been more than a week-or-so since I’ve last shared a kitchen adventure.  I’m hoping that the ‘somewhat’ has given me a generous grace period.  And, in my defense, I’ve been spending a lot of time in recipe development over the past few weeks.  So here’s one of our creations, emphasizing both the seasonal and local aspects of my cooking quests.

I was so fortunate to be exposed to a wide variety of food while growing up, as well as a ‘make-do’ philosophy when it came to cooking and sharing food among the mix of cultures in our city neighborhood.  Techniques and spices seemed to be the key to identifying the ‘cuisine’ rather than the actual ingredients (purchased, foraged, donated or shared)

When I was entrusted, for the first time in 10 years,  to cook the shucked oysters we received as a very generous Christmas gift, I tried to add a little of my own history while still respecting the particular flavor and origin of sweet, fresh Chesapeake oysters.  Here is my creation…New York City meets New Haven meets Southern Maryland waters.  Enjoy!

Chesapeake White Pizza

  1. Chop 1 pint of oysters, and set aside to drain. (Save the liquor for another recipe!).  Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. (“White pies” usually use littleneck clams…enjoy the abundance of your environment)

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    Chopped Chesapeake oysters and shredded Parmesan. The beginning of a beautiful friendship. (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Fish and Beer)

  2. Meanwhile, heat 2TBL of olive oil in a saute pan. Dice a medium-sized yellow onion and some garlic cloves.  (We used about 5 cloves, which may be strong for some, but on the other hand, we have never been bitten by vampires)  If you have access to fresh herbs, grab some fresh oregano and strip the stems.  Dry oregano will work, too….just a pinch. Add all the ingredients in this step into the hot pan, and heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Toss in some salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside the onion mixture, and save the oil.

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    Diced onions, garlic, and fresh oregano, in olive oil. (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Fish and Beer)

  3. We use a purchased gluten-free pizza crust, but make or buy whatever crust you prefer.  (Traditionally, a white pizza has a thin and crispy crust.) Brush the crust with the oil from the saute pan.  Leave a bit around the edge dry.

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    Gluten-free pizza crust, brushed with seasoned olive oil and festooned with real mozzerella (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Fish and Beer)

  4. Layer the oiled crust with some real mozzerella cheese.  Not the pre-shredded kind with additives…it won’t work.  (Plus, it’s just nasty.  No need for chemicals in cheese…use real food!) We are fortunate to know someone who makes mozzerella weekly.  You can make your own, or get some from the market if you don’t know a cheesemaker.  When the pie bakes, the seasoned oil and mozzerella mix together, and form the white sauce.  This is key to the white pizza experience, so no cheating on the cheese! Now add some finely-grated Parmesan.  I love good cheese.

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    This just gets better and better! Now the finely-grated Parmesan has joined the fun. You can even see that the oven is really set all the way to 500 degrees, too. (photo courtesy of Chespeake Fish and Beer)

  5. Now toss the drained oysters with the onion mixture from Step 2. Gently spread this over the cheese-covered pizza crust, keeping a dry edge.

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    Oysters and onions on board! (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Fish and Beer)

  6. Bake at 500 degrees, checking after 10 minutes until done.  You are looking for the formation of white sauce under the oysters, for one.  If you are going with the traditional style, you will also be looking for the bottom of the crust to be brown and crispy.
  7. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if you have it.  If you don’t have it, skip this step.  Dried parsley has no place on this pizza.

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    Pizza perfect! Using local herbs, vegetables, and oysters for a new spin on a classic recipe (photo courtesy of Chesapeake Fish and Beer)

This is a messy pizza, so let it cool a bit before slicing.  We sprinkle ours with crushed hot pepper, too, but that is one of my multi-cultural quirks.

I know this seafood-and-cheese combo is strange for many people…but trust me (and millions of other pizza lovers in the North East)  This combo is fantastic, and the oysters truly do make a lovely complement to the other flavors.  We plan on making this again, and sharing it with the folks that provide our oysters.

If there’s a theme to this recipe, it would be, “honor your history, and embrace your present”. Or just, “eat what you’ve got”!

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!

I’m going to skip the resolutions, recollections, and any wishful thinking today. Cheers to things that make us smile.

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Wishing you a delightful 2013, filled with good health, good food, and abundant happiness.

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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Croutons

Requiring only slightly more attention than making ice cubes, I almost didn’t share this “recipe”. But then I thought, I didn’t always know how to make croutons. And somebody out there might not know how, either. And since I was in the kitchen anyway….here goes. Best. Croutons. Ever.

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Homemade croutons are the best!

If you know me, you will not be shocked to learn that I don’t make my own bread.  A baker, I am not.  When I buy my favorite gluten-free loaves, they come with really boring heels that don’t do much to make a sandwich sparkle.  So I save them in the freezer until I have enough to make up a batch of croutons.

Ready for the tricky part?  OK.  Tear those bread heels into small pieces.  I like my croutons on the big side, probably about the size of an acorn.

Phwew, that’s over with.

Now, on a baking pan, drizzle those bread pieces with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings say “crouton” to you.  I love lots of garlic powder and a touch of oregano for every-day munchies.  Tarragon and lavender make a nice change when I plan on chicken salad.   Toss until coated, and then put in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Try not to eat them when they are sizzling hot…they’re hard to resist.

Do you have any recipes that are so simple, you take them for granted?

 

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