Thursday, February 21, 2013

How To Perk Up Jarred Salsa

While I have written before about how I love fresh salsa and there is nothing that can beat its flavor, I also know that fresh salsa is quite expensive to buy and even make any time of year, especially in the winter when so many of the items are not in season. So I LOVE shopping at Aldi's for fresh produce because it is so much cheaper. I can find grape tomatoes and avocados, among other things, at about half the sale price at other stores. Jarred salsa makes a great snack and is much cheaper but really needs a little something more to enhance it. I love avocados, but not alone, and they are a great super-food. So one of our favorite ways to eat them is chopped in salsa. Also, I am a great fan of cilantro and it is affordable any time of the year. Lately, we have been hooked on this recipe and I thought I would share it with everyone here. Here's to spring and getting a salsa garden going!


  • 2 cups of salsa
  • 1 15 oz. can of corn, drained or 2 cups of fresh/frozen cooked corn, drained
  • 1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained or 2 cups of cooked black beans
  • 2 avocados, cut into small chunks
  • cilantro, chopped (according to taste)
  • lime juice (according to taste), may substitute lemon in a pinch
  • 1 small- medium chopped red onion, or whatever type you have on hand
  • Handful or more of grape tomatoes, quartered


  • Combine all ingredients together and allow flavors to combine for a couple hours- although I found this quite addicting when I was tasting during preparation!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Succotash is a dish that immediately takes me back to my grandmother's house. She seemed to regularly make this and would offer us some when we came to visit. I came to enjoy this dish very much and eventually joined her in a mission to find the beans when local growers stopped growing them for the markets around us.

This dish was especially popular years ago with farm and country folks. The dish is based on beans (often lima beans) and corn. However, the version my grandmother always made is quite different- she always used a shell bean.

The shell beans that my grandmother and great grandmother used seem to resemble closely the cranberry bean- the shells were a red and cream/white variegated pod and the beans also had a similar creamy background with reddish swirls around the bean. When dried, they are often anywhere from a tannish/red flecked color to a darker reddish/brown color. These beans can be difficult to find- I was not able to find them for many years after I married and moved away from the area where I grew up near my grandmother.

For this reason, my grandmother tried to find farm markets that would sell the shell beans so she could make her succotash the "right way"- she actually canned the beans together with fresh sweet corn, cut from the cob. The two would cook together during the canning and the flavors would be so concentrated. After I married, she gave me some beans to plant in our garden, with the idea that we would share some of the harvest with her. So I decided to can the beans and corn together- when I finished canning, I thought I was doing something wrong because almost all of the juices came out of the jar and everything cooked into a solid mass. When I was talking lately with one of my aunts about this recipe, she told me that this is how the jars of beans/corn come out. Anyhow, I do know that the flavor was different than just cooking the beans and then adding in the corn.

My grandmother grew up in a poor family where most of the children spent their teenage years working on nearby farms because the family needed the money and could not really afford to feed and clothe everyone. This is one of the family dishes that was passed down from her mother and could be made with things from the garden that were inexpensive and yet filling. 

If I do not have the home-canned beans and corn, I found that you can get a pretty close flavor by pressure cooking the beans (saves a lot of time and there is no need to soak the beans first) and then simmering the beans and corn together for an hour or two. If you do not have a pressure cooker, try cooking the beans in a crockpot on high for about 6 hours. This is a very simple dish- my grandmother only used the beans, corn, salt and pepper, and some canned milk at the end. Now, on the other hand, I have never been one to leave a simple recipe alone! So I have almost always sauteéd some onions and celery to put in the succotash, added chunked potatoes to make it more of a main course soup and added some other seasonings.

These beans were quite red (usually the beans are more of a brown color when cooked) and colored the succotash. They still taste the same. The corn was farm-fresh grown and frozen white corn that is very sweet.

Servings: about 8-10
  • 1 pound bag of cranberry beans or similar shell beans
  • 1 quart bag (or 4 cups) of frozen or fresh sweet corn with juice
  • 3 medium-large potatoes, cut into chunks (optional)
  • chicken soup base or broth
  • water
  • 1-2 large onions
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
  • seasoned salt/pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp dried parsley
  • evaporated milk or cream
  • Cook the beans as instructed on the package, or cover beans in a slow cooker with about 2-3 inches of water and cook on high in a slow cooker for 6 hours, or in a pressure cooker for about 30 minutes. Drain beans from liquid.
  • In a dutch oven style soup pot, sauté onions with a couple Tbsp of olive oil until they become translucent. 
  • Add in the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add the beans, sweet corn, chunked potatoes and enough water/broth to cover all the ingredients. If using water, add in a few bouillon cubes or a few Tbsp of soup base. 
  • Season with salt/pepper and dried parsley.
  • Simmer together until beans and potatoes are soft. 
  • When finished cooking, add in milk/cream gradually until broth is milky-- if you use a whole can of evaporated milk, it will be quite thick. If you desire a thinner succotash, you may need to add a little more water to thin it out. Season to taste, adding more salt as needed.
*We recently ate succotash (made for this picture without the potatoes added) over top of mashed potatoes and it was delicious.

If you are only cooking for a couple people, cook up the entire recipe and then freeze half of the succotash for another time- although it is best frozen if you do not add in the potatoes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Plain Muffins

This is another one of the nice little foods we had at our cooking club tea party recently. One of the members shared her family's old recipe that she remembers being served at her aunt's home many times when she was young. This is a simple muffin (I was struck by the idea of a plain muffin when she shared them with us at first!) but is wonderful with jam or lemon curd as we had them at the tea party. They are not very sweet- just a hint of sweetness. Since they are easy to make, they are great to make for something different for a snack or tea-time.

Makes 1 dozen regular sized or 36-48 mini muffins (depending on amount used)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter, shortening or oil
  • optional: 1 tsp vanilla 
  • optional: confectioner's sugar for dusting
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, beat egg slightly and add milk and fat, as well as vanilla if using.
  • Sift together dry ingredients and then add into the liquids.
  • Beat about 1/2 minute just until all the flour is mixed throughout the batter.
  • Prepare greased muffin tins and fill half full. Bake at 375 degrees about 15-20 minutes for regular sized muffins or 8-12 minutes for mini muffins (start checking about 3-5 minutes before time ends in case your oven temperature varies.) They should be light golden brown. 
  • Cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then remove to wire racks to cool longer.
  • May be served warm or cool with jam or other toppings. Dust the tops with confectioner's sugar, if desired.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blueberry Scones... a tea party... and reminiscing about Victoria magazine

Our cooking club had a wonderful tea party at my house the other evening. This was our first one together, and the table was overflowing with the massive array of treats. Since having this tea,  I read If Teacups Could Talk by Emilie Barnes and was so inspired to take moments with my family and friends to celebrate life and relationships in this way.

Somehow, in the midst of this, I was taken back to my late teens and early adult years when I spent hours poring over the "Victoria" magazines that came every month. This was truly something that shaped my tastes for clothing and decorating, although I would not say that I really decorate or dress in that style today. However, there were timeless and classic qualities about much of the clothing, decor and furniture. There is something pretty and restful about the magazine and the way it encouraged people to have a place of beauty to relax in either alone or with others. I would also dream of traveling someday to many of the beautiful places across the countrysides of England and France, among others, that were featured in those pages. It is funny that in the intervening years, getting married, moving away from my hometown and later stopping the subscription because I was overrun by magazines and needing to save some money, I still could not bring myself to throw out or give away the old copies. They were always so wonderful and enjoyable to reread. Right now, they are sitting in boxes in the garage, and all these last 5 years, I kept trying to get up the nerve to de-clutter and get rid of them. Instead, I think I am going to put them on a shelf in my soon-to-be organized office so they will be more easily accessible for relaxation and inspiration.

So, enough with my memories. I want to share my latest scone recipe that I made for our tea party and have been really enjoying. I loved them when they were fresh, but they are also very good days later. Just keep them stored in an air tight container in the fridge and then toast them when you want to have some. The outside becomes just slightly crispy like they just came out of the oven and the inside stays moist, tender and so flavorful. This is my new favorite snack or breakfast with tea or coffee after my youngsters are fed and I have a few minutes to sit and relax.

Serving: 16 mini scones or 8 regular sized
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 3-4 Tbsp sugar, divided
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp butter, cubed
  • 2/3- 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp lemon peel
  • coarse (decorator) sugar for sprinkling on top
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Lightly grease cookie sheet, or may use a smaller rectangle baking dish
  • Sprinkle fruit with 1 Tbsp of sugar and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and remaining 3 Tbsp of sugar. 
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork (or just your fingers!) until chunks are very small pea-sized.
  • Whisk together the cream, 1 egg, vanilla extract and lemon peel and then add into the dry mixture. 
  • Stir until the wet and dry ingredients begin to come together.  If there is a lot of flour left in the bottom of the bowl, add a couple Tbsp of cream to the bowl and mix it all together. 
  • Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead the dough a few times just until it holds together and some of the extra flour from the bowl has been incorporated in.
  • Press or roll out into a rectangle or press into the rectangle pan if using one. Divide into 4 equal sections, pressing straight down with a sharp knife. Then cut diagonally across each section, pressing straight down.
  • Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush over top of the scones. 
  • Sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
  • Bake 12-15 minutes just until the outside is golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes-- wonderful served warm with lemon curd.
Parts of this recipe was inspired by Lady Behind The Curtain's scones.
This was shared on the following:
I Should Be Mopping The Floor party #55