3 Calhoun Sisters' Ranch

Livermore, California

The 3 Calhoun Sisters' Blog

We love to eat, cook, travel, entertain, and drink adult beverages. Join us in our adventures as we do the things we love to do!

In 2009 we published "The Holm Family Cookbook" with our mother, an aunt, and a cousin. We started this blog at that time and maintained it for a few years, so many of the posts are a bit dated, but the recipes are still good!

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Ida Holm's Cream Puffs

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on March 9, 2023 at 4:40 PM

Our great grandmother was born Ida Jessen in 1861 in San Lorenzo, California. Her parents, James and Anna Jessen, immigrated from Denmark. They bore three daughters in the new land: Anna, Dora, and Ida. The East Bay of the San Francisco area attracted many Danes because its rich soil offered an opportunity to establish vegetable, grain and dairy farms and fruit and nut orchards. The dream of a Danish immigrant was to become a “landsman,” impossible in their homeland where the nobility owned title to most of the land. Through hard work and frugal living, they prospered in the Bay Area. Later, many moved along the Alameda and into the Livermore-Amador Valley. The area between San Lorenzo and Mount Eden was sometimes called “Germantown” and “Little Copenhagen.”


 The 1860s were difficult years, plagued with disasters and scoundrels who came from all over the world, attracted by the lure of gold. Mothers of young girls would push their daughters under the bed when the clatter of horse hooves warned of unexpected visitors who might be intent on robbing or killing the inhabitants. In 1861 terrible floods drowned thousands of cattle in California. The years 1862 through 1864 brought drought; crops were lost, and animals died from thirst and hunger. Ida remembered a bull, insane with thirst, breaking through their front door. During this time, the family, including the three girls, survived by collecting the bones of dead animals and selling them to button makers.


 The Jessen family moved to the Livermore Valley, where they lived near the Arroyo Del Valle Creek in a sycamore grove. The area became known as Camp Comfort (the local brothel!) on what is now Vallecitos Road. Their home was a small wood-frame house in the pioneer style. James Jessen established a picnic grove and listed his occupation as farming. Hundreds of Danes throughout the Bay Area picnicked at the grove, which today is known as Sycamore Grove Park and is part of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District.


 Growing up, Ida learned the many crafts pioneer women needed to survive: cooking, preserving eggs and meats in crocks, baking, gardening, canning, dressing chickens and animals for eating, making soap, washing clothes in a tub, starching, and heating a “sad” iron on the stove for ironing. Learning these skills prepared her to run a household when she married. 


The Danes would gather for dances, card parties, picnics, and weddings. They encouraged friends from Denmark to immigrate to this land of opportunity. Carl Holm came to the United States in 1873 to visit a friend. Traveling by train through the Amador-Livermore Valley, he thought it would be a wonderful place to live and farm, and he hoped to settle there.

Carl Holm met Ida Jessen, who recalled, “He was a daring young man. He pulled me behind the kitchen door and kissed me.” Carl and Ida were married at the Jessen home in the sycamore grove on July 11, 1880. The day after their wedding, Ida began cooking for boarders. Their first home was in the Tassajara area, northwest of Livermore. Ida and Carl were to have nine children, not uncommon in those years. Their first child, Walter, was born in 1881; Louis was born in 1883 and died in 1884; Arthur was born in 1886, Mabel in 1889, and Bertha in 1891. Chester was born in 1893 and died in 1896; Leslie was born in 1895, Gladys in 1899, and Warner (Dick) in 1900, our grandfather. There were no doctors, so a friend helped deliver Ida’s children, and Ida helped deliver her friend’s babies.

Ida was in charge of the Red Cross fundraising lunch held during the first Livermore Rodeo in 1918. The Livermore Herald stated, “Mrs. Carl Holm was in charge and she handled her large force of helpers admirably. The lunch netted the handsome sum of $288.” See Newspaper article below.

Carl and Ida recalled that hundreds attended their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Danes from throughout the Bay Area gathered to celebrate with the Holms.

Ida Holm Park off of Diamond Drive in the west side of Livermore was named after Ida. The park is in what was once a field behind Ida’s and Carl’s home “Fairview” that once stood on Stanley Boulevard.


Here is a recipe for cream puffs that Ida would serve her guests.

Flødeboller ~ Cream Puffs

Ida Jessen Holm


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for oiling the cookie sheets

1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 pint heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Lightly butter the cookie sheets.


In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt the butter in the boiling water. Decrease the heat to low. Add the flour and salt all at once, stirring vigorously with a spoon until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan in a smooth, compact mass and a metal spoon pressed into it leaves a clear impression.


Immediately remove from the heat. Quickly beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until each is blended and the mixture is smooth. Continue beating the mixture with a spoon until it forms a stiff dough.


Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls (it helps to use a wet spoon) 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Using a wet spoon, shape into rounds that point up in the center, like a Hershey’s Kiss. Bake for 10 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 400˚F and continue baking for another 25 minutes. The cream puffs should be puffed high and golden brown. Remove from the cookie sheets with a spatula and place on a wire cake rack to cool.


Combine the cream, vanilla, and sugar in a bowl. Whip until soft peaks form.


To serve, split the cream puffs almost all the way around horizontally. Fill with a large scoop of fresh whipped cream.


Serves 6

Tomato Basil Sauce and Pasta with Circle H Grassfed Beef Meatballs

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on August 9, 2022 at 10:45 PM

Tomato basil sauce in the pot and Merry* serving the sauce with meatballs over spaghetti

We recently held a self-guided ranch tour and open barn at the ranch to give people an opportunity to see some of the projects we have completed and that are in the process. I wanted to showcase my grassfed beef, so I made an easy and delicious tomato basil sauce with ingredients from my garden to complement the meatballs. I made plain spaghetti pasta with the meatballs and sauce served on top of the pasta. The meatballs were a hit, even with the young picky eaters. The Rancho Milagro olive oil listed in the recipe comes from the ranch next door and you can purchase it on-line or schedule a ranch tour and purchase it in person. Google them. Their olive orchards are some welcome green in the hills during the dry, hot summer.  

Tomato Basil Sauce with Circle H Grassfed Beef Meatballs


5 large tomatoes

1/2 cup Rancho Milagro olive oil

3-5 garlic cloves (depending on garlic preference!), pressed or small dice

1 cup chopped basil leaves

Kosher salt to taste

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 pound dry spaghetti noodles


Boil tomatoes for one minute and then peel, seed, and chop them. Mix tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, and red pepper flakes together and let the mixture sit for two hours. Prepare the spaghetti according to the package instructions. When spaghetti is done, toss it with the cold tomato mixture.

For the ranch tour I heated the sauce and stewed the meatballs in it for the day.

Circle H Grassfed Beef Meatballs


Extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, 1/4-inch dice

Kosher salt

Cracked black pepper

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

Pinch crushed red pepper

1 pound Circle H ground beef

1/2 pound Circle H ground Italian beef sausage (hot if you prefer)

2 large eggs

1 cup grated Parmigiano

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 cup water


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a large cast iron skillet with olive oil, add the onions and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the onions generously with salt and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool, can be placed in fridge or freezer to speed up the process. In a large bowl combine the meats, eggs, Parmigiano, parsley, bread crumbs, onion mixture and water. The mixture should be quite wet. Shape the meat into desired size. I used an ice cream scoop. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. If using right away, add them to your big pot of marinara sauce. If not using right away, they can be frozen for later use. Serve with Tomato Basil Sauce over pasta.

Buon appetito!


 -Hillbilly Nancy



*Photo credit Andy Halversen

Caldo Verde (Portuguese Green Soup)

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on March 24, 2021 at 6:20 PM


Our first winter garden has been producing well, and with two varieties of kale and temperatures in the 30’s, I decided to make some Caldo Verde, Green Portuguese Soup! I also had some cilantro and Italian parsley growing, to make up the three basic “greens” to get started. I needed a recipe to pair with our Wine of the Month at Charles R Winery, 2017 Bobcat Red, a blend of Zinfandel and Sangiovese, and the linguica in the soup was the perfect match.


Both of our paternal grandparents were of Portuguese descent or to be more precise--Azorean descent. Sadly, our Portuguese grandmother died before we were born and our grandfather did not cook, so we didn’t have any Portuguese recipes passed down to us. However, we did grow up eating linguica, a Portuguese sausage. This is a recipe that I found online and have adapted over the past few years. Vamos comer! (Let’s eat!)



CALDO VERDE (Portuguese Green Soup)


1 jalapeno pepper

2 large Meyer lemons, halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, diced

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1-pound linguica, or 3 links sliced into ¼ inch rounds

1 cup Charles R Bobcat Red

28 ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice

6 cups chicken broth

2 bunches kale, destemmed and chopped

1 bunch cilantro and parsley, chopped, ¼ cup reserved for garnish

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper to taste


Heat a grill or cast-iron pan. Place jalapeno and lemon halves on the grill cut side down. Remove lemon and jalapeno when flesh is blistered. Rub the skin off jalapeno, remove seeds, and small dice. Heat oil to medium in a large pot, add onions and cook 3-5 minutes, add garlic and spices and continue to brown for another 3-5 minutes. Add linguica and jalapeno and cook for another 5 minutes. Rough chop the tomatoes, or crush by hand into the pot. Add the wine and tomato juice and cook down for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth, kale, cilantro, parsley, lemon halves and potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste and simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes until flavors have blended. Remove and discard lemon halves. Garnish with remaining herbs. Serve with grilled bread and a glass Charles R Bobcat Red. Serves 8

Granny's Cowboy Beans

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on January 7, 2021 at 3:20 PM

Besides running cattle on their Mines Road Ranch, our grandfather used to run cattle on leased land on Corral Hollow Road. Our grandmother "Granny" would make cowboy beans to serve to whomever was working cattle with our grandfather. She would transport them in an electric roaster oven to whatever remote location they were working the cattle. The roaster oven would be packed in a box with towels and newspaper packed around it to keep the beans warm. She served the cowboy beans with french bread, a green salad, and chocolate cake. I can remember a few occasions when I was a small child riding with the beans in the backseat of Granny's car on the way to the Mines Road Ranch and the Corral Hollow locations to serve the food. Later our grandparents moved to the Mines Road ranch and Granny was then able to serve the beans right out of her kitchen.

We had a work day at the ranch a couple of weeks ago and Nancy made us some of Granny's cowboy beans. She added some extra peppers and different types of beans, but they still smelled and tasted like Granny's cowboy beans. In case you'd like to give them a try, here's the recipe.

Granny's Cowboy Beans

1 1/2 pound ground beef

1 bell pepper, diced

1 large onion, diced

2 or 3 stalks of celery, diced

2 (28-ounce) cans kidney beans

1 quart stewed tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Dash chili powder


In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the beef, bell pepper, onion, and celery. Transfer the beef and sautéed vegetables into a large pot. Add the kidney beans and tomatoes, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Simmer for 1 or 2 hours until the flavors have melded.


Italian Cooking Class ala ZOOM

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on December 16, 2020 at 11:00 AM

There have been some positives being sheltered in place during a pandemic in 2020, like learning to cook and bake new things. There was sourdough bread, pizza dough, refrigerator pickles, roasted cherry tomato sauce, chili verde from home grown tomatillos, and more.


My friend Diane invited me to take a Zoom cooking class; who had even heard of that in 2019?? Our teacher was Katrina of The Homestead Traveler. She recently returned from a sojourn in Italy where she honed her Italian heritage cooking skills from native Nonna’s and Nonno’s. For our class the recipe was Ragu Bolognese and Tagliettell, a staple in Italy. We learned that a real Italian would NEVER put oregano, basil or black pepper in ragu, that is a no no!


Some of the other ZOOMers

Soffritto mise en place 

Our veggies were mise en place (prepare in advance is something I never do, I’m pretty much a hurricane in the kitchen!), which included soffritto, a staple in many cultures, which is finely diced onion, carrot and celery. Another Ragu basic is you always use ground beef and ground pork. And of course we threw in a cup of red wine. As we simmered the Ragu low and slow, we started on the new adventure, handmade pasta. If I knew how simple it was (except for the kneading and rolling workout!) I probably would have attempted this earlier. Flour, eggs, a dash of salt and a little water, that’s it. We made the little volcano, cracked the eggs into the well and got to it. It seems the key is kneading, kneading and more kneading. We let the dough rest for a bit, and then rolling, rolling and more rolling. You want that dough very thin, so you can almost see the pattern of the wood through the dough.

The simmering ragu

 The pasta hanging to dry

The dough is sliced into wide noodles or tagliatelle and hung to dry (just like laundry) for me it was on coat hangers! With fresh pasta, it only takes a few minutes to cook, and soon we were enjoying the fruits of our labor, delicioso!!


This was a whole lotta fun, you really should try it with friends or family, it will definitely lighten the mood during our stay-at-home order, and the bonus of an awesome meal! 

The finished ragu bolognese and tagliatelle


You can find a very similar ragu bolognese from The Homestead Traveler here

We are hoping to host some online cooking and wine pairing classes with Katrina at Charles R Vineyards, so stay tuned!

Salute! Nancy


Beefy Taco Soup

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on November 18, 2020 at 1:00 AM

I follow several family owned ranches on Instagram. Before the COVID pandemic, a few of the ranchers were selling beef directly to consumers. Some, like our sister Nancy, were selling beef to local customers, others were shipping regionally, while others were shipping all over the US. While we sheltered in place, some of the ranches could not keep up with the demand for their beef, especially after the COVID breakout at the meat processing facility in South Dakota. Since the pandemic, many family ranches jumped on the bandwagon and have started selling direct to the consumer.

Whenever possible, I buy my beef directly from family ranches. On Instagram (they all have Facebook accounts too) I can see their animal handling practices. I see where the animals are raised, what they are fed, that they are humanly raised and harvested. They are hormone and antibiotic free. While most of the ranches are not organic certified, they practice organic farming. The organic certification is just another cost to pass on to their customers, so they don’t bother. I do pay more for this beef than the beef I would blindly buy at the grocery store, but you always pay more for a superior product, right?

Here’s a few links to some of the family ranches that sell direct to consumer:

Callison Ranch

Christensen Ranch

Eagle Rock Beef

Five Marys Farms

Koopmann Family Beef 

Krafft Beef

Today it’s mid November and we finally got our first long awaited rain of the season. It’s been dark and dreary today and some hearty beef soup sounded like a great idea for dinner. I had seen a Taco Soup recipe several weeks ago and happened to have most of the ingredients on hand to make it. The recipe below is my version of the recipe. It’s hearty and filling, making it the perfect comfort food.

Please support American ranchers and use beef raised in the US—preferably purchased from a small family operation!

Beefy Taco Soup Recipe

This recipe is forgiving. If you don’t have an ingredient, substitute it with something else. If a can’s contents are more or a bit less than called for, go ahead and use it all. It’s not going to hurt the soup. If you want a real thick soup, use less broth. Add more broth to thin the soup. Also, I don’t usually add salt to my soup because all of the canned goods are so high in sodium. If you like things salty, you’re going to want to add some salt.

Makes about 10 1/2 cups.


2 tsp olive oil

1 medium yellow onion chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1.25 pounds ground beef

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes with green chilies

3 cups beef broth

1 15 oz can tomato sauce

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

3/4 tsp ground paprika

1/4 tsp dried oregano

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Ground black pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

1 14.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 14.5 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

Suggested Toppings

Shredded Mexican blend cheese, sour cream or crema, chopped green or red onions, diced avocados, and corn tortilla strips/chips


In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high and add chopped onions. Sauté for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno and sauté for another minute.

If you are using regular (not extra lean) ground beef, brown the beef in a medium frying pan. Drain the fat off after browning and add to the onions and garlic.

If you are using lean beef, add the beef to the sautéed onions and garlic. Crumble and stir the ground beef until browned.

Stir in the diced tomatoes, beef broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, and lime juice. Add the corn, the drained and rinsed, black beans and pinto beans. Cover pot with lid and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve hot with the desired toppings.


The GyPSy Guide

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on October 22, 2020 at 4:30 PM

I love to travel and usually do a poor job researching the locations that I am traveling to. I have found a great smartphone app that I use when visiting National Parks, which requires very little pre-trip preparation. The GyPSy Guide app gives me and my passengers an audio tour by providing directions and local tips, and tells us stories based on our location at the time. The speaker or moderator whom we have nicknamed George, will tell us when places of interest are coming up. He will tell us about parking situations at the stops and will tell us the places we really need to stop to visit and the places that are not very interesting.

No cell signal is required to listen to the tour. The app determines your location by using GPS signal provided by satellites and your smartphone’s GPS chip (hence the capital G P and S in the GyPSY Guide name). It does not use cellular data and it does not use cellular minutes. I can play the tour via the car stereo system so everyone in the car can hear it. 

Individual GyPSy Guides can be purchased from the Apple app store and GooglePlay store. Each tour is individually priced depending on the length of the tour and number of audio points. The average price is probably $7.99 per guide. Some of the guides can be purchased in combo packages, such as Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I have purchased and used the guides for Arches/Canyonlands, Yellowstone/Tetons, Zion/Brice, Going to the Sun Road (Glacier National Park). My passengers and I have enjoyed them all.  

One of the GyPSy Guides in the Apple App store

One of my cousins has visited Yellowstone National Park nearly every year since she was about seven years old, which would be over 50 years. I played the Yellowstone Guide with her in the car and she enjoyed it and actually learned several new facts about the park. Another cousin and I decided at the spur of the moment to visit the Grand Tetons. We didn’t have cell service or maps, but I had my trusty Yellowstone and Grand Tetons Combo GyPSy Guide to guide us through the park. We really had a great tour.

The GyPSy Guides are not just for National Parks, but are available for other popular locations such as the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Kaui, Maui, and Oahu.

Happy trails!


Cauliflower Chowder

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on February 16, 2014 at 1:45 PM

With the gray cloudy weather recently, a nice hot bowl of soup has definitely been top-of-mind. We have a French bakery close to work, Casse Croute, and they make homemade soup every day, with 3 to 4 choices on the menu any given day. One of our recent favorites is their Cauliflower Chowder. The owner Lenore checks in with us for new ideas, and let’s us know when cauliflower is on the menu, usually Thursdays.

Lenore prepping the homemade soup
at Casse Croute Bakery in downtown Livermore

It's mid-winter, which means califlower is in season, just picked up two heads at the Farmers Market yesterday. This morning I was watching The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network, and she was making her Cauliflower Soup, cauliflower is certainly trending!

A few of us at work are foodies, so we often share our homemade fare, or cook together on Fry-days at the back loading dock. This week Rebecca brought in a batch of her Cauliflower Chowder, and I got to take a jar home with me, along with the recipe. It’s definitely worth the effort to make it from scratch!


1 head of cauliflower, chopped

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Garlic salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

1-quart milk

2 cups of water

2 bay leaves

1 dozen peppercorns

1-tablespoon parsley, chopped finely

2 celery stalks with inside ribs and leaves, diced

1/2-tablespoon chicken stock paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)

Toss cauliflower in olive oil, garlic salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Sauté onion and garlic in butter. Add in flour, and lightly sauté with the vegetables. Add milk slowly, and then the water. Stir in herbs and spices, simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, and serve piping hot.

Cauliflower Chowder just waiting to be warmed up!

Soup's on!  Nancy


Mashed Potato Pancakes

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on December 2, 2013 at 9:35 AM


 Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

Yesterday I finally used up almost all of the leftovers from Thanksgiving. All that's left are two types of stuffing: the Brizee family recipe with sausage and the cornbread stuffing made by cousin Lisa.

I didn't host the dinner at my house, but I did make a turkey and transported it in an ice chest (without ice) to my cousin's house in Woodland. The turkey and the gravy I made were still piping hot when it was time to carve the turkey four hours later.  

My brother-in-law has been in charge of the mashed potatoes for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for several years and earned the nickname "Spud." The people helping him peel are members of "Team Spud." This year our hosts had a spud station ready and waiting for team spud. As always, Spud's mashed potatoes were great. 

Team Spud, Ready for Some Peeling Action

The Spud Station


As with all of our family gatherings, there was enough food for twice the number of guests, therefore each family took home Ziplock bags full of leftovers. My bags of leftovers were hauled to our cousin Becky's house in Yuba City where we all stayed for a couple of days. The leftovers eventually made it to our house in Livermore, where I decided to use the last of our Ziplock bag of mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes. I must say these potato pancakes were the best I have ever made and probably the tastiest. 

The potato pancake recipe I used as the basis for my recipe was found in the USA Weekend magazine section of my Sunday newspaper and was created by Christy Jordon author of a cookbook titled, "Come Home to Supper." 

Here is my version of her recipe:

Potato Pancakes


2 cups cold leftover mashed potatoes*

1 large egg

1/4 cup all-purpose or self rising flour

2 tablespoons finely diced onion

2 shakes of cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil or vegetable oil

Leftover gravy or sour cream for topping


In a medium sized bowl, mix the egg and the mashed potato with a fork until well blended. Add the flour, onion, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix well.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into a skillet to coat the bottom and heat the skillet over medium heat. Line a plate with paper towels.

Working in batches, scoop the mixture out by a heaping tablespoon and drop it in the hot skillet. Dip the back of a spoon in oil to keep the mixture from sticking to the spoon and then use the spoon to flatten and shape the mixture to 1/4" inch pancakes. Continue adding spoonfuls of the mixture and shaping the pancakes until you have a pan full. Leave enough space between the pancakes to flatten them and flip them.

Fry the pancakes until they are lightly brown on the bottom, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip them and lightly brown them on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the cakes to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Add oil to the skillet as needed while you continue to cook the rest of the mixture. Keep the pancakes in a warm oven while you continue cooking the rest of the mixture.

Serve warm topped with gravy or a dollop of sour cream.

*Be sure the mashed potatoes are cool or the raw egg will cook as you add it. 


Cranberry Salsa

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on November 24, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Cranberry Salsa has become a family favorite. Introduced to our family by Sandy Sports Holm, the recipe was given to her by a friend. Sandy brought it to Christmas as an appetizer, it looked so beautiful - bright cranberry with flecks of green upon white cream cheese!

Then the flavor, a sweet tartness, very refreshing. Cranberries, a fruit with a very short season, are harvested between the end of September and early November. Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the U.S., and I thought it was Massachusetts!  When I see them start to appear in the grocery stores, my mouth starts watering for this salsa recipe. Cranberries can be frozen for several years - which bodes well with me. Last year I had frozen some cranberries, and pulled them out in early September to make this recipe. I took it on a wine tasting excursion, all the guests loved it! The salsa tasted as delicious as when I used the fresh cranberries.

The recipe is simple, and can be frozen. It actually makes enough for two batches. Enjoy!

Cranberry Salsa

1 - 12 oz bag of cranberries, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1/4 cup minced green onion
2 small jalapeño peppers, cored, seeded and minced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cilantro leaves minced (save some to garnish)
2 tbs finely grated fresh ginger
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
2 - 8 oz cream cheese

After rinsing the bag of cranberries, put in food processor and pulse until finely chopped, not mushy.

Place in bowl with onions, jalapeños, sugar, cilantro, ginger and lemon juice and stir.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours so the flavor develops. Serve over cream cheese with crackers or chips.

~ Cookin' Cowgirl Susie

Copper on the Floor!

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on October 8, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Moscow Mule at the Happy Hour Bar on Hebgen Lake, Montana

A few years ago Oprah Winfrey visited Yosemite National Park on her TV show. During that episode, Oprah and her friend Gayle King were drinking Moscow Mules at their campsite and she even brought some to her neighbors at the campsite next to hers. When she named the ingredients, ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice, the drink did not sound all that appealing to me.

Fast forward to this past summer while I was in Montana with my cousin Becky and she mentioned that some of her friends told her that the Happy Hour bar down the road had this drink called a Moscow mule that we needed to try. Soooo, naturally we did. Our friend Theresa joined us. We tried one. And then another . . . .


Moscow Mules are served in copper mugs. There is something about the oxidation of the copper that gives the drink a special flavor. At first drink you don't taste it, but after a while it's there. And, it's good.


At the Happy Hour bar on the shores of Hebgen Lake in West Yellowstone, Montana where we had our first Mules, the Moscow Mule is a very popular drink. Apparently, the copper mugs, which are fairly expensive, would be taken home as souvenirs by the guests of the Happy Hour. In an effort to prevent the loss of mugs, each time a Moscow Mule is served, the bartender yells, "Copper on the floor!" and all of the customers yell it with her. If someone sitting at the bar orders one, she yells, "Copper on the bar!" and again, all of the customers in the bar yell it too. Everyone knows who has the copper mugs and it's a lot of fun to yell, especially when you have had more than one Moscow Mule.


When I got home from Montana I decided to buy some copper mugs, which I found is a tricky thing to do. As I mentioned before, the copper mugs are fairly expensive. I started looking for them in thrift stores, but had no luck. I did, however, find an Arthur Court serving tray for $2.95 at one thrift store. There are a lot of places on-line where you can buy them, but you need to be careful. One nationally known chain sells "Moscow Mule glasses" that have a copper finish on the outside, but are stainless steel inside, which defeats the purpose of the copper mug. Others are aluminum with a copper finish. The mugs I ended up purchasing were from the Butte Copper Company. Unfortunately, I discovered when the mugs arrived that there is an antique finish on the inside. I do plan to see if I can remove it with steel wool.

The ingredients for Moscow Mules

I have seen recipes for Moscow Mules with freshly squeezed lime juice and I have had them made with a sweetened lime juice, such as Rose's. So, yesterday when my sisters and some of my cousins were over canning pickles, I did a taste test with them. Hands down the Moscow Mules with the freshly squeezed lime juice was the favorite. So here is the recipe I used:

Place ice cubes in the bottom of a copper mug, add:

3/4 shot of freshly squeezed lime juice (or sweetened lime juice)

1 shot of vodka

2 shots of ginger beer

Squeeze a lime on top and drop the lime in the drink

Serve without stirring.


Copper on the floor!


Award Winning Salsa from our Cookin' Cowgirl!

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on September 28, 2013 at 8:50 AM

I have been making salsa for quite a few years because of the overabundance of tomatoes and jalapenos in my husband’s garden (and I don't even like tomatoes!).  People had often complimented me on my salsa. This year I saw the contest details in Alden Lane Nursery’s e-newsletter for their 6th Annual Salsa Contest and decided to enter.

I needed to bring a quart of salsa to the nursery on the morning of September 14th. My mom and I went back later in the day to check out the competition, and there were 14 entries including mine. There was quite a variety of salsas - one had mint in it, there was a green one, a yellow one, some were sweet and some were REALLY hot. There was quite a crowd judging the salsas.

When I got back home Saturday afternoon I received a call from Alden Lane Nursery requesting more salsa for Sunday. I took another jar of salsa back on Sunday afternoon.  When I got back home on Sunday evening I saw that a message was left on my phone.  Boy, I was surprised when it was Alden Lane Nursery saying “Congratulations, you have won 1st place in the salsa contest!!”  I won the high honor of being “The Top Rojo with the Mojo”, along with an Alden Lane Gift card and my name on the Perpetual Salsa Trophy.

I think one of the reasons I won is because most of the ingredients were from my husband’s garden - fresh picked tomatoes and jalapenos, red onion and garlic.  This gave the salsa a really fresh flavor.

Below is the recipe for the salsa I made. I have added more jalapeno and garlic and the sugar to the original recipe I used. So keep in mind you can make it to your own taste by using more or less of the ingredients.


1 ½ cups diced fresh tomatoes
2 medium sized jalapeno peppers, diced, seeded & finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients. Let stand, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes.

~ Wendy

Crane Melons

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on September 17, 2013 at 9:55 AM


The Crane Melon Barn in Santa Rosa, California

A couple of years ago while my sister and I were visiting my oldest daughter at Sonoma State University, we passed the Crane Melon Barn on our way to a sorority event in Santa Rosa. There was a Christmas boutique at the barn that day, so on our way back to Sonoma State we stopped to check it out. The barn was full of reasonably priced vintage and antique jewelry, Christmas items, new things and old, furniture, jams and jellies, and a lot of unique items made by Sonoma County artists and crafters. We walked out of there loaded with bags full of treasures that day!

Last week we were on our way to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa and saw that the Crane Melon Barn was open and selling Crane melons. Never having seen a Crane melon, we thought we better stop and take a look. The melons were piled on the floor and while looking at them it appeared to me that no two melons look the same. Most of the melons are slightly torpedo shaped with a pointed tip on one end.  

A pile of Crane melons

On Wikipedia I found that the melons were developed in the early 1900's by Oliver Crane, who crossed several species of melons that included Japanese melon, Persian melon, ambrosia melon, and a white melon. 

The melons smell like a cross between a honeydew and a cantalope. The melon flesh is orange and is incredibly sweet and juicy. The Crane family says what makes their Crane melons so good is the terroir, a French term for the special combination of soil, climate and farming techniques.

Closeup view of a Crane melon

The inside of a Crane melon

The Crane melon is only in season and available during September and October and can only be purchased at the barn, so you still have a few weeks to give them a try. Besides the melons you can also purchase Crane yellow flesh watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, and Crane honey.

Heirloom tomatoes for sale at the Crane Melon Barn

The Crane melon barn was built in 1896 and when not being used for melon sales or the Christmas boutique, it is available to rent for weddings, family reunions, and birthday parties and such. There is a full kitchen setup in the barn. 

The Christmas boutique starts Thanksgiving weekend and runs until Christmas. We are already planning our trip to the boutique!


Ahoy! From a Houseboat on Lake Shasta

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on August 1, 2013 at 8:50 AM

Last year I won a silent auction lot at the Terry Patters Golf Tournament Benefiting Melanoma Research… a Houseboating Trip from Shasta Marina Resort! I had never been to Lake Shasta, or on a houseboat, so this was going to be a new adventure for me. Our cousin Lori won the houseboat trip the year prior, and her family claimed it was the best family vacation ever, so we were ready to give it a spin. My husband had fond memories of summers spent camping with his family of 9 on Lake Shasta, so for him, it was a return to the huge manzanita and squawking blue jays of his youth.


Fishing on the Backbone Arm of Lake Shasta

I wasn’t quite sure how you shop, pack and cook for a large group on a small boat in the middle of a lake, so I started doing some research online. I googled “houseboating tips” “houseboating Lake Shasta” etc. and found some helpful guidance, such as: “How many nights could I be locked in a hotel room with these people before I lose my mind?!” Lori also had some helpful hints such as air freshener for each bathroom, with a men’s and women’s designation. Planning the food would take some effort, so step one was working up a menu. I conferred with our friend Herb who was coming on the trip, he had cooked in the catering kitchen at Wente Vineyards for a number of years, so we got the ball rolling. We finalized our menu with:

Breakfast: 1) bacon, eggs, toast and home fries; 2) whole wheat sourdough French toast and sausage; 3) omelettest; 4) buttermilk and blueberry pancakes.

Lunch: 1) green salad, 2) fruit salad, 3) chicken salad or wraps. We were planning heavy breakfast and dinner so lunch would be light. Or better yet, skip the KP duties, hop in the boat and travel to a marina with a restaurant on the water for lunch and an ice-cold brew. Well, we found out that the restaurants were kind of on the water. With the water level down on the lake, each marina had a steep incline to reach the restaurant and store on dry land. There were shuttles, but we never seemed to catch the shuttle on the uphill trek, only the downhill, so we got our exercise there.


Silverthorn Pizza & Pub on Lake Shasta

Dinners: 1) spaghetti, green salad and garlic bread; 2) BBQ tri-tip, asparagus and corn; 3) buttermilk marinated BBQ chicken, grilled artichokes and beans (originally I was going to make pintos from scratch on board, but I just loaded two large cans of BBQ beans that were quite tasty); 3) Fajitas made with the left over tri-tip and chicken. Herb made the spaghetti sauce in advance and froze it, so that our first night on the boat we wouldn’t have to stress over dinner.


Originally my menu included fish, but being on a lake we were unfamiliar with, I crossed those off the list, which turned out to be a good thing. We ended up with only 2 bass, enough for Bob and I to grill for dinner when we returned home!


Fishing for Bass on Lake Shasta

After working up the menu, I started breaking down the items on a shopping list, which was gi-normous. How long were we staying, a month? We split the shopping list up between our four groups, and it actually worked out very well. There are small stores at all of the marinas, so if we were short on something, they had the basics. But if you don’t have a small boat in tow, gas is not cheap on a houseboat, don’t plan on making too many trips to the store, that dozen eggs could end up costing you $125 in gas!


When camping, I pack up a little carry case of spices and specialty items, so that served us well on this trip. Definitely bring 1 or 2 good knives; you’ll need them, along with some lightweight cutting boards. We always had 3 or 4 of us in the kitchen, so the spares came in handy. I filled up on the herbs and spices that I use regularly, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, basil, Cajun seasoning, cinnamon, vanilla (I found out on the lake that I accidentally brought almond extract instead of vanilla – the French toast came out fine), lots of kitchen towels, ziplocks, scissors, lighter, handsoap, etc. Next time I would bring some Tupperware too.


We arrived at Shasta Marina Resort, and the lake was down, so you drive about a mile down the canyon to reach the houseboats. They provide carts to empty all of your earthly belongings (that’s what it looked like, but our helper said our load looked “average” onto a pontoon boat. They deliver you around to your houseboat, which was very handy. I saw a couple of marinas where you were carting your goods for quite a distance to get to the houseboat. The crew gives you a 1-hour crash course in houseboating, and bon voyage! 

This boat was an absolute DE-luxe liner! Air conditioning, full size fridge (which we packed to the gills!), dishwasher, trash compactor, gas stove, microwave, blender, hot tub, slide, bar upstairs, BBQ, satellite T.V., this was not roughing it! They provide you in advance with a list of items you should bring, so we were set.



Volcanic views of Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen from the lake

Funny thing, we didn’t have any alcoholic beverages on our shopping list, but plenty showed up, and this didn’t include the ice chest full of beer.


The wet bar

Since this is a foodie blog I do need to include a couple of simple recipes; sorry, no measurements, this was casual cooking at its best. For our GRILLED ARTICHOKES, we cut the artichokes in half and boiled them for an hour with a dash of vinegar, salt and smashed garlic cloves (our Granny’s recipe). After draining, we poured olive oil lightly over the interior half, and sprinkled with salt, pepper, thyme, basil, oregano and some crushed garlic. Place these on the grill, interior half up, for about 5-7 minutes, flip and grill for another 5-7 minutes. No need for mayonnaise with these artichokes, they are full of flavor.


Grilled Artichokes

For ROASTED ASPARAGUS, we drizzled lightly with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and covered with a head of finely diced garlic, broiled for about 8-10 minutes, quick, easy, delicious.

The BUTTERMILK BBQ CHICKEN was so moist and tender, and oh so easy. We cut the chickens in half the night before, taking out the backbone, and filled ziplock bags with buttermilk and a couple of tablespoons of my favorite spice mix from New Orleans, Don’s Seafood Low Salt All Purpose Seasoning (any Cajun or Creole spice mix will do). The next morning be sure to mix the chicken and buttermilk so all sides are evenly covered, and reseal the ziplock. When you are ready to BBQ, drain off the buttermilk and sprinkle more seasoning on the chicken, and you can drizzle some olive oil over the chicken so it doesn’t stick to the grill, and BBQ low and slow for about 1 ¼, ‘til the juices run clear. This chicken was finger lickin’ good.


Bridgette at the helm with chicken fajitas

For the FAJITAS, I put salt, pepper and garlic powder on the tri-tips in the morning and let them marinade for the day. We BBQ’d the tri-tips to medium for our first meal, so reheating for the fajitas didn't dry the meat out. We cut the cooked tri-tips into ¼” slices against the grain, and those slices into strips, and we shredded the chicken. Our friends had brought a large flat electric griddle (perfect for large quantities of French toast, pancakes and fajitas), so we cooked the beef on the griddle and the chicken in a large frying pan.

We used the same ingredients for both versions. We sliced red and green bell peppers, pasilla (or poblano) peppers, yellow onions and sautéed them in olive oil with cumin and Mexican oregano until soft, adding diced garlic for the last few minutes. We added a small can of diced green chiles, a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles, salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of chicken broth to moisten the mixture, and mixed in chopped fresh cilantro at the end.


Chicken & Beef Fajitas

We served the fajitas on whole wheat tortillas with fresh salsa that our friend Dede whipped up in the blender and GUACAMOLE that included diced avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, green and red onions, finely minced garlic, salt, pepper and garlic powder. To top them off we had fresh chopped cilantro, El Salvadoran sour cream (oh man, you better run down to Mi Pueblo and pick this up!) and some Tajin Classico seasoning (also from Mi Pueblo) that has a zip of lime flavor.

Guacamole, Salsa and Tajin

There is plenty to do in and around Lake Shasta, we found a great single track mountain bike trail at Bailey Cove on the McCloud Arm of the Lake.

Bailey Cove Trail

And we took a couple of hikes up the creeks and canyons that were absolutely gorgeous - huge ferns, acres of wild blackberries, some beautiful back country waiting to be discovered.


Creeks off the Backbone Arm of Shasta

On our last evening, as with any summer vacation, we had to break out the S’MORES! We were able to pull a campfire permit for free - we only needed a bucket and shovel (which were on the houseboat), and a responsible person (now that was questionable!).

I had watched an episode of The Pioneer Woman with some s’mores variations, so we picked up some Peppermint Patties at one of the marinas, sliced up some strawberries, and we used some light chocolate wafers called Hello Brownie Crisps from Costco and graham crackers for the outer sandwich. Bridgette was our campfire mistress and Lin whipped up the s’mores to order with a variety of combinations, it was a great ending to the weekend.


S'mores around the campfire


By the last morning, needless to say, we were toast; there would be no toast served for breakfast, or blueberry pancakes for that matter! We knew we had to pack and clean up, so nobody was in the mood to make a huge mess in the kitchen and have to clean it up. Our mass of leftover fajitas made for some killer breakfast burritos, on paper plates of course!


Fajita Breakfast Burritos

All in all, this was definitely a memorable vacation, and I would highly recommend it to any family or group of friends (just remember the “locked in the hotel room” when choosing cabin mates!). There’s something about literally being on the water 24/7, the break of the waves, the run of the creek, the splash of the fish, the cry of the hawk, you could call it Relaxation 101.


And just in case you are interested, Shasta Marina Resort has generously donated another 4-night stay on their 16-Sleeper Mirage for the 3rd Annual Terry Patters Golf Tournament, taking place August 5th at Poppy Ridge Golf Course in Livermore. Come for dinner or a round of golf and be there to win your next food and fun-filled summer excursion!


Ahoy! Nancy


The Knockout Martini and Infusing Spirits with Fruit & Herbs

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on July 28, 2013 at 12:20 AM

Our "classroom" for the infusing spirits class

Several weeks ago some friends and I went to an infusing spirits with fruit and herbs class at the restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore. The class was interesting and the cocktail we got to drink after the class, a Knockout Martini, was simply incredible. 

Although I have not yet taken the time to try it on my own, infusing spirits with fruit appears to be very simple, as you use the amount of alcohol it takes to cover the fruit in the glass container you will be using to store the fruit and alcohol during the infusing process. I think infusing spirits with herbs may be a little trickier and may require some trial and error to get the flavor right.  A couple of important things that I took away from the class was that you should always use glass containers to infuse the spirits and that the staff at Wente store their infusing spirits in the refrigerator as a food safety precaution.

Below is a list of the types of spirits and the fruits and herbs that the Wente staff recommends for infusing.  

Vodka: Hot peppers, basil, citrus fruits, watermelon, ginger, rosemary, thyme, pumpkin, cucumber, sage, berries, green tea, pears

Rum: Pineapple, tropical fruits, mint, herbs, ginger, mango, kumquats, quince

Bourbon: Peaches, apricots, citrus fruits, mint, cranberries, cinnamon, spices

Gin: Lavender, citrus fruits, cucumber, mint, basil, roses, grapefruit, green tea, sage, elderflower

Tequila: Hot peppers, melon, cilantro, kiwi, pineapple, berries

In addition to Wente's ideas, here is a Danish website with instructions for making schnapps with fresh fruit:




The Knockout Martini


Knockout Infusion (to be used to make Knockout Martini)

1 liter Pinnacle Orange Vodka

1/3 liter Absolut Mandrin

1 pineapple

Cut the ends and the skin off of a whole pineapple. Slice away the core of the pineapple and then cut the remaining pineapple into one or two inch chunks. The chunks don't have to be perfect. Place the pineapple into a large glass container (a Mason jar would work very well for this). Do not use a plastic container as the plastic can adversely change the taste of your end product. Pour the vodka into the glass container over the pineapple. Place the pineapple in the glass container in the refigerator for approximatley five to seven days. After the five to seven days, strain the liquor into a large container. Place the pineapple pieces into a blender and puree. Use a strainer with fine holes to strain the pureed pinapple into the liquor (you may even want to use cheesecloth). Use a spatula to press all of the juice out of the pureed fruit. Once this process is complete, it is ready for mixing drinks.

Knockout Martini

To make the Knockout Martini, the staff poured a few ounces of the Knockout Infusion into a cocktail shaker with ice and added some simple syrup. After shaken well, the drink was poured into a glass with a sugared rim.

I think when I finally get around to making my own Knockout Infusion, I will hold back some of the infused pineapple to use as garnishes on the martini. 


A Delightful Meal in Lisbon

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on July 17, 2013 at 8:15 AM

Troy, my husband and past president of the Plymouth Foothill Rotary, and I thought the 104th Rotary International Convention in Lisbon, Portugal was an opportunity not to be missed. His love affair with the Portuguese culture and my heritage confirmed our desires to head out.  After our all night journey, we worked up quite an appetite! We set out by foot from the apartment where we were staying in the Chiado district of Lisbon, Portugal. We walked past a restaurant with specials on their chalkboard menu ... Little did we know the fine food we were going to experience.


BCN @ Lisbon Portugal

The chalkboard at BCN - Beber & Comer by Novamesa - is what drew us in. One side was in English, the other in Portuguese. What appealed to me on the board is actually what Troy ordered - the grilled Mackerel. Our waiter was excellent! Raised in Toronto, his English was much appreciated as he explained the details of the dishes.

Inside BCN

We started with "Para comecar ..." (to start) and chose a traditional Portuguese appetizer - Batata brava. These fried potato squares were covered with a delicious cream and paprika. We also ordered Chamucas de frango ou Legumes - inspired by the cuisine of India, a fried pocket adequately curried. This was served with a Thai style sweet and hot dipping sauce.


Batata brava (i.e. fried potato squares)

Chamucas de frango ou Legumes

Our next dishes were chosen from "Do Mar..." (sea) I chose another traditional dish - Brandade de bacalhau gratindo.  Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod and in a culinary context - dried and salted cod. The was cod blended with mashed potatoes and cheese, baked to perfection with a crispy top! The picture of the partially eaten dish does not do it justice. This was accompanied with greens, with a very light dressing. Troy ordered Cavala grelhada com tagliatelle de legumes e crisp de cebola - grilled Mackerel on a bed of lettuce. Some of the dishes were served on a dark piece of slate, providing a contrast, which accented the food.


Brandade de bacalhau gratindo

Cavala grelhada com tagliatelle de legumes e crisp de cebola

We hadn't planned on dessert, but the other foods were so delicious I had to order something. From the "Sobremesas" (desserts), our server recommended one of the baked goods as opposed to Gelado do dia. Knowledgeable advice! We chose Cheese cake Novamesa - inspired by the sister restaurant. Not being that fond of cheese cake, I ordered it anyway, knowing that Troy enjoys it. This cheese cake was deliciously dense, the crust thick, but not hardened. The berries on top added color and sweetness. I was not disappointed.


Sobremesas - Cheese cake Novames

The first restaurant we experienced in Lisbon was a delight. We did not have the opportunity to return ... so many restaurants, so little time. This restaurant was a wonderful introduction to Portugal's delicious foods, which inspired me to eat as much as I could!


Check tray... What to do with old keyboards!

Should you have the opportunity to eat a Portuguese meal, do it! If it's in Portugal, all the better.

Tchauzinho! Susie

The Tomato and Basil Pasta Recipe That Will Blow Your Mind!

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on June 22, 2013 at 1:30 AM

The method for cooking this pasta will "blow your mind!"

While we were compiling the stories, recipes, and photos to go into our cookbook, my sisters, mother, aunt Patsy, and cousin Wendy would come over to my house on Saturdays and Sundays and we would spend hours going through photos and stories to match with the recipes. 

The first two times we got together we thought we'd be finished in a few hours and those few hours turned into several hours. We'd start working and all of a sudden we would discover we were famished. I would go into the kitchen and rifle through the cupboards and freezer to find ingredients to rustle up a quick and easy meal that would need to feed the six of us working on the cookbook, and my kids, husband, and father--basically a quick meal for 10 people.

It is times like that and the times my kids bring home a group of hungry friends that I am always on the look out for quick and easy recipes that can feed several people. Last night I saw a recipe posted on Facebook that is just perfect for those times. It was posted on the Getting Healthy & Staying Healthy Facebook page and it was called the "Blow Your Mind Tomato Basil Pasta." It is a pasta recipe that does not require you to boil and strain the pasta--you just dump the pasta and all of the other ingredients into a pot and cook it! I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand to make this recipe, so I made it for dinner. Only my husband and I were home to eat it and we both enjoyed it. And, I am sure we will enjoy the leftovers today as there are plenty!

All of the pasta ingredients in the pot

The cooked pasta

Below is my version of the recipe that will "blow your mind." 

The Tomato and Basil Pasta Recipe That Will Blow Your Mind!

Makes about 10 servings, when served with a salad

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin strips

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 17-oz. package of whole wheat spaghetti pasta

1 14.5-oz can Italian style stewed tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

1 handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

3 14.5-oz cans low sodium vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large stockpot heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two.  Remove from heat. Add the pasta (I broke the spaghetti in half to make stirring easier), stewed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil. Pour the vegetable broth over the top and stir. Cover the pot and cook on high until the ingredients begin a rolling boil. Stir well and cover the pot. Reduce the cooking temperature to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir a few times while the pasta is simmering. The pasta should have an inch or two of liquid left for a nice sauce. If there is too much liquid, continue simmering with the cover off until the liquid is reduced. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Garnish with Parmesan cheese when served. 

I plan on adding more veggies the next time I make it. 


The Mad Hatter Tea

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on May 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

The Cooking Cowgirls with cousin Kathie's friend Tina (in white)

Recently we had the opportunity to attend the Assistance League of Amador Valley's Annual Mad Hatter Tea. This tea is the major fundraiser for ALAV a chapter of the National Assistance League. Proceeds from the event benefit Operation School Bell, Caring About the Retired and Elderly, Assault Survivors Kit and Screening Eyes Early. Members and their guests enjoyed an afternoon of social fun, entertainment, delicious food and prizes at Castlewood Country Club, in Pleasanton, CA. Our cousin, Kathie George, is a member and invited us to attend.


Merry, Nancy and myself attended, looking forward to an afternoon with Kathie. Much to our dismay, Kathie was ill. We were able to carry on without Kathie, enjoying the suggested Bloody Mary as we picked up our Lucky Tea Cup Raffle, deposited our raffle tickets and bid on Silent Auction items. We did get to meet and visit with Kathie's friend Tina.

The tea attendees were encouraged to wear hats. The "I Love Your Hat" contest involved all attendees, either as a participant or a voter. Three women won prizes for their hats. Some of the hats were handmade, some classics. Winners were decided by the guests - the one I voted for was one of the winners with a Dorfman Pacific hat (headquarters are in Stockton)! We were accompanied by pianist Angela Mastrantonio.


The winners of the "I Love Your Hat" Contest

The tables were individually set by members, with a wide variety of  the member' personal beautiful table settings. We were seated with member Donna Westphalen. Her table was set using a beautiful bone china, with delicate shamrocks, given to her by her aunt. Donna was responsible for all the utensils and dishes, including the teapots. Once seated, raspberry and Earl Grey tea was delivered. Plates of sandwiches and scones were next, served by students of Amador and Granada High School. We forgot to take pictures of the wide variety of sandwiches! What I enjoyed were the open faced shrimp salad, egg salad with capers, toast with blue cheese and the scones with lemon curd. Next came an array of tarts, petit fours, and ample fresh strawberries.


The table setting

Sandwiches and scones with lemon curd

The desserts

The guest speaker was Penny Warner, teacher and author of a wide variety of books. She was very entertaining! As a child, she enjoyed Nancy Drew series. She has written over 50 books in several genres, appealing to moms, cozy mystery lovers and middle school mysteries. Her writings are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her delightful sense of humor was enjoyable.


Author Penny Warner

The Mad Hatter Tea was attended by 300 women. Coordinator of the event, Nancy Carter, did a fantastic job of coordinating volunteers and activities. The variety of fund raising activities led to a fun and relaxing afternoon supporting local individuals in need. We are saving the date for next year, April 5, 2014 and hoping we get to spend the afternoon with Kathie!

~susie calhoun~

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

Pickling Party

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on May 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM

It's asparagus season here in Northern California, which means it’s time to pickle! Plus, I just finished off the final jar of asparagus from last year. Five of us gathered together for the task that lay ahead, we find that there’s strength in numbers! We were discussing our grandmothers who we had all helped out in the kitchen when we were young; they did their canning and pickling all by themselves, jars and jars of fruits and vegetables, well into their 70’s and 80’s. They were tough cookies. We find that it's more fun and motivating to pickle together, and doesn't take as long to clean up! Last year we pickled three lugs of asparagus, this year we moved up to four, you can find our asparagus recipe in our pickling blog from last year.

I'm a one click shopper with Amazon, which can be rather dangerous. In preparation for the pickling party, I got a bit carried away with new canning books. It doesn't help that my mother was a librarian, books seem to be in our genes! I ordered a variety to peruse in advance of the big day, and pulled a couple of recipes to use this year... Canning for a New Generation, The Art of Fermentation, Put 'em Up!, Pickled, and Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving.

If you haven't canned before, it's get to do some research in advance. Ball has a great website to get you started, www.freshpreserving.com, or any of the books listed above will give you the details on preparing the jars, lids, and all of the equipment you will need.

This year we planned in advance to make some giardiniera, last year we just threw it together with the vegetables we found in my fridge and freezer, using leftover spices from the asparagus. I also love pickled beets, so I picked up a couple dozen beets to experiment with. My sister and cousin despise beets, say they smell like dirt, it’s one of those love ‘em or hate ‘em vegetables. We also tested out putting asparagus in the jars raw compared to blanching the asparagus in advance, possibly saving us some time. We won't be able to give you the taste results for at least 6 weeks, so stay tuned!



2 pounds beets

1 cup distilled white vinegar

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

½ tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon cumin seed

¼ teaspoon whole cloves


Prep the beets by boiling or roasting them until nearly tender. Slice into ¼-inch slices (I used a mandolin).


Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a medium nonreactive saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt, and then remove from the heat.


Pack the beets into 3 clean, hot pint jars, arranging them snugly but with enough room for brine to circulate. Divide the cumin seed and cloves among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the beets to cover by ½ inch. Leave ½ inch of headspace between the top of the liquid and the lid.


Use the boiling-water method. Process for 10 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Recipe came from Put ‘em up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton




We adapted this recipe from Paula’s mother's recipe, and a recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. You can use a variety of whatever vegetables your family prefers.



NOTE: The amount of spices listed below go Into EACH quart sized jar:

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1 teaspoon dill seed

2 cloves garlic chopped or more (we used more because we love garlic!)

½ bay leaf

6 whole black peppercorns



Small cauliflower florets

Pearl onions

Carrots, cleaned or peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

Tri-color bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips

Small Brussel sprouts

String beans

Artichoke hearts, halved or quartered


Pickling Brine

4 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tbsp. Salt


Prepare canner, jars and lids.


In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt. We chose to put the spice in the jars as we do with the asparagus, because last year we just threw a bunch of vegetables in the extra jars the we had prepped for the asparagus and it turned out great. The Ball recipe calls for a spice bag to go in the brine.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add vegetables and return to a boil. Pack vegetables into hot jars within a generous ½ inch of top of jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables, leaving ½ headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.


Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.


Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry, Lauren Devine

 Nancy, Merry, Paula, Kim & Wendy, the Pickling Princesses


Chifrijo, Not Your Average Chicharron

Posted by The Calhoun Sisters on April 17, 2013 at 9:10 AM

I recently journeyed with my buddy Patty to the Central American country of Costa Rica. We were visiting our friends Diane and Ernie who live in the small town of Grecia, busy in their missionary Bible education work. You may remember the blog from their going away party where we all cooked Costa Rican foods for the occasion, an all-day affair! Costa Rica was quite an adventure, a scenic country surrounded by the sea, a vast biodiversity of flora and fauna (and bugs!), friendly locals, delicious food, and best of all, coffee is one of their main crops. It’s going to take a couple of stories to cover this sojourn, so I’m going to start with our first home cooked meal with our Tica friend Karen.


Patty, Karen & Diane, on our trek to Los Chorros Waterfalls

A native Costa Rican, Karen volunteered to teach us how to make a local favorite, Chifrijo. It is a fried pork dish that you serve in a bowl over rice, beans, and topped with fresh pico. Chifrijo is described as “the king of Tico bar food,” and is served in la ferias  (farmers markets), by street vendors, and in sodas (small restaurants, not pop!). We began our escapade with Karen on a hike to the Los Chorros waterfalls near her home, an absolutely gorgeous setting found down a steep and narrow dirt road. We only passed one family on the hike (from Ohio!), it was gorgeous.

Los Chorros Waterfalls @ Grecia Costa Rica

On our way home we stopped at la feria for some fresh ingredients from the local farmers. Diane had already purchased some precooked Chicharrón - but hold your horses, this is not the deep fried pork rind you find in other Latin American countries - in Costa Rica Chicharrón are usually made from pork ribs or similar cuts.

Costa Rican Chicarron, fried at the butcher shop

The size of our party had grown, so we needed more pork (yay!), so we stopped at the butcher shop in the market and picked up some posta de cerdo. I can’t quite figure out what it means when translated, pork something, maybe ribs, but it looked like good, fresh pork shoulder cut into 2” cubes.

La Feria, fruiticultura las delicias!

We sorted through a vast array of local fruits and vegetables, and picked up some chayote, corn, avocado and culantro leaves. Culantro is a cousin to cilantro, an herb indigenous to continental Tropical America and the West Indies. It has long spiny, serrated leaves, and a similar flavor to cilantro, only stronger.


The fruits of Costa Rica

When we got back to the house I stepped into the sous-chef position, helping to chop ingredients for Karen’s chifrijo. I was taking notes and pictures throughout the evening on my iphone as Karen was cooking away on a full stove.

Preparing the chayote for the Guiso

I didn’t have time to measure anything, so the recipes below wouldn’t pass our cookbook editor’s requirements, but basic ingredients and directions are listed! I did find a chifrijo recipe from a Costa Rican mother and son on the Latin Street Food episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, an authentic recipe with correct measurements. Let’s get on with the preparations, Por favor deja comer!


Posta de cerdo, or pork, 2" cubes

Head of garlic, roughly diced



Add the diced garlic to meat and marinate for ½ hour to 2 hours.

Posta de cerda and Garlic, that means pork!

Fry the pork in a oil until lightly brown. Instead of just salting the meat, you add salt to maybe ½ to 1 cup water to dissolve, and add the salted water to the browned meat, and simmer.


Adding salt water to the fresh chicharron

Cut the Chicharrón into bite size pieces, 3/4" cubes. While the pork is cooking you can make the pico and rice. Beans were cooked in advance, black beans are a staple, but for this meal Diane had shelled and cooked up some fresh frijoles tiernos (large pinto beans) with oregano, garlic, Chicharrón meat and a bit of salt and pepper.

Not your average chicarron! Cubed and ready to serve

To serve the chifrijo, place a scoop of rice in the bottom of a bowl, a layer of beans, cover with chifrijo and top with fresh pico. Tuck some tortilla chips into the side of the bowl and serve with sliced avocado.









Dice the onion and tomato to a small chop, and marinate in lime juice. Add the jalapeno and culantro, salt to taste, and serve





Onion, diced

Garlic, diced

Sweet Pepper, diced

Crema Dulce (whipped cream)


Corn, chayote and crema dulce for guiso

Peel, cut out the inner seed and chop the chayote into 1/2" cubes. Be careful handling chayotes, they can cause an allergic reaction - tingling, numbness, rash and peeling of your hands. The safest bet is to wear plastic gloves. The chayote in Costa Rica didn't seem to have as prickly of skin as we find in America, we cleaned and peeled them under running water and didn't have any problems. Cut the corn off the cob. Sauté diced garlic, onion, pepper, corn, add chayote and saute. Add crema and bring to a boil. Add a bit of water to cover, simmer until chayote is soft, about 15 minutes. Salt to taste and enjoy!

Pura Vida baby! (i.e. plenty of life or this is living!)

In the Kitchen with Karen (sounds like a new Food Network Show to me!)

~ Nancita the hungry Gringita