Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stormy Cocktails

There’s a good reason L. Frank Baum set The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Kansas. Besides producing bushels of wheat and corn, this state is also prolific in two additional areas—wind and storms.

For days, the weather forecasters warned about the coming storm, which arrived a few days ago. The city’s tornado sirens got their first non-test workout, though thankfully no twisters developed.

While my area of Topeka (downtown) got the usual wind, lightening, thunder, tiny hail and lots of rain that comes with a big storm, other surrounding locations had it much worse, with flooding rains and massive hail. (One place reported hail the size of grapefruit!)

I’m always fascinated by thunderstorms. I will sit at a window or on a covered porch and watch one roll through as if it were the latest Hollywood blockbuster. 

Mom thinks my storm interest comes from my childhood when we lived in Grandview, a suburb of Kansas City. Our rented house didn’t have a basement. When the weather turned ominous, we crossed the street to the landlord’s home where we joined other families in its sheltering basement. Mom says while the other kids were scared and crying, I looked around in excitement waiting for the “fun” to begin.

Now when I watch a storm roll through, I can do so with an appropriately themed cocktail. 

My favorite is the Storm Chaser, a bubbly, zippy beverage made with spiced rum, ginger ale and a squirt of lime juice.

For a drink with a little more kick, I like the Dark and Stormy, with its blend of dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.

Mix up your favorite and watch the clouds churn.

Storm Chaser
Serves 1

1.5 ounces spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan.)
Ginger ale
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the spiced rum and top off with ginger ale. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Dark and Stormy
Serves 1

1.5 ounces dark rum
Ginger beer
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the rum and top off with ginger beer. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beer and Cheddar Fondue

This Beer and Cheddar Fondue recipe celebrates many of my favorite things:

1. Cheese: I adore cheese! Devour cheese. Buy-too-much-and-have-to-hurry-to-eat-it before-it’s-too-moldy cheese. My mom used to call Dad and me her little mice since we were always grabbing a slice of cheese. Of course, back in those days, the slice usually came from a large block of Velveeta stored in the fridge. Now I can’t walk past the cheese counter at my local grocery store without picking up my favorites (Port Salute, cheddar, and smoked gouda), plus one or two new ones to try. My lunch and/or supper are often comprised of cheese, crackers or bread, fresh veggies, and fruit (right now I’m into blackberries.) And I want my last meal on Earth to be homemade mac and cheese.

2. A cast iron skillet: I love mine. It is the first one I grab most of the time. While it may be a little slow to heat up, once it’s hot, it stays hot for a long time. I like the sear it gives to meats, how quickly I can stir-fry ingredients, and the nice brown crust on baked recipes such as cornbread and biscuits.

3. Socializing: (You thought I was going to say beer, didn’t you?) My idea of a perfect evening is having a few friends over for food and conversation, with playing games or watching a movie or sporting event for entertainment. This recipe is perfect for such gatherings, especially since I don’t own a fondue pot. (I know, it’s crazy considering how much I love cheese. I really should buy one.)

I found this recipe in a copy of Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, the people responsible for both Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, plus the America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television shows on PBS ( The publishers sent me a copy to check out…thank goodness! My copy now has numerous sticky notes popping out of the top to mark the recipes I still wish to try.

This recipe is a keeper!

Beer and Cheddar Fondue
Adapted from Cook it in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 8 to 10
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces American cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups American lager beer (I used Budweiser)
1 garlic clove, minced
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Bread cubes, large pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, for serving

Place the shredded cheese, cornstarch, dry mustard, pepper, and cayenne pepper into a large bowl. Toss with your hands until the cheese is well coated. Set aside.

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, bring the beer and garlic to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and then whisk in the cheese, one handful at a time. Once all of the cheese has melted into the beer-garlic mixture, keep whisking until it just begins to bubble.

Serve the fondue with bread cubes, pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets. The mixture should stay hot for about 15 minutes. To warm it back up, place the skillet back over low heat and stir constantly until the fondue begins to bubble again. If it is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Maple-Pecan Scones

Whoops! I guess I’m late! Talk about waiting until the last minute.

March was Maple Sugaring month when maple syrup makers begin to celebrate the end of the “harvest.” I miss maple season in New England. Somewhere between February and March, the steam starts to rise from gallons of boiling maple sap through the tops of sugar houses nestled amongst the maple trees. Years ago, I even learned how to tap a maple tree and the joy of hearing the magical “ping” sound made by the first drops of sap into the metal bucket.

Kansas isn’t a maple syrup-producing state, but I’ve told everyone I know all about the yummy virtues of Mother Nature’s golden gift. When sap comes out of the tree it looks and tastes like slightly sweet water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

I featured this Maple Pecan Scone recipe in a recent newspaper article. These treats are tender, nutty, and full of maple goodness. I enjoy them both for breakfast and with my afternoon cup of tea. They taste good at room temperature but even better warmed in the microwave for a few seconds.

Maple-Pecan Scones
Makes 9 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup heavy cream
For glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 to 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pecans, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chilled butter and, using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter pieces until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the maple syrup and cream. Slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture, using a fork to swiftly mix until the dough starts to stick together. It will be crumbly. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, bring it together into a ball, kneading a few times as necessary. Roll the dough out to a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut the scones and place them on the baking sheet about an inch apart. The scones will not rise much in the oven while baking. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops of the scones begin to turn lightly brown. Remove the scones from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
While the scones bake, whisk together the ingredients for the maple glaze in a medium bowl. Once the scones are just warm or at room temperature, drizzle the tops with the glaze. (Placing a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment under the cooling rack will make clean-up much easier.) You may not use all of the glaze.
Serve the scones warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Key West Key Lime Pie

Have you ever been to Key West, Florida? I hadn’t either until my recent cruise on the Carnival Dream, but I always imagined it to be a laid-back, easy-going place full of free spirits.

Reality didn’t disappoint!

I was only there one day, but it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, it was warm but not too warm, and I was ready to soak in as much atmosphere as I could. This is what I found:

Palm trees. I took a lot of photos of palm trees. It must be a secret obsession.

Sleeping porches. I love the idea of snoozing in one of these spaces as the night ocean breezes blow through.

Hemmingway’s House, which was a beautiful place full of interesting stuff (i.e. typewriters) to see, especially for a writer. Yes, there were plenty of the famous six-toed cats around, and I covet Hemmingway’s writing office though I think I’d skip the mounted animal heads.


The Key West lighthouse was beautiful.

Best of all, I enjoyed a slice of key lime pie at Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe and chatted with owner Kermit Carpenter. His chocolate-dipped pie slices have been featured on both the Food Network and the Travel Channel.

I love key lime pie, and this one was perfect! Not too tart, rich and creamy.

Kermit shared his recipe with me. When I made it at home, it tasted just like his.

This is an easy pie to make. I like my slice topped with a little sweetened whipped cream.

You can learn more about Kermit’s shop at (His key lime fudge is amazing, too!)

Kermit’s Key Lime Pie
Serves 8

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 egg yolks
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup key lime juice (1/2 cup of Kermit’s key lime juice, which is double strength)
Grated lime zest, for garnish
Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, and melted butter until the mixture is crumbly like sand. Pour into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust is set and browns. Remove and place on a rack to cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth and then whisk in the sweetened condensed milk and key lime juice. Pour the mixture into the cooled pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes. Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before refrigerating. Before serving, sprinkle some grated lime zest over the top of the pie. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops and Personal Triumphs

My recent voyage on the Carnival Dream not only gave me the chance to enjoy delicious food, but it was also the scene of two of my life’s greatest triumphs.

Okay, maybe not greatest, but absolutely the most fun!

First, I won the Hole-In-One Challenge at the mini-golf course. I don't golf, and I hadn’t played putt-putt golf for years, so honestly it was pure luck! Still, it got me a Ship-on-a-Stick, otherwise known as a trophy.

Next, I won Game Show Mania 2 in the main showroom, thanks to my two nephews, Anthony and Bradley, insisting I participate because they learned on the trip that I’m pretty good at trivia games. It was a bit nerve-racking being up on the stage, under the lights, with everyone watching. However, after I got past being worried about making a fool of myself, it was fun! My prize was a medal and a bottle of Champagne!

Both of my awards are proudly displayed in my apartment so I can brag about my accomplishments to anyone who will listen. 

Even with my personal triumphs, my cruise memories always gravitate back to the food. 

This jerk pork dish was one of my dinner favorites. The Dream’s Executive Chef Taunus D’Silva shared the recipe with me, and I tinkered with to make it home-cook and weeknight friendly. The original called for a whole five-pound pork loin. I changed it to boneless pork chops to quicken the cooking time. I also found jerk seasoning in the spice aisle of my local store, but you can mix up your own. (There are a number of recipes on the internet.)

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredients list since most are for the marinade. Also, be sure to schedule your time to allow for the chops to marinated before cooking. It is easy to whiz up the marinade in the morning, pour it into a zipper bag with the chops and pop it in the fridge, head to work, and then cook the chops for dinner that night.

Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops
Serves 4
2 tablespoons jerk spice
1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger
1/2 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 bay leaf
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worchester sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
4 boneless pork chops, cut about 1-inch thick
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Diced scallions, for garnish

Place the first 12 ingredients into the bowl of a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a zipper bag and add the pork chops. Seal the bag and toss to make sure the pork chops are coated in the marinade. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days. (The longer you marinate the chops, the stronger the flavor.)
To prepare the chops, place a cast iron grill pan into the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. (You can also prepare the pork chops in a regular oven-safe skillet or on an outdoor grill.) Remove the chops from the marinade and place on a plate to come to room temperature.
Pour the marinade into a saucepan and add the ketchup and chicken broth. Bring the marinade to a boil, and reduce until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes, to create a sauce. Add salt and pepper, to taste, after the mixture is reduced. Keep warm.

Remove the grill pan from the oven and place on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops. (Turn on your stove fan since cooking will produce some smoke.) Cook on the first side for about 5 minutes, or until the chops have dark grill marks. Turn the chops over, and then place the pan back into the oven. Allow the pork chops to bake until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and tent the chops with foil. Allow them to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve, place a chop on each plate and spoon the sauce over the top. Serve with a side of rice and beans, as they did on the ship.

Disclaimer: While the crew and employees of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Dream were very hospitable and accommodating during my time on board, I paid for the trip myself. I’m not being paid by Carnival to make this or any upcoming posts with recipes from the cruise. All of the opinions and experiences are my own.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

The weather is strange here in Kansas today. The high temp is headed towards 80 degrees thanks to abundant southern breezes. Still, in spite of this taste of spring, many of my friends are feeling under the weather and in need of comfort.

This Asian Chicken Noodle Soup recipe has become my go-to meal for days I’m not feeling well, both in body and spirit. The inspiration for this dish came from two places. One was a terrific vegetable soup I often ordered from my favorite New Hampshire Chinese restaurant years ago. The other was Nigella Lawson’s Noodle Soup for Needy People recipe, which I posted about a few years ago.

This soup is full of healthy ingredients. Feel free to experiment with your favorite vegetables to make it fit your tastes. It is great for using leftover chicken. If you don’t have any, you can use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, or poach 2 boneless chicken breasts in the chicken broth before making the rest of the soup. Also, I use those inexpensive packets of Raman noodles, but you can use any type of noodle you like.

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup gives comfort, both when you’re not feeling the best and when you’re just in need of a warm, soothing meal.

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 4 to 6

2 32-ounce containers low sodium chicken broth
2 carrots, sliced thick
2 celery stocks, sliced
1/2 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 4 cups chopped bok choy, to taste
2 to 3 cups diced cooked chicken
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 packages Raman noodles
1 can bean sprouts, drained
Snow peas
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Green onions, sliced, for garnish

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot. Bring to a boil and then add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove the garlic pieces from the pot. Add the ginger, soy sauce, bok choy and chicken to the pot. Continue to simmer until the bok choy is crispy-tender (or to taste.) Check the seasoning and add salt and black pepper to taste. (The soy sauce is salty, so you may not need additional salt.) Add the red pepper flakes, to taste. (You can leave them out if you don’t like the heat.)
While the bok choy cooks, prepare the Raman noodles according to the package directions, leaving out the flavoring packet. Once cooked, divide the noodles between the serving bowls, and add some snow peas and bean sprouts to each dish. Ladle the hot soup into each bowl over the noodles, peas and sprouts. Garnish with green onions and serve.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Kiss on the Lips Cocktail

Are you looking for a special drink to have with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day this weekend? Or maybe you're tired of the winter weather? I've found the cocktail to solve both problems.

I recently returned from a cruise onboard the Carnival Dream. This is the second year I’ve traveled with this cruise line, and I’m happy to report I the second time was as fun as the first. This year I sailed from New Orleans (a city in full Mardi Gras form) to Key West, Florida, and the Bahamas.

Last year, I enjoyed Carnival’s signature Fun Ship Special Cocktail (and shared the recipe with you here.) This year, it was the first drink I had upon boarding, and it was as good as I remembered. Then I noticed the waitstaff carrying trays of a beautiful orange and red drink. I asked one what it was, and he replied, “A Kiss on the Lips.”

That caught my attention! After I tried one, I was hooked. The blend of mango and peach schnapps made a delicious tropical combination. The Dream’s beverage manager, Clifton Morrison, made sure I got the recipe and said I could share it with you. 

This is a drink I plan to enjoy often.

Kiss on the Lips Cocktail
Serves 1
1 1/2 ounce peach schnapps
4 to 6 ounces mango daiquiri/margarita mixer
1 tablespoon grenadine

Pour the peach schnapps, mango mixer, and some ice into a blender. Puree until smooth and slushy. Pour the grenadine into the bottom of a cocktail glass. Pour in the mango mixture. Serve with a slice or orange, a cherry, and an umbrella.

Disclaimer: While the crew and employees of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Dream were very hospitable and accommodating during my time on board, I paid for the trip myself. I’m not being paid by Carnival to make this or any upcoming posts with recipes from the cruise. All of the opinions and experiences are my own.