Monday, December 15, 2014

Fudgey Brownies in a Jar





I begin this post with a disclaimer: I’m not a craft person, which I’m sure is evident by this photo. Cooking I can do. Dressing up gifts? Not so much.

Trust me, anyone who receives this gift of Fudgey Brownies in a Jar won’t care how the packaging looks once they taste the results. These brownies are wonderfully chewy and chocolaty—just what brownies are meant to be!

When assembling the jar, I put the chips and walnuts in an attached bag since they are added after the batter is mixed. If you’re not sure the gift recipient is a fan of nuts in brownies, just omit the walnuts and add more chocolate chips. You can also give a mixture of dark and white chocolate chip with the jar. Be sure to include the baking instructions, either on the gift tag or an attached recipe card.

Whether you give the jar as a gift or keep it in your pantry, this brownie mix is great to have around whenever the chocolate craving strikes.  

Fudgey Brownies in a Jar
Makes 24 brownies

For the jar:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder 

For attached bag:
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Additional ingredients:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
           
To make the jar: Into a 1 quart jar, place the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk together to combine. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cocoa powder. Place the lid on top. In a plastic bag to go with the jar, place the chocolate chips and walnuts.
           
To make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
           
Pour the ingredients from the jar into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together to combine. Add the additional ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
           
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the brownies start to pull away from the side of the pan. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 24 squares before serving. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spiced Tea Mix from the Family Recipe Box


Recently, I was looking in my Mamaw’s recipe box for a favorite Christmas recipe when I came across this one for her Spiced Tea Mix. I thought, “What a great, old-fashioned Christmas gift alternative to hot chocolate mix.”

According to the note Mamaw made on the card, she got this recipe from a friend in 1969.  The mixture is reminiscent of a time when instant tea and Tang orange drink were in style. I remember enjoying warm cups of this fragrant drink at Christmas time, though she may have had it on hand all year round.

I love giving gifts that also have comforting memories to share.

Spiced Tea Mix
Makes enough to fill 1 pint-sided jar or 2 8-ounce jelly jars

1/4 cup instant tea
1 cup Tang powdered orange beverage
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

To make the jar: In a bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients until well combined. Pour into jar and cover with lid.

To make the tea: Poor 1 cup boiling water into a mug. Add 2 heaping teaspoons of the tea mix and stir to combine. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our Christmas Tree








I was in a quandary about how to decorate for Christmas this year. Specifically, what to do about the tree. I wanted to decorate for the holiday, but I just couldn't put up the Christmas tree.







There’s a story behind the tree. It is an artificial one The Picky Eater had when we met. He said he bought it in 1979 from a Topeka store that is no longer around. It is the type where you match the color-coded branches to the pegs in the center pole. He adored that tree.

I hate that tree! It is a pain to put up, looks straggly no matter how much adjusting I do, and it is covered in dust from decades of Christmases past. The base is cracked. One Christmas the tree kept falling over (once on top of my nephew!), so I had to tie the base together with kitchen twine to keep the tree upright.

I tried to convince The Picky Eater of the benefits offered by a modern, pre-lit tree, but he wouldn't hear of it. So each year, we put it up.

As my first Christmas without The Picky Eater approached, I knew I didn't want to put up that old, dusty tree. However, I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it either.

So, I compromised. I took the top section of the tree, which is all in one piece, and after some juggling and innovative adjustments, set it into the twine-supported base. Then I decorated it with our special ornaments.

In the early days of our relationship, The Picky Eater and I were shopping at Crown Center in Kansas City with his sister and family. There was a store full of Christmas decorations, and he said, “Let’s go in and pick out a special ornament just for us.”

Ever since, we bought an ornament every year just for us.





This is that first one from Christmas, 2010:











This second one was bought a couple of weeks before our wedding on Christmas Eve, 2011:










Then we bought this one on our honeymoon at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri:







The red heart was added in 2012. We picked it because we liked to watch reruns of the television series Hart to Hart, and The Picky Eater liked to think of us as business tycoon Jonathan and freelance writer Jennifer Hart, without the knack for finding dead bodies!






This was the one for 2013. The Picky Eater was a courier and was gone on his route from 6 p.m. to about 3 or 4 a.m. It was a comfort when he returned home each morning.








For this year, I bought this dove from Prairie Glass Studios in downtown Topeka as my way to honor and remember the love of my life:





Next year I may have a big, new, pre-lit tree for Christmas. Who knows?  For now, I get a lot of joy from looking at “our” Christmas tree.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes






Have you bought sweet potatoes yet for your traditional casserole? Here’s an updated twist on a side dish tradition.




This Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes recipe is based on a casserole I've made every holiday for years. I saw a magazine article about making twice-baked sweet potatoes and thought, “Why can’t I do that with my recipe?” So, I did! However, if you prefer the casserole form, then by all means, go for it. This recipe works either way. Also, if feeding a large group, just double the recipe.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6
4 small sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
For topping:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans, to taste

Prick each sweet potato 3 times with a fork and place on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on high for 9 to 12 minutes, turning the potatoes over every 3 minutes, until a wooden skewer pokes easily into the potato. (Some of the potatoes may bake faster than the others. Just removed the ones that are done and keep going with the rest, checking every 3 minutes.) Let the cooked potatoes sit for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

To make the topping: Place all of the topping ingredients, except the pecans, into a small bowl. Using your fingers, squish the ingredients together until crumbly. Add the pecans and mix to combine. Set aside.

To prepare the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scoop out the flesh from the center into a large bowl, making sure to leave about 1/4-inch of the flesh inside of the potato skin. Place each potato skin shell onto a baking sheet that was sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake the shells for 10 minutes, or until they are slightly dried and firm.

While the shells bake, add butter to the bowl of sweet potato flesh and mash with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined and fluffy.

Remove the shells from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Discard 2 of the shells since you will not have enough filling for all of them. Spoon the filling into the remaining shells and cover with the toping mixture. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the potatoes to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

To make a casserole: Scoop all of the flesh out of the potatoes into the bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients as described above, and then spread into a baking dish. Sprinkle the topping over the casserole and bake until golden brown.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce



Step away from the can!

Isn't it time to make your own cranberry sauce? If you haven’t tried yet, hopefully this recipe will serve as inspiration. It’s so easy!


This sweet and spicy version tastes great not only with the Thanksgiving turkey, but also with ham, pork and chicken. Just adjust the amount of red pepper flakes to fit your family’s spice tolerance. Best of all, the sauce can be made up to three days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. 

Now, if you’re cranberry sauce must be shaped like a can, I’m sorry. 
I can’t help you.

Perhaps cranberry sauce therapy?


Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce
Serves 6

1 package fresh cranberries
Juice and zest from 1/2 large orange
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Pinch of salt

In a saucepan over low heat, combine all of the ingredients and stir occasionally until sugar is melted. Then increase the heat and let the mixture simmer gently until it thickens slightly and most of the cranberries have popped, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Refrigerate covered until needed.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Chicken Pad Thai with Spaghetti Squash





Recently I confessed my lack of enthusiasm for winter squashes. However, I am intrigued by spaghetti squash. I love how the solid flesh turns into strings after cooking. Kids think it’s magic!


Spaghetti squash is a tasty substitute for pasta or noodles. In the past, I've served it with homemade marinara sauce over the top. This time, I wanted to try something with an Asian flair.

The resulting Pad Thai recipe was delectable. The flavors were a perfect balance of savory and slightly sweet, and blended well with the spaghetti squash. I made the dish for dinner one night and enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

One note: The recipe calls for bean sprouts, which I love in Pad Thai recipes. However, on the day I wanted to make this dish I couldn't find any in the grocery store. So I made it without the sprouts, and it was still terrific. So put them in or leave them out. It’s up to you.

Chicken Pad Thai with Spaghetti Squash
Adapted from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchens
Serves 4
 
1 large spaghetti squash
8 to 9 tablespoons oil, divided
Juice of 4 limes
6 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips
2 small shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups bean sprouts (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

To prepare the squash, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the squash lengthwise into two halves. (Be careful, since the skin is tough.) Scrape out the seeds (I do this with an ice cream scoop) and place the squash halves cut side up onto a baking sheet. Brush each halve with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a fork easily goes into the flesh. Remove from the oven and allow the squash to cool until it can be handled. Using a fork, scrape the squash flesh into strands and place in a bowl. Set aside.

To make the sauce, whisk together in a small bowl the lime juice, water, brown sugar, oyster sauce, 3 tablespoons oil, rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
           
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken until browned. Remove from the skillet onto a plate and set aside.
           
Reduce the heat to medium, and add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Add the shallots, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and saute until the shallots are a light golden brown. (This happens quickly.) Pour in the beaten eggs and scramble until just done (this also happens quickly.) Add the chicken back to the skillet, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Stir in the sauce, bean sprouts, and half the scallions and peanuts. Allow the mixture to simmer for 2 to 4 minutes so the sauce can thicken a bit.
           
To serve, divide the spaghetti squash between four plates. Spoon the chicken mixture on top of the squash. Sprinkle the remaining peanuts, scallions, and the cilantro leaves over the top.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Cup of Tea and a Romantic Tale


In the past, I've written many times about how The Picky Eater and I connected on Match.com and met for our first date in a grocery store parking lot. But I've never told you about the other man that was a part of that first evening. So, sit back with a cup of your favorite tea, coffee, or hot chocolate and let me tell you about our dinner with the other man…and how magic movie moments can happen in real life.

By the way, I’ll give you tips on making the perfect pot of tea at the end of this post.

It was Thursday, November 11, 2010—Veterans Day. After spending the day at the Montessori preschool where I taught…and spending a few moments after work in the teacher’s bathroom fixing my hair, touching up my make-up, and changing clothes…I headed to the Dillons Supermarket in North Topeka to meet Michael. We had talked on the phone for hours the previous three nights, but now it was time to meet face to face. Needless to say, I was nervous.

The first thing I noticed when we met were Michael’s dancing blue eyes. And he gave great hugs!

I followed him in my car to the Prairie Band Casino and Resort for dinner. That may seem like a strange place to go on a first date, but I was excited. I had heard great things about the food (always a plus with me!) and was looking forward to checking it out. Plus, I didn't mind trying my luck on a slot machine or two.

After we arrived, we headed for the Longhouse Buffet. Since veterans could eat free that day, the line was long. As we neared the front, the man ahead of us turned and said to Michael, “I’m all by myself. Would you two like to share a table with me?”

Now, I’m thinking since this was our first date, Michael would turn him down. So you can imagine my surprise when he said, “Okay!”

The man’s name was Floyd. I don’t remember too much about him. He was a veteran from the Marines and very friendly—and talkative. Most of the dinner was spent listening to him tell about his troubles with his stepson.

We shared a booth—Floyd on one side and Michael and I on the other. At one point, Michael excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came back and sat down, I put my hand on his arm.

It was magic! Electric! Michael looked into my eyes, and it was one of those moments you see in the movies but think never really happen in real life. He put his hand on mine. My heart was racing and I’m sure my face turned bright red. It was overwhelming.

I moved my hand to my lap and everything returned to normal.


Later that evening, Michael and I were talking in his car. He had his arm around me, my head was on his strong, comfortable shoulder, and a Kenny G Christmas CD was planning in the background. He said, “I could see myself married to someone like you.”

Three days later, on our second date, Michael told me he loved me and, again, he could see being married to me. What did I say? I pointed at him and said, “Don’t you dare propose to me! You hardly know anything about me yet.”

His response was, “I know what I feel.”

I said, “But we need to get to know each other better. Besides, it’s the holiday season when everything is sparkly and romantic. Let’s see how we feel in the middle of January when it’s cold and
depressing.”

Then I added, “I tell you what, if you still feel this way in the middle of January, and I feel the same way, then I’ll marry you on Christmas Eve 2011.”

And that’s just what I did.

One evening, sometime after we were married, I asked Michael if there was a moment when he knew he was in love with me. He answered, “When you put your hand on my arm at that first dinner with Floyd.”

I guess he felt the magic, too.

Remembering our dinner with Floyd always brought a smile and a laugh to us both. My sister-in-law thinks Floyd was an angel sent to make sure Michael and I fell in love.

Today, four years later, I’m spending the day with my memories of how The Picky Eater and I joined our lives together. He always made a big celebration of our first-date anniversary, even more so than our wedding anniversary. I kept the e-mails we exchanged in those early days and we would spend time every Veterans Day reading through them and remembering how our love began. After Michael died, I was going through his e-mails and found he had saved the one from Match.com that was my response to his interest in me.

That’s the kind of man The Picky Eater was.

I was a lucky girl.

I want to keep Michael’s tradition, even though he’s gone. (Tomorrow it will be five months since he died.) Today I’ll read those e-mails and drive to the casino, with a quick stop at the Dillons parking lot and Kenny G playing on the CD player. I still adore him, and miss him desperately, but I don’t want to be too sad today. So, I’ll think of Floyd, the magic of a touch, and meeting the love of my life. 

Michael could always make me smile.


The Perfect Pot (or Cup) of Tea
I love black teas, particularly sturdy English Breakfast and smoky Lapsang Souchong. The Picky Eater loved Earl Gray. Many evenings, when he wasn't on his courier route, we would share a cup while watching television.
To brew the perfect pot or cup of tea:
  • Bring cold water to a boil. (Cold water has more oxygen and makes a better tasting tea. Also do not let the water boil for too long or it will release the oxygen and the tea will taste flat.)
  • Fill the tea pot or cup with some of the boiling water and let stand for a moment or two to warm.
  • Empty the pot or cup, add the tea leaves or bags and pour the boiling water on top. Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes or until the tea reaches the desired strength. Note: Steep green tea for only one to three minutes to prevent bitterness.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Squash, Cranberry and Apple Bake





Lately, I've felt the need to confess my lack of enthusiasm about certain foods that seem to be all the rage right now. Every day I see a new recipe for kale or lentils. Well, I’m not a big fan of either. Believe me, I've tried! I can deal with a little kale in soups or salads, but not much. And lentils…well, I just don’t like them.

Squash is another one. I like to use it in recipes, such as my Shaker Squash Rolls and Harvest Bisque. But on its own, I just don’t like very much.




Except for this dish! I like the squash in this recipe. Yes, it's mixed with apples and cranberries, both of which I really enjoy. And the orange-maple sauce adds to the appeal. However, if that is what it takes to get me to eat cubes of good-for-me squash, then it works!


This recipe, which I developed for a Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper article, would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving. I used kobocha squash, but you could try it with butternut or pumpkin. The recipe, minus the cubed squash, would also make a great filling for the inside of an acorn or carnival squash.  

Winter Squash, Cranberry and Apple Bake
Adapted from Rolling Prairie Cookbook by Nancy O’Connor
Serves 4 to 6 people

Juice and zest of 2 small or 1 large orange
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup (the real stuff, not imitation)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds of peeled and cubed winter squash 
1/2 pound fresh cranberries (or 1/4 cup dried cranberries) 
2 large apples, pealed and cubed
1/2 cup raisins
Cinnamon, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, orange zest, maple syrup, and salt. Set aside.

Butter an 11- by 7-inch baking dish. Add the squash, cranberries, apples and raisins and stir to combine. Pour the orange juice mixture over the top. Sprinkle a light dusting of cinnamon over the top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir to coat the mixture with the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish before serving.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chicken Chowder for Halloween



Happy Halloween!


I enjoy this festive night. Young ones finally get to wear the costumes they have talked about for weeks, beguiled by the promise of full candy bags and the mystery of a nighttime adventure in streets filled with spooky creatures. Their parents spend the evening juggling tasks: Taking the kids trick or treating, handing out candy, and trying to get everyone to eat a healthy meal before diving into the candy pile.

Yes, grown-ups, this includes you, too. I know the seduction of a full Halloween candy bowl!

To simplify the evening, make a big pot of this easy Chicken Chowder. The recipe features leftover chicken (a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket works), and can be made in advance and kept warm until time to eat.

I made this recipe many times last winter. The Picky Eater loved it, except for one ingredient. He asked, “Why do you put potatoes in it?”

I answered, “Because chowder traditionally has potatoes.”

“I don’t like potatoes in soup,” he said. (This was news to me!) “Can’t you put noodles in instead?”

“Um, sure,” I said. “Then it’s creamy chicken noodle soup.”

He was happy.

Whether you use potatoes or noodles, this soup will fill-up and nourish all the goblins in your house.

(It is also a great basic chowder recipe. Just switch out the chicken for corn, clams, fish or anything else you would like in chowder.)

Chicken Chowder
Serves 6 to 8 people

4 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
4 tablespoons flour
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 to 6 carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, cubed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the cut-up bacon and cook until brown and crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Set the cooked bacon aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and celery. Saute until the onion is tender and translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the onion-celery mixture and stir for 1 minute, until the fat is absorbed by the flour. Pour in the chicken broth, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, potatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to low, cover and simmer until the carrots and potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the cooked chicken to heat through. Then pour in the cream or half and half. Add salt and pepper, to taste.


To serve, ladle the chowder into bowls and top with the cooked bacon.     

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mulled Wine with Apple Cider





Now that autumn has chilled the air, my thoughts turn to beverages that warm the body and soul. Besides a morning cup of coffee (or two...maybe three) and afternoon tea, I wanted a grown-up drink to sip in the evening while watching seasonal movies or reading a cozy book.

My first thought was hot apple cider with a little added brandy or cinnamon schnapps, but that didn't strike my taste fancy. Then I considered hot chocolate with the addition of a coffee or Irish liqueur, but it didn't seem cold enough for such a rich drink.

Ah, mulled wine! I've always wanted to try it, ever since watching George Bailey and Clarence, Angel Second Class, order drinks at Martini’s—or what George thought was Martini’s—in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. When Clarence decides it’s not nearly cold enough for a flaming rum punch, he orders, “Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively.”

My version starts with a bottle of Missouri’s Baltimore Bend Vineyard’s C2, but any good dry red wine will do. The addition of apple cider and brown sugar provides sweetness, balanced by fresh orange juice and zest. Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and half of a nutmeg add spice, and a final splash of brandy gives warmth beyond the stove’s heat. 

Mulled wine not only warms up a late autumn evening, it will also be lovely served as an after-Thanksgiving-dinner drink. Plus, I can vision keeping a pot on the stove for a holiday party, Christmas Eve celebration, a wind-down drink on Christmas evening, or a warm beverage to see in the New Year.

Mulled Wine with Apple Cider

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
4 cups apple cider
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 to 4 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1/2 whole nutmeg
The juice and zest of 1 large orange
1/4 cup brandy
Cinnamon sticks and orange peels, for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients except the brandy in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the brandy. Serve in mugs with a cinnamon stick and an orange peel.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow-Cooker Ham and Beans




I’m beginning to feel more like myself again. While the underlying sadness of losing The Picky Eater is still there, now memories of him bring more smiles than tears. I’m glad. He was such a happy person and I want to remember him in happy ways.


Here is one example: A few days ago I was organizing my freezer. You know how it is when items migrate to the back and you discover a pork chop from 1999. Well, my freezer wasn't that bad, but it could be if I didn't keep on top of it.

In my digging, I discovered a large bone and bits from a ham The Picky Eater ordered off of a home shopping channel last holiday season. My sweetie was a very trusting person and believed every sales pitch he saw, which got scary when he watched those channels when I wasn't around to help him see the reality of what they are selling.

That’s what happened on a late November afternoon. I came home from somewhere to his excited announcement, “I just bought a ham. It looks so good!”

Oh no! I tried to be equally excited. “That’s great,” I said, then asked the inevitable, “How much did it cost?”
 
“It’s only three payments of $23,” was the answer.

After a pause, I said, “So you bought a $69 ham?”

I could see the wheels turning in The Picky Eater’s mind. Then he gave me a sheepish smile. “Yeah, I guess I did. That was too much, wasn't it?”

Actually, the ham was both delicious and huge. We had many dinners and sandwiches from it, and my just-discovered the leftovers would make one more meal—a pot of old-fashioned ham and beans.

I grew up eating this dish a lot, usually with a large slab of cornbread on the side. It was a meal I missed when living in New England, where a leftover ham bone was used for split-pea soup, and no one seemed to like it paired with beans. When I moved to Kansas, I was thrilled to find ham and beans on many restaurant menus. Of course, The Picky Eater didn't like it, so I never made it at home.

My only complaint about this dish is it can be a little bland. So instead of using all water, I used part water and part chicken broth. I also added thyme and a bay leaf. One important note: Don’t add salt. Ham is very salty, so there should be plenty in the finished dish. If you don’t have a ham bone, just use a ham hock or ham steak instead.

Slow-Cooker Ham and Beans
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 leftover ham bone, or 1 ham hock or ham steak

Rinse the beans and remove any stones or discolored beans. Add them to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours, or until the beans are tender. Remove the bone and cut up any large bits of ham before serving.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Dad’s Peach Cobbler



The plan was to post this recipe on Father’s Day.

After my dad died from cancer on March 26, I wanted to honor him by posting his recipe for peach cobbler on Father’s Day. My dad was a pro at making this dessert.

Then The Picky Eater died three days before Father’s Day, and the sadness I felt at losing my father was washed up in the tidal wave of grief that comes with losing your husband and soul mate.



Four months have passed since The Picky Eater’s death, and I’m beginning to surface from the flood of sadness and pain. Plus, I recently made Dad’s cobbler for three occasions:

One was a gathering where we dedicated a memorial placed on the family farm in his honor…and my sister surprised us all by getting married!

Another was for my brother-in-law Don’s birthday. He loves peach cobbler and ate it all by himself,
starting at the center of the dessert and moving outward.

The third was just for me, because I wanted some to enjoy while I remembered.

Dad was a rock of a man. It is still hard to picture the world without him in it. He worked hard to support his family, chased his dreams when he could, donated his time to causes that were important to him, and made friends with everyone. So many friends, in fact, that his memorial service filled the church my parents attended.



My dad taught me:

  • How to throw a football.
  • The importance of knowing what is going on in the world. (The Picky Eater would see me withmy coffee and newspaper each morning and say, “You are just like your dad.”)
  • How to be a good citizen by knowing the issues and voting.
  • How to make a great peach cobbler. He loved to cook, and even though I learned a lot about cooking from Mom and her mother, I got the love-of-preparing-food gene from Dad and his family.

Dad’s Peach Cobbler

Dad made his cobbler in an 11- by 7-inch baking dish, but I had trouble rolling out the dough to fit the dish, so I recommend a 9- by 9-inch one instead. Feel free to use your own crust recipe or one of the ready-made crusts available at the grocery store. The dish is meant to look rustic, so don’t fret too much about the way the crust looks. (Mom told me there were times Dad would get so frustrated with his crust that he would throw it away and start again!) The warm cobbler tastes wonderful with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but I also like it as Dad did, with some cold milk poured on top. (The picture is of the hand-written recipe Dad gave me years ago.)

For crust:
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup shortening, chilled and cut into cubes
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/3 to 1/2 cup water

For cobbler:
2 large cans peach halves or sliced peaches in heavy syrup
2 eggs, divided
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl, or a food processor, mix together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening, or pulse with the food processor, until the mixture resembles course sand. Mix in just enough water to form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out one half of the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Place into a deep-sided, 9- x 9-inch baking dish. Add the peach halves, cut side up. (You may not have room for all of the peaches.)
           
In a small bowl, mix together one egg, flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and melted butter. Spoon over the peach peaches.

Roll out the remaining half of dough. Place on top of peaches and crimp together the edges. Make slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape. Place into the freezer for 5 minutes to chill.

Beat together the remaining egg and water to make an egg wash. Remove the cobbler from the freezer and brush on top of crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice is bubbling from the slits. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or a little milk on top.



 The Picky Eater with Dad in May, 2013.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brownies for Two…or One


I’m in trouble.

Serious trouble.

I tried this fudgy brownie recipe from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

It was easy to make.

It was amazingly delicious.

See why I’m in trouble?



Like the other recipes in the cookbook, this one is sized for two people. However, since it makes eight brownies, it is also an easy dessert for a bigger family. It would also make a great after school/hayride/leaf raking treat.

Not to mention it is the perfect size for one person whenever a chocolate craving strikes. Plus, there should be some left over for the next day or two.

Should be…


Brownies for Two
Adapted from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Make 8 brownies

I add a touch of instant espresso powder, which gives a depth of flavor to the brownies. However, the recipe works just as well without it.

3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Or, for easy removal, make a foil sling for the pan by folding two sheets of foil to fit each direction of the pan. Line the pan with the foil sheets, leaving the excess to hang over the sides for easy removal of the brownies once they cool. Spray the foil with the non-stick spray. Set aside.

Place the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder into a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second increments until the chocolate is melted and smooth, stirring after each 30 seconds. Should only take 1 minute max. (This step can also be done by placing the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.)

Let the chocolate cool for a bit, until just slightly warm, and then whisk in the sugar. Next whisk in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, salt, and espresso powder. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing it out to fill all of the corners and flatten the top. Bake for 24 to 28 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with only a few crumbs. Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow the brownies to cool completely. Cut into 8 squares.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Apple Raisin Soda Bread


This is my new favorite autumn quick bread. I adapted this recipe a few weeks ago from one I found in The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso for an article on quick breads that ran in the Topeka Capital-Journal. What I like about this bread is its yeast-bread-like quality, which differs from most quick bread recipes. I serve it cut into wedges, much like a scone. Be sure to use a tart apple when making this bread, such as a Granny Smith.

Apple Raisin Soda Bread
Adapted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
Makes 1 loaf

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for the top
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup buttermilk (or whole milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar added)
1 large Granny Smith apple, pealed and cut into small dice
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seeds


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. If you haven’t already done so, melt the butter and set aside. Also, if you are substituting the milk-vinegar mixture for buttermilk, you will want to add the vinegar to the milk now and set aside. Before using, remove 1 tablespoon of the milk mixture to create the correct measurement.

In a large bowl, blend together with a whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Pour in the melted butter and mix with a spoon until the butter is well distributed throughout the flour mixture. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Fold the milk into the flour mixture until it is just combined. Fold in the apples, raisins and caraway seeds.

The mixture will be very sticky. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball, and then place it in the prepared cake pan. Flatten it slightly, but not so much that it fills the pan. The dough should not reach the edge of the pan. Sprinkle the top with 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, and then remove the bread onto the rack to cool for at least another 15 minutes.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Love Notes




Currently I am reading Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, which is the latest in the Mitford series by author Jan Karon. I always enjoy the books in this series. The settings and characters are warm, comforting, and full of life. I feel uplifted and happy at the end of each one.


In this particular edition, the main character, Father Tim, and his wife, Cynthia, agree to write regular love notes to each other. They feel it is a good way to increase their love and the sense of intimacy in their relationship.

The idea made me smile.

The Picky Eater and I wrote many love notes to each other. They weren't planned, but were spontaneous gestures of love and caring. He worked as a courier overnight and often, when I missed him while alone in the late evening, I wrote him a note and left it on the dining room table. In return, there were many times I woke up to a surprise note left for me that he penned before coming to bed.
 
This one in the frame was very special. He wrote it a few weeks before our wedding day. After reading it, I immediately hung it up with a thumb tack over my desk so I could see it anytime I needed encouragement. Not long ago, I framed it to keep there always.

Each year we celebrated the anniversary of our first date, which also happens to be Veterans Day. Part of our celebration was to read together the emails we exchanged in the early days of our relationship, first through Match.com and, after that first date, directly to each other. Many were written after arriving home from a date, expressing the wonder and joy of finding new love.

It has been three months since I lost The Picky Eater—actually, 14 weeks this Thursday. Many times when I miss him the most and need to feel his love, I pull out his notes to me. They are some of the greatest gifts I have from him. Also, as I started going through his things, I found the ones I wrote to him, which is another loving gift.


I want to encourage you to write love notes to the person (or people) who means the most to you. They don’t have to be fancy or grammatically correct. Just write from the heart. Not only do these notes brighten the moment, but they are also a tangible way to show love that can be enjoyed again and again.