Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Life’s Curve Balls








An autumn sunrise over Topeka.



Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Believe me, I wanted to! I have all kinds of recipes lined up and restaurant experiences I want to share.





Unfortunately, life pitched a curve ball to The Picky Eater’s family. Do you remember my post from 2014 about his sister, Lisa, and her husband, Don, adopting four children from Ukraine? They got stuck there when the Independence Square uprising happened.

On October 16, Don had open heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. The surgery went well, but a day later he had a massive stroke, which damaged 2/3 of his brain’s left side, impacting his right side. He had emergency surgery to remove part of his skull so the swelling had someplace to go…and to save his life.

Since then, the family has been on a roller coaster ride, with Don having good days and bad, including needing to have fluid drained off his brain last week. He has some movement in his right leg, so everyone is hopeful he will walk again. He isn’t moving his right arm and he can’t speak (yet?).

Don is a fun-loving guy who loves God and his family above all else...though fantasy football may run a close third. His humor-filled spirit still shines through at times when he's interacting with people. Especially with his beautiful daughters. 

Now Lisa and Don face a long, long period of rehab two and a half hours away in Nebraska. Family and friends will pitch in to watch over the kids while Lisa is at Don’s side. Needless to say, the loss of income is hitting them hard. If you would like to help, a Go Fund Me page has been set up were you can donate. If you want to follow Don’s progress, check out the Don Jenkins Update group on Facebook.

Prayers also help, too. A lot.
Thank you for your understanding.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Baking Sheet Supper for One


I was intrigued from the first moment I saw it.

While scrolling thought my Facebook feed early one autumn morning, I game across a post from BBC Good Food titled “10 Meals Worth Being Alone For.”  Since I cook for one now, I was curious. When I clicked through to the website, I saw a suggestion for All-in-one Gammon, Egg and Chips. I was hooked.

Just think; an entire meal made on a baking sheet. How easy would that be?

Turns out, the answer is very easy! Clean up was effortless, too, since I lined my smallest sheet pan with foil first. Plus, you eat the meal straight from the pan.

Gammon is the hind leg of a pig that is cured in much the same way as bacon. It may be smoked, and like bacon, needs to be cooked before eating. Since a slice of gammon isn't commonly available in my grocery store, I decided to use smoked sausage instead. Also, to go with the potato wedges and egg, I wanted a veggie. So I added thick slices of zucchini and summer squash to the mix.

This meal was so much fun to prepare. Once everything was cut up, the rest of the work was done by the oven. No muss or fuss. The meal came together in stages by adding different elements during the baking time, but it was simple.

The result was hearty and delicious. Honesty, it was almost enough food for two people. Just add another egg and a few extra zucchini slices. 

I can already imagine switching up the ingredients—sweet potato instead of regular, ham instead of sausage, asparagus to replace the zucchini, etc. Any other suggestions? I’ll be making this supper often as the autumn chill sets in.

Baking Sheet Supper for One

1 large baking potato, cut into wedges
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut into 3-inch slices
1 small zucchini, summer squash, or both cut into 1-inch slices
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with foil and lightly spay with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, toss the potato wedges with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the wedges onto the baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. The potato wedges should have started to brown. Turn them over and move them to one side of the pan. In the small bowl, toss the zucchini slices with the rest of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the slices to the baking sheet, along with the smoked sausage. Return the baking sheet to the oven for 7 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Turn the zucchini slices over, and move both the zucchini and smoked sausage over enough to make room for the egg. Crack the egg in the corner of the baking sheet. Return it to the oven and bake for an additional 7 minutes, or until the egg and sausage are cooked to your liking.

Serve on the baking sheet.

  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ham and Tortellini Toss


With the start of autumn, and in spite of today’s 80-plus temperature, my dinner thoughts turn to hearty dishes that ease the evening chill. However, the recipe must be one compatible with busy fall schedules. This Ham and Tortellini Toss is perfect. The rich, Alfredo-style sauce comforts the soul, but it comes together in less than 30 minutes.


I got the original recipe from my friend, Shannon, in New Hampshire just before I made my move westward. She got it from Pampered Chef. Of course, I’ve tinkered with it a bit along the way.

The original called for fresh baby spinach. Since not everyone likes spinach, and I hardly ever have it on hand, I switched to frozen peas. I’ve also used fresh broccoli, which I steamed to partially cook before adding it to the mix. Both veggies work well. The original also calls for frozen cheese tortellini, but I couldn’t find any here in Topeka. I used Buitoni Three Cheese Tortellini, which I keep on-hand in the freezer until I needed.

Oh, and yes, you read the recipe correctly. The tortellini is cooked in just two cups of chicken broth. Don’t worry. It works! Plus, the broth lightens the sauce a bit and adds a lot of flavor. Also, please use good Parmesan cheese and not the stuff in the can. It makes a difference.

Quick to prepare, tasty to eat, and easy to clean-up…this recipe will be an autumn regular.

Ham and Tortellini Toss
Adapted from recipe by Pampered Chef
Serves 2 to 4

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 9-ounce package Buitoni Three Cheese Tortellini, or variety of your choice
3 tablespoons unsalted-butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup diced ham
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Pour the chicken broth into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook according to the package directions until just done. Be sure not to over cook.

While the tortellini cooks, melt the butter in a large, 12-inch, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk. Once the mixture begins to simmer, stir in the cheese until melted. Add the ham and peas. The mixture will be very thick at this point.

When the tortellini is ready, pour it and the broth into the skilled with the ham mixture. Stir until combined. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, and cook until you reach the desired thickness. Stir in the black pepper and serve.

   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream


Is it just me, or are we being inundated by everything pumpkin? Television commercials, social media posts, and magazine pages are full of pumpkin-spice everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I like pumpkin. But what happened to apples? It is apple season, too. Why not save the pumpkins until later and enjoy apples now while they're crisp and fresh from the tree.

Okay, that is my food rant for today. Thank you for listening. 


Apple season always brings back memories of apple crisp ice cream from Arnie’s Place in Concord, New Hampshire. I lived in an apartment right across the street from this ice cream/hamburger/ barbecue spot open seasonally from February to October. (This photo is from the window in my old apartment...in March! Only in New England are you eating ice cream in the sunshine one day and shoveling snow the next.) 

Arnie's owner, Tom Arnold, serves wonderful homemade ice cream. I also enjoyed his Inferno Burger (a hamburger topped with cheddar cheese, Pete’s hot sauce and jalapenos) and pulled pork sandwich.

Most of the time, my ice cream choice was the Extreme Chocolate, which lived up to it’s name and was so rich I could only enjoy one scoop at a time. However, when autumn approach, I switched to the apple crisp ice cream full of bits from the classic dessert.  

Since I now live too far away to enjoy Arnie’s ice cream, I decided to try making it myself. While I researched the recipe, I remembered the jug of apple cider I had in the refrigerator. Could I add apple cider to up the flavor of the ice cream?

Yes!

There are two parts to the recipe—the cider ice cream and the apple crisp. The cider ice cream tastes great on its own and would be tasty served with a couple of ginger snaps on the side. However, I enjoy the crumbs of apple crisp mixed throughout the ice cream.

You’ll notice the apple crisp bits look a little dark. That’s because I accidentally used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. It tastes great, but if you want lighter crisp bits, then go with the light brown sugar.

Also, I like a lot of apple crisp in my ice cream, so I used the entire amount. However, one of my tasters thought there was too much. So add as much or as little as you like to fit your taste.

For me, Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream is a perfect transition dessert as we move from summer’s heat to autumn’s chill.
 
Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

For the ice cream:
2 cups apple cider
1 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream

For the crisp:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
2 apples, diced

To make the ice cream base: Pour the apple cider into a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil until the cider reduces to 1/4 cup, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pour the milk and sugar into another saucepan. Stir over medium heat only until the sugar is dissolved, just two minutes or so. Pour the milk/sugar mixture into a bowl. Whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cider reduction. Then stir in the cream. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

To make the crisp: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 or 9-inch cake or pie pan.

Place all of the ingredients except the apples into a medium bowl. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or two knives, or squish the cold butter bits into the other ingredient with your fingers, until well combined.

Place the diced apples into the bottom of the buttered pan and cover with the oatmeal/butter mixture. Bake until the topping is golden brown and the apples are soft, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the ice cream: Pour the chilled ice cream base into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Break up the apple crisp into small pieces. Just before the ice cream is finished churning, add the apple crisp pieces into the ice cream. Once the crisp is mixed in, transfer the ice cream into an air tight container. Freeze for at least 6 hours to harden the ice cream before serving.   


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Preserving Apples: Apple Jam and Pie Filling


I love apple season. When I lived in New England, I made regular trips to Apple Hill Farm throughout autumn to get the freshest apples and all the goodies made with them. (I loved their apple pie!)  Here in Topeka, I like to head just outside of town to Rees Fruit Farm for the same reason. (Their apple cider donuts are to die for!)


Last weekend, the Topeka Capital-Journal ran my recipes for Apple-Maple Jam and Home-Canned Apple Pie Filling. They were such a hit I wanted to share them here as well.

One word of caution: When I started researching the pie filling recipe, I found many of them on the internet. Most, like mine, were adapted from this one put out by the Ball canning folks. However, some of the recipes said to use quart-sized jars, with the same timing as the Ball recipe, which calls for pint-sized jars. I called up the Ball help line, and the lovely lady on the other end said the recipe has only been tested for pint-sized jars and would not be safe using quart-sized jars! So please, stick with pint jars. (This is a good lesson in not believing everything on the internet.)

The pie filling recipe calls for Clear Jel, a modified corn starch that works as a thickener but is made to withstand the heat of canning. I couldn’t find it in a local store, so I ordered it on Amazon. Be sure to get the regular variety, not instant. I’ve heard you can use equal amounts of flour as a thickener, but supposedly it creates a cloudy filling.

I’ve enjoyed the jam on my PB&J sandwiches, and the pie filling is so much better than the store-bought kind. Thinking ahead, these would also make great Christmas gifts.

Apple-Maple Jam
Recipe adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Makes 8 half-pint jars

Approximately 6 pounds baking apples (Granny Smith, Gala, Jonathan, or Golden Delicious)
Lemon juice to prevent browning
6 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pure maple syrup
           
Prepare jars: Wash jars, lids, and rings. Place empty jars without lids into boiling-water canner filled with simmering water. Keep the jars in the hot water until ready to use.
           
To make the jam: Peel, core and dice the apples into cold water with lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown. You will need 12 cups of diced apples.
           
Place a small plate into the freezer. Drain the apples and place them into a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. Keep stirring and boil for 20 minutes. Take the plate out of the freezer and drop a small amount of the jam on top. Use your finger to test how well it gels. If it has gelled enough, turn off the burner. If not, keep boiling and test every 5 minutes until ready, up to 30 minutes.
           
When ready, turn off the heat. Take a jar out of the water and drain. Ladle in the hot jam (a funnel helps) to about 1/4-inch from the top. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to clean off any drips. Place a flat lid on top and screw on a ring. Repeat until all of the jars are filled.

Place the jars into the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Place the lid on the canner, bring back to a boil, and process for 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow the jars to stand in the hot water for 5 additional minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool completely. You will hear the lids start to pop almost immediately as they cool and seal.  After 12 to 24 hours, check the seal on the cooled jars by pressing on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Or remove the ring and make sure the flat lid is stuck tight to the jar. If the jar is not sealed, the jam is still good. Just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator. Also refrigerate any jar after opening.
 
Home-Canned Apple Pie Filling
Adapted from recipe found on the Ball company website 

Makes 7 pints
           
This recipe calls for Clear Jel, a modified corn starch that works as a thickener but is made to withstand the heat of canning. Be sure to use the regular variety, not instant. I could not find it in local grocery stores, so I ordered it from Amazon.

12 cups peeled and sliced baking apples (Granny Smith, Gala, Jonathan, or Golden Delicious)
Lemon juice to prevent browning
1 1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups apple cider
2 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Clear Jel
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
           
Prepare jars: Wash jars, lids, and rings. Place empty jars without lids into boiling-water canner filled with simmering water. Keep the jars in the hot water until ready to use.
           
To make the jam: Peel, core and slice the apples into cold water with lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown. You will need 12 cups of apples.
           
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drain the apple slices and blanch them in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
           
In a large pot, add the apple cider and water. Whisk in the sugar, Clear Jel, spices and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Mix in the lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple slices.
           
Take a jar out of the water and drain. Ladle in the pie filling (a funnel helps) to about 1 1/4-inch from the top. Remove air bubbles with a wooden skewer or plastic knife. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to clean off any drips. Place a flat lid on top and screw on a ring. Repeat until all of the jars are filled.

Place the jars into the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Place the lid on the canner, bring back to a boil, and process for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow the jars to stand in the water an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool completely. You will hear the lids start to pop as they cool and seal.  After 12 to 24 hours, check the seal on the cooled jars by pressing on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Or remove the ring and make sure the flat lid is stuck tight to the jar. If the jar is not sealed, the filling is still good. Just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator. Also refrigerate any jar after opening.
           
For a 9-inch pie, you will need to use 3 pints of pie filling.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing





Last night I gathered with a few friends and fellow fantasy football league members to watch the first game of the NFL season featuring the New England Patriots playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.



My brother-in-law, Don, wore his Steelers jersey. I wore my Patriots 2014 Super Bowl champs t-shirt. I went home happier than he did, though he was pretty psyched about Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s performance since he racked up a lot of points on Don’s fantasy team.

FYI: I’m a Kansas City Chiefs fan by birth, and always will be. However, I’m a Patriots fan by choice. They won me over during my years living in New England, especially while making their run to the 2001 championship. I admired how they chose to come out as a team instead of highlighting individual players during pre-game introductions. To me, that is what the game of football should be all about—playing as a team.

Of course, I had to make my Buffalo Wings for the game. To go with them, I decided to try homemade blue cheese dressing, after which I asked myself, “Why haven’t I done this sooner?!”

Blue cheese dressing is so easy to make. This one was a big hit. Even my nine-year-old nephew sat next to me, munching on hot wings and celery coated in the stuff and asking me to spoon more on his plate. He kept pointing to it and saying, in between mouthfuls, “That’s good.”

One note about the photos: I remembered to set aside some of the dressing and celery to use in the pictures. Unfortunately I forgot to save some of the Buffalo wings, which were devoured last night.

Oh well.

This dressing is great as a celery dip, too. I can’t wait to try it on a salad, with extra blue cheese crumbles on top.

Blue Cheese Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise, whole milk, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce until smooth. Stir in the blue cheese crumbles. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pink-Lemonade Thumbprint Cookies





This past weekend, I had a chance to visit with The Picky Eater, Jr. when he came into town for the family’s fantasy football draft. He and his doctor-wife are busy with their lives in Wichita, so I look forward to any opportunity to catch up. He has started a photography blog, The Necessity of Wildness, so we also got to talk shop.






When he comes to visit, I like to send him home with treats. Since lemon is his favorite flavor, it also gives me the chance to experiment with lemon-centered recipes. This time I made Pink-Lemonade Thumbprint Cookies from a past issue of Martha Stewart Living.

I was intrigued how the pink color for the filling was created not with food coloring but with one raspberry. How could that be? But it worked beautifully! The only glitch I found with the recipe was the baking time. The original recipe called for an initial 10 minute bake, after which you make the indentation in the center of each cooking, and then return to the oven to bake some more. The recipe said to bake
for an additional 16 to 18 minutes. If I did that, I would have had pink-lemonade hockey pucks! It should say 6 to 8 additional minutes, for a total baking time of 16 to 18 minutes.




The cookies are tart and tasty. They are also easy to make with few ingredients. Best of all, The Picky Eater, Jr. liked them, as did everyone at the draft gathering.




Pink-Lemonade Thumbprint Cookies
Recipe adapted from one in Martha Stewart Living
Makes 2 1/2 dozen

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided, plus more for dusting the cookies
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, divided
1 raspberry

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl,
whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Put the sheets into the freezer for 10 minutes.

Place the sheets into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and make an indentation in the middle of each cookie with the end of a wooden-spoon handle. Put the sheets back into the oven and bake until the cookie bottoms are golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the cookies from the sheets to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Whisk together the remaining confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice with the raspberry, making sure to break up the berry so the mixture turns pink.

Dust the tops of the cookies with confectioners’ sugar, and then spoon the pink filling into the indentations. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Store at room temperature in an air tight container for up to a week—if they last that long.

Monday, September 7, 2015

To Change, Not Forget


A few weeks ago I had an epiphany. Okay, it wasn’t the caliber of a biblical enlightenment, but it did open my eyes.

My laptop started acting up, which was a big deal considering as a writer my computer is key to my emotional stability. If my computer is on the fritz, then so am I.


Luckily, I had The Picky Eater’s laptop, which was a newer, faster version compared to mine. I saved all of my work to an external hard drive, so it was just a matter of unplugging it from one computer and attaching it to the other. I was back in business.

The Picky Eater and I shared the office from the day I moved into the apartment. I worked from a small antique secretary desk that my mom did her homework on during her middle school days. He used a huge L-shaped desk he bought secondhand from an accounting office for $35. The desk was is great shape, and was old enough that the L section dropped down a few inches so a large electrical typewriter would fit on top. He loved that desk.

Each morning I would start work in the office still in my pajamas. The Picky Eater worked overnight as a courier, so he would sleep until around noontime…if I was lucky. To make sure he stayed asleep, I would wait to get dressed for the day, thus lessening the risk of waking him up.

You see, when the Picky Eater woke up, he would come into the office, give me a hello kiss, sit down at his desk, and turn on the small TV sitting on top. Bless his heart, he would try to be quite, turning the volume down so low I wondered how he could hear it. The problem wasn’t the TV. It was the conversation. No matter how focused I was on my work, with my fingers flying as quickly as possible across the keyboard, he would always talk to me. Half the time I was concentrating so intently I didn’t hear him. Or he would ask me a question, which I wouldn’t answer until I finished typing a thought. At first that would frustrate him, but once he figured out the reason, he would be patient for my answer.

As you might guess, once he woke up, I didn’t get a lot of work done.

Now, sitting at his desk and using his computer were both comforting and bittersweet. Since he passed away last year, I used his desk primarily to pay bills and write notes. When I started teaching writing workshops, I would sit there to prepare for my classes. Otherwise, the bulk of my time in the office was spent at my desk.


My tiny desk…with my papers balanced precariously on top of the file cabinet next to it…with my notes crowded around the computer, making it hard to move the mouse…with its view of the wall and the curtains blocking the window.
 
Verses The Picky Eater’s desk, with it’s wide-open space and my favorite view looking out the window, through a couple of buildings and over the Quincy Street Station, to the rolling, tree-covered hills that will soon change from various shades of deep green to the colorful display of autumn.

Why was I continuing to use this tiny desk when there was a huge one available with a much better view?

Epiphany!

Why hadn’t it occurred to me to make the switch sooner? I can only guess it was because, in my heart, it was still The Picky Eater’s desk. And it always will be, but now it’s mine, too.







The desk is now home to my writing books and papers…












My favorite coffee cup and water glass…














His note of encouragement to me and my favorite photo of him…

















The Augusta National Golf Club (home of The Masters) coasters he got as a present from his son, and the picture of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers from the TV show Hart to Hart) that he bought because they reminded him of us (in love, yes! In wealth, not so much)…














His championship bowling trophy and Jack Nicklaus persimmon-wood driver sit along side…










Now the bill-paying and note-writing take place on the smaller desk, and my work at the big one.

I think The Picky Eater would be happy with the change.


I know I’m happy looking at the lovely, calming view. 


Friday, September 4, 2015

Labor Day Morsels




I love Labor Day weekend! Some of the reasons for this adoration have changed through the years. In the past, it was the time to celebrate a final cookout or camping trip with friends. Now, it means fantasy football draft weekend!




However, one reason has always remained: To me, this weekend signals the end of summer (the season I loathe for its heat and humidity) and the approach of autumn (my favorite season of the year…well, along with winter!)

Here are a few morsels I’m noshing on this weekend:




Last night I attended a dinner party featuring recipes honoring the famous New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne. For my contribution to the evening, I was asked to bring this caraway and cheese spread. Don’t let the amount of caraway seeds put you off. The result was delicious. It pairs nicely with cocktails or wine and I foresee making it often for gatherings this fall. (The recipe is below.)

Also this weekend, I will be making these two recipes from the past for the fantasy football draft gathering:



Mint Double Chocolate Cookies, but without the mint this time. I mentioned making chocolate
chocolate chip cookies to my brother-in-law, Don (The Comish), and asked it they would be alright to bring. He said, “I just heard chocolate chocolate. I'm in!"








Birthday Baked Beans. I originally developed this recipe for The Picky Eater, who loved baked
beans. For the draft gathering, we are having a hot dog bar with all the fixin’s. My brother-in-law, Scott, asked me to bring these as his birthday present. I’m happy to comply.








I will also be testing this recipe for Pink Lemonade Thumbprint cookies from a past issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The pink color comes from a single raspberry! I’ll share the results in an upcoming post.


Enjoy your weekend!




Caraway and Cheese Spread
Adapted from The New York Times Cook Book, edited by Craig Claiborne (1961 edition)
   
Be sure to make this at least 4 hours ahead of serving time to allow the caraway seed time to soften. Otherwise it will be too crunchy to enjoy!

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 tablespoons capers
4 tablespoons caraway seeds
4 tablespoons sour cream
2 garlic cloves, finely minced (I grated them on my microplane grater.)
Rye bread, for serving


In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together with a fork until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with pieces of rye bread.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Football Fare: Buffalo Wings and Potato Skins





I’ve written in the past about my obsession compulsion love for football. It was a passion The Picky Eater shared. 

Our second date consisted of going out to Sunday lunch and then spending the afternoon and evening watching football while getting to know each other better.  

  



Our Christmas Eve wedding reception had a football theme since the NFL moved the games up one day to avoid playing on Christmas. We held the wedding at 10:30 a.m. to be certain the ceremony was finished by the Kansas City Chief’s noon kickoff, which was shown on the big screen during the reception. We even invited our guests to wear their
favorite team jerseys.



We often watched Chiefs and University of Kansas games at a local sports bar with The Picky Eater's old friend, Chris. We even had season tickets to KU games for a couple of years. Unfortunately the team wasn’t very good, but we had fun anyway. Plus this Missouri/New England girl learned all the fight songs and cheers.



The Picky Eater also took part in his family’s fantasy football league, which will start its tenth season next month. Last year, after he passed away, I got permission from my brother-in-law, Don, (also known as The Commish) to take over The Picky Eater’s team. This was a big deal since I was the first woman allowed to play in the league.

Don was aware of just how much I knew about football, but I don’t think the other guys in the group had a clue. The picture probably started to come into focus on draft day, when my player picks included Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Foles, Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski. If you know football at all, you know that’s a stacked team! 

Then I started to win…and win…and win. By the end of the season, I my record was 10-3 and I made it to the league championship, where I lost to my nephew, Anthony (pictured above with Don.) Before the season was over, my brother-in-law, Scott, started to grumble, “Isn’t there something in the by-laws that says she can only be in one year?” (He was kidding…I think. Draft day is coming up Labor Day weekend and I haven’t been kicked out yet!)

When I think of football food, I think of Buffalo wings and potato skins.

 
I’ve posted a wings recipe before, but recently I came up with a new grilled version that has a sauce I like even better. You don’t have to make these on a grill. They work just as well made on a stove-top grill pan or baked in the oven.




Potato skins were once a popular restaurant appetizer, but I don’t see them much on menus anymore. Too bad. I love them! This recipe is a
grilled version, but again you can make them with the oven instead.

Are you ready for some football? 
I am!

Grilled Buffalo Wings
Makes 24 wing pieces
1 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce (I used Franks Red Hot)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 garlic cloves
12 whole chicken wings
           
To prepare the Buffalo sauce: Place the hot sauce, butter, Worcestershire sauce, and celery seed in a small sauce pan. Smash the garlic cloves and add to the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Removed the garlic cloves and set aside.
           
Cut the chicken wings into pieces, discarding the wing tips. Grill over medium to medium-high heat until crispy and cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove wings from the grill, dip in the buffalo sauce, and place on a platter to serve.

To make in the oven: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or rub with oil. Place the wing piece on the sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, dip in the sauce, and serve.

Grilled Potato Skins
Serves 4 to 8
4 baked russet potatoes
Oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup grated cheddar or pepper-jack cheese
4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled or chopped
Sour cream, for garnish
Chopped green onions, for garnish
           
Heat the grill to medium-high. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scoop out the flesh from the center, making sure to leave about 1/4 to 1/2-inch of the flesh inside of the potato skin. Brush the potato halves lightly with oil on both sides and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the potato halves cut side down onto the hot grill grate. Cook the potato halves until browned and crisp, and then turn to the skin side. Divide the grated cheese between the potato halves, close the grill lid, and cook only until the cheese is melted.
           
Remove the potato halves from the grill. Top with crumbled bacon, sour cream, and green onions.

To make in the oven: Brush the scooped-out potato halves with oil, both inside and out, and place on a baking sheet, skin-side up. Put the sheet under the oven broiler and cook until the skin starts to brown and crisp. Turn the potatoes over and boil until the flesh begins to brown and crisp. This should only take 2 to 3 minutes. Fill the potatoes with cheese and broil until the cheese is melted. Remove from the broiler and top with the bacon, sour cream and green onions.  

  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Agua Fresca and Cantaloupe Gin and Tonic







Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I made a gin and tonic with cantaloupe…and I liked it!







The key is to first make a cantaloupe agua fresca. As I wrote in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal article, agua fresca, which in Spanish means “fresh water,” is a popular beverage in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. This cool, refreshing drink can be made with a variety of fruits, and is relatively healthy since it contains very little added sugar. The most common fruit selections are cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberry, papaya, guava, honeydew melon, and mango. However, I also saw recipes online for blueberry, orange, and even cucumber versions. A few added chi seeds, hibiscus tea, chilies, ginger and herbs, such as mint and basil.


I made up batches of cantaloupe, watermelon, and blueberry agua fresca. One important thing to remember is the drink is only as good as the fruit you use. I know from experience. Once I whizzed-up a batch with a bland-tasting watermelon that no amount of lime or sugar could help. So make sure to use fresh, ripe and flavorful fruit when making this beverage.



Though agua fresca is traditionally a non-alcoholic drink, I wanted to play around with it as a cocktail mixer. Tequila, vodka, rum and gin blend well with the fruity beverage. You could also try some of the flavored vodkas and rums available.






Since my traditional cocktail of choice is a gin and tonic, I decided to add some cantaloupe agua fresca to the mix. It was tasty! The sweetness of the fruit balanced the sharpness of the tonic and the juniper flavors of the gin.


Before the heat of summer passes and fruits go out of season, make up your favorite flavor of agua fresca.
(I like to keep it in Mason jars in the fridge until needed.) Then have fun creating your own fruity cocktail. (FYI: A blueberry mojito is also delicious.) Just be sure to try the cantaloupe gin and tonic. You won’t be sorry!



Cantaloupe Gin and Tonic
Serves 1
1 ounce gin
3 ounces basic cantaloupe agua fresca (see below)
2 ounces tonic water
           
In a cocktail glass filled with ice, add the gin, cantaloupe agua fresca, and tonic water. Stir until combined.

Basic Agua Fresca
Serves 4
4 cups diced, pealed fresh fruit or whole berries
1 to 1 1/2 cups water, depending on the fruit
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
Addition:
1 to 1 1/2 cups water, club soda, seltzer water, or tonic water, to taste
           
Place the fruit, water, lime juice and sugar into a blender or food processor. Whiz until the mixture is smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl until all of the liquid drains through. Pour the strained liquid into a quart-sized Mason jar or pitcher. Store in the refrigerator.
           
To serve, pour the liquid into a pitcher and add your choice of the remaining water, club soda, seltzer water, or tonic water. Pour into ice-filled glasses and serve.
           
To make individual servings, pour the basic mixture into ice-filled glasses to just 2/3 full. Top off the glasses with water, club soda, seltzer water, or tonic water, and serve.