Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In case you missed them...

It's not always easy coming up with a recipe each week for my food column. In fact, it's seldom easy. But it's worth the effort. This food column is one of the most rewarding things I do, especially in recent years since my daughter, Anna, started taking the photographs for me.

I cannot tell you the pleasure it brings me when someone tells me, "I look forward to reading your food column every week." And it happens often. Just ask my kids; they like to tease me about it!

Just a few days before Christmas, one of my son's former high school teachers stopped me at a store to tell me she tries my recipes often and had recently made my microwave peanut brittle and rocky road fudge. Her comments made me smile.

This past year, as I've struggled with heart-breaking grief after my mother's death, just 11 months after my father's death, I've really relied on the routine of trying new recipes, sharing them with my readers and hearing feedback as therapy. It's amazing how far a little encouragement and thanks will go (not to mention a hot bowl of soup or a sweet treat) to mend a broken spirit.

Again this year, I decided to use this year-end column to re-publish some of my favorite food column recipes for the year. I wasn't sure there were any memorable ones until I started looking through our archives and realized it was this year I shared so many recipes that I'm still making such as a super yummy veggie filled ham and cheese pie that my husband and I adore.

I make honey mustard pasta salad at least once a month for lunches, and I keep Chicken Tetrazzini Florentine in my freezer for nights I don't want to cook.

My daughter often requests that I make pizza melts, and my husband looks forward to nights I make seasoned turkey burgers.

Son Robert requested a fruit pizza for his Christmas Eve birthday. We all love this easy recipe.

And my recipe for microwave bread and butter pickles was one of my most popular ones ever. For weeks after that one ran, I got calls and e-mails from people telling me how much they loved them.

So in case you missed these favorites, here they are again.

Thank you for reading my column every week, and please don't stop. I got cookbooks for Christmas, and I'll be experimenting and sharing!

The best recipes of 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good-for-you Chili

My sister was visiting at Thanksgiving and told me about this wonderful new turkey chili she had made. She suggested we save out three cups of shredded turkey and freeze it for the Cooking Light chili.

We did just that.

A week or so after Thanksgiving, I thawed the turkey, and in a short time after work one evening threw together this very easy chili.

Before making it, though, I read some reviews and made a change or two based on other cooks' recommendations and on my family's preferences.

The recipe calls for three cans of Great Northern beans, which are white. I wanted to add a little variety to my chili, so I followed a suggestion and used one can of black beans along with two cans of Great Northern beans. I also cut back on the spices because I don't normally like spicy foods, but when I make it again, I'll probably add as much cumin and chili powder as called for.

I did add a little more tomato, cutting two roma tomatoes. Next time I'll probably add even more because we liked the texture and color they added to the chili.

I added the fresh cilantro to my chili; it's the first time I've ever cooked with cilantro. I didn't particularly like the smell of the cilantro on my hands after it was chopped, but I threw it in my chili pot anyway. I didn't especially like the taste, either, and I'm thinking I'll leave it out when I make the recipe again.

When it came time to serve our chili, my husband and I added a dollop of reduced-fat sour cream and a sprinkling of shredded Mexican cheese. Wow! These two ingredients added so much flavor to the chili.

The chili smells so good cooking and lived up to expectations. My husband and son gobbled it down; so did I.

In reading reviews, I noticed that several people often cook a turkey breast just so they can have turkey to make this recipe. After my first bowl, I could understand why!

I considered saving this recipe until next November, but I decided my readers need to be making it this winter! So for those of you who cook turkey for Christmas, save out three cups of shredded turkey and make this delicious and good-for-you chili soon.

White Bean Turkey Chili
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion (about 2 medium)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 (15.8-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained*
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1/2 cup diced seeded plum tomato*
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 lime wedges (optional)
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add chili powder, garlic and cumin; sauté for 2 minutes. Add oregano and beans; cook for 30 seconds. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups of bean mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pan. Add turkey, and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add diced tomato, chopped cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper, stirring well. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

Notes: I used 2 cans of Great Northern beans and 1 can of black beans, all rinsed and drained. I used 2 plum or roma tomatoes, and next time I’ll use more, probably to equal at least 1 cup. We garnished our soup with light sour cream and a blend of Mexican cheeses.

www.myrecipes.com from Cooking Light

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Microwave sweets

A friend seemed surprised Friday to find me shopping for stocking stuffers. He claimed it was too early for that. Not at my house!

I like to do my shopping early, plan ahead what I'm cooking for the holidays, and save time wherever I can. That includes cooking.

I've always been a fan of the slow cooker, and I used my very first tax refund check to buy a microwave oven. I made a lot of quick recipes in that first microwave and continue to take shortcuts, from melting chocolate to boiling water, in my microwave.

So why not use that same appliance for holiday treats? My go-to fudge is a very simple recipe made in the microwave oven, so it was no surprise that I was drawn to another microwave fudge recipe, this one for Super-Easy Rocky Road Fudge, found in Nestle's "Holiday Recipes" publication. The photograph alone, showing off the marshmallows and walnuts, was enough to convince me to give it a try.

As the name implies, this fudge is simple, requiring just a minute in the microwave followed by a little stirring. The only time-consuming step for me was cracking the walnuts. I know that was the hard way to get chopped walnuts, but they are so good freshly cracked.

When I poured this fudge into a baking dish to cool, I made sure to leave plenty of the chocolatey treat behind in the bowl so I could eat it still warm. It was heavenly, especially the bites with chocolate, nuts and marshmallows.

If you have kids at home, let them help you make this fudge.

But you might want to keep the kids out of the kitchen for microwave peanut brittle. The mixture is just too hot for little guys. In fact, you really need to think ahead with this recipe to make sure you are prepared to get the hot bowl out of the microwave oven.

I've never made a lot of peanut brittle. As I've said before, I don't like to make recipes that require a candy thermometer, but this one does not. The nut and sugar mixture cooks in the microwave for a total of 8 to 10 minutes until bubbly and brown. The unmistakable aroma from the microwave also signals it's time for peanut brittle! I found this recipe at allrecipes.com and read the many reviews. I'm glad I did. I followed recommendations and used a glass mixing bowl with a handle so I could safely remove the very hot bowl with very hot ingredients from the microwave. My microwave is above my stove, so it's even more important to remove this mixture carefully, using a reliable pot holder (which I have very few of!) My microwave oven cooks fast; I used the 6 minutes recommendation for the first cooking and about 2 1/2 after stirring.

I spread out the peanut brittle on a cookie sheet prepared with spray but wasn't careful enough to spread it evenly. Some parts of my peanut brittle were thicker than others, and a little chewier than I like. Next time I'll be more careful to spread it evenly and quickly.

I hope you'll consider this delicious recipes when you're planning your holiday goodies this year.

Microwave Oven Peanut Brittle
  • 1 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 pinch salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Grease a baking sheet or use cooking spray and set aside.

In a large glass bowl with a handle, combine peanuts, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Cook in microwave for 6 to 7 minutes on high; mixture should be bubbly and peanuts browned. (Bowl and ingredients will be very hot.) Stir in butter and vanilla; cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Quickly stir in baking soda, just until mixture is foamy. Pour immediately onto greased baking sheet and spread to consistent, thin layer. Let cool 15 minutes or until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.


Super-Easy Rocky Road Fudge
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Line 13- by-9-inch baking pan with foil; grease lightly.

Microwave morsels and sweetened condensed milk in large, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high, 100 percent, power for 1 minute; stir. Morsels may retain some of their original shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Stir in vanilla extract. Fold in marshmallows and nuts.

Press mixture into prepared baking pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into pieces.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Festive holiday dip

You might be surprised how I come up with ideas for this food column. Take this week's topic, for instance. It's the perfect example of putting the cart before the horse, as my daddy used to say.

I was shopping in the Kohl's home section recently, drooling over pots and pans I'd love to cook my dinners in and wishing I could replace my everyday china with something more colorful. And don't get me started on my desire to own more kitchen gadgets. But what really caught my eye was a collection of blue-tone dinnerware adorned with the cutest, chubby snowmen. I especially liked a small square bowl and immediately envisioned a pretty holiday photo for a future food column. Yes, I admit, I often buy plates and bowls and linens that I like and then plan a food column around the purchase.

As soon as I saw this pretty little bowl I knew I must do a dip recipe. Hostesses can't serve cookies and cake only at Christmas, right? (But don't fret; you'll see holiday sweets soon enough in this space!)

Back to the dip. My family enjoys dips at home, at parties or even restaurants. I don't make appetizers often, so it's a treat when we have something new to dip our chips or crackers or veggies into.

I really treated everyone last week with a new dip from Kraft Foods. I read many recipes featuring a favorite dip ingredient -- cream cheese -- before I settled on Red Pepper Cheese Dip.

It only takes a few minutes to mix this four-ingredient, delicious recipe. Let it chill for an hour or so, and it's ready to dip with snack crackers. I loved the flavor combination in this recipe, which reminded both me and my husband of pimiento cheese. The dip's color is a lovely shade of orange with pretty pieces of roasted red pepper and green chives to dress it up. Put the dip in a pretty bowl, and you have a festive addition to your party table.

We ate our dip for several days.

I must make another confession. While my turkey breasts were cooking Thanksgiving Day, getting nice and tender for our evening meal, I ate dip and pumpkin pie for lunch. A new tradition is born!

Red Pepper Cheese Dip
  • 1 container (8 oz.) whipped cream cheese spread
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 jar (7 oz.) roasted red peppers, drained, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen chives
  • Crackers
Mix cheeses, red peppers and chives until well blended; cover.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.

Serve as a dip with crackers.

Kraft Foods

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nuts and chocolate

What is it about Thanksgiving and pies? Pumpkin, apple, sweet potato and pecan pies share the spotlight with the cranberry sauce and turkey.

I suppose pies became a regular menu item for the big day because they're easy to make in advance. I know I always make my pumpkin pie on the night before Thanksgiving because that leaves ones less thing to do on a very busy day.

I usually make just one kind of pie for the relatively small gathering I cook for, and it's always pumpkin. And, I'll tell you a secret about my husband and me. We don't eat our pumpkin pie after our big Thanksgiving dinner, we either have it for breakfast or lunch on Thanksgiving Day, when we aren't stuffed with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes!

Many of you find a large spread of desserts at the Thanksgiving table, and if you've been asked to prepare a pie, maybe you'd like to take something new this year.

Last year I ran across a recipe for a mixed nut pie. It sounded so good, but I never got around to making it.

Whenever I find a new recipe to try, I either tear it from the pages of a magazine, make a photocopy of it or print it from a Web site. Then it goes into a three-ring binder where I either promptly forget it or it nags me until I try it. I remembered this nut pie all year, and every time I saw it when flipping through my binder, I thought about trying it.

Last week, I pulled out the recipe again and studied it. I also read similar recipes on the Internet, trying to decide if I really wanted to make it. The recipe is very similar to pecan pie, with a corn syrup and sugar base. I don't especially like pecan pie, I reasoned, so why would I want to use a cup of canned mixed nuts for a pie I wouldn't like?

So instead of making the pie I had craved for a year, I turned to an old reliable recipe for Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie -- my version of Derby Pie. This pie is a favorite dessert at my house and is so easy to assemble. I always have the ingredients on hand and often make it at the spur of the moment to treat my family.

I knew it would be just as delicious with a cup of mixed nuts added in, and it was. My family enjoyed this twist on a favorite recipe. I liked the different textures offered with peanuts, almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts. I left the cashews and peanuts whole but chopped the larger nuts.

This pie is especially good straight from the oven. But if that's not possible, put individual slices in the microwave for a few seconds to warm up the chocolate chips.

This was definitely a good change in a familiar recipe, perfect for a special occasion, but the original with pecans only is also hard to beat!

Nutty Chocolate Chip Pie
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup mixed nuts (I purchased a can that was labeled "lightly salted")*
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pie shell, unbaked
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter and let cool slightly.

Chop larger, harder nuts, such as Brazil nuts and almonds, into bite-size pieces. I left peanuts, cashews and pecans whole.

In a bowl, combine sugars and flour. Mix in eggs, then cooled butter. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips and vanilla extract. Stir until combined.

Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

*When I make this with chopped pecans only, I use 3/4 cup.

Season for cranberries

If you're like me, you're already thinking ahead to the annual Thanksgiving feast. The big day is just two weeks away, so those of us who are cooking had better be deciding on side dishes and pies and how to stuff the turkey.

My menu doesn't change much from year to year; my family isn't keen on change. But I have added a few new recipes from season to season and hope to continue to be flexible with my holiday meals.

My husband and I are the only two cranberry eaters at our house, and we both look forward to the congealed cranberry dish made with Jello, whole berry cranberry sauce and pecans that I make each year. The recipe is one my mother made often, not only for Thanksgiving but also whenever she made chicken casseroles. It's easy to make, and I love it not only with the main meal at Thanksgiving but the next day with my turkey sandwich.

That being said, I also love making relishes with fresh cranberries. I've made a few fresh relishes over the years and enjoy the novelty of cooking with the berries, which pop as they simmer in a saucepan.

Last week, I did some experimenting and made a relish with fresh cranberries, a tart apple and walnuts. It smelled so good as it cooked.

When I purchased the cranberries at my local grocery store, I noticed the bulk nuts were already on display, so I bought enough walnuts for this relish. I cracked those while the relish cooked and later mixed them into the cranberries along with the apple. I loved the way the apple chunks went from vivid white to a pretty shade of pink as I mixed the ingredients.

I let the relish cool until dinnertime, then served it alongside a pasta dish. It wasn't the side dish I would have chosen for a tomato-based pasta dish, but I was pleasantly surprised how good the two dishes were together. My husband couldn't get enough of this tart relish. He ate a bowlful and requested more. The same thing happened with the leftovers the next night.

This really is a delicious relish, especially if you like tart dishes. The different textures of the nuts, apples and cranberries are pleasing to the palate. And if this relish was good with a pasta dish, I can only imagine how good it will stack up with turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and dressing!

I found this recipe on the Web site for the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. The only change I made was to use apple juice instead of cranberry-apple juice because that's what I had in the refrigerator.

This dish can be made in less than 30 minutes on Thanksgiving Day or just as easily the day before and stored in the refrigerator.

Cranberry, Apple and Walnut Relish
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cranberry-apple juice (I used apple juice)
  • 1 pound (4 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 4 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples (about 1 pound)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Combine sugar, juice and cranberries in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until cranberries pop and mixture thickens.

Remove from heat. Stir in apples and walnuts. Spoon into bowl and cool. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Yields 4 cups.

Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

Helen's Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 (14 oz. can) whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 (3 oz.) package cherry Jello
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup pecans, cut up
  • Orange cut in bite-size pieces (optional)
Mix Jello and hot water. When Jello is dissolved, mix in cold water, cranberry sauce, nuts and orange. Chill. Stir while chilling to keep nuts from rising to the top.

Helen Boykin

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seasonal Flavors

If you cook with pumpkin, then you probably know there was a shortage last season. If you wanted a jar of Libby's pumpkin, you were more than likely out of luck unless you had a stash in your pantry.

The good news is, this year's pumpkin harvest was a good one and canned pumpkin is back on the grocery shelves, so feel free to start baking your favorite pumpkin breads!

Reading the news stories about this year's harvest made me hungry for pumpkin spiced with cloves and cinnamon and ginger.

I recently bought Cooking Light's Quick Baking publication at the grocery store checkout and was eager to try a few recipes. One of the recipes I marked was for Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins.

I've made several pumpkin muffin recipes over the years, most that include pecans, but none with cranberries. I love dried cranberries in other dishes -- especially on fresh salads -- so I was eager to try them in this recipe. Might as well use two seasonal ingredients in one recipe, right?

This is a basic recipe that takes only a few minute to mix up. You'll notice it's low in fat, using no butter and only 2 tablespoons of canola oil.

The baking muffins made the house smell so wonderful and made me eager for Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie!

This is a very moist and dense muffin. The spices make it the perfect mid-morning snack with hot tea. And I really like the tart flavor and the texture that the cranberries offer. And the cranberries add such a pretty red color to the orange muffins.

If you like pumpkin muffins, give this one a try!

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins was one of many recipes I marked in Cooking Light's Quick Baking. I've also tried Sweet and Salty Peanut Chocolate Chunk Cookies (very good) and I have on my short list of things to bake Orange Pecan Tea Bread, Fresh Apple Cupcakes with Almond Streusel, Fresh Tomato and Zucchini Tart with Mozzarella and Basil, and the recipe that intrigues me most, Cornmeal Buttermilk Biscuits. I have buttermilk in the fridge from my Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins, so I have extra incentive to make those biscuits!

Quick Baking, which costs $11.99, is only on display until Nov. 5. It would make a wonderful stocking stuffer for the cook in your life.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* (about 6 3/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped (such as Craisins)
Preheat oven to 375°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and next 5 ingredients (though cloves); stir well with a whisk.

Combine granulated sugar and next 5 ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Fold in cranberries.

Place 12 paper muffin cup liners in muffin cups; coat liners with cooking spray. Spoon batter into prepared cups. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pan immediately; place on a wire rack.

* I used self-rising flour and omitted the baking powder and salt.

Cooking Light

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Popcorn Balls

I've loved popcorn balls as far back as I can remember. A neighbor made them for trick-or-treat most years, and my sister and I never failed to make a stop at her house for one of her famous treats.

I've never wanted to make popcorn balls because the recipes all involved a candy thermometer. Nothing turns me off a recipe quicker than a note about how high the temperature must reach soft ball, hard ball, etc. I immediately turn the page of the cookbook and look for something else to cook.

But I was certainly not intimidated by marshmallow popcorn balls. Recipes for these seasonal treats are featured throughout my favorite Internet sites. They each varied a little bit, and some even include flavored Jello to add color and flavor. But rather than copy one of those recipes, I just read them all and made up my own recipe.

If you've ever made Rice Krispies Treats, then you can certainly make marshmallow popcorn balls because the process is very similar.

Rather than pop my corn on the stove, I used a bag of microwave popcorn. My favorite is Orville Redenbacher's Natural, Simply Salted, popcorn. There's no artificial butter flavor added to this particular product, so it's perfect for the popcorn balls.

Once the corn was popped, I spread it out on a large area I had covered with wax paper. With the popcorn spread out, it was easy to remove the unpopped kernels, which you do not want to include in your popcorn balls.

Next I cooked a bag of marshmallows, 4 tablespoons of butter and a º cup of brown sugar in the microwave for about 2 minutes, then stirred until the marshmallows were melted. I gradually added the popcorn to this marshmallow mixture, stirring as I worked, until I had almost used it all. Along the way, I mixed in some Halloween sprinkles that included chocolate jimmies that melted a little bit; that was OK with me. I had some of the marshmallow mixture left over, and I really wished I had about 1 to 2 cups more of the popcorn to work with. Next time I make this recipe, I will probably pop a second bag; we can just eat the popcorn that I don't use for the popcorn balls.

After everything was mixed in, I started forming the popcorn balls and placing them on the waxed paper. This is the tricky part because the mixture is so sticky and hard to work with, but I learned a good lesson. I mixed them the best I could, first using waxed paper as gloves and later buttering my hands a little. But I finally realized if I could just get the mixture divided into something that resembled balls, then I could easily go back and shape them like I wanted once they had cooled a little and were less sticky.

I added a few sprinkles to my finished popcorn balls for a festive touch.

I really enjoyed my Easy Marshmallow Popcorn Balls and so did others who tried them. I liked the crunch of the popcorn and the blend of salty popcorn with sweet, creamy marshmallows.

Easy Marshmallow Popcorn Balls
  • 1 bag of microwave popcorn*
  • 1 10 oz. bag marshmallows
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Sprinkles, if desired
Pop popcorn and spread out on waxed paper. Take out any unpopped kernels.

Place marshmallows, butter and brown sugar in large, microwave save bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir. If marshmallows haven’t melted, cook an additional 30 seconds or until melted. Stir to combine.

Mix in popcorn a little bit at a time, until it’s all incorporated with the marshmallow mixture. *Pop a little more popcorn if needed. Mix in sprinkles if desired.

Form mixture into balls and place on waxed paper. The mixture will be very sticky. Work with it the best you can, using waxed paper as “gloves” or buttering your hands. Form into loose balls, then go back after the balls have cooled and pack a little tighter.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Slow-cooked minestrone

Sometime back in the summer, I read a recipe for Slow-Cooker Minestrone in an issue of Cook's Country magazine.

I thought the recipe sounded delicious, as well as healthy, and I couldn't wait to try it. But I did wait because I didn't want to make the soup when the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees outside.

But the gorgeous fall weather last week inspired me to give it a try.

I've seen many recipes for the Italian soup over the years, with different vegetables and different processes. Like most minestrone recipes, this one has beans, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, chicken broth and a small pasta. This basic recipe was adapted for the slow cooker by Cook's Country writer Diane Unger. In the story that accompanies the recipe, she describes how she chose her beans, her greens and her pasta.

I did make a few changes in Unger's recipe. I cut back on the olive oil to saute the onions and carrots, used only four cloves of garlic instead of eight and about one cup of fresh basil leaves, which I cooked with the soup. I also omitted the red pepper flakes and used fresh spinach instead of chard and diced tomatoes instead of whole. I didn't add additional basil or olive oil at the end of the cooking process either.

This is not one of those recipes that allows you to throw everything into the slow cooker and let it cook. There's quite a bit of prep work and advance cooking, but it's worth the extra effort.

In Unger's recipe, the zucchini, chard and pasta cook in the slow cooker during the last 20 minutes of the cooking process. I got held up at work the day I made this and had my daughter turn off the slow cooker at the designated time. I've had trouble in recent months with food tasting scorched in my slow cooker and didn't want to overcook my soup. But when I got home, the soup was no longer simmering, so I knew the pasta wouldn't cook in 20 minutes. So I improvised. I cooked the pasta (I used ditalini) and the zucchini in separate pots on the stove and stirred the spinach into the hot soup. When the pasta and zucchini were cooked, I drained them and added them to the soup as well. Problem solved.

We loved this recipe, and I felt good about serving it to my family. The flavors combine for a delicious, Italian-style soup with a wonderful garlic/ basil flavor. The combination of textures with the ingredients is very appealing, and the shaved Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top just makes it even more delicious. And make sure you serve this with a loaf of crusty fresh bread.

This recipe makes a lot of soup. We froze as much as we ate, which is a good thing!

Slow-Cooker Minestrone
  • 1 cup dried medium-size white beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 6 tablespoons extra olive oil*
  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves chopped
  • 1/2 cup small soup pasta
  • Salt and pepper
COOK BEANS. Bring beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch to low boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are just beginning to soften, about 20 minutes. Drain beans and transfer to slow cooker.

SAUTE AROMATICS. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and carrots, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cook until pan is nearly dry, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in broth, water, 1/2 cup basil, oregano and pepper flakes and bring to boil. Transfer to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, 6 to 7 hours.

FINISH SOUP. Stir zucchini, chard and pasta into slow cooker and cook, covered, on high until pasta is tender, 20-30 minutes. Stir in remaining basil and remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Cook's Country

* I made several changes to this recipe when I prepared it. I cut back on the olive oil to sauté the onions and carrots, used only four cloves of garlic instead of eight and about 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, which I cooked with the soup. I also omitted the red pepper flakes and used fresh spinach instead of Swiss chard and diced tomatoes instead of whole. I didn't add additional basil leaves or olive oil at the end of the cooking process either. We sprinkled shaved Parmesan cheese on top of our hot soup.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chili Time

I'm determined to expand our weeknight dinner options at home and to continue to try new things. Towards that end, I made Quick Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili last week. Not only did I make it, I ate it!

I'm not much on Southwestern foods. I don't usually like salsa, not in the least bit, and my stomach and I aren't fans of spicy foods. So when I make tacos and such at my house, I normally pass.

But I had tried this chili last winter, and I really liked it. So did my family. My cousin Betty had brought it to our family after my mother's death. The chili was delivered in a slow cooker and was delicious. Over the course of the next two days, my family enjoyed it so much, especially my daughter, who scooped it up with chips.

Anna has mentioned it from time to time, and when it was cool and rainy last week, I decided it was a good time to try it and surprised her with it when she came home from school.

This is a very simple, very quick recipe -- two factors that make it a great weekday option.

The back-of-the-box recipe from Quaker features quick barley, something I've never cooked with.

I made only a few changes to this recipe. I didn't use no-salt tomatoes because the store was out of them, and I used a small can of corn instead of frozen corn.

I boiled a pound or so of chicken strips on the stove while I did the rest of the prep work for the chili. (A review I read on this recipe suggested using cooked ground chicken, which I'm sure would be a good substitute.)

When the chili is complete, it's not very thick and could easily be considered a soup. But as it sits, the liquid is absorbed by the barley, and it thickens.

I made this at lunchtime and put it in my slow cooker on low to keep it warm. By the time Anna was home from school, the chili had thickened, and she was able to eat it with chips, like a dip. Just the way she likes it.

I used mild salsa in my chili, and even I agreed it was too mild. I went back and added another 1/2 cup of medium salsa to spice it up a bit. So choose your salsa depending on your family's taste for saucy food!

This is definitely a healthy recipe. Cooked as prepared, according to Quaker, it has 210 calories, with a total of 2 fat grams, sodium at 250 and dietary fiber at 6 g and protein at 19.

Quick Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, no salt added, undrained
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) fat-free chicken broth
  • 1 cup quick barley
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn (I used canned corn.)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 3 cups cooked chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds boneless before cooking)
In 6-qt saucepan, combine first seven ingredients. Over high heat bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans, corn, pepper and chicken; increase heat to high until chili comes to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for another 5 minutes, or until barley is tender. If upon standing the chili becomes too thick, add more chicken broth or water until chili is desired consistency.

Yields 10 cups

Quaker Oats Company

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zucchini Bread

I've only recently started cooking with zucchini. My mother never cooked with zucchini, probably because Daddy didn't grow it in the garden, so I never did either.

But last year, my brother-in-law, Billy, gave us an enormous supply of the green squash and I used it in several recipes from soups to casseroles.

This year, when he gave us another huge batch of both yellow squash and zucchini, I decided to try something new.

With one of the way oversized zucchinis, I made zucchini bread last week.

I had only had zucchini bread once before. Someone offered me a slice, I tried it and did not like it. Not one bit. So I never tried it again.

But many people love zucchini bread, so I decided to give it a try with my own recipe.

I first looked at recipes online and ended up drastically altering a recipe from Paula Deen's Web site. I cut the sugar, added brown sugar and used 1 cup of whole wheat flour, for starters.

Because I had never made zucchini bread before, I had to ask a co-worker if I was supposed to peel it before grating; she told me no. But I do remember reading a recipe review that said the cook had peeled her zucchini so her grandson wouldn't see the green flecks in the bread and she could continue referring to it as cinnamon bread! Oh the things we do to get our kids to eat vegetables.

I didn't peel my zucchini before grating, and I loved the bright green flecks in my lovely bread, tinted slightly a lovely shade of brown from the brown sugar and wheat flour.

I wasn't sure how the bread would go over at my house, but I was happy that my husband loved it as much as I did. We both enjoyed it for breakfast several days.

If the idea of zucchini in a quick bread doesn't appeal to you, please think again. There's nothing yucky about this bread, only a lot of yum!

Zucchini Bread
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugars.

In another bowl, mix oil, eggs, water and zucchini. Combine the two mixtures and fold in nuts.

Pour into 2 prepared loaf pans and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sweet and Salty

If you watch the Food Network or read any food magazines, you have more than likely heard of fleur de sel, or French sea salt. The literal translation is flower of the sea.

Over the last year or so, celebrity chefs I follow have been making desserts that combine both sweet and salty, using fleur de sel. I love the combination of chocolate and salt, especially in the form or chocolate dipped pretzels, so the idea has always intrigued me.

I've seen numerous recipes for fleur de sel caramels and even bought some at a gourmet cooking store. The caramels were delicious.

I hadn't really planned on trying these recipes or even purchasing expensive fleur de sel, which is abundant on the Internet by the way, but some fell into my lap, so to speak. My sister and her family were in France this year and brought me a pretty little jar filled with the delicate, hand-harvested fleur de sel.

I thought I would make caramels, probably using the recipe I watched Ina Garten make on her Food Network show. But one day, while reading some food blogs, I stumbled across Salted Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies at Annie's Eats. The cookies looked delicious, and I had the ingredients on hand, so I made them.

The recipe is simple and straight-forward and mixes up quickly. As soon as the cookies started baking, my house smelled like a chocolate shop! I loved it.

I was unsure of adding the salt to the top of my beautiful cookies, so I only sprinkled it on a few, and I tried to be light-handed. Maybe I sprinkled too much, I don't know, but I thought they were a little too salty. But after I brushed off part of the salt, I enjoyed my cookies. But I'll be honest, I enjoyed the ones without the salt on top even more.

If you're curious about fleur de sel, like I was, give this recipe a try and see how you like it. Just go easy on the salt. But if you'd just like a good chocolate cookie recipe, try this one and omit the salt on top.

Salted Double Chocolate Cookies

Yield: About 24 cookies

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. fleur de sel (sea salt), plus more for sprinkling*
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the 8 ounces chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl and cook for 30 seconds. Stir. If chips aren’t completely melted, cook another 15 seconds.

In another mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 4-5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the melted chocolate mixture, blending until incorporated.

Add in the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in the remaining chocolate chips with a spatula. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2-3 inches apart or use a dough scoop.
Bake until the cookies are just slightly soft in the center and crackly on top, about 10-12 minutes.

Sprinkle lightly with additional salt if desired and let cool on the baking sheets 10 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*If you don’t have fleur de sel aren’t planning to use salt for the top of your cookies, it’s fine to omit the salt and baking powder from the recipe and use self-rising flour instead.

Adapted from annies-eats.com

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Add a little GREEN

It's been four years since I shared my sister's version of Chicken Tetrazzini in this column, and now I'm pleased to give you Susan's latest version of the dish.

In the 2006 column, I told the story of how Susan first tried the recipe when a neighbor in Silver Spring, Md., brought over the dish after the birth of Susan's first daughter. Susan got the recipe from her neighbor and eventually adapted it, coming up with her own homemade sauce to replace the can of cream of chicken soup the original recipe called for.

I've made Susan's version of Chicken Tetrazzini many times for my family because they like it so much. And I know my readers made it, too, because so many of you e-mailed me or stopped me at the grocery story to tell me how much your family loved it.

Well, dear readers, Susan's newest version of this recipe is even healthier!

While our mother was sick earlier this past winter, Susan and her girls visited often, and many times, she would come with food for her and the girls because we knew we wouldn't have time to cook during her visits. During one of the weekend stays, Susan brought some frozen, individual servings of her Chicken Tetrazzini Florentine, made with spinach, as the name suggests, and whole wheat spaghetti. One of the servings didn't get eaten, so she left it behind for me.

I let it sit in my freezer for several weeks mostly because I wasn't sure if I'd like the change. But when I finally tried it, I was pleasantly surprised and actually craved it a few weeks later. So earlier this summer, I made Chicken Tetrazzini according to Susan's old recipe, but I used whole wheat spaghetti. I poured half of the prepared recipe in a small casserole dish, and to the other half, I added a half box of cooked and drained spinach. I made it both ways because I was pretty sure my children wouldn't try it if they saw green stuff in the tetrazzina. I was right, of course.

I made the tetrazzina again Sunday morning. I had cooked the chicken the day before in my slow cooker. This time I made a double recipe. I made the first the traditional way, but using whole wheat spaghetti; the second was made with whole wheat spaghetti also and spinach. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the florentine version when we got back from church. We each had a congealed fruit salad as our side dish.

So now I have lots and lots of Chicken Tetrazzina and Chicken Tetrazzini Florentine left in my refrigerator. I plan to follow my sister's lead and divide it by serving size, wrap it up and freeze it.

Chicken Tetrazzini
  • 8 oz. box whole wheat spaghetti or linguine, cooked and drained
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 can heated chicken broth (I use reduced-fat, reduced-sodium)
  • 1 1/2 cups heated milk (skim or 1 percent OK)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese or a blend
  • 3 cups cooked, diced chicken breast*
  • 1 10 oz. package frozen spinach, cooked and drained or squeezed to remove excess water
  • Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Start spaghetti cooking while you prepare this recipe. Break spaghetti roughly into thirds before dropping into boiling water.

Melt butter in large pan. Stir in flour and cook over medium heat 1 minute, whisking constantly to avoid sticking. Slowly whisk in chicken broth and milk (I heat together first in microwave in 4-cup Pyrex bowl for 4-5 minutes). Cook and stir until slightly thickened. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in cheese until melted. Remove from heat. Add chicken, cooked spaghetti and spinach; stir to combine.

Pour and smooth in 9X13-inch baking dish. Top liberally with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until heated through and lightly browned on top.

Can be frozen before baking; in fact, I often make a double recipe so I can freeze a second meal. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator overnight before baking, for best results. Also good with turkey.

*I cook boneless chicken breasts in the slow cooker. Just sprinkle a little (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) dry Italian dressing mix over chicken and add about a 1/4 cup of water. Let cook on low about 5 hours or until cooked through. The chicken will be very tender if cooked this way.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Boiled Peanuts

About this time of year, my family starts looking in the classified section of the newspaper and just asking around to see who has freshly-dug peanuts for sale.

We love to make boiled peanuts a few times each fall.

If you've never made your own boiled peanuts, it's very easy. Your house will smell like boiled peanuts for a few days, but we think it's worth it!

Boiled Peanuts
  • 5-6 pounds freshly-dug peanuts in shell
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • Water
Wash peanuts to get off remaining dirt. Place in large pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil. This might take as long as 30 minutes. Let boil for an hour. Occasionally stir peanuts, and add water if needed. After an hour, turn off heat and let sit for about 3 hours to let salt soak in.

Drain water and store peanuts in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Packing Lunch

A lot of sandwiches were packed up this morning and sent to school alongside a bag of chips and a cookie or two.

If you have children, odds are good you've packed a few lunches, either as a regular thing or just for a change of pace from the school lunchroom food.

I know I've packed my share of sandwiches, from bologna and cheese to peanut butter.

The first week or so, it's not so bad. But as the months go by, the child gets tired of eating the same ham sandwich, and who can blame him?

There are many ways to spice up a child's lunch box and many opportunities to work in nutritious meals.

One of the most important things is to ask the child what sounds good to him. What are the other kids taking that looks appealing? Are you willing to try something new?

If you're lucky, and you don't have a picky eater at home, there are plenty of options for some delicious and healthy lunches this school year.

* For starters, be creative with the breads you use for sandwiches. Whole-grain is preferred; if your child had rather have white bread, choose a white whole wheat option. We've bought several of these at my house, and we all like them.

If white bread isn't a necessity, then send lunch on different breads. Peanut butter is delicious on a bagel, either the full size or the newer thin-sliced bagels.

At my house, it's a big treat to have pimiento cheese on sunflower bread from our grocery store bakery; if the sandwich has been grilled first, it's a bigger treat. And yes, the grilled pimiento cheese sandwich is good cold.

And don't forget pita pockets, tortillas or sandwich wraps. Spread a little mayonnaise or mustard on a small tortilla, layer turkey and cheese and roll it up. There are so many options for sandwich wraps. A little dried tomato and lettuce will dress up a sandwich, so would a different cheese, such as swiss or mozzarella.

* Every now and then, forget the bread. Fill one small zippered bag with crackers, another with cheese squares or cubes and a third with some meat. You can choose pieces of bologna, ham, turkey or even slices of pepperoni (I buy turkey pepperoni). Chicken salad and ham salad are also good on crackers. When lunch comes, the child can make his own cracker sandwiches.

Another fun option is hummus with whole grain crackers or pita chips. Put the hummus in a small plastic container with the crackers in a separate bag. It's easy for the child to dip the crackers into the hummus for a change of pace.

* Hummus makes a nice dip for carrot sticks as well. If your child doesn't like hummus, pack a little of his favorite low-fat salad dressing to dip the carrots or celery in.

* Fruit is always a lunch box favorite, but don't limit the choice to an apple or a banana.

Strawberries are delicious for lunch, but be sure to wash them and take off the stem to make it easier for the child to eat. If it requires extra work, many kids will not make the effort.

A sandwich bag full of crunchy grapes is also a good option.

Peeled and sectioned clementines are one of my favorites for my own lunch. Clementines have no seeds unlike a tangerine, so they are especially child-friendly.

Keep individual-size containers of fruit such as peaches and pears or even applesauce on hand for those occasions when you don't have fresh fruit in the house.

* Most kids want chips with their lunch. If you want a healthier option, check out the many baked chips on the market now or pack a bag of pretzels.

*If you have a small thermos, make a bowl of soup in the morning or a box of your child's favorite macaroni and cheese. Spiral pasta mixed with your homemade spaghetti sauce would also be a nice treat for lunch.

If your child loves pasta salad, pack it in the thermos, but don't forget the fork! I've included a new pasta salad recipe I've made a few times this summer. I love it for lunch.

* Some kids expect a sweet treat in their lunch box. If you're worried about packing high-fat cookies each day, look for healthier options, such as graham crackers, or make your own treats, knowing you can control the ingredients.

* If you've packed items such as sandwiches made with meats and mayonnaise, pimiento cheese, chicken or ham salad, hummus or salad dressing (or anything else perishable), be sure to include a refrigerator pack or a frozen juice box in your child's lunch box to keep the food cool until it's time to eat

Honey Mustard Pasta Salad
  • 1 lb. box tri-color pasta twists or whole wheat pasta twists
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups honey mustard salad dressing (I used Paul Newman’s Own Light Honey Mustard)
  • Any of your favorite mix-ins including yellow, green or red bell peppers; cucumbers; and carrots
Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse. Pour into large bowl and mix with 1 to 1 1/2 cups dressing. Stir in vegetables. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Snack bars loaded with favorite flavors

Several years ago, my husband and I started eating a lot of breakfast bars or granola bars.

During our weekly shopping trip, we always stop for a few minutes on the cereal aisle just to check out the latest offering of granola and fruit bars. There are so many on the market now that it's hard to keep up with all the new products. There are bars made from packaged cereals, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate.

Reggie and I particularly like the peanut butter varieties or anything with a lot of nuts, including almonds and sunflower seeds. I keep a stash of these breakfast bars in my desk drawer at work and will often have one for a mid-morning snack. It's a treat to pull out a granola bar filled with crunchy almonds!

But I like making my own treats, too.

Last week, I tried to think of some recipes that would be good for back-to-school, whether it be breakfast, snack or lunch for students or teachers. I searched the Internet for some ideas on breakfast bars and came upon a wonderful recipe that is totally versatile and can be tailored to your taste.

The recipe doesn't require baking, but you do need to heat the peanut butter/ honey/ brown sugar mixture on the stove.

The next step is up to you. The recipe calls for five cups of dry cereal, your choice, and a half to one cup (or more) of add-ins such as dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chips.

I made my first batch Sunday before moving my son back to college. I wanted him to try them.

I chose chunky peanut butter, five cups of Rice Krispies and a half cup of chocolate chips.

The recipe I used as a guideline said to boil the peanut butter mixture, but my ingredients got hot way to fast and started to stick and burn, so I turned down the heat, picked out the little burned pieces, and opted not to let the mixture boil. I let it cook until it was thinned out. The next time I made it, I let the mixture start to bubble; the bars turned out too hard to even cut.

Follow the directions on this one, and stir constantly. Use a non-stick pan if you have one. If you've ever made Rice Krispies Treats, you know what marshmallow/ butter mixture looks like after it's cooked. Go for a similar consistency.

I added the chocolate chips after stirring in the cereal. The mixture was still very warm, and the chocolate chips melted quickly. I only added 1âÑ2 cup of chocolate chips, but it looks like so much more because the chips melted. (That's a good thing in my book!)

The breakfast bars don't hold together at first. But once they've cooled enough to touch, press down the mixture firmly into the pan, or use a piece of waxed paper to press down if the bars are too hot to touch. Once they have cooled, they should firm up nicely.

I think the end result was awesome. I loved the taste and the texture of the peanuts and cereal, and so did my family. And, of course, the chocolate added a nice touch. The cut bars are also pretty, revealing a nice pattern of peanut butter/ honey mixed with the cereal.

I keep imagining new combinations for this recipe. I want to make it with two cups of oatmeal and three cups of Rice Krispies, and I want to try it with granola and maybe dried fruit. I'm sure Cheerios would be good, too.

I had a bar for my mid-morning snack today. I loved the chewy texture and the peanut butter flavor with the slight taste of honey. This recipe is most definitely a keeper and would be a great treat for those of you going back to school.

Peanut Butter Honey Breakfast Bars
  • 1 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter*
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Combine peanut butter, honey and brown sugar in saucepan. Warm over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thins and is very hot. Be careful not to let it stick to the pan or get too hot. Remove from heat, add in cereal, then mix in chocolate chips. Pour into square baking dish. Press down mixture firmly with a buttered spatula or waxed paper.

*Adapted from cooks.com

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Remembering Cathy

My cousin Cathy should be turning 50 Wednesday, but she won’t.
I should be calling to tease her about being so old, but I can’t.
Our dear Cathy is gone.
Cathy died Jan. 21. It was out-of-the blue, completely unexpected. We were totally unprepared. But who is ever prepared to lose someone you love? Someone who was busy at a work event one evening and found dead in her hotel room the next morning? How does anyone know what’s lurking inside them and what’s coming next?
Cathy was a rock to her family. She was our Boykin family planner. The cousin who remembered birthdays and sent cards. Her Christmas card was always one of the prettiest ones I displayed. She was still sending them years after I stopped the practice.
She was the cousin who bought special gifts. She gave my granddaughter, Sora, a dainty layette set when she was born. Sora wore it to my daddy’s funeral.
Cathy was so devoted to her family; I learned a lot from her. Once, she told me she’d been criticized for being too involved with her parents, who had numerous doctor visits and hospital stays. But she ignored the criticisms and stayed by their side whenever they needed her, keeping a close eye on the medical staff caring for them. She was a hawk and loved her parents with a intensity and a sense of devotion that few children have. She also knew how much we all cared about what was going when her parents were sick, and she’d send us wonderful e-mails to keep us in touch.
Her mother, my Aunt Nellie Rose, died about two years ago. It was so hard on Cathy, who had no children of her own, but was a tender and loving caregiver to her mom and dad. We talked about it a lot.
My own parents were very ill at the time, and she helped me cope. She’d call or e-mail to check on me and to ask about Aunt Helen and Uncle H. Her phone calls always began with, “This is your cousin Cathy!”
Cathy headed straight to Wilson when she heard Daddy had died, just a few months after her mama’s passing. She guided me through the process and made sure Susan and I were safely tucked in the kitchen and out of sight when the funeral home came to pick up my daddy. She didn’t want us to see him leaving the house for the last time.
A few days later, at the funeral, Cathy arrived at the church with N.C. State tissues, a thoughtful tribute to Daddy, who loved the Wolfpack.
After Daddy died, she shared her own troubles dealing with her mother’s loss and helped me realize what I was experiencing was normal.
Not only was Cathy devoted to her husband and immediate family of parents, sisters, nieces and a nephew, she also helped take care of our aging Aunt Alice, who now lives in an assisted care facility in Wilson. She and our cousin Nancy would often meet to take Aunt Alice shopping for clothes or to K&W Cafeteria for lunch. They also had a standing date twice a year to change out Aunt Alice’s clothes to prepare for the next season. It was all about responsibility and dedication for Cathy.
I try to dwell on our younger, carefree years when I think of Cathy and the fun times we had as adults.
I remember all the Boykin cousins playing at our grandparents’ home in Rock Ridge. I grin when I think how Cathy and I got a strange pleasure in leaving our younger siblings, Betsy and Susan, out of our playtimes. I know, it was mean, but we were kids.
I remember the Fridays Daddy dropped me off at the Lassiter household to play with Debbie, Cathy and Betsy all day while he worked in the office in Raleigh. It was such a treat to play with those girls.
And I fondly recall the dinners I shared with Cathy and Nancy at Beefmastor. Cathy insisted on paying every time we went out. She said we had expenses she didn’t have and to please let her treat us. She wouldn’t even let us pay the tip.
Cathy was special to all of our family, and the band of cousins will never be the same without her. But we’ll remember her as the cousin who loved N.C. State sports, who married sweet Bob Voron in a beautiful rose garden ceremony, who loved her family, who flew to cool destinations with her job, who helped me book my first airline flight in 25 years, who helped her grieving daddy, our Uncle Jimmy, deal with the loss of his beloved wife.
We’ll remember Cathy loved her dog Moocher, and she loved us. She was as good a cousin as any girl could ask for.
The last time I had communication with Cathy was just a few days before she died. Mama had fallen and fractured her pelvis and was moved to the palliative care unit at Wilson Medical Center. When Cathy returned from her business trip, she wanted to come see Aunt Alice and Aunt Helen.
I often read that email, dated Jan. 18, when I think of Cathy. Her compassion is summed up in this one correspondence:
“Oh Lisa,
How horrible for your Mom. I can't stand this — just when you think she might be turning the corner for the better, more catastrophe. How are you holding up — I know you are exhausted. Please let me know how you all are doing, and if I can help in anyway. I was planning to visit Aunt Alice on Saturday, so I could sit with your Mom if you need me.”
You don't know how much I wish she could have made that visit

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bow Tie Lasagna

Rachael Ray hit a chord with today's cooks when she started promoting 30-minute meals.

So many of us work outside the home during the week and don't have time to monitor the oven while a roast cooks or spend 20 to 30 minutes chopping, dicing, browning and mixing a casserole before letting it cook another 30-45 minutes. Instead, we want recipes that are quick, but we want them to be good.

I'm always looking for a good, satisfying meal that I can put on the table quickly when I get home from work.

A few weeks ago, I ran across a recipe for Bow Tie Lasagna on the hugely popular Web site, www.thepioneerwoman.com. The recipe is featured on Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond's sister site, Tasty Kitchen. Ree tagged this recipe a 16-minute meal, and, you know what, you really can make it that quickly or at least close to that!

The trick, of course, is to be organized. Don't do your shopping on the way home from work. Have the ingredients at home. Often, I'll place non-perishable recipe items for the night's meal on the kitchen counter during my lunch break or even the night before. I also leave the printed recipe on the counter so I don't have to hunt for it when I get home from work. And I work in advance as often as I can. For instance, my husband and I have gotten in the habit of washing and tearing lettuce and storing it in a zippered bag so when we're preparing weeknight meals and want a fresh salad, all we have to do is taking the bag of lettuce from the refrigerator. We add a tomato and bell pepper from our garden and have a quick, fresh salad.

Anyway, back to the lasagna dish.

I've made this recipe three times now and find it very simple to prepare: Start the water boiling for the pasta, then brown the beef while the bow ties cook. Once the pasta and ground beef are ready, it's only a matter of mixing the ingredients together and letting the cheese melt.

Serve the dish with a fresh salad and a loaf of bread. I often splurge on my breads and try any number of options from the bakery at the grocery store.

This dish is no ways as heavy as a regular lasagna recipe that uses much more cheese. It only calls for 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup sour cream.

My family really enjoyed this simple dish and frowned when I made it the second time because I was making it for someone else's family and not for them!

I think one reason we liked it so much was the pasta sauce. Instead of using my old standby brand and flavor, which I still love, I bought an entirely new pasta sauce, Paul Newman's Sockaroni, which gave the entire dish a different flavor.

We had leftovers when I made this dish for my family. I really enjoyed them warmed over for lunch the next day. Again, no heavy meat and cheese dish, just a nice change from the regular fare.

I feel certain I will keep this recipe as a regular in my family's meal rotation. I might even try it with ground turkey next time.

Bow Tie Lasagna
  • 1 pound ground chuck*
  • 5 cups bow tie noodles (cooked)
  • 3 cups spaghetti sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
Cook ground beef in small pan. Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.

After noodles are cooked, drain and drizzle with olive oil. Mix in spaghetti sauce. Add cooked beef, seasonings, cheese and sour cream. Fold together and allow it all to combine and melt, over low heat, for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Tasty Kitchen

* I made a few changes. I used lean ground beef, oregano instead of Italian Seasoning and reduced fat sour cream. I cooked my beef in a large skillet and mixed the other ingredients in the skillet instead of the pasta pot; it was tight fit! I cooked the entire package of bow ties and had enough left over for a small pasta salad.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grape Tomatoes Galore

Overflowing. The vines and now our kitchen bowls and countertop have been overflowing with grape tomatoes this summer.

Unlike their larger counterparts that grow one row over in our raised bed gardens, the grape tomatoes are not smaller and cracking open thanks to the hot, dry summer. They are bright red and plump.

So, what do you do with quart after quart of bite-size tomatoes?

My husband and I have eaten our fair share in salads this summer, but, honestly, I'd much prefer a slice of a vine-ripened, larger tomatoes for a salad if one's available.

So that sent me looking for new ways to use our grape tomatoes.

The first thing I made was a very simple bruschetta from Rachael Ray on the Food Network Web site. Although recipes for the easy Italian appetizer don't mention using grape tomatoes, they are perfect for this before-dinner treat. Grape tomatoes aren't too juicy, and they are easily cut into cubes without really losing their shape. And, to make it even better, I was able to use fresh basil, which is also growing in my backyard. That means all I had to buy for the bruschetta was a small loaf of Italian bread because I already had garlic on hand.

Reggie and I ate so much bruschetta the first time I made it that we almost forgot to eat the main course!

Even after making bruschetta a few times, plenty of grape tomatoes were left sitting on my countertop. So I went back to my search for new recipes. I really wasn't looking for a soup recipe. It's much too hot for soup, right? Turns out I was wrong, this tomato-based soup is so smooth, light and delicious that it was actually a wonderful treat for a hot Sunday night meal with my sister, Susan, and her girls.

The recipe is Roasted Grape Tomato, Corn and Pasta Ribbon Soup. I found it online at www.muellerspasta.com.

Once I saw that the grape tomatoes and corn are roasted along with garlic, I knew I had to make it. One of my favorite new recipes from last summer starts with a variety of roasted vegetables, including grape tomatoes. I love roasting vegetables and knew the addition of fresh corn, which we had purchased at the farmers market, would make a delicious combination.

The recipe isn't complicated. It takes a little time to cook because the tomatoes must roast for a half hour.

The recipe suggests pouring the soup into a blender to puree. Instead, I used my immersion blender. My immersion blender doesn't do as smooth a job blending, but it was perfect for this soup, I thought, because although the base was smooth, it left a few pieces of corn and tomato, adding a nice texture to the dish.

I made several changes to the recipe. The original recipe said to roast the fresh rosemary with the vegetables. I don't like rosemary very much, neither does Susan, as it turns out, so I left it out. I've never found a vegetable broth I particularly like, so I used low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth. I also omitted the balsamic vinegar and black pepper, because we liked the way the soup tasted without those ingredients. My husband did add apple cider vinegar to his soup and said it was a very good addition.

We never found the specific pasta called for in the recipe, whole grain wide pasta ribbons. Instead, Susan picked up another whole grain fettucine. Really, any pasta would work. Next time I make it, I'll pick a small, whole grain pasta.

I have so many grape tomatoes on hand right now, that I'm going to make a double batch of the soup this week for the freezer. I'll omit the pasta for now but will add it when I'm ready to eat it.

Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
  • 1/2 baguette or crusty long loaf bread, sliced (12 pieces)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, cracked away from skin
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 3 small plum tomatoes, halved and seeded (I used grape tomatoes)
  • 20 fresh basil leaves (I didn’t use that many)
  • Coarse salt
Preheat broiler to high, (if you prefer you can also grill the bread). Place bread slices on a broiler pan. Char bread on each side under hot broiler, keep an eye on it. Rub toasts with cracked garlic and drizzle with oil. Chop seeded tomatoes and place in a small bowl. Pile basil leaves on top of one another and roll into a log. Thinly slice basil into green confetti and loosely combine with tomatoes. Add a drizzle of oil and a little coarse salt to the bowl and gently toss tomatoes and basil to coat. Pile toasts around the bowl of topping. Place a spoon to scoop topping in bowl and serve.

Rachael Ray

Roasted Grape Tomato and Corn Ribbon Soup
  • 6 oz. whole grain pasta (fettucine or small pasta should work fine)
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cups low-sodium, low-fat chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh, optional
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine grape tomatoes, corn and garlic. Toss with olive oil. Pour onto baking sheet, prepared with olive oil or covered with parchment paper. Roast in oven for 30 minutes. Tomatoes will start to split. Let cool slightly. Mash garlic with a fork.

Spoon vegetables into large stock pot and add 1 cup of chicken broth. Blend with immersion blender until desired consistency. (You can also use a blender.) I like to leave a few pieces of vegetables, but leave most of the soup smooth.

Add remaining stock and bring to a boil.

Stir in pasta and simmer until pasta is tender but firm, following cooking times on package.

Garnish with basil and pepper if desired.

* The original recipe from Muellers roasts 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary with the vegetables, uses vegetable stock instead of chicken broth and mixes in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the finished product before pouring into soup bowls.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't heat up the kitchen

I love my slow cooker in the winter because it's always handy for soups and stews and roasts and everything that tastes good when it's cold outside. But I also love it in the summer because it keeps my kitchen cool while at the same time cooking my dinner!

For supper Monday, my family had a deliciously tender turkey breast, thanks to the miracle of a slow cooker. I cook a turkey breast this way quite often because I love the leftovers. The first night, I make hot turkey sandwiches or just serve the turkey with a few side dishes. During the week I make turkey salad at lunch, and by Wednesday or Thursday, we're ready for shredded turkey simmered in my homemade barbecue sauce.

But on Friday night, we dined on Sloppy Joes that cooked only four hours in a slow cooker. Once again, my kitchen didn't have to be heated up.

The Sloppy Joe recipe is one I found online at myrecipes.com. It was originally published in Southern Living three years ago. The recipe had a number of favorable reviews, so I decided to try it, making only a few changes.

This recipe uses not only ground beef but sausage as well. I don't use pork sausage very often, so I substituted turkey sausage. I also cut the brown sugar from 1/4 cup to 2 tablespoons, and, because I'm not a big fan, I used just a teaspoon of chili powder instead of a tablespoon.

I turned the slow cooker to low on the last hour of cooking and would probably cook it on low the entire time the next time I make it, but I seem to think my slow cooker cooks a little too hot. If you're home, just keep an eye on it.

This recipe yields a very thick, very tasty Sloppy Joe. We thought it was very good. My husband had seconds and ate another sandwich for lunch the next day. My son, Robert, sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on his and said it was a good addition.

Robert goes back to college in a few weeks. He asked me over the weekend if I could make some of his favorite foods before he leaves. He said I'd been needing my Crockpot! I've included some of his favorites that would work well in this hot summer weather.

Slow-cooker Sloppy Joes
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 (16-oz.) package ground pork sausage*
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 hamburger buns, toasted
Brown beef and sausage with onion and bell pepper in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring 10 minutes or until beef and sausage crumble and are no longer pink. Drain well.

Place beef mixture in a 4 1/2-quart slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce and next 9 ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 hours. Serve on hamburger buns.

Cooktop Method: Proceed with recipe as directed in Step 1, returning drained beef mixture to Dutch oven. Stir in tomato sauce and next 8 ingredients, omitting flour. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Prep: 15 min., Cook: 45 min.

Note: To freeze leftover Sloppy Joe mixture, let cool completely. Place in zip-top plastic freezer bags; lay bags flat, and stack in freezer. Freeze up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the fridge, or defrost in the microwave.

Mandy Fugate, Orange City, Florida, Southern Living, April 2007

*Note: I used turkey sausage, and cut brown sugar to 2 tablespoons and chili powder to 1 teaspoon.

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
  • 8 oz. box (2 cups) elbow macaroni (uncooked)
  • 8 oz. light Velveeta, cut into cubes*
  • 4 cups milk (I used 1 percent.)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Pour all ingredients into slow cooker and mix until combined. (I use a disposable, slow cooker liner to make for a very easy clean up. They are sold on the aisle with oven cooking bags.)

For best results, cook on low for 3 hours and high for 1 hour. If possible, mix every hour to keep from sticking. If you won’t be at home while it cooks, it will do fine without stirring and cooked on low for maybe 5 hours. I used to cook this on high for 4 hours but found it works best cooking slower.

* When I cannot find an 8 oz. light Velveeta. I cut the 16 oz. in half and save the other half for up to several weeks in the refrigerator.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast
  • Thawed turkey breast (make sure it’s a size that will fit your slow cooker*)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Place turkey breast in slow cooker. Be sure to remove the giblet or turkey bag if there is one. Do not add water to the slow cooker; it will make plenty of broth, I promise. Cook on low all day, around 8 hours. Don’t open lid while cooking.

*If the turkey breast is a little bit too tall and the lid won’t completely close when you place it in your slow cooker, don’t be too worried. When the breast starts to cook, it will shrink, and the lid will close.

Dilly Beef Sandwiches
  • 1 boneless beef chuck roast or beef bottom round (3 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 jar (16 ozs.) whole dill pickles, undrained
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I omitted)
  • 10 to 12 hamburger rolls, split
Cut roast in half and place in a slow cooker. Add pickles with juice, chili sauce* and garlic. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or until beef is tender. Discard pickles. Remove roast.
When cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Return to the sauce and heat through. Using a slotted spoon, fill each bun with about 1/2 cup meat mixture.

Yields 10 to 12 servings.

*Note: You will find the chili sauce near the ketchup in your grocery store.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sweet way to enjoy fruit

One of the nicest things about going to someone's house to eat is trying a new recipe. Eating someone else's baked beans. Enjoying someone else's potato salad. Don't you agree?

On July 4, my family and I had a wonderful dinner at the home of my cousin Martha Cayton and her husband, John.

Some of us swam in the pool, some of us sat by the pool and enjoyed the conversation, but we all ate heartily.

One of the highlights of the evening was Martha's dessert: a fruit pizza. She had told me she was making it, and I had looked forward to it for days. I've seen several versions of this dish and couldn't wait to see how Martha made it.

We all loved the fruit pizza. It was a delicious and light dessert for a hot summer day.

Martha used a very simple recipe, which I also made over the weekend.

The crust is a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. I made my "pizza" in a disposable pizza pan and was able to easily make it stretch to cover the entire pan. The dough had gotten very soft in my hot kitchen, though, so if you have trouble pressing it to fit the pan, let the dough get to room temperature and use your fingers to stretch it out across the pan.

There are several steps to this recipe, so you have to think ahead to get them all done.

While the cookie was baking, I prepped my fruit, except for the peaches. I was afraid they would turn brown so I waited to cut them just before putting them on the dessert. I also used strawberries, blueberries and kiwi. This was the first time I had used kiwi. I looked online for suggestions on peeling it. I followed the directions I found and cut 1/4 inch from each end of the fruit and gently inserted a teaspoon between the green fruit and the brown skin. I ran my spoon around the fruit to make a complete circle. Then I was able to pop out the green fruit, which was ready to be sliced. Martha used the same fruit on hers but said she has also made it with bananas and fresh pineapple.

I also made the cream cheese filling and started the citrus glaze while the cookie cooked and cooled. (Carefully watch the cookie as it bakes; you don't want to overbake it and make the crust too hard.)

By the time the cookie had cooled, I was ready to assemble my dessert.

You should think in advance how you want to arrange the fruit on your pizza. Martha arranged her fruit in a circular pattern, and I did the same thing. I cut too much fruit but used it all anyway by layering the strawberries and blueberries for my final and largest circle.

Applying the citrus glaze is the last step. There's plenty glaze to go around, but take it easy, and spread just a little bit at a time. Make sure to completely cover the peaches or any other fruit you use that might brown otherwise.

We ate the majority of our pizza in less than two hours after I made it and put it in the refrigerator. We couldn't wait. The cookie was a little firm then but was really too soft 24 hours later when we ate the few remaining leftovers. Martha and I both recommend eating the pizza on the same day you make it.

While eating my fruit pizza Sunday afternoon, my sister, nieces, daughter and I discussed other options for a dessert pizza. Just think of the variations using peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies, frostings, nuts, whipped cream and chocolate chips. It all sounds good to me!

Fruit Pizza

  • 1 package (16.5 oz.) sugar cookie dough
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice cookie dough into 1/8” slices and arrange in circles on a pizza pan. Press and smooth cookie dough slices together to cover the pan. If you have trouble making it stretch, allow the dough to come to room temperature; it will be easier to handle then.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely.

  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened (Reduced-fat works fine.)
  • 1/2 of an 8 ounce carton of whipped topping
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
Beat cream cheese and sugar till fluffy. Fold in Cool Whip.

Spread on cooled cookie crust leaving the edge of the cookie crust uncovered.

Fruit topping:
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 large kiwi, sliced thinly in circles
  • 2 fresh peaches, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 pint strawberries, sliced
  • You can use other fruits as well, including bananas and pineapple.
Arrange fruit over cream cheese filling.

Orange glaze:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup water
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, salt and cornstarch. Gradually add the liquid ingredients and grated orange peel. Cook over medium heat till mixture bubbles for about 3 minutes until thickened. Cool and spoon over fruit.

Make sure to cover any fruit that might turn brown.

Refrigerate and cut into pizza slices to serve. Best if eaten the same day it is made.

Martha Cayton

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick pickles

When my husband and I planted our little raised bed garden this spring, we included several pickling cucumber plants. We are both pickle-lovers, especially Reggie, and liked the idea of making our own.

When I think of pickle-making, several things come to mind. I remember big white buckets brimming with cucumbers on the floor in Mama's kitchen, large canning jars sterilized and ready for packing, and the unforgettable smell of pickling spice simmering in a pot of vinegar and sugar. I also remember a piece of notebook paper with detailed instructions about soaking cucumbers in a lime bath and on how to care for the pickles on Day 2 and Day 9 and Day 14.

That's not the image I'll remember from our pickle-making experience this year. We went the easy route, making microwave pickles in less than 15 minutes. I kid you not.

Granted, we didn't make enough pickles to last the year, but that's OK. We can make more.

We've made the bread and butter pickles several times now. The first time, we followed the advice of someone who left a review on the recipe, suggesting the cucumbers be added to the spicy vinegar and sugar solution after it had cooked. The reviewer said the sliced pickles would be firmer or crisper if they weren't microwaved. So we tried it. I didn't like the way they looked, and the first time I tried them, I thought they tasted like cucumbers soaked in pickle juice, which is exactly what they were.

Reggie liked them, though, and ate them. He said they got better each day as the cucumbers, stored in the refrigerator, soaked up the syrup.

A few weeks later, co-worker Carol Smithwick offered me one of her microwave pickles. It was delicious. She later gave me the recipe, and I discovered it was the very same recipe Reggie and I had used. The difference? She cooked her cucumbers in the microwave.

So later that week, Reggie and I gathered a few cucumbers left from our garden and added some I had purchased at the farmer's market, and we made two more batches. This time, we followed the recipe and cooked the cucumbers along with the vinegar/ sugar solution.

Within a few minutes, the house started smelling just like Mama and Daddy's kitchen at pickle-making time. The aroma of pickling spice and vinegar made my taste buds scream for pickles!

I let the cucumbers cool a little before pouring them into the 16 oz. plastic freezer jars we had purchased. One recipe fits perfectly in the containers, but you can certainly use something else. After the pickles cooled a little more, we put them in the refrigerator. We waited 24 hours to try them, allowing the flavors to soak in. We were very happy with the results. We finished the first jar in less than a week!

I didn't want to waste the leftover pickle juice and onions that hadn't been eaten, so I cut up another 2 cups of cucumbers from our garden and made another batch, once again cooking the cucumbers, this time in the juice and spices left from the first batch. The pickles were delicious and only get better each day.

I hope the cucumber vines keep producing a few more weeks so we can make some more pickles!

The recipe here reflects the way Carol and I made our pickles. I think it's interesting that we made the same changes to the original recipe. We both used apple cider vinegar instead of white (just like our mamas used when making pickles) and instead of using mustard seed, tumeric and celery seed to spice up the pickles, we used pickling spice.

I know there are many of you out there who still make pickles the old-fashioned way, and I salute you. I always get homemade pickles when I'm in a covered dish meal line because I know they will be delicious. But for those of us who are afraid of canning or just don't have the patience to can large quantities, this really is a good alternative.

Microwave Bread and Butter Pickles
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 1 cup sliced Vidalia onions
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice*
Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. I used a batter bowl.

Microwave on high for 7-8 minutes.

Let cool slightly before pouring into container for storage. Store in refrigerator after cooling.

*Instead of pickling spice, you can use 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed and 1/4 teaspoon tumeric.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Turkey burgers a delicious alternative

My fascination with turkey burgers started this winter while I was frequenting the cafeteria at Wilson Medical Center. My mother was hospitalized, and many days I was eating all three meals in the downstairs cafeteria. I'd usually alternated my meals between the cafeteria line, the bountiful salad bar and the grill.

One of my favorite menu items at the grill was the turkey burger. I had made turkey burgers before from a recipe my sister gave me, but this turkey burger was the first one I bought at a restaurant, and I loved it. I was first drawn to it because the cafeteria posted the nutritional information for both a beef cheeseburger and a turkey burger. The turkey burger had 9.5 grams of fat with 203 calories. In comparison, the cheeseburger had 24 grams of fat and 476 calories. I couldn't bring myself to eat the cheeseburger!

I dressed up the turkey burger with my favorite condiments and thoroughly enjoyed it every time I bought it.

When my cafeteria days ended and I had no one to cook for me three times a day, I still craved those turkey burgers and bought some frozen patties from the grocery store and made them myself. They were very good, but I wanted to try something else.

I did what I do so many times when I try something new -- I read a number of turkey burger recipes and came up with my own. After making the burgers once or twice, I tweaked the recipe some more, cutting back on the onion soup mix to lower the sodium and dropping the egg, which isn't really necessary. My version is very simple and takes only a few minutes to assemble. (A few weeks ago, we published a turkey burger recipe that I'm sure is quite good, but mine is more streamlined in its preparation and needs very ingredients.)

My husband and I still pile on our favorite burger toppings, choosing from mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, bread and butter pickles, lettuce and tomato. He's added cheese to his a few times, but I haven't tried it that way yet. We also make the turkey burgers on multi-grain sandwich thins. Have you tried these yet? They are very thin and flat and quite tasty. We really like them for variety and use the leftovers for egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches or even grilled pimiento cheese.

So far, Reggie and I are the only ones who have eaten turkey burgers at my house, so there are two leftover burgers each time I make them. I warm them in a skillet at lunch the next day, and they are just as delicious as the night before.

I'm really glad I have this recipe. Burgers are probably Reggie's favorite food, but I feel guilty whenever I make them (and I do still make them occasionally.) But he really likes turkey burgers because he can layer on mustard and pickles and ketchup and enjoy the taste without so much guilt.

My sister tells me she has a delicious black bean burger recipe, so stay tuned; I might try that next!

Seasoned Turkey Burgers
  • 1 package ground turkey (the package I buy weights 1 1/3 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients well, making sure to evenly distribute the soup mix. I start out with a spoon and then use my hands. Make into 4 patties.

Cook 3 minutes on one side; flip and cook about 3 minutes on the other side or until cooked through. (I cook mine on a George Foreman Grill.)

Serve on bun with favorite condiments. I use multi-gain sandwich thins for this burger.

If you have leftovers, reheat slowly in a skillet.