Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pioneer Woman will help you cook

"Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond's award-winning Web site is a favorite of mine. I enjoy reading about what's cooking in her kitchen and going on in her cattle-ranching family.

Now I'm smitten with Drummond's new glossy, hardback cookbook, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl." I'm not the only one who likes the book; it's been on the New York Times bestseller list for a number of weeks.

Drummond's Web site, www.thepioneerwoman.com, is popular for many reasons, including the spectacular photographs she shares on her site. It's the step-by-step photographs of her recipes that draw so many people to her site. She gives cooking instructions in an easy-to-follow, conversational tone and shows you the recipe steps in photos.

"The Pioneer Woman Cooks" includes a number of favorite recipes from Drummond's site as well as many photos. I've made three recipes from the book already.

My family really enjoyed Comfort Meatballs. The beefy, filling entree is very much like meatloaf and is delicious served with egg noodles and a green salad. Drummond serves hers with mashed potatoes, also in the book. Drummond's photos illustrate the process of forming the meatballs, browning them and covering them in a wonderful, tangy sauce. (I think I made a little extra sauce when I made the recipe several weeks back!)

Drummond's tip to refrigerate the meatballs for 30 to 45 minutes before dredging and cooking really paid off. The meatballs held together beautifully while they browned.

We also really enjoyed Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich. Marlboro Man is Drummond's blog name for her husband. His favorite sandwich is made from cube steak cut into strips. The meat is seasoned with several ingredients including salt, pepper, onion and Worcestershire sauce and served on deli rolls. The sandwich is very satisfying and was a good bargain because I got the beef on sale.

There are a number of recipes in the book that I intend to try, including an easy pizza crust; Cowboy Calzone, which uses the pizza crust recipe; cinnamon rolls; Perfect Pie Crust, which sounds like a recipe I might could actually make work; and Patsy's Blackberry Cobbler.

In addition to the recipes, Drummond includes many photographs and anecdotes about her husband and children and their life on the family's Oklahoma ranch.

I used the Wilson County Library's copy of the book for this story, but I'm putting the book on my birthday list!

Comfort Meatballs
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 3/4 cup quick oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons very finely minced onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Plenty of ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • Dash of Tabasco (I didn’t use this)
In a bowl, combine the ground beef and oats. Pour in the milk, then add the diced onion and salt. Add the black pepper, then stir to combine.
Roll the mixture into tablespoon-size balls and refrigerate them for 30 to 45 minutes to firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Dredge the chilled meatballs in the flour. Brown the meatballs in batches until light brown. As they brown, place them in a rectangular baking dish.
Stir together the sauce ingredients and drizzle the sauce evenly on the meatballs.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

“The Pioneer Woman Cooks”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saying goodbye

For more than a week now, I’ve been living with the sights, the sounds, the smells of near death, or end of life as it’s called on the palliative care floor at Wilson Medical Center.
I’ve been through this once before, watching and waiting for someone’s life to come to an end. This time, it’s Mama.
The palliative care unit provides a quiet refuge for patients like my mother who are too sick to eat. Too sick to walk. Too sick to talk or even make eye contact.
There’s a different story in every room. Families chat in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the elevator. We know the lady next door has a big family who visits often. That another farther down has already been on the unit three weeks. We know the family across the hall lost their mother Monday morning after several days of close watch by her family.
Families on the unit have so much in common. We have the same blank look on our face as we get off the elevator on the fifth floor, the same sadness in our heart.
And we all know the same vocabulary: ativan, morphine, diladin. We know the unit our loved one is in provides “comfort care at the end of life.” We know bedbound patients should be turned every two hours and IV needles changed every three days. We know “the patient’s getting no nutrition” means she’s not eating or getting any supplement. That she’s going to die.
We know what it feels like to look into your wife’s eyes or father’s eyes and to see real pain. How hard it is to see your patient agitated and angry. How numbing it is to see fear and alarm in your mother’s eyes when a nurse turns her to a different position. How hard it is to see her emaciated body when a nurse gently bathes here.
We know how hard it is to say goodbye every time you walk out of the room.
I’ve done a lot of thinking and a lot of remembering while sitting quietly at Mama’s side or curled up in bed bedside her. I’ve thought mostly about the good times. About vacations to Virginia Beach, Mama’s buttered toast for breakfast, new clothes spread across my bed when I got home from school one day, family meals with my sister and her family around the kitchen table. I’ve remembered how Mama took loving care of my children while I went to work and how much they love her. How hard it is for them and my nieces to say goodbye. These grandchildren have young, tender hearts and adored their gentle grandmother from infancy. They are growing up too fast watching this process.
In the last week, I’ve heard happy stories about my mama from cousins who love their aunt dearly, and I’ve watched them cry as they looked at her small, frail body curled in a fetal position. “I want to touch her,” a cousin told me yesterday as she stroked her forehead.
I’ve sat with my aunt as she looked at her beloved sister and have fought back tears. She has loved Mama the longest.
As family visits, I realize she’s not just our mama and grandmama, but she’s someone’s sister. Someone’s neighbor of 50 years. She’s the sister-in-law someone made cheese straws with. The aunt who made delicious fried chicken and lemon cake. And they all love her.
My sister and I are suffering greatly. We cannot comprehend that this very long journey with Alzheimer’s is finally coming to an end, that our mother is dying. We don’t want the pain from a new pelvic fracture to torment her any longer or the misery that comes with not being able to communicate to frustrate her again. We know it’s time to let go. We know she’s made it to the “end stage” of her disease.
But we don’t want to lose our mama. We want to continue to hold her hand, to run our fingers through her curls, to kiss her on the cheek and tell her we love her. Although we lost her in many ways years ago, we still cling to the physical: the touch, the smell, the sight of her very blue eyes.
And we cling to the memories of a life well lived.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Our daily bread

I had a long list of things to do while on vacation last week. One was to bake bread.

It's not easy to find time to bake bread, even if you're using a bread machine to make your dough. My machine requires 90 minutes for the dough cycle. Then the loaf has to rise on the counter for about 45 minutes. Then there's another 30-45 minutes baking time, depending on the bread. It's easy to run errands during the 90-minute rising cycle, which is what I did Thursday morning with my first loaf.

Because it had been so long since I made bread, I had a hard time choosing which recipe to use. I couldn't remember which ones we liked best! So I went to an old an reliable recipe, Honey White Bread. This is one of the first recipes I made when I got my machine about a dozen years ago. That bread machine has been so good to me!

The recipe is one of several in the cookbook I made for my family some years back. In the recipe note, I mention how I like to start the bread at lunchtime and let it bake during the afternoon, getting ready just in time for supper. That's when I used to let the bread cook in the bread machine. I don't do that anymore. Instead, I let the machine make the dough, and then I put the dough in a bread pan for the second rising and cook it in the oven.

The Honey White loaf is so simple to make. The hardest part (and that's not even hard) is scalding the milk, which I do totally by smell, by the way.

My tips for this recipe include giving the bread pan (I use glass) a light rub of butter before placing the dough in to rise and taking the bread out about 5 to 10 minutes before it's finished baking and brushing on a little more butter. The extra butter gives the bread a wonderful taste as well as a golden brown crust.

The bread is delicious straight from the oven, but the texture stays tender and tasty hours later. I also love making cinnamon toast and French toast with this bread on the second or third day -- if there's any left!

We enjoyed the first loaf so much that I made a second the next day, and on Sunday, I made a third loaf, this time an oatmeal bread recipe I first made years ago that I found on a bag of King Arthur bread flour.

I think I've shared the King Arthur recipe before, but it's so good that I'm including it again today. King Arthur Toasting and Sandwich Bread is another delicious bread either plain or toasted and is a favorite at my house. I've also used this dough to make a delicious cinnamon bread.

I don't know how much longer I'll have this bread-baking bug. My son has already mentioned that he wants his favorite herb rolls, and I'm eager to try a new pizza dough recipe. So I guess I'll keep baking!

King Arthur Oatmeal Toasting and Sandwich Bread
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoon honey (Can also use brown sugar; I use honey)
  • 2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
Place ingredients in bread machine pan in order suggested by manufacturer. Program to dough setting. Check from time to time to see if flour or water is needed. Finished dough should be soft and supple.
When cycle is complete, place on floured surface and shape into log. Put in loaf pan greased with butter. Cover with towel and let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour or until 1 to 2 inches above rim of pan. I let my bread rise in the oven. Just before the dough cycle is complete, I turn the light on in the cold oven and place my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup inside, filled with boiling water. That makes a warm, humid place perfect for rising dough.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
Yields: 1 loaf.
King Arthur Flour Company

Honey White Bread for Bread Machine
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter (I always buy salted.)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon bread machine yeast or active dry yeast
  • 2 cups bread flour (King Arthur is best.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Scald milk. Remove from heat and add butter and honey. Stir until butter melts. Cool to room temperature.
Add milk mixture and other ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Might need to add extra flour.
Set machine for dough setting.
When completed, remove dough from pan. Shape into rectangle and roll in jelly roll fashion, pinching bottom seam. Place seam-side down in bread pan prepared with a light coating of butter. Let rise in warm place for 30-45 minutes. I let my bread rise in the oven. Just before the dough cycle is complete, I turn the light on in the cold oven and place my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup inside, filled with boiling water. That makes a warm, humid place perfect for rising dough.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with butter. Return to oven for about 5 minutes or until done.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cherries brighten up oatmeal cookies

I got several cookbooks for Christmas and can't wait to start cooking. I haven't had time to do any experimenting in recent weeks.

But I had to share something this week!

While looking for a different recipe in my files over the weekend, I came across this wonderful recipe for Cherry Oatmeal Cookies. My co-worker Billie Taylor made them originally and shared them at work. I knew right away they would be a hit with my husband, who loves dried cherries, and they were. They are much better than oatmeal raisin cookies, we think, because the cherries add such a nice, tart flavor.

I've made this cookie recipe several times, and it's very easy. It takes no time to mix them up and pop them in the oven.

I did make my cookies smaller than the recipe suggests, yielding around 30 cookies.

Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats (old fashioned oats)
  • 1 package (5.5 ounces) dried cherries, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add sugars and beat until well combined. With the mixer on low speed add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. With the mixer on low speed gradually add dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix. Stir in the oats and chopped dried cherries until incorporated.

Form dough into 11 2-inch balls and bake on an un-greased cookie sheet for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes and then remove to a wire rack.

Makes 18 cookies

Welch’s recipe

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cleaning up for 2010

My husband and I spent much of the long weekend cleaning up and cleaning out.
Why is it that once we put away the Christmas tree, the Santa collection and the Christmas stockings we feel the need to put our house in order?
It happens every year. Once the big box department stores pull out their plastic storage bins after Christmas, I start thinking of ways to organize our stuff to fit in the house we outgrew more than a decade ago.
It actually started at our house the week we put up our Christmas tree. The tree sits beside a built-in bookcase/ entertainment center that hadn’t been cleaned out in years. Case in point, we still had VHS tapes of Barbie movies watched by our daughter, who turns 16 next month.
Once that corner was cleared out to make room for the tree, I had room to sit down and clean out that movie cabinet. We made stacks of VHS tapes we had bought and some we had recorded ourselves and tossed them. That left room in the cabinet for the stack of school photos that has found a home on top of the stereo for years. I kept them there so they wouldn’t get bent. I had no other place to put them in our cramped house. Really. My high school- and college-age kids’ elementary school photos were in that stack, that’s how long it had been there.
All other organizing was put on hold until this weekend.
On Friday morning, I headed to the kitchen and started taking down old notes from the refrigerator. No need to keep that reminder about a dental appointment from six months ago, right? And what about that recipe for slow cooker ribs that has been in the top corner of the refrigerator for six or seven years? Friday seemed like a good time to remove it and put it in my recipe folder.
My son came in while I was doing this, and he was bitten by the clean-up bug. For the next hour or two, he helped me scrub down the outside and top of the refrigerator and then helped his dad clean out the interior.
I de-cluttered the cookbook shelves in the my kitchen, removing cookbooks that hadn’t been opened in years. They went to another closet where I had some storage room left. The uncluttered bookshelves left room to better display pieces from my pottery collection.
I dusted, stacked up old magazines to give a co-worker and threw out junk mail that had accumulated over the holidays. My husband mopped the floors.
Then came the big organizational task: What should we do with our granddaughter’s mounting pile of toys? I didn’t want them to remain piled into the big plastic storage box we bought months ago. Her toys have too many pieces now, and they get lost when they’re all thrown into a big box. So I splurged and bought a set of shelves that came with a dozen plastic bins. We were able to put Playmobil in one bin, Duplo in another. Dolls fit in a large bin alongside a bin that holds an electronic camera that talks to you — even when you prefer it to stay quiet. I’m very proud of the toy arrangement and my much-more organized house.
I haven’t done everything that needs to be done, of course. There are still drawers that need to be gone through and a hall linen closet that is definitely lacking in organization. I also have a very large stack full of recipes that need to be placed in a binder.
But it seems good to me to have so much accomplished. To have a fresh, much cleaner, start to the new year.