Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One for you and one for me

How many of you have been to a cookie exchange?

I went to my first one Saturday with my friends at Marsh Swamp Church.

We enjoyed music and door prizes and choosing from among several dozen varieties of cookies, fudge, candy and other sweets to eat and take home.

On Friday afternoon, I made three recipes with the help of daughter Anna and cousin Nancy Boykin. We chatted and stirred and cut and rolled and had a fun time.

Everyone who attended Saturday’s exchange was asked to take at least three dozen pieces of a holiday treat. In return, we all got to take home at least three dozen treats.

I was brave and made three new recipes! I’ll share two of them here today.

The first, tiger butter, was so easy that I had it made in less than 10 minutes. This delicious candy — made with white chocolate, dark chocolate and peanut butter — is similar to a fudge, but because I spread it thin, it reminds me more of a candy. This easy treat is delicious, and I heard several people say the same thing I noticed, that the candy melts in your mouth! This recipe made more than enough for the exchange, so I saved some for our family Christmas Eve gathering.

I made two recipes from Better Homes and Gardens’ special interest publication “100 Best Cookies.” It was so hard choosing what to make from this magazine because there are so many options! But I chose salted peanut bars and sandies.

The recipe for sandies is almost identical to my recipe for nutty fingers or lady fingers. When I make nutty fingers, I have to drag out the Mirro press that has been in my family for decades. It’s seen better days, and my husband has to turn the crank for me to press the batter through the hole to make logs. It’s not an easy task. I had already thought I’d forgo the Mirro press and make the nutty fingers as cookies this year, so when I saw the round sandies, I decided this was all the incentive I needed to try something new.

They were so easy to make and taste just like the nutty fingers my family requests each year. Before the week is out, I’ll be making two more batches of this recipe for my extended family to enjoy.

Anna and I tried many delicious treats at Saturday’s exchange, from cinnamon hard candy to chocolate dipped pretzel rods — and took home containers filled with the fruits of our friends’ labor! I asked my friends to share their recipes for my column, and several of them did just that.

These are easy recipes that you can prepare before the week is out.

We had such a nice time at the cookie exchange, and I urge others to organize or attend a similar event next year. Our exchange included young girls, moms and grandmoms and was such a nice way to spend part of a Saturday morning. Anna and I will most certain be back next year.

Melted Snowman Cookies
  • 30 ounces ready to bake sugar cookie dough
  • 16 ounces vanilla frosting
  • 2 packages (7 oz.) white decorating cookie icing
  • Bag of large marshmallows
  • Butter or margarine, for greasing your plate
  • 6-8 small Ziploc bags
Bake the sugar cookies according to directions and slice about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While the cookies are cooling, take the container of vanilla frosting and use your favorite food coloring and split into several bowls and use the food coloring to make all different colors of frosting to decorate the cookies or if you’re in a hurry, buy individual tubes of icing. Put each color frosting in a different Ziploc bag, and snip one corner of your bag to make your piping bag.

Next use decorating cookie icing, and frost your cookies. Make sure to let a little bit of icing spill over the edge, for the melting effect. Use a spoon to help spread the icing.

Lightly grease a small plate with the butter or margarine. Place a couple of marshmallows at a time on the plate, and microwave for about 5 to 6 seconds. You want them to puff a little but not double in size, or melt. Grease your fingers and pick up your marshmallow and place it on the edge of your cookie. Press it down slightly. Then decorate the cookies. I used scarves, bows, earmuffs and arms to decorate.

Makes about 12 to 15 cookies.

Heather Scott

Peanut Clusters
  • 1 6-ounce package chocolate chips
  • 1 12-ounce package butterscotch chips
  • 1 12-ounce package salted Spanish peanuts
Combine chocolate and butterscotch chips in 2-quart bowl. Heat in microwave on 60% power for 4 minutes, stirring once during melting. Stir in peanuts.

Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper and let set.

Microwave time may vary, but it’s better to start low and add time because you can’t use it if it’s overcooked.

Beverly Boyette

Tiger Butter
  • 2 6-ounce packages white chocolate squares
  • 1/2 heaping cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Coat a large baking pan with wax paper.

In a medium-size bowl, melt white chocolate according to box directions. I used the microwave. Stir the chocolate to blend. Mix in the peanut butter.

Pour mixture onto waxed paper. Spread with the back of a spoon to desired thickness.

Melt chocolate chips. Start at 30 seconds in microwave. Stir. Continue heating at 15 second intervals until melted, but be careful not to overcook.

Dot the surface of the white chocolate mixture with the dark chocolate. With a knife or toothpick, swirl the dark chocolate into the white chocolate to make pretty marble designs.

Let the candy stand to harden. Can briefly place in refrigerator if needed.

Cut into squares or break.

Lisa Batts

Babe Ruth Bars
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Karo Syrup (light)
  • 1 3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 5 1/2 cup Special K cereal
  • 12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips
Mix sugar and Karo syrup together in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over peanut butter stir until creamy. Add Special K cereal gradually, stirring to coat flakes. Put mixture in a 9x13 dish sprayed with cooking spray or greased lightly with butter. Pack down until even. Melt chocolate according to directions then pour over mixture; spread evenly. Let chocolate harden then cut into bars.

Wendy Skinner prepared this from a recipe given to her by Pennettie Bass.

Classic Christmas Sandies
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in water and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour and the pecans. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 to 60 minutes or until firm enough to shape.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 15 minutes or until bottoms are light brown. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Place the 1 cup powdered sugar in a large plastic bag. Add cooled cookies, in batches, to bag. Gently shake to coat.

*Notes: I didn’t toast my pecans, and I used a small scoop to form the balls. Also, instead of coating my sandies in a bag, I rolled them in powdered sugar that I poured onto a plate.

Lisa Batts, as prepared from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Festive salad

I seldom make this broccoli and apple salad more than once a year, but it’s always for the same occasion — a family event held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The turkey barbecue dinner at the home of my cousin Martha Cayton and husband, John, sort of transitions the family from one season to the next.

My salad — with its festive green broccoli and celery and red crunchy apples — makes me think of the holiday season ahead. I always ask myself if it’s too early to put the salad in a pretty red bowl or if I need to go with a clear or crystal bowl. I usually choose a pretty red bowl because I’m always ready to get the Christmas season started.

This salad is a variation of one I’m sure many of you make. I’ve made it before with raisins, but my family prefers it with apples, and I never include onions. It’s not difficult to make— just a lot of washing and cutting of the vegetables and the apples. I wait to add the sunflower seeds right before the salad is served.

If you’re asked to take a dish to a holiday gathering or if you’re hosting one at your house, this salad will certainly add some holiday cheer to your table!

Broccoli Apple Salad
  • 1 red apple chopped into bite-size pieces*
  • 1 bunch broccoli, washed and cut in bite-size pieces
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped into bite-size chunks
  • 1/2 cup or more sunflower kernels
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (I use reduced fat)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
Toss chopped apple, broccoli and celery.

In small bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Toss together broccoli, apple and celery with dressing. Pour into serving bowl. Arrange several pieces of apple so red is showing on top to make for a pretty display. Refrigerate.

Sprinkle sunflower kernels on top just before serving.

*Use a firm apple such as gala. I look through the apples to find the reddest ones.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Make yummy memories

I really admire people who make gorgeous Christmas cookies: buttery cutouts decorated with elaborate frosting, dainty wafers dusted with powdered sugar, layered cookies oozing with sticky goodness. But I also admire moms and dads who make Christmas cookies with their children and don’t mind getting sprinkles all over the table and floor.

My husband and I decorated cookies with our children from the time they were old enough to shake sparkly red sugar onto mounds of cookie dough. Every year we’d buy new bottles of pretty sprinkles and let them shake on as much as they wanted. When they were finished, the kids would stand by the oven and peek through the window, watching their cookies bake. Afterwards, we’d all sit around the table and munch on sweet sugar cookies and drink ice cold milk. The kids loved it, and so did my husband and I.

Over the weekend, we repeated the tradition, this time with our 3-year-old granddaughter, Sora, who loves to decorate cookies whether it’s for the Fourth of July or Sunday afternoon snack.

This time around, the cookies weren’t homemade. They weren’t even the slice and bake kind. I purchased already-baked butter cookies — the flower-shaped kind with the hole in the middle.

Sora watched me frost one of the cookies with vanilla frosting I had dyed green, then she picked up the plastic knife I had provided and frosted her own. She liberally added red sugar, cookie confetti and red hots to decorate her cookie “wreaths.” She had so much fun with this impromptu cookie-decorating session before church on Sunday. It was so easy and an inexpensive way to enjoy a holiday tradition.

Were her cookies the perfect example of a magazine-quality cookie? Of course not. But they were pretty to us and were delicious. She also got a good lesson in frosting cookies.

One of the main things you must get over when decorating cookies with children is the desire to make them perfect or even pretty. Let the cookie be their creation. Let them use their imagination and decorate as they see fit. As the child gets older, his abilities will certainly improve, and he can help out more.

He can add the pretzel antlers to reindeer cookies and carefully drop on eyes and a mouth when the cookies come out of the oven. The older child can also help roll out cookie dough and press down the cookie cutter to make snowmen, Santa Claus and Christmas tree shapes.

Look through Christmas cookbooks and at online cooking sites and find cookies you and your child will enjoy making together. When you’re out shopping, let her pick out one or two bottles of sprinkles she likes and let choose someone special to share the cookies with them when they are finished.

And one more very important thing. Take photos of your child while he’s decorating her cookies.

It’s fun for me to look back and remember those days.

Reindeer cookies
  • 1 package ready-to-bake cookies (I used chocolate chip)
  • Mini twist pretzels (two per cookie)
  • M&Ms for eyes and mouth (I used red and green M&M baking bits)
Preheat oven as directed on package.

Break cookie squares into individual pieces. Gently shape squares into slightly vertical rectangles. Place pretzels at top, where antlers would be on a reindeer. Put cookie onto cookie sheet and gently press down so pretzel goes into the cookie. Don’t press down too much; you don’t want the cookie dough to be much thinner than it is from the package.* Repeat with remaining cookies, leaving space for the cookies to spread out.

Bake according to package directions.

When cookies come out of oven, add eyes and mouth while cookies are still hot.

*You can add the M&M’s at this point, but they will “bleed” into the cookie while baking. But it is safe at this point for a younger child to add the eyes and mouth. Have him put the eyes close together because they will spread out when the cookie bakes.

Cookie Wreaths
  • 1 package butter cookies with a hole in the middle
  • A tub of vanilla frosting
  • Green food coloring
  • Assorted sprinkles
Mix drops of food dye into the desired amount of frosting. Stir and continue adding dye until frosting is a pretty shade of green.

Frost the cookies. Decorate with sprinkles.

Eat a few cookies and enjoy the time spent with your child!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas breakfast

So many of our Christmas traditions involve food: baking cookies, stirring up a batch of chocolate fudge, sipping a favorite holiday punch, sitting around the table at Grandma’s house sharing turkey and the trimmings on Christmas Day.

Many of us have Christmas morning breakfast traditions as well, whether it’s cinnamon rolls or a cheesy sausage and egg casserole.

For a number of years, Daddy made scrambled sausage and eggs on Christmas morning, and I’ve made the same at my house a few times. I’ve done several other things at my house as well from casseroles to a delicious cinnamon coffee cake that sits in the refrigerator overnight and is ready to bake while the family opens presents.

If you don’t have a tradition of your own, you might want to try a new breakfast casserole that I’ve made several times in recent months — once for breakfast and other times for dinner. The casserole is simple enough — made with sausage, grits, cheese, milk and eggs — and takes about 10 minutes to assemble.

I was not a big fan of grits until the last year or two, so this casserole wouldn’t have caught my attention before now. But I started seeing a number of versions of grits casseroles in cookbooks and decided to make one myself.

I don’t like a lot cheese in egg dishes, so I cut the amount of Cheddar cheese in half — from a whopping four cups to two cups (which is still a lot for me!) I also used turkey sausage instead of pork sausage, and to make the recipe even easier purchased sausage crumbles that were already cooked and ready to mix in my casserole. When I make grits, I use the instant kind in the little pouches, so I did the same for this recipe, making four pouches of grits.

You can add a number of spices and seasonings into this dish — including garlic powder and thyme — but I prefer the recipe as I’ve written it here.

This casserole is wonderful comfort food, whether you serve it for lunch, brunch or dinner. Prepare a pan of hash browns or tater tots and serve with a bowl of fresh fruit and toast with jelly, and you’ll have a satisfying meal.

If you have any leftovers, the casserole is delicious warmed up in the microwave the next day.

Cheesy grits and sausage casserole
  • 1 1/2 packages (9.6 oz. each) turkey sausage crumbles (I use Jimmy Dean)
  • 4 pouches of grits (or grits for 4 servings) prepared according to package directions
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir cheese into hot, cooked grits until the cheese melts. Whisk eggs and stir into other ingredients; add milk and stir until combined.

Pour into casserole dish, which has been prepared with baking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes until cooked through.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sifting through life's pieces

Let’s just say it wasn’t the happiest weekend I’ve spent with my family. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, my sister, Susan, and I, along with our families, finished the very difficult task of emptying our parents’ house. It’s the house we grew up in. The house where we took our first steps, had our birthday parties and sleepovers. The house where we opened presents around the Christmas tree, where we brought home boyfriends to meet our parents, where we carried our children to be loved on by their grandparents, where we took loving care of our aging mama and daddy, who both had Alzheimer’s.
It was difficult physically as we hauled things out of the house those last weeks and difficult emotionally as we cried at every turn and realized our days at our childhood home were numbered. The oddest thing would strike a chord with one of us, and the tears would flow: a birthday card to Mommy signed in a pre-schoolers’ wobbly print; an entry in Mama’s journal announcing I was pregnant with my first child; a photograph hidden in a picture frame of our handsome daddy in his Army uniform.
Mama and Daddy kept too much, I’m sure some would say. They kept greeting cards from family, friends and politicians; church bulletins that listed one of our names; newspaper clippings; and magazines with historic significance.
Want to know how much it snowed in January 1974 or how many pints of corn my parents froze in 1983? I could have told you because it was all recorded in the stack of calendars we found in a drawer in their room. I can’t tell you anymore, however, because we threw away those calendars.
We threw away a lot of things since Mama died in February of 2010, less than a year after Daddy passed away. We started slowly. Four months after Daddy died, we went through his clothes. It was hard, very hard to get rid of suits he wore to church, colorful plaid shirts he wore around the house and the lightweight jackets he wore daily as he aged and needed something on his arms to fight off a constant chill. But we did it. It was part of the grieving process. Daddy wasn’t coming back to wear those clothes, and it gave us a good feeling knowing the people we donated them to could put them to good use.
We were slower on everything else. The house was on the market, but we had no offers, so we kept the house as-is so we could enjoy it when Susan and her family visited. That was our excuse anyway. Truth be told, we wanted to preserve that house, those memories. We didn’t want to let go, and it was keeping us from moving on.
It wasn’t until this summer, more than a year since Mama’s death, that we cleaned out the attic. Not only did it hold the keepsakes from our years at the house, but it also held boxes full of “treasures” from my own grandparents’ house. It seems my parents were unable to toss the utility bills, Christmas cards and even some items of clothing from their own parents’ house more than 40 years ago. So we went through those items of our grandparents’ as well, shared some with our Aunt Margaret and purged accordingly. But we kept my cousin Eddie’s letters from Vietnam written to our shared grandmother, Papa’s pocket knives and my preacher Granddaddy’s Bible.
I decided from the start that I wouldn’t keep too much, and I think I was good at sticking to this. I bought a 30-gallon storage bin and an accordion file folder. In the storage bin I put assorted items including a party dress or two my mother wore in the 1950s, the wooden Playskool mailbox I had as a child, a stack of letters written between my parents around the time they got married and my framed wedding portrait that Mama displayed over the sofa in the living room.
The file folder holds other special items. On a piece of fading white paper from a legal pad, Mama jotted down a timeline of what she did Monday, Oct. 8, 1979, my senior year of high school. I couldn’t toss it. On that day, she washed nine loads of clothes, fed my sister’s dog, made two beds, went to the bank and Carolina Office Equipment Company and paid a bill at Churchwell’s. She mopped up the water when the dishwasher ran over and called the pediatrician’s office about my polio shot. ”She will be suspended from school if she doesn’t get it by Thursday,” she wrote. Priceless (to me at least).
I saved a utility bill sent in error for $9,379.41 from the family’s farm house, where no one lived, and a listing of costs associated with building the very house we were cleaning out for its new occupants: Porch tile cost $74, cypress paneling was $85.40, the mailbox was $2.86 and the kitchen appliances were $615. That was 1958, the year they were married.
And also tucked into the folder is a piece of pink paper from a note pad. Daddy had written “Wheel of Fortune” Channel 7 at 7 o’clock. “Millionaire” at 7:30 on Channel 13. No clue why I saved this, but when I look through this folder years from now, I can remember how much my parents enjoyed watching those two shows each night, and it will make me happy.
I kept some other things, of course, including a few small pieces of furniture, half of Mama’s beautiful fine china trimmed in silver, a few dessert cups Susan and I both adored, a coffee cup I can use for tea, the turkey pepper shaker that is the mate to my salt shaker and a number of Christmas ornaments from the family collection. They are all things that have special meaning for me.
While we were going through things and deciding what to keep and what to toss, Susan and I decided early on to throw away or give away things they didn’t have any special meaning to us. We didn’t want our children to have to deal with items we were too sentimental or cowardly to toss, such as newspaper clippings about people we didn’t know or photos of people we didn’t recognize or the maternity clothes our mother wore in the 1960s. I’m not kidding.
But we did keep what we wanted to keep even if it sounds foolish to others. Susan and I, as well as our girls, each have a box of face powder still holding a dusting of the fragrant powder that Mama wore each day before she got too sick. All I have to do is open that box of Coty honey beige and take a whiff, and I can pretend that I’m hugging Mama and smelling the powder that colored her beautiful face.
Thank God for my memories and for my parents.
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time for tea

Before you head out for Black Friday shopping or even when you return — which could be in the middle of the night — wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot cup of tea?

I really enjoy hot tea, especially this time of year.

My favorite is chai latte, but I also enjoy teas I prepare at home.

For years I’ve made Johnny Appleseed tea in my slow cooker because my entire family enjoys it so much. It’s soothed many colds and sore throats at my house.

Now I have a new fruited tea to add to my recipe collection. I saw a recipe for marmalade tea in Debbi Baker Covington’s “Dining Under The Carolina Moon” a few weeks back. I was intrigued with the idea of mixing a jar of marmalade into a batch of tea. I’ve said before, I love experiments, and this sounded like a fun one.

I changed around several things in Debbie’s original recipe, including substituting brown sugar instead of white, just as I do in the Johnny Appleseed tea. I also didn’t have a lemon, so I used fresh orange juice, and I added a stick of cinnamon to my steaming tea mixture to add a festive flavor to my tea.

The marmalade immediately starts to dissolve when it hits the hot tea, and the little pieces of orange peel float round as you stir. Debbi mentions the tea can be strained; we didn’t mind the orange pieces.

After I had a cup of tea, I poured what was left in a favorite glass tea pitcher and left the tea in the refrigerator for more than a week. Anytime I wanted hot tea, I just poured a cup and let it warm in the microwave. If you are fixing this for a crowd, I suggest pouring the hot tea into a slow cooker and leaving the setting on warm.

I’d still love to receive Christmas goody recipes from my readers to share in this column. Send to the email address below or to Lisa Batts, The Wilson Times, P.O. Box 2447, Wilson, NC 27894.

Johnny Appleseed Tea
  • 2 quarts water, divided
  • 6 tea bags or 3 family size tea bags
  • 1 (6-ounce) can frozen apple juice concentrate, undiluted*
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
Bring 1 quart water to a boil; add tea bags. Remove from heat; cover and let steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Pour remaining quart of water and remaining ingredients into slow cook, mix in steeped tea. Set slow cooker to low or warm. Yield: 9 cups.

*I can no longer find the small can of juice. I buy the larger can and use at least half. I try to get most of the concentrated syrupy liquid that’s at the bottom of the can.

Marmalade Tea
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 family size tea bag (I use decaffeinated)
  • 12 oz. jar orange marmalade
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Juice of one orange
  • Cinnamon stick
Bring 10 cups of water to boil. Remove from heat and steep tea bags for 7-8 minutes. Stir in marmalade, sugar, orange juice and cinnamon until marmalade is melted and well mixed. Strain tea if deserved before serving.

Serves 10.

Adapted from “Dining Under the Carolina Moon” by Debi Baker Covington

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving sides

This is not the column I had planned to write today. This week’s recipe didn’t turn out as planned, and I don’t mind confessing that. I was experimenting with refrigerator or spoon rolls that my readers could bake for Thanksgiving Day.

I decided to blend several recipes and come up with my own. The rolls I baked were beautiful, the texture was just right, and they rose perfectly, but they had no taste. I haven’t given up on them and will try again with more honey and salt and will share if they are a success.

After that disappointment, I went to my Facebook page and asked my friends for casserole recipes that would be good for Thanksgiving. In no time, several people posted with ideas.

So today, I’m sharing several recipes you can make next week for your family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

I tried one of the recipes, Harriet Page’s garden pea casserole. She said it was one of her mama’s recipes. Harriet said the recipe was given to Edna Ruth Thompson by Sarah Miller in 1968. She said it’s a favorite recipe for anytime, and her family loves it. She said it’s an easy recipe to double or even quadruple!

When Harriet told me about the recipe, I was skeptical; I’ll admit that too. I couldn’t imagine a garden pea casserole with a white sauce, cheese and cracker crumbs. Well, I made it Monday afternoon and was so very happy with the results.

Anna and I couldn’t believe how good it smelled as it cooked and couldn’t wait for it to cool enough for us to eat. It was delicious! I hate to tattle on either one of us, so I’ll just say we both had more than one serving!

We agree it would be such a nice addition to a Thanksgiving spread or to serve anytime as a side dish.

Garden Pea Casserole
  • 2 cans (14 to 15 ozs. each) garden peas, drained
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup cracker crumbs (I used Ritz whole wheat)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter over low heat. Add flour, pepper and salt. Stir until blended and smooth. Slowly add milk and cook until smooth and thickened.

Remove from heat; add peas. Pour half of mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 cup cracker crumbs. Add remaining sauce and peas and top with cheese and cracker crumbs.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Harriet Page

Corn Pudding
  • 3 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 (approximately 17 ozs.) can cream-style corn
  • 1 (approximately 17 ozs.) can whole-kernel corn, undrained
  • 1 (8 1/2 oz.) box cornbread mix
Heat oven to 350. Grease a shallow 2-quart baking dish or 6 (10 oz) custard cups.

Combine ingredients, stir well. Pour/spoon into baking dish. Bake about 1 hour, or until set, in the 2 qt dish (40-45 minutes in the custard cups).

If using the custard cups, you can loosen them and invert the puddings directly onto a dinner plate. Serve the larger casserole directly from the dish.

Susan B. Hoffman

Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
  • 1 can (10 3/4 ozs.) cream of mushroom soup (regular or 98 percent fat free)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 1 bag (16 ozs.) frozen broccoli florets, thawed
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ozs.)
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. butter, melted
Stir the soup, milk, mustard, broccoli and cheese in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

Stir the bread crumbs and butter in a small bowl. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the broccoli mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbling.

Mary Elliott Farmer

Spinach and Artichokes

The combination of nutmeg-scented cream cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, and water chestnuts is irresistible. The addition of diced cooked chicken or shrimp could turn it into an entree.
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 (10-oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3-quart casserole dish. In bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth. Reduce speed to low, beat in spinach, butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper, seasoning salt, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Stir in water chestnuts. Arrange artichokes on bottom of baking dish. Pour spinach mixture over artichokes. Cover with foil. Cut several slits in the foil to vent.

Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese. Bake until golden brown about 15 minutes more.

Serves 12.

Debbi Baker Covington

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There's a squash in my soup!

I had the most delicious soup last month at a luncheon at the Wilson Country Club. It was a creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with cinnamon and served in a bread bowl.

The women at my table loved it as much as I did, and one challenged me to make my own and put the recipe in the paper. Challenge accepted!

Before the week was out, I had purchased my first butternut squash. I had no idea how big the squash should be to end up with six cups, but I decided on a 31⁄2-pound butternut and took it home with me.

I didn’t know whether my husband would even try this soup, but when I told him what I was making for supper than night, he was pleased and looked forward to something new.

The first order of business was peeling that big thing. That was no small feat. I had read suggestions online for how to peel a butternut squash with ideas that included roasting it with the peel on it and removing the peel once the squash had cooled. But my sister assured me it was easy to peel the squash if I used a vegetable peeler.

Well, that’s the route I took, first cutting the squash into manageable segments with the sturdiest chef’s knife I own. It was awkward, but I was able to get most of the peel off with my very cheap peeler. (Make note to tell my husband to buy me a nice vegetable peeler for my Christmas stocking.) Please be careful when cutting and peeling your squash. I consider it a major triumph that I did not cut myself while slicing that thing. I recommend buying two smaller squash rather than one really big one for this recipe.

I must stop to warn you of something else. I had a weird skin reaction to the squash; my sister did, too, with one she cooked recently. I researched online, and discovered many people get contact dermatitis from butternut squash. The skin on my left hand, which I had used to hold the squash while I cut and peeled it, turned a strange yellowish orange and felt extremely tight and uncomfortable. I tried washing off what felt like a waxy film, but it didn’t help. It was a few hours before the symptoms went away. I found out later that I should have applied a cortisone cream.

When I was preparing another butternut squash a week later, I held onto the much-smaller and more manageable squash with a paper towel, limiting my hand’s exposure. I had no reaction.

If you get to this point in the recipe, and I haven’t scared you too much, the rest is easy.

I looked at a number of butternut squash soup recipes and combined a few ideas, including roasting my squash instead of sauteeing it and adding a bit of nutmeg for flavor. I also decided to add in a medium sweet potato to give a little sweetness to my soup.

The kitchen smelled so good while the squash, onion and sweet potato were roasting, and I couldn’t wait to try my soup.

Once the vegetables were cooked, I combined them with the other ingredients and got a chance to use one of my favorite convenience products — an immersion blender. The soup was creamy in no time, and once I added a little half-and-half, it turned the prettiest shade of pale orange.

I sprinkled some cinnamon on top of my soup, and we were ready to eat our meal, complete with a salad of fresh greens, apple, nuts, feta cheese and strips of grilled chicken.

My husband loved the soup as much as I did. In fact, once we had finished our meal and were cleaning up, he pulled out a bowl and had some more, this time without cinnamon. He said he liked it better that way.

My soup did not taste exactly like the country club’s, and I didn’t expect it to. But it was smooth and creamy, it was delicious with a touch a cinnamon, and it was my creation.

There were plenty of leftovers with our soup and I several delicious lunches.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
  • 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (purchase 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of butternut squash)
  • One medium to large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cans (14 ounces each) reduced sodium, reduced fat chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Half-and-half (about 1/4 cup)
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a cooking tray, spread butternut squash, sweet potato and onion. Sprinkle some salt and drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables. Use hands to gently toss, making sure the oil also coats the pan.

Roast for 45 minutes to an hour or until vegetables are tender.

Pour the cooked vegetables into a soup pot and add chicken broth, pepper and nutmeg. Let come to a simmer. When heated through, remove from heat. Add in a few splashes of half-and-half. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is creamy. If you do not have an immersion blender, a conventional blender would work as well.

Pour soup into bowls and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, if desired.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Salute to red velvet

Playhouse of Wilson is staging “The Red Velvet Cake War” this weekend, so I thought I’d pay tribute to the play’s delicious namesake.

I didn’t feel ambitious enough to make a red velvet cake, and I’ve already published a wonderful recipe for red velvet cupcakes, so I went with red velvet cookies. And to make them even easier, I made my cookies from a cake mix!

If you’ve ever made cookies from a cake mix, then you know just how easy it is to come up with perfect results. If you’ve never attempted cookies from a cake mix, then this is a good place to start!

I used the Duncan Hines recipe, which uses three ingredients: a box of red velvet cake mix, 2 eggs and 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil. Powdered sugar to decorate is optional, so are the white chocolate chips I mixed into half of my batter, with very good results.

It takes less time to mix the cookies than it does to mix a cake. I used my very small cookie dough scoop, which is 1 teaspoon, to form my cookies. They bake in eight minutes.

I was worried my cookies would be more grayish than red, but I shouldn’t have worried. These cookies are a beautiful red, and the white chips make them even more special.

Give this recipe a try or substitute another cake mix if you don’t want a red tongue when you’ve finished eating!


Playhouse is hoping some of you out there will enter a red velvet cake in their cake contest Saturday. Have your cake at the Boykin Center between 7 and 7:30 p.m. so the judges can get to work tasting. The winner will receive a Playhouse season ticket and T-shirt as well as a $50 gift certificate to any Wilson restaurant.

“Red Velvet Cake War” opens Thursday and continues Friday and Saturday night at 8 and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults.

If you buy a ticket Thursday night, you get a second one free.

Red velvet cookies
  • 1 box red velvet cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
  • White chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine one box of Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix, two eggs and one-third cup vegetable oil using a hand blender or wire whisk. Stir in 1 to 2 cups white chocolate chips.

Form teaspoon-size balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking pan about one inch apart. Slightly pat down the top of each ball.

Cook for 8-10 minutes (the top of the cookie will crack).

While hot, lightly sprinkle the top of the cookie with powdered sugar if desired.

Duncan Hines

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Appealing apples

I love fall. The cool mornings, sunny afternoons, leaves that color the landscape with oranges, reds and yellows.

I love making soups and breads and almost anything that calls for apples in the ingredient list.

Last week, when I made a quick visit to my favorite grocery store, I saw that not only did they have in a supply of this season’s fresh apples, but they were also on sale. I quickly picked up a few yellow delicious to eat with our dinner of turkey Sloppy Joes and got a few more Cortland apples to make baked apples the next night. Neither variety disappointed.

I look forward to apple season each year. When we were young, Mama and Daddy would take my sister and me to the mountains each fall, and we’d always come back with apples. Sometimes we even picked them ourselves. I looked forward to taking those apples home to enjoy in Mama’s cobblers and apple buns or stewed on the stove and served alongside pork chops.

I had thought I’d make an apple cobbler for supper Saturday night. My son was grilling burgers and hot dogs for us, and I wanted something to go along with our meal. But instead, I decided to try something new, an apple crisp.

I looked through a number of recipes and then put my own twist on one. The dessert is so simple to make and is in the oven in 15 minutes, probably. The house smelled so good while the crisp was cooking.

I do love the smell of apples cooking, especially if there’s cinnamon involved.

The crisp was a golden brown on top, but underneath was a layer of perfectly cooked, soft apples.

I scooped some crisp in dessert cups and topped each with vanilla ice cream. The crisp was still hot, so the ice cream quickly melted.

Oh my, oh my, this dessert was so good. There were five of us eating the apple crisp, and everyone loved it. I especially liked the combination of textures with the soft apples, smooth ice cream and crunchy oatmeal topping. Yum, yum.

I can’t wait to make this again.

Apple crisp
  • 4-6 medium cooking apples, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour cut apples into ungreased pie plate and spread evenly.

In a bowl, mix brown sugar, oats, flour and cinnamon. Add melted butter and vanilla and stir well until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over apples.

Place pan on cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil in case the apple juice runs out while the dessert cooks.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender. Serve warm with ice cream on top.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Add more whole wheat

I love getting a surprise in the mail at work, especially if it involves food.

Last week, I got a package wrapped in a fabric flour bag and filled with recipe cards and a coupon for a bag of Gold Medal white whole wheat flour.

The recipes were tempting and included cookies, breads, desserts and even biscuits.

I knew right away that I would be trying this flour. I keep whole wheat flour in my refrigerator and work it into recipes often, but it’s not white. I was curious about white whole wheat flour — its taste and its nutritional value.

According to the press release that came with my recipes, Gold Medal’s white whole wheat flour is made with hard white spring wheat rather than hard red wheat that goes into many whole wheat flours, and it has the same amount of fiber and protein.

Because the flour is white, it’s a safe bet that your family won’t notice if you add the white whole wheat flour to your pancakes or muffins.

Gold Medal experts recommend starting out slow if you’re adapting recipes and at first substitute white whole wheat flour for 25 to 50 percent of the recipe’s flour content.

The recipes they developed and sent to food writers use white whole wheat flour only.

I decided to make pumpkin bars topped with a smooth cream cheese frosting. With fall upon us, I’ve been eager to make some of my family’s fall-weather favorites. For me, recipes made with pumpkin are a special treat.

It didn’t take long to mix up this recipe, but I did have to wait two hours for the bars to cool before frosting them, so keep that in mind if you make them.

The only change I made to this recipe was using light or Neufchatel cream cheese.

I had a piece of the dessert as soon as I frosted it and loved it. I was pleasantly surprised when I had a refrigerated slice the next day. I loved the dessert cold, too!

My husband also loved this recipe and certainly never complained about the flour I had used. We did discuss that I had used white whole wheat flour and agreed that we really couldn’t tell a difference in the pumpkin bars and other similar recipes using plain flour.

If you need to take a sweet dish somewhere this fall, this is a good one. Gold Medal recommends cutting it into 49 pieces (seven rows by seven rows.)

I confess, our slices were much larger than that!

But even so, you can have a good number of servings regardless.

Pumpkin Bars
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease bottom and sides of 15x10x1-inch pan with shortening. (I sprayed with baking spray.)

In large bowl, beat eggs, granulated sugar, oil and pumpkin with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Stir in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Spread in pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 2 hours.

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until smooth and spreadable. Frost bars. Cut into 7 rows by 7 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.

Gold Medal/ Betty Crocker Kitchens

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Make it easy

I certainly enjoy using ready-made food products to give my meal-planning a boost, especially on weeknights.

For instance, I make an easy chicken parmesan dish with frozen chicken patties and our favorite canned spaghetti sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. And I always use frozen pie crust when I make chicken pot pie.

Sandra Lee has made a fortune with her “semi-homemade” dishes which she demonstrates on Food Network.

I love seeing the meals she comes up with using convenience products. There’s nothing wrong with shortcuts when it comes to getting a meal on the table.

One of my favorite shortcut products is turkey meatballs. I’ve used both the frozen and fresh variety and love them both.

I have a wonderful from-scratch turkey meatball recipe I use in a soup, but for today’s meatballs in tomato sauce recipe, I rely on someone else to make them and I make the sauce from scratch.

This pasta sauce has a lot of tomatoes, and when I pour it over spaghetti, I go light on the sauce and heavy on the meatballs!

The sauce is very simple to make and only requires some sauteing, can-opening and waiting while the sauce simmers.

I add my meatballs about 10 to 15 minutes into the simmer time so their flavor can blend with the sauce.

When I make this recipe, I make a big batch, as reflected in the recipe.

We usually eat our first meal as spaghetti and meatballs and freeze the leftovers in small batches for meatball sandwiches.

I put maybe five or six meatballs on the bread (depending on the size of the roll) and top them with a little sauce.

Then, add a few slices of mozzarella cheese and put the sandwich in a hot stove or toaster oven to let the cheese melt.

I love this sandwich, which I eat with a fork!

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Oil oil for sautéing
  • 4 28 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dry
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 14-oz. bags turkey meatballs (I use Armor)
In a large pot, cook onion in a small amount of olive oil until translucent. Towards the end of cooking time, add garlic.

To the pot, add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, bay leaves, sugar onion and garlic. Stir until mixed. Bring to a boil and let simmer for one hour. Add meatballs about 15 minutes into the cooking time.

Serve over hot spaghetti or on a hoagie roll, topped with mozzarella cheese and warmed so the cheese melts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yum! Bananas and peanut butter

I hope it’s been long enough since my last muffin recipe to share another one because this one is so good!

About a year ago, I folded back a magazine to reveal a peanut butter and banana muffin recipe that I intended to try. When going through magazines over the past year, I’d see that folded back page but pass it by.

In recent months, I’ve become very attached to peanut butter and banana sandwiches, usually made on crunchy whole grain toast made from one of my favorite La Brea breads. I get a craving for them often.

When I ran across that recipe again a few weeks ago, that craving kicked in, so I moved the magazine to the kitchen where I’d see it and bought some bananas. Once they were ripe enough for baking, I finally tried the muffins (with a few changes.)

The recipe in Healthy Cooking magazine was for mini muffins topped with a mixture of brown sugar, peanuts and chocolate chips. I decided right away to use my regular muffin pan and to forego the topping, which would only add fat and calories to the muffin.

I made a few more changes with the flours and used brown sugar instead of granulated.

When I took my muffins out of the oven, I was disappointed. They were not the lovely golden brown that I usually look for in a muffin; they were more pale. I’ve found that muffins that don’t have oils don’t brown like those that contain butter or oil. Maybe the original recipe had a topping to dress it up.

As it turns out, the color of the muffin had absolutely no bearing on its taste. These muffins were delicious and only got better the next day and the next as I enjoyed them for a morning snack. One morning I put a muffin in the toaster oven for a few minutes to warm, which made the chocolate chips gooey and even more delicious.

The taste of these muffins reminded me of Gift of the Magi Bread, which made me think I could add some of those other ingredients sometime — including mandarin oranges, almonds and maraschino cherries.

If you’d like a crunch to these muffins, use chunky peanut butter. For a more intense peanut butter flavor, you could also use peanut butter chips or a mix of chocolate and peanut butter chips.

I wanted to make these muffins again this week but decided to wait a week. I really, really like these muffins and don’t want to get tired of them too soon.

But before the week is over, I’m going to get some bananas and let them start ripening!

Peanut Butter and Banana-Lover Muffins
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup fat-free milk
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups or line with cupcake holders.

Mash the bananas in a large bowl. Mix in brown sugar, egg, milk, peanut butter, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in oats, flours and chocolate chips and mix until just moistened.

Fill 12 muffin cups about three-fourths full.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Cool slightly before removing from pan.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two easy casseroles for busy school nights

When school starts back, it’s not just the kids who get a change in routine, it’s their parents as well.

We all want consistent bedtimes, a plan for school lunches and some ideas for easy dinners that accommodate soccer practice, dance lessons and school meetings.

I can’t help you much with the bedtimes, but I do have a few ideas for easy dinners that can make the school week go a little smoother and keep you out of the drive-thru line so often. And if you make enough food, then you’ll have leftovers for those lunch boxes!

I’m going to share two simple casseroles — one I’ve been making for years and have published here before, and the second a recipe that I tried earlier this month.

Soon after Reggie and I were married, I found a recipe for baked ziti that was easy enough for me to make. I had cooked some before I was married, but I still relied on simple dishes to get me through those early years of making my own meals.

This baked ziti recipe is as easy as it gets and has only four ingredients: a jar of spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, ziti and Parmesan cheese. You can vary the recipe each time you make it by buying a different brand or variety of sauce or you could forget the ziti and try another pasta shape. Twists would be good in this recipe.

The baked ziti is quick to prepare when you get home from work or school or can be made the night before and refrigerated for baking the next day. It’s also an easy recipe to teach the young cooks in your house.

Team this easy dish with a loaf of fresh bread and a green salad or even a fruit salad, and you have a delicious and easy meal.

I considered making my easy baked ziti for an Italian dinner for Bible school workers a few weeks back, but after looking at the list of dishes my friends were making I decided to go with more of a white sauce for my dish just to offer some variety. The problem? I didn’t have a recipe. But I did see a jar of pasta sauce that caught my imagination — it’s Bertolli’s Four Cheese Rosa Sauce. (I love the word Rosa, by the way, because it was my paternal grandmother’s name.)

Rosa sauce is a creamy tomato sauce that’s a beautiful rosy color. Not quite the white sauce I had envisioned, but it was close enough.

I didn’t have a recipe to use with this rosa sauce, but I went to Bertolli’s website and found their recipe for oven-baked four cheese rigatoni pasta.

This recipe has a few more ingredients than the baked ziti, but it can all be ready to mix with the hot rigatoni after the hot pasta is drained. The egg and ricotta give this dish a nice creamy texture, and I loved it when the sauce got caught in the ziti and popped into my mouth when I bit it. Yum.

I really liked this sauce and the recipe and will make it again. I especially liked it at the dinner because it was a nice complement to the other dishes that were made with tomato sauce.

A salad and crunchy bread will complete this meatless meal as well.

And while you’re sitting at the dinner table, make sure to talk to your children about their day at school. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your child over a plate of pasta!

Oven-Baked Four Cheese Rigatoni Rosa
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 8 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces rigatoni or large tube pasta, cooked, drained
  • 1 jar Bertolli® Four Cheese Rosa Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ricotta cheese, 11/2 cups mozzarella cheese, basil, egg and black pepper; set aside.

Toss hot rigatoni with sauce in large bowl. Stir in ricotta mixture. Turn into 11 x 7-inch baking dish, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake covered 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 5 minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown and cheese is melted.


Easy Baked Ziti
  • 1 (28 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ozs.)
  • 5 cups hot cooked ziti (about 3 cups uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl combine spaghetti sauce, 1 cup mozzarella cheese and ziti, cooked according to box directions. Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish sprayed with Pam. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Can be made in advance, refrigerated and then cooked.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

10 years of sharing

For 10 years now, I’ve been sharing my recipes on these pages, and, in the process, sharing my life, I guess.

It all started in August 2001. My co-worker at the time, Heather Wilkerson, was on maternity leave, and for some reason I decided that was a good time to start a food column. Turns out I was right.

I called the column “Can I have that recipe,” and originally I asked readers to send in their recipes and I ran them on Wednesdays along with Associated Press food copy.

The column was a hit immediately. I didn’t get tons of recipes, but I did get positive feedback.

Soon after the first recipe for Cooker Chops appeared on Aug. 15, 2001, people started stopping me in the grocery store or at church or at my children’s school or anywhere else I went to say they read my column. That continues today. I am humbled every time a stranger at Walmart pulls up her cart and says, “Are you that girl who puts recipes in the paper?” Then the person goes on to tell me which recipes she’s tried and which one she’s trying next. Several times, the readers (both men and women) actually have a clipped copy of my recipe in hand, and they are at the store shopping for ingredients.

Once, at Harris-Teeter, a woman asked me where to find an ingredient from a vegetarian recipe of mine she was holding in her hand. I was all smiles the rest of the day. I love, love, love when readers try my recipes. And I love it when they e-mail and tell me how much their family enjoyed a dish.

Every now and then, I get a hand-written note. One was from a dear friend who told me how my mama’s Brunswick stew recipe, which Mama made every year on Christmas Eve, had become a tradition for her family as well. That note is tucked in a drawer in my desk. I pull it out sometimes when I feel discouraged and wonder if anyone reads my column.

Some readers tell me they have tried a recipe, and others say, “I don’t cook, but I cut out your recipes!” I love it when people tell me that because they often go on to elaborate that when they retire they are going to pull out the recipes I’ve published and start cooking!

When I realized a few weeks back that this month marked the 10th anniversary of my column, I started thinking about how the column has changed the way I cook and also tried to think of which recipes have been the most popular.

I’m always trying new recipes at home because that’s how I prefer to write the column now and I also want to make it myself so I can give suggestions on preparing it and so my daughter, Anna, can photograph it. I think her photography has been a positive addition to the column, and it’s also been a good experience for both of us working together.

Many of the recipes I’ve put in the paper have become part of the menu rotation at my house. And, as it turns out, some of our favorites have been reader favorites as well.

When I think of the most popular recipes, I think of the ones I’ve had calls about for reprinting. My recipes for meatloaf and microwave bread and butter pickles have probably been the most-requested as well as my chocolate chip pie. The meatloaf recipe first ran in June 2004. For a year or so after that, I kept copies of that recipe on my desk for people who requested it. My family dearly loves that meatloaf, and although it’s been seven years since it was in the paper, people frequently tell me they still make it.

Orange streusel loaves is another memorable one. I ran that recipe in an August 2005 column. Over the next few days I was flooded with calls from my readers who couldn’t find orange supreme cake mix, the main ingredient in the recipe! Turns out that not all stores stock it, and my readers headed to the ones that did and bought up what was there as soon as the recipe was in the paper. I still love this recipe and have made it many times to take to a family in need.

Other favorite food column recipes of mine and my family include chicken tettrazini, meatball soup, cornbread dressing, pasta salad for a crowd, creamy wild rice with chicken soup, sweet pickle peaches and turkey burgers. I make turkey burgers once a month, at least! Oh, and my husband and I look forward to leftovers so we can make veggie filled ham and cheese pie and to summertime when we can make tomato pie.

I’m hungry just writing this and keeping thinking of good things to go cook. Did I mention chocolate chip cake, turtles, yummy Oreo truffles, chocolate hearts and a delicious slow cooker roast?

Thanks for visiting my food column every Wednesday either in print, on our website (www.wilsontimes.com under Life) or on my blog, http://lisabatts.blogspot.com/.

Please keep reading and keep cooking.

I sincerely love the time I spend in the kitchen cooking for my family and making memories around the dinner table. It’s my hope that the recipes from my columns are met with success in your kitchen as well.

Veggie Filled Ham and Cheese Pie
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fat-free half-and-half or milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 1 frozen pie crust (deep dish)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup mixed bell pepper cut into strips or diced
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushroom slices
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • Olive oil for sauteeing
Cook pie crust for 5 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Set aside. Turn oven temperature to 350.

While crust is cooking, saute mushrooms, onions and peppers in a small amount of olive oil.

With a whisk, beat eggs, flour, salt and half-and-half until combined.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese in bottom of partially cooked pie crust. Top with a generous layer of spinach leaves. Arrange sautéed vegetables to cover spinach. Pour egg mixture over all. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until top is golden.

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.

If you have leftovers, reheat slowly in a skillet.

Lisa's Favorite Meat Loaf
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground round
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Combine ground round, onion, eggs and salt. Mix together with ketchup, milk and bread crumbs. (I make bread crumbs with stale white bread shredded on a hand-held cheese grater.) Make sure the loaf is very moist, adding more milk and ketchup if necessary.

Form into a loose, long loaf that almost fills a 9X11-inch dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and drain fat with a spoon.

Spread mixture of ketchup and brown sugar and bake 10 more minutes until ketchup mixture is bubbly.

*Note: When making this meat loaf, I often vary amount of ingredients to make a larger or smaller loaf. I also make a little more sauce because we love it so much. This meatloaf is wonderful with mashed potatoes and field peas.

Read three of Lisa Batts' favorite food columns

Meatballs and soup a good mix

This column first ran in January 2007.

It’s been about a year now since I first clipped a recipe for Rachel Ray’s Spaghetti and Meatball Stoup.

The Food Network star featured the recipe on her “30 Minute Meals” show, and I later saw the recipe reprinted on a discussion group. “Sounds good,” I thought. But I never made it.

Then I got an e-mail from Food Network a few weeks ago highlighting soups, and the recipe popped up there. “Gotta make it,” I said. And I did.

Ray calls her recipe a stoup — “thicker than soup, thinner than stew.” Her version is delicious, I’m sure, but I made a few changes.

For instance, her recipe’s meatballs are made with a meatloaf mix of ground beef, pork and veal. I used ground turkey only. She also uses tomato sauce; I took the suggestion of several people who had reviewed her recipe and used a jar of spaghetti sauce. Instead of spaghetti, I used rotini pasta in my recipe so it would be easier to eat. And I cooked the pasta separately from the soup so the noodles wouldn’t expand too much and soak up the broth.

My version of meatball soup was a big hit at my house. We all loved it! The meatballs are flavorful and tender and make a good flavor combination on a spoon alongside pasta, veggies and a tangy sauce.

Just before Christmas, I mentioned how much I loved using my small cookie dough scoop. Well, I found a new use with this recipe. After I had mixed the meatball ingredients with a sturdy spoon, I just scooped up the mixture to make a meatball. I squeezed the handles on the scoop and dropped the meatballs one at a time into the simmering soup.

That’s just too easy. (And my hands stayed clean!)

My husband saved enough from the soup bowl for leftovers the next day. I put the noodles in a sandwich bag so he could add them separately.

Serve this soup with crusty bread, and you have a very satisfying meal.

Meatball Soup With Pasta
  • Small amount of olive oil for sauteeing
  • 1 to 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 small ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (more to taste)
  • 1 26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I use Ragu Robusto Parmesan and Romano)
  • 2 14 oz. cans chicken broth (I use Swanson’s Natural Goodness with lower sodium and fat)
  • 1.3 lbs. ground turkey (that’s the set amount in the package I purchase)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I use whole wheat rotini or twists) cooked and drained
Warm soup pot to medium high heat and add enough olive oil to sautee; carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Sautee for 5 minutes. Add spaghetti sauce and chicken broth and cover pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer.

While soup cooks, make meatballs. Mix ground turkey with cheese, bread crumbs and egg. Roll into 11/2 to 2-inch balls or use small cookie dough scoop. Add meatballs to soup. Bring back to boil and let simmer for 10 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.

Add a serving of pasta to individual bowls and pour soup on top.

My favorite meatloaf

This column first ran in June 2004.

There were many favorite meals at my mama’s house, but there are few I enjoyed more than her meat loaf.

Mama’s meat loaf was always loosely formed, not packed tight like a hamburger, and was topped with tangy tomato sauce. She often added chunks of Irish potatoes or sweet potatoes around the edge of the pan that cooked alongside the meat loaf, mingling with the beef juices and tomato sauce. I loved this meal dearly.

As a child, I knew she was making meat loaf for supper when I saw slices of white bread on the table, getting stale enough to make bread crumbs. Later I’d watch her take off her wedding rings before she worked in the ground beef, milk, eggs and bread crumbs with her hands.

When Mama made meat loaf, she usually divided it into two parts, one small loaf made without green bell pepper for my sister, and one made with finely chopped bell pepper for the rest of us.

On lists of comfort foods, meat loaf is often at the top of the list, and I agree.

I often make meat loaf for my family after a tough week at work or school or during an especially cold spell in the winter. But it was Father’s Day that caused me to pull out my recipe most recently. In talking about how to celebrate the day, I asked my husband if meat loaf, mashed potatoes and his favorite green salad with mandarin oranges was a good idea for Sunday lunch. He heartily said yes.

My recipe is not much different from my mother’s. But because I could never make mine taste just like hers, I gave up trying and came up with my own, combining recipes from different places until I hit on our favorite combination. I also make sure not to pack it tight, but to make a loosely formed loaf, just like Mama’s.

My family’s favorite part of my meatloaf is the ketchup and brown sugar sauce I put on top. It’s wonderfully tangy and sweet at the same time. When making the recipe, I’ll often bump up the ingredients to have more sauce.

I have wonderful memories of eating meatloaf for Sunday lunch at Mama’s. I think that’s one reason why it’s so important to me to make it for my husband and children; I want them to have similar memories of that wonderful aroma and the taste treat of meat and potatoes.

Lisa’s Favorite Meat Loaf
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground round (I’ve also used ground chuck)
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Combine ground round, onion, eggs and salt. Mix together with ketchup, milk and bread crumbs. (I make bread crumbs with stale white bread shredded on a hand-held cheese grater.) Make sure the loaf is plenty moist, adding more milk and ketchup if necessary.

Form into a loose, long loaf that almost fills a 9X11-inch dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and drain fat with a spoon.

Spread mixture of ketchup and brown sugar and bake 10 more minutes until ketchup mixture is bubbly.

*Note: When making this meat loaf, I often vary amount of ingredients to make a larger or smaller loaf. I also make a little more sauce because we love it so much. This meatloaf is wonderful with mashed potatoes and field peas.

Orange coffee cake a delicious treat

This column first ran in August 2005.

I’m always cutting recipes off cake mix boxes, pasta boxes and the paper insert of graham cracker crusts.

The recipes always look so tasty.

But after sampling a slice of orange streusel loaves made by my co-worker Thea Simpson last week, I was surprised to find she got the recipe from the side panel of a box of Duncan Hines orange supreme cake mix. I would have guessed the loaf was made from scratch.

Thea had made two loaves of the quick bread for a meeting at work. I quickly spotted the loaves — one made with nuts, one without — when I walked into the conference room and hoped I’d be offered a slice. And I was.

The bread had a wonderful, fresh orange taste and immediately perked up my taste buds and my spirits. I had a slice with the nut-laden streusel filling and knew, immediately, that I must make that recipe for my family — and, in turn, share it with my readers. I made my two loaves Monday night, and they were a hit with my family and the friends I shared with the next morning.

Thea said she’s been making orange streusel loaves for a long time and always keeps an orange supreme cake mix and box of vanilla instant pudding on hand so she can make the recipe whenever she wants.

The recipe suggests cooking it in two loaf pans, but Thea said it works just as well in one Bundt pan. When she makes it in a Bundt pan, she said she often pours half the batter in the pan, tops it with the streusel filling, then adds the remaining batter.

She’s also made the cake using Lemon Supreme cake mix and lemon juice in the drizzle, and says that variation is especially good in the summer.

The day after I sampled her orange loaf, I confessed to Thea that I had come close to going to the grocery store at 9 o’clock the night before to purchase the ingredients and bake my own orange streusel Loaves right then. I craved a slice that much. She laughed and told me that she had come close to coming back to work late that same night to retrieve the leftovers she had left at the office.

It’s that good.

Orange Streusel Loaves
  • 1 box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe orange supreme cake mix, reserving 2 tablespoons of mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream (I use reduced fat)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons reserved cake mix
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

For streusel topping, place 2 tablespoons cake mix, brown sugar, cinnamon and margarine in a medium bowl and mix with a fork until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Set aside.

For cake, combine remaining cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream and oil in large bowl. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Sprinkle with streusel mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 minutes. Loosen loaves from pans. Invert onto cooling rack. Turn right side up. Cool completely.

For glaze, combine powdered sugar and liquid (milk or orange juice) in small bowl. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled loaves.

Makes 2 loaves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Banana waffles

On more than one occasion this summer, my family has eaten waffles for supper. We love having breakfast foods for our evening meal, and waffles are a good choice for a hot summer day because the oven can stay turned off! And if you use microwave sausage and bacon like we often do, you don’t have to turn on the stovetop either.

This week, I tried a new waffle recipe that can break up the routine a little. The recipe uses two ripe bananas and no oil. The waffles are flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract.

We are big fans of banana nut bread at my house, and I was hoping the waffles would remind me of my favorite breakfast bread, and they did. I didn’t add pecans to my waffle batter, but I’m sure that would be a wonderful addition if you try them.

I adapted this simple recipe from one I’d seen online, mixing in 1⁄4 cup of whole wheat flour as well as some cinnamon, vanilla extract and a little brown sugar.

I have waffle iron issues at my house right now, so I made these twice in two days. The first time I made them in a cheap, new waffle iron that didn’t brown the waffles at all. In fact, I had to toast the batch of plain waffles I made in order to brown them and make them appealing enough to eat. I was not amused and took the waffle maker back to the store that afternoon.

The next day, I remade the banana waffles in my old waffle maker, the kind that flips. They browned beautifully, but they also stuck. I didn’t have that problem the day before with the new waffle iron. After the waffles started sticking, I re-sprayed the surface of the iron with cooking spray. That seemed to work.

These waffles are good to me without a topping, but you could also add any number of dressings from maple syrup and pecans to peanut butter.

Next time you have a couple of ripe bananas sitting on your counter, give this simple recipe a try.

Banana Waffles
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Sprinkle of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
In large mixing bowl, mash bananas. Mix in nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, milk and egg until combined. Stir in self-rising and wheat flour until blended.

Cook in waffle iron prepared with cooking spray. If the waffles stick, reapply spray between each waffle.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fruit salad

Sometimes, for me, the salad makes the meal.

For years, I never made or experimented at restaurants with a green salad that wasn’t your basic lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper mixture topped by some gooey dressing. Gotta love that gooey, fatty dressing!

But in recent years, my husband and I have loved experimenting with new salad combinations, and, more than anything, new dressings we make ourselves.

Twice this summer, we’ve made a delicious salad using a fruited dressing recipe of my sister’s. The dressing is so delicious and so simple to make using an envelope of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix. I saw this recipe again when I was thumbing through a school cookbook my sister helped with several years ago. Susan has several ideas for the toppings for this salad, but I tweaked that (of course) and used what I had on hand each time I made it.

The first time we made the salad dressing, which uses the juice of an orange, I topped my romaine lettuce with chunks of fresh orange, crunchy gala apple and toasted, sliced almonds. The citrus-based dressing was the perfect complement for my choice of ingredients.

I had planned to make the same salad the second time, but when it came time to assemble the salad, I realized I didn’t have any apples (which is unusual for me.) So instead of oranges and apples, I used oranges, fresh blueberries and toasted pecans. Both versions were so delicious! And I was a happy girl when I realized there was salad dressing for leftovers the next day.

I’m sure many fruit and nut combinations would work with this salad. I’d love to try strawberries, blueberries and oranges with toasted pecans or walnuts. And I know all versions would be delicious as a main course salad topped with strips of grilled chicken.

Salads are so perfect for these hot summer days, and I hope you’ll give this easy one a try.

Orange Dressing
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because it’s what I had)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice (I squeezed my own)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (0.7 oz.) envelope Good Seasons Italian dressing mix
Combine ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Store in refrigerator.

Use on a variety of fruited salads. I’ve used romaine lettuce topped with chunks of apple and orange or romaine topped with oranges and blueberries, both sprinkled with toasted nuts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peach cobbler

When my sister, Susan, moved to South Carolina a few years ago she started bringing baskets filled with beautiful peaches to Wilson when she visited in the summer.

There’s something different about these fragrant peaches, which boast a layer of bristly peach fuzz. They are sweeter, fresher and more juicy than the ones I buy at local grocery stores (although they are good in their own right, and I purchase plenty in the warm weather months.)

Susan has been home twice this summer, and each time, I’ve been the recipient of a basket of peaches. Reggie and I made a batch of deliciously sweet peach jam with the first peaches as well as a cobbler. I also enjoyed them sliced with my breakfast or for a bedtime snack.

When Susan came back this past weekend, she brought Red Globe peaches that had just started to ripen. I had been wanting to try a cobbler recipe Susan had shared with me the week before, so I decided to make a batter peach cobbler to go with our grilled dinner.

I usually make cobbler using a very simple recipe of our mother’s that’s topped with a frozen pie crust. This new cobbler, adapted for other recipes, makes its on crust from the buttery batter. Susan added cinnamon to her recipe, so I did the same.

The pie makes up quickly, with only a few steps. Peeling the peaches is the only time-consuming part of the process. But I don’t mind peeling peaches because I get to sample as I go along!

The house smelled so good as the peaches started to cook, and we couldn’t wait to try our cobbler. I loved the taste of the sweet peaches and the touch of cinnamon I could taste in the crust.

The recipe was well-received by my family, and I will certainly make it again.

I might toss in a handful of blueberries next time. And Susan tells me the recipe is equally as good when made with blackberries instead of peaches.

I know baking a dessert that takes 50 minutes to bake really heats up the kitchen on a hot July day, but turn on the fan and turn down the thermostat, because peaches won’t be in season much longer.

Mama's Fruit Cobbler
  • Fresh fruit
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour (more for fruit that will be runny when cooked)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter (or less)
  • 1 pie crust
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Fill pie pan with fresh fruit. I use blueberries (fresh or frozen), fresh peaches or cooking apples.

Mix sugar, flour and salt and sprinkle over fruit. Dot with a little butter. With apples, add cinnamon to taste.

Top with a pie crust (I use frozen). Slit top of pie crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 50 minutes.

Peach Cobbler
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 to 5 cups of peeled and sliced peaches (choose amount based on size of baking dish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cinnamon sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter in a square or round baking dish and place in oven to melt. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.

While butter is melting, mix flour, sugar, milk and cinnamon until incorporated.

Remove pan from oven when butter has melted. Pour batter mixture on top of butter, then spread peaches on top of batter. Don't mix. Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar. (Remember pan is hot, so be careful when moving it back to the oven.)

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until brown on top. Cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fill up your cookie jar this summer

It’s summertime, and at my house that means there are lots of people in and out. And those people get hungry!

I try to keep snacks around for my family and their guests to munch on, and I like to make those treats myself when I can. Thanks to a book I came across while browsing in the library’s new books section the other day, my cookie jar is now holding some delicious home-baked cookies.

“Cookies: More than 200 Recipes” by Jill Snider was enticing to me right away. I enjoyed reading the tips and descriptions she puts with each recipe, and I loved the combinations she came up with for her cookies. How about crunchy cereal cookies — a breakfast cookie recipe with crisped rice cereal, rolled oats, almonds, coconut and sunflower seeds? Or chocolate cherry mounds with pecans, dried cherries and two kinds of chocolate?

The cookie names alone make you want to start baking: butterscotch cashew cookies, Hawaiian chews, chocolate caramel oat cookies, cranberry almond oatmeal cookies.

There are many traditional favorites in this book as well, and I chose an oatmeal cookie as my first recipe from this book. A number of cookie recipes in the book use oats, but I tried oatmeal candy cookies and made them the last two Saturday afternoons.

This is a simple, basic oatmeal cookie recipe that uses candy pieces. It also calls for coconut, but I omitted that so I wouldn’t be the only one eating them. (My crowd can spot coconut hidden in any recipe.)

The first time I made this recipe I used my small cookie scoop and made small, uniform cookies that everyone gobbled down. I wasn’t sure if there would be a cookie left before they had time to cool! I cooked these cookies a minute or two more than what the recipe suggests because I love crunchy oatmeal cookies.

I made a few changes to this recipe other than leaving out the coconut. I used self-rising flour instead of all-purpose flour and left out the baking powder, baking soda and salt, and instead of using 1 cup of candy-coated chocolate pieces, I used a mixture of miniature M&Ms and miniature chocolate chips (about half-and-half.)

The cookies were a big hit at my house, and I feel confident I’ll make them again and again.

This is a good recipe to use if you have kids around who want to help. Both times I made this recipe, my 2-year-old granddaughter was at the house, and she poured in the chocolate chips and M&Ms. She also helped me hold the mixer.

Before writing this column, I wanted to try something different, so I made a second recipe, using ingredients I’ve never put in a cookie. I chose white chocolate, fruit and nut cookies.

These buttery, tender cookies are packed with white chocolate, chopped cashew nuts, dried cranberries and dried apricot. I wasn’t sure how I would like the combination, but it was a delicious cookie, and everyone who tried it agreed.

When you’re making these cookies, try to get some of each ingredient in each cookie because the combination is really good.

White Chocolate Fruit and Nut Cookies
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest*
  • 8 squares (1 oz./28 g each) white chocolate cut into chunks*
  • 1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cashews
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried mango*
Preheat oven to 375F.

Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

On a sheet of waxed paper or in a bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and brown and granulated sugars until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add orange zest. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. With a wooden spoon, stir in white chocolate, cashews, cranberries and mango.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-12 minutes or until golden around edges. Cool for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

*I used self-rising flour and omitted the salt and baking soda. I didn’t have an orange, so I didn’t use orange zest. Also, instead of cutting squares of chocolate, I used a cup of white chocolate chips. And I also used apricot instead of mango.

"Cookies: More than 200 recipes" by Jill Snider

Oatmeal Candy Cookies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats*
  • 1 cup candy-coated chocolate pieces*
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut*
Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or by greasing.

On a sheet of waxed paper or in a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, granulated and brown sugars, egg and vanilla until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until smooth. With a wooden spoon, stir in oats, candy pieces and coconut.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 9-13 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

*I made the following changes: I used self-rising flour and omitted the baking powder, baking soda and salt. I didn’t have quick-cooking oats, so I used old-fashioned. I omitted coconut, and I used a mixture of miniature M&Ms and miniature chocolate chips instead of 1 cup of the candy pieces only.

Another good variation: instead of M&Ms and chocolate chips, I mixed in about a cup of dark chocolate chips and 3/4 to 1 cup chopped dried cherries. Delicious!

"Cookies: More than 200 Recipes" by Jill Snider