Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Easy chili

When Reggie and I were first married, I did a lot of experimenting with my cooking. I tried a lot of easy recipes, too.

One of those easy recipes came from a Campbell’s Soup cookbook that I received here at work as the food editor. The recipe offered variations on a chili or soup, where you chose which type of meat, canned soup and vegetables to put in your pot.

I have probably shared this recipe at some point over my years writing this column, although I couldn’t find it in our archives, but I wanted to publish it again because it is so quick and easy and perfect for a cold night.

The thing I like best about this recipe, however, is that all four of us like it! I can’t say that about many things I cook.

Anyway, this chili starts with a pound of ground beef browned with an onion. Mix in two cans of tomato soup, a can of mixed vegetables and some seasoning, and you’re done, except for the simmering.

Here’s the part that appeals to my kids (and their parents) and makes it so special: You top the chili with Cheddar cheese, which melts and forms the perfect complement to the tomato soup-based chili, and you eat it with corn chips! In fact, we sometimes forgo the spoon and just eat with the Fritos Scoops.

I made this chili many times in the early years of our marriage and then forgot about it for maybe 10 years. I started making it again a few years ago, and I have already made it twice this fall. I think it’s fair to say this recipe has withstood the test of time in my family.

Campbell's Chili Soup
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 cans (10 ozs. each) condensed tomato soup (not reduced-sodium/reduced-fat)
  • 1 can (about 15 ozs.) mixed vegetables (do not drain)
  • Chili powder to taste (I only use about 1/8 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Fritos and Tostitos
In Dutch oven or large skillet, brown beef with onion until done. Drain fat and rinse. Stir in soup, vegetables with liquid, chili powder and vinegar. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle into bowls. While chili soup is hot, sprinkle with cheese. Serve with corn chips or tortilla chips.

Adapted from Campbell's

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We've got the pumpkin spice pudding!

*** The pudding gave out early afternoon. Thanks so much for stopping by. Sorry we didn't have enough for everyone. ***

It all started innocently enough, and I had the best of intentions. I promise!

I was walking through WalMart either the end of August or the first of September and spotted a box of pumpkin spice instant pudding mix by Jell-O. I picked up a box and immediately started thinking of how I could use this product for a food column recipe. The first thing that came to mind was to use it as I would a vanilla pudding mix when I add it to a yellow cake mix. The more I thought about it over the new few weeks, I decided I’d also add apples and pecans to the cake batter and top the finished product with cream cheese frosting with some cinnamon mixed in.

I finally made the cake, and it was a big hit at my house, so I shared it in my food column on Sept. 26. First, however, I did search the Internet for the pudding, and discovered it wasn’t anything obscure. Everything seemed okay. It’s a seasonal product by Jell-O. I figured it would be everywhere, just like Oreos with holiday frosting or holiday cake mixes.

Boy, was I wrong.

The emails and phone calls started the next day, both at work and at home. My dear and faithful readers were having a hard time finding pumpkin spice pudding mix in Wilson. They told me stories of how they had been to three or four grocery stores but couldn’t find it in stock there, and WalMart quickly sold out.

The calls and emails continued for the next few weeks, and people stopped me when I was out in public to ask where I bought the pudding mix. On one Saturday morning shopping trip at WalMart, three people asked me about the pudding.

I even had the staff at two Wilson stores approach me (they recognized me from my column photo) to say how many people had been in the stores looking for that pudding mix!

Some cooks came up with their own version of the cake. One reader told me she was going to use vanilla pudding mix and add in some pumpkin spice. I’ve had several people tell me they tried that as well and that the cake was very good. Another woman made the cake with a spice cake mix when she couldn’t find the pudding mix. And a few found the pudding mix when they were shopping at a WalMart out of town!

I have felt bad about this because I don’t want to disappoint my readers. So I got in contact with someone at Kraft, and she graciously arranged for 96 boxes of pudding mix to be delivered. It arrived on Friday, and if you want a box, come by and get it at the customer service desk. I’m guessing it will go quickly.

I am very grateful to Kraft for helping out with this, and I hope everyone who wants a box can get one. I apologize in advance if it runs out before you get here.

This whole experience has been humbling for me. I appreciate my readers more than you can imagine, and I hope you keep reading my food column and trying recipes. I love our little community of cooks!

Giveaway Today

Come by The Wilson Times customer service office at 2001 Downing St. today to pick up a box of pumpkin spice pudding mix. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. One box per family, please. Supplies are limited, so we do not know how long the giveaway will last.

Easy Pumpkin Pudding Cake
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) Jell-O pumpkin spice instant pudding mix
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tub cream cheese frosting
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all cake ingredients and mix for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.

Pour into 13X9-inch baking dish that has been prepared with baking spray and cook for 26-30 minutes. (Can use other pan size options; refer to back of cake box for cooking instructions.) Sprinkle some cinnamon into frosting and stir to combine. Once cake has cooled, spread frosting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pretty pumpkin pretzels

If you have a little time between now and Halloween, pick up just a few ingredients to make this quick and easy Halloween treat.

My daughter saw these sweet pretzel treats on Pinterest and suggested we make them for the food column.

She made Pretzel Pumpkins one afternoon while I worked on another food column recipe. In no time, she had a small army of little pretzels covered with orange-tinted melted chocolate that looked very much like jack-o-lanterns.

The process is simple. You just melt the white chocolate chips with a tablespoon of shortening and stir in food coloring to make them the shade of orange you desire. Next, dip the mini pretzels into the melted chocolate, place on wax paper and add a green M&M for the stem. The chocolate sinks into the recesses of the pretzel and leaves an appearance of spooky eyes and a mouth.

Let the chocolate harden, and you have a lot of sweet treats for very little effort.

Pretzel Pumpkins
  • 1 bag mini pretzels (You won’t use the whole bag)
  • 1 bag M&Ms candy, needing only the green ones (We used M&M minis)
  • Orange food coloring (We used liquid food coloring)
  • 1 12-oz. bag white chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
Place chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute; stir until all chips are incorporated. If they don’t melt completely as you stir, microwave in 10-second intervals. Mix in food coloring. Dip pretzels into melted chocolate to cover and place on wax paper or parchment paper. Add a green M&M mini at the top of the prezel for the stem.

Adapted from Butter with a Side of Bread Blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New recipes, new ideas

It’s been fun these last few weeks to see what new fall cookbooks have been released and which ones have been sent to my office.

Some of my favorites this year have been Southern Living publications, so I thought I’d share my thoughts as well as recipes from two.

If you’re already thinking ahead to Christmas gifts, I’d recommend both of these books.


That’s a long name for a cookbook, isn’t it! Once you get past the title and the colorful cover, you have a treat inside.

This 320-page softbound book is designed for cooks who like to think ahead and put food in the freezer for a later meal.

The first pages of the book give a beginner’s guide to what can be frozen and the best way to package foods for the freezer. Then it’s on to the recipes.

There are a number of recipes for such basics as a pizza sauce, a honey-barbecue sauce and even Double Berry Freezer Jam, and a chapter on double-duty recipes.

The double-duty recipes can make two very different recipes. For instance, one evening you make Beef Sloppy Joes and use eight servings of the sauce for the Sloppy Joes. You can then freeze 5 cups of the beef mixture to use in Sloppy Joe Shepherd’s Pie another evening. Do the same thing with an Old-Fashioned Pot Roast one night and freeze 5 cups of leftover meat for Beef-and-Bean Tostados.

One of my favorite recipes, and the one I will try first from this section, is Easy Barbecued Chicken that’s cooked in a slow cooker; following it is a recipe for Hearty Brunswick Stew using 3 cups of the leftover chicken.

The rest of the book is mostly recipes that would work well when made in advance and frozen for later use. They could also be divided in half, using one portion the night you make it and freezing the other half for another day when you don’t want to cook but don’t mind thawing!

Some recipes that caught my eye include Home-style Ground Beef Casserole, Beefy Minestrone Soup, Hamburger Steak with Sweet Onion Mushroom Gravy and Anytime Chicken and Dressing.

This cookbook has some interesting ideas for things to freeze for later use, including pimiento cheese. This recipe uses both Cheddar cheese and Velvetta, which I’ve never tried in pimiento cheese. There’s also a recipe for Hurry-Up Homemade Crescent Rolls that would be a big hit at my house. The recipe uses an all-purpose baking mix, such as Bisquick, which intrigues me.

There are many do-ahead desserts, too, but one I want to share today is White Fruit Cake. I’ve never made a fruit cake, but this one sure is pretty — filled with a mix of the traditional dried fruits. Once baked, the cake is covered with Orange-Bourbon Glaze and can be frozen for up to a month.

I really like this cookbook. I have found a number of recipes I want to try. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys cooking or for holiday gifts.

“Southern Living: Fix It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It.” Oxmoor House. $19.95. You can purchase the book from online vendors.


It’s no secret that I have a weakness for trying new slow cooker dishes. I’ve been trying new dishes in one slow cooker or another since I was married 27 years ago. I love the convenience of doing a little prep work the night before and having the luxury of coming home to a simmering meal the next night!

This Southern Living Book grabbed my attention from the beginning, not only with it’s enticing cover photo of spicy Asian Barbecue Drummettes sprinkled with sesame seeds but also with the wording that there were “200 fresh, wholesome recipes — ready and waiting” inside.I was not disappointed when I started thumbing through this 288-page softbound book. In fact, I made two of the recipes in the first week: an adaptation of the drummettes and Butternut Squash Soup with Vanilla Bean. They were both so good!

Several features drew me to this book originally and keep holding my interest each time I flip through it. The photography is gorgeous and gives me a good idea of what I have in store if I try Shortcut Ravioli Lasagna, for instance, or Orange-Molasses BBQ Ribs.

Also, I love the variety in this book. Whether you are a novice cook or an old pro, you can find plenty of recipes to try in this book. Recipes range from beverages (including Caramel Apple Cider that I’ve promised my son we’d try) and desserts, to side dishes and main courses.

There are plenty of seafood recipes in the book for those who’d like to experiment with such fare as a Lowcountry Shrimp Boil that cooks in five hours or Seafood Gumbo that cooks in just over three hours. And there are several pasta dishes I’d like to try including Three-Cheese Penne Bake and a lasagna with Swiss chard.

Other recipes that caught my eye as appealing and different for slow cooker food include Chicken Tostadas, Beef Brisket Soft Tacos, and Hot and Spicy Black-eyed Peas that are packed with peppers, pepperoni, Mexican-style stewed tomatoes and rice.

If you’re new to the slow cooker or purchasing this book for a new cook, you’ll be glad to know this book also comes with an introduction and tips for using this handy appliance.

“Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking.” Oxmoor House. $22.95. You can purchase the book from online vendors.

Anytime Chicken and Dressing
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 7 green onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 10 cornbread muffins, crumbled (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 (16-oz.) package herb-seasoned stuffing mix
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add green onions and celery and sautee 5 minutes or until tender.

Combine cornbread and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; add sauteed vegetable mixture, stirring well. Spoon dressing into a lightly greased 13X9-inch baking dish.

TO FREEZE IT: Cover baking dish tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil; label and freeze up to 2 months. To heat, let casserole thaw overnight in fridge. Uncovered and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes or until lightly browned.

TO EAT NOW: Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Fix It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It"

Italian Sausage and Peppers with Rotini
  • 1 19.5-oz. package turkey Italian sausage links
  • 1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 26-oz. jar tomato pasta sauce
  • 4 1/2 cups (12 ozs.) uncooked rotini pasta
  • 6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Mix all ingredients except pasta and cheese in a lightly greased 3- or 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Serve sausage mixture over pasta; sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking"

Mexican Macaroni
  • 1 8-oz. package elbow macaroni, uncooked
  • 1 10-oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 10 3/4-oz. can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 8-oz. container sour cream
  • 1 4.5 oz. can chopped green chilies
  • 2 cups (8 ozs.) shredded Mexican four-cheese blend
Cook macaroni in boiling water for 6 minutes. Stir together macaroni, diced tomatoes and next 3 ingredients with 1 cup water in a bowl. Stir in 11/2 cups cheese. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 3-quart slow cooker; top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Cover and cook on low 3 hours or until done.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking"

White Fruit Cake
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup canned pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/2 cup candied green cherries, quartered
  • 1/4 cup candied red cherries, quartered
  • Orange-Bourbon Glaze (follows)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Stir together first 5 ingredients; cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes or until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; reserve 1/2 cup flour mixture. Gradually add remaining flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in lemon and orange zest.

Drain raisin mixture and stir in cherries. Toss raisin mixture with reserved 1/2 cup flour mixture and fold into batter. Spoon batter into 2 lightly greased 8X4-inch loaf pans.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Brush hot cakes with Orange-Bourbon Glaze until absorbed. Cool in pans 10 minutes; invert cakes onto a wire rack and cool completely.

TO FREEZE IT: Wrap cake layers tightly with plastic wrap and loosely with aluminum foil. Label and freeze up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature.

Makes two loaves.

Orange-Bourbon Glaze
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
Cook orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Remove orange juice mixture from heat and stir in bourbon.

"Southern Living: Fit It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sweets for Halloween

Halloween is all about sweet treats: candy corn, chocolate bars, popcorn balls, gooey taffy wrapped in seasonal paper.

The kids will get plenty if they go trick-or-treating, and the parents can get their fill as well with the goodies back home.

Since my children were little, I’ve made a buffet of sorts of appetizers and sweets that the family can munch on Halloween night while we wait for the trick-or-treaters to arrive.

Today’s recipe for Halloween mix would make a nice addition to that table.

It would also be perfect to take to a fall carnival or trunk-or-treat event. Either serve it from a bowl or put a cupful or two into individual seasonal plastic bags tied with matching ribbon.

This popcorn-based mix is one of those recipes that can be easily changed around to match the tastes of your family. It can also reflect what’s in your kitchen cabinets!

I started with a basic recipe, then started adding some of our favorite treats, including dry-roasted almonds. I also threw in some pretzels, which I love with almond bark drizzled all over them, and some Cheerios.

The recipe doesn’t take but a few minutes to make, but do allow the candy to dry before breaking it up and storing it.

I wasn’t so sure of adding the candy corn to my mix because I really couldn’t imagine almond bark on top of candy, but why not? It’s Halloween!

Halloween Mix
  • 2 bags microwave popcorn, popped
  • 1 cup candy corn
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 1/2 to 1 cup dry-roasted almonds
  • 1 cup Reese's Pieces (could also use M&Ms in seasonal colors)
  • 1 cup pretzels (I used twists)
  • 1 cup Cheerios
  • 1 pound white almond bark (vanilla flavored)
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt almond bark according to directions on package. Pour melted almond bark over popcorn mixture and stir to combine. If you think you have too much bark, add some pretzels or cereal to balance it out.

Pour onto a large sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper and spread out. Once it has cooled and dried completely, break into smaller pieces and store until ready to eat.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sweet pizza

My family loves (and begs for) fruit pizza. And because they love the sugar cookie topped “pizza” with a cream cheese filling and fresh fruit and glaze, I’ve often wondered what other kind of dessert pizza I could make for them.

In the last few weeks, my daughter and I have been scouring websites looking for seasonal recipes for fall and Halloween food columns. In that search, I saw several dessert pizzas and knew it would be easy to decorate them to reflect the season.

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to try a pizza with a chocolate chip pizza crust, so I chose a Pillsbury recipe for chocolate-peanut butter cookie pizza to make last weekend. Peanut butter and chocolate is a favorite combination with my family, so I knew I couldn’t miss with this recipe. I was right!

The dessert is very simple to put together. It starts with the cookie crust. I used slice and bake cookies on an inexpensive pizza pan I bought for my fruit pizza. The aluminum one-use pans would work as well. You have to work with the cookie dough to get it to spread evenly across the pan. But the body heat from your hands will help warm up the dough so it’s more pliable.

I overcooked my cookie crust; that’s what happens when you forget to set the timer! It didn’t really burn, but the crust was darker than I would have wanted. Anyway, it turns out that the more firm, crisp crust was a good thing. Even the second day we had the pizza, the crust was firm and not soggy.

Mix the cream cheese/ peanut butter topping for your pizza while the crust is baking and spread it on after the cookie has cooled.

Pillsbury suggests drizzling with hot fudge topping (we warmed ours first) and topping with chopped peanuts. We also added yellow, orange and brown Reese’s Pieces to ours to reflect fall decorations. Fall M&Ms would be pretty on the pizza as well.

We couldn’t wait for Anna to photograph this dessert so we could give it a try. It was so good. Rich, but delicious. You can feed many people with this recipe (Pillsbury says 12) because a small slice is really all you need.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Pizza
  • 1 roll (16.5 oz) refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 3/4 cup hot fudge topping
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts**
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In ungreased 12-inch pizza pan, break up dough. With floured fingers, press dough evenly in bottom of pan to form crust.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Fold in whipped topping.

Spread 1/2 cup of the fudge topping over cooled crust.* Spread peanut butter mixture over top. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup fudge topping. Sprinkle with peanuts. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until serving time. Cut into wedges or squares.


* We did not put the fudge topping on the crust, only drizzled a little of it on the top.

**We added Reese’s Pieces to the top of the pizza