Monday, December 30, 2013

Hot tea a delicious drink for winter

I’m not a coffee-drinker, but in the last several years I’ve really enjoyed hot teas.
Last month, I overheard a conversation about a woman’s recipe for a spiced tea. It sounded very similar to the very popular and very delicious Russian tea that so many people make with powdered drink mixes. I love that tea!
But this tea was simmered on the stove and featured such yummy things as pineapple juice, orange juice and some of my favorite spices: cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
She and I talked a bit about her tea, and when I got home, I searched for similar recipes.
After considering all my options, I decided to brew some tea and start adding things until the tea tasted like I wanted!
I chose two fresh oranges and didn’t include lemon, although many recipes do. I also brewed my tea with the cinnamon stick in the water for extra flavor. 
Instead of using cheesecloth to hold my whole spices, I decided to let them simmer loose. Once the tea was ready, I poured it through a colander with small holes and strained the spices.
The key to making this tea is to include your favorite flavors. Taste it as you go along, and don’t let the spices simmer with the tea for too long or it will be bitter.
I poured my tea in a pitcher and left it in the refrigerator for a few days. Whenever I wanted a cup, I just pulled out a favorite mug and warmed up a single serving for me. 
The tea accompanied me to work several times in my Tervis cup, which I warmed in the break room microwave. What a treat to have this delicious tea for my morning break!
I made my tea on the stove, but I’m sure it would work well in a slow cooker, too.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Spiced Hot Tea
3 family-size ice tea bags
6 cups water (divided)
1 stick of cinnamon
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon whole cloves
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon whole allspice
3⁄4 cup sugar
2 12-oz. cans pineapple juice
Bring 3 cups water to boil in large sauce pan. Add tea bags (I use decaffeinated) and cinnamon stick and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags. Add remaining spices, sugar, pineapple juice and remaining 3 cups water and return to heat. Simmer on very low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste all along and adjust ingredients as necessary.
Strain tea to remove spices before drinking.
Can store leftovers in the refrigerator and heat up later.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cookies for Christmas

I’ve never liked making cutout cookies. I guess it’s because I’ve had so many failures. But a new recipe has changed my mind.
Over the years, I’ve had a hard time finding a recipe with a sugar cookie dough I could roll out easily — one that didn’t stick to the rolling pin or the pastry sheet.
In recent years, my daughter and I have relied on refrigerated sugar cookie dough whenever we wanted to make cutout cookies. And we were quite happy with the results.
But on Saturday, I decided to be adventurous and try a very popular recipe from the website allrecipes.com. I ran across the recipe in the website’s new magazine, also named allrecipes.
The best rolled-out sugar cookies recipe has more than 5,700 reviews and a 4.5 rating out of 5. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this recipe before, and I know I will keep it to make again.
I made a bold move when I made these cookies last week and followed the recipe exactly, even remembering to leave the butter on the counter so it would reach room temperature. I also used all-purpose flour and baking powder instead of my usual self-rising flour substitute.
While my supper was in the oven, I mixed up the batter in just a few minutes and then followed the instructions to let it chill at least an hour. It was probably 90 minutes by the time we ate, cleared the supper dishes and got ready to make cookies.
Our granddaughter, Sora, was with us Saturday night, and she and my daughter, Anna, worked with me to make a very large recipe of cutout reindeer, stockings, Christmas trees and angels.
Again I followed the instructions and rolled out only a small amount of dough at the time on a lightly floured surface, returning the remaining dough to the refrigerator in between. I had no trouble at all rolling out the dough or cutting out shapes and transferring them to the cookie sheet. This is such a different experience from times when the buttery dough was too delicate to roll without tearing or sticking to the rolling pin or cutters.
We filled small bowls with red and green sprinkles, and the three of us had fun decorating. Most of it was random sprinklings of crunchy sugar, my favorite! And we made sure several reindeer had a red nose.
The sweet smell of sugar cookies baking enticed us to keep making cookies as sheet after sheet baked. But none of us grew tired of this yearly ritual.
The cookies were very good. They are not too rich and not overly sweet. We all loved them.
This recipe is big, making up to 5 dozen, depending on the size of your cutters, but it’s also easily adapted for smaller batches.
I’ve already given away some of our cookies, but there should be enough left to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve!
If you haven’t made cookies with your family yet this season, I urge you to give this recipe a try and make some memories while you’re making cookies!

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Best rolled sugar cookies

11⁄2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out dough on floured surface 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.
Makes 5 dozen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cheese straws and memories

Whenever the bulky cheese grater appeared on the counter at home, it meant one of two things. We were either having pimiento cheese sandwiches for lunch or Mama was making cheese straws. 
Around this time of year, it usually meant cheese straws, but that grater with the hand crank also came out when Mama was helping with a shower or a wedding, including my own. 
I would get excited whenever I saw the cheese grater and Mirro cookie press on the kitchen counter. Not only would I get to sample the broken cheese straws when they were cooled enough to eat, but it also meant my cousins would be visiting. 
When Mama made cheese straws, either my Aunt Margaret or my Aunt Lottie would usually come to help so they could quickly finish a batch for whatever special occasion they were planning. This was often followed up with tubs of delicious fruit punch they would put in the freezer to serve at the party. 
The children would hover in the kitchen when all of this was going on. I remember my sister, Susan, and I would stand by the bowl where Daddy was grating cheese and watch it come out of the grater cylinder, making a mountain of fine orange cheddar that smelled so good. We would beg, just like hungry little birds, for handfuls of the soft cheese. Daddy would give us just a little bit, but Mama needed it for the cheese straws, he would tell us. I thought of  this last week when I was grating my cheese and my husband wanted to sample the sharp cheddar! I let him have a very little bit, but I wanted every ounce to go in my recipe. 
The cookie press, now called “vintage” on ebay, only came out for cheese straws, spritz cookies and Mama’s powdered sugar-covered nutty fingers. 
I loved looking at the recipe book that came with the press and the photos of the fancy cookies you could make using different plates. For the cheese straws, Mama used the star plate for the desired ruffled points that would get a little crispy in the oven. 
I enjoyed watching as Mama or one of my aunts pressed the cheese straw dough into the cookie press and turned the knob on the end, pressing out long rows of orange dough with lots of little points. Someone else would cut the rows into serving size pieces and make sure they were straight before going in the oven. 
The smell of cheese straws baking is unmistakable. Last week, when I baked a batch, I was taken aback when I got the first whiff of cheddar mixed with a little red pepper and paprika. It was the smell of Christmas in Mama’s kitchen. 
I have Mama’s Mirro press as well as one that my mother-in-law gave me. I use the working parts from each one of them to make the same  Christmas treats Mama made. 
My family loves cheese straws, and after I found my mama’s handwritten recipe a few years ago, I’ve made them a few times for us. It’s a lot of hard work with that decades-old press whose crank doesn’t turn as easily as it once did. I have tried to find a new cookie press, but I’ve had no luck finding one that operates the way Mama’s did. So last week, when I made my cheese straw dough and failed miserably with a new press that was sent to me, I went to Plan B. I rolled the dough into logs about as big around as a nickel, and cut the logs into pieces that resembled fat coins. I topped some with a pecan half. 
I couldn’t wait to taste one when it came out of the oven, and I burned my fingers in my haste. But within a few minutes they were ready to sample. 
Yes, it’s the same taste. No pretty little ruffles like Mama’s cheese straws, but they were so good. 
I worried what my tradition-minded family might say. I shouldn’t have. My daughter, Anna, has eaten almost the entire first recipe! 

The recipe
Most recipes I’ve found have the same basic ingredients for cheese straws: sharp cheddar cheese, butter, flour and red pepper. The difference is usually in how much butter, cheese and pepper are used. 
My dear friend and former sister-in-law Frances Wells Tomlinson adds Worchestershire sauce to her recipe. Mama used paprika. 
Since I have yet to find a cookie press on the market that works the way my mama’s old Mirro press works, I made this recipe as wafers or little biscuits. If you make it that way, you don’t have to buy special equipment. No, the wafers are not as pretty as Mama’s cheese straws and don’t have 
the crunchy ruffles. But they are good. Very, very good. And they are easy.
I experimented with this recipe three times in the last week, and it took less than an hour from start to finish each time. 
I grated my own cheese the first time and used packaged, finely shredded cheese the other times. I had better results with the dough and final 
product with the batch using cheese I grated. 
This recipe is the one my mama, Helen Owens Boykin, used so many times for Christmas Eve parties, baby showers and wedding receptions, including my own. 

Helen’s Cheese Straws 

  • 3⁄4 stick of butter, softened 
  • 1⁄2 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese 
  • 1 1⁄4 cup self-rising flour 
  • 1 ⁄2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 ⁄4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne) 
  • 1 ⁄4 teaspoon paprika 

With electric mixer beat butter until creamy. Add grated cheese a little at a time until incorporated. Gradually add in flour, salt, red pepper and paprika until mixed. My dough is crumbly at this point, so I use my hands to work the dough until it is soft. The warmth from your hands should make 
the dough form as needed. 
If you have a cookie press, use the star tip to make cheese straws. Cut in desired lengths before baking. Mama’s recipe says she made 60 to 70 3 1⁄2-inch cheese straws. 
If you don’t have a press, take a handful of softened dough and roll it into a log about as big around as a nickel. Cut around 1⁄4-inch thick. Repeat 
with remaining dough. 
Bake either version at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. 
Adapted from a recipe by Helen O. Boykin 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Any cooks on your Christmas list?

I’m sure there’s someone on your Christmas list this season who would love a cookbook. I thought I’d share a few ideas from ones that I’ve enjoyed recently.

‘Martha Stewart’s Cakes’

This beautiful book that I checked out from the Wilson County Public Library makes my mouth water every time I thumb through it! 
The cakes are divided in categories, such as loaves, Bundts, coffee cakes, single layers, cheesecakes and layer cakes. There’s also a section of glazes, frostings and embellishments to make your cake even more special.
I’ve looked through the book with its gorgeous photographs several times and don’t think any of the recipes are overly difficult. 
I made the chocolate Bundt cake with a delicious glaze. I often bake a similar cake using a boxed cake mix, but the buttery taste of this one made it apparent it was from scratch. My family really enjoyed it. It’s better the first day or two, so plan accordingly.
It took me a long time to decide which cake to make in this book. I also wanted to try the carrot tea cake made in a loaf pan and the pistachio pound cake as well. And I need an excuse to make the wild-blueberry buckle or the banana pecan cake!
This book needs to go back to the library, but I do plan to ask for it myself for Christmas!

‘Weelicious Lunches’

It’s not just school-age kids who would appreciate the recipes in this cookbook by Catherine McCord, founder of the very popular website Weelicious. 
McCord is an advocate for healthier food for kids and developed recipes to make packing school lunches easier and healthier.
Each of the 160 meals comes with commentary on how the recipe was developed and how different family members request it.
For instance, her inspiration for shredded Chinese chicken salad was a Los Angeles restaurant, Chin Chin. Her Mexican muffins are made from left over chicken. Her homemade whole wheat pancake mix takes the place of a store bought mix. The leftover pancakes make great sandwiches, she says.
Make sure to read the first chapters in the book and her tips for packing “the perfect lunch.” For instance, she experiments with new foods, such as dragon fruit, and sends melon balls instead of sliced melon because they are more enticing to a child.

‘No Taste Like Home’

This Southern Living cookbook by Kelly Alexander of Chapel Hill would be a lovely edition to any collection.
The book travels from state to state and highlights favorite regional dishes, such as honey ginger tea in Trussville, Ala., and creole potato salad from Slidell, La.
Recipes and stories from a number of popular chefs and celebrities are included as well.
In the North Carolina section, author Charles Frazier shares a story on soup beans. Actress Andie McDowell gives out her recipe for anything-goes salad with lemon-mustard dressing.
In the Texas chapter, country music star Miranda Lambert includes her mother’s meatloaf recipe. Country singer Sara Evans of Birmingham, Ala., shares her cheesy potato soup recipe.
The photography in this cookbook is gorgeous, and it makes for an enjoyable read. 
The sticker price is $27.95, but I’ve seen it online for much less, so check it out!
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Chocolate Bundt Cake

  • For the cake:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • For the glaze:
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 14-cup Bundt pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Mix milk and sour cream in a glass measuring cup.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; add vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined.
Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. (Cake can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, up to 1 day.)
Make the glaze: Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour over chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes. Add butter, and mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over cake.
“Martha Stewart’s Cakes”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tips for diabetics for holiday eating

There are so many opportunities to eat big meals and overindulge during the holidays from Thanksgiving dinner to a New Year’s Eve celebration.
If you have special dietary concerns, it can be a season of problems.
Lee Lamb, clinical and cardio-pulmonary rehab dietitian at Wilson Medical Center, talked about some of these pitfalls and good alternatives at last week’s meeting of the Wilson County Diabetes Support Group.
“You want to be prepared,” she said.
Those attending the meeting were greeted with a plate of diabetes-friendly food Lamb had prepared, including a green bean casserole made with frozen beans and bread crumbs and pumpkin pudding made with canned pumpkin and sugar-free Jell-O.
Much of the meeting involved participants sharing ways they had adapted favorite holiday recipes to be healthier and to fit into their diet as well as tips from Lamb.
Here are some of the ideas that came up last week:
• Use Splenda in pumpkin pie instead of sugar. Lamb pointed out it’s also good to make the pie crust-less or put nuts on the bottom instead of a crust.
•  A good holiday dessert is trifle made with angel food cake, sugar-free Jell-O pudding and light whipped topping.
• If you’re trying to adjust your diet, ease into the transition. One participant told how she is gradually weaning herself from sugar in her tea by adjusting the ratio of sugar and Splenda. It’s easy to do the same with whole milk and skim milk.
• Be careful what you drink at holiday parties. Calories can really add up with egg nog, hot chocolate and alcohol. You can make your own egg nog with low-fat or skim milk and artificial sweeteners. Lamm served delicious unsweetened, hot herbal tea at the meeting.
• Family members might press you to cook the same traditional recipes at Thanksgiving and Christmas with no modifications. But you don’t want to get off your regimen, even for the holidays. “It’s important to stay focused,” Lamb said. 
• One woman in the group asked for ways to make carrot cake healthier. Lamb suggested reducing the amount of sweetener and using Splenda. You can also add more pineapple and carrot, she said, use reduced-fat cream cheese or Greek yogurt cream cheese.
• “Don’t be afraid to cut things in half,” Lamb told them. For the onion dip she served at the meeting, she used half an envelope of onion soup mix stirred into Greek yogurt, not sour cream. And she provided carrot sticks for the dip, not chips.
• Stuffing was a favorite holiday dish for several in the group. Lamb said to make it healthier don’t add the grease from the turkey and use reduced-sodium chicken broth.
• When you’re at a big meal, don’t go back for seconds or thirds. And be careful with your original plate and the serving sizes making it one-half non-starch vegetable, one-quarter carbohydrate and one-quarter protein.
• Put away the food as soon as possible after the meal so you aren’t tempted to keep eating, and give away the leftovers. “Don’t keep that temptation around,” Lamb said.
• Don’t fry your turkey, and when you roast it, remove the skin before eating.
• Take a 15-minute walk after every meal.
• When making chicken salad, try Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise and mix in fruit, nuts and seeds.
• Volunteer to take food to a meal or party you are attending. That way, you’ll be sure to have something healthy to eat.
• Don’t be afraid to modify and change recipes.
• Instead of using baking sprays, line your pan with aluminum foil.
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Lee’s Heart Healthy Green Bean Casserole

  • 2 16-ounce bags frozen french cut green beans
  • 1 10-ounce can Campbell’s 98 percent fat free or Healthy Request cream of mushroom soup
  • 3/4 cup skim or 2 percent milk 
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped bella/porchini mushrooms
  • 1 small sweet onion sliced thinly into rings
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs (whole wheat, if possible)

Mix all ingredients (except sliced onions) together completely in a 9x13 baking dish, then top with thinly sliced onion rings. Bake at 375° degrees for 30 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbly. Remove from oven and top with panko bread crumbs. Continue baking an additional 15 minutes or until panko crumbs are browned.

Nutrition info: 
60 kcals, 1 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 90 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 2 g protein
Compared to regular green bean casserole: 
161 kcals, 9 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 4 mg chol, 529 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 3 g protein

Lee’s Low-Carb Pumpkin Pudding

  • 1.5-ounce box sugar-free Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 15-ounce can 100 percent pure pumpkin 
  • 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups 2 percent milk
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Optional: whip cream, graham crackers, small or large graham cracker shells
Mix sugar-free Jell-O pudding package with milk; stirring until thickened. Add in 1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Serve and enjoy. May top with 1 tablespoon whip cream and 1/4 sheet of graham cracker, or place in several small, or one large, graham cracker shells. 

Nutrition info: 
57 kcals, 1 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 5 mg chol, 201 mg sodium, 9 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein
Compared to regular vanilla pudding: 
105 kcals, 1.5 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 5 mg chol, 238 mg sodium, 20 g carbs, 18 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein
Compared to pumpkin pie: 
323 kcals, 13 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 35 mg chol, 318 mg sodium, 46 g carbs, 25 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 5 g protein

Lee Lamb

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Baked rice

Sometimes I overlook the most basic recipes I make for my family when I’m trying to come up with a food column idea. 
That’s the case with today’s baked rice dish. 
For several weeks, I’ve been promising my family I’d make this favorite rice pilaf recipe. Several times I had it planned but something came up every time, and I’d put the ingredients back in the pantry for another day.
But recently, I had a yummy beef dish in the slow cooker for the night’s supper and knew the baked rice would be a wonderful complement, and it was!
I first tried baked rice with mushrooms at covered dish meals at church. For a few years there, I could expect to see it at every meal we had at church. (Ever notice how recipes seem to go in cycles?)
I was pleased when several church members included their version of the dish in the church cookbook we did in 1999 because I wanted to make it myself.
I put this recipe in the cookbook I made for my family several years back, and in the note on the bottom I wrote that it’s a combination of recipes from my church friends Julie Wells and Amy Lemmons Browder.
The prep time for this recipe is minimal. You basically saute the onions and brown the rice in butter, then mix the ingredients and bake, covered, until the liquid is absorbed by the rice.
My family really loves this recipe, so much, in fact, that I made a double recipe last week so no one would complain if a certain brother or sister got a really big serving. I also knew how good it would be warmed up as leftovers the next few days, and it was. The next time I make a double recipe, however, I will cook it in two dishes rather than one really large dish because the cook time was quite a big longer, and we were hungry!
This recipe would make a wonderful side dish for holiday dinners.
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Baked brown rice with mushrooms

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3  to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cans beef broth (I use Swanson’s Natural Goodness, 14.5 ounces each)
  • 1  4 oz. can mushroom stems and pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sauté finely chopped onions in butter on medium-high heat. Add uncooked rice and lightly brown, stirring often. If it sticks, turn down heat.
Place in 1 1/2- to 2-quart casserole dish. Add beef broth. Drain water from mushrooms and add to mixture. Stir well. 
Cover with aluminum foil and cook in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Don't toss the pumpkin seeds!

Monday night was a treat. I got to watch my husband and granddaughter carve a very traditional jack-o’-lantern. Sora decided to roll up her sleeves and dig her hands in the stringy orange pumpkin innards, searching for seeds she carefully dropped into a plastic bowl.

Reggie and I talked to her about jack-o’-lanterns and how her Great-Grandpa L.H. was always the pumpkin carver in the family. Reggie showed her how to notch the cut-out pumpkin top, matching it to a notch on the pumpkin, so he could easily replace it when the carving was done.

"Can I put it back on when we’re finished?” she asked. Of course, we told her. That’s the only way you learn.

Reggie told her it was her great-grandpa who had taught him how to notch it. Love, love, love these memories and traditions.

We started a new one Monday night, I guess. I have never roasted pumpkin seeds. I had planned to do it last year, but I didn’t tell Reggie that, and the seeds were tossed out with lots of gooey pumpkin slime and balled up newsprint.

I read several online recipes. The process is simple. You dry out the seeds in the oven, then add a little oil and seasoning and put them back in a little longer. That’s it! The result is a crunchy, nutty-flavored snack. And it’s a healthy one as well.

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are a good source of zinc, fiber, iron and potassium.

The process of toasting them is very simple. So if you’re carving a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween, be sure to save the seeds and make a fun and healthy snack.

Editor’s note: The Wilson Times publication Wilson Woman would love to include holiday recipes from our readers for an upcoming publication. Please send to bhearn@wilsontimes.com or mail to Bradley Hearn, c/o The Wilson Times, P.O. Box 2447, Wilson NC 27894. Deadline is Friday.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning, such as salt, garlic salt, seasoned salt, cinnamon sugar (use butter instead of olive oil if using cinnamon sugar)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove pulp from pumpkin seeds and rinse in a colander. Pour pumpkin seeds in single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or prepared with baking spray.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until dry.* Stir halfway through.

Remove from oven and toss with olive oil (it only takes a little) and sprinkle with seasoning.

Return to oven and cook for another 25 minutes until golden brown. Stir halfway through.

*Some recipes cook for an hour at a lower temperature, adding seasoning and oil at the beginning. I cooked mine as listed above.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yummy broccoli and cheese soup

Hardly a week goes by this time of year that I’m not making soup.

There are a few that my husband and children request often, from my homemade vegetable soup to French onion in the slow cooker. I also make meatball soup, butternut squash soup and just last week, chicken and rice.

A few years ago, we all tried a wonderful broccoli soup that friend Wendy Skinner made for a soup and sandwich lunch after church. My daughter and her boyfriend were especially fond of it, and Wendy shared it with me. It took me about a year to make the soup, but I finally did and have made it several times since. I also asked Wendy to share the recipe for our church cookbook last year. Her note on the recipe reads: "When I take this to the soup lunch after church, I always come home with an empty pot.” No surprises there!

Broccoli cheese soup is delicious and so simple to make, even after a busy day at work. I bought the ingredients over the weekend and made it in about 30 minutes for Monday night’s supper.

I made a few changes to Wendy’s original recipe. Wendy uses chicken bouillon cubes and water. Instead, I used reduced sodium and reduced fat chicken broth because it’s what I had in my pantry. I used butter instead of margarine and cut it from 6 tablespoons to 4.

I only have skim milk in my refrigerator, so that’s what I used for the recipe; not sure what Wendy uses. It would certainly be richer if you used reduced-fat or full-fat milk instead of skim. Some broccoli and cheese soups call for half-and-half. I had some half-and-half in the refrigerator Monday night, so I added a slash of that to make it extra creamy.

This soup would also be delicious with some diced carrots or cauliflower cooked along with the broccoli and onions.

We ate our soup with a loaf of French bread and some fresh fruit. It was a delicious meal for a dreary fall night!

Broccoli and Cheese Soup
  • 3 14-ounce cans chicken broth (I use Swanson’s Natural Goodness fat-free, lower sodium)
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 2 boxes (10 ounces each) frozen chopped broccoli
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 pound box 2 percent Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1 quart milk
Pour chicken broth in a soup pot over medium heat and add onion and broccoli. Cook until tender, around 20 minutes.

While that’s cooking, warm up one cup of the milk in the microwave until lukewarm. Whisk in flour, then add in remaining milk, mixing until incorporated. When broccoli mixture has finished cooking, stir in cheese, and heat on low until cheese melts. Stir in milk mixture and heat through. I had a half-and-half in my refrigerator, so I added a splash of that to the soup for extra creaminess.

Recipe adapted from Wendy Skinner

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mama's cheese biscuits

From time to time, I crave the cheese biscuits Mama used to make for us.

The perfectly browned cheese biscuits she made from scratch were a little bit fatter and more rounded than her usual biscuits, and they held a divine secret inside: a chunk of bright orange, melted Cheddar cheese. Sometimes that secret ran out onto the pan and made a golden puddle of cooked cheese. Some in the family gravitated toward the biscuits with the oozing cheese that hardened as it cooked. I always wanted the biscuit that held all of the cheese inside.

My sister and I loved Mama’s cheese biscuits and couldn’t wait for them to come out of the oven.

The first thing we did with our cheese biscuit was to lightly tap it on top to break the biscuit open. It was easier to eat that way, pulling off pieces of biscuit and cheese to eat. We had to be careful because the melted cheese is very hot!

Cheese biscuits start with a basic buttermilk biscuit recipe. Scoop up dough about the size of a small peach, and press it out a little bit in your hand. Then place a chunk of cheese in the middle and wrap the biscuit dough around it, making sure all the cheese is covered. Smooth the biscuit in a ball and place on the baking sheet.

I make a very easy version of cheese biscuits for breakfast quite often with Pillsbury’s flaky biscuits in the can. I place the cheese in the middle layer of the biscuit and seal the edges before baking. They are very good and very easy, but the scratch recipe is much better!

My family loves my homemade cheese biscuits. I made them again last week, after craving them enough to make a special trip to the grocery store to buy buttermilk.

We had a simple meal that night of rotisserie chicken with corn, butter beans and field peas. I knew the cheese biscuits would be so good with the meal, and they were. Seems like Mama made them when we had pork chops or on a night when we didn’t have a big meal. I’ve done that several times as well, figuring the cheese biscuits would be a nice addition to a small meal.

My granddaughter, Sora, was with us last week and watched me make the biscuits. She also agreed to try one. She’s not much on trying new foods, but she wanted her own biscuit, so I obliged.

Her Aunt Anna showed her how to pop the top of the biscuit, just as I taught her when she was a little girl, and helped Sora pull off a piece of biscuit with melted cheese. Once it had cooled, Sora popped it in her mouth and declared it was good. Yay! Another generation of cheese biscuit-eaters.

With help from Anna, I have a video of how I make my cheese biscuits. Sora pulled up her stool while we were recording and helps me out. Check it out.

Cheese Biscuits
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1⁄3 cup shortening
  • 3⁄4 to 1 cup buttermilk
  • Cheddar cheese cut in chunks about the size of a peach seed or a little bigger
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine flour and shortening with pastry blender or by other means. (I use the same chopper that I use for green beans.) Add buttermilk, starting with 3⁄4 cup; mix with spoon or hands until dough forms in a ball. Knead a few times until smooth, adding buttermilk or flour if needed. Don’t overwork dough.

Scoop up dough about the size of a small peach. Flatten a little bit in your hand and place a chunk of cheese in the middle. Bring dough up over cheese to cover. Roll dough into a smooth ball. (Again, don’t overwork.) Flatten a little bit on one end and place on cookie sheet prepared with baking spray. Repeat with remaining dough.

Place pan in oven on one of the higher racks. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until browned. I usually turn on the broiler for about 30 seconds at the end of baking time for biscuits to brown, but watch carefully if you do this.

Makes 5 to 6 biscuits.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Customize your cookies

Easy and so very good. That’s the best way to describe these yummy cookies that start with a cake mix.

Last week, my daughter was involved with something at school almost every night, and I wanted to make some goodies she could share with her friends. Cookies were a good choice because they travel well.

I have several options in my recipes file when it comes to cookies, but I decided to be creative and do something different. Or at least sort of different!

I’ve made cake mix cookies before, but there are so many variations that it’s like making a new recipe each time.

I thought Anna and her friends would enjoy chocolate and peanut butter cookies, and I had a bag of Halloween-themed chocolate morsels. Rather than choose between the two, I made two batches of cookies — one with a yellow cake mix and the seasonal chips, and the other with a favorite combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

The hands-down favorite recipe was made with a box of Swiss chocolate cake mix, 2 eggs, a stick of butter and some chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

All you do is mix the ingredients, scoop them up with a small cookie scoop and bake. In 30 minutes, I had more than 50 delicious cookies that were so very good, especially hot from the oven!

The thing about this recipe is you can vary it so many ways. I chose Swiss chocolate cake mix because it just sounded good! I also love the milk chocolate mix, and I almost bought a chocolate fudge mix that I had never seen before. For the chips, I went with 1 cup of peanut butter chips and 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Next time, I might do all peanut butter, but maybe not because last week’s cookies were very good.

This basic recipe is also changeable. Some recipes use oil instead of butter, for instance. Others use a combination of the two. I’ve made the version with canola oil; it was good, but not as good as the butter recipe! No surprise there, right?

If you want something sweet this week, go to the grocery store, scan the cake mix aisle and dream up a delicious combination of cookies!

If you try them, leave a message and let me know what combination you chose.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookies
  • 1 box Swiss chocolate cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter morsels
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
With an electric mixer, cream butter. Add in eggs then cake mix and mix until blended. Stir in chips to combine.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop batter onto greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies depending on size of scoop.

*Note: You can vary this recipe by changing the cake mix or the stir-ins.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sharing a favorite brisket recipe

I have to go back quite a few years to remember the first time I had this recipe.

It was the early 1990s, and my sister was visiting from Maryland. We were at our parents’ house, and Susan was cooking dinner for us.

She made brisket — something I had never had.

The recipe was one shared by her new mother-in-law, Elaine Hoffman, and my husband and I thought the tender beef with the rich orange gravy was delicious both the first night we had it and next day in sandwiches.

Beef brisket, not to be confused with the very different corned beef brisket, is often cooked outdoors in a smoker. There are also many brisket recipes that simmer all day in a slow cooker, and I plan on trying one of those very soon. But Elaine’s traditional Jewish recipe is braised — first browned then simmered for at least two hours to tenderize this rather tough piece of beef.

For some reason, I was intimidated by this recipe, and it stayed inside a cookbook my sister assembled for me for two decades before I tried it.

First, I had to get over the cost of the brisket. Briskets are not small at my grocery store, so the cost can be hefty. The first two times I made this recipe, I spent more than $30 for my roughly 6-pound piece of boneless beef; brisket is available in smaller pieces in some stores. Last week, brisket was on sale at my grocery store, and the one I got cost just under $25. That’s certainly more than I usually pay for a main course piece of meat, but, keep in mind, I made nine servings from this brisket for very hungry adults. And I don’t make it often.

I was also intimidated by the process, especially the step that involves a blender to make the delicious gravy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s the short answer on how to make Elaine’s brisket.

After cooking the onions and garlic in oil, rub the brisket with salt, pepper and paprika before browning on both sides in a hot skillet. I also pick up the beef with a fork and hold the sides against the bottom of the pan to sear those as well.

Then the beef, broth and plenty of carrots go into a Dutch oven or large pot with the onions and garlic to simmer until the beef is tender. This is when my house starts smelling like Sunday after-church lunch from my childhood. Although Mama didn’t cook brisket, she cooked plenty of beef roasts, and the wonderful aroma is similar.

Once the beef has cooked for two hours at least (don’t make a shortcut here) remove the beef from the pot and allow it to cool. While the meat cools, you can make the gravy. After removing some of the carrots to serve with the beef, add two cups of tomato sauce to the pan liquid and blend. The first few times I made this, I used my blender. But last week, I used my immersion blender, and it was so easy! Remember, the gravy is hot, so if you use the blender be very careful not to get burned when transferring the gravy, and hold a towel over the lid to contain any liquid that might come out. (I learned this the hard way.)

Slice the cooled meat against the grain (this is essential if you want a tender piece of beef) and arrange in a deep baking dish for serving. If you’re like me and get confused sometimes with the "against the grain” instructions, have the butcher show you how to cut or look for photos for instructions online. I’m proud to say I’ve done this right every time I’ve made this dish, cutting the roast on a diagonal.

Once the meat is all cut, pour the gravy over it, making sure all of the slices are covered. You might not use all the gravy. Then wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Elaine’s recipe recommends making the brisket a day in advance before cooking in the oven. I only refrigerated four or five hours the first time I made the brisket, but last week, I did refrigerate roughly 24 hours and was so happy to have dinner ready to go into the oven when my son came home for the weekend on Friday. I made mashed potatoes while the beef cooked.

This recipe has quickly become a favorite at my house. I am thankful that Elaine, who died last year, shared it with my sister, who passed it on to me. There’s nothing like a special family recipe.

Elaine's Brisket
  • Beef brisket (3 to 5 pounds)
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt or about half that amount of table salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 3 carrots, sliced into large pieces
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
In a large pot, cook the onions in oil until soft, adding garlic towards the end.

Trim fat from brisket. Cut into two pieces if too large to braise. Rub the meat with the combined salt, pepper and paprika and brown on all sides in a frying pan. Put meat into pot with onions and garlic. Add broth and carrots. Simmer, covered, over low flame for 2 hours or until meat is tender, turning meat once during cooking.

Remove the meat and allow to get cool enough to handle. Slice on the bias, or across the grain, trimming remaining fat.

Arrange meat in a baking dish (the deeper the better).

Before making the gravy, take out some of the carrots to serve with the beef. Blend together the gravy, onions and remaining carrots with the tomato sauce. (Immersion blender works well for this.)

Cover meat and carrots with the gravy, making sure all of the meat is covered.

Preferably, refrigerate overnight before baking. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

If desired, parboil cut potatoes for 15 minutes and add to the meat and carrots for the final baking.

Elaine Hoffman

Notes: My brisket was a little larger than 5 pounds, and I did not alter the other ingredients. I cut some of the fat off before browning, but not very much because it’s very thick. I trimmed what was left as I sliced the beef. I used 2 to 3 cups of baby carrots and low-sodium beef broth. I have made the recipe several times. The first times I refrigerated several hours before baking; the last time I refrigerated overnight. I had excellent results both ways.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taco flavors in a soup

Although this week has been plenty hot, it's going to be soup weather before we know it. And I'm ready for it!

We eat a lot of soup at my house, but until last week I hadn’t made taco soup.

My family enjoys soup, and they like tacos, so I figured it was time to incorporate the two.

There are many versions of taco soup in my cookbooks and on food websites I frequent, but they all share similar ingredients. They are made with ground beef or ground turkey browned with onions. Then stir in tomatoes, taco seasoning and beans. Cooks chose kidney beans, chili beans, black beans or pinto beans or a combination. Usually there’s a can of tomatoes and green chilies, and many recipes also contain corn. Some include an envelope of dry ranch dressing mix, but I left it out of mine.

There are so many variations, so you can customize your soup and make it to suit your family. For instance, my children have always loved kidney beans in soup, so I used two cans of rinsed and drained kidney beans and opted not to add a second bean. In addition to regular petite diced tomatoes, I used only one can of diced tomatoes with green chilies and didn’t add extra green chilies as some do. And I went with ground turkey instead of beef. If you want to thicken up your soup, you could add in some tomato sauce.

The method of cooking also varies between the slow cooker and the stove top. I was home and wanted to cook the soup quickly Saturday morning, so I made it in an hour on the stove.

You can top your soup with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if you wish, or even crunch up some tortilla chips or eat them on the side.

Any leftovers should freeze well and be ready for a quick lunch later on.

Don’t be afraid to try different variations of this recipe. Just keep sampling until it tastes just right!

Taco Soup
  • 1.3 pounds ground turkey (this is the weight on the brand I purchase; could vary either way)
  • 1 small to medium onion, chopped
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning (I use reduced sodium)
  • 2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel mild)
  • 1 14- to 15-ounce can corn (undrained)
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Tortilla chips
In large soup pot or Dutch oven, brown turkey with onion. About halfway through cook time, add in taco seasoning. Cook until turkey is cooked through.

Add in other ingredients and simmer for about an hour. If you want your soup thicker, cook longer or add in tomato sauce.

To serve, provide sour cream, grated cheese and tortilla chips for garnish.