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.