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”