Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Granola from your slow cooker

Granola from your slow cooker
Easy way to make a family favorite

I enjoy making my own granola. I love mixing in my favorite nuts and adding sweet honey and brown sugar. Yum.

What I don’t like is worrying if I’m going to burn it when I cook it in the oven.

You basically have to babysit granola while it bakes — taking it out of the oven often and stirring it, being careful not to let it spill out of the pan when you stir. The stirring helps it bake evenly and keeps it from burning around the edges.

Granted, you still run the risk of burning granola in the slow cooker, and you need to stir it occasionally, but I think the burn risk is lower. You also don’t have to heat up the kitchen if you are using the slow cooker.

When I tried this recipe, I adapted one I had posted a few years ago made with almonds and pecans. It’s my favorite granola recipe. But for the slow cooker version I also added Rice Krispies and ground cinnamon, and I used applesauce instead of apple juice. I used coconut oil the first time I made this slow cooker recipe but used canola oil the second time; both versions were delicious.

Right away, as the granola started to warm, I knew I had made the right decision with the cinnamon because the kitchen smelled so good.

The little pieces of Rice Krispies got crunchy and almost burned. I wasn’t sure I’d add them when I made the recipe a second time, but my daughter really liked it that way, so I included them when I repeated the recipe Monday.

My problem with making this granola is the moisture that builds up in the slow cooker while the granola cooks. After I made it the first time, I was unhappy with the texture and ended up putting it in the oven for a few minutes to dry it out. But from reviews on other slow cooker granola recipes, I found that the best way to avoid excess moisture inside the crock is to leave the lid slightly ajar. If it doesn’t work by sliding over the lid a bit, then prop open the lid just a little with a spoon or rolled up piece of aluminum foil. I’ve done this with a number of slow cooker recipes to thicken a sauce or gravy.

Anna likes the granola with a fresh fruit and a little milk added in, so she doesn’t mind if it’s not real crunchy. I like it crunchy!

After your granola has cooled, add in dried fruit or even chocolate pieces if you’d like.

In addition to eating granola with milk and fruit, try this recipe with yogurt or ice cream or just eat it out of your hand for a snack.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Slow Cooker Granola 

4 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup Rice Krispies

3⁄4 cup chopped almonds (I used roasted almonds)

1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1⁄4 cup canola oil or coconut oil

1⁄2 cup honey

1⁄4 cup applesauce

Add all ingredients to slow cooker crock and stir to combine. Cook on low for around 3 hours, depending on your slow cooker. Stir several times while cooking and monitor if it’s cooking too fast. The first time I cooked this, I stirred every 30 minutes. The next time, I wasn’t at home, so it cooked without stirring the first 21⁄2 hours. Only a few pieces were too brown.

To avoid moisture build-up and soggy granola, prop open the slow cooker lid with a spoon or rolled up piece of aluminum foil or leave it ajar.

Once granola has cooked and cooled, add in dried fruit or chocolate chips if desired.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Learning to cook

Learning to cook
Students get lessons at ENCSD camp

What a treat it was to watch students learn how to cook at a Deaf Immersion Camp Tuesday morning.

The Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf hosts the two-week camp to expose middle and high school students across the state to new things including masonry and carpentry. They can also learn about theatrical arts and physical education.

I got to sit in on a cooking class where students were preparing breakfast foods: banana bread and sausage and egg casserole.

Teachers Randi Pakula, Morgan Shrieves and Faith Tabron instructed the students on such things as reading the recipe completely through before starting, browning sausage and going back after you’ve finished and reading back over the recipe to make sure you didn’t forget an ingredient.

Shrieves, who teaches high school history at the school, said cooking classes are important for these students who are working toward independent living.

Some ENCSD students might not get cooking instructions at home, she said, maybe because parents don’t know sign language and can’t communicate. Residential students are also away from home during the week when families are preparing meals.

Student Shai-Ann Faulker of Fayetteville said she learned how to cook from her mom and can make banana pudding and cook some meats. She said it’s important that she learn to cook for herself so she doesn’t have to depend on family. It’s also a good skill if she’s babysitting, she said.

I agree with Shai-Ann. We all need to know how to feed ourselves!

Shai-Ann liked the food she and her group prepared Tuesday morning and said she would make it again.

The teachers worked one-on-one with their students Tuesday, making sure they had things right. They pointed out how to measure 4 tablespoons on a stick of butter, showed them a spatula to use when pouring batter into a pan and demonstrated how to crack an egg.

“I’ll show you one, then it’s your turn,” Shrieves told one boy, who said he’d never cracked an egg before.

Before the camp is over, the cooking class students will also make a cauliflower crust pizza, a pasta dish, Rice Krispie treats, stromboli, a pound cake and cookies.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Banana Bread 

8 tablespoons butter 

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 mashed bananas

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

11⁄4 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda 

Mix ingredients and pour into loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. 

Egg and Sausage Casserole 

1 pound pork sausage

1 (8-ounce) package refrigerated crescent roll dough

8 eggs, beaten

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Place sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with crescent roll dough and sprinkle with crumbled sausage. In a large bowl, mix beaten eggs, mozzarella and Cheddar. Season the mixture with oregano and pour over the sausage and crescent rolls.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer desserts are easy to make

Sweets without the heat
Summer desserts are easy to make

It’s hot outside, and you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the house even more. But you’re craving something sweet.

No worries. There are plenty of cakes, pies, parfaits and puddings that don’t require much — or any — cooking!

Like most of you, I have some favorite hot-weather desserts including a pie made in a graham cracker crust and filled with a mixture of cream cheese, whipped topping and powdered lemonade mix, and a simple parfait with layers of cherry gelatin, whipped topping, strawberries and blueberries.

I know many of these ice-box cakes and pies show up at church picnics and covered dish dinners this time of year, so I pulled out a few of my church cookbooks to find some inspiration. I wasn’t disappointed!

A pattern emerges as you flip through the pages or even look online at ice-box or no-bake desserts. Cooks use pre-made or no-cook homemade cookie crusts and fill them with all kinds of sweet treats using a combination of cream cheese, whipped topping, pudding mixes, ice cream or other add-ons including nuts and sauces. And don’t forget fruit; bananas, blueberries and strawberries are often worked into these dishes.

Other favorites use pre-baked angel food or pound cake that’s broken up and mixed with any number of ingredients to make modified trifles.

Many recipes repeat from one cookbook to the next, including various versions of frozen peanut butter pie made with cream cheese and whipped topping and topped with chocolate sauce. Lemonade pie is also a favorite and is made with lemonade concentrate, condensed milk and whipped topping.

I made Donna Teague’s Cool Whip layered pie from the 2008 Hornes United Methodist cookbook. It took me about 20 minutes to make the dessert, which has a layer of cream cheese mixture topped with a chocolate pudding mixture in a cookie crust. Yum! Donna said the recipe was a favorite when she submitted it and that it’s also good made with lemon pudding instead of chocolate.

I’m including several recipes with this column, giving my readers a chance to try something sweet and new this summer.

Cool Whip Chocolate Layered Pie 

4 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used reduced-fat)

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 (12 oz.) tub whipped topping, thawed

1 (6 oz.) chocolate pie crust (I used graham cracker)

11/2 cups cold milk

2 small packages chocolate instant pudding

Mix cream cheese, 1 tablespoon milk and sugar until smooth. Stir in 11/2 cups whipped toping. Spread on bottom of crust. Pour 11/2 cups of milk into bowl. Add pudding mixes. Beat until thick. Stir in 2 cups whipped toping. Spread over the cream cheese layer.

Refrigerate 4 hours. Garnish with remaining whipped topping.

Donna Teague

"Recipes to Warm the Soul” 2008

Hornes United Methodist Church

No Bake Peaches & Cream Cheesecake 

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

6 tablespoons margarine, melted

1 cup sugar, divided

4 packages (8 ounces each) Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less than fat cream cheese) softened

1 (4-serving) package peach flavored gelatin

2 fresh peaches, chopped or 1 (15 oz.) can drained peaches

1 (8 oz.) tub lite whipped topping, thawed

Mix graham cracker crumbs, margarine and 1/4 cup of the sugar; press onto bottom of 9X13-inch pan. Refrigerate while preparing filling. Beat Neufchatel cheese and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl with electric mixer until well blended. Add dry gelatin mix; mix well. Stir in peaches and whipped topping. Spoon over crust; cover. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Betsy Davis

"Recipes to Warm the Soul” 2008

Hornes United Methodist Church

Pineapple Dream Pie 

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sugar

11/2 cups frozen whipped topping

1 can crushed pineapple, well drained

1 (9-inch) graham cracker pie crust

1 can pineapple chunks, drained

Mix cream cheese and sugar. Fold in whipped topping and crushed pineapple. Spoon into pie crust. Top with pineapple chunks. Chill 2 hours. May garnish with additional whipped topping.

Mary Katherine Rowe

"Another Taste of Homecoming” 2003

Little Rock Original Free Will Baptist Church

Lemonade Pies 

2 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

1 small (6 oz.) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1 can condensed milk

9 oz. tub whipped topping, thawed

Mix lemonade, milk and whipped topping together until well blended. Pour into graham cracker crusts and chill for 5 to 6 hours.

Valerie Bunn

"Still Saying Grace” 2012

Marsh Swamp Church

Frozen Peanut Butter Pie 

1 graham cracker pie crust

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup milk

1 cup whipped topping

1 cup powdered sugar

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

Chocolate syrup

Combine peanut butter, milk and cream cheese in large mixing bowl on low speed. Add powdered sugar and whipped topping. Mix until smooth. Pour into graham cracker crust. Freeze until firm. Drizzle with chocolate syrup. Store any leftovers in freezer.

Lori Gunn Baker

"Sharing Our Blessings” 1996

First Baptist Church

Black Forest Cookie Dessert 

1 large package chocolate chip cookies

Milk to dip cookies

1 large carton whipped toping

1 can cherry pie filling

Chopped nuts, if desired

Use a 9X9-inch dish and make 1 day ahead.

Dip cookies in milk and make layer on bottom of dish (don’t use all for this layer). Cover with half of whipped topping. Next, layer with cherry pie filling (save some for garnish if desired.) Add another layer of dipped cookies. Cover with whipped topping. Garnish with pie filling and nuts. Keep covered and refrigerated.

Beth Carpenter

"Sharing Our Blessings” 1996

First Baptist Church

Peach Dessert 

1 (12 oz.) tub whipped topping

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

1 (16 oz.) can diced peaches

1 box vanilla wafers

In a 9X13-inch dish, place vanilla wafers on bottom and sides. Pour peach juice over wafers. Combine whipped topping, cream cheese and sugar. Stir in diced peaches. Pour over vanilla wafers and sprinkle additional vanilla wafer crumbs on top for garnish.

Rhonda Godwin

"Another Taste of Homecoming” 2003

Little Rock Original Free Will Baptist Church

Lemonade Cheesecake 

1 8-oz package fat-free cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon Crystal Light lemonade, low-calorie soft drink mix

 ¼ cup cold milk (I use skim)

1 8-oz. Cool Whip fat-free or low-fat whipped topping, thawed

1 ready-to-use graham cracker crust

Beat cream cheese and drink mix in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended and smooth. Gradually add milk, mixing until well blended. Gently stir in whipped topping. Spoon into crust. Refrigerate until firm.

Kraft Foods

My cousin Martha Cayton shared this recipe with me. It’s a family favorite.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kitchen Fiction

Kitchen fiction
Cooking along with Miss Julia and friends

The book sat on my desk for several weeks before I took it home to read it.

I had read a number of "Miss Julia” books before and knew I would enjoy this one, but I had no idea what it was about, even though the title should have given me a clue!

"Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble” has a food theme. Call it edible fiction, fiction in the kitchen or foodie fiction, it’s popular with lots of readers.

The Miss Julia stories, written by Ann B. Ross of Hendersonville, have always been fun books to me. They are short and easy to read and contain North Carolina references that I enjoy. This one has a new twist with the recipes.

Miss Julia — who starts the series as a widow but ends up remarrying — likes to get in everybody’s business. And in this story, she’s helping her special friend Hazel Marie learn how to cook. There’s much more to the plot, of course, but friends give Miss Julia their favorite recipes and a few of them drop by Hazel Marie’s and teach her how to prepare the dish while the young mother’s baby twin daughters nap.

The recipes are mixed in throughout the book, including LuAnne’s apricot delight cake that she served at a book club meeting and Binkie’s spaghetti, "the only think I cooked in law school,” she says.

Miss Julia, who leaves all the cooking to her good friend and housekeeper, Lillian, includes notes at the bottom of her recipes to help Hazel Marie when and if she tries to cook on her own. For instance, with Poppy’s turkey tetrazzini, she writes: "Hazel Marie, Poppy says she likes either a congealed or a fruit salad with this, maybe some English peas and yeast rolls, which I wouldn’t try to make if I were you. You can get them in the frozen section.”

At the end of the book, Lillian shares a number of her favorite recipes from toasted pecans and gazpacho to cottage cheese salad, company grits and chocolate cake.

I really liked "Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble.” It was fun to catch up with Miss Julia, her family and friends, and the recipes and food descriptions made the book even more enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of Miss Julia, plan to read this new book. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning and read all about how Hazel Marie and her young son walked into Miss Julia’s life right after her husband’s death.

Foodie Fiction

Genevieve Baillie, head of circulation at the Wilson County Public Library, said local readers enjoy mysteries by Joanne Fluke that include recipes. Diane Mott Davidson’s mysteries with a food theme are also popular, she said, as are Laura Childs’ Tea Shop Mysteries series.

Other food-related favorites are "The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe” by Mary Simses and the Chocoholic Mystery series by JoAnna Carl.

The library has many of these titles, Genevieve said, including "Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble,” which is available in print and digital format.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

LuAnne’s Apricot Delight Cake 

1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup apricot nectar (found on the canned-juice shelves)
3 teaspoons lemon flavoring
8-ounce can crushed pineapple (juice and all)

2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all the cake ingredients and pour into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes.

Mix together glaze ingredients and pour over the cake (when it’s done) while it’s still in the pan. Save some for the top of the cake after taking it out of the pan.

Lillian’s Company Grits 

2 cups cooked grits
5-ounce can evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add all the ingredients to the cooked grits. Pour into a buttered baking dish. Bake until high and brown, about 30 minutes. Serve at once.

Serves 6.

Quick and Easy Strawberry Jam

Quick and easy strawberry jam
Make something special with those ripe berries

I hadn’t exactly planned on making strawberry jam. But I had so many very ripe strawberries on my kitchen counter last week that I had to do something with them. Can’t let those sweet things go to waste!

I’ve made refrigerator strawberry jam before. It was always good, but not great, and not as good as the jams and jellies my parents used to can each season.

But I decided to try one more time with a refrigerator version. So glad I did!

I googled refrigerator strawberry jam, and one of the first ones to pop up was a recipe by Food Network star Ina Garten. I love watching her Barefoot Contessa shows and know anything she makes must be good.

This recipe uses not only strawberries but also a few blueberries and half of a Granny Smith apple for the pectin. She also uses orange-flavored liqueur, but I just added a little zest from a clementine (didn’t have an orange.)

In order to make this recipe, I decided to break one of my rules of cooking. I usually don’t make recipes that require the use of a candy thermometer, but I did in this case!

This recipe is simple. Very simple. You basically wash and cut your berries, mix the ingredients and then just watch the gorgeous mixture boil for about 30 minutes.

I stood over the stove for most of the cooking time because I enjoyed watching the mixture change colors, and eventually thicken as the temperature approached 220 degrees. It also smelled so good.

Occasionally I would take a little bit of the jam from the pot and drop it on a saucer to see if it would thicken (and so I could taste it.) Mama used to do the same thing. It took my jam about 30 to 35 minute to get close to the 220 degree mark. I ended up pulling it off the burner before it reached that temperature because the jam had started to thicken, and I figured my thermometer probably wasn’t completely accurate!

I couldn’t wait to try this jam on toast. My husband and I had the most scrumptious breakfast the next morning with this jam as the main attraction. We’ve enjoyed it several times since and will make it at least once more before strawberry season ends. I will also be experimenting with a peach version this summer!

Go out and pick some local berries and make this recipe! You will be so glad you did.

Easy Strawberry Jam 

3 pints fresh strawberries
3 cups superfine sugar*
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier)
1⁄2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and small-diced
1⁄2 cup fresh blueberries

Place the strawberries in a colander and rinse them under cold running water. Drain and hull the strawberries. Cut the larger berries in half or quarters and leave the small berries whole. Place the strawberries in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot such as heavy Dutch oven and toss them with the sugar and orange-flavored liqueur.

Bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Add the apple and blueberries and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, until the jam reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. This should take 25 to 35 minutes. Skim and discard any foam that rises to the top. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then store covered in the refrigerator. It will keep refrigerated for at least 2 weeks. To keep the jam longer, pack and seal in canning jars according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Ina Garten

*I used granulated sugar and substituted orange (or clementine) zest for the liqueur. My jam never quite reached 220 degrees, but I could tell it was ready when it changed colors and thickened after 30 to 35 minutes. After the jam had cooled some, I used my immersion blender in the jam to smooth it out and avoid having so many large pieces of fruit.

Strawberry Tea

Strawberry Tea 
Enjoy the season's bounty


It’s strawberry season in this part of the country. 

And for many of us, that means plenty of fresh fruit cut up for breakfast or served in a yummy dessert. 

I’ve picked strawberries twice and made strawberry pie, cake, ice cream and shortcake this season, and on Tuesday, I made strawberry tea. 

James Sharp, who operates Deans Farm, said there should be fresh strawberries here until June. He has 20 acres this year and said it’s a great crop. Once the berries recovered from heavy rain earlier this month, the days full of sunshine have done their job and made the berries nice and sweet. 

School groups are making their annual trips to the farm this month and learning about the plants and how to pick their own berries, and families are turning out to pick their own as well. 

My friend Karen Coleman at J&K Veggies said that in addition to having strawberries at their roadside market on Rock Ridge School Road, they will also be selling them at today’s Downtown Farmers Market. Look for her stand today at 207 Green St. from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and for other fresh produce from local farmers. 

So back to the strawberry tea. 

This spring, I’ve purchased strawberry tea at two local fast food restaurants and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d make my own. What I made was less sweet than what I had purchased, and I liked the citrus aftertaste with the lemon juice I added. I found my strawberry tea to be refreshing and something I would enjoy on a hot day. The fast food version was more like a dessert drink, but it was very good as well. 

I also used strained strawberry juice in my tea and didn’t add whole berries as some recipes call for. 

This recipe can be altered depending on if you like strong tea or weak tea, sweet or very sweet tea. Next time I make this, I will add a third tea bag to make mine a little stronger. 

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810 

Strawberry Tea 

9-10 cups of water, divided 
2-3 family size tea bags (I use decaffeinated) 
1 pint of fresh strawberries 
3⁄4 to 1 cup sugar 
1 lemon 

Add 3 cups of water and tea bags to saucepan and bring to boil. Let boil one minute and remove from heat. Cover pan and let steep for 10 minutes. 

While tea is steeping, place berries in food processor or blender and puree. Pour 1⁄2 of puree into strainer with a fine mesh and let juice drip into a bowl. Occasional stir the strawberry mixture with a spoon to loosen the juice so it will flow better. Remove what’s left of puree in the strainer and repeat with the second half. 

After the tea has steeped, pour it into a pitcher, keeping bags in pan. Add sugar to hot tea and stir. Add additional 6 to 7 cups of cold water to tea. (I always pour the first few cups of water into the pot with the tea bags first before pouring it into the pitcher to get more of the tea flavor.) Pour in strawberry juice and juice from half the lemon. Stir to combine. Let cool in refrigerator. 

Serve chilled tea over ice, adding lemon slices for garnish.