Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Easy apple side dish

I’ve been finding all kinds of excuses to make baked apples the last few weeks.
I can’t help myself. I’m drawn to the displays of fresh apples in the grocery store and love to try different varieties. For baked apples, I usually buy Rome, but this year I’ve chosen smaller McIntosh apples that cook quickly and have a great flavor.
For years, I’ve been content cooking my apples the same way. They aren’t baked, actually, but rather cooked in the microwave.
I use my apple corer to scoop out the hard center of the whole apple, then fill it with a little butter and plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon.
But Monday night, I tried something different. 
I cut my apples in half and used a spoon to scoop out the seeds and hard core. I also removed the stem. Then I placed the apple halves in a microwave safe pie plate, cut side up. Into each scooped out center, I put a dab of butter (maybe a 1/2 teaspoon) and a small spoonful of brown sugar. I added a few dried cranberries and pecans to the top of the apple and then sprinkled cinnamon over the surface.
I cooked them in the microwave for 3 minutes, took them out and checked them. They were not as soft as I like, so they went back in for another minute. When I removed them this time, they were just right. With a spoon, I scooped some of the sweet syrup from the bottom of the pie plate and drizzled it over the surface of the apple halves before serving them.
We’ve always loved my simple, unadorned baked apples, but let me tell you, we loved them dressed up as well! The flavor was wonderful, and we loved the different textures from the cranberries and nuts. And, as always, the peel was  soft and delicious and coated with syrup, so please don’t leave it on your plate!
I’ve been thinking of other options for the apples including raisins, walnuts, even apple pie spice. I’ve also seen recipes that use granola on top. I will try that too.
These quick and easy apple halves will be on my menu again tonight alongside pork cutlets, field peas and macaroni and cheese.
This time, I’ve promised my husband we will each get two halves! One half was not enough Monday night.
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Microwave ‘Baked’ Apples

Baking apples (I use Rome and McIntosh)
Brown sugar
Ground cinnamon or another spice or spice blend (such as apple pie spice)
Dried cranberries or raisins
Pecans or walnuts
Wash apples. Remove stems and slice in half from top to bottom. With a small spoon, scoop out seeds and hard core. Place apples, cut side up, into microwave safe dish with sides. I used a pie plate.
Into each indention, place a little butter (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) and some brown sugar. Place nuts and cranberries or raisins on top and sprinkle surface of apple with ground cinnamon or other spices. Add about a tablespoon of water to bottom of pie plate.
Cook in microwave for 3 minutes. Remove and check apples to see if the are as soft as you like. The four rather small apples I cooked required a total of 4 minutes. When cooking is complete, baste apples with syrup that has formed in bottom of pie plate.

Season for sweet potatoes

We eat sweet potatoes at my house all year long, but there’s something about the fall that makes us crave them even more.
In recent weeks we’ve had sweet potato fries, sweet potato casserole with a yummy topping and sweet potato biscuits.
Maybe it’s the power of suggestion that has made me want them more. In my travels around the county, I’ve seen many trucks packed high with sweet potatoes this fall.
More sweet potatoes are produced in North Carolina than in any other state; Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties lead the state in production.
If you’re not already incorporating sweet potatoes into your meals, you should start. I even add them to my vegetable soup as well as beef roast.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber as well as vitamins A, C and E. They are also rich in beta-carotene.
Have you ever ordered a baked sweet potato at a steak restaurant? They’re usually served with butter and cinnamon sugar. You can make those at home so simply. Either bake the potato in the oven, just as you would for a russet potato, or buy the pre-wrapped potatoes and cook them in the microwave.
Twice this past week, I cooked my sweet potatoes in the slow cooker. I washed them, leaving them slightly wet, and put them in the crock. The first time I cooked them on low for about 4 hours. The next time, I cooked them on high in less than 2 hours. (Just check the progress after an hour and judge the time needed; cooking time varies with the size of the potato and how many your are cooking.) The orange flesh from the potato was perfectly cooked in the slow cooker and ready for my recipes. The potatoes would have been equally good with a pat of butter or just plain, as we used to eat them when I was growing up.
Although I have my own favorite sweet potato recipes, I wanted to ask the sweet potato “experts” for some new recipes.
My sweet potato-farming friends Alice Scott with Scott Farms and Charlotte Vick with Vick Family Farms sent in several favorite sweet potato recipes, some they make and others given to them by friends.
At lunchtime Tuesday, I made Alice’s quick potato wedges. I didn’t place the potato pieces in a bag; instead, I put the potatoes in a baking pan, drizzled olive oil on top and tossed them with my hands to cover. The recipe was so quick, and the potatoes were delicious. I topped half of them with cinnamon sugar and the other half with salt. I liked them both ways!
I’m also including a sweet potato biscuit recipe I featured in my column several years ago. I made the biscuits Saturday night. I slice the leftovers and toast them. They are almost better as leftovers!
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Sweet Potato Au Gratin

7 medium sweet potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Boil the sweet potatoes in a large pot in water to cover for 5 minutes. Drain, cool, peel and dice into 1-inch pieces. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking dish with nonstick vegetable spray. Place the sweet potatoes in the dish and season with salt, pepper and thyme. Mix the cream and cornstarch together and pour over the sweet potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake for 15 minutes. Brown under the broiler for about 3 minutes.
Charlotte Vick

Sweet Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Pecans

2 pounds sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup pecans
1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss and coat sweet potatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle with thyme. Place in oven on shallow-rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast pecans in dry skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside.
Before serving, toss with blue cheese crumbles and top with pecans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Charlotte Vick

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

3 sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Peel the raw sweet potato and cut into wedges. Pour cooking oil into a zippered storage bag and add wedges. Shake until wedges are coated with oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. After removing from the oven, sprinkle with sugar, salt, cinnamon or other spices.
Alice Scott

Sweet Potato Souffle

3 cups cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/2 stick margarine or butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
2 eggs
Dash of salt
1/2 stick margarine or butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Rice Krispies
1⁄2 to 1 cup chopped nuts
Combine potatoes, brown sugar, milk, 1/2 stick butter, flavoring, eggs and salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
For the topping, combine melted butter, brown sugar, cereal and nuts. Add as a topping and bake for an addition 10 to 15 minutes.
Jennel Joyner

Sweet Potato Biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Sift together flour and nutmeg. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly. Mix sweet potato, sugar and buttermilk. Add to dry ingredients until flour is moistened. This will make a sticky dough.
Turn out on a floured board and knead about 30 seconds.
Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with floured biscuit cutter. Bake on ungreased baking sheet in hot oven, 450 degrees, about 13 minutes.
Makes 12 biscuits.
Alice C. Beddingfield
Home Demonstration Club cookbook

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quick and Easy Recipes

New cookbook offers recipes for Southern tastes

Quick meals. Gotta love them!

Southern Living has a new compilation of comfort food dishes that can be made in 20 minutes. I’ve already prepared two very good recipes from “Super Fast Southern.”

Inside the book you’ll find the expected categories and recipes that can be made without much fuss or time. For instance, sweet potato soup starts with a can of yams. Shepherd’s pie is made in a skillet with packaged and refrigerated mashed potatoes, and easy Texas chili simmers for just 15 minutes.

The first recipe I tried was an adaptation of Waldorf spinach salad. The ingredients are simple enough and include an apple, celery, cheese and honey cashews. The simple dressing is mixed up in a matter of minutes. I’ve made this recipe twice now: once for a church dinner and once for my husband and me. I did choose Romaine over spinach as a personal preference and used dried cranberries instead of golden raisins, but I’m sure it would be delicious either way.

I also made the super-easy Tetrazzini as well, and I really loved it!

While the pasta cooked, I put together the rest of the non-bake recipe, which was really ready to eat in under 20 minutes. I have another favorite Tetrazzini recipe that I enjoy making as well, but it requires much more time to prepare and is not ideal for an easy, weeknight meal.

The new recipe is creamy, but not overly rich. It is also a good way to use either deli or leftover turkey or chicken (I used chicken). I enjoyed it for dinner the night I made it and as leftovers at lunch the next day.

I plan to pull out the cookbook again soon to prepare Gouda chicken sandwiches.

The cookbook’s list price is $19.95, but it’s less on online sites. I think it’s a good price for a book that’s packed with recipes that will help you bring homecooked food to your table in a reasonable amount of time.

NOTE: A few weeks back, I ran a recipe for salsa in this column. The tomato sauce was omitted from the recipe. I use an 8 oz. can. I’m sorry for any inconvenience. The corrected recipe is at lisabatts.blogspot.com

Waldorf Spinach Salad 

1⁄4 cup honey

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 garlic clove, pressed

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

1 (9-oz.) package fresh spinach, torn*

2 large Gala apples, thinly sliced

4 ounces extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, shaved

1 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup honey-roasted cashews

1⁄2 cup golden raisins 

Whisk together first 7 ingredients in a large serving bowl until well blended. Add spinach and remaining ingredients, tossing gently to coat. Serve immediately.

“Superfast Southern”

* I used Romaine lettuce instead of spinach and dried cranberries instead of raisins.

Turkey Tetrazzini 

11⁄2 cups diced deli turkey breast (about 1⁄2 pound)*

1⁄2 cup onion

Cooking spray

1⁄4 cup milk

1 (103⁄4 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup (I use Healthy Request low-sodium, low-fat)

3⁄4 cup (3 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

4 ounces spaghetti, cooked

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1⁄8 teaspoon pepper

1 (2-oz) jar diced pimiento, drained (I used chopped red bell pepper) 

Sauté turkey and onion in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until onion is tender. (I added red bell pepper as well.)

Stir in milk, soup and cheese; reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, 4 minutes or until cheese melts and mixture is smooth. Stir in spaghetti and remaining ingredients; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Diced ham can also be substituted for the turkey.

“Superfast Southern”

* I used leftover chicken instead of deli turkey.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Easy lunchtime pasta

Wednesday, October 01, 2014 8:19 AMEASY LUNCHTIME PASTA
Recreating a favorite restaurant dish

Anna and I went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch several weeks back. It was a very hot day, and we both wanted their very cold salad!

Specifically, Anna wanted the creamy pasta salad with ham and green peas.

We enjoyed our lunch, and several times since then Anna has mentioned that salad and how we should try to make it.

I finally got around to it Sunday afternoon.

I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a copycat recipe for that salad, and I was right. There are many versions online and most have the same ingredients: rotini pasta, an equal amount of mayonnaise and ranch dressing, diced ham, green peas and seasoned salt. Some recipes also include sour cream and cheddar cheese.

I chose the basic recipe and used low-fat mayonnaise and green peppers. I also bought some seasoned salt. It’s not something I keep in my cabinet, but I decided to buy it for this salad.

This is certainly an easy salad to make. No complicated ingredients, no fancy instructions. Just boil the pasta, cut the ham and peppers and mix it together.

I do think it’s important to make the salad at least several hours in advance of your meal time because it is better cold.

This salad is very good. I especially love the crunch of the green peppers and the flavor of the creamy dressing. My husband and I enjoyed it for lunch yesterday, so did Anna, who prefers her pasta without the ham. Reggie and I like the ham and ate her share as well!

Next time I make it, I will increase the peas (at Anna’s request) from 1 cup to probably 11/2 cups.

Pasta Salad with Ham and Green Peas

1 lb. box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

3/4 cup ranch dressing (reduced fat is fine)

1 1/2 cups green peas, thawed (not cooked)

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 to 1 1/2 cup chopped ham

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

Cook pasta and drain.

In a large mixing bowl combine mayonnaise and dressing. With a spoon, mix in remaining ingredients and stir in pasta.

Chill before serving.

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Love this mild salsa

Easy recipe, delicious results.


I’ve never liked salsa. Not at all. In fact, when my husband puts salsa on his eggs, I usually go to the other room! 

My daughter enjoys salsa, just like her dad. She had enjoyed a homemade recipe at her boyfriend’s house, and over the last few months has been making her own as well. Anna experimented several times until she came up with a recipe she really likes. And, here’s the kicker, I like it too! 

Anna’s salsa is a combination of canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, an assortment of bell peppers and sweet onion. The only other ingredients are vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. This is a mild salsa and doesn’t contain garlic, chilies or cilantro. I think those ingredients are the ones that most offend me in commercial salsas. 

When Anna makes her salsa, the house smells wonderful as the ingredients simmer for at least 45 minutes. 

There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. If you have a food processor or food chopper, it’s very simple to make. We have a small chopper, and it works just right for this recipe. 

On Sunday, while she worked on a sewing project, her dad and I made the salsa. It only takes a few minutes to put together, and we did it with no problem. 

Once the ingredients had simmered for 20 minutes or so, we spooned a little salsa in a small bowl to cool. Then we tasted it so we could adjust the seasonings. We ended up adding a little more vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Each batch you make will be a little different because the peppers will be a different size and have a different flavor each time. That’s our experience, at least. 

We love keeping bowls of salsa in our refrigerator and eat it with tortilla chips for snack, or even a light lunch. 

My next goal is to incorporate the salsa in to some recipes. I have to be fast, though, before it’s all eaten! 

1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar 
8 oz. tomato sauce
Pour tomatoes into large pot and start cooking on low heat. 

Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, for 45 to 60 minutes until thickened and 
cooked through. 
After the peppers and onions start to soften, taste a cooled sample of salsa and adjust seasonings accordingly. 
Anna Batts 
 | 265-7810

Apple cake season

Apple cake season
Click image to enlarge
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Apple cake season
Simple recipe a family favorite

I’ve made apple cake twice in the last two weeks because, quite honestly, my family can’t get enough of it!

This simple snack cake has been a favorite go-to recipe of mine for years. Funny thing though, it wasn’t until last week that I actually made it correctly.

My sister, Susan, gave me this recipe years ago. And I might have shared it in my column before, but it’s worth repeating.

There are only a few simple ingredients in this cake and very easy directions. Problem is, I never paid close attention to that first step.

After the apples are peeled and diced, they are mixed with sugar. Then they are supposed to rest for at least 30 minutes. In the past, I have left the apples resting in the sugar for as long as it took me to cut the pecans and assemble the other ingredients. In other words, not long enough.

But last week, I cut the apples at least 30 minutes before I started assembling the other ingredients. When I came back to my bowl of diced Granny Smith apples, I found a thick syrup had formed. Who knew? I know that happens with strawberries, but I had never waited long enough for the apples to form this yummy syrup.

Well, I couldn’t wait to mix that cake and get it in the oven because I knew good things would happen.

And, sure enough, the extra moisture from that thick apple syrup made my cake even better!

So what makes this cake so good? For me it’s the combination of pecans with the apples that are cut into not-too-small dices so that they retain their flavor and texture when you bite into them. And the cinnamon just makes it all magic! I also love the pretty cinnamon color of this cake.

Susan’s apple cake is delicious hot from the oven, and it’s delicious cold the next morning when you are sitting at your desk working and really need a snack!

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810

Susan’s Apple Cake 

2 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup oil

1 egg beaten

1 cup self-rising flour*

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Combine apples and sugar in a large bowl and let stand at least 30 minutes until syrup forms. Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour into well-greased 8-inch square baking pan (or one lined with parchment paper). Bake at 350 degrees for about 36 minutes.

Recipe doubles easily.

My sister, Susan Boykin Hoffman, makes this with all-purpose flour, adding 1 teaspoon baking soda and  ¼ teaspoon salt. She uses walnuts. I use pecans.

Pumpkin muffins quick and easy

Think autumn!
Pumpkin muffins quick and easy

Somehow we have raced through 2014, and it’s already pumpkin pie spice season again!

I’m not a coffee-drinker, so I’ve escaped the pumpkin spice latte craze, but I do love the yummy combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. I use these ingredients often in pumpkin or sweet potato pies, muffins and quick breads.

Over Labor Day weekend, I decided to bring a little bit of autumn into our home and made a batch of pumpkin muffins. I’ve made several pumpkin muffin recipes over the years, including one in this column that is made with two ingredients: spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. (Baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.)

But for this recipe, I pulled out our favorite pumpkin apple bread recipe and made a few changes. I wanted something easy, so I decided I’d make my muffins without the crumb topping. I also used pumpkin pie spice rather than add the spices separately. It was easier, yes, but I’m not sure it was the best way. I smelled the dry ingredients, after mixing in the pumpkin pie spice, and decided to add a little bit of ground cloves. Next time I make these, I will probably just add the individual spices. That being said, the muffins are still delicious with the pumpkin pie spice blend! And if you don’t have cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice, it would certainly be cheaper just to buy a jar of pumpkin pie spice.

My daughter requested that her muffins be made without the apple. I scooped the first dozen muffins into the pan before mixing in the chopped apple. I liked the muffins with the apple, but they did not crown the way the others did. The ones without apple were definitely prettier! Also, I used a gala apple, and it was very sweet. Next time, I will stick to the original pumpkin apple bread recipe and use the tart Granny Smith.

Instead of apple, you could mix in raisins, craisins, nuts or a combination.

Before I baked my muffins, I gave them a generous coating of cinnamon sugar.

I’ve enjoyed eating the pumpkin muffins the last few days, especially as a mid-morning snack.

Pumpkin Muffins 

3 cups self-rising flour

11/2 teaspoons cinnamon*

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 16-oz. can solid-pack pumpkin

1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs, beaten lightly

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)

Cinnamon sugar 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin pan with baking spray for 2 dozen muffins.

In a large bowl, mix flour, spices and sugars. Stir in pumpkin, oil and eggs until combined. Fold in apples.

Scoop batter into muffin pan. Sprinkle muffins with cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minute depending on size of muffin cups.

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

*Instead of adding cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice, use 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. When I did this, I added in an extra 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves as well.