Thursday, December 25, 2008

Menu For Hope V Deadline Extended!

Great news! If you've been too busy with all the holiday festivities and thought you missed your chance to get in on this year's Menu for Hope raffle, you're in luck:

Pim at Chez Pim says:
Menu for Hope campaign extended to Dec. 31st

We are doing so well considering the economic climate, let's see if we could raise a little bit more money if we extended the campaign for a few more days. The new deadline for Menu for Hope raffle is December 31st, midnight PDT.

Thank you so much for your support, and happy holidays to you and yours.

Be sure to see the Master List of Prizes and then go to Firstgiving to bid on all the great prizes - including UE21, a beautiful Lemongrass 5 1/2 qt. Le Creuset Dutch Oven offered by Cora Cooks.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Easy Homemade Chocolate Turtles from Dianna

Our neighbors are the best! In the summer we are the lucky recipients of fresh produce from their gardens. And at Christmas we get homemade goodies.

Kenny and Phyllis brought us homemade salsa with some chips - DELICIOUS! Jim and Becky brought us some of their incredible homemade cannelloni in a lovely homemade tomato sauce. And Dan and Dianna have delivered a jar of beautiful black bean salsa with a bag of red and green tortilla chips - and - these yummy chocolate turtles. When she told me how easy the recipe was for the turtles, I made her bring the whole container over for a picture.

I just love recipes that are so easy to make and so delicious and so cute! We feel fortunate to have found neighbors like ours who know that simple, homemade Christmas treats make the best gifts ever!

Oh, and we're giving them each a bag of Sugar and Spice Pecans, of course. Great minds think alike!

Dianna's Easy Chocolate Turtles
1 bag Kraft caramels, unwrapped
Pecan halves (three per caramel)
2 12 oz. bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cake Paraffin

On a baking sheet, place two pecan halves side by side (touching).
Place a Kraft caramel on top of the pecans (in the center).
Bake at 200 for 25 minutes.
Place another pecan half on top, pressing down to smash the caramel.
Refrigerate these for awhile for easier dipping.
In double boiler, melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips and paraffin.
Dip turtles in chocolate and put on wax paper to set.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fresh Green Salad With Crispy Wontons

Gobbled enough turkey? Stuffed full of dressing? Side-lined by heaping dishes of potatoes, corn and cranberries?

Rich and delicious holiday foods sometimes need a little something to lighten things up a bit. We always have a fresh green salad at our holiday meals, and our favorite is known to us as Sandy Salad, named for my sister-in-law-in-law who makes it for family gatherings. Her sister, my sister-in-law, now makes it for our family gatherings.

Even if you are confused about the familial relationships here, don't be confused about this salad. It is always a big hit and, in fact, is something many of us crave when there are a few too many good, rich dishes on the table. I also crave it in the middle of winter, when a big bowl of lettuce can be like a mini vacation to warmer climates, especially with some grilled chicken or shrimp on top.


2 heads romaine lettuce
1 bunch green onions
1 red bell pepper
4 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 pkg. won ton wrappers

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. white vinegar
1 tbsp. peanut oil
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1-1/2 tsp. Accent (optional)
1 tbsp. sesame seeds

Mix dressing and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs. Chop lettuce, onion and pepper. Fry wonton wraps in oil over medium heat. Drain and cool. Break into bite size pieces. Toss everything with dressing just before serving.

Note: This is a perfect make ahead and take along dish. Store the dressing in a jar at room temperature. Store the crispy fried wontons in an airtight bag or container at room temperature. Store the salad chopped ingredients in a bag in the refrigerator or in an insulated cooler. When ready to serve, just toss ingredients together in a big bowl.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Wow! I just noticed that this is my 100th post! Hooray for me!

When I realized it was only eight days until Christmas, I knew it was time for this particular Menu Wednesday. Besides being short, sweet and easy, it works for almost any meal or entertaining you have planned for these last few busy days before Christmas. And maybe the best part for me when I make both of these dishes is remembering my friends Pat and Gayle, who gave me these recipes so long ago. I am fortunate to still count them as friends, and even though I don't see them as often as I would like, at this time of year I look forward to receiving their Christmas cards and catching up on their news. Friends - and recipes! - are truly gifts that keep on giving!

Next Wednesday will be Christmas Eve and I'll be working all day at my 'shop girl job' and then having a quiet dinner with my parents, my brothers, my sister-in-law, and of course, My Favorite Husband. The newlyweds will be with Kristen's family for Christmas Eve, and then with us on Christmas Day. I'm sure all of you will be as busy as I am, so we'll be taking a day off at Menu Wednesday. Check back here on New Year's Eve though, to see what we'll be serving up for 2009!

Until then, take a look at the recipes for Quiche and Hot Baked Fruit AND have a Holly Jolly Christmas with your family and friends, near and far!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cora Cooks Supports Chez Pim and Food Bloggers Around the World with Menu for Hope V

I promised you more information about the participation of Cora Cooks in the food blog fundraiser known as Menu for Hope V - so here it is.

This is the fifth December that Pim Techamuanvivit, who blogs about food from around the world at Chez Pim, has gathered her food blogger friends to help raise money for a worthy cause. Last year's raffle raised over $90,000!

Of course, since we are food bloggers, we want to help with - what else - FOOD! So, by donating all manner of interesting food related items, and then posting the raffle on our blogs, we share comfort and joy with food. This year, for the second year in a row, donations will go toward helping the UN's World Food Program feed lunches to hungry young school children in Lesotho, South Africa.

As a new-ish food blogger, who has only met a few of my fellow food bloggers in person, I am so honored to offer this beautiful Lemongrass Le Creuset 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven - remember #UE21 - for the raffle, and a chance for my fantastic readers - that's YOU! - to participate too!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just go look at all the prizes and decide what I want to bid on, while you read all about how it works:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope. The Cora Cooks prize is #UE21.

2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.

3. Each $10 raffle ticket you donate will give you one chance toward a prize of your choice. Of course, you can purchase as many chances as you like.

Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section on the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.

For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02

4. If your company or employer matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you - just in case you WIN!. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

6. Winners will also be announced on Chez Pim in January.

7. Go to the Master List of Prizes to see all the prizes for bidding. You can also check out prizes at each regional host blog:

Europe *including* the UK
Sara of Ms.Adventures in Italy

US: West Coast
Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites

US: East Coast
Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen

Meena Agarwal of Hooked on Heat

Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand
Ed Charles of Tomato

and, last but not least, our special Wine Blog Host
Alder of Vinography

Or, if you're ready to give now, just go to our donation site at FirstGiving.

This year I am hopeful the readers of Cora Cooks will join in this wonderful opportunity to help Pim and this community of food bloggers to give the gift of food to the United Nation's World Food Program.

We all thank you for your support!


I'm so excited, I can't wait! Click here to find out about Menu for Hope V and I'll be back later today to tell you what I donated and how you can bid! Oh, OK! If you just can't wait to see, head over to Jaden's Steamy Kitchen to see the list of items being offered by East Coast food bloggers, including one from Cora Cooks - item UE21. Your kitchen needs it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sugar & Spice Pecans - A Gift With Good Taste

Sugar & Spice Pecans are one of my Christmas essentials. I usually order a big box of pecans from Georgia and make batch after batch for gifts and for keeping. If I store them in airtight containers in the freezer, they last all year and are handy for snacks, hostess gifts and especially adding to salads or ice cream. Pack them is small decorated clear cellophane bags and add one to your wrapped gifts as an extra touch. Fill a big basket of little bags of Sugar & Spice Pecans tied with pretty ribbons and hand them out to the mail carrier, UPS driver, FEDEX driver, florist delivery person or anyone else who comes to your door during the holiday season - a wonderful thank you for all their hard work helping Santa to make all our wishes come true.

3/4 cup sugar
1 egg white
2 1/2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 pounds fresh pecan halves

Combine first 8 ingredients in a very large bowl; mix well with wire whisk. Add pecans; stir until evenly coated. Spread pecans into a greased 15x10x1” jellyroll pan. Bake at 275 degrees for 50-55 minutes; stir once while baking. Remove to waxed paper while still warm; cool. Store in an airtight container. These make a great gift in pretty cellophane bags tied with ribbons. Serve in a bowl for snacking, in salads, or on top of ice cream.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cookie Exchange - No Boys Allowed (Except Gingerbread Men!)

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
December 2008

One time, when I was in high school, I accompanied my mother to a party at our neighbor’s house during the Christmas holidays. The party was in the afternoon, and it was for women only. I smugly left a houseful of brothers behind. That alone, I thought, was reason enough for any party.

Each guest arrived, carrying a large box or basket, went directly to the dining room table to deposit her box, and then joined the party. Soon the living room was full of women drinking coffee and engaging in lively conversations. Lovely, I said to myself, a room full of people who all seem to get along well with others, don’t push and shove, and smell good too.

The hostesses emerged from the kitchen with refreshments and inched their way through the room holding out trays full of a huge variety of Christmas cookies. “Ohhs” and “Ahhs” were heard throughout the room as we enjoyed sampling the holiday inspired goodies. How civilized, I observed, no grabbing, no mouths crammed full and spewing crumbs, and no cookies ground into the carpet.

The array was so dazzling that it was almost impossible to choose. Even at that age, and with more than a passing acquaintance with the time and energy it took to feed a house full of hungry people, I marveled that they must have been baking cookies for weeks!

There I was, surrounded by a delightful group of women, enjoying the conversation and the attention – lots of talking, lots of laughter, and lots and lots of cookies . . . and no brothers anywhere. Little did I know, the day was destined for greatness beyond anything I could imagine. Our hostesses quieted the crowded room and announced it was time to move to the dining room. I was filled with wonder . . . all this and there’s more?

The doors opened, and before us, the dining room table was covered with an enormous array of cookies – tray after tray, each piled high with a single kind of cookie. Chocolate cookies, iced cookies, shaped cookies, red cookies, green cookies, round cookies, filled cookies, bar cookies and more cookies. “It’s unbelievable!” I may have gasped audibly.

It was a cookie exchange! Our instructions were to reclaim our own box or basket and fill it with the same number of cookies we had brought with us when we arrived, that were now filling the trays on the table. It crossed my mind as I helped my mother refill our box, that I would remember this day for a long time, and so would my brothers when they found out about it . . . and I was very sure they would find out about it.

What a day it was! My mother had spent a couple of hours baking just one batch of cookies, she and I had enjoyed a delightful afternoon together with her friends and with no boys allowed, and we returned with an amazing variety of cookies to graciously share – enough to satisfy every sweet tooth in our house. Yes, I sighed to myself, this was pretty much my idea of a perfect day.

My final thought about that day . . . There is much to be learned in the company of wise and generous women.

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. almond or vanilla extract

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Blend in remaining ingredients. Fill cookie press with 1/4 of the dough at a time; form into desired shapes on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 6-9 minutes, or until set, but not brown.

2/3 c. peanut butter
1 c. softened butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 2/3 c. sifted flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar for coating cookies
4 – 5 doz. Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses, unwrapped

Beat butter and peanut butter until well blended. Add sugars; beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs; mix well. Add flour, soda, salt and mix until well blended. Use level tablespoon to scoop cookie mixture; shape into balls. Fill small bowl or plate with 1 c. sugar and roll each cookie to coat. Place cookie balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from oven and press one Hershey’s Kiss on top of each cookie; return to oven and bake 2 minutes longer. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and place on racks to cool.

1 box crushed vanilla wafers
1 (6 oz.) can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 stick butter, melted
1 box confectioner’s sugar
coconut - optional

Mix together. Form into balls. Roll in coconut or more powdered sugar. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


2 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. sugar
1 c. chocolate chips
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla extract until thick and foamy. Add sugar gradually and beat until stiff. Fold in chips, and optional nuts. Drop cookies from teaspoon onto a cookie sheet covered with an ungreased sheet of aluminum foil, forming small, peaked points resembling miniature snow tipped mountains. Place in preheated 350-degree oven. TURN OFF OVEN. Leave oven door closed with cookies inside for several hours or overnight.

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 c. sugar, eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls. Mix the 2 tbsp. sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not too hard. Remove immediately from baking sheets.


2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1 c. flour
1 tbsp. lemon extract

Add sugar to slightly beaten eggs and then add milk. Sift flour before measuring, then together with salt. Stir into first mixture and beat until smooth – about the consistency of heavy cream. Add flavoring. Allow batter to stand about 2 hours covered in the refrigerator before frying. Pour batter into a shallow bowl or pan to allow room for the double rosette iron. Heat three inches of oil in a heavy pan to 365 degrees – use a candy thermometer. Place the rosette iron into the hot oil for about a minute. Then dip the hot iron into the batter, being careful that the batter does not go over the top of the iron. Place the battered iron into the hot oil and fry for about 30 seconds, or until it is light brown. Remove iron from oil and drop rosette onto paper towel to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool. Store in an airtight container.

Note: Rosettes are traditional at Christmas, but molds are available in other seasonal or holiday shapes. Rosettes can also be used as decorations on cakes.

Pastry cups:
1/2 c. butter
3 oz. cream cheese
1 c. flour

Blend ingredients and form into 24 balls. Using tiny muffin pans (do not grease pan) shape each ball to fit in pan forming little cups.

Filling mixture:
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

semi-sweet chocolate chips
chocolate sprinkles

Combine brown sugar, butter, salt, egg and vanilla. Place four chocolate chips into each pastry cup and add the filling mixture. Sprinkle top with chocolate sprinkles. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. When cool, sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar.


1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites – slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. finely chopped pecans

Cream butter; add sugar gradually. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Blend in flour and salt. Shape level teaspoons of dough into balls; dip in egg whites and then into pecans. Place on greased cookie sheet Bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes. Remove and make a depression in center of each cookie. Return to oven; bake about 10 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool before topping with Butter Frosting.

Butter Frosting:
3 tbsp. softened butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 tbsp. cream
1 tsp. vanilla
red food coloring
green food coloring

Blend butter, sugar, cream and vanilla; beat until smooth. Divide frosting into two bowls; tint one with red food coloring and one with green food coloring. Place a dab of frosting on each cookie.

1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 heaping c. flour
raspberry jam

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and blend. Add flour and mix thoroughly. Make into balls about the size of walnuts. Put deep thumbprints into ball and fill with jam. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 c. butterscotch chips
2 cans (5 oz. size) chow mein noodles

Spread wax paper on cookie sheets or trays. Melt chocolate and butterscotch chips in a double boiler or in the microwave (be sure not to overheat in the microwave – chips are melted even when they appear to still be solid!). Stir in chow mein noodles and coat thoroughly. Drop by tablespoon onto wax paper. Let sit until firm and dry.

1 c. butter, softened
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
food coloring - optional

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt, one cup at a time. Adjust amount of flour, if mixture becomes too dry. Divide dough into portions. Add food coloring, if desired, and work into dough thoroughly. Roll each portion of dough into a log; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove one dough log at a time to slice and bake on cookie sheet – warm dough will cause cookies to spread out too much. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet before removing.
Note: Dough may also be rolled out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Follow same procedure for keeping dough refrigerated, placing on cookie sheet and baking.

2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 t. ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. soft shortening
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light molasses
1 egg yolk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour with baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, mix shortening, sugar and molasses until creamy. Add egg yolk. Beat well. Blend in flour mixture. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Use a floured cookie cutter to cut out gingerbread men. On ungreased cookie sheet, place cookie dough cutouts 1/2-inch apart. Bake 8 – 10 minutes, or until done. Cool. Decorate with frosting, if desired.
Note: Poke a hole near the top of the cookie after placing on cookie sheet, if you want to tie with string to hang on Christmas tree. The scent is wonderful!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Hello there! I've already got the menu ready for this week. Please don't worry about how tired I'll be at work tomorrow.

This week's menu is especially for my favorite painter who is down in Costa Rica enjoying warm weather and fresh fish. I'm sure he's looking for some new recipes - either that or there is someone else reading my blog in Costa Rica!

If you've never tried fish tacos, you are in for a treat! During the summer, I like to cook the fish and warm the tortillas on the grill, but they also cook up very nicely when sauteed or baked inside. In Mexico, this is street or beach food and doesn't really need any side dishes, but for eating at home, I've added some delicious and nutritious pinto beans and a little dessert to complete the menu.

Do you think Eldon will make these for his friends in Costa Rica?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Goat Cheese With Pesto and Sundried Tomato Christmas Appetizer

8 oz. block of cream cheese, softened
4 oz. log of goat cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. prepared basil pesto
1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

Process first five ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Spread 1/3 of cheese mixture in bottom of a medium (2-3 cup) bowl that has been lined with plastic wrap. Top with pesto. Spread second 1/3 of cheese mixture over pesto. Sprinkle with sun dried tomatoes. Top with last 1/3 of cheese mixture. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight. To serve: Remove top wrap and invert on a plate. Carefully remove plastic wrap. Serve with toasted baguette slices.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Last week there was no post for Menu of the Week, since my lightning quick mind jumped to the conclusion that almost everyone was preoccupied with Thanksgiving Dinner for the next day.

This week it's late, but there is a new Menu of the Week set of recipes for you to try, along with a shopping list including everything you need to make the entire meal.

I had a leftover ham bone from Thanksgiving, and that always means Sally's Black Bean Soup is on the menu at our house. I love, love, love this soup and how it makes enough for an army. I always freeze it for fast, easy, hearty meals throughout the long winter months. The recipe is included, just as I received it from my dear friend Sally, but I've been known to crank up the cumin and the sherry when I make it. I've also added some suggested garnishes. I like it plain, but many black bean soups are served with some extras - a plus for appearance and additional nutrients. Also, black bean soup is often served with rice, but I prefer corn bread with mine -- feel free to choose one, or both!

A one dish meal of hearty dishes like bean soup and cornbread seems to need something with fruit for dessert, so I've included a simple recipe for a dump cake variation. Fresh apples are easy enough to find during the winter, but canned apples make this a recipe you can pull out of the pantry at a moment's notice. Once again, I've left the decision up to you about the possibility of topping for the apple cake!

The recipes and shopping list are always included for Menu of the Week, just be sure to adjust the list for any garnishes or toppings you choose, since I've added them all to the shopping list with notes that they are optional choices. Also, be sure to check you pantry for items you may have on hand already - like a big meaty ham bone!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Bits and Pieces Frittata

By Sunday morning, we were down to the nubs of Thanksgiving leftovers. My brother-in-law, Scott, was determined to throw everything together for breakfast -- and boy did he! He used a wide variety of leftover bits and pieces from some really great holiday meals to create an absolutely delicious - and beautiful! - frittata. While this particular one can never be duplicated exactly, it is still worth mentioning the combination of flavors and technique to point out how easy it is to use up bits and pieces of seemingly unmatched foods and turn them into something wonderful. I'm sure you'll be sorry you don't have some of these same leftovers, but open up your own fridge and have at it. It was a delicious brunch, but it would also be a great dinner of leftovers. Thanks Scott!

1/3 c. bits of ham
1/3 c.pieces of barbecue pork
1/3 c.chunks of smoked turkey
1/3 diced Italian salami
1/3 c. finely chopped raw carrots
1/3 minced raw broccoli
1/3 finely sliced raw snow peas
In a large non-stick frying pan, saute hard salami for a minute or two, then add ham, then add turkey, then add barbecue pork and continue cooking for another minute or two until hard salami begins to brown. Add vegetable bits and saute briefly; pour meat and vegetable mixtures into a bowl and reserve. Beat eggs in a bowl and pour into same frying pan; stir and scramble over low heat until partially cooked. Add reserved meat and vegetable mixture over top of scrambled eggs, so it looks like a pizza. Cover eggs and continue to cook over low heat until set - about 10 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until all liquid evaporates (cut small slits with the corner of a spatula all around the frittata to release the moisture from underneath). Slide frittata onto a plate and slice into wedges to serve.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poppy Seed Chicken or Turkey Casserole

Here's another recipe that is great for Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. I usually make this casserole with cooked, cubed chicken, but it adapts very nicely for turkey too. In fact, I think just about anything tastes good bathed in a mixture of cream of chicken soup and sour cream! All you need to make this a meal is salad and a simple vegetable. The casserole freezes well before baking and reheats in the oven -- especially good to know if you're tired of turkey for now, but know you'll need a fast and easy dinner in another couple of weeks when the Christmas crazies strike.

1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
4 c. leftover cooked chicken breasts or turkey, cubed and/or chopped
1 tube Ritz crackers, crushed
1 stick butter, melted
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Stir in chicken or turkey and pour mixture into a flat casserole dish. In a small bowl, mix together crushed Ritz crackers, melted butter and poppy seeds. Sprinkle cracker mixture over top of chicken mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until top is browned and sauce is bubbly around the edges.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Leftover Turkey Tetrazzini

You know the drill. Thanksgiving and then leftover turkey in a wide variety of incarnations, until you can't take it anymore!

Well, here is another one! This Turkey Tetrazzini can be made with other meats - chicken, shrimp, etc. The recipe makes a generous amount - enough to feed a hungry family or a small dinner party. I first had this when I was in college and it was in the regular rotation of meals at my sorority house. We loved it then, and still find it to be a simple meal with lots of comforting goodness.

There are a few variables to decide before you make this dish - such as meat, wine or sherry, cheddar or another cheese, green or black olives, green or red pepper - let your palate and your pantry determine how you will mix it up.

If you want to make a simple, yet satisfying dinner with leftovers this week, Turkey Tetrazzini is a delicious reincarnation of the Thanksgiving bird - and you don't have to spend all day making turkey stock before you can enjoy it!

2 c. spaghetti, broken into 2” pieces
2 1/2 c. cooked turkey, diced
1/4 c. mushrooms
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
1/4 c. green olives, sliced
1/4 c. onions, finely chopped
3/4 t. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 can mushroom soup, undiluted
1 1/4 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. white wine or sherry
2 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Cook spaghetti and drain. Mix turkey, mushrooms, green pepper, olives, onion, salt and pepper, and 1 1/2 c. cheese. Mix mushroom soup, chicken broth and wine or sherry and pour over spaghetti mixture until well blended. Pour into lightly greased 13” x 9” baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Favorite Turkey Sandwiches


TURKEY SANDWICHES I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED could easily be the title of this post and the story of my life for the few days after Thanksgiving. In fact, I may have to go out and buy a turkey breast, just to have enough turkey to make all my favorite turkey sandwiches.

The Pier 39 sandwich is one we had in San Francisco, way back when, and marked the first time I'd encountered cranberry sauce on a sandwich. I was an instant fan! We had the sandwiches with Anchor Steam beer. It was a great day!

The Dam Turkey Sandwich is one we used to eat in Tamworth NH, at a little gift shop and restaurant that sat beside a river where you could sit outside and watch water spilling over the dam. Such a lovely setting! The sandwich became a favorite and we never missed going there during our annual summer visits up north. This sandwich also marks a first - the first time I had dressing as a sandwich ingredient - but definitely not the last! Pita bread makes the perfect "container" for all the delicious ingredients.

Pier 39 Turkey Sandwich
Kaiser Roll
Turkey Slices
Cranberry Sauce
Leaf Lettuce

Dam Turkey Sandwich
Pita Pocket
Leaf Lettuce
Turkey Slices
Stovetop Stuffing Patty
Canned Cranberry Sauce Slice

Thanksgiving Dinner Sandwich
Good Homemade Bread Slices
Turkey Slices
Fresh Cranberry Orange Relish
Leaf Lettuce

Classic Turkey Sandwich
Store Bought White Bread
Sliced White Meat Turkey
Iceberg Lettuce

Hearty Thanksgiving Turkey Club Sandwich
Pumpernickel Bread
Turkey Slices
Crisp Bacon
Havarti Cheese
Cranberry Sauce
Leaf Lettuce

Little Gobbler
Dinner Roll
Cranberry Sauce


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grandma Elsie's Potato Rolls - Day Two

Click here to see Grandma Elsie's Potato Rolls - Day One for the recipe!

The dough rose overnight and looked great this morning. Today we went to Sonnet's house to finish making the rolls.

Sonnet rolled the dough and cut it and I dipped, folded and placed the rolls in the pans.

The recipe is easy to make in the Kitchen Aid, not much working the dough, a single batch makes a lot of rolls, and pre-baking makes them fast and easy when it's time for dinner.

It took a little while to make that many rolls, but I know we'll be happy on Thursday when everyone gobbles them up.

We had four beautiful batches of dough and ended up with 8 9x13" pans of rolls.

Remember, the rolls are pre-baked and then baked again for a short time before serving -- kinda like homemade brown and serve rolls, but sooooo much better!

The taste test proves Grandma Elsie's potato roll recipe is a winner!

Grandma Elsie's Potato Rolls - Day One

Click here to go to Grandma Elsie's Potato Rolls - Day Two - Shaping and Baking

Tonight, my friend Sonnet came over to my house and we made potato rolls for our Thanksgiving dinners with her grandmother's recipe. We had a great time, drinking wine and sending flour flying from the bowl of the Kitchen Aid mixer

The dough has to rise overnight. Tomorrow I will take the four batches of dough to Sonnet's house so we can roll them out, cut the rolls, and set them in pans to rise. Then it's into the oven to bake. On Thursday, we will just have to reheat them for a few minutes and they'll be ready to serve!

Although I've never tasted these rolls, I have Sonnet's recommendation and that of her family. Good enough for me! Well, that, and I tasted the dough and it was excellent -- I just know they'll be a big hit.

Tonight - pictures of the process.

Tomorrow - pictures of the rolls. Stay tuned!

Grandma Elsie’s Potato Rolls
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten well
1 c. milk
1 c. mashed potatoes; reserve water potatoes are boiled in
1 pkg. yeast, dissolved in ½ c. warm potato water (105-115 degrees)
7 c. flour

Mix sugar and butter together with stand mixer; add salt, eggs, milk and mashed potatoes and blend well. Add flour, one cup at a time until dough is stiff and sticky. Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean lightweight dish towel and let rise overnight in a cool place.

Divide dough into two batches. Roll out one batch of dough to ¼-in. thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into circles with a donut-size round cutter. Dip cut out dough into melted butter and fold in half. Put into pan to rise. Let rise until triple in size. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reheat at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Dough can be in refrigerator for up to one week before using.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lorraine's Bread Stuffing With Hamburger

My first Thanksgiving away from my family's table was the year I got married. It was horrible! Not because I didn't love my husband and his family, which is where we spent that holiday. It was because the food was foreign to me. Nothing was right and it made me miss the Thanksgiving foods I'd grown up with, and my family too, of course.

The strangest thing of all was my mother-in-law's stuffing. First of all, my family never stuffed a turkey. They stuffed themselves, definitely. Turkey, never! Now I was not only confronted with some gooey mess pulled from inside a turkey, but it had hamburger in it! What were they thinking?

Our stuffing -- the only kind I'd ever eaten -- was baked in a separate pan and was called dressing. As I wrote earlier, my family had to have two kinds of dressing to begin with -- oyster and plain. I never ate the oyster kind. And another matter was having enough dressing to feed our big, carb-hungry family. There was no turkey that could hold that much stuffing inside -- not even trussed!

Now, there is not any question about Lorraine's stuffing being good. It was good made with hamburger, in and of itself! It just wasn't right. It wasn't dressing. So it wasn't Thanksgiving to me.

I simply wasn't prepared for people who did things differently that first year I was away from home, but I learned quickly. Well, maybe not by the next year, because we had a huge Thanksgiving dinner with our entire Air Force pilot training class in Texas. And, I guess, not the next year either, when we were in California and shared Thanksgiving with our friends who were there with us for the second phase of pilot training. In both cases, I did not have the necessary experience to contribute such an integral part of the holiday meal to a group of people who had more marital and military rank than us.

I guess I finally made our first Thanksgiving dinner the fourth year of our married life, when we were living at our first permanent assignment in North Carolina. I remember negotiating a couple of family traditions between us, and then sort of creating our own hybrid holiday meal. You know though, I don't remember a thing about the meal itself. Except my family's tradition won in the dressing category.

Both of My Favorite Husband's brothers and his sister, and almost all of my brothers will be here to celebrate the fourth year of our new hybrid tradition -- Thanksgiving dinner at our house. My mother will be making the plain and oyster dressings for our holiday table.

But you know, I'd give anything if Lorraine was still here to make her stuffing with hamburger. I'd love to taste it again.

1 lb. hamburger
1 1/2 c. water or broth
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. minced onions
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. parsley
1/2 c. diced celery
2 qts. day old bread cubes
2 eggs

Cook and crumble ground beef; drain fat and set aside. Pour water/broth into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add butter, onions, and celery; reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Add cooked hamburger and remaining ingredients; mix until well blended. This makes enough to stuff an 8-lb. turkey. Double or triple the recipe for a larger turkey. Stuffing may also be baked as dressing in an oblong baking dish, if you prefer not to stuff the turkey.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oyster Dressing Recipe for Thanksgiving

My family has always served dressing instead of stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. We are dressing lovers, so there is no turkey that would contain the amount we need to satisfy everyone. Plus, we like it to be a little firmer than the gooey mess that is baked inside the turkey.

However, we are divided into two camps when it comes to the kind of dressing we like -- plain or oyster -- so we have both! I am not a huge fan of oyster dressing. I find the flavor of oysters, which I love in most any other form, to be too intrusive when I eat dressing, so I fall in with the Plain Dressing crowd on Thanksgiving.

Many fond memories are associated with Thanksgiving in my mind, but one of the sweetest is watching my grandmother and great-aunt Martha mixing the dressing. Actually, my grandmother was usually mixing, and then asking Aunt Martha to taste for seasoning. Aunt Martha cooked in her own kitchen and always brought delicious food as her contribution, but rarely did I see her cook at family gatherings. However, she was the acknowledged authority for tasting, and was happy to step in when her services were required.

As I observed this ritual between sisters, nothing appeared less appealing to me than dipping into a big bowl of uncooked puddingy wet bread. Yuck! And then, they dumped in those disgusting slimey gray raw oysters and tasted again . . . that did it! I was done! No oyster dressing for me!

Below is the recipe, the one now used by my mother and brother to create my family's favorite oyster dressing. I'm not sure which one is the mixer, and which is the taster, because they make it at home and bring it to Thanksgiving dinner at my house -- channeling Aunt Martha. I am most grateful for that, as I don't have to look at the gooey mess that delights them so much, once baked. I've tasted the Oyster Dressing and they can have it.

Afterall, there is no shortage of tempting flavors on a day devoted to goodness and plenty. And they do make a fine Plain Dressing too, so I let them bring a big batch of it, for those of us who prefer our oysters fried, or steamed, or not at all. Gobble, gobble!

2 - 1# loaves Italian or sandwich bread
1 1/2 c. diced onion
1 1/2 c. diced celery
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. thyme or 1 tbsp. fresh
1 stick butter, melted
1 pt. fresh shucked oysters with liquor
4 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
chicken stock, if needed

1. Tear bread into pieces and allow to get stale for one day in brown paper bag or allowed to dry partially.
2. Melt butter in pan and lightly sauté onion and celery with bay leaf (discard bay leaf after sautéing.)
3. Pour butter and veggies over bread in a large mixing bowl.
4. Sprinkle in dry seasoning and toss to blend.
5. Lightly beat eggs and add to mixture.
6. Pour in oysters with liquor and fold until well blended.
7. Mixture should be creamy and wet, if not add some chicken stock.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes in covered casserole; uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes. Thermometer should read at least 205 degrees when done.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cranberries - Part 3

My neighbor, Phyllis, is a postmaster and a very busy woman. Last week she brought me a bowl of her Cranberry Salad -- two weeks before Thanksgiving! It seems that, like so many busy women, Phyllis is extremely organized and has mastered the holidays with a little bit of planning ahead.

When cranberries appear in the store, Phyllis buys them and makes up the Cranberry Salad she takes for family holiday gatherings. Her version can be frozen, so it's perfect for making ahead of time. The clever part though, is how she freezes it in her holiday dishes -- ready to pack up and take to dinner anywhere, anytime. Phyllis says she lets the dish sit out for a while and then fluffs it up a bit and it's ready when they put dinner on the table.

How smart and easy is that!

(from her Grandma Smith)

Grind or chop:
1 pkg. fresh cranberries

1 1/3 c. sugar

Add, stir and then let set:
1 small can crushed pineapple

8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 small container Cool Whip (4 oz.)
1 - 1 1/2 c. chopped pecans

Mix all together and place in a pretty dish, ready for serving. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer. Remove about 1 hour before serving and enjoy.


Maybe it's the 20-degree nights or the time change, but I just love something warm and comforting for dinner when it gets cold and dark so early, like it has this week. And I would love to get up early and make a nice hot breakfast everyday, but that's not going to happen, so sometimes I like to have breakfast for dinner. A couple of weeks ago, I made some French Toast that was sooooo good, I can't stop thinking about it. So that's what I've got for dinner this week. Adding a little bacon, or some of your favorite sausage, and maybe a medley of fresh fruits makes it a total meal. And such a sweet treat for dinner means no need to make dessert. E-A-S-Y! The perfect end to a busy day when you just want to go home and curl up in your jammies.

Click here to link to Menu of the Week #8 and the recipe for Insanely Delicious French Toast over at Prairie Wood Kitchen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce Jello Mold

UPDATE - November 2010
Welcome! I am still amazed at the number of people searching for information about Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce who find their way here in search of information or a recipe to make the sauce and/or jello salad themselves! If you would like, please leave a comment about your ITCOS memories and what lead you here. And please stop back by Cora Cooks anytime during the other 364 days of the year -- we're always cooking up something good and we would love for you to join us as a regular follower or subscriber! After all, we love the same food! Happy Thanksgiving! 

UPDATE - November 2009
It seems that Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce is no longer being produced, as of this year. I have had over 200 300 2000 searchers land here looking for information, so I thought I would add this update. Scroll down to find the recipe for my own version of ITCOS, created years ago when we lived in NC and I could never find it for Thanksgiving. Please send me an email at coracooksblogATgmailDOTcom, if you find Indian Trail this year!

1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries
1 whole orange including peel/rind, seeds removed
1 cup sugar
Chop all ingredients in a food processor or a food grinder and stir to mix. Refrigerate until ready to use. Be sure to let it drain a while to remove the excess liquid before mixing it with Jello.

This is it! Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce for the cranberry jello my grandmother used to make, and my mother now makes, every Thanksgiving. I've loved it since I was a child.

If you are not a jello fan, this version may not win you over because it is a jello mold kind of thing. If you do like molded jello, this is a good one. Cranberry lovers, you'll find plenty of tart cranberry flavor and crunch.

Our family recipe is adapted from the recipe on the Indian Trail label. Locally, I've found it at our Schnuck's store in the freezer case with the frozen fruits and juices. If you don't find the Indian Trail stuff, then you can easily make your own, if you have a food processor. Not quite as easy, but still doable if you don't have a food processor.

You'll need 1 bag of fresh cranberries, 1 whole, seeded orange with peel, and one cup of sugar all chopped and blended together in a food processor or a food grinder. Be sure to let it drain a while, to remove the excess liquid, before mixing it with Jello.

That's it! Just that simple. Chock full of cranberry goodness and the stuff of happy holiday memories.

2 (3 oz.) pkgs. raspberry Jello
2 1/2 c. boiling water
1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce, defrosted
1 c. crushed pineapple with juice

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Stir in Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce and pineapple. Pour into mold. Refrigerate until firm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Favorite Brandied Cranberry Sauce

I really love cranberries. I attribute this to a very positive early experience with them. During the time that my grandmother lived at the family farm, she always hosted our family Thanksgiving. She and her sisters would prepare the dinner. They were all good cooks, each bringing her own special gifts to our Thanksgiving table.

One of my grandmother's Thanksgiving specialties was yummy cranberry jello. It was a simple, yet elegant blend of tart Indian Trail cranberry relish mixed into sweet red jello. I guess part of the appeal of this cranberry jello to small children was the mitigated pucker factor. And let's face it, those nasty, mushy gray-green Brussels sprouts could not hold a candle to a wiggly red molded wonder. To my already discerning palate though, there was also that satisfying crunch from the cranberries inside the jello squish.

When it came time for me to host my own Thanksgiving years later, I needed the cranberry part of my Thanksgiving memories on that table so far from home. Jello was no problem, of course, but the Indian Trail did not extend to my little corner of NC. I was forced to do what I discovered was going to be a necessary element to my success as a young cook far away from all that was taken for granted at home -- deconstructing and reconstructing a recipe.

Of course, making a simple cranberry-orange-sugar relish was not complicated. Just chop till your arm aches, and keep on chopping. Yeah, in the pre-Cuisinart era, I didn't even have a food grinder. But I persevered and created an acceptable substitute for my grandmother's cranberry jello that year, and forever after.

Since then, I've developed a real thing for cranberries and I've collected several good recipes. I love those little red pop-beads with the tart crunch. A turkey sandwich is a rare and special treat when sauced with some sort of cranberries and cushioned with stuffing and lettuce. And almost any cranberry sauce will enhance any of the other seasonal roasted meats or fowl.

I realize that my fondness for cranberries places me in the minority. But c'mon, a grainy cylinder wiggling around on the Thanksgiving table does not have much to do with the real cranberry. Keep it on the table if you must, I'm not here to stomp on your holiday memories. I've been known to slice a slab for a turkey sandwich, when necessary.

Is this the year you'll set out for a new world of abundant goodness, free from cylindrical cranberry sauce? We'll probably have at least three kinds on our Thanksgiving table -- the wiggly cylinder for my son, our traditional cranberry relish jello mold now made by my mother, and a newer favorite I make from a recipe in a very old issue of Victoria magazine.

Brandied Cranberry Sauce is so delicious -- a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, with a little crunch, and a little punch. Gobble, gobble!


(adapted from Victoria Magazine, November 1995)

1 lb. (3-4 c.) fresh whole cranberries
3/4 c. real maple syrup or maple-flavor syrup
1/2 c. brandy
1/2 c. sugar
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
big dash of cinnamon
big dash of ginger
big dash of cardamom

Rinse cranberries and remove damaged berries. In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, maple syrup, brandy, sugar, orange zest and juice, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium. Continue simmering, stirring constantly, until all berries have popped and the sauce is a velvety juice, about 6-7 minutes. Serve cold with roasted turkey, meats, or on a turkey sandwich.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Knife Info and Giveaway

Jaden at Steamy Kitchen has a great post on honing and sharpening knives and is giving away some incredible knives too. Follow the link to her blog and see for yourself!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Last night I had a cooking class for a group of twelve that was mostly couples. They were delightful and the dinner they made was too! Although preparations for the class prevented me from posting until today (Thursday), I’m sure to be forgiven when you taste this menu featuring some of the dishes we made last night.

The pictures are a little out of focus, as am I, the photographer, after a full day of prep and cooking!

Thanks to Jan and her friends for a great evening!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


My niece and I were watching TV on Friday night and settled on Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader. Apparently no one is home on Friday night, so the networks don't waste their best programming . . . or maybe they do . . . either way . . . yikes!

One of the history questions was "In which war was the Battle of the Bulge fought?"

There were three choices, but I won't list them here. I couldn't imagine anyone not knowing the answer, even without the choices. But it seems there are a lot of people who don't know, or don't remember.

Today is Veterans Day, a day for us to remember and honor our veterans. If you don't know the answer to the question, don't ask a fifth grader. Ask a member of The Greatest Generation. Chances are they'll be able to tell you about it and give you the name of someone they knew who fought in it.

My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II and he knows about the Battle of the Bulge. He and his veteran friends do much in our community to honor the memory of those who have served our country in the armed forces.

My husband was in AFROTC during the 70's, when it was not the most popular thing to do on a college campus. He served on active duty for nine years and as a reservist for another fifteen, retiring as a Colonel. The Cold War ended during his service, but he was still around for the Gulf War. He flew KC-10 tankers and his reserve unit was activated. The F-15 unit from our base lost pilots and others were captured and held prisoner. The war that many watched on TV for a few days was not regular network programming, it was very real.

And I don't want to forget my daughter-in-law. She is not a veteran herself, but she works with and cares for disabled and retired veterans everyday, as a registered nurse at a veterans hospital.

Today is Veterans Day. It is a day for all those who served our country, in peacetime and in war. Military service means being on duty 24/7/52/365, and hoping you never have to do anything more than practice your job. Please remember everyone who has been willing to do that for our country and tell them thank you. They don't seek the recognition, but we are all well-served by remembering their contribution to our history.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Persimmon Bread and Living Off The Land

In the area where I live in Southern Illinois, many of the traditions connecting us to the land survive. This is a place where towns are small and neighbors are friendly. People are self-reliant. They take pride in what they can do for themselves. They fix things that are broken. They live in modest homes, drive sensible cars, wear jeans wherever they go and work for a living. Entertainment is usually connected to church, school and community events. Festivals are popular and it seems almost every community has at least one.

I tell you this because I was reminded again over weekend just how fortunate we are to live here. Our neighborhood is made up of six streets - just thirty houses. Our lots are generously sized, so the area is large enough for a good long walk. We are kind of out in the country though, so there is rarely anyone on our streets who doesn't live here. As far as I am concerned, that's a good thing.

When we moved in four years ago, our neighbors, Kenny and Phyllis, explained that there used to be an annual neighborhood get-together, but no one had organized one for a while. Together, we decided to revive the tradition and set about choosing a day in October and delivering flyers inviting everyone to our backyard for a potluck picnic.

So this year was our fourth annual get-together and the turn-out and the food were both excellent. Nothing is organized, everyone is welcome, just bring a dish to share and maybe some chairs. We build a fire and provide hotdogs and s'mores. In our yard, we have a big jungle-gym, a little playhouse, a huge open area, and a pond with a bucket of food for feeding fish from the dock. The grown-ups stand around and talk, while the kid run around. Eating is when and what you want. Drinks are in the cooler. Yesterday, MFH got so busy chatting that he forgot to put out the stuff for the s'mores. He and Kenny had one while the four of us sat by the fire after everyone else had gone home.

Tonight, Kenny and Phyllis called to say they had been out today and picked a big bunch of autumn olives which they were going to make into jam. Did I know what autumn olives were and did I want to come watch? No I didn't, and of course I did. You see, I am two generations removed from the people in my family who lived close to the land. Kenny and Phyllis have maintained their ties in both personal and professional ways. They are a wealth of information on these matters.

I got my lesson with autumn olives and so much more -- just as I expected -- as I watched Kenny make a batch of jam with the bright red berries. The taste is somewhat like a pomegranate, but a little sweeter, and the lycopene content is much, much higher than tomatoes.

Kenny and MFH talked about all the mushrooms this year and which were edible. I doubt that MFH will be foraging, but he likes to know these things. We talked about raising hogs, which Kenny's family did when he was young -- back when "heritage" breeds were just plain old pigs. We talked about pecans and hickory nuts and tasted some delicious little pecans from their trees. We ate the last few raspberries from their garden and tasted zucchini relish Kenny made earlier in the summer.

I asked Kenny about his plan for getting a hive of bees next spring. Dan, our neighbor to the side, has had bees for a few years, but his left last year, so both he and Kenny are getting new bees next year. I have always been fascinated by bee keepers, so I'll be there checking that out.

I'm also getting a pecan tree to plant from Kenny. And I came home with enough autumn olives to make my own batch of jam. We tasted persimmons they picked today to take to Phyllis' mother to be baked into bread tomorrow. I hadn't tasted a persimmon since I was in grade school, where one grew next to the playground. Phyllis gave me a copy of her mom's recipe and promises a taste of bread when it's made.

Tonight was a reminder of just how important it is to stay connected to the land. It is possible to grow your own food and even to forage for it too -- really eating local. We're not all farmers around here anymore, but most of us know someone who still is. Some may see our area as rural and economically depressed, but they are not seeing what I see. We have gardens, and trees, and woods, and ponds, and fields, and neighbors. We are connected to the land and to each other. And that makes us rich in so many important ways.


1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. persimmon pulp
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 to 1 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour loaf pans. In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Blend in water, eggs and persimmon pulp. In a small bowl, blend flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Add dry mixture to persimmon mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in chopped pecans. Pour into prepared loaf pans and bake 1 hour. Makes 1 large or 2 medium loaves.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Warm Up Your Holiday Feasts With A Roast

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
November 2008

Last week I enjoyed dinner with friends at a delightful new restaurant in Pinckneyville. Luke’s Shade Tree Café is a charming place with a decor that reminds me of upscale restaurants I’ve visited in much, much larger cities.
The menu offers many breakfast and lunch favorites, along with some unexpected choices like organic hot cereal, homemade pastries and preserves, duck confit salad and a “TBP” sandwich with roasted turkey, blue cheese and pear.

The dinner menu is a sophisticated take on seasonal foods. The night we were there the menu included Pumpkin Soup and a Duck Quesadilla for appetizers. Main courses were a Grilled Ribeye and potatoes, Grilled Pork Chop with Sweet Potato Corn Bread Pudding and Wilted Cabbage, Braised Short Ribs, Bacon Wrapped Duck Breast Stuffed with Apple, Pear and Cranberry Chutney, Chicken Pot Pie, and Braised Swordfish & Shrimp Over Hand Cut Fettuccini. I had the Grilled Pork Chop and thought it was delicious. The presentation was beautiful, the pork chop was big and juicy, and the sweet potato corn bread pudding over wilted cabbage complimented the pork perfectly. I also tasted the Duck Breast, which was beautifully presented and flavorful.

Chef Ryan Luke and his wife Zoe understand the importance a restaurant can have in a small southern Illinois community and have set out to offer that, and more, in Pinckneyville. How nice to have a warm and friendly place that serves breakfast, lunch and a fine dining dinner menu in a restaurant so close to home. Luke’s Shade Tree Café is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. for breakfast and lunch. Sunday hours are 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Dinner hours are 5 – 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday only. Beer and wine are available. And there are even tables on the front porch so you can enjoy the beautiful fall weather.

After the wonderful pork chop and bread pudding at Luke’s, I couldn’t stop thinking about the warmth and comfort of roasted meats and root vegetables flavored with aromatics and served with a hearty helping of stuffing or savory bread pudding. The first chilly morning usually makes my mind leap forward to preparing cozy dinners and huge holiday meals for family and friends. Immediately I start digging through my files for old favorite recipes and those I set aside to try.

Around my house, a roast is usually too big a meal for just the two of us. Most of the time, I like to pan roast chops or maybe a chicken, which will serve us for dinner and lunch the next day. But holidays are something special and a roast is the perfect choice for a big family meal, along with all the wonderful side dishes possible with fall and winter vegetables. And best of all, roasting meats is easy!

Roasting means to cook with dry heat, usually inside an oven and should not be confused with braising, which is cooking meats with liquid in a covered pot.
The great conundrum of roasting meats is whether to cook them fast at high temperatures, or low and slow. There are varying schools of thought on this matter but, as with most things, it depends on what you are cooking.

Shirley O. Corriher, the wizard of food science on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show, who wrote Cookwise, the 1998 James Beard Award winning book about the science of cooking, says long, lower temperature roasting is best for larger pieces of meat. Smaller cuts like steaks and chops do well when seared and then roasted at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time.

Large cuts of meat, some known simply as “roasts”, benefit from low and slow cooking to yield meat that is rarer on the inside than the outside -- think prime rib! It is also an excellent way to give less expensive and tougher cuts of meat the flavor and tenderness we love. Meats and poultry pieces can be seared on the outside and then roasted at a temperature of 200 degrees until the desired inside temperature is measured with a meat thermometer at the center of the roast.

Searing does not “seal in juices” as once thought, but it does give the meat a more appealing color and a crisp crust which is desirable as a flavor enhancement. The meat is then cooked to the desired degree of doneness, according to taste and safe cooking guidelines. Searing does bond the seasonings on the outside of the meat and produces a crisp, brown, caramelized crust, while leaving the meat tender and juicy on the inside. There is actually a scientific term for this, the Maillard Reaction.

Smaller cuts are best roasted by searing on the outside to caramelize the exterior of the meat to give it a more pleasing appearance, thus increasing the flavor and seasoning with the crisp crust, and then roasting briefly at a high temperature. Rotisserie cooking is also a dry roasting method, using a spit to turn meat throughout the cooking process. A slow cooker is another good way to prepare a medium size roast, by making use of the small amount of moisture from root vegetables to help cook the meat.

Any way you do it, roasting is a good way to serve a delicious meal without spending hours in the kitchen. Large roasts are easy to prep and the long roasting time leaves the cook free to do other things. Chops and steaks get a quick sear and can then be finished in the oven in about the time it takes to whip up a salad and steam some vegetables.

There are just a couple of other important things to know before roasting any meats or poultry:

Place large cuts of meat and poultry on a rack inside a roasting pan to cook.

Do not cover the meat while roasting, this traps moisture and destroys the crisp crusty exterior.

Always remove meats cooked at a high temperature when they are about 10 degrees lower than the desired temperature. The meat continues to cook for a few minutes out of the oven.

Allow roasted meats to sit for 10-20 minutes after removing from heat to finish cooking and allow juices to disperse throughout the meat, if you cut too soon, the juices will end up on the plate.

Adding fats to leaner cuts of meat during the roasting process will improve flavor. Fats can be rubbed underneath the skin or on top, and can be basted on during cooking.

Always use a meat thermometer and a temperature chart to guarantee your meats, especially poultry, are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Don’t guess!

Roasting is also a great preparation for root vegetables like celery root, beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and aromatic bulb vegetables like onions, garlic, fennel and leeks. Placed in the roasting pan along with the meat, these vegetables will impart delicious, subtle flavors throughout the roasting process. The natural vegetable sugars will also caramelize when cooking and the flavors will become rich and concentrated.

Seasonal roasted meats and vegetables are excellent choices for holiday or special event meals, but are also good for Sunday dinner because there are sure to be leftovers to transform into a simple dinner later in the week. I’m still thinking about that “TBP” sandwich at Luke’s. I see one of those in my future – perhaps the day after Thanksgiving. Now I just have to decide if I want the “B” part to be Blue Cheese or Brie. What do you think? Decisions, decisions . . .

Adapted from Gourmet magazine

1 large onion, peeled, quartered
1 large carrot, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 shallots, peeled
1/4 c. olive oil
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 6-7 lb. prime rib roast

Puree onion, carrot, celery, garlic cloves, shallots, oil, flour, rosemary, salt and pepper in food processor. Place beef in roasting pan. Rub beef with vegetable and herb puree, covering completely. Let beef stand 1 hour at room temperature. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roast beef for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue roasting beef until thermometer inserted into center registers 130 degrees for rare roast beef – about 1 hour and 45 minutes longer. Remove roast from oven. Let stand 20 minutes. Slice and serve. Serves 8.