Friday, October 30, 2009

Pasta Carbonara - It's Italian For "Job Well-Done!"

Way back when I was in college, I had my first taste of Pasta Carbonara -- è stato amore a primo morso.

I remember my Italian professor gave us the recipe in class one day. Isn't that a great way to teach! Based on my command of the language today though, it is about the only Italian I retained from the class. Now, I am at the mercy of Google Translate, although I do speak some menu Italian. Vuoi patatine fritte con quella?

During that first quarter of freshman year, my adviser confided to me that I would never, ever have to take a single math class - IF - I signed up for a second year of French (I already had first-year proficiency credit for my four years of high school French.) Merci mille fois, Mme. Treece!

Fear of math is a great motivator! So I fled Italy after that first quarter and moved across the hall, back to France.

To this day, I can add, subtract, multiply and divide with the best of them, but I prefer my math to be alphabet-free!

I don't have many French dishes in my repertoire though. Seems the French were not quite so relaxed in their approach to language. Damn Académie française!

Back to Pasta Carbonara . . .

Spaghetti, eggs, cream, butter, cheese, bacon and pepper. I couldn't get home fast enough that day to show my family (yeah, I lived at home through my college years) what I had learned in class! How could anything be less than divine with those ingredients? Thank God the recipe was written in English! I quickly assembled the ingredients and made my first Pasta Carbonara. I was hooked! È delizioso!

Pasta Carbonara has always been my guilty-pleasure-dinner-of-choice when I am home alone. When I served it to My Favorite Husband for dinner the other night, he said he had never had it before. How could that be, I started to ask, but stopped short. No need to go there! He's not much for languages anyway. Pilots are math people.

I have no real recipe. The one below is simply how I made the version pictured above. It was very good. Simple ingredients are the only requirements. Well, that and the ability to boil water. It really is so easy.

I am a stickler for good cheese, but the other ingredients are subject to what is available in the fridge when I am seized by the desire for this fast and easy comfort food. The cream is optional or missing in many written versions, but I love what it does to the cheese when it's hot -- helps it to coat each and every strand of spaghetti, without clumping.

This is not low-anything food, but it is something special to enjoy once in a while. I like to think of it as a reward for all my hard work in college . . . or when I'm home alone . . . or when it's Wednesday.

Ah, Pasta Carbonara. I'm pretty sure that translates to "job well done, by an English major, who studied French, to avoid math." Or something like that.

Buon appetito!

8 oz. spaghetti
2 eggs
3 tbsp. cream
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. chopped cooked bacon
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
freshly ground pepper

Cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat eggs and cream until blended. Drain cooked spaghetti and return to hot pan. Immediately add egg mixture and toss to coat spaghetti evenly. Egg should cook from the heat of the spaghetti; turn heat on very low, if necessary. Add butter to hot spaghetti mixture and toss until melted. Add bacon and parmigiano-reggiano cheese; toss until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Serve with freshly ground pepper. Serves 2-4.

*Note: I use Dreamfields pasta, heavy cream, unsalted butter and Oscar Mayer Real Bacon Pieces.

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Halloween, Big Orange Pumpkins and a Little Blue Crayon

to my
Little Blue Crayon

Big black cats were standing guard and a witch was stirring her big cauldron full of a mysterious bubbly brew, but I was one cool dude.

Do you think it's a good one, or does this pumpkin look a little crooked to you?

Big bright orange pumpkins as far as I can see. Gotta watch out for pumpkin blindness! Who's the cool dude behind those Foster Grants?

I'm just not sure Dad . . . I know it weighs more than me . . . but do you think that one is big enough?

OK, they say if I wear a crayon suit all day, I'll get some candy. There better be a lot of candy!

OK, you guys . . . just one more photo . . . and then . . . I'm out the door for . . .
CANDY . . . CANDY . . . CANDY!
Did someone say SKITTLES!

Happy Halloween ~ 1986

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How To Make Your Mother Proud

I'm a homemaker. I find great joy in making a house into a comfortable home for my family.

I even like doing things that might be considered domestic drudgery by some, or lost arts by others.

Once I took the plunge into motherhood, a whole new world of homemaking bliss opened up for me. Holiday decorating became an outward and visible sign of our happy home.

And that was any holiday! All holidays! Even holidays that failed to make the cut in homes without small children became hugely important, down to the last detail. Less domestic drudgery, more focus on lost arts.

Halloween is the perfect holiday for artistic homemakers. The gross eyeball cupcakes . . . candy corn and candy apples . . . cornstalk and hay bale arrangements . . . creepy cobwebs . . . carved Jack-O-Lanterns . . . and costumes!

I must confess that I really threw myself into making Halloween costumes! I've always loved sewing and, if I'd had a little girl, I probably would have turned out cute little smocked dresses by the dozens. But that was not meant to be.

I had a boy. You don't sew clothes for boys. Boys don't care what they wear. There is no twirling or posing when little boys get a new outfit. They require nothing more than Oshkosh overalls, knit shirts and lots of stain remover. Boring!

Except for Halloween - even little boys like dressing-up on Halloween!

The first costume I made was a blue crayon. My little Blue Crayon was so cute in his blue felt crayon wrapper, with a mop of blond hair peeking out from under his little pointed blue crayon hat.

I'm not sure what came next . . . the Tube of Toothpaste, complete with giant homemade toothbrush, Robin Hood, Where's Waldo, Ninja Turtle, Vampire or the Wizard.

All those costumes are still in a closet upstairs, just hanging out and waiting for future little Halloween revelers. (No, not yet.)

But it looks like the holiday decorating torch has already been taken up by my now-grown-up Blue Crayon and his wife, the Nurse.

And I'm guessing they both had a hand in carving the pumpkins in this photo that popped up in my email last week. I like that - shared domestic responsibility for making a happy home. Someone raised those kids right!

Just look at the craftsmanship. The creative genius. The careful attention to detail. Note the the proper odd number of pumpkins,in a variety of sizes and random arrangement. A holiday decorators dream. Halloween pumpkin perfection! Proof that all those years of homey holiday hocus-pocus were not wasted on the Blue Crayon!

Who knew that one day a Blue Crayon, a Nurse, and a personalized pumpkin would make a mother so proud? Priceless, just priceless. I love you both to pieces.

3 large eggs
1 can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
1 cup oil
3 ½ cups sugar
3 ½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.
In a large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy; add pumpkin and stir well. Stir in water, oil and sugar. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture. Pour batter into loaf pans and bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Turn loaves out of pans and continue to cool; wrap in foil and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature to slice and serve.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Brunswick Stew - A Year-Round Favorite From Eastern North Carolina

This is a recipe I have posted before, but after I took it to the neighborhood party yesterday, several people asked for the recipe. I had trouble finding it on my own website after I got home, so I decided it was worth a second post. In fact, I've revised it a bit more after making it so many times over the past couple of years, so here it is again.

And one note, while I'm at it. I've posted this picture with some reluctance. Anyone who blogs about food and includes pictures knows the risks and perils of photographing certain foods, and especially stews. This picture does not do the stew justice, but I thought it was appropriate to show how dense this stew is. Of course, you can add more chicken broth, if you would like it to be soupier.

Oh! And just one more note - I promise! I know not everyone will have access to Eastern North Carolina Barbecue, but the original recipe I got from my friend Diana didn't have any barbecue in it, and we got hooked on it anyway. So don't hesitate to make it without the Eastern North Carolina barbecue.

This is a source, I found on the Internet today, for Eastern North Carolina barbecue available by FedEx. I've never ordered from them, but I did receive some shipped from there as a Christmas gift several years ago, and it was good. They also sell Brunswick Stew, but mine is better! And my collards are better too!

(adapted from Diana Pike - and revised from previous post)
2 whole boiled or roasted chickens (I use roasted chickens from the grocery deli!)
2 lbs. total – any combination of ground round (85% lean),pork and/or turkey
3 cans midget (or smallest you can find!) lima beans, drained
3 cans white shoe peg corn and liquid
3 cans diced tomatoes
1 large bottle Heinz ketchup
2 tbsp. butter (optional)
1 lb. Eastern North Carolina Barbecue (see source above for ordering the real thing)
2 14-oz. cans chicken broth

Remove cooked and cooled chicken from bone, chop and reserve to add later. In a very large Dutch oven (I use Le Creuset 9-qt.) or similar heavy pot, brown ground beef, pork and/or turkey and drain excess fat, if desired. Add cooked chicken, cans of vegetables, including liquid from corn, and drained butter beans, ketchup and butter to the cooked meats; heat to simmering. Simmer on low for a few hours until thickened. Serves lots or freezes well in sealed airtight containers. Reheat in microwave or over low heat on stove, so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. This makes a huge pot of stew, which can be served with cornbread, or as a side dish with North Carolina barbecue, fried chicken, slaw, potato salad and hushpuppies! Serves lots and lots of people. Freezes well.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Good Ol' Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Our friends, Dannie and Bill, were here visiting us last week. I guess the drive from North Carolina last October was so lovely that they decided to make it an annual event. That's great news for us! They get to see some fall foliage, as they travel through the beautiful mountains of NC, and we get to see them!

But wait, there's more! . . .

They always arrive bearing gifts of some of our NC favorite foods. You know, the kind of stuff you miss when you move away from a place, because you can never find it anywhere else on the planet?

Like a dozen cans of midget lima beans (USDA 28/64 inch in width or smaller!) from the Piggly Wiggly that I use to make my friend, Diana's, Best-In-The-World Eastern NC Brunswick Stew.

And six frozen pounds of eastern NC barbecue (from each my three favorites - Wilber's, McCall's and Ken's), which just happens to be . . . The Best Barbecue In The World!

And Scott's barbecue sauce, another eastern NC delicacy, which may not be the best way to describe barbecue sauce, but it really is in a class by itself.

And last, but not least, Atkinson's Self-Rising White Cornmeal, water-ground goodness for the very best cornbread -- light with a crispy crust.

Sure, they could ship these goodies to me on a regular basis, so I would never be without. But this is a truckload of stuff with some significant weight, and that would cost a small fortune -- a cost I would gladly bear, if I didn't have such good friends who were coming this way anyway.

And that would deprive me of the pleasure of seeing their jolly faces come to my door with arms full of good things to eat!

So, while they were here with us we ate, and ate, and ate. We always have new local places we want to share -- like Whisker Willy's biker bar for delicious barbecue ribs. And favorites they've discovered on previous trips -- Italian Village for pizza and Italian Beef and Honeybaker's for those amazing yeast rolls.

We even went to St. Louis to see The Arch and visit Grant and Kristen.

On the way up, we stopped in the little town of Cora, IL -- I know! -- for a photo op, and then again in Chester, IL, home of the creator of Popeye.

In Chester, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River and headed up its western banks to the tiny town of Kimmswick, MO, home of some cute little shops we didn't visit, because we were on a mission, if not a schedule.

Instead, we headed straight to The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery for lunch. The Blue Owl and owner Mary Hostetter did not disappoint -- lunch was delicious and Dannie had Mary autograph copies of the cookbooks she bought to take home.

Check out this apple pie from The Blue Owl - it's a foot high! This picture is from The Blue Owl website, since I was so in awe, I forgot to take one.

That night we had dinner with Grant and Kristen at Cunetto's House of Pasta on The Hill in St. Louis.

I first heard about Cunetto's from a guy who owns a really great gift shop in Moultonborough, NH. He visits friends in St. Louis all the time and always heads to Cunetto's straight from the airport! When he found out I lived so close, relatively speaking, but had never eaten there, he was in shock. Now we've been, and I must say, we were unanimous in our verdict that the food is delicious, the portions are generous and the prices are unbelievable -- in a good way! Even the atmosphere was charming -- it's always nice to find the locals eating where you eat. We will go back!

But all of our eating was not done on the road. Sometimes I even cook! A cold day of rain forced this food writer/food blogger to rethink our outdoor brick oven pizza night tradition and create a last minute substitution.

I turned to my recently acquired NC bounty and mixed up a huge batch of Diana's Brunswick Stew, with the personal addition of one of my tubs of frozen barbecue. And what do you eat with Brunswick Stew -- Good Ol' Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread, made by an eastern NC native, with her own favorite cornmeal (and mine!), fresh from North Carolina. I like knowing where my food comes from!

The cornbread Dannie made in my kitchen last week is almost the same as cornbread made by my great-aunt and great-grandmother more than fifty years ago -- not too sweet, not too salty, not too fluffy, not too thin and not too thick. It was just right! I don't know where my family got their cornmeal way back then in Southern Illinios, but I know where I get mine. And I even know the delivery people!

Read this charming blog post I found about the The Cornbread Man of Atkinson Mill in Selma, NC.

And if you don't have friends who will deliver it in person, just order the full range of their products directly from the mill.

*Note: I receive no free products, income or sponsorship from Atkinson Mill, and neither do my friends.

Dannie's Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
3/4 cup white self-rising* corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg, well-beaten
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. shortening

3/4 cup regular corn meal may be used, instead of self-rising, with the addition of:
3 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix and sift dry ingredients. Add milk, egg and butter. Add shortening to cast iron skillet (large skillet for thin cornbread, small skillet for thicker cornbread) and place in oven to heat skillet and melt shortening. Carefully remove skillet and pour in cornbread batter. Return skillet to oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Serve warm.

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What's For Lunch - Something Old & Something New

This column appeared in the September edition of Heartland Women, right on schedule, but somehow never made it into a blog post. What can I say? My normally quiet life has been a little hectic for a few weeks, and stuff has been slipping into the cracks. Things should be back to normal very soon, and more regular -- and timely! -- posting should resume. Until then . . .

(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
September 2009

Last month’s Heartland Women, the back to school edition, caught me completely off guard. I no longer have a kid at home, in school, a job in a school, or even a job outside my home, so I guess the beginning of another school year just got away from me. But seeing all those smiling back-to-school faces, and especially reading about packing snacks for little ones, made me more than a little nostalgic for those first days of school – as a student, teacher and mother.

I always loved going to school and especially the day my mother would walk with us to registration, because right after that we would go straight to Woolworth’s to pick out our school supplies. One year in particular stands out. Along with the usual #2 pencils, Big Chief tablet, ruler, scissors and the had-to-have-it big box of 48 Crayola crayons, I also got a light blue vinyl top-loading Nifty notebook AND a light blue vinyl Barbie lunchbox.

When I was in school (way back, when Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, travelled through time in the WABAC machine) lunchtime seemed so easy for everyone – kids, moms and teachers. Our principal was present in the lunchroom, one teacher had lunch duty, the other teachers ate at their own table without student interruption, and the lunch ladies served up a hot plate lunch that was simple, nutritious and hard to beat. Chicken nuggets and salad bars hadn’t been invented yet and fast food was in its infancy. So if what the lunch ladies made was not to your liking, you either went home to have mom make something for you, or she sent you packing in the morning with lunch in hand.

In the first grade, I walked home for lunch every day, probably because I cried every day when the teacher collected the lunch money and we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Every day! Mrs. Zoeckler, my veteran first-grade teacher, who sensed the bad lunchroom karma for me, probably hinted to my mother that her somewhat anxious little girl might enjoy the walk home for lunch, as well as a little down time in the middle of the day. She probably thought, and rightly so, that even our orderly, well-mannered lunchroom might have overwhelmed me, if I couldn’t even handle a group recitation of the pledge. It would have, but I always went back after my little lunch break!

By second grade, I was a girl transformed. I made some friends and I had a pretty first-year teacher, Miss Bailey, whom I adored. No more walking home for me in the middle of the day. I had a shiny quarter in my pocket to pay for lunch, or my new Barbie lunchbox in hand for bringing lunch from home. I was set. And I didn’t even cry when they collected the lunch money . . . or said the pledge. First grade had been a true year of growth for me!

I had a brother in first grade that second year too. He may have shown a little reluctance on his first day of school – something about a death grip on the doorframe – but he was fine once he got inside. He didn’t get to walk home for lunch though. There was no more of that, with two more brothers waiting in the wings! And by the way, the next brother, in a characteristic display of his fierce independence and much more social nature, eagerly presented himself at school one day on his tricycle – a good two years before he was required to attend.

So what about that neat-o Barbie lunch box? Not much to report there. I suspect, after stuffing my lunchbox a time or two, my mother saw the writing on the wall. There was no need to start something with no clear end in sight – wrapping sandwiches for four (eventually six) kids – times nine months – times twenty-five years! My mother went on record as saying the school-made hot lunch was a bargain for twenty-five cents . . . and so we ate whatever they served at school. My Barbie lunchbox finished out its useful existence as a home for used and abused crayons. I was OK with that, once I tasted the macaroni and cheese those ladies dished out at Winkler School.

The whole lunchroom experience for us was really like an episode taken right out of the 1960’s classic, Leave It To Beaver. It was planned to last for thirty minutes, included a problem or two, there was always a meal, and it ended in smiles when we finally reached the playground. Everyday we entered in a single-file line, no talking, following the boundary lines painted on the gym floor, passing in front of the stage and into the kitchen. Plate, utensils and milk carton in hand, we emerged from the other kitchen door to take the next available seat at the table. Fourteen tables of kids, eight kids each, eating and talking quietly.

The lunchbox kids stayed in line to pick up their 2-cent carton of milk and then peeled off to sit at their own assigned tables. I’m not exactly sure why. Most kids who brought their lunch from home had a sandwich, maybe some chips, the obligatory carrot sticks and a piece of fruit. My friend, Sarah, says she knows one boy who brought a peanut butter sandwich and a small red apple every single day for six years! Now that’s a safe lunch and a steadfast commitment to peanut butter that was not likely to yield to any peer-pressured swap for someone’s hot lunch that included spinach or peas!

In the collective memories of my best friend, Robin, and her sisters, Sarah and Jane, we remember a rotating menu of beef burger on bun (an unforgettable phrase to describe a maid-rite-like sandwich with pickle slices on it), hot dog on bun, beans and wieners, mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy (Robin’s favorite), chili mac, and more wieners with sauerkraut (its pungent scent causing one poor boy to “lose his lunch” while still waiting in line for his plate.) Friday, the meatless day of our childhood – Catholic or not – was fish sticks, grilled cheese or peanut butter, which Robin recalls “stuck to the roof of your mouth so that you literally had to take an index finger and scrape it off” forcing a justifiable lapse in our otherwise impeccable table manners.

And just like an episode of Leave It To Beaver, sometimes there was a problem requiring adult intervention. One particular day, dessert was an enticing piece of yellow cake with bright pink icing. We will never know what made a couple of boys at my table want to launch their cake . . . from forks . . . straight toward the ceiling, but they did just that. The cake didn’t make it all the way, of course, but . . . you guessed it . . . pieces of flying cake did catch the principal’s attention. I’d like to think those poor boys were quick enough to convince him they were secret NASA scientists working undercover on the first sub-orbital space flight of cake, but I kind of doubt it. All future cake launch missions were scrubbed, probably due to a close encounter of the paddle kind.

In retrospect, there were no bad choices for lunch when I was in grade school. I enjoyed going home to eat with my mother while I was warmed up to the idea of school. Taking my lunch didn’t work for me at the time, but it was a great option for many others. The school-made hot lunch was good food at a reasonable price. We had just enough options to make lunch a welcome and satisfying part of our day.

It wasn’t until I left college and found my way in the world of work that I became a brown bag or lunchbox girl. I have worked at many grade schools, high schools and colleges through the years, as well as a few other places, but lunch was never as good as Winkler School in the 60’s, at least in my mind.

There were some amazing cooks at one college in Louisiana making homemade rolls that were to die for, and a salad bar that was exactly what you would expect at a California college in the 80’s – a vast array of healthy options that sustained me through my pregnancy. But when I couldn’t find anything to my liking, wherever I was, I would just pack up some leftovers, my own salad fixings, or whatever struck my fancy that day and take lunch with me.

I know I don’t need to explain the ins-and-outs of packing a lunch to any of you, especially this time of year when the newspapers, TV and Internet all feature stories with ideas with the same take-along lunches and safe food storage practices. Brown bags and lunchboxes have been around forever, although there are some new ideas worthy of a second glance. But every month I’m here to talk about food, which I’ve done, and give you some recipes, which you’ll find below, along with a few ideas to consider. And I know from experience that all of these make for a nice lunch, whether packing your own is a new idea, an old habit, or a just trip down memory lane at your own kitchen table.

Leftovers can be reheated or eaten cold. Make extra to save time and money. And yes, cold pizza is a suitable leftover. Slow Cookers are handy for dinner or for a non-leftover lunch. They can cook while you sleep to make soups, stews, chili, casseroles, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, Italian beef, barbecue, sloppy joes, etc. Lunch will be hot and ready for your insulated container in the morning. Freeze the extras for another lunch, or is that considered a leftover?

1 – 1 ½ lbs. beef stew meat
2 large carrots
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Oil for browning
1 large can whole tomatoes with juice
1 envelope beef gravy mix
2 cups water

Cut meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces. Season meat with Lawry’s. Add oil to large skillet and brown meat. Place meat, vegetables and remaining ingredients in large slow cooker and cook for 6-8 hours. Serve or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later.

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Sandwiches can be made out of anything you put between two pieces of bread, in a pita, on a roll or croissant, or whatever. Pack the wet and dry ingredients separately and assemble at lunchtime - no more soggy sandwich.

5 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1 egg, beaten
6 cups (2 pounds) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
melted butter

Heat milk and water to a temperature of 110 degrees. In a small bowl, combine milk and water with yeast and a small amount of the sugar; let sit for about 10 minutes, until bubbly. Stir in butter, beaten egg and salt. Add flour to liquid mixture, one cup at a time, and stir until all is incorporated and dough is pulled away from the sides of the bowl. Knead dough and place in bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a cloth and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in size. Punch down dough and knead again. Shape rolls into the size of golf balls and place on greased baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Brush with melted butter and bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until browned on top.

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Large piece of baked ham
Onion, finely chopped
Celery, finely chopped
Pickle relish

Cut ham into chunks and pulse in food processor until finely chopped. Pour chopped ham into mixing bowl. Add onion, celery, and pickle relish with enough mayonnaise to moisten ham to a spreadable consistency. Use as a spread on sandwiches, crackers, or celery sticks.

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Appearance, flavor, texture, variety and (mostly) homemade foods make lunchbox meals more appealing. Mix different flavors and textures in every lunch to avoid boredom. Take care to pack food carefully, so it looks good enough to eat when lunch time arrives.


Cream cheese, regular or low-fat, softened
Mayonnaise, regular or light
Chopped green olives
Dash of Worcestershire
Dash of cayenne
Raisin bread

Blend together first five ingredients. Spread cream cheese mixture on raisin bread. It may sound like a strange combination, but it works!

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Sweet treats are always a nice surprise. Fruit is the sensible choice, but don’t forget the classics – cookies, brownies, dessert bars, cupcakes, donuts, snack size candy bars, kiddie cereal, nuts, Hershey kisses, and trail mix.


Mix together with a fork:
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup butter
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup nuts
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
Press three-fourths of the mixture in an ungreased 9 x 13-inch pan.

Spread on top:
1 10-oz. jar apricot preserves

Spread rest of flour mixture on top of preserves and press lightly with fork, letting apricot mixture show. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until light golden brown.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Good Season for Getting Out and Eating In

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
October 2009

If the bright and lively days of summer energize and invigorate us, then the temperate days of autumn are meant to be both respite and sustenance.

By October, nature’s seasonal shift is in full swing. No matter where we go, there are reminders we have fallen back into our routines of school, fall sports and outdoor activities. And while most of us are far removed from lives centered on foraging or growing all of our own foods, we still welcome the end of summer and find joy in fall traditions.

Autumn offers something for everyone in Southern Illinois -art and craft fairs, harvest festivals, football, soccer, parades with floats and marching bands, raking leaves and any other excuse we can find to be outside. Who can resist a scenic drive to experience the changes in the landscape, or a day trip just to get out and enjoy the wonderful weather along the Shawnee Wine Trail?

The harvest marks the change of seasons for the land. Work in the summer garden winds down. Every last fruit of the vine is plucked and savored, or put by for months to come. Canning, freezing, and preserving are finished up, and the garden is made ready for winter’s rest and renewal.

The foods we crave now reflect these seasonal changes too. Cooler temperatures mean warming soups and stews. Fragrant smoke wafting up from burning leaves reminds us of curing ham and pork. Crisp cool days are perfect for apples, grapes, meats and cheese with a glass of wine. Football fans and tailgate parties cheer for bratwurst and beer. Bonfires are for toasty marshmallows and hot chocolate. Hayrides set off in search of cider and donuts. Frost settles on pumpkins.

We’ve been out and about lately, with grateful thanks to the early return of milder temperatures and lower humidity. Our late summer guests enjoyed visits to two of our newest wineries – Walker’s Bluff and Monte Allegro. One day we drove to Ava and paid our first visit, but certainly not our last, to the Shawnee Country Store. Another day we drove to Kimmswick, Missouri to a nursery that offers a dazzling array of big, beautiful chrysanthemums. And finally, after a lifetime as a Southern Illinois native, I’ve finally made the twenty-seven mile trip to see a little spot on the map named Cora.

As usual, the inspiration for this month’s recipes has come from our recent wanderings and experiences. I’ve been reading Amish and Midwestern cookbooks all summer and have come to appreciate the faith, courage, and strength required to live a simple life, especially raising and preparing enough food for a family every single day of the year. Anyone who has even a small garden can appreciate the endless work of farm life.

Driving the back roads this time of year, I’m always mindful of our region’s tradition of farming. The patchwork of orchards, vineyards, dairy farms, grazing pastures, and fields of various crops, providing food for both livestock and humans, is especially beautiful this time of year. The visual inspiration sent me straight to the kitchen with thoughts of traditional dishes made with apples, beans, cabbage, pork, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, many of which draw on the German heritage of many of the farmers in our area.

Jaeger Schnitzel is one of My Favorite Husband’s favorite dishes, reaching back to his Air Force days. Every time he returned from a trip to Germany, he would wax poetic about the “tender meat and the delicious gravy.” After many years of exhaustive pre-Internet searches for the perfect Jaeger Schnitzel recipe, and failing to “nail it” each time, I learned he actually ate this at the Ramstein AFB Base Ops cafeteria, of all places! So that explains why I have two recipes – one is the more authentic version, and the other is closer to the actual slap-dash cafeteria version he remembers. I leave it for you to decide between them!

The braised cabbage recipe is from my sister-in-law, who comes from the heritage of the German communities in nearby Clinton county. Her family is one of my main resources for really good recipes. And Butch, whose name goes with the Fresh Apple Cake recipe, is her father. Gail’s tells me her mother also makes wonderful sauerkraut, and as soon as she has time to share the recipe with me, I’m going try making some. I’m telling you, these people know good food!

So enjoy this season of change in Southern Illinois. October is the month to celebrate with others the cultural and historic traditions of living life simply, even as time marches on. Be glad for the light, the heat, the rain, the land and the opportunities they give us to raise our families and our gardens in this beautiful place. And always take time, in this and every season, to share your blessings with all who gather around your table.

Jaeger Schnitzel
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
all-purpose flour
2 eggs
panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
4 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. butter
4 oz. sherry
8 oz. beef broth
1 tbsp. tomato paste
4 oz. cream
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Slice tenderloin into 2-in. wide pieces. Place slices flat between two pieces of wax paper. Use meat mallet to pound slices to 1/4-in. thickness. Combine flour with salt and pepper in a flat dish. Beat eggs in a second flat dish. Spread panko in third flat dish. Dredge both sides of pork in flour; dip in egg and coat with panko. Heat olive oil and butter in large sauté pan and brown pork on both sides. Remove pork from pan and keep warm. Add onion and mushrooms to pan and sauté over medium heat until softened. Add sherry and scrape pan to deglaze. Add beef broth and tomato sauce and stir to blend completely; heat for until bubbly. Lower heat; add cream and continue to heat, but do not boil. Stir in parsley. Serve sauce warm with schnitzel. Note: pounded chicken breasts, turkey mignons, veal cutlets or cube steaks may be used in place of pork.

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Fast and Easy Jaeger Schnitzel
pork tenderloin slices, pounded flat
all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 eggs
panko breadcrumbs
4 tbsp. olive oil
¼ c. chopped onions
1 c. chopped mushrooms
brown gravy mix

Place flour, salt and pepper in a flat dish. Break eggs in second flat dish and beat. Pour panko into third flat dish. Dip pork pieces to coat in flour, dip in egg and then coat with panko breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil and butter in large sauté pan. Brown pork on both sides; remove and keep warm. Add onions and mushroom to sauté pan and heat until softened. Prepare brown gravy mix according to package directions. Use slotted spoon to transfer onions and mushrooms to brown gravy mix. Serve sauce warm with pork.

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Maple Spice Butter for Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Winter Squash
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup real maple syrup
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Fresh whole sweet potatoes or winter squash (acorn, butternut, etc.)

Prepare Maple Spice Butter by mixing all ingredients except sweet potatoes or squash. Refrigerate for up to three days before using. Prepare your choice of winter squash or whole sweet potatoes for roasting. Bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 1 hour. Serve Maple Spice Butter spooned into hot roasted sweet potatoes or squash.

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Gail’s Braised Red Cabbage
1 small head of red cabbage
2 slices bacon
1/2 medium onion
1 large tart apple
3 tbsp. red vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
1/8 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Quarter and core the cabbage. Slice thinly crosswise and immerse in cold water. Chop bacon and brown in a dutch oven on low, until fat is rendered out. Chop and brown onion in bacon fat. Drain cabbage and add to bacon and onion, along with chopped apple, vinegar, honey, salt to taste (and caraway seeds, if you wish). Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add boiling water during cooking, if the cabbage gets dry or sticks.
Note: This recipe is very forgiving; even if you don’t measure, it always comes out fine.

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Homemade Baked Beans
1 lb. dried white navy beans
pinch of baking soda
1 cup real maple syrup
2 tsp. ground mustard
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. molasses
½ cup chopped onion
¼ lb. salt pork

Rinse beans in a colander. Place beans in a large pot and cover with water, at least 4 inches above the beans, and soak them overnight. Drain the beans and cover with fresh water. Bring pot to a boil and skim off any foam that forms on top. Add the baking soda and continue to simmer, placing lid to partially cover pot. Beans should be tender in 30-60 minutes. Test by blowing on beans – skins should split. Avoid overcooking beans so they won’t get mushy. Drain when cooked, reserving liquid. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease the inside of a large dutch oven or heavy casserole dish; add beans. Stir in the syrup, mustard, pepper, molasses and onion. Place the salt pork on top and push down into the beans. Add reserve bean water to completely cover the beans. Cover the pot and bake for 6-8 hours. Beans should be deep brown and tender. Add additional water while baking, if necessary. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

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Party Rye Sandwiches
8 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded
8 oz. sliced ham, chopped
8 oz. can sauerkraut
1 c. mayonnaise
1 loaf party rye bread

Combine cheese, ham, sauerkraut and mayonnaise. Spread butter on one side of each bread slice. Spread cheese mixture on one bread slice and top with a second slice to make sandwich. Note: Make hot party open-face appetizers by spreading small amount of cheese mixture on each bread slice and heating under broiler until bubbly.

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Butch’s Favorite Fresh Apple Cake
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups diced, peeled apples
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9 x 13-in. pan. Blend eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix flour, salt, soda and cinnamon together in second bowl. Toss apples, coconut and chopped nuts in a third bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, alternating with apple mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

Icing for Apple Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp. cream
1 box powdered sugar

In a saucepan, cook butter and brown sugar over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add cream and powdered sugar. Mix well and spread over apple cake.

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Slow Cooker Apple Butter
12 cups Jonathan apples, peeled, cored and sliced
6 cups sugar
6 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground allspice

Place all ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 6-7 hours. Remove lid and continue to cook for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally until apple butter thickens to desired consistency.

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Pepper Jelly
1 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
½ c. chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
5 cups sugar
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
1 package (6 oz.) liquid pectin

Remove stems, veins and seeds from the peppers – leave a few jalapeno seeds in for extra heat. Chop peppers in food processor. In a large pot, combine peppers, sugar and vinegar. Bring to a rolling boil; continue boiling for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Stir constantly while adding liquid pectin. Allow mixture to cool for 2 minutes. Stir for another minute. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and place sterilized lids on top. Secure lids with bands and allow jars to cool at room temperature. Jars should develop a vacuum seal. Note: This jelly is delicious served with cream cheese and crackers. Small jars make nice hostess or holiday gifts.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009


It may seem that I'm rushing the season a bit, but the news is not good for those of us who love Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce. Like so many good things from our past, it seems that Indian Trail has been bought and sold to the point of extinction, and the cranberry sauce is no longer being made or marketed. What to do, what to do?

Based on the number of Google Search hits I receive every single month from people stumbling upon my recipe, while frantically looking up a source for this popular holiday treat, I know I am not alone in feeling sad that my grandmother's classic Indian Trail cranberry jello mold will no longer grace our holiday table.

All is not lost though. Years ago, when I was unable to find Indian Trail where I lived in North Carolina, I created my own. I'm not sure I could tell the difference in a blind taste test, but now that doesn't really matter, I guess.

This year, I plan to make some of my special recipe early in the season and freeze it, just like the Indian Trail people of yore. OK, so maybe the Pilgrims didn't have Indian Trail brand cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving. But for those of us who feel like it's just not Thanksgiving without Indian Trail, try this recipe for the almost real thing.

Cora's recipe:
(Almost Indian Trail) Cranberry Orange Sauce
1 bag of fresh cranberries (frozen fresh whole berries are OK too)
1 whole orange including peel/rind, seeds removed (I quarter the whole orange, remove the seeds and stem end and add the orange quarters to the food processor with the cranberries and sugar - feel free to separate the white pith from the orange peel, if you wish)
1 cup of sugar

Chop all ingredients in a food processor or a food grinder and stir to mix. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. (Be sure to let it drain a while to remove the excess liquid before mixing it with Jello, if you are making the Cranberry Orange Holiday Jello Salad recipe from the Indian Trail box.)

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