Friday, December 23, 2011

Cranberry Orange Sauce Update 2011

Announcing the star of Christmas memories - past and present

Sometimes life -- and Christmas -- are about the little things ... a favorite Christmas carol on the radio ... a card from a friend with a personal handwritten note ... the familiar fragrance of evergreens and spice ... a homemade cookie ... a child's handmade ornament hung on the tree for the 25th year in a row ... and continuing the tradition of a special dish that grandmother always made for holiday dinners ... 

In 2008, I shared my love for frozen Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce and the recipe on the package that my grandmother always used to make our favorite cranberry orange jello salad for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Through the years, depending on where we were stationed with the Air Force, I often had trouble finding the prepared Indian Trail mixture I needed to make my Christmas memories come alive, so I developed my own version that was identical in taste to the original. Not so difficult when something only has three ingredients -- and you own a food processor.

In 2004, we moved back home to Southern Illinois and, once again, I was able to find the original Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce -- but not for long. In 2009, a Cora Cooks reader reported being unable to find our favorite cranberry condiment, so I contacted Bay Valley Foods and discovered what we all feared -- ITCOS was gone for good, despite my reports that thousands of people were searching for it every year on my little blog!

Now, in 2011, the news is a little better for those who are unable to make my own homemade version -- Almost Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce -- or simply don't have a food processor for the chopping. Stone Gate Foods, in Shakopee, MN is producing a simple three-ingredient cranberry product that is similar to ITCOS. A reader reported finding the Door County Cranberry Orange Relish in her local market and I verified that, indeed, it was being marketed in several Upper Midwest states. The news was not all good though. The retail distribution did not extend to the very southern tip of Illinois so, once again, I would be making my own version for our holiday table.

But wait! My mother called earlier this week to report a sighting of Door County Cranberry Orange Relish in our very own Schnucks (regional, out of St. Louis) store! Needless to say, I jumped in the car and headed there to pick up the two cartons you see in the photo above. I am happy to report this new version will satisfy your cranberry orange cravings. It is a little chunkier than Indian Trail, which was a sauce, not a relish. The flavor is great right out of the carton and should mold nicely into the traditional Jello salad. Sadly, there is no Jello salad recipe on the container, but I know where you can find it. :D

Yes, Virginia! There is a Santa Claus! 

And I'll just bet his holiday memories include something special like grandmother's molded cranberry orange Jello salad. Maybe I'll leave a carton out with his cookies and milk, just in case Mrs. Claus has trouble finding it at her local North Pole market.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Don't you just love chocolate and peanuts -- together?

Creamy chocolate and crunchy peanuts.

Creamy melted chocolate and crunchy peanuts.

Sweet, creamy melted chocolate and salty, crunchy peanuts.

Sweet, creamy melted chocolate covering clusters of salty, crunchy peanuts.

Who knew it was so easy to make chocolate covered peanut clusters at home?

And who knew they would be so much better than any store-bought chocolate peanut clusters?

You've got to make these.


Right now.

You will thank me!

And make some to give as gifts.

Your family and friends will thank you!

Here's the recipe, thanks to my friend and neighbor, D.R.

24 oz. white almond bark
24 oz. chocolate bark
1 4 oz. bar German chocolate
12 oz. chocolate chips
24 oz. dry roasted salted peanuts

Layer the ingredients in a slow cooker in the order listed. Cover and cook on Low for 1 1/2 hours - DO NOT PEEK. Remove lid after cooking and stir ingredients together. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper - a small cookie scoop works well. Leave several hours or overnight for chocolate to harden. Store in airtight container.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Easy Homemade Turkey Breakfast Sausage Patties

Easy Homemade Turkey Sausage Patties.

I learned most of what I know about pork and turkey while we lived in eastern North Carolina. Turkey barns and hog farms were everywhere. It was, and is, big business there. The perfect place to learn to appreciate barbecue, country ham and the emergence of turkey as "the other other white meat."

Eastern North Carolina barbecue has been well documented here as my all-time personal favorite. However, it is not the only preparation of the pig that I love. 

I had never eaten sausage or ham on a biscuit until moving to North Carolina, but once there, I discovered how ubiquitous they were in that area. Every McDonald's offered country ham biscuits and sausage biscuits on the morning menu. They were as big as your head -- or so it seemed to me. Smaller country ham biscuits were a staple at almost any party or social function, any time of day or night. 

With so many opportunities to sample them, it was only a matter of time before I developed a real fondness for country ham biscuits. What am I saying? I love them and I could eat them until my ankles swelled to the size of tree trunks. But that's not really a good thing, so I only make them once or twice a year. And thank goodness they are not available at every drive-thru in Southern Illinois!

Now back to turkey. As far as I know, turkey cannot be turned into country ham, but it does make a pretty decent sausage, with a lower fat content than pork. Using the same seasonings that flavor pork yields a very acceptable turkey sausage. Since I make a pretty decent homemade biscuit, I have found a mixture of seasonings to make my own turkey sausage -- so now I can have the occasional sausage biscuit, with lower salt and a hint of maple syrup flavor too. Yum! 

Homemade turkey sausage is easier to make than meatloaf and faster to cook up. This recipe may be perfect for me, but don't hesitate to play around with it -- a little thyme or other herbs, more pepper, a bit of garlic, whatever works. Make the sausage ahead of time and freeze into patties. If you have leftovers, wrap the cooked sausage on a biscuit and pop it into the microwave for a quick breakfast on the run.

As you can see in the picture above, this simple turkey sausage is tasty enough to be part of a festive breakfast or brunch. I served my homemade turkey sausage with sauteed Jonathan apples sprinkled with a little cinnamon, fresh raspberries, scrambled eggs with Herbes de Provence and a gooey butter cake from Gooey Louie in St. Louis.  Check out all their flavors -- makes a great holiday gift for the person who already has everything!

We had a lovely 60th birthday brunch for one of my favorite people, who shall remain nameless. You know who you are!

What a great menu for Christmas morning brunch too!

(adapted from Food Network - Rachel Ray)

1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. ground sage
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 lb. ground turkey
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. olive oil

Combine salt, pepper, fennel, rubbed sage and crushed red pepper in a bowl and stir to blend.  Add ground turkey and mix with hands to combine.  Add maple syrup and mix with hands again. Shape and flatten sausage mixture into 3-inch round patties. Heat skillet on medium and add olive oil.  Cook sausage patties about 5 minutes until lightly brown on one side and turn to brown on second side. Remove sausage patties and drain on paper towels. Serve warm. Makes 6–8 small patties.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Classic Pumpkin Pie With A Little Flair

In a perfect world, like all good bloggers, I should have been cranking out the Thanksgiving recipes and trying out some new ones during the past couple of months. However, as we know, life is not perfect and sometimes imagined perfection must be suspended for the occasional unimaginable reality.

And so it goes.

Much is the same here, but much has changed -- and I am not so good with change. Thank goodness for holidays! They are like life's little rest stops.

We travel this road daily, but every now and then there comes time to pause for a much needed comfort stop, some fuel and a bit of nourishment for the belly and the soul. Unforeseen change is unsettling, but tradition and ritual comfort us and remind us that we have come this way before and will continue on together.

So ... Thanksgiving has come and gone with nary a word from me on the subject. Google continues to send people my way due to my previous posts on the demise of Indian Trail Cranberry Orange Sauce, along with my recipe for an acceptable homemade substitute. It is my claim to food blog fame.

Once a year, from mid-October until mid-January, thousands of people continue to land here while searching for ITCOS. And they also continue to leave comments -- the affirmation that a bloggers voice has reached someone. This year, according to readers who comment, it seems there might just be a couple of new products to substitute for the original. So far though, they are only available regionally. I will continue to make my own -- and share the recipe with all who come searching.

Except for a moist and delicious rum bundt cake for dessert, our Thanksgiving dinner was filled with the old reliables. One turkey and two turkey breasts were fried. A spiral sliced ham was warmed and glazed with a brown sugar goo. There were three kinds of dressing, as usual. Vegetables were mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, corn, sweet potato pudding, roasted brussels sprouts and collards. Mashed parsnips were a newcomer, but more than a few people wondered why we had two bowls of mashed potatoes! The fruit category included a baked pineapple casserole and the aforementioned cranberry orange sauce, plus three other kinds of cranberries. Deviled eggs and rolls rounded out the meal -- and our tummies!

Our dessert course is never the same from year to year, except for pumpkin pie. This year we had a salute to pumpkin, in fact! We had tiny pumpkin cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting swirl on top that were delicious (and way too easy to eat like popcorn, one after the other) plus a pumpkin gooey butter cake that was mmm, mmm good. Oh! I almost forgot the yummy rum bundt cake.

I made the pumpkin pie. Well, I followed the recipe on the Libby's can of pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie mix!), like I do every year. It is so easy and so good, there seems to be no reason to search beyond the Libby's label. However, I did surprise myself with a little artistic pie dough flair this year by adding some acorns and leaves atop the finished pie. Clearly, it was a spontaneous moment in the kitchen -- with a mismatch of acorns and maple leaves, but I'm sure you'll agree, the hand-carved accents and that over-lapping coin edge on the crust put the whole pie over the top!

My plans are to get back to more regular posting. There may also be a couple of changes -- like some features that are not food.

Oh, my! Same comfortable blog, with a bit of fresh air to change things up a little.

See you back here soon, but in the meantime, you can find some of my new interests and inspirations on my Pinterest boards, where I am simply --
Cora Sedlacek.   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Roasting Seasonal Vegetables

I have yet to meet a vegetable whose flavor does not improve significantly when roasted.

Admittedly, there are a few vegetables I have never cared to eat again, after my first distasteful experience with them. Not that I really hated them -- too strong a word. It prefer to think it was just a failure on my part to appreciate their "special" qualities. Noxious odors or offensive textures were usually to blame. Or so I thought.

It's interesting now, though, to discover a few of these vegetables are much more palatable than I first thought. One reason may be a more mature palate -- mine has aged just a bit since my first taste, when I deemed them useless for my survival on earth.

Another may be a different preparation. I just didn't realize as a kid that some vegetables simply do not seem to benefit from being boiled to death.

Afterall, how much do most five year olds know about food?
"Oh, goodie Mommy! I see something new on my plate and I'm so excited ... even if it looks a little strange ...  and it smells kinda weird ... and, oh boy, I just can't wait to taste it!" 
Yeah, I never quite put it that way either!

I was fairly successful, though, in teaching my son how to re-frame the yucky vegetable issue after a few unwelcome dinner table outbursts caused me to lose my otherwise cheerful maternal demeanor.

Fortunately, he was a good kid and willing to play along with my insistence that he express respect and gratitude for the cook, if not the food ...
"Gee, this looks interesting. Can you tell me more about it?" ... in a pleasant voice.
"I've tasted this, but I don't think I care for it." ... again, in a pleasant voice.
 And the one thing I expected to hear after every meal ... at home or wherever ... no matter what was served ... or who prepared it ...
"Thank you for the lovely dinner."
 A little bit of Eddie Haskell is sometimes necessary to smooth a mother's ruffled feathers.

Substitutions for offensive food were not prepared at my table. And if the scenario played out as scripted, with the required taste-test and the pleasant follow-on statements, dessert was still an option.

No Clean Plate Club or no Dessert Rewards at my table either.

Of course, nothing was served at my table that I wasn't going to eat myself, so my lucky kid did not ever have to endure any boiled brussels spouts, beets or turnips. I spared him the really yucky ones, or so I thought. He still found some he did not care for ... like sweet potatoes ... even with sugar and marshmallows, for heaven's sake! Go figure!

So now that you've seen the picture above and read the names of certain vegetables for which I had no previous appreciation ... what do you think is in that cute little bowl?

Potatoes? Really?

You crack me up!  Potatoes ... yucky ... never!

No, it's turnips, you silly! And they're roasted ... and, oh so delicious!

Really! They didn't smell funny before, during or after roasting. They were very fresh and extremely easy to peel. A little olive oil and salt and pepper was all they needed before undergoing what can only be described as a magical transformation in a 400 degree oven. Why didn't I try this before?

First I discovered roasted brussels sprouts ... and shared them with the world ... some of whom seemed to already possess this little nugget of kitchen wisdom.  And no one told me?

Then it was beets ... so much better when roasted.

And now it's turnips!

Those pungent, sour, bitter, acrid little bits of white, often boiled and served with a big bunch of their green leaves, also chopped and boiled. Bleck! No amount of vinegar on those greens could cover up those nasty little white bits.

But here's what happened today. I've been reading about seasonal foods this week, especially with regard to Traditional Chinese Medicine's cure for damp. Right there on the list was turnips. So I toddled my damp self off to our local Fresh Produce market with a list that included turnips, although I certainly had no intention of buying them.

But then I saw them. Sitting there all fresh and white with that jaunty little purple swoosh around the stem end ... they looked pretty cute ... and they didn't really smell musty ... and the greens had been removed ... so my mind did not make the inevitable leap to boiled greens with noxious white bits.

And guess what? I bought them! Well, six of them, anyway.

And when I got home I decided to roast them. What a g.r.e.a.t. idea! Maybe not original or ground-breaking, but still new to me!

When I tasted one right out of the oven, I was thrilled! Delicious! Outstanding!

Roasting vegetables is pure genius ... again ... and again ... and again!

I grabbed a bowl ... one with a little Asian flair, to honor my TCM inspiration ... and a plate ... and headed to the dining room table where I dabble in food photography.

Seasonal vegetables really score big flavor when prepared in a seasonal way ... roasted in a warm oven ... to cure what ails you, as rain dampens the blanket of leaves on the ground.

I feel better already. Even after eating all six turnips.

Really though, it was only about a cup, after they were roasted.

Must have worked too. I feel very alert and oh-so-energetic!

fresh turnips, stems and greens removed
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel turnips with vegetable peeler and slice off stem end. Cut turnips into smallish chunks. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easier clean-up) and spread turnip chunks out evenly. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in oven for 40-45 minutes, until they begin to brown. Turn turnips over with a spatula after the first 20 minutes to brown on other side. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sautéed Fresh Green Beans with Leeks - The Perfect Dinner Companion

I have had a busy summer that flew by so quickly I feel like I'll never catch up! So ... while I work on  a few blog posts about some of the more interesting tidbits I've gathered from my summer visitors and my own travels, I'm serving up something fast and fresh to ease us all back into the weeknight kitchen.

Fresh whole green beans are a snap to prepare and they pair well with herbs, aromatics and other flavor enhancers from the pantry. The recipe is really nothing more than a technique and maybe a little inspiration.

After cleaning and snapping the ends off the beans, sauté -- the technique -- them in a little olive oil over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Then add a splash of water or broth to the pan and cover with a lid. The beans will steam -- OK, two techniques -- and cook to a tender crunch in about 3 minutes, or longer if you like them softer.

Remove the lid and toss in some chopped leeks, sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until leeks just begin to brown. The beans will still be bright green and, as you can see, make a tempting presentation on the plate. 

To vary the flavors -- here's the inspiration part -- add a tiny bit of soy sauce or wine to the liquid and/or chopped garlic to brown with the leeks. Substitute whatever aromatics you have handy -- onions, shallots, green onions or red bell peppers. 

Finally, add another sprinkle or splash of flavor -- more inspiration -- just before serving, if you like. Maybe some grated orange or lemon zest, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, chopped fresh herbs or herb vinaigrette.

Serve these beans any way you like -- hot from the pan, cooled to room temperature or cold from the fridge in a salad, or even as a salad!

Hey, this is more like ten or twenty recipes in one! 

I hesitate to mention that other fresh vegetables can be used in place of green beans -- broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus -- which now brings this up to ten or twenty thousand recipes on one page!

Uh-oh, there goes my million dollar cookbook deal ...

Fresh, bright and dressed to please -- green beans make the perfect dinner companion!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Chicken, Rice and Artichoke Salad


My friend, Pam, served this yummy salad the other night when our birthday-dinner club met at her house for our first ever game night. After a few rounds of Bananagrams to warm up, we learned how to play Ticket to Ride - Europe. I'm a big word game fan so Bananagrams played to my strengths, but I especially enjoyed the challenge of Ticket to Ride, which involved some strategy to win. Game night was a hit!

The biggest hit, though, was the Curried Chicken, Rice and Artichoke Salad. A few versions of this recipe have been around for years, but this one had such a light curry flavor that I enjoyed it much more than others I've tasted. I think it must have been the Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Powder Pam used. The flavor was subtle at first, but with each bite there were delicate citrus notes blending with all the ingredients in a very pleasing way. Nothing overwhelming, as curry can sometimes be. There was just enough of it to make you say, "mmmm, that really tastes good" without exactly knowing why.

When I got Pam’s recipe, I was not familiar with Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Powder. A quick Google search showed it was available from Savory Spice Shop online and at these retail locations for their herbs and spices. The website listed it as a blend of "mild green chile powder, lemongrass, shallots, salt, garlic, onion, Lampong peppercorns, galangal root, ginger, Kaffir lime leaves, red Thai chilies and citric acid." Aha! Light, mild, citrus and bright flavors indeed! Love it!

Today I made the salad, with the curry powder I had on hand. I served it tonight for dinner with my class reunion committee. It was very good and everyone seemed to enjoy it, but to me it was not as good as Pam's. I need the curry powder she used! Who knew! Guess I'll be ordering my own jar from Savory Spice Store online -- asap! The citrusy curry flavor lingers on my mind and has my taste buds crying out for more.

Funny how one ingredient can change food flavors so distinctly and deliciously. Understandable though, since there are so many well known curry powder blends that define certain food cultures, even within the same countries or regions. It is not fair to say you don't like curry without sampling more than one, and I think I make it a point to become more familiar with the varieties offered at my local International Grocery.

File this one under Taste and Learn!

FYI - I only mention name brands when I feel like it makes a difference in flavor or performance in a recipe. I have no connections with Savory Spice Shop, nor have I received products or compensation from them for what I've written here. Same goes for Bananagrams and Ticket to Ride – Europe, just in case you wondered.

8 chicken breasts, baked, cooled and sliced
2 small boxes of long grain and wild rice mix; cook according to package directions
2 large jars marinated artichoke hearts, sliced - add marinade to salad
1 bunch (6 or 7) green onions, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup stuffed olives, chopped
2 tsp. (or more!) curry powder*
1/2 c. +/- mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Start with a small amount of mayonnaise; add more as desired, but be sure not to obscure the other ingredients and flavors with a thick coating if it.   

*Notes: Any curry powder you like will work, but I especially like the lighter flavor of Cambodian Lemongrass Curry, available from Savory Spice Shop online. Increase or decrease the amount used to suit your own taste.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Love At First Sight

Seven years ago this summer, we were busy settling into our new home. The minute we first laid eyes on the pictures of this house and property, we knew it was the place we were supposed to be - our forever home - the place that had taken shape in our minds and hearts through years of daydreaming and I-wishing. It was love at first sight and it continues to be for us - even after several years spent maintaining, repairing and making it our own.

Summer 2011, has been all about outdoor improvements at Prairie Wood, sometimes to the exclusion of other things -- like knitting, cooking and blogging.

It all began with the removal of several damaged or dead trees. Don't worry -- there are plenty of trees left -- both healthy and dead, and some in between. MFH was busy for weeks cutting and stacking wood with the chainsaw, and then finishing with the stump grinder. He just loves to make sawdust with power tools and equipment! 

Not long after that, MFH's brother and nephew, Scott and Joey, decided to take the train down from Chicago for a little father-son vacation visit with us over the Fourth of July. I'm not sure it was the vacation they imagined, but they were kind enough to pitch to shovel and shuttle endless loads of ground-up tree stumps and limbs into the woods. And of course, the temps were well into the high 90s by then! They did get in some pool time, dinners out and a few hours of satellite TV. Thanks again guys! Come back anytime ... say ... next summer!

Denise, MFH's sister, has spent enough time working in our gardens for the past few years that she now has her own successful garden business, The Garden Keeper. She and her crew were here again this summer and spent countless hours -- also during some of the hottest days of the summer. She makes sure our gardens look planned and well-tended, rather than the hodgepodge of neglect they would suffer at my two hands alone.
The next step was to install an automatic watering system to replace the flawed human system we've used for six summers. I readily admit that I was the flaw, possessing neither the will nor the patience to drag hoses from sprinkler to sprinkler or stand in the heat to give plants a shower!  After the new hose and automatic sprinkler system was laid, Denise and her crew showed up again to spread mulch over all the irrigation tubing. Now it is such a joy to look out the window from inside my air-conditioned kitchen and watch the watering magically change from one zone to another. There are more areas to be added to the sprinkler system, but we are much closer to maintaining a cool and serene landscape, without having to listen to my whining.

The final stage of summer improvements for this year is almost complete. Several areas of new patio have been poured to connect the pool deck with the fire pit area, extend both sides of the pool house and up to the backdoor. The pros came in to pour the concrete, but only after MFH pulled up every stone of the long, lovely but uncomfortale pathway I found difficult to navigate. 

And last but not least, since many of us have found it almost impossible to make a graceful exit from the pool with nothing to hold onto, we finally added one of those shiny, sturdy handrails. No one knows why one wasn't installed when the pool was built by the previous owner.

The plans for adding onto the pool house are still under discussion, but we do agree the simple addition of patio areas to tie everything together was a huge improvement. I would really, really, really like to add a screened porch on one side. What can I say, the sun doesn't like me, but the bugs sure do! And, of course, we'd like a small, simple outdoor kitchen someday too. I see years and years of more summer work ... and fun to come.

Tomorrow is Labor Day and it always amazes me how the heat and humidity seem to mysteriously disappear with the holiday. We'll close the pool this week, but that's not the end of the season for us. We still look forward to spending more time outside during the pleasant autumn days and nights -- a few campfires, some roasted marshmallows and s'mores, the neighborhood potluck in October and maybe a few brick oven pizzas or artisan breads lay ahead. I'll be back to cooking and knitting before you know it!

Seven summers have flown by, but we still feel like our forever house is really our vacation home and we continue to settle in quite nicely. Prairie Wood was well worth the wait ... especially when the work and upkeep mean more time to enjoy here with family and friends. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Frozen Tomato

A few years ago, I read a book by Julia Reed titled Queen of the Turtle Derby. Reed, who is from Greenville, MS, writes essays about the people and places where she grew up, and includes recipes for the foods that are as much a part of Southern culture as eccentric relatives.

One particular story included a recipe from the Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, TN, where Reed spent summers visiting her grandparents. She recalled it fondly and I was fascinated by both the name and description -- Frozen Tomato.  Of course, freezing tomatoes is not a mainstream method of preserving or serving whole tomatoes, so I was more than curious. Reed describes the dish as a sort of tomato ice cream made with tomato juice. After freezing, it is scooped onto lettuce leaves and served as a salad. Hmmmm? Tomato ice cream?

As I scanned down the list of ingredients in the recipe, I could see that ice cream might describe the texture and serving temperature, but I had never had ice cream made with tomato juice, onions, Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco! Still I was determined to try it someday.

Well, that day finally came a couple of weeks ago. My copy of Reed's book has long since been passed on to someone I thought might enjoy a lighthearted look at Southern culture and recipes, so I located the recipe by googling Reed and frozen tomato. There it was, the same story and recipe from the book was also in a New York Times food essay that must have been the place it first  appeared. Great! I gathered the ingredients, mixed them faithfully following the recipe, poured the mixture into a oblong baking dish and placed it in the freezer. That night, I scooped bright red balls of Frozen Tomato, looking very much like ice cream, onto iceberg lettuce leaves and served it as the salad with dinner.

Well ... as MFH and I scraped our spoons across the top of the rosy ball and took a taste, I could tell instantly he didn't like it. My first taste surprised me. The texture was definitely icy and creamy. The flavor, however, was overwhelmingly Worcestershire sauce and underwhelmingly tomato. Not what I expected at all.

My instinct was to write off the whole frozen tomato idea as a bust. I was disappointed to have looked forward to trying something that promised to be so interesting, but instead reminded me of a desperation batch of tomato daiquiris that signaled the end of all available fruit -- and also the end of a very long night of frozen drinking.

So, once again, I turned to googling Frozen Tomato. I learned long ago that popular recipes are traded in families, church circles, women's clubs and bridge luncheons like hot stocks. If one person has a great recipe, others will not rest until they get it for themselves. Secret family recipes are guarded at all costs, but most others are shared freely, at least until they settle inside the pages of the encyclopedic Southern Living Annual Recipes for all to see. The first edition of SLAR was published in 1979, and has been collected every year since then by savvy cooks above and below the Mason-Dixon Line.  Yes, I do have the complete set!

I was shocked to find only one listing for Frozen Tomato in the Southern Living Index, and it was not at all like the Belle Meade recipe in Reed's book. My next stop was a listing for Frozen Tomato Salad from that used canned tomatoes instead of juice, and left out the Worcestershire Sauce entirely. Hmmm. No, not canned tomatoes. The only other reliable source I found was from Retro Food Blog by Tarrant Figlio, a fellow BlogHer blogger, who writes about the recipes many of us remember from the 1950s and 60s.

Tarrant's recipe looks like it might be more what I expected -- tomato juice, cream cheese and mayo for creaminess, pineapple for sweetness and onion for an added savory layer of flavor. No Worcestershire sauce though!  Maybe I could dial back the Worcestershire sauce and think along the lines of a Bloody Mary Salad. Something to think about, if the Frozen Tomato fails to live up to the hype the second time around.

I've included all three interpretations of the recipe here because I have not made the second or third ones yet, but I do plan to try Tarrant's version soon. Perhaps it would be nice served on a bed of shredded lettuce, with some sliced avocado along side. Cold, creamy, sweet and savory frozen tomato. I think I'd like that.

I do know the book is a great Reed, so even if you don't think the Frozen Tomato is for you, I'm pretty sure you'd still enjoy the book -- and maybe some of Reed's other recipes collected from some fine Southern cooks Reed has known herself.

(Adapted from the Belle Meade Country Club)
3 cups tomato juice
3 cups Hellmann's mayonnaise, plus more for garnishing 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
3/4 cup crushed pineapple 
1/4 cup cream cheese 
1/4 cup cottage cheese 
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
2 drops Tabasco, or more to taste 
Salt and white pepper to taste 
Red food coloring, if desired 
Boston or bibb lettuce leaves

Combine 2 cups of the tomato juice, 1 cup of the mayonnaise, the onion, pineapple, cream cheese, cottage cheese, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco in a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into a bowl. Combine the remaining tomato juice and mayonnaise in the blender and blend until smooth. Add enough food coloring so that it is the color of a very ripe tomato -- otherwise, it will be pale pink. Add it to the mixture in the bowl and whisk until combined. Season with salt and pepper and more Tabasco if needed. Pour into a 2-inch-deep baking dish (use a sieve if you want a smoother texture) and freeze. Arrange lettuce on 10 salad plates and place 1 or 2 scoops of frozen tomato on top. Add a dollop of mayonnaise if desired.

*Originally published in the New York Times, FOOD; Member of the Club, April 6, 2003, by Julia Reed
*Also appears in Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena, Random House, 2004, by Julia Reed 

1 (16 oz.) can tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) crushed pineapple
1/2 sm. grated onion
Pinch of sugar
1 (3 oz.) cream cheese
1 c. mayonnaise
Salt & Tabasco to taste

Put in blender until well mixed. Pour into ice trays and pans and freeze. Slice to serve. 

(From Retro Food Blog by Tarrant Figlio)
1 qt. tomato juice
1 pt. crushed pineapple, well drained
1 c. Philadelphia cream cheese
1 pint mayonnaise
2 grated onions

Several vigorous shakes of Tabasco, salt, pepper, to taste. Mix thoroughly and freeze. Serve with mayonnaise lightly flavored with curry powder.
From Mrs. R. E. King

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Pinterest Favorites for Summer Fun

I haven't completely forgotten about you, or food or recipes, but one of my goals for the summer is establishing a functional and user-friendly index for Cora Cooks. It is a little more time-consuming than I thought it would be, but I know we'll all love it when it's finished. I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone. 

Here's a little something to keep you occupied with some great ideas for food and other magical ways to have a happy summer.

The response to last week's post with ideas I found on Pinterest was excellent, so here we go with round two.

Once August rolls around, we begin to realize the days are already getting shorter and it won't be long until school starts again.  I know I begin to think about squeezing every last drop of fun from those last few days.

With that in mind, this week I found lots of clever crafts, cool ideas and easy-living tips on Pinterest to make the most of your summer days. Time-saving ways to make everyday free and easy -- for you, your kid(s), your neighbor kids, your grandkids or your guests.

No one will be bored, everyone will be hydrated and happy, and you might even be able to squeeze in some quiet time of your own to read a steamy summer novel or take a nap.

Nothing says summer like a good book and a nap!

Sometimes a day at the beach is ... well ... not so much! Tons of paraphernalia to carry to and from, gritty sand in food, drinks and swimsuits, sunburn, tired cranky kids and that long drive home. This little bit of a backyard beach is the answer to your prayers! What a cute idea from the blog Better Together written by three very talented sisters. A day at the beach that ends with smiles all around.

Yes, it's a beach ball -- and more!  Very realistic and so much fun for a party. Beth from Hungry Happenings created this delicious beach ball fruit pizza with a sugar cookie crust, spread with lemon cheesecake filling and covered with beautiful, bright and refreshing fruit. Just perfect for summer dessert. Smile and say fruity cookie cheeeeeese-cake!
Here is another idea for those cupcake liners we stored in the big glass jars last week. Martha Stewart Living had this on the website last summer and Annie at Marry You Me featured it as cocktail caps on her wedding blog from England. Perfect for cocktails, lemonade and canned drinks too! No more bees or bugs in drinks! Smile now if you've ever swallowed a bug!
Laura at Come Together Kids shared a time-saving idea to keep them blowing bubbles all day long - this plastic drink dispenser will refill lots and lots of little bottles. And she has a bonus for you too -- recipes for making large, inexpensive batches of bubbles at home. Moms must love Pinterest for all the terrific ideas from the cleverest mommy bloggers! Bubbles make everyone smile!
Kids get bored ... and whine ... and complain ... and want to be entertained. Somewhat Simple has the solution! The I'm Bored Jar is filled with strips of paper printed with things to do. But here's the fun for mom ... it might say "bake cookies with Mom" or it might say "dust the living room." A sure cure for boredom either way! See mom smile!

Oh, no! More cupcake liners! I can't believe 1) I've never thought of this simple solution myself and 2) I haven't got that big canister full of cupcake liners yet! Real Simple included this idea in an article full of simple summer ideas to repurpose items you already have around the house. This one alone will save me hours of time with the my own laundry. Now I'm smiling!
And last, but not least, something for quiet time from Tatertots and Jello. As a kid, I would have loved this. As a mom, my kid loved his. As a teacher, I know how much kids love to hole up in tiny spaces on the floor and read. Whether it's out in the yard or in a bedroom or playroom, this is the perfect space to encourage some quiet summer reading time. Is that mom smiling again?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Week #1 With Pinterest

I must confess. I have become absolutely fascinated with Pinterest! Maybe even obsessed. Or quite possibly addicted.

Have you been to the Pinterest site yet?

I have never seen so many wonderful, beautiful, useful, colorful, time-saving, clever, creative, cute, funny, thought-provoking, fill in the blank ........ things in one place!

It's a great way to find new blogs and websites that have the kind of things you're looking for -- not just cooking! -- but clothes, decorating, crafting, inspiration, books, music, movies, places to go, people to see and things to do, just to name a few.

Below is just a sampling of some of my favorite pins to my boards from the past week.

You can see all of my boards, including recipes (search:Cora Sedlacek) with pictures of the inspiring ideas I've collected so far, complete with links to websites full of many, many more.

And, of course, new pictures are being pinned while we're just sitting here talking about it!

Uhhhh .... gotta go now!

You can go to Pinterest right now - just click on the red "P" over on the far right column. Be sure to leave a comment, if you find something good I might like too!

Makes me happy just to look at this idea from Such Petty Things! These are my favorite canister jars and several of them sit out on my counter already, but I'm going to fill another one with the jumble of cupcake papers that keep falling out of my cabinet!

A baguette provides endless possibilities for tasty sandwiches, but stuffing it with a mixture of creamy cheeses, crunchy vegetables, savory meats and salty olives sounds just about perfect! In fact, I thought of about six combinations to try as soon as I saw this from Baking Obsession.
I thought I had a pretty good system for preparing salads ahead of time, but this one from Salad In A Jar is even better!
The Wilton website gives this recipe to use with their ice cream cookie bowl pan. I think it would probably work with muffin pans or mini bundt cake pans too, but those little fluted cookie cups are cute enough to make me want that pan!

I found this cute idea and followed the link back to Crystal & Co. If you go to her website, she has a link for the pdf to print these labels for teacher gifts -- or make your own labels for cookouts, campfires or sleepovers.

My friend, Biggie, at Lunch In A Box, shared this neat and nifty idea for freezer hamburger patties so you can just break off the number you need.

Another colorful and clever way to store cupcake papers from Torrie Jayne -- I just couldn't help adding one more to my favorites from the week. Guess I've got cupcakes on the brain!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lip-Smacking Good Baked Beans

We had only been home a short time from an overnight in St. Louis when Becky called to say she was coming over with something for us to taste -- something I always appreciate! A few minutes later, she arrived with a bowl full of beans. Apparently, Jim  said these were the best baked beans he had ever tasted and she wanted to share them with us.

Everyone should have neighbors as thoughtful as ours!

Dean and I both tasted the beans and loved them. Becky had anticipated that and presented me with Jim's handwritten copy of the recipe. I made a copy to keep, scooped the beans into one of my own bowls, washed and dried Becky's bowl and sent her on her way -- hopeful she was already thinking about her next share-worthy creation.

I like to doctor canned baked beans to make them my own, giving them a little more depth of flavor than the boring tomato sauce and sugar version. If you enjoy baked beans with multiple layers of flavor, then you'll love these too. A little spice, a little sweet and a little heat gives these beans a flavor that is both balanced and complex, all in one bite.

Very yummy, indeed! Thanks again Becky and Jim!

Disclaimer: The light was already dim inside, so I grabbed my camera and the beans to catch the last glimmer of daylight outside for this photograph. Of course, as I opened the door, I realized the lens would fog as the temperature changed from deliciously cool inside to hell's inferno outside. Therefor, the picture is not the best, but you know what beans look like -- right?

We're just here for the flavor!

Jim's Barbecue Beans
1 jar salsa (Newman's Mild)
1 bottle barbecue sauce (Gates Bar-B-Q Sauce)
1 can diced tomatoes and green chiles - drained (Rotel)
1 white onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow banana pepper (or choice of hot pepper)
2 large cans baked beans (Bush's Original)
1 can black beans (Bush's) - drained

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour. For maximum flavor, mix beans and refrigerate for several hours before baking or bake the day before and reheat to serve.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Oh, Wilber! ... Eastern NC Barbecue Is The Best!

This is my favorite magazine -- Garden & Gun. It is about the heritage and tradition of all things Southern and the lifestyle of the New South.

And right on the cover of the most recent June/July 2011 edition is the best barbecue sandwich you will ever taste ... and devour ... and want again ... and again ... and again.

I know this for a fact, because I read it in Garden & Gun.

Oh, yeah! And I've eaten a few Wilber's Barbecue sandwiches myself. OK! I've eaten so many I lost count! But for almost 20 years, I drove past Wilber's every single day on my way to and from town, and if it was time for lunch or dinner, it was always difficult to pass up the best eastern North Carolina barbecue sandwich anywhere.

In case you are not a devoted Garden & Gun reader, then check out the latest Williams-Sonoma catalog. On page 42 is their feature on barbecue, complete with a tribute to Wilber's and a picture of the man himself!

Williams-Sonoma catalog and Wilber

Oh, Wilber!
My Favorite Husband was hoping Williams-Sonoma was going to sell Wilber's Barbecue by mail order, but no such luck! We will have to rely on Bill and Dannie to bring our supply westward when they visit. 

So there you have it! If you already know about eastern North Carolina barbecue, then chances are good you have been to Wilber's, and if not, then what's that about?

If you have never tasted the perfection that is Wilber's slow-fired, pit-cooked, oak-smoked, whole-pig, vinegar-red-pepper-sauced, hand-chopped, served on a soft white-bread bun and topped with a plop of tart-tangy coleslaw barbecue sandwich, then ... well ... Bless your heart! What are you waiting for?
Garden & Gun got it right when it put Wilber's barbecue sandwich on the cover of their magazine. Williams-Sonoma even put Mr. Wilber in their catalog. And I've personally eaten more Wilber's barbecue than I can calculate. Three good reasons to hit the road to Wilber's right now!

Just remember -- Sauce is sauce. Barbecue is the slow-cooked, smoked meat. And that's why eastern North Carolina in general, and Wilber's in particular, is the best!

I enjoy all kinds of barbecue, but I love only one -- eastern North Carolina barbecue. And the best can be found on Hwy. 70 East, in Goldsboro, NC.

If you see Mr. Wilber, be sure to tell him I sent you. It might not mean much to him, but it will to me.

And if you see a guy named Eddie dishing up take-out sandwiches up near the register, tell him Cora says "Hey!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fruit Plate With Appeal

What makes this fruit plate so fresh and inviting?
  • The fruit is fresh and ripe. Know what is in season. Some grocery store fruit may need a day or two before flavors are at their peak -- purchase early and allow time to ripen before serving.
  • Any blemishes are removed when peeling and cutting fruit.
  • The fruit is cut into bite size pieces.
  • The fruits have complimentary colors and flavors.
  • A nice arrangement -- consider a bowl, plate, mixed up or grouped in clusters?
  • Color is vibrant. If not serving immediately, eep air from discoloring cut fruits by dipping pieces in a mixture of water and lemon juice and keeping tightly sealed until serving.
  • Those mini bananas are simply irresistible!
My friend Janet brought this fruit plate to our potluck dinner the other night. It looked so jolly, I just had to snap a picture before we dug into it! My friends are used to that by now.

We couldn't stop talking about those a-peeling little bananas!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lavender Shortbread and A Big Cup of Garden Fresh Herbs

A big cup of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with stamped vintage silver garden markers.

This charming cup of herbs was my entry for a silent auction I attended a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't exactly sure how I would pot the herbs when I first came up with the herb garden idea, but it all came together when I spotted this big coffee cup! I already had the garden markers, so this just seemed perfect to go with them. In fact, if I had a good herb-growing window, I would make another one for myself. The picture does not do it justice though -- you can barely see the charming markers placed in front of each herb.

The vintage silver spoon plant makers were part of a bouquet of six I ordered from Mon Petit Chou Boutique on Etsy. I could spend all day looking at all the clever handmade and recycled items on Etsy. Thanks to Troy-Leigh for the use of the picture from Mon Petit Chou Boutique -- and to Jim and Troy-Leigh for creating the silver spoon markers. They were a big hit! And I can't wait to give the vintage silver fork cheese markers I got for a special friend's birthday coming up very soon.

Italian Herb Garden Markers from Mon Petit Chou Boutique on Etsy

Yesterday, I inspected my own outdoor herb garden and I am happy to report it is coming along nicely. Fortunately, there were several herbs that wintered-over this year -- surviving last year's drought, then winter's snow and frigid temperatures, followed by wind, torrential rains, spring floods and my benign neglect. The rains and flood definitely slowed down this season's planting, so things still look a little rough in some spots. A good layer of mulch is in order, especially before it gets too, too hot, and then all will be right with the garden. Thank goodness herbs are basically weeds that smell nice and taste good, because they make even the most casual gardener look really good!

Sage, oregano and chives all survived the winter and have undergone major trimming and shaping. New additions are basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley.

Sometimes I think I should just plant lavender and be done! If I could grow anything else as well as I grow lavender ... well, I'd really have something! This is just a tiny snapshot of one plant, and there are about eight others scattered around the different tiers of the garden. The bees and butterflies were very busy yesterday, so I had to tread lightly as I moved around to take these pictures.

I'm not the only one who loves lavender in my garden

I'm going to bake some lavender shortbread, pour myself a big cup of coffee and continue to watch the wonders of nature unfold in the garden -- if I ever leave my kitchen, that is! I wish you could smell this lavender shortbread baking. Truly a heavenly mixture of warm vanilla, lemon and lavender scents floating on the air ... ahhh ... and the flavor is just as good as the aroma.

I love these cookies!

Little bits of lavender tucked inside layers of buttery sweet cookies

See Cora Cooks Lavender Shortbread and other treats featured on Sweet Treats for Saturday at Sweet As Sugar Cookies.

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup powdered* sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 teaspoon finely chopped dried lavender florets*
1 cup flour (unsifted)
pinch of salt

*When originally published, the recipe read - 1/3 cup sugar -
it should have read - 1/3 cup powdered sugar.
**The floret is the only the little purple flower part.

Use only dried lavender flowers packaged for edible purposes or fresh lavender flowers that you know have not been treated with any chemicals. Rinse and dry fresh lavender before using for cooking. The flavor of lavender flowers and leaves intensify when dried, so use only 1/3 the amount of dried lavender to fresh. Store dried lavender in an airtight container.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla and lavender with an electric mixer. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour and salt; beat until blended. Knead the dough on a flat surface until smooth. Spray a shortbread mold lightly with vegetable oil cooking spray. Press the dough into the shortbread mold. Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until just lightly golden brown. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Loosen the edges very carefully with a knife and then turn over onto flat surface. (I like to use a very large plate or baking sheet, hold it firmly against the top of the shortbread pan and flip them both over together.) Following the design on the shortbread, cut into pieces while still warm. Cool and store in a sealed container.

Brown Bag shortbread mold
No shortbread pan? - No problem :D
After mixing and kneading dough, flatten it into a square and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm. On a floured board, roll or pat out the square to a thickness of 1/2-inch. Cut the dough into cookie-size squares. Transfer to baking sheet covered with parchment paper, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Prick each cookie several times with a fork. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden – do not brown completely. Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack. Store in a sealed container.