Saturday, January 29, 2011

Knit One - A New Kind of Recipe

Ready, set, knit!
WARM and COZY COLLAR-SCARF with BUTTONS
Ingredients:
1 pair CLOVER #17 10-in. Wooden Knitting Needles
2 hanks MISTI ALPACA Super Chunky Hand Painted in Sugar and Sand (SCH03)
2 JHB#458 1 3/8" Genuine Shell Buttons 

Directions: 
Cast on 14 stitches. Knit to desired length for placement of buttons. Knit two horizontal button holes. Continue knitting to finished length. Measure and sew on buttons. Voila!


Guess I still need a little practice on the "finishing up" corner!
I am so proud! This is my first start-to-finish knitting project. In fact, it's the first time I have done more than knit a few sad little rows of yarn before I gave up. I never really knew how to finish things off and disengage the needles (which, as you see above, will need a little more work to perfect!)

On a recent trip to Florida, I told my friend, Wendy, I wanted her to show me how to knit -- and so she did just that! Wendy says she learned to knit in the Girl Scouts, around the age of nine and has been knitting every since.  My mother taught me how to cast on and knit when I was a kid, but I never got past those few wobbly rows.

While we were knitting (in warm, sunny Florida :D) Wendy and I talked about a charming little knitting shop in our hometown that sold yarn, needlework supplies and offered knitting lessons. I loved that place -- The Knitting Nook -- though I never did more than buy pieces of angora we used to wrap around ring bands we made out of file folders. How kind those women were to cut gorgeous balls of angora yarn into 12-inch pieces for a bunch of silly school girls! Wendy says she spent a lot of her babysitting money on yarn at The Knitting Nook, but never gained access to the circle of knitters who seemed to knit a lot on weekday mornings, and our stuffy high school never offered field trips for knitters!

I was drawn to The Knitting Nook's big glass storefront every single time I went to the shopping center, whether I needed yet another piece of angora or not. While my friends would make a beeline for the candy counter of Woolworth's next door, I always took a moment to ever-so-casually peer inside at the knitters. The grouping of comfy old chairs and couches making the knitters circle looked so inviting to me. I longed for a place inside that circle of women talking, laughing and nodding to passersby, while their needles never stopped clickity-clacking through big balls of yarn. And the bins stuffed full of yarns wrapped around the room like a big, cozy patchwork quilt. My fingers itched to feel the difference between a stout, no-nonsense wool and the frothy, romantic angoras. By the time I was old enough to be one of those women, I had moved far away and was a seamstress, rather than a knitter.

Wendy and I shared those fond memories of The Knitting Nook last week, as she coached me along with the project she helped me to select at Knitting with Nancy in Naples, FL. Alas, there was no circle of chairs inviting us to settle in and knit for a while, but there was an impressive rainbow of yarns from around the world. And so many clever and adorable samples of patterns and projects. It was like stepping into a treasure chest stuffed full of a knitter's bounty! I would have been quite content to plop myself down on the floor and stay all day, gleaning all the knitting wisdom I could, but Wendy was working that night and we had to hurry home to get me started on my knitting.

I came away from Knitting with Nancy with two sets of needles -- sizes 17 and 10. I also had yarn for two projects -- two hanks of the chunky 100% baby alpaca yarn I used for my scarf-collar above, and three balls of some Tokyo merino wool made in Italy that is half way to becoming a spiral ruffled scarf. After a few quick demos and pointers, Wendy went off to work and I knitted the scarf in the picture above. Somewhere along the way, I decided to turn it into a collar by adding buttonholes and some pretty shell buttons we found at a gigantic JoAnn Fabrics.  I simply cannot follow a "recipe" completely, always changing something to suit my own taste.

The Knitting Nook has been gone for a long time, but now that I am living back home and finally ready to be a knitter, I miss it all over again. I still look longingly through the windows where it was located and I imagine those women snuggled into that circle of comfy chairs, with the rhythmic click-clack of their needles. Oh, how I wish they were still there, so I could finally take my place among them -- the ladies who knit.

Maybe some of you knit? Shall we pull up some chairs into a cyber circle and share our knitting stories and projects? I'd love that!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On Cooking

SEASON TO TASTE
(this is my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
January 2011

My favorite soup pot sets sail on the USS Viking - Click here to see what's inside.

Recently, I was asked to write a brief description of my job. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. I actually have three jobs and one of them seems to confuse a lot of people.

Most people still don’t understand how my husband does his job as a commercial pilot, and pilots have been around for a lot longer than computers and the Internet. So try telling people that you are a food blogger and you’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
 
I used to be a stay-at-home mom who occasionally had jobs outside the home, mostly in education. Now my kid is married and has a job and a home of his own. I’m still a mom, but mothering requires less round-the-clock supervision as kids become adults themselves. I don’t work outside the home anymore. I know that because there is no more 5-minute-late dash out the door every morning, juggling a cup of coffee and fumbling for my car keys.

My work has changed often through the years, but I enjoy it now more than ever. And where there is change, there is also opportunity, and that’s where I am now. I am working in the comfort of my own home, right in my own kitchen, staring into the window of opportunity – my computer screen.

I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I just wasn’t sure how or what to write about on my own. For whatever reason, I wasn’t compelled to pen a novel or create children’s books, and technical writing just sounded so tediously boring. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, that someday I would become a writer.

And then one day, I realized everything I liked to do had come together, but I didn’t have a job – I had three! And not one, but two of them were writing!

Wild and Creamy Mushroom Soup - Click here for Recipe from the CoraCooks.com Archives


I began teaching cooking classes for some my friends while we lived in North Carolina, and after we moved back to Southern Illinois, I continued to teach occasionally for small groups. I called my classes Season To Taste. I enjoyed seeing a group of women, all wearing Season To Taste aprons, cooking together in one kitchen.

Then, in January 2005, just a few months after we settled in back in my hometown, I began writing this column. I had always loved telling stories about food and sharing recipes, and the writing seemed to come easily. I considered my food column a written extension of my classes, so it was titled Season To Taste also.

With each new column came requests from far away friends to send copies. After a while, the mailings were more than I could manage every month, so My Favorite Husband took it upon himself to learn how to build a website. The website would be the Internet home for all of my columns, accessible by one and all, but more than likely, just my friends. The website became SeasonToTaste.net.

When his computer and all the website data stored on it went missing, MFH wanted to rebuild the website with newer software and a better computer and blah … blah … blah. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I was excited about the idea. What I was unsure about though, was when he would find the time to make it all happen. I didn’t even know how to communicate what I wanted exactly and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about either. Was there any chance I could find my way through the computer jungle to create a website of my own creation? Not very likely, I thought.

Then, one day, I just knew I had to take matters into my own hands, if I was going to continue posting my columns on the Internet, even if it was just a temporary solution, until the real website happened. Maybe I could start my own food blog. Many of my favorite cooking websites were actually blogs, or personal journals, written by people just like me. It might be fun, I thought, to be able to write more frequently than once a month about food and cooking. I really wanted a place of my own on the Internet.

Savory Bean Soup - Click here for Recipe from the CoraCooks.com Archives

Fortunately for me, there was a website called Blogger for computer geek wannabes, just like me.  No previous experience or knowledge of HTML required! With a couple of hours of research and a little trial and error, I was up to speed with the necessary blog lingo to choose a template, some colors, and a few fonts. I wrote my greeting to the world and pressed “Publish” before I could chicken out. There it was! I launched my very own food blog!

Since the name Season To Taste was already taken, I decided to call my food blog Cora Cooks. Not very creative, but I didn’t know much about branding at the time and wasn’t really thinking about how it would sound to sponsors, or book publishers, or movie producers – yeah, right! I just wanted to write and, hopefully, connect with a few readers.

So what is my job description? I guess what I am now is a food enthusiast, who teaches private cooking classes, writes a monthly food column for a local newspaper and publishes a food blog with food writing, photography and recipes. I share with others what I know from my own cooking experiences, maybe with just enough spice to keep them coming back for more. Like most jobs, there really is a lot more to it, but it’s all good. I love my job-s!

And here’s what I have to share with you – my food readers – this month. These are some tasty recipes to get the New Year off to a good healthy, hearty start. January is typically the soup month in my kitchen. I think soup is the food equivalent of a cozy blanket -- it warms you from the inside, which is just what we need when it is oh so cold and snowy outside

Last weekend, I made three of my favorite soups that you can find archived on CoraCooks.com. It was easy to gather all the ingredients and assemble them all at the same time. Well, as long as you have access to three soup pots, I guess it can be done simultaneously. Oh, and a bunch of freezer containers. Uh, along with a little extra room in the freezer. I’ll just let you sort all that out while you feast your eyes on these new recipes I think you might like.

You can find many more soup recipes from my Season To Taste columns published between 2005-2007 at SeasonToTaste.net

Happy New Year 2011 and Happy Cooking!


CHEESE AND VEGETABLE SOUP
8 tbsp. butter
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh cauliflower
1 cup finely chopped broccoli
1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
2 ½ cups milk
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium heat; add celery, carrots, onion, cauliflower, broccoli and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add flour; stir and cook for about 3 minutes. Slowly add the chicken broth, salt and pepper; stir until the mixture is completely blended. Cover and simmer over very low heat for about 20 minutes. Add the milk, cheese and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Soup may be served hot after cooking or refrigerated for several hours to allow the flavors to blend. Reheat in a double boiler to prevent scorching. Serves 6.

CARROT GINGER SOUP
4 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
5 ½ cups chopped carrots
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger root
1 ½ qts. chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
freshly ground nutmeg

Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium heat; add the onion and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the potato, carrots, ginger and chicken broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Allow the soup to cool for several minutes and then process in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot; stir in the cream and freshly ground nutmeg. Reheat the soup over medium heat. May also be chilled and served cold after adding cream and nutmeg. Serves 6.

SALMON CHEESE CHOWDER
2 tbsp. butter
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrots
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 (15-oz.) can salmon, drained
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a 3-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the celery and carrots to the pot; stir and sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until tender but not brown. Stir in the flour, paprika, and pepper. Add the chicken broth and milk all at once. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in the salmon and cheese. Cook and stir until the cheese melts. Serves 4.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cream Cheese and Olive Sandwich on Raisin Bread



Congratulations! If you are here, it's probably because you are a curious soul who simply must find out about a sandwich that admittedly sounds a little strange the first time you see it in print.

Weird? Maybe.

Delicious? Definitely!

I've enjoyed this sandwich for many years and occasionally see it on restaurant menus, mostly in southern states. But I will grant you that it is not widely available anywhere. It's the kind of sandwich that is made on bread without crust and cut into fingers or small triangles. You know - tea sandwiches - found most often in quaint tearooms or at lunch counters with stools that swivel around, if your feet touch the floor that is.

But don't be too quick to judge! These tasty treats can be made and eaten in the privacy of your own home, just in case you have a man-size appetite. Oh yeah! Men eat these and love them too! Trust me. I've seen them do it!

In fact, I served these for dinner last night for my reunion committee friends. Yes, if you've been keeping up with my cooking, you know that the committee had regular dinner meetings at my house leading up to the reunion. And, yes, the reunion was in September. And yes, we're still meeting for dinner. And I'm still very happy to have a reason to cook!

So back to the sandwiches. I set up a buffet of four sandwich spreads -- Pesto Chicken Salad (made with Chasmo Pesto), Pimento Cheese, Ham Salad and Cream Cheese and Olive Spread, along with white bread, whole wheat bread and raisin bread. We also enjoyed a big pot of Rodney's Blackeyed Pea Gumbo and a salad with romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges, red onions, chow mein noodles and sugar and spice pecans with a sweet and sour dressing. I guess we were all over the map with this riot of flavors, but let's just think of it as something for everyone - yum!

Well, let me tell you, there were some skeptics in the group and I don't know how many actually tried the cream cheese and olive sandwiches on raisin bread, but I heard several surprised voices admit that they liked it and wanted the recipe! Music to my ears!

OK, so recipe may be a generous description for this little list of ingredients. Usually I just wing it,  so I've come up with  a reasonable ratio of ingredients for those not so daring in the kitchen. I'm pretty sure you can't mess it up.

Tell me what you think:
  1. Too weird to try. 
  2. I'm running to the store to pick up the ingredients right now.
  3. I've got everything on hand and I'm making it right this minute.
  4. Oh, for heaven's sake, I've been eating these since forever!
  5. I don't like raisins. (That one's for you Munner!)
  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for opening my eyes to this amazing combo!
Oh, the picture at the top of the page is the kitchen all cleaned up after dinner with the reunion committee. I really can load the dishwasher all by myself. But ... shhhh ... don't tell My Favorite Husband, who continues to think he is the Household Efficiency Expert. He skipped out early tonight to go to his career job.

And BTW, he likes Cream Cheese and Olive Sandwiches on Raisin Bread.

CREAM CHEESE AND OLIVE SANDWICHES ON RAISIN BREAD
½ cup chopped green olives with pimento
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise
dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
sliced raisin bread (I'm partial to Pepperidge Farm)

Chop green olives in food processor to measure ½ cup; remove from food processor and set aside. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce to food processor and blend until creamy. Add olives and pulse several times just enough to blend into cream cheese. Use as a sandwich spread on raisin bread.