Monday, December 31, 2012

Snow for Christmas and Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

It's been a quiet Christmas-to-New-Year week around here. Snow fell on Christmas night and left a gorgeous heavy white frosting on everything. So warm and cozy to sit inside reading and cooking. 

While I've been relaxing, the slow cooker has been in high gear, making a new pot of soup everyday -- Pat's Easy Vegetable Soup, Clam Chowder (recipe coming soon) and a really delicious Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
1 quart chicken broth or stock
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup onions, chopped fine
1/2 cup celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup carrots, chopped fine
1/2 cup leeks, sliced and chopped
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed from bone and shredded
1 8-oz. bag of Amish-style egg noodles (such as Essenhaus Thin Homestyle Noodles or Mrs. Weiss' Kluski)

Add the broth, soup and chopped vegetables to the slow cooker and cook on Low for 3-4 hours. Add the shredded chicken and egg noodles and raise heat to High; continue to cook for 1 more hour. Serve hot. Makes 6-8 meal-size bowls of soup.

Tonight, I've made Chili in the slow cooker for New Year's Eve. I'm also making Corn Dog Muffins - another Pinterest-inspired recipe. The Corn Dog Muffins sound fun, so I'll let you know how it goes. 

We really know how to ring in the New Year around here, don't we! 

Happy New Year to all of you 
from snowy Southern Illinois!

The Point on Arrowhead Pond

View from the Front Porch of the Swing at the Dock
Winding Walkway

A Man and his Christmas Gift
Bent Birch
Little Cabin in the Woods

Peace for the New Year

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Almost-My-Own Signature Brownies

Hands down, The-Best-Brownie-Ever

I still adore my mother-in-law's brownies ... very similar to these ... but these are  even  way better.

I owe a forever debt of gratitude to my dearest friend, Robin. She had best friend status way before these brownies, but when she included them as part of my Christmas present a few years ago, that status became Dearest Friend For Life. Now that I think about it, they may have been a whole family gift ... I just don't remember sharing.  Sorry family.

Anyway, I've been in love with them ever since then. If I was still six years old, I would not hesitate to say, "I want to marry them!" 

Fortunately, though, I am a bit older, and I can make a batch whenever I want. More fortunately, I guess, with age comes wisdom, so I know better than to bake them without having a specific purpose in mind for sharing my brownie bounty.  Bake, cool, cut ... and then out of the house!

Sometimes, I freeze them, just so I can't eat even one without due consideration. Otherwise, I'm telling you, there could be trouble. Step away from the brownies!

After I cut up two dozen yesterday to stack on a pretty Christmas plate for dessert to take to a luncheon, I shared one over a cup of coffee with my friend, Sonnet.  It was, after all, a special occasion ... Wednesday .... brownies for breakfast day ... right? 

Still lots of brownies left in the pan ... lots! Did I mention this recipe makes a sheet-load of brownies? That's a half-sheet pan by standard kitchen measure. I made Sonnet take some home to her family. No real arm-twisting required. Still lots of brownies left.

At the luncheon, I was besieged by requests for the brownie recipe and chastised for never putting it on Cora Cooks. 

It's not my original recipe ... even if I have claimed it for my Signature Brownie Recipe. Nor did it require significant adaptations to be absolutely perfect. I always give credit to Barefoot Contessa, for her inspiration to use the Chocolate Glob recipe in the SoHo Charcuterie Cookbook to create these brownies ... and then sell them at her Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons ... and then including them in her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook* ... so I could bake them to wide acclaim ... and now share them with you (at least, those of you who have not discovered them already!)

Isn't that just the way of all good recipes? From one person to another ... and another ... and another ...

... and now you know.

By the way, Outrageous Brownies make perfect Christmas gifts! Hint, hint!

Barefoot Contessa's OUTRAGEOUS BROWNIES  - link to recipe posted on Food Network Website

Cora's Notes for baking Outrageous Brownies:
  1. Measure out all ingredients first - seriously! Both the flour and chocolate chips are split up to use at separate times and it helps to have everything already divided.
  2. Use a heavy, commercial sheet pan. This is a lot of heavy brownie batter and the heavy pan helps. If you don't have one already, you will love yourself for buying it.
  3. I grease the pan with a combination of butter (for flavor) and Crisco (to avoid burned butter taste.)
  4. Do not even think about leaving out the instant coffee granules. In fact, I add a pinch to other chocolate recipes to really bring out the chocolate flavor. That being said, if the chocolate with coffee granules flavor is too intense, you could try using a smaller amount of coffee, before omitting it all together.
  5. I prefer roughly chopped walnuts, but pecans or without nuts are perfect too.
  6. DO NOT OVERBAKE! The time given works perfectly in my Viking oven.
  7. Refrigerate whole pan of brownies after cooling and before cutting with a heavy knife - they will come out of the pan looking picture-perfect.
  8. Two-inch squares are perfect for chocolate lovers, but don't be afraid to cut them a bit smaller for mere mortals.
  9. Package and freeze any brownies you will not eat or share in a day or so, to keep them at optimum flavor.

* More of my favorite and most excellent recipes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook - this cookbook truly is a keeper!
Crab Cakes
Perfect Roast Chicken
Salmon with Fennel
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Fennel
Homemade Applesauce
Outrageous Brownies
Pecan Squares (as good as the Brownies!)
Croissant Bread Pudding (I have adapted this one to include my Amaretto Sauce recipe on top - more later)  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jolly Holiday Snack Mix

OK, here it is! 

In response to actual requests from friends and blog followers I don't even know, I have created this, the second in a series of seasonal munchies to give or to keep -- Jolly Holiday Snack Mix

Give the readers what they want!

Nothing was spared to come up with the best mix possible. In fact, My Favorite Husband and I combed the shelves of the grocery for every imaginable ingredient to bring home to the test kitchen. 

First I made a mix with kids in mind -- see the second picture below.  Marshmallows for snowballs, teddy grahams for toys, cheese crackery penguins for cute cold-loving creatures, pretzels for snap, heart-shaped white pretzels for sweet love and mini oreos for obvious reasons! That's not all, but you get the idea - not that kids will, but it's a mom/teacher thing. 

Then I hauled out the big - make that huge mixing bowl and started emptying ingredients into it for the serious snacker mix. Stirring was a challenge! The end result - well, half of the end result - can be seen in the jar pictured above. That's 2 gallons of cripsy, crunchy, sweet and salty holiday delicious-ness! And it is heavy!

The actual recipe, as written, contains a switch-er-roo or two, made to tweak the mix you see in the jar. We put our personal quest for absolute perfection aside, in the interest of time and the fear of losing even more counter space to another jar of the stuff. Four gallons to divide and share with everyone we know is e-n-o-u-g-h! 

I know it is unlikely that any of you would study the jar to find the slight differences between what you see vs. the recipe, but it's that whole honest disclosure thing. Just take my word for it and follow the list, make your own substitutions for personal preferences, if you wish, and you'll be very happy - and satisfied.

Just a final note - or two - or several: 

I love the flavor of the Oatmeal Squares much, much more than the Chex cereals in this mix. Save the Chex for a big batch of the classically awesome Original Chex Mix.

I like using individual cans of nuts vs. mixed nuts, just to preserve the individual flavors better. Call me picky!

Any old pretzel would probably work, but I do love the light, crisp snap of the Snyder's Snaps. Hey! Great name!

Red Craisins or dried cherries are a no-brainer for their jolly color!  Same for yogurt raisins, although chocolate covered would also work and - well - then that would be more chocolate!

Mini Oreos and Nutter Butters are just too cute and too good to leave out, as are red and green M & M's - duh! Choose as many flavors of M & M's as you like - they all look the same, so there is that little element of surprise in every bite! Kind of like the presents under the tree ... you already got that, didn't you?

And with the Oreo cookies and M & M's for chocolate, I would be happy with a double dose of Cinnamon Teddy Grahams. Cinnamon is a nice spice for Christmas.

For my money though, the best single ingredient is the butterscotch chips. They add a nice flavor note and the yummy aroma is so darn good when you open the jar - well, you'll see!

So, there you have it! A well-considered blend for holiday snacking and treat sharing, even if all you care about is how good it tastes.

Enjoy the season! Remember to snack responsibly!

Quaker Oat Squares (or Chex cereals) - 2 boxes
Cinnamon Teddy Grahams
Chocolate Teddy Grahams
Snyder’s Pretzel Snaps
Mini Nutter Butters
Mini Oreos
Snyder’s Pretzel Dips – White Crème
Dry Roasted Peanuts

Salted Cashews
Salted Almonds
Craisins or Dried Cherries
Yogurt Raisins
Hershey’s or Nestle’s Butterscotch Chips
Christmas Red & Green M & M’s – use one or more of Plain, Peanut, Peanut Butter and/or Mint 

Mix all ingredients in a big bowl. Store in airtight container. 

This is a great combination for lots of flavors associated with Christmas. Add or delete items as you choose. One batch makes lots!

Fill decorated cellophane gift bags for: teacher, mailman, hairdresser, hostess gifts, house guests, party favors, children, grandchildren, class parties, neighbors and friends.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

See You In September ... When the Summer's Through

When I found this lovely green pitcher on a recent treasure hunt, I just knew it would be the perfect vessel for flowers in the room we live in -- the kitchen, of course.

Then, a few days later, I chanced upon this bouquet at the local Kroger floral department.

Store-bought flowers are often an expense reserved only for a special occasion. And I have a personal issue with the season-less, engineered quality of many hothouse floral arrangements. I don't want to be a flower snob here, but seriously. No daffodils in July. No daisies for Christmas. No unnatural spray-on color carnations ... and definitely no spray-on glitter. Puh-leez!

That being said, I am a sucker for vivid floral harmony, so kudos to the supermarket for this bright bunch that hit the right note with me on that ordinary day in late September ... right flowers, right colors, right price. 

And with the perfect pitch of that gorgeous green vase ... I was right, wasn't I?

If I close my eyes, I can just imagine gathering them, one by one ... the stragglers of a late summer garden somewhere.

That's my story.

Enjoy the flowers.

Cue the music ...  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Baked Spinach Casserole

This casserole has to be one of my all-time favorites ... so easy and so delicious. I first enjoyed it at a buffet dinner served along side perfectly roasted slices of rare beef tenderloin and some sort of potatoes ... but the spinach truly was the star of the meal. Simple, sophisticated ... a perfect signature dish. 

For the life of me, I have no idea why I don't make Baked Spinach Casserole more often! 

Last week, though, I remembered how much I love it and served it to out-of-town guests who were staying with us for a too-short two day visit. I invited two more couples to join the six of us for what turned into a potluck dinner. But, of course I invited friends who love good food as much as we all do and they also always offer to bring a dish. Love them!

Dinner included grilled and sliced ribeye steaks seasoned with my favorite Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning and olive oil, the baked spinach casserole, Nancy's decadent mashed potato casserole with all kinds of yummy stuff in it, an unusual and delicious roasted beet salad Sally made from my best friend Annya's recipe and two of Gail's perfect apple pies with vanilla ice cream ... a sensational summer-into-fall meal!

Yes, the roasted beet salad recipe is coming soon.

No, we did not eat two entire pies! 

In the meantime, here is the spinach casserole recipe, with just a few adaptations to the original from I like to mix it up early in the day, or even the day before, and refrigerate before baking. Bring to room temp before baking, or simply leave it in to bake a few minutes longer, if straight from the fridge. If it finishes baking earlier than the rest of the dinner, cover with foil until serving time.  Easy AND forgiving -- a signature dish that should be enjoyed more often, for sure!

The picture above shows the casserole in the raw, before baking, so you can see the generous  cheese to spinach ratio. Also, once baked, it is ... well ... just a flat green landscape in a baking dish ... with a tiny bit of brown around the edges. The original version includes cracker crumbs baked on top, probably to jazz it up a bit, but I find that to be an unnecessary addition. I know, not like me at all to turn down a crumb topping, but sometimes ... every now and then ... I do skip a few calories here and there. Now, if you were to cover the whole thing with buttered Ritz cracker crumbs or nice crunchy Panko ... now that might bring me right back to the crumb topping version.

You decide for yourself. I am only here to suggest recipes and guide you to good things, some of which -- like Baked Spinach Casserole -- are good for you too!

Just a couple more ideas I've considered, but have not tried yet:
  • I think this would make a great quiche baked, pretty much as is, in a tender, flaky crust. 
  • As an appetizer, it could be mixed up and rolled into little round balls and baked to serve with picks as a pick-up party food. 
  • Or, how about baked inside layers of buttery phyllo, like an Italian sort of Spanokopita.
  • Maybe baked in an oblong dish and cut into squares or rounds, topped with poached eggs and covered with a light, lemony Hollandaise and sprinkled with some of that crispy, toasted Panko.
  • One more ... I might add some herbs ... basil, oregano and/or thyme ...  for a flavor twist. 
If you like this as much as I do, I hope you won't let it languish with the other recipes you save ... get it out and serve it to anyone and everyone. And I won't be surprised to see a few more new and interesting signature versions popping up in the Comments below.

That's what Comments are for, you know.

Now eat your spinach ... and enjoy every bite! 

(adapted from
4 large eggs
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
3 cups grated Fontina cheese (about 12 ounces)
OR blend of Gouda, Monterey Jack and/or Fontina cheeses
1/3 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil reserved from tomatoes 
2 cups finely chopped onions
4 large garlic cloves, minced or 2 tablespoons prepared chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon (scant) pepper
several drops of Tabasco to taste
freshly ground nutmeg to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8 x 8 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Beat eggs in large bowl to blend. Mix in spinach, then cheese and tomatoes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil reserved from tomatoes in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic; sauté until onions just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add to spinach mixture. Mix in salt and pepper, Tabasco, and nutmeg. Transfer to prepared dish. Bake spinach mixture until set in center, about 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Autumn Snack Mix

Lately, autumn themed snack mixes have been everywhere, especially on Pinterest. After seeing several variations, I collected my own favorite ingredients and mixed up an enormous jar full to keep on the kitchen counter.

I like the nuts and crunchy stuff, but I added plenty of candy corn and Reese's Pieces for some sweet to balance the salty.  My store did not have any fall color M&Ms, but I'll search some out tomorrow. I also decided I should have bought some candy pumpkins and Cocoa Puffs for better balance, as well as the chocolate crunch factor.

The jar looks so seasonally jolly on the counter! Generous scoops went into some clear bags brightly colored with a scattering of fall leaves and tied with bits of leftover ribbon in a mix of season colors. Perfect for instant hostess gifts and snacks for all the house guests we are expecting over the next two weeks -- or a "just because" treat for friends and neighbors.

Fast, simple and festive for fall ... or autumn ... or whatever you call it! Don't you just love the temperatures ... the colors ... the change in the angle of sunlight light ... and the anticipation of a whole new season of yummy foods?


Autumn Snack Mix

Stir together your favorites from the following:

Small Pretzels
Oatmeal Squares Cereal
Chex Cereal
Cocoa puffs
Caramel Popcorn
M & M's
Reese's Pieces
Malt Balls
Candy Corn
Candy Pumpkins
Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Peanuts
Goldfish Crackers

Store in a large airtight container or scoop into gift bags or containers to share.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Flip Flops in Paradise

Due to technical difficulties, Cora Cooks has been lost in cyberspace for a while, but we are back on line and up and running again.

Check back for more posts coming very soon!

In the meantime, I'm still clinging to the last few days of summer with this wreath I crafted with inspiration from Pinterest, of course -- where else?

In fact, with free time on my hands, I've sort of gotten back into crafts. There are so many wonderful ideas and I've pinned ALL of them to my many, many boards. Too many boards? Really?

Can there be too many boards ... or too many pins? Just look at this wreath and tell me which pins to leave out and I'll think about cutting back.

Yeah, right!

Oh, I almost forgot, the wreath is simple to make: 1 large grapevine wreath, inexpensive kid-size flip flops in bright colors, tops cut from stems of bright fake flowers, a suitable wooden sign to span the diameter of the wreath (I got mine at Hobby Lobby) and a hot glue gun. That's it! Thanks again, Pinterest and my Wreath Pinboard.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Creamy Corn & Tomato Salad

One of the true delights of summer is the appearance of fresh corn at the farmers market. I can make a meal of hot-from-the-pot-corn-on-the-cob with a knob of butter and some salt and pepper. Seriously. More corn than one should probably consume at one sitting. It's just that good, isn't it?

In second place, though, is skillet fried corn. Mmmmm ... diced onion, red pepper and corn cut fresh from the cob, sauteed in a cast iron skillet with a little butter and/or olive oil until it is juuuust crispy-crunchy brown. Oh yeah, I could eat the entire skillet full. And maybe I have, once or twice.

And until I had this salad, I would have said those were the only best ways to eat fresh corn. But I would have spoken too soon.

Several years ago, we attended a very lovely wedding reception held under a big tent and an even grander starry sky. That's where I tasted corn salad. There is not one other thing on the menu I remember, so enchanted was I by this corn salad. I remember thinking, at first, it was a peculiar dish to serve at a wedding reception. But then, with the next bite and the next, I decided it was a truly inspired decision. I was smitten, to say the least, with yet a third to-die-for corn dish.

For years I have searched for the recipe to duplicate the dish I enjoyed so much that night. I never quite hit on it -- until this one, inspired by that memory and a fistful of close-but-no-cigar recipes. It needed to have sweet bits of red tomato, cool white cucumber, spring green onions and cheese mixed stirred into sunny yellow corn -- and a creamy dressing.

So this is it -- or as close to it as I have come so far. And because this corn salad was a hit at the Father's Day Cookout last week, I've finally decided to blog-i-fy it here today.

Don't even think I'm finished fiddling with it though. It is very good and it is very close to the taste I remember, but it doesn't quite have the familiar feel of a warm Mississippi night or the canopy of stars above me when I tasted it ... not quite yet.

If you are familiar with anything similar to this corn salad, please, please comment and share. Or, if you have some notion of how to make it creamier, without losing the other flavors, do tell.

Because I want it to be just. that. perfect. again.

Of course I do.

24 ounces fresh corn, cut from the cob (or frozen corn)
1 ½ cups shredded mild or sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup peeled and diced English cucumber
1 cup sliced green onion
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
¾ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ tablespoons cider or white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt, to taste (for table salt, use less)

Cut fresh corn from the cob; cook in boiling water, drain and cool. (If using frozen corn, follow package directions for cooking.) Blot cooked corn with paper towel to remove excess moisture. In a large bowl, combine corn, cheddar cheese, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and toss to blend. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar and sugar with a wire whisk until well blended. Pour mayonnaise mixture over vegetables and stir until evenly coated. Taste and add salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until serving – a few hours, or overnight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

April Has Run Away With May and June Is Back Again

My Favorite Husband liked this card so much he had it framed
Where do I go when I'm not here sharing cooking and crafting stuff?

Good question ...

Here is the truth. Many days I am still here but ... my energy level is not ... my creative process is unreliable ... my ability to organize is non-existent ... my follow-through is hit-and-miss ... and I'm not good for much of anything.

It comes and goes though, and thanks to some serious short term meds I've been taking for a springtime allergy-induced upper respiratory infection, I've had the most welcome side-effect of feeling good  ... thinking more clearly ... working more efficiently ... and ... whatever else I could squeeze into a few serendipitous fatigue and pain free days. The cloud with the silver lining. Well, except I still have the coughing and wheezing of a lifelong smoker - which I am NOT! I expect the mild winter and the resulting early blooming season have taken a heavy toll on spring allergy sufferers.

Still, it is so nice to be able to pull it all together again ... even for a few days ... and a very pleasant reminder of how good it feels to feel good ... and how nice it is to be able to get a lot done for a change.

Enough about that though.

Sometimes when I'm away from here, it's because I am ... actually away on a trip -- like in Atlanta, having a long anticipated visit with our friends, Dixie and her husband, Jack. I fell completely in love with their "rustic, woodsy, campy" lake house! The gardens and setting are beautiful and Dixie tells me she has worked on the gardens even more since we were there. And the inside is filled with so many beautiful things, including this charming miniature saddle Dixie's grandfather made long ago from parts of a hand-tooled leather handbag -- so authentically detailed and well done! It was inspiring to see all the treasures Dixie has collected to make their home so cozy and inviting. I made tons of mental notes and took a few pictures - some I'll be sharing a little later.

April in Atlanta - This is the little saddle made from an old hand-tooled leather purse and them turned into a lamp.
Sometimes when I'm away from my computer and this blog, I'm really just in the back yard -- like I was when we had a special birthday party for my friend Nancy. We gathered a few friends and enjoyed an evening of making individual pizzas in the brick oven. That brick oven makes great pizzas and is a real party magnet!  Nancy is older than I am, by the way, but I won't say which birthday she was celebrating -- because mine is just around the corner! Look closely at the second picture below and you might be able to figure it out!

Still April - Happy Birthday Nancy!

And since almost everyone in our high school graduating class is having the same big birthday this year -- funny how that works -- a bunch of us threw ourselves a big birthday party over Memorial Day weekend. The temperatures were hellish, but we sat around in the shade, ate barbecue and talked all afternoon and into the night -- and the next day too. If you look closely at the group shot, you will see that Sue will never be too old to pass up a bunny-ears-photo-op. Gotta love her for staying so young at heart!

May -  Happy Birthday CCHS Class of '70!

There is always something going on around here, some planned and some unexpected. And before you know it, April has run away with May and June is back again.

We had really great food at Dixie's house, but this dip was one of my favorites. Not only is it E-A-S-Y, but avocado lovers won't be able to get enough of it! The recipe says to add the avocados right before serving, but I was going to let it sit in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before serving, so I added them to the bowl with all the other ingredients and pressed plastic wrap over the surface of the dip -- not the bowl! -- so air would not cause the avocados to brown while the flavors blended together. Worked perfectly! I've added notes to Dixie's recipe indicating changes that I made. Enjoy!

1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing mix
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup light olive oil
2 tomatoes, chopped (I used 2 medium tomatoes)
¼ cup red onion, diced (I used ¾ cup)
1 can black beans drained and rinsed
1 can Mexicorn, drained (optional – good with or without)
2 avocados, diced and added just before serving (I used 4 small Haas avocados)
tortilla chips (I like Scoops)

In a medium size bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar and dressing mix. Add the tomatoes, red onion beans and corn to the dressing mixture bowl. Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend. Dice and add avocados just before serving with tortilla chips. Note: I added the avocados when I made the dip, pressed plastic wrap over the dip and sealed it against the inside edge of the bowl and placed it in the refrigerator to marinate for a couple of hours. Looked fine (avocados still respectably green and delicious steeped the oil and vinegar marinade. Makes enough to serve 12 or more people.