Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Recipes I Want to Make Again

Is everyone ready for the New Year? I’m looking forward to all of the recipes I plan to share with you, plus the ones I haven’t discovered yet.

I love food blogging. The only drawback is I’m always trying new recipes, so I don’t often get to go back and make my favorite ones from the past. Once I post a recipe, I’m on to a new one.

Here are my favorites from 2012…some of which I’ve made over and over and others I plan to fit into the menu planning again soon!

Needy People Chicken Soup: I’ve made this one a lot. Actually, I make my thrown-together chicken soup and add Asian flavors inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe. Yummm.


Pimiento Cheese: I love this creamy-chunky spread, and this Canal House Cooking recipe is perfect.


Orange Marmalade Teacake: Perfect to go along with a winter cup of tea…or coffee at breakfast!



Ina Garten’s Mexican Chicken Soup and Chicken Piccata: Two great dishes from the Barefoot Contessa.


Oven-Baked Pork Chops: I make these all the time!


Birthday Baked Beans: No one of my favorites, but my husband, The Picky Eater, loves this dish!




Coffee Cup Chocolate Cake: I make this one a lot when in need of a comforting chocolate treat.


Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich: This is the ultimate!


Fresh Fruit Supper:  A taste of summer any time of year, but best with fruit from the farmer’s market.


Mini Meatloaves and Slow Cooker Meatloaf: Both are favorites in this household!




Snap Crackle Crunch Ice Cream: I may not be able to wait for summer to make this one!


Roast Chicken a la Julia Child: One of my all-time favorite dinners.


Pot Roast: My husband’s all-time favorite Sunday Supper!


Slow Cooker Vegetable Beef Soup: I think this recipe will show up a lot this winter.


Wow, picking my favorites was hard since my mood often dictates what my appetite desires, so this list could be different from day to day.

Here is my New Year’s Resolution to you: I promise to create a recipe index to make it easier for you to find my past recipes. Stay tuned.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve. I hope 2013 brings you all your heart desires!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

I'm off for a few days to celebrate the holidays...

And our first wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve!

However, I do have a lot of great recipes to share with you after all of the Christmas fun. So stay tuned....!!!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wassail for a #SundaySupper Holiday Party!

“Here we come a wassailing…!”
When I found out drinks and appetizers were on today's #SundaySupper menu, I immediately thought of my mom’s Wassail recipe. I grew up with the smell of it wafting through the house as Christmas approached and the weather turned colder. Then, after the sad events in Connecticut last Friday, it became clear that a warm, comforting drink and a little holiday cheer is what we all need about now.
Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know I am also a preschool teacher. What happened to those children and teachers hit me quite hard. I can just imagine the reaction my students would have to such a terrible, traumatic event. However, it is comforting to be able to share this family recipe with you, and to teach about its history.

The word “wassail” comes from the late-21st century English toast “was-hail,” which means “be in good health.” To go wassailing was singing carols from door to door in hopes of a warm beverage and treats. The drink itself was a warm spiced ale or wine garnished with roasted apples.

Mom’s wassail recipe is very simple. Just wrap the whole spices into a cheesecloth pouch and pop it into a pot full of apple cider and cranberry juice. (If you can’t find apple cider, just use apple juice.) You may need to add a little brown sugar depending on the sweetness of the juices. For a party, warm the wassail in a slow cooker and float a few apple rings and cinnamon sticks on the top.

Mom never spiked hers, but I’ve found a bit of brandy dresses up this holiday drink. Not only is this a festive beverage, but it also helps you cope with the viruses and colds that float around this time of year. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator. Then, when the wassail craving strikes, just fill up a mug and warm it in the microwave.

Enjoy a mug of wassail, and cheers to you this Christmas and throughout the holiday season!


2 quarts apple cider (or apple juice)
1 1/2 quarts cranberry juice
8 to 10 whole allspice
10 whole cinnamon sticks
20 to 25 whole cloves
1/2 to 1 cup brandy (optional)

Cut a piece of cheesecloth and place the whole spices in the center. Pull up the edges to make a pouch and tie with butcher’s twine.

Pour the cider and juice into a large pot or slow cooker. Add the spice pouch. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. (Or heat in the slow cooker on low for 4 to 5 hours.) Before serving, taste for sweetness and add 1/2 cup brown sugar if necessary. Also, add the brandy for a more adult beverage.

Check out the party creations from my fellow #SundaySupper bloggers, but please be aware that some of the participants decided to postpone their blog posts because of last Friday. Plus, there will not be a #SundaySupper chat this week. However, visit their blogs anyway. They are full of lovely recipes.

Holiday Cocktails

Holiday Appetizers or Hors d’oeuvres

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Cookie Exchange for Friday Cookie Jar

I love the idea of a Christmas cookie exchange.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it's where a group of friends gets together, each guest bringing one type of cookie. Then everyone swaps cookies so you leave with an assortment of cookies for the holidays. This makes holiday baking easy since you only have to make a lot of one type of cookie.
Traditionally each person brings a dozen of their cookies for each guest, so if there were eight people at the party, you make eight dozen cookies. Then everyone leaves with eight dozen different styles of cookies. The extra dozen (since you don’t keep a dozen of your own cookies) are for everyone to enjoy that evening. Often the extras are given to a charitable group, such as the local police or fire department, nurses at the local hospital, the local shelter, a food pantry, or a hospice/nursing home.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time this year to plan an exchange with my friends and family, so I thought I’d have a virtual exchange with all of you!

All year I have made cookies to share with you on this blog, each time thinking, “These would be great for Christmas.” So here are the ones I’ll be making this holiday season:

Citrus Butter Cookies (Okay, yes, this is a recipe from 2011, but perfect for Christmas!)

Cherry Nut Cookies (From Mamaw’s Recipe Box.)



Plus, I’ll also be making:

Simply Crackers Candy (What’s Christmas without candy!)

Honey Spice Loaf (another 2011 recipe that I’ve wanted to make for the holidays.)

If you give any of these recipes a try, be sure to share your results! And I’d love to hear what cookies you are making this year! Please share!




Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hot Chocolate and Snow…or the Lack Thereof

Excuse me as I go on a rant for a few minutes. I promise to make you a wonderful cup of homemade hot chocolate as compensation for listening to my complaint.

Today is December 1, the start of my favorite month of the year! I’ve loved our twelfth month my entire life, not only because of Christmas, but also because my birthday is on the 29th. (When you have a birthday during the holidays it seems as if the entire world is celebrating with you, though the presents can be lacking since everyone gave four days earlier.)
And now I have even more to celebrate, with my first wedding anniversary coming on Christmas Eve!


So my favorite month begins today…and the temperature is going to be in the upper 60s.

Tomorrow and Monday we may break record highs by reaching the 70s.


I want snow!
After almost 20 years of living in New England, my brain and spirit are programmed to expect snow at Christmas time. In fact, I start looking for it in October. I enjoyed many a Thanksgiving and Christmas watching the snow fall. Okay, I saw a few when it was raining, too, but at least it was cold!

I knew when I moved to Topeka in 2010 that the winters would be different. I grew up in neighboring Missouri and I don’t remember a single snowy Thanksgiving or Christmas. The snow usually showed up right after the holidays, enough to bring on the occasional joyous snow day off from school.

Kansas, you fooled me! My first winter here was filled with snow, including a white Christmas and birthday! As a preschool teacher I got many days off because of the white stuff. I was thrilled to see how beautiful my new home state looked with the wide-open fields showing off their of blanket.

I knew that much snow was unusual, but reality hit last year…the year with no snow. Okay, that’s not completely true. We had snow…a dusting here and there. Once I think we got up to a half an inch, but that was it. We had one of the warmest winters on record. No snow days.

Now this year is starting to look the same.


I know winter hasn’t officially arrived yet, but 70 degrees in December is just wrong! Jack Frost has only nipped at our noses a couple of times. I’ve only worn my favorite heavy sweatshirt once. We are going through cycles of days reaching the 60s and 70s. Each time a cold front goes through to drop the temperatures into the 40s, I start to hope fall and winter weather has finally arrived, only to have the mercury climb back up again.

I already had to do my Thanksgiving baking with the windows open to keep the oven from heating up our apartment too much.

We have to turn on the air conditioner in our car because the sun has heated up the interior too much.

Winter, where are you??????

So my Christmas wish is for snow. I would like to take a sleigh ride for my anniversary. I want to build a snowman on my birthday. Kansas is going through a very bad drought, so snow would be a good thing. I would even like rain. Anything to break up the sunny-and-warm monotony!

Thank you for listening.

Here is the promised cup of hot chocolate. This recipe is a chocoholic’s dream—rich and decedent, and full of spirit-healing goodness. If it’s too rich for your tastes, just add an extra cup or two of milk, which is what I do when serving a large group. I like to fill a slow cooker with this recipe for everyone to enjoy on Christmas day. It’s also easy enough to make any day of the week.

My plan is to drink a cup and keep wishing…

Homemade Hot Chocolate

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, cream and sugar until it beings to simmer. Reduce the heat to low and add the cocoa powder and chocolate, and then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla.

To dress up the hot chocolate, serve with a candy cane or cinnamon stick. Or add some instant espresso or a splash of your favorite liquor (Kalhua, Frangelico, Amaretto, and Bailey’s Irish Cream) for a more grown-up beverage.

If the recipe is too rich for your tastes, just add more milk.

For large gatherings, just double or triple the recipe. To keep warm, pour the mixture into a slow cooker set on the “keep warm” setting. Stir occasionally.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vanilla Bean Scones

My sister-in-law, Lisa, has to be Starbucks’ number one fan. Any time we go out to dinner with her and her husband, Don, we have to end the evening at our local shop enjoying lattes and tea. We call it “going for Earl Grey” since that is my husband’s favorite beverage. My drink choice varies from mocha lattes to the flavor of the month, with the occasional black tea thrown into the mix. Lisa always orders a tall mocha latte, non-fat, no whip, fireball (190 degrees.) In fact, the baristas know her so well they start making her drink when they see her walk in the door!

(This is a photo of Lisa and Don taken last Christmas. Aren't they cute together!)

Lisa also loves the petite vanilla bean scones. They are her dessert of choice. So last spring when I saw an episode of The Pioneer Woman when Ree Drummond made her own version of these tiny scones, I knew I had to make some for Lisa for her birthday, which was this week.

These little scones taste amazing! I only had one problem with the recipe…the vanilla beans. Yes, the beans are a wonderful way to impart vanilla flavor into the scones, and they look nice with all of the little black dots of vanilla. However, the recipe calls for three beans—two for the scones and one for the glaze. At my store they sell the beans two in a jar. So I would have to buy two jars to get the necessary beans. That’s $20, which seems like a lot for just one ingredient.

Still I wanted those little black dots. So I used two beans (one for the scones and one for the glaze) to get the look I wanted, and then I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to the scone recipe to make up for the missing bean’s flavor.

Lisa loved them! And Don said they were better than the coffee shop kind.

I agree.

Vanilla Bean Scones
Adapted from a recipe by Ree Drummond on The Pioneer Woman Cooks website
Makes 24 scones

For the scones:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg

For the glaze:
1/2 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
1 vanilla bean
5 cups powdered sugar
Dash of salt

Measure out the cream. Split the vanilla bean pod lengthwise and scrap out all of the seeds inside. Add the seeds and the bean pod to the cream. Add the vanilla extract to the cream. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into tiny cubes and add to the flour. With a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it becomes tiny sand-like crumbles.

Remove the vanilla bean pod from the cream. Pour the cream into the flour mixture and stir gently with a fork until just moistened and it starts to come together. The mixture will be crumbly, but if you squeeze it together it should hold its shape. Add more cream if necessary.

Pour the scone mixture onto a floured surface and shape into a rectangle. Use a rolling pin to spread out the rectangle until the dough is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Using a knife or a pizza cutter, trim the edged to even-out the sides of the dough rectangle. Cut the dough into 12 squares or rectangles (3 cuts across and 2 cuts lengthwise), and then cut each square in half on the diagonal to make triangles.

Place the scone triangles onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the scones just begin to turn golden in color. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the sheets for 15 minutes. Remove the scones from the baking sheets onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely.

For the glaze, measure the milk into a measuring up. Slice the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise and scrap out the seeds. Put the seeds and pod into the milk and set aside.

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the salt. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the milk and pour into the sugar, whisking until smooth. Add more milk if necessary to get the desired consistency.  
Dip the cooled scones into the glaze until completely coated. Set the scones on a cooling rack with parchment paper or foil underneath to catch the drips. Allow the scones to sit until the glaze has completely dried. Store in an air tight container.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Harvest Bisque and Finding Romance

It is a cold and rainy day here in Topeka—perfect for this delicious Harvest Bisque!

However, before I share this recipe, I want to tell you a little story. November 11 is a special day for The Picky Eater (my husband, Michael) and me. Not only do we honor those veterans who have done so much for our country, but this is also the day when we met two years ago.

Michael and I connected on I had only been living in Kansas for a few months after almost 20 years in New England. I signed up for the dating website to meet new people, discover more about my new state and city, and to have some fun. I wasn’t really looking for romance—honestly! But if something happened, well…

After exchanging emails and phone calls, we set up a date for Thursday, November 11. We met for the first time in the parking lot of a local grocery store. Seven months later, Michael proposed to me in the same parking lot.

Our first date was at Prairie Band Casino. I was excited to go there, not to gamble, but because I heard the food was great! :) We decided to go to the Longhouse Buffet. Since it was Veterans Day, they were offering free meals to all veterans, so the line was very long. As we approached the front of the line, a single middle-aged veteran asked, “Since it’s so busy, would you like to share a table with me?”

I thought Michael would say no since it was a first date. But instead, he accepted! So our first dinner together was shared by Floyd the Veteran, a very nice man who spent the entire meal telling us all about his wife and stepson, who was a handful.

At one point during dinner, as Floyd was talking about all of his stepson’s legal issues, I put my hand on Michael’s arm. It was like magic! We looked into each other’s eyes for just a moment, and a warmth and electricity filled my heart.


Now we celebrate this day each year. Even though we will celebrate our wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve, this day is our own special day when we remember meeting and falling in love.

So, what does this story have to do with Harvest Bisque? Nothing really, except for the fact that because of that first date I now am able to cook a wonderful, flavorful autumn soup on a cold November day in the warmth of our small apartment home in downtown Topeka.

I have never been more happy or more in love.

Now, for the bisque: I got this recipe from the chef of a New Hampshire restaurant that closed when he moved on to teach new chefs at a local college. I love the combination of corn and squash flavors in the soup. You can use any type of squash you wish (acorn, Hubbard, or butternut), but I use pumpkin puree since it is easy to find this time of year. Just be sure to not buy the pumpkin pie mix instead!

Harvest Bisque
Serves 8 to 10

6 slices of bacon (or substitute 4 tablespoons butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 quart (32 ounces) low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
2 cans (14 3/4 ounces each) creamed corn
1 12-ounce package frozen corn kernels
15 ounces winter squash puree (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, Hubbard, etc)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 cups half and half (or heavy cream, for more richness)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and it is crispy and browned. Remove the bacon and save as a garnish, if desired. If substituting butter, simply melt it until it begins to bubble.

To the bacon fat, add the onion and fry until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except for the half and half. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked. Add the half and half and adjust the seasonings. Serve as is, or puree with a hand blender for a smoother consistency. Top with bits, if desired.

This soup freezes well. Just be sure to not add the half and half or cream before you freeze it, but wait to add it when you are ready to serve.