Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dad's Potatoes

I’m thinking about my dad a lot today. He is battling bladder cancer, and today he’s having a biopsy on his lung to see if the cancer has spread or if he just has an infection. I’m hoping and praying for the latter. I feel bad he has to go through this during the holidays. Plus, his sense of taste is all out of whack from the chemo, which has to be so difficult for him since he loves food. (I get my love of cooking from him and his side of the family.)

For dinner a couple of days ago, I made Dad’s Potatoes. It is a yummy recipe he just made up one day, filled with bacon, onions, cheese and, of course, potatoes. He makes it in the oven and it is so easy, but I've also come across similar recipes made in a slow cooker—also very easy.

I like Dad’s potatoes served alongside ham or pork chops, but they would work as a side dish with almost any meat. I've also made them with ham instead of bacon, and without any meat at all.

Dad’s Potatoes

1/4 pound bacon, cooked until tender, not crisp, and diced
1 medium onion, sliced thin
4 medium potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I used Yukon Gold.)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For the oven: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place
half the bacon in the dish, and then a layer of half the onions. Toss the potatoes with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and then layer half on top of onions. Dot with half the butter. Repeat the bacon, onion, potato and butter layer with the remaining ingredients.

Cover the dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the cover and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Return to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

For the slow cooker: Line the slow cooker with foil, leaving some hanging over the sides, and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Follow the layering steps above, and then fold the foil over the top. Put the lid on the cooker and cook for 4 1/2 hours on low. Then uncover and sprinkle the cheese on top, re-cover and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shaker Squash Rolls

Since my dad’s chemo treatments have knocked him for a loop (and messed up his taste buds, so most food tastes bad to him), my parents decided not to host Thanksgiving this year. On the flip side, my sister-in-law is busy in Ukraine adopting three teenage girls, so she isn't hosting my husband’s family either. The result: Instead of trying to juggle two family gatherings, my sweetheart and I decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner made for two.

We’re having a pretty traditional meal, including the turkey (I’m putting herb butter under the skin for the first time, using Ina Garten’s recipe), dressing (a sausage recipe from my former neighbor John in New Hampshire), mashed potatoes and gravy (a must!), green bean casserole (The Picky Eater insists we have this dish), cranberry sauce (a Martha Stewart recipe from years ago), rolls and pumpkin pie.

Does your menu include those crescent rolls that come in the blue can? Or maybe some other heat-and-serve rolls? May I make a suggestion? Pick up an extra can of pumpkin and try these Shaker Squash Rolls.

I got this recipe while working as a tour guide for the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire and shared it in a pumpkin article I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Shakers were a Christian group that came from England in 1774. Shaker communities existed from the east coast to Ohio. They were peaceful people who lived in a communal setting and showed their love of God through hard work. They were also celibate and lived as brothers and sisters, which may explain why their membership has declined to just a handful that now live in Maine.

Working at the village was one of my favorite jobs. It’s a beautiful place, and a sense of peace always came over me when I stepped onto the grounds. (Be sure to visit there any time you’re in New England.)

These rolls can be made with any type of squash puree and are somewhat sweet, similar to Hawaiian rolls. What I like about the recipe is you cut the rolls out like you would biscuits. To make ahead, you can either freeze or refrigerate the unbaked rolls and then bake when ready. (Do this after they are cut out and placed in the baking pan, but before the final rise.)  Just give them time to warm-up and rise before you

Believe me, these rolls are worth the time. I plan to make mine the day before. They will also taste great along side a warm bowl of soup, stew or chili throughout the winter.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Cider Donut Muffins

I adore cider donuts. I first had these luscious treats at an apple orchard in Massachusetts. In fact, I made trips to that orchard just to get the donuts! I was thrilled when I discovered Rees Fruit Farm here in Topeka also makes them. The donuts are available all year, but I crave them in the fall when the apples and cider are fresh.

Recently I saw a Facebook post about donut muffins, and I thought, “Why not make cider donut muffins?”

Oh my, am I in trouble. These muffins are so delicious and easy to make I will be making them a lot! (The Picky Eater even tasted one and asked me to be sure and save him a couple.) The crunchy cinnamon sugar on the outside makes a nice contrast to the soft, moist interior. Unlike the typical sturdy breakfast muffin, these are more cake-like…in other words, like a donut. They taste best warm, so if you need to warm them up, just zap them for 20 seconds in the microwave or put them in a 350-degree oven for a minute or two.

On a personal note, three years ago today I went to a local grocery store parking lot to meet a man I connected with on Little did I know I was meeting my future husband and the love of my life. Happy first-date anniversary to the Picky Eater.

Cider Donut Muffins
Adapted from a recipe on Serious Eats
Makes 12

For muffins:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup apple cider
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

For topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Add the brown sugar and then, using your fingers, mix in the sugar while breaking up an sugar clumps.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cider, egg, vanilla and melted butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and then pour the wet ingredients into the well. Gently fold the ingredients together just until all the streaks of flour disappear.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, dividing evenly between the cups. Each cup will be about 2/3 full. Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Prepare the topping while the muffins are baking: In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and sugar. (Or mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a paper or plastic bag.) Put the melted butter into another small bowl. When the muffins are done, remove them immediately from the muffin tin. While still warm, roll the muffins in the melted butter and then toss them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place them on a rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nutty Shortbread

November has arrived, which means the approach of autumn's end. Here in Kansas the leaves have just reached their peak and are now beginning to fall until the trees are bare and dormant for winter. The last farmer’s market of the season was this past Saturday, on a chilly, windy, sunny morning. Now thoughts turn from tricks and treats to the ultimate celebration of the season in Thanksgiving.

However, before I start to post about America’s day of thankfulness and feasting, I wanted to share a wonderful book that honors all that autumn offers. I discovered Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson on the wonderful blog, Months of Edible Celebrations. When I saw the post last month, I knew I had to find the book.

Country Harvest was published by Prentice Hall Press in 1990 and has a distinct British feel. It is full of beautiful seasonal images and a unique collection of recipes and tips for preserving the late summer/early autumn harvest. There are recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys, conserves, vinegars, and sauces for the pantry, plus breads, pies, cookies and cakes to enjoy now, with cordials, country wines, and teas to go with them. Readers can also learn how to preserve late-summer flowers, ornamental gourds, leaves, seedheads, and herbs. If autumn is your favorite season, this book belongs on your shelf.

I chose to make the Nutty Shortbread recipe because it sounded perfect served with a cup of tea on a chilly autumn afternoon. They were perfect—slightly sweet and full of nutty goodness.

The recipe called for walnuts or hazelnuts. I though pecans would work well, too. As luck would have it, I didn't have enough pecans or walnuts for the recipe, so I combined the two and it worked very well. Also, instead of baking the shortbread in a one-pound loaf pan as the recipe recommended, I used my smallest (9-inch) springform pan. The result was wedges of shortbread instead of strips.

I’m looking forward to tea with nutty shortbread cookies to bring autumn's afternoons to a relaxing and delicious end.

Nutty Shortbread

Adapted from Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts (or a mixture), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 1-pound (8.5” x 4.5”) loaf pan or a 9-inch springform pan. (I used cooking spray.) Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until combined and fluffy. Add in the flour mixture and chopped nuts, mixing until combined. The mixture will look crumbly, like sand, but when you squeeze a handful, it will hold together.

Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes depending on your pan size. Remove from the oven and sit on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Using a sharp knife (I used the sharp edge of a bench scraper), mark the baked shortbread into strips or wedges. Leave the shortbread in the pan until completely cooled, then remove and finish cutting the shortbread into individual cookies.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Apple Cake with Brown-Sugar Frosting

I love autumn. Crisp air, colorful leaves that crunch when I walk through them, cozy sweaters, frost in the early morning, the approaching holidays…everything about this season makes me smile and sigh with contentment. Best of all, I enjoy biting into a crunchy, juicy fall apple fresh from the tree.

When I saw this recipe for Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting on the King Arthur Flour Company website, I knew I had to make it. So while I was at my parent’s house, I grabbed their bag of Jonathan apples and gave the recipe a go.

The cake was a hit! I love the brown-sugar frosting, which reminds me of the caramel frosting on my Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake. The cake was very moist and stayed that way for a couple of days until it was eaten. The recipe would make a great coffee cake by just leaving off the frosting, though my dad and I had no trouble eating it for breakfast with frosting. (In many ways, I’m my father’s daughter.)

However, this recipe was very sweet, so next time I think I’ll make it with tart Granny Smith apples instead. The recipe comments on the website contain suggestions from other cooks on how they reduced the sweetness, but I think using a tart apple would be a good start.

Thank you for all the good wishes for my family from my last post. My dad was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer, so I went to stay with my parents as he went through his first chemo treatment. So far he is doing well, considering, and the prognosis is very good.

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
Recipe reprinted with permission from the King Arthur Flour Company’s website.

2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (I used all-purpose flour.)
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons Apple Pie Spice or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger and ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups peeled, cored, chopped apple, about 1 1/3 pounds whole apples
1 cup diced toasted walnuts or pecans (I used un-toasted pecans and they tasted great.)

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla-butternut flavor (I used vanilla.)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9” x 13” pan.
  2. To make the cake: Mix all of the ingredients except the apples and nuts in a large bowl.
  3. Beat until well combined; the mixture will be very stiff, and may even be crumbly.
  4. Add the apples and nuts, and mix until the apples release some of their juice and the stiff mixture becomes a thick batter, somewhere between cookie dough and brownie batter in consistency.
  5. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing it with your wet fingers.
  6. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few wet crumbs clinging to it.
  7. Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool completely; don't remove the cake from the pan.
  8. To make the frosting: Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts.
  9.  Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.
  10.  After 10 minutes, stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture appears too thin, add more confectioners' sugar. Spread on the cake while frosting is still warm.

Tips from the King Arthur bakers:

  • To toast nuts, place them in a single layer in a cake pan. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 6 to 9 minutes, until they're golden brown and smell "toasty."
  • To guarantee lump-free frosting, sift confectioners' sugar before adding to the butter mixture. Usually all the lumps disappear as you beat the frosting; but to guarantee no lumps at all, sift the sugar first.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top 10 Recipes for Autumn

I’m spending some time at my parent’s house helping with a family illness, so I’m afraid a new blog post will have to wait. However, here are the top 10 posts on my blog from September. All of these recipes will come in handy at this time of year.

10.  Marion Cunningham’s Crustless Coconut Custard Pie: An easy dessert for the upcoming holidays.

9.   Slow-Cooker Meatloaf: After a busy day of work, school, or pumpkin picking, this makes an easy and delicious meal for the end of the day.

8.  Ghoulish Halloween Treats: Features the gross-but-delicious litter box cake.

7.  Overnight Oatmeal Yogurt: A tasty, healthy and easy way to start the day.

6. Conquering Pie Crust Phobia: Autumn is pie season, right? Or a lot of readers are getting ready for the holidays.

5. Pressure Cooker Pulled-Pork: Terrific football food!

4. Ina Garten’s Chicken Piccata: Another delicious dish that makes an easy week-night dinner.

3.  Home-Canned Tomato Sauce: A great way to save a summer flavor for the rest of the year.

2.  Grandma’s Noodles: Soul-warming dish for the cooler months.

1.  Old Fashioned Caramel Cake: This dessert has been a hit ever since I posted it last March. No surprise—it’s a delicious cake! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gravy 101

I've started a new column in the Topeka Capital-Journal called Food 411. Readers can write to me any food question and I’ll try to find an answer.

This week’s question was all about making gravy. Since a lot of people seem to be a bit intimidated when making gravy, I thought I’d share the answer here so my blog readers can find help if they need it. I just wish I had a pretty gravy boat photo to go with it!

Q: What is the secret to making gravy that doesn't taste too floury or is just plain-old blah tasting? I have yet to master it.
--Jan in Topeka

A: Jan, gravy is tricky. I took me years to feel comfortable making it, and many times I restored to the jarred or canned variety instead.

The first step to great gravy is great-tasting broth. If you are using pan drippings from a roasted piece of meat, add some onions, carrots, and celery to the bottom of the pan to boost the flavor. Whole garlic cloves and bay leaves also add good flavor. For canned broth, simmer some of these vegetables in it until they are tender, and then strain the broth through a sieve to remove the depleted veggies.
That floury taste is often caused by not cooking the flour long enough. You need 2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of broth. One method is to blend the flour with double the amount of cold water or broth (so 2 tablespoons of flour with 4 tablespoons water) to make a smooth slurry. I shake mine in a jar with a lid to combine. Then just whisk the slurry into the broth and bring to a boil to reach the full thickness. Simmer for about 10 minutes to cook the flour, stirring occasionally.
A second method, and one that adds a richness to the gravy, is to use a roux. Melt a fat (butter or meat drippings) over low heat, and then whisk in an equal amount of flour. Cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles and cook for up to 3 minutes to rid the roux of the floury taste. Then whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer over low heat.
If you want gravy that tastes like Grandma’s, keep in mind that many cooks back in the day used gravy enhancers to add flavor. My grandmother used one called Kitchen Bouquet. Gravy Master was another popular brand. These enhancers can still be found at the grocery store if you want to give one a try.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

I had never really considered making my own Worcestershire sauce, corn chips, Ritz crackers, or Oreo cookies until the people at America’s Test Kitchen sent me their D.I.Y Cookbook. Ever since it arrived, I've been enamored with the recipes inside. Imagine, I can make my own Nutella, wine vinegar, and American cheese. Who knew!

Recipes from America’s Test Kitchen are wonderful to use. They are researched and tested to find just the right steps and ingredients for a positive outcome.  I don’t always follow what is written (we food writers are always changing something), but the recipes are a great place to start cooking.

I've posted before about the book’s giardiniera recipe. This time I decided to try making homemade Oreo cookies.

The original recipe calls for using 1/4 cup of black cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of Dutch-processed cocoa. I tried, but I couldn't find black cocoa powder in the store and I didn't want to wait for a mail-order delivery, so I used all of the later. You can get black cocoa powder from the King Arthur Flour Company or use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder.

The cookies tasted great and very much like Oreos. Actually I think they taste even better since they’re made with ingredients in my own pantry and not with ones would never use.

Now I just have to figure out which recipe to try next!

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook
Makes approximately 40 cookies

For cookies:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

For filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To make the cookies: (Don’t preheat the oven yet. The dough has to chill first.) In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, cocoa powder, and espresso powder until smooth.

Pour the butter-cocoa mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat in the softened butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined, and then add the flour in three batches, mixing well after each. Mix until the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a 6-inch log that is about 1 1/2-inches thick. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove a log from the refrigerator and, using a sharp knife, slice into 1/8-inch circles. Place the circles onto the cookie sheets 1/2-inch apart. Repeat for the second log.

Bake the cookies until firm on the edges and only leaving a slight indentation in the center when gently pressed with a finger, about 14 to 16 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: With a mixer, beat together the filling ingredients until combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy.

To make the cookies: On a work surface, place half the cookies upside down. Place 1/2 teaspoon of filling onto each cookie, and then top with a second right-side-up cookie. Squeeze gently to spread the filling evenly throughout the cookie. Store in an airtight container. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Overnight Oatmeal Yogurt

I love oatmeal for breakfast. However, it never fails that, after eating a bowl full, I’m hungry again a short time later. I know the fiber in oatmeal is good for making you feel full, but I suspect the lack of protein doesn't make that feeling last too long.

I also love yogurt for breakfast, but I encounter the same problem of being hungry a short time later. In this case, the cause must be the lack of fiber.

What’s the answer? Putting the two together! This overnight oatmeal yogurt is both healthy and satisfying.

The night before, I mix all of the ingredients together, and in the morning breakfast is ready. I use vanilla Greek-style yogurt, but you can use any flavor. I make one batch with dried cranberries and raisins, which I enjoy in oatmeal. (It reminds me of autumn.) The other contains a fresh peach diced into bite-sized pieces. Both taste great, especially with the addition of a little cinnamon. The final mixture is very thick, so add a little milk if you want to thin it out.  

Overnight Oatmeal Yogurt

1 serving

8 ounces Greek-style yogurt (flavor of choice)
1/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup fruit, fresh or dried
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Milk (optional)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a 1-pint mason jar or other container. Add milk if the mixture is too
thick. Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill overnight. Enjoy for breakfast the next morning. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Home-Canned Tomato Sauce

Today, an article I wrote on home canning appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper. It features a great basic recipe for tomato sauce, plus a lot of tips on canning.

However, there is a story behind the article. Last month, I took my tomatoes, jars, and recipe to the family farmhouse in Missouri. The farm has been in my family for more than 100 years.

Mom and I spent a little over half a day making tomato sauce. She sat at the kitchen table cutting tomatoes and I stood at the stove cooking those tomatoes for the sauce.

Mom said, with a warm, far-away look on her face, “I remember Granny sitting here doing this while Mom was at the stove.”

A feeling of pride washed over me as I realized the spirit and traditions of past generations continued on through this simple act of canning tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce
Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Makes about 14 pints or 7 quarts

45 pounds of tomatoes
Bottled lemon juice

Wash the tomatoes and cut away the core and blossom ends, plus any bad spots. Cut each tomato in half and then gently squeeze to remove the seeds. Cut each half into quarters and place in a large pot. Bring the pot to a simmer over medium-low to low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, about 20 minutes.

Process the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skins and any remaining seeds. Pour the tomato pulp back into the large pot and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reduce until the sauce reaches the desired thickness. (This will take some time.)

To process, start by sterilizing the jars: Place clean jars without lids into the canner on a rack so they do not
touch the bottom. (If you don’t have a rack, place the rings on the bottom and set the jars on top.) Fill with water to 2 inches above the jars. Cover and heat to boiling, and then boil for 10 minutes. After that time, turn heat to low and keep the jars in the water until needed.

Place the flat canning lids in a sauce pan off the heat and pour some of the liquid from the boiling pot over the top to cover. This will soften the rubber to help the lids seal.

One at a time, remove a jar from the water. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to a pint jar, 2 tablespoons to a quart jar. Fill the jar with the hot tomato sauce, leaving 1/2-inch headspace at the top. (Using a funnel helps.) Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp towel to clean off any drips, and then take a flat lid from the warm water and place on top. Screw on a ring until just tight.
Once all the jars are filled, gently place them back into the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches and the jars do not touch each other or the sides of the canner. Cover, bring the canner back to a boil, and process for 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a dry towel to cool completely, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between the jars. You will hear the lids start to pop as they seal, but it may take some time. Let the jars cool 12 to 24 hours before checking the seal. If the ring band has loosed during processing, do not tighten. This could interfere with the sealing process.

To check the seal on the cooled jars, press on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Also remove the ring and try to lift the lid with your fingertips. If it stays tight, the seal is good. If a jar doesn’t seal, just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator and use it first. Also refrigerate any jar after it’s opened.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Living The Julia Life

Each year, on August 14, the calendar on my computer reminds me it's Julia Child’s birthday. Does that seem strange? For most foodies, probably not. We owe a lot to this culinary maverick, who brought one of the world’s most delicious and famous cuisines to the American kitchen. She also made it okay to fail, as long as you try again. As she reminded us, we are often alone in the kitchen, so who’s going to know.

I've watched Julia’s television shows all my life. However, she became my hero when I discovered she began her culinary journey at age 37, which was about the same age I was when I ventured out into my writing career. Her success allowed me to put aside my fears and believe it is never to late to follow your dreams and build the life you desire.

Now, years later, I have my Julia Life: I’m a full-time freelance writer. I’m married to my version of Paul Child, my husband Michael, who loves me and encourages me to follow my dreams. (It is such a gift to have a husband who says, “I’m so proud of you” on a regular basis.) I've created dishes that make me close my eyes in rapturous delight. 

Yes, I still have goals and dreams ahead (my first published book being at the top of my list), but I’m so happy and blessed to be living The Julia Life.

To celebrate Julia's birthday yesterday, I watched the movie Julie and Julia. I skipped through the Julie parts to focus on the Julia ones, which are based on my favorite book, My Life in France by Julia Child with her nephew Alex Prud’Homme. (The biography Dearie by Bob Spitz comes in a close second.)

This weekend I plan to open up Mastering the Art of French Cooking to try out a new recipe, though which one I’m not certain of yet. Until then, here are some of my favorite Julia recipes from past blogs:

“Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn't use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture—a gummy beef Wellington, say. But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience.” –Julia Child, from My Life in France. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This summer I’m having a lot of fun learning the basics of food preservation. First I wrote about making jams and jellies, and this week I had article in the Topeka Capital-Journal about pickling. 

I do a little dance each time I hear a jar's lid pop as it seals. The Picky Eater just shakes his head at my excitement. 

In the article, I wrote about my first memories of homemade pickles being of my Mamaw making jars in her Missouri farmhouse kitchen. I have a card from her recipe file from 1971 that lists all the pickles she made that summer, including 40 pints of dill pickles and 12 of lime pickles (named not for the citrus fruit but because the cucumbers were soaked in lime and the pickles were a bright green color.)

In fact, I have a photo of Mamaw coming up from the cellar with a jar of pickles in her hand. I won’t post it here. Her hair is in curlers, and even though she’s no longer with us, I know she would be mortified if I put it out there for all to see.

The photo makes me smile every time I see it. She didn't know I was taking it. Bad granddaughter. 

While I like pickles made with cucumbers, giardiniera is my favorite. This Italian mix of pickled veggies typically calls for cauliflower, carrots, celery, and red pepper. Since I’m not a fan of red peppers, I added extra carrot instead.

I also made bread and butter pickles. While there are many recipes available, I decided to try the Ball Bread and Butter Pickle Mix found with the canning supplies. I just followed the recipe on the jar. Yum!

To read all of my pickling tips, just click here. The giardiniera recipe is also in the article, but I like it so much I had to share it here as well.

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen D. I. Y. Cookbook by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

Makes 4 1-pint jars
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch florets
4 carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick on an angle
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 serrano chilies, stemmed and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 3/4 cups distilled white vinegar
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Wash 4 1-pint jars in warm, soapy water or the dishwasher. Also wash the screw bands by hand. In a large pot or canner, place the jars without lids on a rack so they do not touch the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, place the rings on the bottom and set the jars on top. Fill with water to 2 inches above the jars. Cover and heat to boiling, and then boil for 10 minutes. After that time, turn heat to low and keep the jars in the water until needed.

Place the flat canning lids in a sauce pan off the heat and pour some of the liquid from the boiling pot over the top to cover. This will soften the rubber to help the lids seal.
In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower, carrots, celery, and chilies. Set aside.
In a large sauce pan, heat the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves, remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves and bring the mixture back to a boil.
Remove the jars from the hot water and turn up the heat to bring the canner water back to a boil. Working with one jar at a time, pack with the vegetable mixture to the neck of the jar. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture over the vegetables until completely covered, leaving 1/2-inch headspace from the top. Run a small rubber spatula, plastic knife, or bamboo skewer between the jar and the food, pressing towards the center, to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth. Remove a flat lid from the warm water and place on top of the jar. Screw on a ring. Continue until the remaining jars are filled.
When the water in the canner is boiling, gently place the jars inside, making sure they do not touch each other or the outside of the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Cover, bring the water back to a boil, and process for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. Allow the jars to remain in the hot water for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a dry towel to cool completely, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space between the jars. You will hear the lids start to pop as they seal, but it may take some time. Let the jars cool 12 to 24 hours before checking the seal. If the ring band has loosed during processing, do not tighten. This could interfere with the sealing process.

To check the seal on the cooled jars, press on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Also remove the ring and to lift the lid with your fingertips. If it stays tight, the seal is good. If after 24 hours a jar doesn’t seal, just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator and enjoy it first. Also refrigerate any jar after it’s opened.
The vegetables with be tender and flavorful in a week, though you can eat them right away if you can’t wait. Store the sealed jar in the pantry for up to 1 year.