Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stormy Cocktails

There’s a good reason L. Frank Baum set The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Kansas. Besides producing bushels of wheat and corn, this state is also prolific in two additional areas—wind and storms.

For days, the weather forecasters warned about the coming storm, which arrived a few days ago. The city’s tornado sirens got their first non-test workout, though thankfully no twisters developed.

While my area of Topeka (downtown) got the usual wind, lightening, thunder, tiny hail and lots of rain that comes with a big storm, other surrounding locations had it much worse, with flooding rains and massive hail. (One place reported hail the size of grapefruit!)

I’m always fascinated by thunderstorms. I will sit at a window or on a covered porch and watch one roll through as if it were the latest Hollywood blockbuster. 

Mom thinks my storm interest comes from my childhood when we lived in Grandview, a suburb of Kansas City. Our rented house didn’t have a basement. When the weather turned ominous, we crossed the street to the landlord’s home where we joined other families in its sheltering basement. Mom says while the other kids were scared and crying, I looked around in excitement waiting for the “fun” to begin.

Now when I watch a storm roll through, I can do so with an appropriately themed cocktail. 

My favorite is the Storm Chaser, a bubbly, zippy beverage made with spiced rum, ginger ale and a squirt of lime juice.

For a drink with a little more kick, I like the Dark and Stormy, with its blend of dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.

Mix up your favorite and watch the clouds churn.

Storm Chaser
Serves 1

1.5 ounces spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan.)
Ginger ale
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the spiced rum and top off with ginger ale. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Dark and Stormy
Serves 1

1.5 ounces dark rum
Ginger beer
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the rum and top off with ginger beer. Squeeze in the juice from the lime wedge.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Beer and Cheddar Fondue

This Beer and Cheddar Fondue recipe celebrates many of my favorite things:

1. Cheese: I adore cheese! Devour cheese. Buy-too-much-and-have-to-hurry-to-eat-it before-it’s-too-moldy cheese. My mom used to call Dad and me her little mice since we were always grabbing a slice of cheese. Of course, back in those days, the slice usually came from a large block of Velveeta stored in the fridge. Now I can’t walk past the cheese counter at my local grocery store without picking up my favorites (Port Salute, cheddar, and smoked gouda), plus one or two new ones to try. My lunch and/or supper are often comprised of cheese, crackers or bread, fresh veggies, and fruit (right now I’m into blackberries.) And I want my last meal on Earth to be homemade mac and cheese.

2. A cast iron skillet: I love mine. It is the first one I grab most of the time. While it may be a little slow to heat up, once it’s hot, it stays hot for a long time. I like the sear it gives to meats, how quickly I can stir-fry ingredients, and the nice brown crust on baked recipes such as cornbread and biscuits.

3. Socializing: (You thought I was going to say beer, didn’t you?) My idea of a perfect evening is having a few friends over for food and conversation, with playing games or watching a movie or sporting event for entertainment. This recipe is perfect for such gatherings, especially since I don’t own a fondue pot. (I know, it’s crazy considering how much I love cheese. I really should buy one.)

I found this recipe in a copy of Cook It in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does It All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen, the people responsible for both Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, plus the America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country television shows on PBS ( The publishers sent me a copy to check out…thank goodness! My copy now has numerous sticky notes popping out of the top to mark the recipes I still wish to try.

This recipe is a keeper!

Beer and Cheddar Fondue
Adapted from Cook it in Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 8 to 10
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces American cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups American lager beer (I used Budweiser)
1 garlic clove, minced
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Bread cubes, large pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, for serving

Place the shredded cheese, cornstarch, dry mustard, pepper, and cayenne pepper into a large bowl. Toss with your hands until the cheese is well coated. Set aside.

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, bring the beer and garlic to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and then whisk in the cheese, one handful at a time. Once all of the cheese has melted into the beer-garlic mixture, keep whisking until it just begins to bubble.

Serve the fondue with bread cubes, pretzels, and broccoli and cauliflower florets. The mixture should stay hot for about 15 minutes. To warm it back up, place the skillet back over low heat and stir constantly until the fondue begins to bubble again. If it is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of warm water.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Maple-Pecan Scones

Whoops! I guess I’m late! Talk about waiting until the last minute.

March was Maple Sugaring month when maple syrup makers begin to celebrate the end of the “harvest.” I miss maple season in New England. Somewhere between February and March, the steam starts to rise from gallons of boiling maple sap through the tops of sugar houses nestled amongst the maple trees. Years ago, I even learned how to tap a maple tree and the joy of hearing the magical “ping” sound made by the first drops of sap into the metal bucket.

Kansas isn’t a maple syrup-producing state, but I’ve told everyone I know all about the yummy virtues of Mother Nature’s golden gift. When sap comes out of the tree it looks and tastes like slightly sweet water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

I featured this Maple Pecan Scone recipe in a recent newspaper article. These treats are tender, nutty, and full of maple goodness. I enjoy them both for breakfast and with my afternoon cup of tea. They taste good at room temperature but even better warmed in the microwave for a few seconds.

Maple-Pecan Scones
Makes 9 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup heavy cream
For glaze:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 to 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pecans, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chilled butter and, using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter pieces until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the maple syrup and cream. Slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture, using a fork to swiftly mix until the dough starts to stick together. It will be crumbly. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and, using your hands, bring it together into a ball, kneading a few times as necessary. Roll the dough out to a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut the scones and place them on the baking sheet about an inch apart. The scones will not rise much in the oven while baking. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops of the scones begin to turn lightly brown. Remove the scones from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
While the scones bake, whisk together the ingredients for the maple glaze in a medium bowl. Once the scones are just warm or at room temperature, drizzle the tops with the glaze. (Placing a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment under the cooling rack will make clean-up much easier.) You may not use all of the glaze.
Serve the scones warm or at room temperature.