Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"Here we Come a Wassailing..." with Wassail

Have you ever had wassail? I grew up with the smell of my mom's recipe for this holiday drink wafting through the house as Christmas approached and the weather turned colder. A warm mug full of spicy cranberry and apple goodness epitomized the meaning of "comfort and joy." 

In other words, this beverage is perfect for Christmas 2020. 

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. Add a little brown sugar depending on the sweetness of the juices. Mom never spiked hers, but I’ve found adding a bit of brandy to be very tasty. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator. Then, when the wassail craving strikes, just fill up a mug and warm it in the microwave.

Cheers to you and joyous wishes during this unique holiday season! 

Yield: 10 to 12
Author: Linda Ditch


A warm mug full of spicy cranberry and apple goodness epitomized the meaning of "comfort and joy."


  • 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)


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Hashbrown Potato Casserole from a Virtual #FarmFoodTour

Being a city girl who grew up visiting her grandparent’s farm, I got a real kick out of the #FarmFoodTour trips I’ve experienced in the past few years. Thanks to the Kansas Soybean Commission, Kansas Farm Bureau, and Kansas Pork Association, I’ve traveled around our state learning what it takes to be a farmer in the 21st century. 

This year, because of the pandemic, I participated in a virtual farm visit with Amanda Welch of Meier Dairy in Palmer, Kansas. (Everyone calls her Mandy, except for her husband.) She and her brother are fifth-generation dairy farmers, milking 626 cows for the wholesale market. 

Mandy oversees a 24/7 operation where the cows are milked by robots. Yep, robots! Turns out cows are creatures of habit. Once they learn when and where to go for milking, they will go there every day at the same time. The robot scans each cow’s udder, connects to the teats, gets the milk, and then waits for the next cow to show up. 

From 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, Mandy works at training new cows on how the system works, plus makes sure everything is operating smoothly. She is also mom to two boys, 14-year-old Jaxon and 10-year-old Max. Her husband, Kent, works for an area manufacturing company. 
Her favorite time of day is at 4 a.m. The farm is quiet and peaceful, and she’s the only person around. It’s a time of peace before 6:30 a.m. arrives and she has to get her sons up and off to school.

Mandy told me, “My lifestyle isn't easy. I struggle every single day to find balance. I love what I do but it's both physically and mentally demanding. I hope that by challenging myself every day to keep pushing that I am showing my kids the value in having a strong work ethic.”

Each time I visit with a farmer, I learn:

1. They take great pride in providing food not only for us in Kansas and the U.S., but around the globe.

2. They are a smart bunch considering all of the technology necessary to work in agriculture.

3. No matter the size, pretty much all farms are family farms. Some even support multiple families.

4. Most important, they care a great deal about the land and animals they oversee.

“The biggest misconception about dairy farming, in my opinion, is that the animals are mistreated,” Mandy shared. “The care that goes into making sure that the cows are not only comfortable but as healthy as can be is a dairy farmer's number one concern.” 

On past trips, I’ve always looked for a recipe to share, and this time was no exception. Mandy gave me hers for Hashbrown Potato Casserole—though her family calls them Cheesy Taters. 

She said, “This is one of our family's favorite recipes! It calls for lots of dairy products which is a huge plus!”

This dish is easy to make and creates a creamy, cheesy, tasty casserole I think could replace mac and cheese. The only change I made to the recipe was adding chipotle chili powder to give it a little kick. It was wonderful! 

The next time you grab the milk carton, open a cup of yogurt or slice some cheese, think of Mandy hard at work so you can enjoy what Kansas dairy farmers have to offer.

Yield: 12 to 14
Author: Linda Ditch
Mandy Welch’s Hashbrown Potato Casserole

Mandy Welch’s Hashbrown Potato Casserole

A creamy, cheesy side dish that can give mac and cheese a run for its money.


  • 2 1-pound packages hashbrowns
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cartons (8-ounces each) sour cream
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon McCormick Chipotle Chile Powder (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix together the butter, soup, cheese, and sour cream. Stir in the hashbrowns, and then pour the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish that is coated with non-stick spray.
  2. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the center is hot and the edges are brown.
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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Covid Crumble

While watching TV last night, I was struck by how living during a pandemic has become part of our “normal” life now. People in commercials are wearing masks, washing their hands, and social distancing. The new season of the most popular shows is starting (Yay, the Chicago 3 are back!) and they all address living in COVID times. 

How has the virus changed your life? I had a freezer stuffed with bags of fruit bought because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find fresh. Since that fear didn’t come to pass, I needed to find a way to use those bags of cherries, blueberries, and peaches.

Introducing Covid Crumble. This simple dessert (or breakfast!) can be made with just about any fruit, frozen or fresh. It was inspired by a recipe I found for Rhubarb Crisp in Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch.


One of the greatest joys in life is finding an author who speaks to your heart. Susan Branch does that for me. I remember when her first book Heart of the Home hit the bestseller lists in the 1980s. Honestly, her style didn’t fit mine, so I didn’t pay it a lot of attention. However, a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of Martha’s Vineyard, which is one of three autobiographical books she created from the diaries she kept throughout her life, and I was completely inspired by her words and drawings. 

👈 I love how she hand letters each word and her illustrations are beautiful. 

Now I’ve read all three autobiographies and am working my way through her cookbooks. Each brought me comfort during this unique time in history.

Pure joy! You can check out her blog here

Thanks to Susan, I now keep my own diary in a pretty notebook, with my thoughts and inspiration from others written with colorful Paper Mate Flair felt-tip pens, which don’t bleed through the paper. 

I posted the recipe for my popular Breakfast Crumble a few years ago.  This one caught my attention because it uses almond flour instead of plain flour. It also has instant tapioca as a thickener, which is an old-school trick my grandmother utilized. I often use this method when making pies. 

So far, I’ve made Covid Crumble using apples, blueberries, peaches and cherries. Each tasted great, especially topped with a little vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even a splash of milk (my dad’s favorite trick.)

Yield: 4 to 6
Author: Linda Ditch
Covid Crumble

Covid Crumble

Adapted from a recipe found in Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch, this dessert (or breakfast!) makes use of those bags of frozen fruit stored in the freezer. Fresh fruit also works well.


  • 6 cups fruit of choice, frozen or fresh
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup instant tapioca
  • Pinch of salt
  • For topping:
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the fruit, sugar, tapioca and salt. (You don’t have to thaw frozen fruit first.) Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a baking dish or individual ramekins with non-stick spray and place on a foil-lined tray. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, add all of the topping ingredients except for the butter. Stir to combine. Add the butter and, using your fingers, work it into the dry ingredients until it’s combined and crumbly.
  4. Pour the fruit into the baking dish, and then top with the topping mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is hot and bubbly.
  5. Serve warm topped with ice cream, whipped cream, or a splash of milk.


You don't need to thaw the frozen fruit before using.

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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Easy Holiday Blondies Recipe

Have you blown through all your Halloween candy yet? Considering the week we’re going through (#Election2020), I’m surprised there are still some pieces left in my candy bowl. 

Grab what candy you have—or pick-up your favorites in the grocery check-out line—and bake a batch of these Holiday Blondies. This cookie bar/brownie hybrid recipe was inspired by one featured on the Mystery Lovers Kitchen website. However, I think this dessert will be useful for any holiday considering how candy companies create goodies to fit the seasons. 

This recipe is easy to put together and one the kids will devour. There are even healthy elements to it (oatmeal, peanut butter, dried cranberries, nuts) to help balance the candy sweetness.

I will serve Holiday Blondies alongside the pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving. And, since the normal holiday gatherings will be somewhat limited this year, I also plan to give pans of these tasty treats as gifts. 

Yield: 18-24 depending on size
Author: Linda Ditch
Holiday Blondies

Holiday Blondies

Use holiday candies to create a tasty sweet treat for any season.


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (or nut butter of choice)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups candy (chopped bars or individual pieces, such as M&Ms)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (or nut of choice)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and oatmeal. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, measure out the candy pieces, cranberries, and chopped pecans. Set aside.
  4. Put the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer, cream the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Then pour in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  5. Fold in the candy-cranberry-nut mixture.
  6. Spoon the batter into the baking dish. It is quite stiff, so spray the back of a spatula or large spoon with non-stick spray to help you spread the mixture evenly throughout the pan. Sprinkle the top with extra candy pieces and nuts, if desired, pressing them into the batter.
  7. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, or until the edges are brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.


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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese


If you could choose your final meal on Earth, what would it be? My choice would be mac and cheese. The ultimate comfort food! For me, nothing brings more satisfaction than to dig into a creamy bowl of cheesy pasta, made even better topped with crunchy bread crumbs—and maybe some crumbled bacon pieces. 


I’ve enjoyed this favorite dish while on my WW (once known as Weight Watchers) wellness journey for the past 19 months. That’s what I love about this plan: You can eat the foods you love. Nothing is off-limits! I just have to adjust my other meals during the day to compensate, which is all part of eating in a balanced, healthy way.

I’m down 83 pounds so far! 

One day I went looking for a lightened-up version of mac and cheese that wouldn’t take such a big chunk out of my daily food budget. That’s when I came across a recipe on the WW website for butternut squash whole grain mac and cheese. At first, it seemed almost scandalous to add squash to my beloved dish! However, I decided to give it a try, but with my own personal flavor twists of cayenne for a little heat and crunchy bread crumbs for the topping.

Eureka! It tasted amazing! Honestly, I don’t even notice the squash flavor, but it adds a creaminess to the dish typically put there by cream/whole milk and lots of cheese. Not to mention added nutrients. 

Need more convincing? How about this: You make the mac and cheese on the stovetop. In one pan! No boiling the pasta separately. No oven needed. 

This recipe calls for whole-grain elbow pasta (Barilla is my favorite) but feel free to use regular if you prefer. Of course, it could also be made with full-fat cheese as well. I also grate some parmesan cheese over the top and sometimes sprinkle on some crispy bacon crumbles like I did here 👇.

For my fellow WW purple plan members, with the bread crumb topping, this dish is 3 points per serving. (2 points without the bread crumbs.)

Yield: 6
Author: Linda Ditch
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

A lightened-up version of mac and cheese that gets its creaminess from butternut squash.


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups fat free milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry English mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 10 ounces whole-grain elbow pasta
  • ounce package frozen butternut squash, cooked and mashed
  • 4 ounces 50-percent reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • For topping:
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Black pepper, to taste


  1. In a 3.5-quart or larger Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water, milk, seasonings, and macaroni to a simmer, stirring constantly. (Don’t let it boil. You just want to see bubbles begin around the edges of the pan.) Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente.
  2. While the pasta cooks, make the topping by heating the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs, thyme and pepper. Sauté until the mixture becomes golden brown. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the butternut squash and cook for an additional minute or two. Then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cheese a hand full at a time, until it is melted and creamy.
  4. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the breadcrumbs over the top of each serving.
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Friday, October 2, 2020

Hemingway Black Bean Soup

Sometimes you just need a big pot of comfort beans. 

When I wrote the review of Key Lime Crime by Lucy Burdette in August, I was transported back to the single day I spent in Key West while on a cruise in 2016. Those 6 hours were enough for me to fall in love with the town’s unique and beautiful spirit. 

I loved the houses with sleeping porches to beat the nighttime heat. I loved all the people traveling on bikes and scooters.

I even decided the chickens roaming everywhere were cute!

My favorite stop was the Hemingway Home. No big surprise a writer would be intrigued by the home of such a famous and infamous author like Ernest Hemingway. 

still dream of one day having a writing studio inspired by his. Also, as a cat person who is absent from feline friends thanks to rental agreements, I had to pet each one of the purring polydactyl (six-toed) creatures I met.

In the gift shop, I picked up a copy of The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth. It’s a lovely cookbook full of stories and photos of Ernest Hemingway and the key people and places in his life. Plus, there are plenty of recipes for some of his favorite meals.

I tested out this one for black bean soup. My only changes from the original were to use chicken broth instead of just water and utilizing my slow cooker instead of the stovetop. 

For my fellow WW members, this is just 1 point per serving on the purple plan! 

What I love most about this recipe is you can use these beans in many other dishes as well. They work for refried black beans, a bean dip, or drained and added to burritos. Soup isn’t the only option with a pot full of these beauties! 

I’ve marked a few more recipes in the cookbook to try (Lime Ice, anyone!) and Key West is tops on my list of places to explore further one day. 


Yield: 6
Author: Linda Ditch
Hemingway Black Bean Soup

Hemingway Black Bean Soup

Adapted from The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth


  • 1 pound dry black beans
  • 2 large green bell peppers
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons crushed dried oregano
  • 32 ounces low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • Diced bell peppers, for garnish
  • Sour cream, for garnish


  1. The night before, rinse the beans and check for any stones. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with water to 2 to 4 inches above the level of the beans. Set aside to soak overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the water from the beans and then pour the beans into a slow cooker. Dice the green bell peppers and onion and add to the cooker, along with all the ingredients up to the vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours. Add water to the slow cooker if more moisture is needed.
  3. Just before serving, add the vinegar, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve as is or over rice. (I used brown rice.) Garnish with the chopped bell peppers and sour cream (or Greek-style yogurt).
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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Here in Kansas, we are transitioning from summer to fall. The leaves are just beginning their colorful annual display. Nights are getting cool enough to require the soft, downy comforter on the bed. Fuzzy socks, warm sweaters, and cozy sweats are out of storage and placed in the dresser.

This Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie is a perfect transition-of-seasons dinner. It has all the tasty comfort of the traditional dish but it's a lightened-up version for these ever-so-slightly chilly days, full of ground turkey and plenty of veg.

The inspiration for this recipe came from two sources: A turkey sweet potato shepherd’s pie on the Skinnytaste website and my own more substantial sweet-potato shepherd’s pie recipe I posted a few years ago. I love this one because it’s full of veggies reminiscent of summer’s harvest but also has a hint of flavors common at Thanksgiving. 

For those of you on WW, this recipe is 3 points per serving on the purple plan.

Yield: 6
Author: Linda Ditch
Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Autumn Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

This is a perfect transition-of-seasons dinner. It has all the tasty comfort of the traditional dish but is lightened up for these ever-so-slightly chilly days with ground turkey and plenty of veg.


  • For filling:
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound 99-percent lean ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ounce bag of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 cup low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth (plus extra if necessary)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • For potatoes:
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Put 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey (or chicken) and brown until just cooked through. Put the cooked turkey in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, and the diced onion and celery. Sauté until the onions start to become transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes more.
  4. Next add the garlic, poultry seasoning, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and cooked turkey. Mix well. Then sprinkle the flour over the top and stir to coat the turkey-veg mixture. Add the frozen veggies and pour in the chicken broth. Cook until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens, about 5 minutes. (Add extra broth if necessary.) Add salt and pepper to taste, then pour the mixture into the casserole dish.
  5. Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork or knife, and then pop them into the microwave. Cook until soft. While still warm, scoop out the inside of the potatoes into a large bowl. (Use a towel or paper towels to protect your hands from the hot potatoes.) Add the butter and milk, then mash until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Spoon the mashed sweet potatoes over the turkey mixture. Place the casserole dish onto a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the sweet potatoes start to brown on top, 20 to 30 minutes.
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