12/19/15

Now You See It

I've been baking cookies this week, lots of cookies. I think it might be time take a break, though, because I've started seeing things in my cookies that aren't really there. It's not like I saw a religious sign in a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough or anything like that. It's more like those tricks on Pinterest where someone uses a gingerbread man cookie cutter and turns it upside down to create a reindeer. Except, I didn't make any gingerbread men or reindeer. I baked sugar cookies to decorate, and I used a cute little gift package cutter with a bow on top.




After I baked them they didn't look as much like gift packages. I kept looking at them while they were cooling on the rack, and the more I looked, the stranger they seemed. Without any frosting, all I could see was Dilbert. If I only had great decorating skills, this gift package cutter would be a perfect Dilbert head. I'm not sure anyone ever has a Dilbert-themed occasion, but you never know. It might be the next birthday party craze. Frozen and Minions can't last forever.




I disguised the Dilbert-head cookies by piping a bow on top, so probably no one guessed Dilbert was in their bag of treats. I have more cookies to bake before Christmas, so I'll check out the rest of my cookie cutters and see what other illusions are lurking there.

12/15/15

On Winning and Losing

Some days I have such good luck. Like the day I won a Thermapen in a giveaway at nwafoodie. This is a first class food blog, and I have followed Lyndi for several years. When I saw she was giving away a Thermapen, my reaction was "wow, where do I sign up?". I've bought Thermapens as gifts, and I have heard all about what a great products they are.




I wanted one.

And then the Thermapen arrived in the mail. MY THERMAPEN. I was beyond excited. This thermometer gives an accurate 3 second reading. I have other thermometers in my kitchen drawer, but none of this caliber. I couldn't wait to try it out. A roast? Grilled chicken? Steak? It's perfect for all those things and more. Friends who know me well, though, would not be surprised to learn that the very first thing I used my Thermapen to measure was the temperature of water to proof my yeast for baking bread. I loved getting an immediate reading that I could trust.




Thanks so much to Lyndi and to Grassroots Farmers' Cooperative! We're going to be very happy together.

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As happy as I am when a fun surprise like the good luck of winning comes, we all know there will be days when bad luck shows up, too. If you are a regular reader of Sugar Spice and Spilled Milk, you may have noticed I haven't posted with much regularity of late. That's because of the bad luck that parked on my doorstep. 

In October, I got the news that I have breast cancer. It is in an early stage, so it's very treatable. Nevertheless, it required surgery, and radiation is looming in the near future. One reason I refer to this as "bad luck" is that no other members of my family have ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor said I fall into the category of "1 in 8" women who develop breast cancer, seemingly out of nowhere. My number was drawn. 

Since October, much of my time has been filled with medical appointments. For a person like me who prefers to do what I want to do, this has been, shall I say, inconvenient. I suspect radiation treatments will be even more inconvenient.




Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.


11/29/15

Millionaire Pie

Pie, of course, was on the menu for Thanksgiving. All my desserts were prepared ahead, and this Millionaire Pie was one of the sweets found in my refrigerator. At holiday time when there are so many dishes to plan and make, it's nice to have an easy no-bake recipe like this one to take some of the stress out of entertaining.





Print Recipe

Millionaire Pie

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 (6 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
1 (8 ounce) frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 (9-inch) graham cracker crusts

In a large bowl, beat together condensed milk and lemon juice. Stir in pineapple and oranges. Add pecans, if using. Fold in whipped topping. Spoon mixture into graham cracker crusts. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving, or can be frozen.






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11/10/15

Gnocchi Soup

Cravings are strange creatures. They prowl around whispering about delicious food. They are persistent and determined. A craving caused me to make this creamy Gnocchi Soup, and it did not disappoint. Keep this recipe handy in case your cravings ask for Gnocchi Soup. I found it to be almost identical to the soup at one of my favorite restaurants. My cravings are now well-fed and happy.






Print Recipe

Gnocchi Soup

1 - 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cooked and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 (16 ounce) package potato gnocchi, cooked to package directions and drained
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté over medium heat until the onion is transparent. In a stockpot, combine chicken, chicken broth, half and half, salt, pepper, thyme, and sautéed vegetables. Heat until boiling. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Add spinach and gnocchi. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water and add to soup mixture, cook about 2 minutes longer.





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11/8/15

Sparkling Blueberry Muffins

At this time of year we often pause from our work and hurry to remind ourselves of all the abundance we have to be thankful for. In a couple of weeks I hope to gather my family together for one of those rare days when all are present. I've been planning a menu, and I'll enjoy having my capable children to help me prepare the food. One thing I want to remember to be thankful for is blueberry muffins. What a tasteless, colorless world it would be without them. This recipe was passed to me by my sister, and it is now a part of my never-ending collection of blueberry recipes.






Print Recipe

Sparkling Blueberry Muffins

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups blueberries
Sparkling sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees for the first 5 minutes of baking time, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees F. Prepare a standard muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine sugar and eggs. Add oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture. Gently fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle tops with sparking sugar. Bake for 5 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat and bake an additional 12 - 14 minutes.






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10/25/15

Pumpkin Bread

A parent made this pumpkin bread for the children at school, and the kids were wild about it. She gave them her recipe, and that's how it ended up in my hands. After I made it I understood why the children loved it so much. It's not exactly like any other pumpkin bread I have made. The parent who shared the recipe made hers into muffins for the children, but the original recipe called for loaf pans. I made some of both. The batter made these two 4 x 8-inch loaves + 20 muffins, so it's a big batch. I used canned pumpkin like the recipe stated, but fresh pumpkin would be wonderful, I'll bet. My sister recently baked a couple of smallish pumpkins, then puréed them and froze in zip top bags. It looked so bright and fresh and seemed easy to do.






Print Recipe

Pumpkin Bread

5 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 (3 ounce) packages cook and serve vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, if making muffins. Prepare muffin pans with paper liners.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F, if making loaves. Prepare loaf pans with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk, then stir in oil and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture; mix well. If making muffins, fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 22 minutes.

If making loaves, divide batter among five 5 x 2-inch loaf pans. Bake for 50- 55 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans.



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10/21/15

Fried Pickles

Fried pickles are an appetizer I seldom make myself, but I love to order in a restaurant. A special request prompted me to make fried pickles this week for family at home. These are so very yummy, I really should make them more often. Here's a fact: Fried pickles are fun.









Print Recipe

Fried Pickles

1 (16 ounce) jar sliced dill pickles, drained
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
4 dashes tabasco sauce
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Oil for frying

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and hot sauce. Add pickles, stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Working with a few pickles at a time, roll pickles in flour mixture until well coated. Shake off excess and drop into hot oil. Fry pickles in small batches until golden brown, about 3 - 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve with ranch or horseradish sauce, if desired.

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10/19/15

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

These Oatmeal Chocolate Chip muffins are great for any time of day. They make a terrific breakfast, can be tucked in a lunch box, or handed out as after school treats. This batch was hardly out of the oven before they started disappearing. There's not a designated day set aside on the calendar to honor chocolate chip muffins, so I suppose it's okay to honor them any and every day. Just between us, we'll call today Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffin Day. Celebrate with me today and maybe tomorrow too.










Print Recipe

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 cup quick cooking oats
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a standard muffin pan with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine oats and buttermilk; let stand for 20 minutes. In a large bowl, stir together oil, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Stir in buttermilk mixture. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; blend well. Stir in chocolate chips. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 16 - 18 minutes or until muffins test done with a toothpick. Remove from pan to wire rack. Makes 12 muffins.






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10/15/15

In Living Color

Beautiful, intriguing, startling, frightening, mysterious, and strange are just a few of the many words that might be chosen as descriptors for colorful creatures from nature. Each one has attributes that are special and unique to them. My favorite thing about each one is that it is designed in living color.





This is my grandson's leopard gecko, Spot, taking a nocturnal stroll. This is such an interesting kind of lizard. Unlike many lizards, these have moveable eyelids. He's gentle and easy to care for. These lizards come in different patterns and colors. I love Spot's vibrant colors.

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I see these garden spiders every October. They're nowhere in sight one day, but the next day they will have a huge web built. I fear someday I'll walk right into one of these webs and become the spider's prey. If one builds its web on your porch, might as well leave it until after Halloween, though. They make spooky decor that is quite realistic.


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These yellow mushrooms popped up in my rosemary this summer. Apparently, they are very common in houseplants and in greenhouses, but these are my first. They are so detailed and pretty, but are not edible. They don't hurt the plant and can be left if you want to enjoy their beauty, but should be removed if there are pets or children around who might accidentally eat one.


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This scary looking creature is a tobacco horn worm. This one is devouring one of my tomato plants. They can quickly strip a plant bare. The red horn on the end distinguishes him from the similar tomato worm that has a black horn.
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These are some of my brother's chickens. I added them because they are so colorful, and the eggs are colorful, too. He donates lots of eggs for our church members to buy. The money raised from the eggs always goes to help meet the monthly goal of the widows and orphans fund.

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10/12/15

A is for Apple . . . B is for Bake


A bowl of red or green apples on a kitchen counter is a still life waiting for an artist. Because the shape and color of apples are both so appealing to the eye, it’s not uncommon for a decorator to use a container of apples as a focal point in a room. Nothing else looks quite as beautiful, that is, until something is baked with those same apples. After baking, the beauty of the apple is enhanced by enticing aromas from the oven.




You can bet someone will follow their nose to the kitchen when you bake with apples. Desserts and breads are two popular ways apples delight the taste buds. Apple pies, cakes, and dumplings are traditional favorites among desserts. This recipe for Fresh Apple Cake dates back more than 50 years and makes a moist, delectable cake. On an occasion when a special gift is needed for friends or neighbors, this apple cake is a perfect solution.

Apple pie is an old favorite that most of us once enjoyed at our grandmother’s table. The scent of an apple pie baking might bring back distant memories of a time when families gathered around the table to eat.

Apple dumplings can be a time-consuming delight to make, but this recipe couldn’t be easier. There must be a hundred uses for packaged crescent roll dough, and it makes these apple dumplings a breeze to put together. Better stock up on ice cream before you bake these enticing treats because someone will probably request theirs à la mode.

Even a sleepyhead will be enticed to start the day with a bounce if apple muffins are on the breakfast menu. This Apple Muffin recipe makes a large batch of 24 muffins. Unless you’re feeding a brunch crowd or have plenty of freezer room to put some away for another day, you might want to half this recipe. Enjoy these apple recipes and expect visitors to the kitchen when others detect the scent of apples baking in your oven.






Four All-time Favorite Apple Recipes



Fresh Apple Cake

      1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs, well beaten
3 cups chopped, tart apples
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Prepare a Bundt pan with cooking spray, set aside. In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar, and vanilla extract. Add eggs; stir to combine. Blend diced apples into the mixture. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the apple mixture. Stir until flour is incorporated. Add walnuts into mixture. The batter will be thick. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes. Check with a toothpick and bake a few minutes longer if needed. Remove from oven; cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan by inverting over a plate. Allow to cool. May be dusted with powdered sugar, if desired.




Apple Pie

      Pastry for double crust pie
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash salt
About 8 cups thinly sliced tart apples
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. For the bottom crust, dough should be rolled slightly larger than the pie pan. Place dough in pie pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Add apples to the mixture and stir all together. Fill pie pan with sugar and apple mixture. Dot with butter. Roll top crust out, fold in half, and place on top of the pie plate. Adjust crust; trim off excess around the edge of pie. Cut holes in top to vent and crimp edges to seal. May be sprinkled with sugar for sparkle, if desired. Place on a baking sheet to catch any overflow and bake for 50 minutes. For the last 20 minutes of baking time, shield the edges of crust with aluminum foil strips to prevent over-browning. Cool on wire rack. Serve plain or with a scoop of ice cream.





Apple Dumplings

      2 whole Granny Smith apples
2 cans (8 ounces each) crescent roll dough
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 can (12 ounce can) Sprite soda
Cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Peel and core apples. Cut each apple into 8 slices. Roll each apple slice in a triangle of crescent roll dough. Place in a single layer in prepared pan. Melt butter, then add sugar and stir slightly. Stir in vanilla, then pour mixture over rolled apples. Pour 1/2 can Sprite around the edges of the dish. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon; bake for 40 minutes. May be served with ice cream, if desired.



Apple Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, finely chopped apples
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Topping
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare muffin pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until moistened (batter will be stiff). Fold in apples, raisins, and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each cup 2/3 full. Combine topping ingredients; sprinkle over batter. Bake for 20 − 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks. Makes 24 muffins.


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10/1/15

Alabama Seafood

The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area is a favorite vacation spot of mine. For more than 30 years my family has gone there to enjoy the sun, the sand, and of course, the seafood. There are a number of super restaurants in the area, and we enjoy our own style of seafood dishes, as well. Sometimes we even get lucky and catch our own. This good fishing trip was a few vacations ago.




I also love going to the seafood market for fresh shrimp when I'm there. I haven't been to the beach this year, and I sure would like to go and enjoy some Alabama seafood. I have a couple of my shrimp dishes entered in the Southern Living photo contest, and you'll never guess what the prize is. A trip to Gulf Shores! It would be amazing to sink my toes in the sand right before I sink my teeth in some of that great Alabama seafood.


Shrimp dip


Jambalaya

This shrimp dip and jambalaya are the two #ALseafood dishes I have entered in the contest. These are two favorite recipes, and they can be found in the recipe index at the top of this page. I have to add that our Arkansas rice mixes very well with that Alabama shrimp in the jambalaya. In order to qualify for that trip, my dishes could use a few votes over on the Southern Living page here. But even if you don't want to vote, head over there and see all the great seafood on display. I have to warn you though, it could tempt you to take a trip to Gulf Shores for some of the scrumptious local seafood.



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9/28/15

Errands, Rain and Meat Loaf

Today was one of those gray, rainy days outside. After waiting in line for 45 minutes at one of my business errands, then getting wet as I dashed for my car, I decided this would be a perfect day for some comfort food. I had a new meat loaf recipe I wanted to try. Several weeks ago I saw it posted on my friend Beth's Facebook page, and I saved it. Then I stashed it somewhere, as I often do with recipes. The only problem with that is finding the recipe again when I want to use it. I went through a number of recipes, and finally came up with the right one. I'm glad I did because this meat loaf is easy to make and is soooo delicious. The original recipe came from Beth's mother, Archie, who is well into her 90's now. I have learned to pay attention when a 90-year-old wants to share a recipe. This is a recipe I won't lose again.





Print Recipe

Meat Loaf

Sauce
1/2 cup catsup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tablespoon minced parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a baking dish with cooking spray. In a small saucepan, mix catsup, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar, and nutmeg. Heat until mixture begins to bubble, then remove from heat. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together ground beef, egg, and bread crumbs. Add salt, pepper, onion, and parsley. Stir in 1/2 of the cooled sauce; mix well. Shape into a loaf and place in the prepared baking dish. Bake for 40 minutes. Spread remaining 1/2 of sauce over top of meatloaf. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.


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9/20/15

Pumpkin Muffins

Although the daytime temperatures are still summertime hot, you might want to grab a jacket for early morning or night time. The season is changing and that brings changes in what we cook and bake. One of the fall tastes most people enjoy is pumpkin. There are so many different ways to use pumpkin, and muffins are just one example. My sister baked these muffins for me recently. They smell wonderful and taste even better.





Pumpkin Muffins


1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a standard 12-cavity muffin pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine coconut oil, sugar, and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in pumpkin puree. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Combine flour mixture with pumpkin mixture. Add walnuts, if using. Spoon batter in prepared muffin pan. Bake muffins for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.


9/4/15

My Favorite Dough Whisk

I have a new favorite kitchen tool. It's called "the original dough whisk". This is one gadget that belongs in every kitchen. I don't know how I ever got along without it. I received mine as a birthday gift from my sister back in the spring of this year. I've been using it almost 4 months now, and I couldn't keep quiet about it any longer.



This whisk isn't made like any of my other whisks. This whisk is a long 13.5 inches and is sturdily made with a wooden handle. It's great for stirring bread dough or any kind of batter. Previously, I almost always used my big heavy mixer to make bread, but with this whisk, it's not necessary to get the big mixer out. It amazes me every time I use it. To clean it, you simply put it under the water faucet and everything rinses off.




I just bought another one of these to give as a gift. I can't think of anything better to give to someone who likes to cook. Whether you bake bread on a regular basis or make an occasional box of packaged brownie mix, this is the whisk to use. If you're a person who doesn't like a lot of kitchen gadgets and prefer to only buy the basics, I think you'll find this is one of those basics. I love kitchen gadgets, but this whisk could replace any number of my other whisks and spoons. I now reach for this one any time I need to stir a batter.

This post has been written because the original dough whisk is a product I love to use. It works very well, and I wanted to share it with my friends. All opinions are my own. I am not affiliated with the makers of this whisk, nor have I received any compensation.

9/1/15

Easy Cherry Coffee Cake

Way back in the '60's my mother would make a dessert something like this cherry coffee cake. Hers wasn't exactly like this, and if I remember correctly she called it a magic cobbler. I'd love to have that recipe she used. I'm pretty sure she made hers with self-rising flour and milk, but beyond that I don't know. I do remember that the batter rose to the top and made a crust. This recipe makes a cake-like layer at the bottom. The recipes are different, but enough alike that I was reminded of helping mother cook when I was a little girl. Mother didn't leave behind enough of her recipes in written form. If anyone has that old magic cobbler recipe send it my way, please.

This cherry coffee cake is perfect to carry to a potluck. It also goes well with an afternoon coffee or tea. Adding whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream would turn it into a fancy dessert.








Print Recipe

Easy Cherry Coffee Cake


1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add melted butter and stir with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Reserve 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture to be used as topping, set aside. Add eggs and milk to the remaining crumb mixture. Spread batter in the prepared baking dish. Spread cherry pie filling over the batter, but do not mix. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top. Bake for 45 minutes.

8/29/15

Heavenly Brownies

Today when I set about to make a dessert I found a box of chocolate cake mix in the pantry. I was determined to utilize that lone cake mix and avoid a trip to the grocery store on a busy Saturday. After a search of several cookbooks, I found a recipe that fit the ingredients I happened to have. This brownie recipe came from a cookbook called 101 Things to do with a Cake Mix. I added more pecans than the original 1/2 cup in the recipe because I love lots of pecans. I also recommend these brownies be baked for about 30 minutes. The suggested time in the recipe is 40 - 50 minutes. I baked mine for 40 minutes, and they should have been taken out of the oven sooner. Nevertheless, these brownies are a sweet treat. Chocolate topped off with a cream cheese layer is always a good thing.







Print Recipe

Heavenly Brownies

First layer
1 regular size box chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 cup chopped pecans, optional

Top layer
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
2 eggs
1 pound powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine dry cake mix, butter, and egg. Stir in pecans, if desired. Batter will be very stiff. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
In a separate bowl, beat together cream cheese, eggs, and powdered sugar until smooth. Spread over first layer. Bake for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool, cut into squares.


8/26/15

Chicken and Rice Casserole

This versatile casserole is great as a family meal, it's delicious to serve to guests, and it makes a popular take-along for a potluck. Whatever the occasion, you'll get compliments on this chicken and rice casserole. It's easy to make and easy to love.

I received an email today from a friend about the importance of buying American made products. One of the local products I support is rice. I appreciated the reminder about buying other kinds of goods, and given a choice, I will always buy products made in the U.S.A. Jobs of all kinds depend on our support. Since my brother is a rice farmer in Arkansas, I am devoted to buying and using Riceland rice. We can support farmers and other workers by checking the label before we buy.




Print Recipe

Chicken and Rice Casserole

1 - 1 1/3 pounds chicken breast, cooked and chopped or substitute 2 - (13 ounce) cans chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (10.5 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 1/2 cups uncooked long grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
4 ounces shredded mild cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place chicken in baking dish. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Sauté until tender. In a large bowl, combine chicken soup, chicken broth, rice, salt, pepper, oregano, and sautéed mixture. Pour mixture over chicken, stir slightly. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil. Sprinkle cheese over top of casserole, then return to oven without foil for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand 5 minutes before serving.


8/18/15

Collecting vs. Hoarding

I believe there is a fine line between collecting and hoarding. So far I haven't fallen over the line into the abyss of hoarding, but I can see how it could happen. Collecting is fun. It starts with only one item. It's usually an item you love very much, maybe you even treasure it. Someone knows how much you value your whatcamacallit thingamabob, and they see another similar one. They immediately think of you and buy the new item as a mate for your first one. A collection is born. Many collections start something like this, innocently enough, but after a few years a collection could take on a life of its own.

One thing that makes collecting enjoyable is the hunt. Your collected item might be unique. It might not be easy to find, so you search. It's like finding Easter eggs. If you find one you're not going to leave it in the grass, you're going to put it in your basket with the other eggs. In fact, you'll keep piling those eggs in the basket until maybe the handle breaks off. That might be considered hoarding. It's too much of a good thing. Some people may define collecting as organized hoarding, but I think collections are much more.

Over the years I've collected a few different things, and none of them have broken the handle of my basket -- yet. I once collected teddy bears, then angels, then rabbits. A person only needs so many teddy bears, angels and rabbits, then enough is enough. My more recent collections include cookie cutters, Fiesta ware, rolling pins and cookbooks. My justification for these later collections is that they are useful in more ways than just the enjoyment of the hunt.




One of my cookbook collections is the Southern Living Annual recipes. The first year for these cookbooks was 1979, and it has been published every year since. I don't have a bookshelf wide enough to hold the complete collection, so I keep the older ones on one shelf and the more recent ones on another. I didn't start collecting them in 1979. I started this collection a few years ago, and it was interesting to look for and find all the years to complete the full set.




I love searching these cookbooks for recipes. If it's worth cooking, Southern Living will have a recipe for it. The 2015 version will be released on December 1, and I'm sure the new volume will be as excellent as its predecessors.

I enjoy my collections, but I do have one bit of advice for those who might want to begin a collection -- be sure your basket has a strong handle.






8/5/15

Mini Chocolate Cream Pies

These bite-size chocolate cream pies are the most decadent little yummies ever. My sister and I made these for a shower we were hostessing. I could have scarfed down the whole tray before any guests arrived, but I used some restraint and saved them to serve at the shower. There are a few different steps to make these, but they are well worth it. If everything is made in advance these can be put together in a few minutes when needed. We cut the crust for these with a tiny square cookie cutter, but I have an itsy bitsy flower cutter I think I'll try next time.








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Mini Chocolate Cream Pies

Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening (Crisco)
3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons ice cold water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Add butter, cut into flour mixture until it is like coarse meal. Add shortening, cut in until well blended. Stir in water. Gently work the dough into a ball. Place dough in the middle of a piece of floured wax paper. Sprinkle flour over dough, then cover with another sheet of wax paper. Roll dough out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Use small cookie cutters (square, round, flower, etc.) to cut out dough. Place dough cut-outs on prepared baking sheet. Prick dough a few times with a fork. Bake for 11 - 13 minutes or until browned on the edges. Cool completely before adding filling.

Chocolate filling
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups milk
14 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises, unwrapped and chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk milk and egg yolks. Pour milk mixture into sugar mixture, whisking until smooth. Cook on medium heat, whisking constantly, being sure to keep the bottom and edges of pan scraped, for about 7 - 9 minutes until mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Transfer hot filling to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the wrap to rest in contact with the filling. Refrigerate until cool, about 1 - 2 hours. Once filling and crusts are cooled, fill a pastry bag with the filling. Using a star tip, squeeze about 1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons filling onto each crust.

Topping - Stabilized Whipped Cream
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup whipping cream
pinch salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Grated chocolate or toasted coconut for sprinkling

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water to soften. Scald 2 tablespoons of the cream then pour over gelatin, stirring until dissolved. Refrigerate until mixture is the consistency of an unbeaten egg white, about 10 - 15 minutes. Then beat mixture with a whisk until smooth.
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whip beater, whip remaining cream and sugar just until soft peaks form; whip in the gelatin mixture, stopping to scrape the bowl twice, then whip about another 10 - 20 seconds. Fill a pastry bag with topping. Using a star tip, squeeze about a teaspoonful of topping over the filling. Sprinkle with grated chocolate or toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.



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8/3/15

Brown Sugar Carrots

These Brown Sugar Carrots are a side dish that covers all the bases.

  1. They are easy to make.
  2. They cook in 10 minutes.
  3. They're colorful on a plate.
  4. Kids will eat them.
  5. They're good for you.

That list addresses some of the most important issues cooks deal with. When cooking for a family, we need recipes that are quick and easy. The food needs to look good, which is sometimes all it takes to entice a child to try it. Of course, a top priority is to serve foods that have good nutrition for our kids. This recipe makes enough for a small family, but if you have more than 3 or 4 people to feed it would be a good idea to double it.









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Brown Sugar Carrots

12 oz. sliced carrots
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, cook carrots in boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender; drain. Add butter, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Gently stir until butter is melted and brown sugar has dissolved.





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8/1/15

Basic Biscuits

There are dozens of recipes for biscuits. Many Southern biscuits are made with buttermilk and have a soft tender texture. Some types of biscuits also have cheese or herbs added. Biscuits are a quick and easy bread to make. This recipe is a basic biscuit made with regular milk. They're equally good with butter, jelly, or gravy whether you're having them for breakfast or any other meal.






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Basic Biscuits

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add shortening and cut into dry ingredients with a pastry blender until mixture is blended into fine crumbs. Add milk, stirring until dough is formed. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead several times. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thick and use a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter to cut out dough. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until browned.






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7/28/15

Pecan Coconut Bars

Cookie bars are less fuss to make than either drop cookies or roll and cut cookies. These Pecan Coconut Bars are made in two steps, but each step takes just minutes to prepare. If you're looking for a treat to serve at a shower or other gathering, the rich taste of these bars won't let you down. They can be cut into 16 squares, or for a more dainty dessert cut into smaller squares. These are pretty when placed in paper liners on a tray.







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Pecan Coconut Bars

Crust
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

Filling
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the crust - In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter, sugar, and salt. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add flour, stir until combined. Pat the dough out flat into the bottom of an ungreased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake 14 - 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To make filling - In a medium bowl, beat eggs slightly with wire whisk. Add vanilla. Gradually stir in brown sugar, just until blended. Add flour and salt; mix well. Stir in coconut and pecans. Spread mixture evenly over baked crust. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until lightly browned and filling is set. Cool for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges with a knife. Allow to cool completely, then cut into bars. Makes 16 bars.








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7/25/15

Brown Rice Casserole

The name of this casserole is somewhat misleading, as the recipe contains no brown rice. The recipe ingredient is actually white rice, but I suppose the name happened because the rice looks brown when cooked. Regardless of the name, this is a very delicious side dish. I've been making this family favorite for a number of years. I don't know where the recipe originated, perhaps with the soup mix company. The recipe was given to me by my niece Kristy.

If you make this once, I am quite certain your family will ask for it again.





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Brown Rice Casserole

1 (10.5 ounce) can beef broth
1 (10.5 ounce) can beef consommé
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 (4 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1/3 cup butter, cut in pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray. In the baking dish, combine beef broth and consommé. Add rice, soup mix, and mushrooms. Mix by stirring gently. Top with butter. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until liquid has been absorbed.





As always, my recipe was prepared with Arkansas rice in support of our rice farmers.

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7/22/15

Calling Dr. House

A couple of days ago I made a pork tenderloin. I love pork tenderloin for two reasons. One, it is delicious. Two, it slices uniformly, therefore making a beautiful presentation. But, unfortunately, pork tenderloin is not without its drawbacks. One of them is that I fear all pork. It's a groundless fear, kind of like the fear of a monster lurking in the dark closet or under the bed. I have feared monsters like that many times, but not once have I ever seen one.

I don't have photos of this last tenderloin because I didn't intend to write about it. I was using a new recipe from a usually trusted source, but when it comes to pork I don't trust anyone. The recipe clearly stated to cook the tenderloin for 15 minutes, then let it rest for 10. Fifteen minutes? Who is she kidding? I questioned the time in my mind, but set my timer anyway.

When I heard the timer beep and opened the oven, seriously, the pork looked raw. I quickly closed the oven door, having flashbacks of my health textbook from school. The fear of trichinosis flooded through me. This recipe author must be trying kill me. I suddenly remembered one of Dr. Greg House's tidbits of wisdom. "Everybody lies." Is this what he was talking about? I got my meat thermometer and tested the pork. It wasn't even close to being done by my standards.

I cooked the pork for more than twice the recommended time in order to get a thermometer reading that allayed my fears. It turned out to be quite delicious, even if I did overcook it according to the professional's recipe. The flavor was enhanced with the seasoning Herbes De Provence. I really should make it again and share the recipe, but I'm not sure who is right about the cooking time. Should the pork really only be cooked for 15 minutes as the renowned expert indicated, or is my extended cooking time correct?

Does anyone else have this fear of trichinosis from pork, or is this a crazy obsession of mine? The health books warned us about it as school children. I even saw the episode of House where the patient's life hung on a thread because of trichinosis. After ruling out lupus and a hundred other diseases, House finally had his revelation. The only answer was trichinosis. The right medicine was administered just in time to save the patient's life. And how did the patient get trichinosis? The poor girl had a pulled pork sandwich once at a picnic.

Do people actually get trichinosis from pork now? I've never heard of a single case (except the one Dr. House cured). Every time I cook pork, though, I hear the word 'trichinosis' being whispered by a villainous voice into my ear. Seems like there must be more immediate things I should fear other than this obscure disease, but few come to mind so readily.

I highly suspect if I were to actually become infected with trichinosis my doctors would probably never get it diagnosed before it got me. It just doesn't seem like the kind of ailment they have on their radar. Like the team of television doctors, they would have to schedule various tests and rule out a myriad of other diseases before trichinosis was considered. Of course, my symptoms would be atypical, confusing everyone all the more. Not to mention, my hospital doesn't even have a Dr. House. I think I'd better rely on my meat thermometer. It doesn't lie.


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7/18/15

Apricot Fried Pies

Sometimes I'll see a display of fried pies somewhere and succumbing to nostalgia, buy one. It's usually pretty disappointing because it seems no one can quite recapture the taste of the pies the little bakery in our town made years ago. I remember how hard it was to decide which kind of pie to buy when I went there, everything was so good. I know apricot, peach, and chocolate were my top three. I by no means have their recipes, but by making fried pies at home, I can get closer to that long ago taste and freshness that I remember.

The pies I made today are apricot, but any dried fruit you like will work. The pastry is the same no matter what filling is used. The best advice I can give is to be sure to roll the dough out thin, no thicker than 1/8-inch, as the self-rising flour puffs a little when it fries.










Apricot Fried Pies

Filling
1 (6 ounce) package dried apricots, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

To soak, use just enough water to cover apricots. After soaking, pour apricots and remaining water into a medium sauce pan. Add sugar and cinnamon. Cook and stir over medium -  low heat until mixture thickens. Set aside to cool.

Pastry
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
1/2 cup ice water
Oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar. Add egg yolk and shortening, mix using a pastry cutter until mixture becomes crumbly. Add ice water, stir until dough forms. Pour dough onto a floured surface and roll to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 6-inch rounds. Place 2-3 tablespoons filling on each round. Fold over and seal edges by crimping with a fork moistened in water. Place pastries on a parchment paper lined tray and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Pour oil 1/4-inch deep into heavy frying skillet. Heat to medium - high. Place a few pies at a time in the hot oil and fry 2 -3 minutes on each side until browned. Drain. Makes 8. Can be glazed or dusted with powdered sugar, if desired.







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