Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cast Iron Corn Bread

Cast iron skillets are usually passed down from cook to cook, but the newest cast iron by Lodge is pre-seasoned and oh-so easy to clean, and cook with.  This skillet would make a great "basket" to give with a corn bread mix, to your friends or family. 

If you elect to give a less expensive gift, consider a jar, or burlap sack lined with a plastic bag to hold the mix.  A jar of jam, or homemade honey butter makes a nice addition to the basket, too. 

Southern Cornbread Mix
Makes about 2 3/4 cups

1/2 cup dried buttermilk powder (Saco or King Arthur Flour)
1 2/3 cups white cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Stir the ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Transfer the cornbread mix to an airtight container and label with a 1 month expiration date.

Southern Cornbread

Makes one 10-inch round

2 tablespoons butter, melted
One bag Southern Cornbread Mix
2 cups water
1 large egg, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  While the oven is preheating, place the butter into a 10-inch cast iron skillet, glass or ceramic pie plate, and melt the butter in the oven while you prepare the batter.
  2. Place the cornbread mix into a large mixing bowl. 
  3. Make a well in the center, add the water and egg, stirring until blended. 
  4. Pour the batter into the hot skillet, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs on it.  Serve the cornbread warm with butter, and honey or homemade jam.
I'll be back on Monday with a few more ideas for your gift giving; until then, enjoy Halloween. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Gifts from your Kitchen


You've seen them in boutiques, and gourmet stores; those lovely soup mixes in bags tied with raffia, or layered in jars.  Most cost about $10, but you could make several on your own for a fraction of the retail cost.  This is a great way to get your kids involved in gift giving this holiday season; even a two year old can measure beans, or lentils or split peas.
How you choose to wrap yours is up to you--sometimes I will layer them in a plastic bag, tie with raffia, and then set the mix into a soup ladle, and tie it to the ladle with additional raffia.  Or, I will layer the ingredients in a jar, cover with scrap fabric that I've cut with pinking shears, and attach the recipe to the ribbon.  The empty jar can be reused by the recipient after the soup is made (maybe for leftovers).  This soup is especially colorful as well as delicious when it's made.  I urge you to buy your beans from bulk bins in health food or natural grocers; they are generally fresher, and you can buy what you need.

Confetti Split Pea Soup Mix
Makes about 3 1/4 cups

1/2 cup yellow split peas
1/2 cup red lentils
2 cups green split peas
5 chicken bouillon cubes, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
  1. Layer the ingredients in the order given into a 3 1/2 cup jar, or stir the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. 
  2. Label with a 3 month expiration date.  I like to attach a small bottle of Tabasco to the jar or bag.
Confetti Split Pea Soup
Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
One package  Confetti Split Pea Soup Mix
6 cups water

  1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion, carrot and celery until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. 
  2. Add the soup mix, and stir to coat the peas.  Add the water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for 1 1/2 to hours, until the peas have split.  
  3. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, remove the bay leaf and serve. 

Of course, this gift could be part of a larger basket, with a bread mix (tomorrow) and a dessert mix if you want to round it out a bit more. Think about giving this in a stock pot, or a bean pot, for a more generous gift. I'll be back this weekend with a few more ideas for gift giving, until then, enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gifts From Your Kitchen

Don't groan, but with less than 2 months till Christmas, it's time to make your list and check it twice.  This is a year where many of us are looking for ways to make nice gifts for friends, that don't involve a lot of time, or money, and have I got a deal for you.  

For the rest of this week, I will be posting recipes for great mixes to make to give as gifts to your friends and family.  Combine two or three in a basket, or give one as a hostess gift, or to your neighbors.  You can be as creative as you'd like, I'll just be your coach, and feel free to e-mail me and let me know how you are doing---photos of you and your family/friends making mixes are always welcome here!

Sugar Cookie Mix
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoons vanilla powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight jar or container.  Label with a 2 month expiration date.  If you don't include the vanilla powder, make sure to add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract to the ingredients in the recipe card.

Recipe Card:

Awesome Cut Out Sugar Cookies

One package Sugar Cookie Mix
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth, add the Sugar Cookie Mix, egg, and milk and beat until the mixture begins to come together.  
Shape the dough into two balls, and flatten slightly.  Wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until firm.  
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with silicone liners.  
Sprinkle the rolling surface with some of the confectioners' sugar.  Using one half of the dough, roll it out about 1/8-inch thick, and cut into 2-inch shapes with seasonal cookie cutters.  Place the cookies 1-inch apart on the baking sheets and bake for 7 minutes, until lightly browned on the edges. Cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheets, and remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Repeat with the second 1/2 of the dough, until all the cookies are baked.     


Makes about 6 cups
6 cups confectioners' sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract
1/4 cup milk as needed to thin the frosting

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter together until smooth.  Add the vanilla and dribble in enough milk to make the frosting spreading consistency.  Divide the frosting into 3 or 4 bowls, and tint the bowls with food colors of the season, and keep one white.  Fill pastry bags, and pipe the frosting onto cooled cookies. 

I picture giving this gift in a variety of ways; one would be to present the mix in a basket with cookie cutters, sprinkles, and edible decorations for the season.  Another way is to give the mix in a jar, and tie a cookie cutter to the ribbon on the jar, along with the recipe card.  For the pint-sized chef, you could make up a basket with an apron, chef's hat, small rolling pin, and all the things necessary to make these cookies. 
Whichever way you choose to give this gift, it will be one that will bring lots of joy to the family that eats these cookies.  

This is a basket I made last year for an auction; I did cheat, and used a pre-prepared cookie mix.  

There's a bit of food for thought---I'll be back on Friday or Saturday with another mix for you to tuck away in your recipe file, until then, remember that it's the thought that counts.  
If you are looking for more mix ideas here's a great book with lots of cooking and non-cooking ideas. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bundles of Love

Several months ago, when I began the blog I told you about an Army Major Art La Flamme who started a project called IBOL, or Iraqi Bundles of Love.  His aim was to have quilters,sewers and knitters send a USPS flat rate shipping box filled with sewing and knitting supplies (fabric, thread, yarn, scissors, you name it) and he and his men would distribute them to Iraqi sewing co-ops in Northern Iraq. Here is Art with the first load!

Last year, Art got over 3500 boxes from all over the world as well as quilt stores who filled boxes if their patrons donated to the cause.  This year Art is home from Iraq, but still a true believer.  A friend in Iraq told him they would be able to take over this year--with a deadline of October 1, they received 900 boxes, and these are photos of the distribution.
Look at all that thread!
Interview on Iraq radio station
 Look at those cute clothes on the wall, all from donations!

I'm convinced it's not the quantity of the giving, it is what's at the heart of the giving that matters.  As we enter this holiday season (2 months till Christmas) think about the gifts you will give this year and make a difference in someone else's life.  Too many people at home in the U.S. and abroad suffer daily, and it's only when each one of us tries to make a difference, one person at a time, does fear disappear and understanding begins. 
Tomorrow I'll post on gifts from your kitchen to give for the holidays---until then, I hope your day is filled with joy. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Got Milk?

I taught tonight at KitchenArt in West Lafayette, Indiana,and came back to the hotel and found this link to an organic dairy in Britain.  When was the last time you saw your local farmer rapping?  I love this---if you aren't drinking organic milk, it's time you started!  Enjoy, I'll be back tomorrow with something new, until then, sleep well. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On the Road Again

It's that time of year again, where I head out to the mid-west and East Coast and teach in some of my favorite places.  I get to sneak in visits with our son Ryan in Bloomington, Indiana (home of the Indiana Hoosiers)and friends along the way. 
I'll be teaching in West Lafayette, Indiana for the next two days, then head to Cincinnati for two more classes---after that it's a bit fuzzy!  Every day brings a different group of students, and a different menu, and keeping it all straight is
a feat of mental gymnastics sometimes, but I love teaching and this is when I get to find out what people are really cooking in their kitchens, rather than depending on magazines and newspapers for information.  

 Fall has come to Bloomington---leaves in full blaze are something that we don't see very often in Southern California and the colors are amazing. 

Dunn Chapel, IU

Red Clocks on IU campus, I'd love one on my patio!
I'll be posting throughout the week, as I make my way across the heartland. I hope you've had a great weekend, I'm still recovering from the Chargers' loss today. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Take 5 Tuesday

The bulbous butternut squash is not the most attractive vegetable in the produce section, but much like that girl in high school who didn't look like much but had a great personality, it's what's inside the squash that is so amazing. 
Butternut squash is delicious in so many ways; roasted, tossed with pasta and Italian sausage, pureed into soup, and tossed with vegetables in a salad with balsamic vinegar.  There really isn't any way to ruin it, which is the best news!  
 On rainy days like today, butternut squash is a great vegetable to use to turn into dinner, and I have a few ways to try it. First we'll roast it at a high temperature in the oven for about 20 minutes, until it is tender.  Roasting brings the sweetness of the squash to the forefront, and gives it a great smoky quality.  

Arrange the squash on a baking pan, with a silicone baking liner.  Drizzle with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  You can add spice if you would like--I used about 1/2 teaspoon of dried sage leaves for flavor, but you can use cumin, chili powder, curry powder, thyme, any number of flavors for this dish.  

Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the squash shows no resistance when the sharp tip of a knife is inserted into the squash.  Remove from the oven; at this point, the squash can be served as a side dish (how easy is that?) or we can turn it into dinner. I decided to make it into soup, on a day like today, soup is good food.

Place the squash into a saucepan and add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth.

Puree with an immersion blender, adding more broth if the soup is too thick.  Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream, if you want this to be luxurious---I don't know about you, but when the weather is nasty, I will take all the comfort I can get!

Taste for seasoning, if you want a little zing, instead of adding ground pepper opt for Hot Sauce--I this case I used Franks (of Buffalo Chicken Wing fame) you can use Tabasco, too.  

Serve your soup garnished with croutons, lump crab meat, or crumbled goat cheese.  

Other ideas using the roasted butternut squash:
  • cook 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage, drain off the fat, add squash and 1/2 cup chicken broth or heavy cream to the sausage in the skillet, and toss the sausage and squash with 1 pound of Penne, cooked al dente.  Garnish with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  
  • Using your favorite risotto recipe, add 1 1/2 cups of roasted butternut squash when you add the rice to the pan. Garnish with Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.
Roasted Butternut Squash

Makes about 4 cups

4 cups peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon your favorite flavoring, optional (I used sage leaves)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Arrange the squash on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or a silicone baking liner.  Toss the squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and flavoring.  Roast the squash for 20 minutes, until tender. 

A Few of My Favorite Things

It's been raining here all weekend, and I haven't felt like cooking, except for the hot chocolate you see above, so I thought I'd share a few of my favorite ingredients with you.  

For baking, I love Scharffenberger Chocolate; it is divine!  Bakers' Joy is a non-stick cooking spray that incorporates fat and flour in the spray, so nothing sticks---love that!

King Arthur Flour; I am loving the organic all-purpose but have used the unbleached (non-organic) for years.  Check out their website here, it's awesome, with great products and recipes.  You can find the flour at most large supermarkets.  I haven't
forgiven Trader Joe's for discontinuing it!

B.R. Cohn (former manager of the Doobie Brothers) has a winery in Glen Ellen, California, but I love their vinegars!  The Pear Chardonnay is awesome and the 25 year old Balsamic is a bargain at the price, and is syrupy and delicious!  I love Sea Salt (although most commercial salt comes from the sea)  These are two of my faves---Cyprus Flaky Sea Salt and Baleine (I use the coarse for grinding)  Salt, like wine, and olive oil has to do with individual taste, and you should choose a salt that tastes clean (many are so processed you get that aftertaste) and has the right salt feel for your tongue.

For risotto, nothing better!

Really good quality olive oil; again, oils are subject to taste, and these are so delicious you could drink them--you can order them here.

Traditionally made Balsamic vinegar is only sold in this shape bottle.  If you buy a balsamic in another shaped bottle, it hasn't been made by the traditional methods and probably has added caramel color and sugar.  You can buy this here.

Caffe Calabria, a local coffee roaster, roasts the best coffee for your espresso machine; I'm addicted.  Cento San Marzano tomatoes are especially delicious, and these come in a glass jar, making them easy to store if you just need a 1/2 cup for a recipe. 

 Barilla is the largest maker of pasta in the world, and if you go into an Italian market, the aisle of pasta is dominated by Barilla, in shapes you have never seen before; the pasta cooks right every time, they now make whole grain pastas, and terrific no-cook lasagna noodles. 
Finally, nutella, I can't count the ways I love this smooth, creamy, chocolate spread laced with hazelnuts.  Move over peanut butter, this is my new fave on toast!

I'll be back tomorrow with a Take 5 and some other fun ideas.  Have a wonderful day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Farewell to June

Barbara Billingsley, better known as June Cleaver, the star of the hit TV series, Leave it to Beaver, died Saturday.  For those of you who are old enough to remember when television only came in two colors, black and white, this was a show everyone watched; the perfect parents, never getting too mad at their kids, the kids getting themselves into dumb predicaments, and mom always there serving the best dinners, with dessert every night.  June was the woman on the magazine covers with the perfect husband, the perfect children and the perfect wardrobe, even her aprons were stylish!

 For me, watching June and Ward parent their boys was like watching aliens---everything looked so perfect and normal, and the food they ate was straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook.  I grew up in a household where my mom cooked Italian most of the time, and I'd beg her to make Tuna Noodle casserole like my friends' moms---and my dad's reactions to things would make a volcanic eruption seem like a burp.  So, watching June, I imagined what it would be like to be the Beaver, and have parents that were perfect---in some ways I think it would have been awfully boring, but on the other hand, it would have kept my ulcer under control!

June wore lovely clothes, and could get away with a look like this.  The look is coming back if you have been watching Mad Men.

And, when it was hot outside, June always had lemonade for the boys, as if on cue, she would have the most adorable sets of glasses on a tray and a pitcher dripping with sweat because the lemonade was so cold. No juice boxes for this woman! 

And as if she couldn't be anymore perfect, she always invited you to stay for dinner; and that included this guy, Eddie Haskell---if June could love Eddie, she was OK in my book!

For those of us who grew up watching June, Ward, Wally, and Beaver, June was the glue that kept them together and the one we loved--Thanks for the memories Barbara Billingsley, rest in peace. 
In honor of June Cleaver, the mom who always had the perfect dinner on the table I offer this recipe for that 50's classic Tuna Noodle Casserole.  

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Serves 6

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup finely chopped onion

½ cup finely chopped celery

½ pound sliced button mushrooms

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

4 shakes Tabasco

Salt to taste

One pound medium egg noodles, cooked al dente and drained

Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna packed in oil, drained well, and flaked into chunks

1 cup frozen petite size peas, defrosted and drained well

1 cup crushed potato chips

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, and sauté the onion, and celery for about 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to color and their liquid has evaporated.

3. Sprinkle with the flour, and stir until the flour disappears. Cook the vegetables for 2 minutes, and then gradually add the broth and milk, stirring up any bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pan. Season the sauce with the Tabasco and salt to taste.

4. Spread a thin layer of the sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish. Stir 1 ½ cups of the sauce into the noodles, then stir in the tuna and peas, until they are evenly distributed.

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and cover with the remaining sauce.

6. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir into the potato chips and cheese, tossing to blend. Sprinkle on top of the casserole.

7. Do-Ahead: Cover and refrigerate for 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

8. Bring the casserole to room temperature and bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden brown.