Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow-Cooker Ham and Beans

I’m beginning to feel more like myself again. While the underlying sadness of losing The Picky Eater is still there, now memories of him bring more smiles than tears. I’m glad. He was such a happy person and I want to remember him in happy ways.

Here is one example: A few days ago I was organizing my freezer. You know how it is when items migrate to the back and you discover a pork chop from 1999. Well, my freezer wasn't that bad, but it could be if I didn't keep on top of it.

In my digging, I discovered a large bone and bits from a ham The Picky Eater ordered off of a home shopping channel last holiday season. My sweetie was a very trusting person and believed every sales pitch he saw, which got scary when he watched those channels when I wasn't around to help him see the reality of what they are selling.

That’s what happened on a late November afternoon. I came home from somewhere to his excited announcement, “I just bought a ham. It looks so good!”

Oh no! I tried to be equally excited. “That’s great,” I said, then asked the inevitable, “How much did it cost?”
“It’s only three payments of $23,” was the answer.

After a pause, I said, “So you bought a $69 ham?”

I could see the wheels turning in The Picky Eater’s mind. Then he gave me a sheepish smile. “Yeah, I guess I did. That was too much, wasn't it?”

Actually, the ham was both delicious and huge. We had many dinners and sandwiches from it, and my just-discovered the leftovers would make one more meal—a pot of old-fashioned ham and beans.

I grew up eating this dish a lot, usually with a large slab of cornbread on the side. It was a meal I missed when living in New England, where a leftover ham bone was used for split-pea soup, and no one seemed to like it paired with beans. When I moved to Kansas, I was thrilled to find ham and beans on many restaurant menus. Of course, The Picky Eater didn't like it, so I never made it at home.

My only complaint about this dish is it can be a little bland. So instead of using all water, I used part water and part chicken broth. I also added thyme and a bay leaf. One important note: Don’t add salt. Ham is very salty, so there should be plenty in the finished dish. If you don’t have a ham bone, just use a ham hock or ham steak instead.

Slow-Cooker Ham and Beans
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 leftover ham bone, or 1 ham hock or ham steak

Rinse the beans and remove any stones or discolored beans. Add them to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours, or until the beans are tender. Remove the bone and cut up any large bits of ham before serving.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dad’s Peach Cobbler

The plan was to post this recipe on Father’s Day.

After my dad died from cancer on March 26, I wanted to honor him by posting his recipe for peach cobbler on Father’s Day. My dad was a pro at making this dessert.

Then The Picky Eater died three days before Father’s Day, and the sadness I felt at losing my father was washed up in the tidal wave of grief that comes with losing your husband and soul mate.

Four months have passed since The Picky Eater’s death, and I’m beginning to surface from the flood of sadness and pain. Plus, I recently made Dad’s cobbler for three occasions:

One was a gathering where we dedicated a memorial placed on the family farm in his honor…and my sister surprised us all by getting married!

Another was for my brother-in-law Don’s birthday. He loves peach cobbler and ate it all by himself,
starting at the center of the dessert and moving outward.

The third was just for me, because I wanted some to enjoy while I remembered.

Dad was a rock of a man. It is still hard to picture the world without him in it. He worked hard to support his family, chased his dreams when he could, donated his time to causes that were important to him, and made friends with everyone. So many friends, in fact, that his memorial service filled the church my parents attended.

My dad taught me:

  • How to throw a football.
  • The importance of knowing what is going on in the world. (The Picky Eater would see me withmy coffee and newspaper each morning and say, “You are just like your dad.”)
  • How to be a good citizen by knowing the issues and voting.
  • How to make a great peach cobbler. He loved to cook, and even though I learned a lot about cooking from Mom and her mother, I got the love-of-preparing-food gene from Dad and his family.

Dad’s Peach Cobbler

Dad made his cobbler in an 11- by 7-inch baking dish, but I had trouble rolling out the dough to fit the dish, so I recommend a 9- by 9-inch one instead. Feel free to use your own crust recipe or one of the ready-made crusts available at the grocery store. The dish is meant to look rustic, so don’t fret too much about the way the crust looks. (Mom told me there were times Dad would get so frustrated with his crust that he would throw it away and start again!) The warm cobbler tastes wonderful with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but I also like it as Dad did, with some cold milk poured on top. (The picture is of the hand-written recipe Dad gave me years ago.)

For crust:
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup shortening, chilled and cut into cubes
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/3 to 1/2 cup water

For cobbler:
2 large cans peach halves or sliced peaches in heavy syrup
2 eggs, divided
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl, or a food processor, mix together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening, or pulse with the food processor, until the mixture resembles course sand. Mix in just enough water to form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out one half of the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Place into a deep-sided, 9- x 9-inch baking dish. Add the peach halves, cut side up. (You may not have room for all of the peaches.)
In a small bowl, mix together one egg, flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and melted butter. Spoon over the peach peaches.

Roll out the remaining half of dough. Place on top of peaches and crimp together the edges. Make slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape. Place into the freezer for 5 minutes to chill.

Beat together the remaining egg and water to make an egg wash. Remove the cobbler from the freezer and brush on top of crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice is bubbling from the slits. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or a little milk on top.

 The Picky Eater with Dad in May, 2013.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brownies for Two…or One

I’m in trouble.

Serious trouble.

I tried this fudgy brownie recipe from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

It was easy to make.

It was amazingly delicious.

See why I’m in trouble?

Like the other recipes in the cookbook, this one is sized for two people. However, since it makes eight brownies, it is also an easy dessert for a bigger family. It would also make a great after school/hayride/leaf raking treat.

Not to mention it is the perfect size for one person whenever a chocolate craving strikes. Plus, there should be some left over for the next day or two.

Should be…

Brownies for Two
Adapted from The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Make 8 brownies

I add a touch of instant espresso powder, which gives a depth of flavor to the brownies. However, the recipe works just as well without it.

3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Or, for easy removal, make a foil sling for the pan by folding two sheets of foil to fit each direction of the pan. Line the pan with the foil sheets, leaving the excess to hang over the sides for easy removal of the brownies once they cool. Spray the foil with the non-stick spray. Set aside.

Place the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder into a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30-second increments until the chocolate is melted and smooth, stirring after each 30 seconds. Should only take 1 minute max. (This step can also be done by placing the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.)

Let the chocolate cool for a bit, until just slightly warm, and then whisk in the sugar. Next whisk in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, salt, and espresso powder. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing it out to fill all of the corners and flatten the top. Bake for 24 to 28 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with only a few crumbs. Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow the brownies to cool completely. Cut into 8 squares.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Apple Raisin Soda Bread

This is my new favorite autumn quick bread. I adapted this recipe a few weeks ago from one I found in The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso for an article on quick breads that ran in the Topeka Capital-Journal. What I like about this bread is its yeast-bread-like quality, which differs from most quick bread recipes. I serve it cut into wedges, much like a scone. Be sure to use a tart apple when making this bread, such as a Granny Smith.

Apple Raisin Soda Bread
Adapted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
Makes 1 loaf

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for the top
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup buttermilk (or whole milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar added)
1 large Granny Smith apple, pealed and cut into small dice
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. If you haven’t already done so, melt the butter and set aside. Also, if you are substituting the milk-vinegar mixture for buttermilk, you will want to add the vinegar to the milk now and set aside. Before using, remove 1 tablespoon of the milk mixture to create the correct measurement.

In a large bowl, blend together with a whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Pour in the melted butter and mix with a spoon until the butter is well distributed throughout the flour mixture. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Fold the milk into the flour mixture until it is just combined. Fold in the apples, raisins and caraway seeds.

The mixture will be very sticky. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball, and then place it in the prepared cake pan. Flatten it slightly, but not so much that it fills the pan. The dough should not reach the edge of the pan. Sprinkle the top with 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, and then remove the bread onto the rack to cool for at least another 15 minutes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Love Notes

Currently I am reading Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, which is the latest in the Mitford series by author Jan Karon. I always enjoy the books in this series. The settings and characters are warm, comforting, and full of life. I feel uplifted and happy at the end of each one.

In this particular edition, the main character, Father Tim, and his wife, Cynthia, agree to write regular love notes to each other. They feel it is a good way to increase their love and the sense of intimacy in their relationship.

The idea made me smile.

The Picky Eater and I wrote many love notes to each other. They weren't planned, but were spontaneous gestures of love and caring. He worked as a courier overnight and often, when I missed him while alone in the late evening, I wrote him a note and left it on the dining room table. In return, there were many times I woke up to a surprise note left for me that he penned before coming to bed.
This one in the frame was very special. He wrote it a few weeks before our wedding day. After reading it, I immediately hung it up with a thumb tack over my desk so I could see it anytime I needed encouragement. Not long ago, I framed it to keep there always.

Each year we celebrated the anniversary of our first date, which also happens to be Veterans Day. Part of our celebration was to read together the emails we exchanged in the early days of our relationship, first through Match.com and, after that first date, directly to each other. Many were written after arriving home from a date, expressing the wonder and joy of finding new love.

It has been three months since I lost The Picky Eater—actually, 14 weeks this Thursday. Many times when I miss him the most and need to feel his love, I pull out his notes to me. They are some of the greatest gifts I have from him. Also, as I started going through his things, I found the ones I wrote to him, which is another loving gift.

I want to encourage you to write love notes to the person (or people) who means the most to you. They don’t have to be fancy or grammatically correct. Just write from the heart. Not only do these notes brighten the moment, but they are also a tangible way to show love that can be enjoyed again and again. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Australian Potato-Zucchini Soup

A few weeks ago, I went to one of the most enjoyable dinner parties I've ever attended. My friends, Lucas and Katie, host an occasional international dinner for family and friends. They pick a country and create a menu featuring its native dishes.

What made this dinner party a bit different from the norm was the guests all joined in to help prepare the meal! We gathered together in the kitchen and divided up the recipes according to our culinary skills. The camaraderie was wonderful as we all worked on our particular dishes while chatting about food and life. Then we settled into the dining room to enjoy our efforts.

On this particular night, the theme was Australia. No, kangaroo meat wasn't on the menu, but there was a wonderful meat pie and a spinach recipe appropriately named “Spinach Like You've Never Had.”  (It was delicious!.) Vegemite was used in a baked cheese pinwheel so everyone could give this traditional Aussie product a try, and I mixed up damper bread, which is similar to Irish soda bread and traditionally made over a camp fire. (I want to try this recipe again—I wasn't happy with the results, even though everyone else seemed to like it.)

The recipe that stayed with me long after the meal was over was the potato-zucchini soup. To be honest, I’m not certain just how Australian this soup is, but it's delicious. (Aussie readers, please comment!) It reminds me of my favorite potato-leek soup recipe from Julia Child.

The recipe is easy to make and quick enough for a weeknight meal. Just add some bread, and you’ll be all set!

Australian Potato-Zucchini Soup

This recipe is adapted from one found on the Australian AllRecipes website. It calls for the use of bouillon cubes and water, but you could certainly substitute chicken or vegetable stock instead. Also, the original recipe said to puree the soup before serving, but I like a more rustic dish. So I only peeled half the zucchini, and then I used a potato masher to smash some of the potato and zucchini.

Serves 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 to 3 cups diced zucchini, half peeled and half left with the skin
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 chicken bouillon cubes
2 1/2 to 3 cups water
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and saute to soften. Add the zucchini and
saute to soften slightly, and then add the potatoes. Next pour in the water to cover and add the bouillon cubes. Bring up to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Mash the mixture with a potato masher, leaving some of the potatoes and zucchini whole. Add the cream and salt and pepper. Serve.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Southern Frost

Labor Day Weekend is cause for celebration around here. 

To the Picky Eater’s family, this is also known as Fantasy Football Draft weekend, and they do it up big. The fun kicks off with a golf tournament and ends with the actual draft for the family fantasy football league, which has been in existence for nine years.

The Picky Eater looked forward to this weekend all year. He took an extra day off on the chance his high school football team would play their home opener on Friday. He got his golf bag ready and made last minute changes to his draft list, all in preparation for the days ahead.

This year, the family is letting me take over The Picky Eater’s team, which is big news since I am the first female allowed to participate. The guys are already fearful about being the first one to lose to my team. They know I know football very well, but to lose to a woman? Oh the horror!

I like Labor Day Weekend because it also signals the end of my least-favorite season and the approach of my favorite months of the year. I love the “ber” months—September, October, November, and December.

Let's have a final toast to summer with one of my favorite seasonal drinks, the Southern Frost. It's simple to make and refreshing to drink on a hot summer afternoon. Of course, all of the ingredients can be adjusted to fit your taste. I typically add extra ginger ale.

Southern Frost

1 1/2 ounces Southern Comfort
2 ounces cranberry juice
2 ounces ginger ale, or to taste

Add the ingredients to a highball or rocks glass over ice. Stir to combine. Add more ginger ale if desired to fill the glass.