Friday, October 31, 2014

Chicken Chowder for Halloween



Happy Halloween!


I enjoy this festive night. Young ones finally get to wear the costumes they have talked about for weeks, beguiled by the promise of full candy bags and the mystery of a nighttime adventure in streets filled with spooky creatures. Their parents spend the evening juggling tasks: Taking the kids trick or treating, handing out candy, and trying to get everyone to eat a healthy meal before diving into the candy pile.

Yes, grown-ups, this includes you, too. I know the seduction of a full Halloween candy bowl!

To simplify the evening, make a big pot of this easy Chicken Chowder. The recipe features leftover chicken (a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket works), and can be made in advance and kept warm until time to eat.

I made this recipe many times last winter. The Picky Eater loved it, except for one ingredient. He asked, “Why do you put potatoes in it?”

I answered, “Because chowder traditionally has potatoes.”

“I don’t like potatoes in soup,” he said. (This was news to me!) “Can’t you put noodles in instead?”

“Um, sure,” I said. “Then it’s creamy chicken noodle soup.”

He was happy.

Whether you use potatoes or noodles, this soup will fill-up and nourish all the goblins in your house.

(It is also a great basic chowder recipe. Just switch out the chicken for corn, clams, fish or anything else you would like in chowder.)

Chicken Chowder
Serves 6 to 8 people

4 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
4 tablespoons flour
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 to 6 carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, cubed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the cut-up bacon and cook until brown and crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Set the cooked bacon aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and celery. Saute until the onion is tender and translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the onion-celery mixture and stir for 1 minute, until the fat is absorbed by the flour. Pour in the chicken broth, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, potatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to low, cover and simmer until the carrots and potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the cooked chicken to heat through. Then pour in the cream or half and half. Add salt and pepper, to taste.


To serve, ladle the chowder into bowls and top with the cooked bacon.     

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn Mulled Wine for the Holidays





Now that autumn has chilled the air, my thoughts turned to beverages that warm the body and soul. Besides a morning cup of coffee (or two...maybe three) and afternoon tea, I wanted a grown-up drink to sip in the evening while watching seasonal movies or reading a cozy book.

My first thought was hot apple cider with a little added brandy or cinnamon schnapps, but that didn't strike my taste fancy. Then I considered hot chocolate with the addition of a coffee or Irish liqueur, but it didn't seem cold enough for such a rich drink.

Ah, mulled wine! I've always wanted to try it, ever since watching George Bailey and Clarence, Angel Second Class, order drinks at Martini’s—or what George thought was Martini’s—in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. When Clarence decides it’s not nearly cold enough for a flaming rum punch, he orders, “Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively.”

My version starts with a bottle of Missouri’s Baltimore Bend Vineyard’s C2, but any good dry red wine will do. The addition of apple cider and brown sugar provides sweetness, balanced by fresh orange juice and zest. Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and half of a nutmeg add spice, and a final splash of brandy gives warmth beyond the stove’s heat. 

Mulled wine not only warms up a late autumn evening, it will also be lovely served as an after-Thanksgiving-dinner drink. Plus, I can vision keeping a pot on the stove for a holiday party, Christmas Eve celebration, a wind-down drink on Christmas evening, or a warm beverage to see in the New Year.

Mulled Wine with Apple Cider

1 (750 ml) bottle dry read wine
4 cups apple cider
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 to 4 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
1/2 whole nutmeg
The juice and zest of 1 large orange
1/4 cup brandy
Cinnamon sticks and orange peels, for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients except the brandy in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the brandy. Serve in mugs with a cinnamon stick and an orange peel.


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.