Mer Lil’s Taffy

September 30th, 2009
by: Sue

My friend MJ’s mom Lil brought this recipe from New England where she grew up. It’s a great candy and becomes a family activity! The following recipe was sent to us this year because we couldn’t find the recipe but MJ did find it for us.

Guess what! Remember when I said I was going through a lot of old pictures and stuff? Well, I found the recipe for Mer Lil’s taffy. She wrote: Please make this for Matt & Christy Baron (sic). He loves it. I’ll send the recipe to Sue Baron, too:

“Make taffy only when you have help to pull it.

You must find real pure ribbon cane syrup. No other syrup will work. I looked and they don’t have it in Plains.

1 cup syrup
1 cup sugar

Mix well – it will be thick. Add:

1 Tblspn butter (real butter makes it better)

Bring to a fast boil, turn heat down and cook until hard crack. Be sure not to stir it at any time while it’s cooking. I usually test in water, or when mixture makes strings.

Pour into lightly butter-greased cookie sheet. Cool fast, until it can be handled. (Almost too hot to handle, but not quite.)

Divide into pieces that fit the number of people who are helping. Pull until you can’t pull it any longer. It turns light golden blonde color, pull (or twist if you want) into rope and cut with scissors into bite-sized pieces. It will start to harden, so cut fast. I usually butter the plates I put the candy in. Try not to let them touch, because they’ll stick together.

It works good as coughdrops, too.

As I write this, it makes me lonesome to be there with you and your friends in Plains …”

Vegetable Soup

September 29th, 2009
by: Sue

This soup is full of goodness, with the vegetables you must eat to be healthy and have some trouble getting into your menu. We eat this at any time of the day or night when we are hungry and want to limit calories while eating healthy. May be topped with a dollop of plain yogurt or reduced fat sour cream & no fat cheese. Warning: you may want to take some Gas Ex before eating it unless you feel like living dangerously.

1 head cabbage, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 medium onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
6 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
6 spines celery, split down the middle and sliced 1/4″ thick
2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen
3 – 4 medium potatoes (Yukon gold preferably) peeled, quartered, and sliced 1/4″ thick
(or subsitute turnips if you are trying to eat low carb)
2 jalapenos (optional)
1 box of Pacific chicken broth
1 cup red wine (or more if you like)
2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
1 large can V-8 juice
crushed red pepper to laste
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
okra, sliced
squash (add at the last 20 minutes)

Chop the vegetables, place all the ingredients in a large soup pot and cook on medium low for 2 – 3 hours. Try not to boil. This soup may be kept refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for several days. Good cold or hot, you may add any leftovers you have to it including meat.

Southwestern Squash Casserole

September 29th, 2009
by: Sue

When summer squash is in season, we love to eat this squash casserole. It contains the magic of green chiles, onions, and the bite of parmesan cheese. Not your typical runny squash casserole, it works if you are on a low carb diet.

1 1/2 pounds yellow squash, sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup roasted green chile or four ounce can green chilies
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Saute together squash and onion in butter in skillet until tender crisp. Add chilies, flour, salt and pepper and mix well. Pour into greased 2 quart baking dish or 9×12 baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Combine egg, cottage cheese & parsley. Pour over squash mixture. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over top. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Yields 8 servings.

Cooking with Blue

September 29th, 2009
by: Sue

From the time she could walk, Blue would beg to help me cook. She’d climb up on a little stool in our tiny kitchen and break the eggs, stir the dish, put her hands in the pie dough, and generally do everything she saw me do. There’s a timeless bond that develops when you cook together. And I don’t mean opening up a frozen pizza and putting it in the oven. Enjoying the smells of good food and the pleasures that come from eating the dishes together is something every family needs to get them through the hard days and make the easy days even better.

By the time she was 7 or 8, Grue had her making pancakes on Saturday morning, and she just loved cooking for him and making him happy. Before long, Blue was striking out on her own and trying her hand at new recipes, new places, and experiencing things she would never have experienced in West Texas. Her experience working in restaurants taught her a lot about food and the presentation of food. Her greatest strength as a cook is that she is fearless in trying new things regardless of the difficulty involved.

The best time of the year is Thanksgiving when Blue and I meet at her home and cook together in her kitchen. It’s a regular flour fest as we make pies and try to outdo what we did the year before. Regardless of how hard we prepare, Darrell and Grue have to run to the supermarket for three or four times as we prepare, cook, bake, and brainstorm our way through the menu.

At times we have to use that visualization technique of remembering how it looked when Mema made our favorite dishes. Blue successfully reverse engineered the chocolate meringue pie that Mema left us a recipe for but no one had been able to get the same results with.

Can’t wait for next Thanksgiving! We’ll once again do that exercise in trying to find the perfect techniques with the perfect ingredients and if we fail who cares? It will be fun.

Avocado Salsa

September 29th, 2009
by: Sue

This recipe was developed because all the ingredients were sitting on my kitchen counter. We love this salsa with breakfast, and it’s a flavorful way to get your vegetables with the first meal of the day. It’s especially good to give flavor and texture to accompany things that tend to be a bit on the bland or textureless side.
It doesn’t carry over well so you need to eat it pretty soon after making it, no problem at my house

2 ripe avocados
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or lime)
3 Roma tomatoes, diced (if using other type of tomatoes, drain off excess juice)
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
Chopped cilantro to taste
1 medium hot fresh jalapeno, diced (or roasted green chili)
salt & pepper
olive oil

Halve the avocados, remove the seeds and remove the peel. Finely dice the avocado and sprinkle on lemon juice to prevent it from darkening. Add the diced tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno and gently toss together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle olive oil over top.

We love this salsa with grits, eggs, tamale pie, and on on a tostada. Serves 2 at my house. If you don’t have fresh peppers, canned jalapenos are good, too. Frozen Albuquerque Tortilla Company Autumn Roast chiles are also heavenly.

Blackberry Chipotle Jam

September 28th, 2009
by: Blue

Read my jelly tips here.

4 cups prepared fruit (buy about 2 qt. fully ripe blackberries, preferably fresh)
3 Chipotle peppers
7 cups  sugar, measured into separate bowl
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine
1 pouch  CERTO liquid fruit pectin
9 8-oz jelly jars
9 jar screw bands and flat lids
1 gallon pitcher

Prepare the fruit:  I usually prep the fruit ahead of time. Crush blackberries thoroughly, one layer at a time.  Press half of the pulp through a sieve to remove some of the seeds, if desired. Me? I like the seeds, I never sieve them out. Process chipotle peppers in food processor and add to blackberries.  Measure exactly 4 cups prepared fruit into 6 or 8 quart saucepot and set aside (if preparing the fruit ahead of time I place the measured 4 cups of fruit into a ziploc baggie to store it until I am ready to make the jelly).

Prepare the jars:  This recipe will usually make 8 8-oz jars of jelly, but I always prepare one extra jar.  So, wash 9  jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water and dry completely.  Line jars up side by side, very close to each other, and very close to the  edge of the counter.  This positioning will assist you when pouring the jelly from the gallon pitcher.  Bring about 3 cups of water to boil. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use.  Place gallon pitcher in sink (when you pour the jelly in it, if any spills it will be in the sink and not on your counter or floor).

Make the jelly:  Place pot with fruit inside on stovetop and turn burner on high.  Add sugar to pot; stir. Add butter to reduce foaming. Stir constantly.  Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.  It’s important enough to repeat twice, stir constantly (actually that’s the third time, I bet you get it now).  Stir in liquid pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly (fourth time!). Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Fill the jars and seal:  This is the part where you need to work quickly, prepare yourself.  Pour jelly into the gallon pitcher; and immediately pour into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. If needed wipe jar rims and threads.  I don’t usually have to wipe anything because pouring the jelly from a pitcher is quite neat. Cover the jars with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly! Place jars upside down on counter, and leave them for around 10 minutes. Turn the jars back upright and leave them to cool down and seal.  As the lids cool you’ll start to hear them POP! as they seal.  I love this sound.  When they are completely cool press down on the middle of the dome lids to make sure that they are properly sealed. If the lid springs back it is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

Jammin’ Jelly Tips

September 28th, 2009
by: Blue

Every year I make jelly for Christmas, and I gift friends and family with it.  I have done this for so many years that there is no question on whether I will make it or not each year; my family just knows that I will.  Making jelly is an expression of the love in my heart. What else says love better than homemade jelly spread on a hot biscuit?

When I’m in jelly making mode I usually go through at least 40 pounds of sugar, who knows how many pounds of fruit, and wind up with around 100 jars of jelly in various flavors. Kind of crazy, isn’t it?  But I enjoy it.  One of my family’s favorite jelly that I made for the first time last year was Blackberry Chipotle Jam.  Note that when I say jelly, I really mean jam, even though I use the words  interchangeably.  I think fruit bits make jammin’ jelly! 

I’m always amazed when people are amazed that I make jelly.  It’s surprisingly easy and SO much better than store bought.

Jelly tips:
1.  My jelly recipes show a very precise methodology that makes the process easier.
2.  I use the inversion method of jelly making.  The heat from the jelly inside the jars creates a vacuum while cooling down, which causes the jars to seal.  With this method I have never had a jar of jelly go bad in over 10 years of jelly making.
3.  One of the key points in the inversion method is to get the jelly in the jar and sealed quickly, in order to lose as little heat from the jelly as possible.  I have found the easiest (and least messy) way to do this is to pour the hot jelly into a gallon pitcher, and then quickly pour jelly into the jars.  This is much easier than using a ladle.
4.  I follow the directions.  Except for when I don’t.  Everything needs a touch of creativity.  My creativity with jelly is to play with the flavors, though, and not with the method itself.  Having said that, when you play with flavors, make sure  your fruit measurements match the quantity called for in the recipe.  For example, if the recipe calls for 4 cups of fruit, don’t add 1/4 cup of peppers to the 4 cups of fruit and then make jelly.  Instead, add the peppers to the fruit, then measure 4 cups of the combination for your jelly.
5.  Liquid pectin is a far better product than the powdered pectin.  I buy the Certo brand.
6.  Never buy jelly jars in Mississippi, for some reason they are outrageously expensive there.  In San Antonio I get them at HEB for around 5 bucks a dozen.
7.  It’s awesome when empty jelly jars are returned to me for a refill!
8.  What’s a full rolling boil?  If you are not familiar with what a full rolling boil is, keep this in mind:  If you wonder if it’s at a full rolling boil, it’s probably not.  When it reaches the full rolling boil stage it’s pretty obvious and it doesn’t stop boiling when you stir it.  When it reaches a full rolling boil you’ll say to yourself “Ohhhhh, there’s no question, it’s there.”
9.  Fresh fruit is preferable, but frozen is good as well.  Just thaw the fruit completely before you prep it for jelly.
10.  You can reuse the jars and screwbands, but never reuse the flat lids.  Always buy new ones.  The rubber on the bottom of the lids is not meant to seal properly more than once.

Mrs. Motley’s Banana Nut Cake

September 28th, 2009
by: Sue

This is a wonderful cake, sweeter than the traditional banana nut bread but having many of the same characteristics. My Mom used to make it then glaze it with a mashed banana & powdered sugar glaze. It’s good with or without a glaze. Moist and luscious, it goes well with your morning coffee.

1/2 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted

Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs and beat until fluffy. Add mashed bananas and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly. Stir in pecans.

Place dough into two greased floured loaf pans or one tube pan and bake at 325 until browned.

Lasagne, English Style

September 28th, 2009
by: Sue

This dish uses a bechamel sauce between the layers of lasagne noodles and sauce instead of calorie-heavy cheese. The result is a creamy dish that avoids the dryness that you frequently see in lasagne. Using no boil noodles also cuts down the preparation time and assures a noodle that is not overcooked. You can substitute Italian cheeses for the chedddar cheese topping if you want the more traditional Italian flavors. Easy and great tasting, I serve this to guests with more confidence than my old lasagne recipe which was sometimes just too dry and unpredictable.

Meat Sauce:
1Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chdopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes in puree

Bechamel Sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups 2% reduced-fat milk

12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded aged Cheddar cheese

Heat a large skillet and add olive oil. Add the beef and sausage in a large skillet and cook over medium high heat about 10 minutes, breaking into small pieces. Cook until browned, then spoon out most of the fat. Add onion and garlic, saute 5 minutes over medium heat. Add wine, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until wine is nearly evaporated. Stir in tomato paste, parsley, crushed red pepper and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook and stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook and stir with whisk about 10 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

Preheat oven to 400. Spread 3/4 cup meat sauce in bottom of a 9X13 baking pan. Place 4 sheets of lasagna cross wise in pan over sauce, overlapping slightly. Top with 1/3 of the meat sauce (spreading evently to cover noodles), one third of the bechamel sauce and one third of the cheese. Repeat layers twice, starting with noodles and ending with cheese.

Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 10.

Fresh Pear and Cranberry Cobbler

September 28th, 2009
by: Sue

Every year around Christmas, we receive a wonderful box of Harry and David pears. Most of them we eat sliced, but I sometimes make this dish that resembles an apple betty since it has a crumb topping. Delish! The first time I made it, my grandson Tommy nearly ate the whole thing himself.

4 fresh Bartlett pears
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cups fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350.

Peel the pears and cut them in half through the stem end. Use a melon baller to scoop out the cores. Put the pear halves in a large bowl, sprinkle with vanilla and toss. Sprinkle with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss to coat the pears with the flavorings. Line the pears up in a buttered (brown) sugared 9 x 12 baking dish rounded sides up.

In the same bowl, mash together the warm butter, brown sugar, flour and salt with your hands. Toss in the cranberries. Crumble the mix over the pears and bake until the topping is crunchy and the pears are tender. 35 or 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream to top.