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Friday, December 28, 2018

Happy to be home

Sophie and I had a wonderful, terrific, marvelous week in Tomball—okay, except for the dogfight which maybe taught her she is not invincible nor is she the biggest kid on the block. But she loved being in the middle of an active household, where she was on constant alert lest she miss something. Tonight, we are happy to be home in the cottage, which is pretty dull and quiet.

Colin, Kegan, Sophie, and I left Tomball just before 10:30 this morning. A glorious day for a drive. There had been heavy rains throughout Central and South Texas Wednesday night—as usual I heard the thunder but not the rain, but in the morning the lake was really high, and the lowest portion of the patio was under water. This morning, with bright skies and blazing sun, we saw water everywhere—stock tanks were overflowing and creeks had burst their banks. At some points on Highway 6, around Marlin, there were sudden new lakes lapping the road on either side. I’ve seen it before on that stretch of highway, but it always surprises me. The road from College Station to Waco is one I traveled so often for sales meetings when I was working that I have all the landmarks memorized. I particularly love going through Calvert, that funky town full of old shops and antiques and falling down buildings.

We met Jordan and Jacob in Waco at a place my kids all rave about but where I had never been before. A tiny hole-in-the-wall with outdoor seating, so we could take Sophie. Called the Health Camp, it’s everything but. What it is, is greasy hamburgers. Through a mix-up we got a BLT for Colin, but I knew he had his taste buds ready for a cheeseburger, and I didn’t, so we traded. It was one of those sandwiches grilled on the outside so that everything about it is greasy, and some of the bacon was undercooked. It is not, however, the kind of place where you call the maître d’ and complain about your food. Kegan got a chili/cheese dog which I would not have known how to attack—he waded in and did a credible job on it. The best thing about the experience was the milkshakes—Jordan and Jacob had chocolate, Colin had strawberry, and Kegan had cookies ‘n cream. Being a novice, I didn’t know to order a milkshake, but I tasted, and they were thick and creamy and good.

An aside: when I was a kid there was an ice cream parlor (those shops we unfortunately don’t have anymore) about eight blocks from our house. They served milkshakes so thick the straw stood straight up in them. My mom would sometimes give my friend Eleanor Lee and me money for shakes for lunch, and we rode our bikes up to 53rd Street—a busy commercial street. Being allowed to do that was a big deal, and the shakes were the best thing we’d ever eat—or so we thought. A win/win deal. Today’s didn’t quite meet that standard, but they were good.

Health Camp is on the roundabout with the old Elite Café, that Waco traditional landmark. I had heard that Chip and Joanna Gaines had bought it, and today, lo and behold! It had a sign boasting, “The Magnolia Table.” Next time through Waco I’m going to lobby for that, but I may be unsuccessful. My family is really sold on the greasy spoon hamburgers.

Jordan, Jacob, Sophie and I got to Fort Worth a little after 3:30, and Jacob had a 4:00 p.m. orthodontist appointment, so Sophie and I got to sit in the car for half an hour. It was okay. She was a bit anxious; I calmly read emails. Jacob got the worst of the deal because something on his braces had broken and had to be repaired.

And then, before 5:00 p.m., we were home. I’ve turned on my Christmas lights and started unpacking, but I’m going to have a late version of my afternoon nap and then worry about dinner. My cupboard is pretty bare.

What wonderful Christmas memories I brought home with me. And now, on to the New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sausage skillet supper for a cold night

            My mom used to fix sausage and apples for breakfast or for a light supper. In the German household of her childhood, she had to eat sauerkraut—and hated it, so I never tasted it until I was grown and gone from home. Now I love it. I once knew someone who caramelized sauerkraut, sautéing it slowly, sprinkling with sugar, turning, springling again. It took patience, and you had to avoid rushing the process, but I was so good. I never mastered the technique, but if you do, please let me know.

What I do is add kraut to a sausage and apple skillet. Here’s what I’ve built on Mom’s idea. I serve it for supper.

Sausage and Apple Skillet with Kraut

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Link sausages, 2-3 per person

1 small onion, sliced thin into rings

1-1/2 c. drained sauerkraut or to taste

1 tsp. brown sugar

Generous splash of white wine

            Sauté sausages in oil until browned. Remove from skillet and set aside.

            Sauté onion rings at medium heat until soft and slightly browned. Add sauerkraut and sauté about 3 minutes. Add apple slices and sauté until mushy. Stir in brown sugar and wine, and taste. Correct as needed. Salt and pepper is up to you.

            Return link sausages to skillet and heat through. Serve immediately. Enjoy—and have the last laugh over all those people who don’t like sauerkraut.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Holiday Cheeseball—and a caution on baking

What would the December holidays be without a cheeseball? It’s not too late to make your own delicious snack. This is the recipe that I remember from my childhood. Someone in the family still makes it every year--sometimes my daughters or DILs. This year I made one and divided it in two—one to go with Jordan and one for me to take to Tomball and Colin’s family.

A warning note: Cheese will mold if left in the fridge too long. I’d say a week is safe, so you can reshape the ball and freshen it with more parsley and ground pecans for New Year’s Eve. But if you have any left over after that, better freeze it. It freezes well—just defrost at room temperature.


½ lb. Roquefort

1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use 8 oz. of Velveeta)

l eight-ounce pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. prepared horseradish

Let the cheeses soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers.

A cautionary note for those who bake in a toaster oven:

            I made old-fashioned gingerbread, from scratch, this week and learned a negative lesson about baking in a toaster oven. If a recipe has enough baking soda to cause it to rise, it will hit the top burner of the oven and burn. I could rescue my gingerbread by slicing off the burned—it was still delicious—but I won’t try that again. I don’t know if a gingerbread mix would work better or not. The recipe had 1-1/2 tsp. of baking soda.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Quick spaghetti sauce

There are days when I lose all my principles—and buy ready-prepared food. No, that’s not spaghetti pictured above—it’s the prepared salmon cake I bought. Looked better than it was, and once again I scolded myself because I can make a darn good salmon cake, and I have a can of salmon. Even the buttermilk/lemon sauce I made was a bust.

I had better luck recently with a jar of spaghetti sauce. I found a recipe for “fixing” prepared spaghetti sauce. I doctored the recipe a bit more, and it came out fine—a rich, thick sauce which I appreciate. Great for a quick meal, and gosh knows this time of year we all need an occasional quick meal.

Pasta out of the box—or jar:

A 12 oz. jar spaghetti sauce—I don’t think the label or brand matters much, and you can choose one of the special flavors if you want—I stuck with marinara, and I will say I’m suspicious of meat in prepared sauces so I think you’re better off with vegetarian of some kind

4 garlic cloves

¼ cup good olive oil

½ tsp. anchovy paste or a couple of anchovy filets, drained – no, it won’t taste fishy

Red pepper flakes to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan

4 Tbsp. butter

Black pepper to taste

Pinch of brown sugar

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Slice garlic and sauté in olive oil until golden. Add the anchovies and stir around in the pan until they become mush. Add red pepper and stir it all around some more.

Stir in pasta sauce, 1-1/4 cups pasta cooking liquid, and 1 cup Parmesan. Cook, stirring constantly, until cheese melts. You could probably substitute a bit of red wine for some of the pasta liquid—maybe ¼ cup?

Use tongs to take pasta out of its cooking water and add to the pot (you may want to stir in more of the water to get the consistency you want). Cook and stir until pasta is coated and l dente—don’t overcook. Add that pinch of brown sugar and stir it in. Remove from heat.

Stir in parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Looks like a lot of work for a “quick” meal but it really isn’t and, unike old-fashioned, homemade sauce, you don’t have to cook it all day.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A cheese ball that makes me think I’m a kid again

December 13,2018

I seem to frequently begin with “When I was a kid,” but many of my food memories trace back to my childhood. On Christmas Eve, we always went to the home of friends of my parents for a lavish buffet—I remember Mom took marinated shrimp (which I’ve developed an unfair allergy to). But one of the appetizers we loved was the blue cheese ball. Long after those traditional dinners ended, we made that cheeseball. And now some of my family make it. Jordan has requested one, but I told her we’d make it together.

Holiday cheese ball

½ lb. Roquefort

1 8 oz. pkg of Velveeta

l eight-ounce pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. horseradish

Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers.

Freezes well but if left in refrigerator too long will mold. I often shape it into two smaller balls and freeze one. Great for New Year’s Eve or Twelfth Night.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fruitcake: don’t hate it, bake it!

            A columnist attributes what he calls our “national obsession with hating fruitcake” to Johnny Carson, who once said there is really only one fruitcake. It just keeps getting passed around. On a web page devoted to why we hate fruitcake, a reader wrote that she thought it was made by a bored grandma who baked all day and just threw her leftovers into a pan and baked it. Still another voice suggested it is a holiday decoration and was never meant to be eaten.

The truth is that a lot of people secretly like fruitcake, but it’s one of those things you hesitate about admitting out loud.

When I was a kid, my physician-father had a patient who baked his cakes in late summer and wrapped them in bourbon-soaked cloths. Periodically, he “refreshed” the cloths. By the time we got the cake it was dark, rich, and very bourbon-y. I remember liking it a lot. Perhaps that’s why when my physician-ex-husband brought home fruitcake gifts, I didn’t hesitate to serve it to various groups of ladies who met at our house. And, yes, I had a stash in the freezer. But that was in the sixties, and fruitcake’s reputation has gone downhill ever since.

There may be several valid reasons people don’t like fruitcake: they’ve always had store-bought, never a good homemade one. It is too dense and sticky for some—there are complaints of it sticking to teeth. It can be labor intensive to make. Some people—my kids, in particular—don’t like English candied fruit.

I’m going to do something I swore I’d not do—share a recipe I’ve not tried. I haven’t tried it, because no one in my family will eat it. But I have it on good authority that this is delicious. It’s a three-ingredient fruitcake. I got it from a website about all things Scottish, though I don’t think this is native to Scotland. A good friend assured me it’s delicious.

Recipes for three-ingredient fruitcakes abound on the web—dried fruit, flour, and liquid. Surfing the web, I found recipes that called for orange juice, tea, coffee—but the one I liked uses chocolate milk.


4-1/4 cups dried mixed fruit

3 cups chocolate milk

2 cups self-rising flour


Put the fruit in a bowl, pour the chocolate milk over it, and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, heat toaster oven to 350o F. Line a 9” square baking pan with parchment paper. Stir flour into the soaked fruit. Bake 2-1/2 hours. Test by inserting a skewer or silver knife into the center. Check frequently to make sure top isn’t burning. If it is getting too brown, cover with a square of brown paper.

Want a round cake? Use an 8” round pan.
Decorate top of warm cake with extra glace cherries if you wish.

This is so rich you’ll only want to serve tiny pieces, so one cake will serve a lot of people. (Somewhere I read 30 servings, but I can’t quite believe that.) If you try it, save me a piece—I really want to taste it.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Tradition of Sunday night supper

Sunday night supper has a long tradition in my family. When I was young, my mom rolled her tea table into the living room and put it before the fireplace. The three of us—my parents and me (my brother was away by then)—enjoyed light suppers, such dishes as cheese strata or spinach souffle. No cell phones to banish—we enjoyed each other’s company.

When my children were young, I did Sunday supper for the family, including my brother, John, and his children (he was single by then too) and whatever people I thought were alone. Some of my good friends fondly talk of those dinners with 15-20 people. I cooked huge meals—turkey breast Wellington is one recipe I recall. A lot of casseroles. I remember one night when we were working on a cookbook at my office, and I brought home a recipe for a hamburger/cornbread casserole and fixed it. My brother looked at me and asked, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”

Another night as we sat around after dinner the alarm service called to tell him his house was on fire. He lived just down the street and arrived barely in time to keep the firemen from taking an axe to his front door. He’d left chicken livers simmering on the stove and they’d burned dry.

John used to go around the table and ask each of us to tell about our week or what we were thankful for. It led to some embarrassed moments, but today those dinners are golden memories that I treasure. Maybe we should start that again, even though our dinners are on a small scale.

Today, Sunday night suppers are more hit and miss. Jordan and I try for them, and most Sundays we have supper. Christian and I alternate cooking. Tonight, he was busy decorating the Christmas tree, and I cooked a sausage quiche—they liked it, but it’s not a recipe I’ll repeat or share. I made sauerkraut just for me (no one else would try it)—bacon, onions caramelized in the bacon drippings, a bit of white wine, a tiny bit of brown sugar. Delicious. So glad I didn’t have to share. Jacob had gone to a church event.

When my kids were young the only excuse for missing Sunday night supper was a restaurant job and a scheduled shift. That doesn’t hold true today, and we often have supper without Jacob. And sometimes we don’t have a formal supper at all. If I wanted to wax nostalgic about the lost past, I would. But I am grateful for what we have and the dinners we enjoy. Next recipe? Chicken in a creamy Parmesan sauce. It was a recipe for pork chops, but a friend of Jordan’s said it would be great with chicken. I think I’ll let Christian cook that one.

A mild complaint and a quick easy dessert

A frustrated cook, one without an audience—that’s me. I clip and find and even invent recipes that sound wonderful to me, but others I cook for turn aside.  I found a recipe the other day for orange-cranberry shortbread—the response to a mention was “I don’t eat cookies.” I want to make kalpudding, a traditional Sweish meatloaf with caramelized cabbage—but someone else doesn’t like cabbage. And I really wanted to try making my own gravlax for a small gathering of friends—but two of them don’t eat raw fish, one for a valid immune deficiency problem.

So here’s a recipe I save for company, because some in my family don’t eat cooked fruit. This is quick and easy. As given it serves two, but you can fiddle with the proportions. Dessert doesn’t often figure in my menu planning—unless it’s chocolate. Seriously, I rarely fix dessert, and I never bake a pie. A whole pie for one is ridiculous—or even for two if I have company. But individual crisps and cobblers are a good way to go.

Fruit crisp for two

2 cups fruit – blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, whatever

1 scant Tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup flour

¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup butter, softened but still firm

Butter two individual ramekins thoroughly. Slice fruit and arrange in ramekins. Mix flour, lemon juice, brown sugar, and cinnamon together. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. (If your butter is too soft, you won’t end up with crumbly; you’ll get paste). Sprinkle over fruit.

Preheat toaster oven to 350. Bake for 25 minutes. Lesson learned the first time I made this: I baked it ahead since I couldn’t use the hot plate and oven at the same time. Then I cooked supper, and while we ate re-heated the apple crisp. At least I thought I was reheating it. What I actually did was cook it a second time. The apples turned to mush, like applesauce—overcooked. If your sense of timing is better than mine, let dessert cook on its own while you serve dinner.
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