Onion candy

IMG_3088This plate of food was supper earlier this week. An Iowa-cut pork chop, fresh green beans, red peppers and onions.

Most people would salivate over that beautifully-cooked chop — and it was delicious, grilled by Hubby Bryan. But for me the stars of the plate were the fresh veggies: the first garden-fresh green beans of the season, and those onions, also from the farmers market.

The onions have gotten to be a regular side dish at our house. They are what some would call spring onions — bigger than a green onion, but not fully formed into a big onion.

Whatever you call them, they are scrumptious. Especially the way we fix them.IMG_3075

They are like candy. Onion candy.

Here’s our method:

Remove most of the green tops and cut the spring onions in half. Place the onions on some aluminum foil — enough to wrap around them. Add a couple of dashes of soy sauce to each one, along with a sprinkling of brown sugar, probably a half teaspoon on each. Then top with a dab of butter. Pull the foil up, but don’t completely seal.

Then grill over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.

That’s it. Onion candy. Probably some of the most delicious onions you will ever have. Great as a side dish or on top of a burger or hot dog.

I’ve also done this with Vidalia or basic yellow onions: Same method, just score move the outer layer of the onion, then score it into quarters about half way through. A few dashes of soy, a sprinkling of brown sugar, a tablespoon of butter on top. Grill.




Stalking the ‘barb

IMG_3072Tuesday was a banner day for me. The local farmers market opened for the season, so I hustled my way down there to see what could be had.

There were radishes, onions, lots and lots of Asian greens, strawberries, and yes, there was rhubarb.

I had wondered if the rhubarb plants were still producing locally, and there was the answer to that pondering. The rhubarb plant that used to be in our backyard was sacrificed a number of years ago for the sake of a bigger and better garage, so I just don’t have access to what is sometimes referred to as pie plant.

But if you still have rhubarb producing in your own yard, no doubt thanks to the abundance of rain we’ve been having (it can stop now, thank you!), or if a friend or neighbor has shared their ‘barb bounty, I would suggest you put it into what my mom dubbed the “Quintessential Rhubarb Dessert.” In her cookbook, it is titled Rhubarb Torte.

Quintessential Rhubarb Torte

First layer:

1 cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of salt

½ cup butter


Second layer:

1 ¼ cups sugar

2 tablespoons flour

⅓ cup milk

2 ¼ cups rhubarb

3 egg yolks


Third layer:

3 egg whites

6 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine the first layer ingredients; press into an 8- by 10-inch pan. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes.

Cook the second layer ingredients until thick. Pour over baked crust.

Beat the third layer ingredients until egg whites are stiff. Spread atop cooked rhubarb mixture. Brown in 325 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.




Chicken Little, Chicken BIG

mohawk haan crows close up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tonight for supper we had steak — cooked on the grill, of course — accompanied by a lovely salad and some grilled onions.

But steak is an anomaly, something we indulge in only every so often.

More often than not, the meals at our house are based on chicken or ground beef as the proteins. So it’s important to have a ready supply of both on hand. And when it comes to chicken, it’s nice to have some precooked bird in the freezer, ready to throw in whatever is on the menu.

For instance, during the winter, Monday is soup night, and I often make up a big pot of Chicken Noodle, Chicken Tortilla or Chicken Pot Pie soup.

When the weather turns warmer, Monday becomes salad night, with a generous helping of chicken breast atop a pile of greens. (I change up the dressing — most often homemade — on a regular basis, so we don’t get tired of this combo.)

Sometimes we rely on precooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, but when chicken breasts go on sale, Hubby Bryan and I will cook up a big batch, either in the oven or on the grill, depending on the weather.

A number of years ago, I clipped a chicken rub recipe from a magazine, and it’s a go-to when cooking up a big batch of chicken for later use. It adds just enough flavor without being overpowering or conflicting with specific ethnic cuisines.

The original recipe says this mixture is enough to coat 16 skinless, boneless chicken breasts — about 5 pounds! We don’t usually go for quite that big a quantity, and frankly we prefer bone-in chicken breasts for both flavor and texture. But no matter how many we cook, this recipe seems to be just the right amount of rub, otherwise the excess can be stored in a covered container (just make sure none of it has been contaminated by raw chicken juices!). And even if you’re not making a BIG batch of chicken for freezing, this rub is a good option.

Chicken Big Spice Rub

¼ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lightly brush chicken pieces of choice with vegetable oil. Sprinkle liberally with spice rub. Refrigerate chicken for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.

Cook on the grill until juices run clear. If using oven, heat to 400 degrees and cook for 18-25 minutes, depending on whether you are using bone-in or boneless chicken and size of the pieces.

Let chicken cool for about 30 minutes. Debone if desired/necessary and portion out into freezer bags; or individually wrap pieces in waxed paper and store in freezer bags.

Cars and coleslaw

IMG_2071Let’s face it, the Memorial Day weekend is not typically known for beautiful weather in our part of the country. In my memories of more than five decades, I recall many more Memorial Days that were rainy and dreary than those that were sunny and hot.

But the weatherman has promised us an exceptional weekend this time around, and I intend to make the most of it.

First stop, of course, will be at the annual Memorial Day Car show at Spomer Classics in Worthington. ‘

If I had to pick out one attraction in Worthington that I think everyone should see, it would definitely be Spomer Classics. Marv Spomer, with help from his wife, Jeanine, has assembled an amazing collection of automotive and local history that is displayed sat the former auto dealership building (Koppy Motors at one time) on the western end of Oxford Street. It is something to behold, even if you are not an automotive aficionado.

Hubby Bryan is a car guy. Me, not so much. But I am enthralled every time I walk in the door of Spomer Classics. There are cars. There are signs, signs and more signs. You have to see it to believe it.

And on the Saturday of Memorial Day, the already impressive display is amplified by the car show on the museum’s grounds. There will be hundreds of cars lined up.

Go check it out from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Spomer Classics, 322 Oxford St. For more information, go to www.spomerclassics.com.

With such stellar weather in store for the three-day weekend, I expect there will be many outdoor gatherings — whether planned or impromptu. That thought got me looking through my salad recipes, and this one jumped out as a possibility for toting to any cookout that might pop up on our social calendar. I believe it was shared by friends Kevin and Kami Lease, who live in the greater Madison, Wis., area.

Smoky Chipotle Coleslaw

4 cups packed green cabbage, shredded

2 cups red cabbage, shredded

7 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup cilantro or parsley (or combination of both)

For dressing:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup light sour cream

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1 small chipotle pepper, minced, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from the can (more or less to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix the dressing ingredients.

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, green onion and 3/4 cup of the cilantro or parsley.

Pour the dressing over the salad, toss well and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Scatter remaining cilantro or parsley over the top before serving.




The spoils of potluck

IMG_2975.jpgNo, this isn’t the prettiest food picture I’ve ever posted. Far from it. But it’s the best I could do without some major doctoring in the wake of a school potluck.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so the first-grade paraprofessionals at Prairie Elementary School put together a salad-dessert luncheon for our respective teachers. I had signed up to bring a dessert, and debated over what to tote to school. But eventually, my own love for chocolate won out.

Not too long ago, I combined my longtime favorite cake recipe with a recently discovered frosting recipe. In my opinion, the result was magical — and so easy to make! Since there was still some cake left (the dessert selection was glorious!) after the lunching was done, I moved the pan to the staff lounge. When school was dismissed, I stopped to pick up the “spoils of the potluck” as pictured above, and several people asked for the recipe, so now I am obliging.

The cake is a classic — Crazy Cake, a recipe that I’m sure is in many a church cookbook. I love it because I almost always have all the ingredients I need in my cupboard — it doesn’t even require eggs! — and I don’t have to get out my mixer or dirty a bowl. The ingredients are just dumped into and mixed up in the pan in which it is baked. The resulting cake is always moist, too.

The frosting is also a classic, but something I only recently tried — a ganache. Also incredibly easy.

Crazy Cake with Crazy Good Ganache Frosting

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

6 tablespoons cocoa

1 (scant) teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 tablespoons vanilla

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 cups cold water

For frosting:

1 cup heavy cream

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a zip-lock plastic bag, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and soda. Shake to combine. Dump the mixture into a 9- by 13-inch pan. (Ingredients can also be dumped right into the pan, but I like the bag method; I sometimes mix the dry ingredients in advance.)

Make 3 indentations in the dry mixture. In the first, place the 2 tablespoons vanilla; in the second, 2/3 cup oil; in the third, 2 tablespoons vinegar. Pour the 2 cups cold water over the top and mix well, using a rubber spatula to get all the dry ingredients out of the bottom and corners. You will see bubbles form as a result of the vinegar and baking soda interaction; this is what makes the cake rise.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Make sure the cake is set in the middle.

Let cake cool.

For the frosting, heat the cream in a microwave safe bowl for about 2 minutes, just until boiling. Pour the chocolate chips into the cream, making sure they are all submerged. Let set for 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and continue to stir vigorously until the melted chips incorporate into the cream and the mixture is smooth. Pour over top of cake.




It’s all relative

On Friday, the life of my cousin, Clay Thompson, was celebrated during a memorial service in Phoenix, Ariz. I wasn’t able to attend, but my sister, Margaret, represented the Rickers’ branch of the family.

Clay was a writer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, most well known in recent years for his “Ask Clay” column in which he fielded questions from the reading public on a wide variety of subject matter. He was known for his dry humor and the slightly sarcastic tone of his column, which always made for an interesting read. 

Clay is my cousin on my mom’s side of the family — the Thompson clan — and since I was the baby of that lineage by quite a span of years, I can’t say we were particularly close. Most recently I had seen Clay at my Aunt Eleanor’s (his mom’s) 90th birthday party — before that it had been a couple of decades. Eleanor has since died, and Uncle Robert well before, but we still had in common those Thompson genes. And I always enjoyed reading 

claycookbook.jpgClay’s writings. When I remembered to go online to the Republic website, I could lose track of time as I chuckled at his responses to reader’s queries. I always admired his succinct editing of his own words. It’s something I strive for but have yet to conquer.

So when I learned of his death, I read the beautiful tributes written by some of his Republic colleagues, then I went to my cookbook shelf and pulled out the “Enormously Big Official Valley 101 Cookbook”  (it’s really not that big). Clay published this cookbook in 2009, interspersing excerpts of his columns (many food-related, of course) with recipes submitted by his readers along with a few family offerings. He sent me a copy after I gave permission for him to include a couple of DotMom’s “Mixing & Musing” recipes in it. He even autographed it: “Beth: I hope you think your mother would have enjoyed this. Fondly, Clay.”

She would have, Clay. She always took great pride in your writings. One of her friends who moved to Arizona often sent her clippings.

I chuckled my way through the pages, as he tackled such topics as “How hot does it actually have to be to cook an egg on the sidewalk?” “Does leaving a watermelon at room temperature allow it to ripen better?” and “Is it possible to make cheese from human breast milk?”

Then came the family section of recipes.

There are recipes from Clay’s ex-wife, Anne, Aunt Eleanor and DotMom, of course.

And last but not least, Aunt Laura. A shared memory.

Our Aunt Laura — actually Great Aunt Laura, as she was Uncle Robert’s and DotMom’s aunt, married to their mom’s brother, Uncle Willy. Clay describes Uncle Willy as looking sort of like Elmer Fudd — another chuckle, as I’d never considered the likeness, but it’s true. My one and only Willy memory is of him drinking Alka Seltzer during some sort of gathering at their house. Evidently I had never spied the fizzy stuff before that moment. It made an impression.

But I have more vivid memories of Aunt Laura, who outlived Willy by many years. Laura had perfectly coiffed red hair (a rinse, of course), was always dressed to receive company, and her house was also glamorous and spotless. She would ooh and aah over us when we came to visit, and she almost always served Prune Cake.

Yes, Prune Cake. A coffeecake. Clay included the recipe in his cookbook, although he recommends using apples in place of the prunes.

Aunt Laura was notorious for her prune cake. I’m sure it was delicious. I never tried it because I wasn’t about to ingest prunes. Prunes are off-putting to adolescents (and still now to this adult). But now that I know I can make it with apples, I may have to try her specialty, in memory of Cousin Clay.

Aunt Laura’s Prune Cake

(That Doesn’t Really Include Prunes)

2 packages dry yeast

½ cup lukewarm water

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup butter

1 cup milk, scalded

4 to 5 cups flour

2 eggs, beaten


2 small cans evaporated milk

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

5 prunes cut up (or apple slices)

5 maraschino cherries, cut up


2 tablespoons butter

1½ cups powdered sugar


Soften yeast in ½ cup lukewarm water. Add sugar, salt and butter to scalded milk. Stir until blended. Cool mixture to lukewarm. Add yeast and 1½ cups flour. Stir in beaten eggs and combine very well. Use an electric mixer to this point.

Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Let rest 10 minutes. Knead on a floured board until smooth and shiny. Place in greased bowl. Cover with damp towel and let rise in warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

While dough rests, make filling: Cook evaporated milk, sugar and flour until sugar is well dissolved. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Set aside while you roll out the dough.

Divide dough into four pieces. Roll each piece out to fit an 8- or 9-inch pie or cake pan. Shape dough into greased pan. Let rise until double in bulk. Punch down deep all around the edges and over the center so filling has a place to go. Place 5 cut-up prunes and 5 cut-up maraschino cherries on the dough. Cover with the filling. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. When cool, spread or drizzle with frosting made of butter, powdered sugar and enough milk to make it spreadable. These freeze very well.


Ree & Me — Part 2: The Lodge

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The drive from Bartlesville, OK, to Pawhuska, OK, surprised us. Hubby Bryan and I had expected to see the flat plains that we associate with cattle country. But instead we drove through rolling hills covered with trees. It was a lovely short drive, followed by the aforementioned lovely breakfast (Ree & Me, Part 1) at the Drummond family’s Mercantile enterprise in downtown Pawhuska.

But the reason we chose to visit Pawhuska on that particular weekend was the chance to tour the Drummond Lodge, located on their vast cattle operation, where the “Pioneer Woman” show on the Food Network is filmed.

FullSizeRender (52)So with our “ticket” in hand, we left Pawhuska and traversed farther west, this time through the plains we had expected to see. Four miles out of town, we were told we’d be on Drummond land, and six miles out we came to the sign that proclaimed Drummond Ranch over the long driveway. But per directions, we continued for a few more miles, finally turning onto an unpaved road. We would take the gravel for another 5+ miles, turn again and then another short distance to the Lodge. It was almost 20 miles from Pawhuska.

“That is a lot of horses out in the middle of nowhere,” I thought as we went down the gravel road.

Deep in thought and watching those horses, I missed it when we passed a pickup truck going the other way, until Bryan exclaimed, “I think those were the daughters!” I didn’t get a look, so I’m not sure, but he is positive we crossed paths with Paige and Alex, Ree and Ladd Drummond’s 

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Ree’s unique mixer was the first thing I spied as we entered the Lodge’s kitchen

daughters. It was Easter weekend, so it was a possibility they were all gathered for the holiday.

Again, our timing for arriving at the Lodge was perfect. There was a small crowd, but we easily found a parking place and were able to move about the building without too many people in our way. By the time we left, however, it was getting a bit crowded.

We entered right into the beautifully equipped kitchen that is featured on “Pioneer Woman.” The first thing that caught my eye was her mixer — the bright blue Kitchenaid embellished with flowers that I have coveted since I first saw it. I had to immediately go over and give it a caress.

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I stand in the kitchen where the “Pioneer Woman” is most often filmed.

A tour guide — a young man who told us he was a college student studying to be an air traffic controller at the community college in Tulsa — was on hand to answer questions, but otherwise visitors were given free run of the Lodge. I was especially impressed by the ample pantry located around the corner from the kitchen, and the five well-appointed guest rooms, each with its own bathroom. Besides being a set for the TV show, the Lodge is used as a guest facility for the ranch. It was renovated in 2008.

Most impressive was the view. The Lodge is located on the side of a hill, affording a sweeping view of the 100,000-acre Drummond property. It’s exactly what you’d envision of Oklahoma cattle country. Another abode is located just below, but from above you could literally see for miles. Recent wildfires had taken a toll, the guide said, which explained the expanses of singed earth.

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The addition includes a room devoted to storage of props for the TV show.

Past the bedrooms at the far end of the Lodge, there is an addition to facilitate the TV production, with a large commercial kitchen and storage areas for all the props used for the show. We ended our tour on the outside deck, drinking in the view of land, horses and cattle.

It’s obvious that the Drummonds have done well for themselves in all their endeavors, and it was fun to see the scope of the operation, both for the “Pioneer Woman” and as cattle producers.

During our earlier visit to the Mercantile, I had resisted buying a T-shirt, as I already have an ample stack of such apparel. But as we passed back through Pawhuska, I implored Bryan to stop again (I did need to use the bathroom, after all!) and I ran inside and picked out a pretty green one to commemorate our visit.

I had no expectations of running into Ree during our short visit to her home territory, but still, deep down I harbored a small bit of hope that she’d pop up at some unexpected moment . But of course that didn’t happen. There was no commiseration over our mutual disdain for bananas, no exchange of recipes, no photo opportunity, no chance to become fast friends. But I do feel like a bit of a “Pioneer Woman” insider after seeing where it all takes place.

If any other “Pioneer Woman” fans are contemplating a visit to Pawhuska, I highly recommend going at a time when the Lodge is open for tours. (You can find those dates on the Pioneer Woman website: https://www.themercantile.com/pages/lodge-tours.) It certainly made our trip worthwhile and more fun than just going to the “Merc” — although the breakfast alone was worth the trip!

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A large pantry is adjacent to the kitchen area of the Lodge.

I promised to share my favorite “Pioneer Woman” recipe, and there are several that I could certainly include here. But the one I have probably made most is her Jalapeno Cheese Bread. I believe she served it as an accompaniment to soup in a “Pioneer Woman” episode. I usually make it as an appetizer, cutting the bread up into small slices. I have also just served the spread as a dip, cutting back on the butter and using more mayonnaise.


Jalapeno Cheese Bread

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup jarred jalapenos, finely chopped
6 ounces white Cheddar, grated
6 ounces pepper Jack cheese, grated
One 6-ounce jar green olives, drained and finely chopped 
One 4-ounce can chopped green chiles
2 green onions, sliced
1 loaf crusty French bread, sliced lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the butter, mayonnaise, jalapenos, Cheddar, pepper Jack, olives, green chiles and green onions in a mixing bowl. Stir together until thoroughly combined.
Spread the mixture onto the French bread and put the bread on a baking sheet. Bake until the cheese is melted and browning, 20 to 25 minutes.

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Ree’s collection of cast-iron pans is stored in the kitchen island where many of the scenes from the TV show are filmed.

Ree and me … Part 1

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The menu at The Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma — where the wind comes sweeping down the plains …”

Wait — isn’t that a description of southwest Minnesota, too?

But Oklahoma is usually a little warmer in the spring than our home territory, so that’s where Hubby Bryan and I chose to go during the school’s recent Easter/Spring break.

That destination was decided on not just because of the weather. Oklahoma is also home to The Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond, who hosts a popular cooking show on The Food Network. (Check out her website at thepioneerwoman.com.)

The Food Network and HGTV are two of the most watched cable networks at our home. And on the Food Network, “Pioneer Woman” is at the top of the list. Ree — I call her by her first name because I consider her a close personal friend, even though we’ve never met — is an engaging  personality, and her recipes are generally the kind of fare we like to cook. Besides, she and I have a mutual disdain for bananas, so I figure we would be fast friends if we’d ever meet.

When something popped up on my computer about tours of the Drummond lodge, where Ree most often films her episodes, and the dates were for the days leading up to Easter, I knew that was where we had to go on spring break.

Bryan took a little convincing, but I didn’t have to twist his arm too far. The distance to Pawhuska, Okla., was doable in the time we had, and the enticement of warmer weather sealed the deal. Besides, we were both ready for a road trip adventure, and while we have passed through Oklahoma at one time or another, we had never spent any time checking it out.

We hit the road as soon as school got out on Wednesday, spending the night in Omaha before continuing on the next day to Bartlesville OK, the town closest to Pawhuska with decent overnight accommodations, which just happens to be Ree’s hometown.

Another night in Bartlesville, then on to Pawhuska, the location of the Drummond family’s retail enterprise, called the Mercantile.

“The Merc” is housed in a beautifully renovated multi-story building in downtown Pawhuska. The main floor includes a restaurant and spacious retail space, while upstairs is a deli for take-out foods.

A friend who lives in Tulsa advised us to get there early, as there is generally a waiting line to eat at the restaurant. Boy, was he right. We got there shortly after 9:30 a.m., and were seated immediately. But we got one of the last open tables, and within a half an hour the line to eat was out the door and down the sidewalk. Later, we heard there was a two-hour wait for the restaurant.

While we perused the menu, we also drank in the well-thought-out surroundings: wait staff dressed in checkered shirts; a re-created commercial mural on the wall; the open kitchen in the back; floral motifs. But the menu consumed most of our attention.

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The Farmer’s Breakfast

What to have, what to have? So many delicious-sounding breakfast choices.

Bryan, who comes from a long line of pancake aficionados, quickly chose the offering that featured a stack topped with assorted butters (blueberry, strawberry, cinnamon-pecan). A glance at a nearby diner’s plate enticed me to order the Farmer’s Breakfast, which included a well-caramelized sausage patty, bacon, eggs and grape tomatoes.

But first came the biscuits — rectangular pillows accompanied by luscious fruit preserves. Another one of these beauties accompanied my entree. It came home with us in a lovely little cardboard carryout box.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

We were stuffed by the time we were done, so it was the perfect time to walk around and explore The Merc’s retail space. There is an amazing amount of carefully curated goods, as well as an amazing number of people there checking it all out. I could easily have left there with bags full of handy and beautiful merchandise, I limited my purchases to two things.

First off, I chose to buy a box of plastic wrap.

Yep, plastic wrap. It’s professional grade, packaged in a beautiful box meant to sit out on your counter, and with a handy sliding cutter on the outside. Several women in the vicinity of the display were praising the virtues of this particular item, so I had to have it. I am waiting to deplete the already open box of wrap at home before I use it.

My second purchase was a T-shirt, but I didn’t get that until we went back through Pawhuska from the Lodge, where they film the TV show. I was so inspired by the experience that I decided I needed to have a wearable memento.

More about the Lodge in next week’s blog. At that time, I’ll also share one of my favorite Pioneer Woman recipes.

In the meantime, with Easter behind us, I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about Ham Balls, and using up leftover ham to make them. As many of you who have followed my writings know, Ham Balls are a tradition for my side of the family. The recipe is one of the most popular from my mom’s “Mixing & Musing Cookbook.” It’s certainly the most dog-eared and stained page in my copy.

Since we didn’t have any Easter ham on our Holy Week journey, Bryan and I still plan to go out and buy one, and there’s no doubt that any leftovers will end up being made into Ham Balls. So here’s the recipe once again.

But first a few quick notes:

I use my food processor to grind leftover ham (and to crush up the crackers). If buying a ham just for making Ham Balls, ask the butcher to grind it for you.

DO NOT overpack the ham balls. They should be loosely formed or will turn into rocks when baked and not properly absorb the sauce.

Ham Balls freeze beautifully. Make them in advance, freeze raw on parchment-lined baking sheets and store in freezer bags. Take out what you need and thaw before cooking.

I often make Ham Balls in the slow cooker. If frozen, I thaw them out on a plate, then quickly brown them on all sides in a pan lightly coated with cooking spray to prevent sticking. In the slow cooker they go, pouring the sauce over the top. Cook on low for four hours, stirring occasionally to disperse the sauce evenly.

Ham Balls

2 pounds ground ham

1 pound lean ground pork (NOT pork sausage)

2 cups saltine cracker crumbs

1 cup milk

2 eggs

Dash of pepper

For sauce:

½ cup vinegar

1 cup water

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Mix first six ingredients lightly. Loosely shape into balls. (It is very important not to press the meat tightly!) Arrange in a 9- by 13-inch dish, single layer. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn. Combine sauce ingredients and pour over the ham balls. Bake 45 minutes longer, basting frequently.


Small hops toward spring

pexels-photo-96603.jpegI wish it felt more like spring outside. But the weather really isn’t cooperating.

There may not be any green grass or daffodils starting to poke their heads through the soil, but the holiday that signals that spring is here is just days away.

And so is Easter dinner.

Thus, I am putting the brunch series on hiatus (although I would encourage you to look back at recent blogs if you are hosting an Easter brunch instead of dinner) to share one of my family’s favorite holiday side dishes.

This particular dish is THE go-to potato casserole on my sister’s dining room table. It likely came to mind because sister Margaret was just here, flying in from Florida, where she and hubby RevDon spend winters, for our niece Gretchen’s wedding this past weekend. When they host holiday dinners for their family at their Denver, Colo., home, Potato Smash is always on the menu. And it’s a particular good side to serve alongside ham, which is usually the centerpiece of the Easter menu. The celery salt and sour cream combine to create a tangy counterpart to the salty meat.

So here it is. A smashing potato recipe that’s actually called Potato Smash.

Happy Easter. Hopefully Easter’s arrival isn’t too far behind.

Potato Smash

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4 cups cooked, sliced potatoes

1 cup small curd cottage cheese

1/2 cup sour cream



1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

salt, pepper and celery salt to taste

Grated cheddar or American cheese

Combine all ingredients except for the cheese. Pour into a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.






The Eggstravaganza


The humble egg is about to take center stage.

Yes, Easter is just around the corner, and the egg will be at the forefront of the celebration, as decor and on the menu.

Since the egg also figures highly in brunch/breakfast menus, I figured we could deviate slightly from that topic to talk about hard-boiled eggs in advance of egg-dyeing time.

When I’m trying to drop a few pounds — which has pretty much been constant since I passed the 50-year mark — I tend to make a lot of hard-boiled eggs. A hard-boiled egg is a low-calorie foodstuff that is packed with protein. Hence, you stay fuller longer. Plus, an egg is easily toteable for lunch on the go.

While I’ve perfected my egg-cooking method, I was still struggling with producing peelable eggs. I’ve tried putting salt in the cooking water, vinegar in the cooking water, baking soda in the cooking water — with mixed results.

But last week, I forgot to cook up some eggs until the morning before school, so I was in a hurry. I followed my usual method, but instead of just running them under cold water, I dunked them in an ice bath. And later, when it came time to consume those eggs, the peels slipped right off them.

And now, after doing some research, I’ve found that cooking experts recommend cooling them quickly with ice to make peeling easier.

So here’s my new method for perfect hard-boiled eggs:

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water to cover, plus a bit more. Cook over high heat until the water comes to a good rolling boil. Remove from heat, put the cover on the pan and let set for 13 minutes.

Drain eggs and immediately cover with cold water and ice; leave in the ice bath until the eggs are chilled through.

Happy decorating!