Sunday, November 30, 2008


I love corn-bread for breakfast. Especially the day after it is baked when it is little hard and you heat it up and put a little butter and honey on top. My Mom and Dad used to enjoy it for breakfast or lunch, crumbled up in a bowl of milk.

This last year I took the easy way and bought Marie Callender's cornbread mix. It used to be so good, practically cornbread cake. But several months ago I baked a batch and it was not good--even bitter. Then I bought a another mix thinking it would improve if I added a can of creamed corn. Slightly better but still not good.

I found this recipe in a magazine--can't remember which one--but the chef is a Southern cook named Crecent Dragonwagon--isn't that a great name? And this recipe is in her book, The Cornbread Gospels.

I didn't have a cast iron skillet and secretly alway wanted one (I'm not a camper so where was my excuse to purchase one?) Target had the brand I wanted--Lodge Logic--so I bought a 10-inch skillet for around $14.

The cornbread was excellent--crunchy on the edges and not real sweet. And the stone ground corn meal is worth looking for. I found a good brand, Bob's Red Mill, at Whole Foods but I know it's at Sprouts, too.

Crescent Dragonwagon's
Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread

vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 10-inch skillet with cooking spray and set aside.
2. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.
3. In a smaller bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk. Whisk in the sugar, egg and vegetable oil.
4. Put the prepared skillet over medium heat, add the butter, and heat until the butter melts and is just starting to sizzle. Tilt the pan to coat the sides and bottom.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine quickly, using as few strokes as possible.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cornbread is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.

Friday, November 28, 2008


For years I have tried different pecan pie recipes--I could never get the pie just right. If the filling looked done then the crust was burnt. If the crust looked right then the filling was too runny.

One day, Pam told me about her mom's pecan pie recipe and I instantly asked for it. Pam's mom, Phyllis, is a Southern lady--the real deal. So, I immediately knew this recipe would be THE one for me. This is the only pecan pie recipe I will ever make. It is perfection! And I think the secret is to cook the filling BEFORE you pour it in the pie shell.

By the way, Phyllis just celebrated her 80th birthday! Her party, hosted by her three daughters, included darling hats and hand-made boas--it was great fun.

Phyllis' Pecan Pie

½ c granulated sugar
1 ¼ c dark Karo syrup (spray measuring cup with Pam, tip from Phyllis)
3 eggs
4 T melted butter
1 t vanilla
1 c pecans (heaping)
Dash salt

Cook sugar and syrup until mixture thickens—cook on high, then reduce to medium and cook 5 minutes (sugar will be dissolved, syrup consistency)
Beat eggs well
Add hot syrup slowly (or eggs will curdle), while continuing to beat
Add melted butter, vanilla, salt, and nuts
Pour into pie shell; bake in hot oven at 450° for 10 minutes, turn oven down to 300° for 35 minutes

Makes 1 9” pie

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


May your day be filled with family, friends, good food, and an acknowledgement of all the many blessings received.

Here are a few blessings on my gratitude list:

My faith
My fun family
Every single one of my precious friends
My glorious job
My comfortable home
The rain this morning
Living in beautiful Arizona

Enjoy this lovely Thanksgiving weekend...

Sunday, November 23, 2008


For a few years now I have had the book, The Cake Doctor, sitting on my kitchen bookcase. Today I finally cracked open the book and baked the Triple-Decker Strawberry Cake. It was a hit.

The Cake Doctor by Anne Byrn contains recipes that dress-up basic boxed cake mixes. I normally turn all layered cakes into single layer cakes but this time since I was baking the
cake for my niece, Ellie, I decided to honor the recipe and make three layers.

It is such a pretty cake and so delicious. It is also easy to put together. But because it is so good I had to get it out of my house! So, Lori took some cake home, Sheli stopped by and she got a wedge, and then I delivered the remainder to Jennifer and Chris. It's good to have friends who appreciate leftovers!

Here is the yummy recipe:

Triple-Decker Strawberry Cake

Spray vegetable shortening for greasing the pans
Flour for dusting the pans
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil, such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries and juice

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, or more if needed
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries and juice, or more if needed
Garnish:1 cup halved fresh strawberries

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with spray vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, strawberry gelatin, flour, oil, sugar, milk, eggs and strawberries and juice in a large mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The strawberries should be well blended into the batter. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and place them in the oven. If your oven is not large enough, place two pans on the center rack and place the third pan in the center of the highest rack.

Bake the cakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger and just start to pull away from the sides of the pan, 33 to 35 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the layer on the highest oven rack. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Allow to cool completely, about 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Place the softened butter in a large mixing bowl and blend it with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 20 seconds. Stop the machine and add 4 cups confectioners' sugar and 1/2 cup strawberries and juice. Blend on low speed until the frosting is creamy and of a spreadable consistency. If it is too thin, add more sugar. If it is too thick, add more strawberries.

To assemble, place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with frosting. Add another layer, right side up, on top of the first and frost the top. Repeat this process with the third layer and frost the top; the cake should now resemble a torte with the sides left unfrosted. Decorate the top attractively with the halved strawberries. Serve at once or chill the cake for later serving.
Serves 16.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vegetable Garden Update

Five weeks ago we planted our two vegetable gardens--seeds, no transplants.

As you can see everything is coming up as it should. But, boy is it slow! They sprouted up so quickly that it seemed we would be eating our organic vegetables in a few weeks. But apparently that is only a tease--I can't imagine we'll be eating anything from our garden very soon.

We have the trellis up ready for the sugar snap peas (top row) to start climbing. I have a small fence now in place around the two gardens to keep Kipling from nibling or trampling on the plants.

Two weeks ago I started thinning. Pulling out perfectly healthy teeny tiny plants felt criminal. The picture above shows our sugar snap peas, mixed lettuces, radishes, carrots, and napa cabbage. So you can see why I think it's going to be a while before we actually can taste any goods from our miniscule plants!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Last weekend my sister and I spent a few days in Greer, Arizona. Everything was perfect. We took our time getting there, stopping in Payson for breakfast and Pinetop for lunch. We checked-in to our room, the Birds Nest (see top floor above), at Greer Lodge in the afternoon.

The air was crisp (you know, how Fall it suppose to feel like?) and the sky was a beautiful blue. The lodge supplied bikes so we rode up and down the dirt roads and along the main road checking out the area. The leaves had already dropped off the Quaking Aspens and the Maple trees so the landscape looked even more wintery.

Night time temperatures were around 30 degrees--yeah! Finally, some cold air! And the stars were brilliantly splattered across the sky.

In the evenings we saw a family of racoons and in the mornings a couple of deer. I finished two books and caught up on a bunch of magazines. For two mornings we had the best pancakes ever at Rendevous Diner in Greer.

We took that beautiful drive between Alpine and Hannigan Meadow. Eastern Arizona is my favorite part of the state. All the Colorado Blue Spruce and Engelmann Spruce look like perfect Christmas trees. The elevation is around 9000 so it is even colder than Greer.

Greer Lodge is running some great specials--so if you can take a little time off check out Greer Lodge.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's On My Nightstand

Like most readers, I have a stack of books waiting to be read. The dilemma is what to read next.
Often I'll find that although I have this stack of books instead I buy a book I've just heard about. Which is what happened today.

Last night I met Hugh Hewitt at the Center for Arizona Policy dinner. During his speech he mentioned a book that he was thoroughly enjoying, American Lion by Jon Meacham. So I bought it today and plan to take it with me when I head to DC next week.

Meanwhile, the following books are on my nightstand waiting to be read (a few I'm already reading):
Hot, Flat, and Crowded - Thoma Friedman

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The 5000 Year Leap

My friend Jill loaned me the audio version of The 5,000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen. Mr. Skousen identifies 28 principles used in the establishing of America. He quotes from all the original founders and reminds us of the basic principles our country was founded upon. It is also a good reminder of our Constitution.

After reading John Adams, 1776, and Benjamin Franklin, this book continues my ongoing effort to refresh my knowledge of American history. These books remind my why American History class was one of my favorite high school classes (taught by the tough Dr. Shapiro).

It is an exciting period to read about. Creating and organizing this great country was serious business and we know each of the participants paid a price. I am happy to know that leaders such as John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, knew they had a large role to play but each really wanted to be home tending to their farms. They sacrificed time with their families to do their duty.

Each of these gentleman are quoted at various times acknowledging the hand of God throughout the process of crafting language. This is back in the day when leaders openly acknowledged His hand in all things. No one decried this.

The only downside of listening to this book on tape is the narrator--he has the most boring voice. It would be deadly to listen to his voice if I were driving at night. It's a good thing the subject is so good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thai Cucumber Salad

Last weekend in my produce basket I found two hot house cucumbers. I normally don't buy cucumbers--I think they are just ok. Except that I do love the cold little cucumber salad that is served with chicken satay at Thai restaurants.
I combined two recipes that I found on the Internet and tweaked it a bit to make this salad. My sister, Tammy, really liked it as did friends Sean and Jana who are connoisseurs of Thai cuisine given that Sean served his church mission in Thailand and Jana served hers in the Philippines (which I know has nothing to do with Thai food but she does shop at Lee Lee Asian Market in Chandler).

Thai Cucumber Salad
T rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6-7 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 cucumber seeded and sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 red spur chili (I used a red jalapeno)

Mix vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. After sugar has disolved, pour over cucumbers, shallots, and chili. Serve cold.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

This is my favorite pumpkin muffin. Up until this recipe, I had never tasted the combination of pumpkin and chocolate so I wasn't sure how it would taste. But it sounded so good that I went ahead and baked a batch. Love them!

I think muffins are so pretty anyway and these are extra pretty with the color of pumpkin, the dark chocolate chips, and the sliced almonds that peek out the tops and sides. The combination of these rich flavors make it the perfect muffin for November.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite little cookbooks by Elizabeth Alston.

12 Regular or 48 miniature muffins (make one or two days ahead for best flavor.)
1/2 c (1 1/4 ounces) sliced,unblanched Almonds - toasted
1 2/3 c All-purpose flour
1 c Granulated sugar
1 tb Pumpkin pie spice
1 ts baking soda
1/4 ts baking powder
1/4 ts salt
2 lg Eggs
1 c Plain pumpkin (half of a1 lb Can)
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted
1 c (6 ounces) chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease muffin cups, or use foil or paper baking cups.
Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Break eggs into another bowl. Add pumpkin and butter, and whisk until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips and almonds. Pour over dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Scoop batter evenly into muffin cups. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and springy to the touch in the center. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Wrap in a plastic bag and keep for 1 or 2 days. Reheat before serving.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Collard Greens!?

Here is another reason why I love belonging to the Bountiful Baskets Co-op: it forces me to find recipes with ingredients I wouldn't normally purchase--like collard greens. I remember my mom making collard greens once when I was a kid. She was from Texas and so fried them with butter--yuck!

So this past Saturday guess what was in my basket? Collard greens. I knew my sister Lori wouldn't want them so I said I would keep them and try to find a good recipe. Love the Internet! I just used GoodSearch dutifully entering Southwest Shakespeare as the designated charity (see Leslie for further information) and found this recipe from Epicurious. It was really good. And believe me, it is not easy to find a healthy recipe using collard greens. Because it is such a southern food it is usually fried or sauteed in butter--lots of butter.

The original recipe called for ham but I made it with some pork my friend Jana bottled for me. And I added 3 cloves of garlic instead of 1 clove and added an extra cup of chicken broth. I would definitely make this again.

Ham and Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Collard Greens
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove (I used 3 cloves)
a 4-ounce piece cooked ham
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound collard greens
1 cup chicken broth (8 fluid ounces) (I used a whole 15 oz. can)
3 cups water (I used 2 cups of water)
a 16-ounce can black-eyed peas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Chop onion and garlic and cut ham into 1/4-inch dice. In a 3-quart saucepan cook onion, garlic, and ham in oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden.
While onion mixture is cooking, discard stems and center ribs from collards and finely chop leaves. Add collards, broth, and water to onion mixture and simmer until collards are tender, about 20 minutes.
Rinse and drain black-eyed peas. In a bowl mash half of peas with a fork. Stir mashed and whole peas into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper and stir in vinegar.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Christopher Halloran Photography

A couple of weekends ago my sister, Tammy, and our niece, Ellie, went to downtown Mesa for Blissfest and the MACFest. Our friend, Chris Halloran, is participating in MACFest displaying his gorgeous photography. In fact, his work is so gorgeous that he received a first place blue ribbon for his work.

So now that he is an award-winning photographer, I just had to buy his work to hang in my home. In fact, we all three bought pieces. I purchased the top photograph above--St. Francis of Assisi. Tammy has always loved the neon motel sign of the diver and so that is now hanging in our home and Ellie loved the Calla Lily.

MACFest is going on every Saturday through May from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. You can find Chris' exhibit on the southwest corner of Center and Main.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wild Rice Chicken Artichoke Soup

Last night was a very fun Halloween. Lots of friends and neighbors and some really darling costumes and scary costumes.

Since we were about to eat lots of sugary snacks I prepared a really good soup that was a perfect dinner for Halloween night. This recipe is adapted from my friend Eileen's recipe.

Wild Rice Chicken Artichoke Soup

1 lg. onion chopped
3 lg. carrots chopped
2 celery ribs chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 stick of butter or 1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 cups chicken broth
3 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup cubed or shredded cooked chicken
1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
1 can fat-free or lowfat evaporated milk
1 jar of marinated artichokes, drained
1/4 cup snipped chives

In a large pot saute the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in butter or oil until tender. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually add broth. Stir in the cooked rice, chicken, artichokes, add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in milk; cook 3-5 minutes longer. Add chives.