Sugarless Pancakes

Taste tested, these sugarless pancakes made the cut! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Taste tested, these sugarless pancakes made the cut! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Sugarless Pancakes

We grew up making pancakes. And not just for breakfast. For several years, they were the staple of Sunday nights with friends. Then when my brothers were in college, I would visit my Mom’s house just in time to whip up several batches for hollow-legged young men staying overnight. The Astronomy club members were a personal favorite, they walked around looking up and missed seeing any messes below.

I was looking for a basic recipe without sugar and found this one. It originally had 1 tablespoon of sugar in the original recipe so I tried it without sugar and liked it.

Easy to make, and even easier to make a second dry ingredient batch in glass jars and save it for later use. Just like the brownie recipe. It’s how to make your own “boxed” ingredients for your own use and for gifts if you remember to add the wet ingredients on a label on the lid.

I’m also a fan of the gifts in bags from homegrown herbs and other plants, there is no substitute buying them from a store.

Basic Sugarless Pancakes

Start with 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour. If you want to play with this recipe you could substitute half with wheat flour or almond flour.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour

  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/4 cups milk

  • 1 egg

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

To make:

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.

Pour globs into a pre-heated, medium high pan with shortening or butter. I use shortening.

Turn when bubbles appear.

Bubbles are the sign to flip the pancakes to cook on the other side. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Bubbles are the sign to flip the pancakes to cook on the other side. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

If the pan is not evenly-heated, the pancakes will initially look uncooked. Once turned, check by making a small cut on the pancake edge to ensure it’s cooked all the way through.

Brown on both sides.

Serve hot with maple syrup or better yet, fresh honey.

Once cooked, keep pancakes on paper towel to absorb cooking oil. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once cooked, keep pancakes on paper towel to absorb cooking oil. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

When I have extras, I freeze them individually then store in a plastic bag for later re-heating.

These hold up well frozen.

Charlotte







Chicory Coffee

Cleaned and ground chicory roots add a chocolate flavor to traditional coffee. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cleaned and ground chicory roots add a chocolate flavor to traditional coffee. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Chicory Coffee 

It was a staple during World War II when coffee beans were not available. I used to assume chicory coffee would be something campers would make when cooking out in the woods. Now chicory coffee is offered in some upscale coffee bars and as a specialty brew.

We can all make chicory coffee at home with a few precautions about where we collect the plants, which are herbs and wonderful pollinator plants.

Chicory Coffee Recipe

Courtesy of Lee Allen Peterson’s  Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants

Harvest chicory from a chemical free area. Wash; dry roots.

Roast in oven until dark brown and brittle. Grind as you would coffee beans. 

Use roughly 1 ½ tsps. ground chicory root for every cup of water.

I had my first taste of chicory coffee when I was in New Orleans where I was told beignets go hand in hand with a cup of chicory coffee.  Who was I to argue?

Charlotte

Double Duty Brownie Mix

One of the extra moist brownies makes a nice simple dessert. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of the extra moist brownies makes a nice simple dessert. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Double Duty Brownie Mix Recipe

There are several good reasons to add this little brownie recipe to your recipe collection.

First, in less than 5 minutes you can make several batches of the dry ingredients to store for later use. This is how I used to use this recipe; having pre-made brownie mixes in jars that I could quickly mix up and bake.

Secondly, these also make nice little gifts when you add the wet ingredients on a card or label. I write it on the lid.

Brownie Mix Recipe

Add 2 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla.

Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven; allow to cool.

My handwritten label on top of one of my jars of homemade brownie mix. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My handwritten label on top of one of my jars of homemade brownie mix. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

See how pretty this could be with a ribbon and gift card?

Friends who have received this in the past have commented at how easy, and delicious, this was to use.

You can make this with special dark chocolate if you want to ramp it up, this is basically a classic American cuisine recipe.

One homemade brownie mix batch ready for wet ingredients. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One homemade brownie mix batch ready for wet ingredients. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Now if you took a close look at my hand writing on the label, you will know how I came up with this second version of this recipe. Instead of the original 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, I misread the label and made this with 1 cup of vegetable oil, doubling the original recipe.

If you want to make them into little chocolate pies, use 3/14 cup vegetable oil.

I like to bake brownies in cupcake pans, which makes them easier to have in single servings.

This is how the additional vegetable oil changes the brownies, into extra moist brownies with a depressed center.

These are the brownies made with 3/4 cup vegetable oil. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These are the brownies made with 3/4 cup vegetable oil. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I ended up with these tiny pie-looking cupcakes where I can add cut up fresh fruit in the center. Strawberries are my favorites but most berries will work; raspberries are another delicious combination. For the photo I added blueberries.

If you don’t have fruit, serve it with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.

You can also easily freeze these for later use.

It’s an easy little dessert to dress up for a nice treat at the end of your meal and you can make both from the same brownie mix!

Charlotte

Versatile Butter Cookies Recipe

Stacking cookies in the tin almost doubles the amount you can include. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Stacking cookies in the tin almost doubles the amount you can include. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Versatile Butter Cookies Recipe

Whenever my gardening friend Tom helps me in my garden, I know exactly how to thank him. He loves these butter cookies rolled out as thin as possible without any embellishments. The last time I gave him a tin he said he enjoys a couple at the end of the day with a cup of coffee, out of his mother’s lovely floral hand painted ceramic cup he once brought over to my house. I do have dibs on that cup if he ever tires of it!

So when a truckload of horse manure found its way next to the mulch piles he brought me last year, I knew it was time to dust off this recipe.

Only one problem.

When I made these last year, it was before my cataract surgery so I must have misread the ingredients, particularly the amount of flour. Now that I have better eyesight, I followed the recipe exactly and had to toss out the first batch, it was much too thick to even roll out. I suspect I was a little too free with the flour measuring so it’s not the recipe’s fault!

I have a tendency to throw things together and then try to remember what I did later when it works out well so this was no surprise. What was challenging was trying to find the right flour amounts to keep these butter cookies thin and crispy.

Hummm, this just reminded me of a Christmas sugar cookie discussion about whether people like their Christmas sugar cookies thick or thin. It is almost a matter of principle.

Oh, and no surprise that I made a couple other adjustments to this recipe, right? I will list your options so you can try these out and find the one you like.

These are buttery but not sweet so if you want to decorate with icing, sugar sprinkles or a simple glaze those will not overwhelm the cookie.

These basic recipes are out of my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook. They are also available in American Cooking Illustrated Encyclopaedia, the closest cookbook I have found to the tried and true Betty Crocker versions.

Pick up tin cans in summer to repurpose for cookie giving the rest of the year. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Pick up tin cans in summer to repurpose for cookie giving the rest of the year. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Basic Butter Cookies Recipe

Beat until creamy:

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

Stir in 3 teaspoons flavoring (vanilla, lemon, almond, chocolate and so forth)

Sift together and stir in

3 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Chill dough. Roll very thin. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased cooking sheet.

Bake at 425F until delicately browned.

Makes abut 7 dozen 2” cookies.

Charlotte’s Butter Cookies Recipe Revised

If you like your cookies thicker, keep the 3 cups of flour but I preferred 2.5 cups. Make sure the butter and flour are well mixed before chilling. Chilling well made it easy to roll the dough as thin as I wanted it.

If you want something less buttery, substitute vegetable shortening and increase the flavoring to 4 teaspoons.

To glaze, brush mixture of 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of water over top.

You can also easily add sprinkles before cooking.

Allow to cool completely before icing.

Easily turn a cookie cutter into a gift box bow using a small ribbon. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Easily turn a cookie cutter into a gift box bow using a small ribbon. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Nice Gift Idea

These butter cookies, by the way, are a nice little gift for a variety of occasions. Tie them to a theme using cookie cutters.

You can also make them into a gift by using a theme cookie cutter and adding the recipe with the cookie cutter tied with a nice bow.

I suppose you could just give the cookie cutter with the recipe, too, but make a batch, that way you can enjoy a few yourself and the recipient will be enticed to make their own.

Charlotte



Updated Cucumber Onion Salad

Today’s cucumber, red onion and vinegar summer salad. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Today’s cucumber, red onion and vinegar summer salad. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Updated Cucumber Onion Salad Recipe

Here is the old, traditional cucumber onion salad recipe I found a couple of years ago:

1 cup apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Mix in a pan and bring to a boil. Allow to cool. Pour over sliced cucumbers and onions; allow to marinade overnight.

New Cucumber Onion Salad Options

Since I shared that recipe, I have tried several configurations, starting with not boiling the mixture and deleting sugar. Now I splash equal parts vinegar and water, enough to cover the cucumber slices and onions, and allow to marinate overnight.

Another option is to cut the sugar amount in half, especially if the cucumbers are more on the sweet side.

This is best the second day.

You can also reuse the vinegar water mixture and make a second batch. It will be not as strong the second time around but when time is short and you still want a fresh summer salad it works well!

And wouldn’t my Bunny Days of the Week Kitchen Towels go well with this salad, especially since I remember my niece Rachel, who loved cucumbers as a child, getting indignant when she found rabbits munching on her favorite vegetables.

Charlotte

Watermelon Juice Recipe

Fresh blended cold watermelon into juice form is the taste of summer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Fresh blended cold watermelon into juice form is the taste of summer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Watermelon Juice Recipe

What does summer mean to you - summer sports games, traveling, reading? If you want to make something summer refreshing that is unusual and easy, make watermelon juice.

A popular offering in Brazil along beaches, watermelon juice is an easy and fun way to enjoy a naturally-sweet refreshing summer drink.

To make, remove the watermelon pulp in easy to manage sizes. I use a melon baller to core my watermelons, that gives me the option to easily add other fruits for a quick fruit salad as well as make watermelon juice.

Cold watermelon pieces and a blender is all it takes. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cold watermelon pieces and a blender is all it takes. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Don’t forget to taste test your watermelon, you want something that has a nice flavor to it and you can better decide what else to add.

Once cored, place the watermelon pieces in a blender. If your watermelon is too sweet, add a dash of lemon juice.

If you like to eat your watermelon with salt, add a dash of salt.

If you want a cold watermelon juice, add ice.

Blend.

The shredded watermelon pulp will rise to the top but not have any body to it. It will give the watermelon juice drink a frothy top and a clear juice bottom.

Add a sprig of fresh spearmint to finish off the drink. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Add a sprig of fresh spearmint to finish off the drink. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

To serve, I add a spring of fresh spearmint from my garden. You can also use other herbs to taste; peppermint and lemon balm would also work.

Enjoy and happy summer!

Charlotte

Basic Homemade Biscuits

Basic homemade biscuits cooling off on cookie rack. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Basic homemade biscuits cooling off on cookie rack. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Basic Homemade Biscuits

This is one of those must have basic recipes that takes less than 5 minutes to make and, once baked, can be frozen for later use.

I like these in winter but I keep a supply handy in the freezer all year for visitors who want to share a cup of tea with really fresh honey and strawberry jam.

Basic Homemade Biscuit Recipe

Sift together:

2 cups all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Add 1/4 cup shortening and use two knives to cut it into small pieces.

Add 3/4 cup milk.

Mix gently, then roll out onto floured board. Cut into 3/4” biscuits.

Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool on cookie rack.

To freeze, I place the biscuits on cookie rack in freezer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

To freeze, I place the biscuits on cookie rack in freezer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Place cookie rack in freezer to individually freeze biscuits. Store in freezer bag.

To defrost, place in microwave for 30 seconds or allow to defrost at room temperature.

You can turn these biscuits into breakfast if you like gravy, or make your own breakfast sandwich with an omelet or scrambled eggs.

Or so I hear. I haven’t moved past adding honey from my apiary or strawberry jam from our local farmer’s market.

These basic recipes are the foundation of cooking. You will find others in our American Cooking Illustrated Encyclopaedia.

Maybe I will get adventurous this winter.

Charlotte


Levee High Apple Pie Recipe

Blue Owl Bakery in Kimmswick, Mo., home of levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Blue Owl Bakery in Kimmswick, Mo., home of levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Levee High Apple Pie Recipe

We’ve had a wet spring this year lately, wet enough for the forecasters to start comparing current river and levee levels to previous record-holding years. One community hard hit with flooding is Kimmswick, Mo., a self-made small tourist spot near St. Louis I visited last year.

Typical of an adventure, what I thought I would enjoy turned out to be the least fascinating part about the visit, which included a stop at the Blue Owl Restaurant, known for its levee high apple pies.

Can you spot the levee high apple pie? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Can you spot the levee high apple pie? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The apple pies were designed to celebrate the levee that keeps the town from getting flooded. The unique aspect of this well-known apple pie is the pie shape.

Closer look at the shape of levee high apple pies. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Closer look at the shape of levee high apple pies. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

When I asked the waitress how they make it, she said it was a secret so I checked around to find the recipe.

Before trying to make it, though, I decided to taste test the real thing.

The caramel cover to levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The caramel cover to levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The caramel coating was delicious but what fascinated me was how the apples were added as the pie filing.

How the applies are piled high for levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

How the applies are piled high for levee high apple pie. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Levee High Apple Pie, The Blue Owl Restaurant Bakery, Kimmswick

Author: From Let’s Do Lunch, a cookbook from The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery

Recipe type: Pie

Cuisine: American

Prep time:  45 mins

Cook time:  1 hour 15 mins

Total time:  2 hours

Serves: 8 slices

A storied and award-winning apple pie.

Ingredients

  • 2 deep-dish unbaked pie crusts

  • Filling

  • 12 cups (14-16 apples) of peeled and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples

  • 1 cup sugar

  • ¼ cup flour

  • 2tsp cinnamon

  • Dash of salt

  • 1 Tablespoon butter

  • 1 Tablespoon sugar

  • ¼ cup milk

  • Topping

  • 1 ½ cups melted caramels (21 oz).

  • ½ cup chopped pecans

  • 2 Tbsp evaporated milk

Instructions

  1. For the Filling

  2. Combine apples, sugar, flour cinnamon, and salt. Mound filling by hand or use a small, deep mixing bowl for a mold. Invert the filling into the bottom crust and dot with butter. Cover mounded filling with top crust. Moisten, seal and flute edges tightly. Brush top crust with a small amount of milk and sugar mixed together. Prick crust to allow steam to vent. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour or until the crust is golden brown.

  3. For the topping

  4. Melt caramels in the microwave. Add evaporated milk and stir until smooth. Add chopped pecans and stir. Spread over pie starting at the base and working up.

The Blue Owl Restaurant sign at Kimmswick, Missouri. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Blue Owl Restaurant sign at Kimmswick, Missouri. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I tend to make pies without pie crusts but in this case, I think a pie crust will come in handy to hold all of those sliced apples together!

Charlotte

Easy Pea Salad Recipe

I added yellow and red onions to this easy pea salad. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I added yellow and red onions to this easy pea salad. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Easy Pea Salad Recipe

This is one of those quick and easy recipes that should be in the American Cooking Encyclopedia, it comes in handy for a variety of occasions. I have used this is as both a main salad as well as a side dish, both cold and warm. It’s best cold for a summer dish and warm for a winter side dish.

You can alter the ingredients to taste. I tend to add more celery and onions.

I also like that it takes only a small amount of mayonnaise to bring all ingredients together.

If I have a choice, I would let this sit overnight so the flavors marinate.

To mak

1 can drained peas

1 shelled hard boiled egg

1/2 cup chopped fresh celery

1/4 cup chopped yellow and/or red onions

1 tbsp mayonnaise

salt to taste

To make: Mix together. You can add a second egg if you want more egg and a dash of milk if you want more coating on the peas.

Cover and allow to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight for the cold version.

Serve immediately if you want it served warm.

Charlotte

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

My first batch of homemade hot cocoa mix being tested. It passed inspection with flying colors.

My first batch of homemade hot cocoa mix being tested. It passed inspection with flying colors.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix Recipe

It's cold. Finally. Snow is still on the ground and the winds are blowing the skin temperature lower. Perfect time for a great drink like a cup of hot cocoa!

The first recipe I found was pretty basic and had none of the rich texture one gets from buying hot cocoa mix in fancy containers. After some research, I found this recipe from Alton Brown that includes a secret ingredient that makes all of the difference - cayenne pepper flakes.

I have now made this recipe a couple of times, once for gifts and the second time to have a supply for myself. 

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix Ingredients (for 5 cups of dry mix)

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred); Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate is another option.
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • optional - 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • optional - add baking chips like butterscotch or mint to the top
  • You can add other things like toffee bits, candy cane crumbs or candy baking chips to the mix as well as spices like cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Simply whisk the ingredients together. 

To serve, start with 2 tablespoons per 8 ounces of hot water. Mix a couple ounces of hot water in mix first, then add hot water to taste.

To mix well, I will measure the mix and water in a blender.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix Gift Idea

You can give it as a gift all on its own, or pair it with other yummy treats. Arrange it in a gift basket with a mug and sweet treats.

A canning jar is perfect for packaging edible gifts like hot cocoa mix although my preference is interesting glass jars with tight lids. Use a colorful ribbon and a gift tag with instructions.

Although I tend to see this recipe at Christmas, it's a nice gift idea for Valentine's Day, too and for any fall and winter birthdays.

Charlotte

 

Sweet Potato Recipes

Select relatively straight sweet potatoes to preserve your fingers when cutting into strips.

Select relatively straight sweet potatoes to preserve your fingers when cutting into strips.

Sweet Potato Recipes

The argument started innocently enough. We tend to end up in the kitchen when any two of us are together and at this family reunion, it was hard to know who was responsible for cooking what dishes. As one of my brothers was rummaging through the pantry, he yelled out who had the yams.

My Uncle Tony, from Louisiana, was enjoying a cup of coffee at the end of the kitchen island and took exception to the orange tubers my other brother tossed over him. “Those are not yams,” he said, his charming southern accent at odds with how emphatically he made the diagnosis.

Yams are native to Africa and Asia, with the majority of the crop coming from Africa. They are related to lilies, and can be as small as a regular potato or grow five feet long. Yams have a cylindrical shape with blackish or brown, bark-like skin and white, purple or reddish flesh. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.

Part of the confusion comes from how USDA classifies sweet potatoes – “firm” and “soft.” The firm variety was the first to be produced in the U.S., so when "soft" sweet potatoes began to be produced commercially, there was a need to differentiate it. Since the "soft" sweet potatoes slightly resembled true yams, they picked up the name and became what you see labeled as "yams" in most U.S. grocery stores. Those are the sweet potatoes most used in sweet potato casseroles.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

I love to have those soft sweet potatoes around for snacks and to add to salads, nothing more, just a well-baked sweet potato. Pick the same sized- tubers so they all finish baking around the same time.

After washing and towel drying, cut an x in the center before placing in a 350F oven for about half an hour or until done.

Baked sweet potatoes are a traditional American fall recipe. However, I have a new favorite way to eat sweet potatoes-baked sweet potato fries.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

You will need: Extra virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Parchment paper. Don’t forget the sweet potatoes!

To make: Select relatively straight-growing sweet potatoes for easy cutting. Remove peel. Cut into slices, then cut again into ¼ inch wide strips.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Line a sheet tray with parchment. In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes with just enough oil to coat. Sprinkle with three shakes each of seasonings and paprika. Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd. Bake until sweet potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

If you want to make larger portions, for 5 sweet potatoes use 1 tablespoon of a combination of 1 cup salt, ¼ cup black pepper, ¼ cup garlic powder and ½ teaspoon paprika.

Baked sweet botato fries are best served about 5 minutes after they come out of oven and cool.

Baked sweet botato fries are best served about 5 minutes after they come out of oven and cool.

As far as what my two engineer brothers made with those sweet potatoes they thought were yams, let’s just say it’s best that some recipes are not preserved for posterity.

Charlotte

Chocolate Mice Recipe

Hershey kisses form the face of chocolate-dipped maraschino cherries with stems.

Hershey kisses form the face of chocolate-dipped maraschino cherries with stems.

Chocolate Mice Recipe

My bee buddy David turned 70 years old this year. To celebrate, his sons joined him for a weekend of fine dining, theatre and catching up on family stories, including a chocolate birthday cake with white icing decorated with, what else – bees.

There’s another passion in David’s life, besides his lovely wife. Three cats have found refuge at David’s house, each with a story sadder than the next one until you see them today, coats shiny as they happily lounge on the grass outside David’s basement office.

There is Shirley, a one-eyed calico suspected of being at least 18 years old who is the self-designated house greeter. Chatty Shirley will let you know it’s time to pick her up when she rolls over after telling you all about her day.

Then there is black Henry with yellow eyes, who hides from most people but who talks to me, especially when he wants inside the house. One time he led me to all house doors to see if I could let him inside. Unfortunately I didn’t happen to have a key and he let me know what he thought of my shortcomings by dashing off.

Finally, there is black and white Smokey, who played hard to get for 3 years and now won’t let David, or Henry, out of his sight. I, on the other hand, Smokey can easily do without and tries to, every time he sees me.

When I heard about David’s landmark birthday, I knew the furry family had to contribute – actually Shirley asked me, she has a lot to say every time she sees me – so I made one of my favorite gift treats, chocolate mice.

Chocolate Mice Recipe

You need:

Unwrapped Hershey milk chocolate kisses

Maraschino cherries with stems

Dark almond bark

Almond slivers

Storage container

Tin gift can

Wax paper

Paper Towel

Chocolate mice close up include Almond slivers for ears.

Chocolate mice close up include Almond slivers for ears.

To Make Chocolate Mice

Drain cherries and place on paper towel.

Unwrap Hershey kisses.

Melt dark almond bark in microwave for 1 ½ minutes until melted. Dip cherries in chocolate until covered; place on wax paper to dry.

Add dab of melted chocolate to flat Hershey kiss; add 2 Almond slivers. Press against cherry. Allow to dry.

Store in air tight container.

Photo 2:  Package chocolate mice in a tin container to keep the almond ears from breaking and add toy mice on top instead of a ribbon for a feline treat. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Photo 2:  Package chocolate mice in a tin container to keep the almond ears from breaking and add toy mice on top instead of a ribbon for a feline treat. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

How to Package Chocolate Mice

To make these even more special, I packaged them in a tin container. Make sure the tin is tall enough not to break the almond sliver ears. If you want to make sure they don’t move, you can use a tiny dab of chocolate to “glue” the mice to a cardboard bottom.

For fun, I added three catnip mice to the tin instead of a ribbon. The gift card was “signed” with the three cats footprints, a cat foot print stamp my cats have been known to use for their gift-giving. I added names just in case David couldn’t distinguish between one set of prints against another one but he seemed to know who had contributed to the birthday sentiments.

These also make wonderful Halloween and Christmas treats.

Charlotte

Baked Pears in Honey Recipe

Ripe bartlett pears from my garden ready to bake after I drizzle fresh honey over them.

Ripe bartlett pears from my garden ready to bake after I drizzle fresh honey over them.

Baked Pears in Honey Recipe

The first batch of freshly picked Bartlett pears have safely arrived at their destination and have been rated “yumm” by one of my brothers. It has become an annual family tradition when I have fresh Bartlett pears to share. After seasoning them to start ripening, I carefully wrap each one in newspaper and bubble wrap and ship them off, timing them to arrive with at least a couple of them ripe enough to eat right out of the box. I know my brothers, they aren’t going to wait to have them cooked.

These are not just any Bartlett pears. These are pears not from a farm but from the semi-dwarf pear tree I planted by my driveway in 1983. I completely forgot I even had the tree until 2010, when the first crop of pears covered my driveway. Wasps had pollinated the tree that spring. That was also the year I added two bee hives to my garden, which looking back now appears redundant. Between the bees and wasps, the Stark Brothers pear tree has provided varying crops of pears every year. In 2012, the year of a drought, it was just one but it was quite a large pear. Now I know to pinch off some of the flowers to encourage yearly fruiting.

The squirrels in my garden have developed a taste for pears so it’s a race between who will get more pears by the time they are ready to pick. Squirrels, I have learned, don’t mind eating very green pears so they have a head start on the count. By the time the fruit was ready to pick this year, I used a light bulb changer and removed every single remaining fruit. They are now sitting in baskets in my cold utility room to get the ripening process started. Pears ripen from the inside, not on the tree.

This year, I also added a small container of honey to the pear packages so my brothers and their families could enjoy baked pears in honey. The recipe is easy and delicious.

Here are the instructions that went with the pears, including the recipe:

Bluebird Gardens Bartlett Pears 2017

These pears have survived daily squirrel assaults to be a treat on your table.

After getting picked, they were seasoned in 60F temperature for a week to start the ripening process. Pears ripen from the inside.

Once you receive yours, place a couple in the enclosed brown bag with an apple so the apple ethylene gases will complete the ripening. A pear is ripe when you gently press the top with a thumb and find it soft to the touch.

Bartlett pears with honey baked, cooled and ready to taste. 

Bartlett pears with honey baked, cooled and ready to taste. 

Baked Pears with Honey Recipe

Cut the pears in half and place on a baking sheet (I cut a sliver off the other end so they sat upright).  Leave the skin on.

Using a measuring spoon or melon baller, scoop out the seeds.

Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle 1/2 teaspoon honey over each one. You can also add walnuts in the scooped out center.

Bake in the oven 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Charlotte

Hot Toddy Recipe

Basic hot toddy ingredients including honey from my bee hives.

Basic hot toddy ingredients including honey from my bee hives.

Hot Toddy Recipe

Not sure how I caught this cold but it's a great excuse to try a traditional remedy, a "hot toddy" drink.

I have had two in my life. The first was when I was working in England at the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion. It had been raining for days. By the end of the week, I had to talk so much I ended up with laryngitis and soaking wet. After changing into dry clothes, my Navy team greeted me with a warm blanket and a hot toddy.

More recently, my bee buddy David brought it up the first time he heard my congested voice, noting that it also is great to encourage sleep. I rarely drink hard liquor but I thought it was worth a try to feel better. And it has an ingredient I have on hand, local  honey.

Hot Toddy Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 ounces water (hot from the tap)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (we use the stuff in the plastic lemon)
  • 1 slice fresh lemon (if we don't have this we don't use it) (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the whisky in a large microwave safe mug.
  2. Add the honey.
  3. Pour the hot water into the mug over the spoon you used for the honey to get off the last little drops.
  4. Add the lemon juice and stir well.
  5. Place the mug in the microwave for 1 minute or until it is piping hot, but not boiling.
  6. Add the lemon slice and serve.

Even if it doesn't work on your cold, it should help you sleep so you don't care about the cold!

Charlotte

Ice Storm Chicken and Veggie Rosemary Stew

Fresh rosemary sprigs added at the end are the secret to this delicious chicken veggie stew.

Fresh rosemary sprigs added at the end are the secret to this delicious chicken veggie stew.

Ice Storm Chicken and Veggie Rosemary Stew

I just had some and, if I don't mind saying it myself, it was SO good. Simple, flavorful...I'm in love with fresh rosemary.

In the past, I have mixed my herbs but I decided to just use fresh rosemary I have been growing in a pot in my dining room. It's cold and icy outside; this potted herb is still happily growing so it was time to use some of it in winter cooking.

This is the basic soup recipe I use when I want to clean out my crisper. If you want a soup, add more broth, water or wine; I wanted something hardier so I'm calling this a stew.

Ice Storm Chicken and Veggie Rosemary Stew Recipe

2 cans vegetable broth

3 cut up medium carrots

3 diced celery stalks

1 diced medium onion

1 cup water

1 tsp sea salt

Half of a diced green pepper (this was left over from a salad)

Cook on low until the vegetables are cooked, about half an hour or so.

Add I baked chicken breast, cut up into small pieces

3 3-inch fresh rosemary sprigs

Cut up mushrooms - I forgot to add those, will next time. 

Continue cooking on low until chicken is integrated into the vegetable mixture and the rosemary blends in, about 5 minutes. Serve.

Makes 4 hearty servings.

I can imagine this with other vegetables - broccoli, green beans, zucchini leaving the fresh rosemary as the star. I'm loosing weight so now carbs - no peas, potatoes, pasta, rice - although those could be added if you wanted something with higher levels of energy.

Ice-covered redbud tree January 14, 2017 in my garden, which is why I'm playing in my kitchen.

Ice-covered redbud tree January 14, 2017 in my garden, which is why I'm playing in my kitchen.

It's too cold and dangerous to be outside because of the ice storm so I'm enjoying reading a book and playing in the kitchen. I'm lucky to have written this recipe down immediately after making it or I would not have remembered the ingredient amounts later. Friends and family know that's a regular hazard when enjoying meals at my house, they may never enjoy the same one again because I like to experiment.

Oh, I have recipe books. I collect recipe books and have some classics, from my Mother's Betty Crocker cookbook to the American Cooking Encyclopedia. I enjoy reading them. Much more fun to chop, mix and see what I can cook up on my own without a prompt - most of the time.

Ice Storm Chicken and Veggie Rosemary Stew is delicious the next day, too.

Charlotte

 

 

 

Winter Hardy Chili

This chili uses ingredients from my garden. Add glass of milk and a cold winter day to appreciate.

This chili uses ingredients from my garden. Add glass of milk and a cold winter day to appreciate.

Winter Hardy Chili

Do you have a favorite, secret chili recipe?

There are people who do, even places that hold chili cook-offs where winning dishes have top secret ingredients such as chocolate, beer, peanut butter or – well, if I told you it wouldn’t be a secret any more.

I recently met someone who also has quite an array of ingredients she offers as chili toppings, from the standard sour cream, grated cheese and crackers to shredded chocolate, peanuts and crumbled potato chips. My personal favorite, which I haven’t tried yet, was fresh diced red onions but then I love red onions on practically anything, especially the ones I grow myself out of my refrigerator crisper. It’s more like liberating those poor things that tend to sprout before I have a chance to use them in salads.

I have a lot of creative fun with my favorite chili recipe, a derivative from one a friend shared from her days in Washington D.C. Over the years, I have simplified her fancy recipe so that it is ready to eat as soon as it is made, and still flexible if you want to get creative and add other ingredients. It also can be cooked longer by adding liquid - tomato paste, red wine, more tomatoes. For example, if you first saute garlic with onions and green peppers, this will be sweeter. If you put the garlic in with the tomatoes and beans, it will be more salty.

If you should be invaded by a herd of teenagers, add an extra can of beans to extend the recipe with a dash of extra seasonings. I once only had extra canned tomatoes and added those and that made this into a delicious thick soup. As I said earlier, very versatile.

This makes 6-8 half cup servings if you’re not adding more to it:

Charlotte’s Chili Recipe

1 cut up medium yellow onion

1 cut up medium green pepper

2-4 cloves of garlic to taste

1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lbs ground chuck

1 can red pinto beans

12 oz defrosted or canned tomatoes, or 1 can stewed tomatoes

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp salt

Mix red pinto beans and tomatoes in a pot with chili powder; set aside.

Cook onions in extra virgin olive oil until clear; add green peppers, garlic and ground chuck. Cook on low until brown. Strain to remove extra grease. I use a colander inside a mixing bowl and let it drain. Mix with beans and tomatoes until warm. Add salt to taste.

Serve as is or add a few saltine crackers or a handful of oyster crackers. Wait until it cools to dig in.

Charlotte

 

 

 

Honey Butter Cinnamon Icing

Honey butter cinnamon icing almost ready to use.

Honey butter cinnamon icing almost ready to use.

Honey Butter Cinnamon Icing

I like to use honey in cooking but only if I don't heat it up . Heat destroys the beneficial enzymes in honey so that tends to limit how I can use it in my kitchen. 

When I was asked to bring a desert to a function, I decided to try to find something that could incorporate a little honey from my hives and I came across this interesting recipe for an icing. The cinnamon tempered the sweetness and the honey is used at room temperature.

The confectioner's sugar has an interesting reaction to adding the honey. At first it appears the mixture needs additional moisture. Once the honey is incorporated into the confectioner's sugar, it starts to smooth out against the bowl sides so be patient.

Honey Butter Cinnamon Icing Ingredients

·       1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

·       1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

·       1 tablespoon honey

·       1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix at first on low in a bowl with a hand beater until incorporated and smooth.

Spread on cupcakes, cookies or cakes.

Honey butter cinnamon icing-covered bite size cupcakes ready for a Christmas party.

Honey butter cinnamon icing-covered bite size cupcakes ready for a Christmas party.

Nice way to use some of my honey in a little holiday baking!

Charlotte

Fall Pea Salad Recipe

Fall Pea Salad Ingredients from Bluebird Gardens.

Fall Pea Salad Recipe

This is an easy to make and delicious pea salad and side dish. It reminds me of some of the recipes in one of my favorite recipe books, In the Kitchen with Rosie.  I make it several times a year with different added ingredients. For fall, I use my last of the season cherry tomatoes, which ripened inside and have a little tang to them.

Here is the basic Fall Pea Salad Recipe:

1 can of peas

1 hard boiled egg

1 stalk of celery

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

a dash of salt

To make, drain the can of peas and place in a container.

Cut up the stalk of celery into small pieces. I cut the celery stalk in half, then cut the halves yet again but chopping up the first halves works well, too. It's a matter of preference.

Divide a washed celery in half before chopping into smaller pieces.

Divide a washed celery in half before chopping into smaller pieces.

Personally I prefer the crisp celery pieces to be in larger pieces because I like the crunch but if you want them smaller, go for it.

Celery pieces can be any size you like, I like mine big enough to enjoy the crunch.

Celery pieces can be any size you like, I like mine big enough to enjoy the crunch.

Also chop up one hard-boiled egg into smaller pieces and mix with the peas and celery.

Leave the hard boiled egg pieces in larger chunks so you can still see them in the salad.

Leave the hard boiled egg pieces in larger chunks so you can still see them in the salad.

This is my stash of the last of my cherry tomatoes. Most were green when I brought them in, and some are past their prime. I like to add them to this salad for color and the little bite they add to the other ingredients.

These are the last of my cherry tomatoes, picked the night before the first hard frost.

These are the last of my cherry tomatoes, picked the night before the first hard frost.

I cut the cherry tomatoes in half, then slice them once more and mix them with the rest.

Add a dash of salt, mix again, and then add the tablespoon of mayonnaise. The less you use, the better, this only needs a little bit of mayo so if you want to cut back, start with a teaspoon and add if you want more.

Finished fall pea salad with the last of my cherry tomatoes. So good the next day, too!

Finished fall pea salad with the last of my cherry tomatoes. So good the next day, too!

If you need to stretch the servings, you can add another can of peas, more celery and eggs. Mix the added ingredients before you add more mayonnaise, you may not need any extra.

Once all mixed, you can serve or store in refrigerator for later use. I also like this fall pea salad the second day, when all of the flavors have had time to mix.

This is also a refreshing summer salad or side dish, and in spring I add a few native violets, that version is very pretty. Great little salad to throw together when you have last-minute visitors, too. Enjoy!

Charlotte

Honey Garlic Butter Salmon Recipe

This is even better the following day, after the juices have settled in. Good cold, too!

This is even better the following day, after the juices have settled in. Good cold, too!

Honey Garlic Butter Salmon Recipe

I'm back from 10 days in Italy, inspired to do something more than just grill my salmon in garlic salt and douse with lemon juice. Don't get too excited, I am not aspiring to be a chef, I just want to try my hand at giving my food a little easy, extra flavor.

This recipe is very simple and delicious. Honey Garlic Butter Salmon is ready in under 20 minutes, then broiled, or grilled, for that extra golden, crispy and caramelized finish. Most of the time it is cooking so there is plenty of time to set the table and toss a salad while you wait to place it under the broiler for a couple of minutes before serving.

This recipe is for 2 1/2 pounds of fresh salmon, Since I only purchased one pound, I made the sauce in a microwave dish by estimating smaller ingredient amounts. Heat up on low or defrost, not on high or you may get a lot of smoke. Trust me.

Honey Garlic Butter salmon calls for basic ingredients we all should already have.

Honey Garlic Butter salmon calls for basic ingredients we all should already have.

Honey Garlic Butter Salmon Recipe Ingredients (for 2.5 lbs of salmon)

  • ¼ cup butter
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of ½ a lemon)
  • 1.2kg | 2½ pounds side of salmon
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Cracked pepper, to taste (optional)
  • Lemon slices (to serve)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
So easy, add your salmon to aluminum foil that can cover the whole slab.

So easy, add your salmon to aluminum foil that can cover the whole slab.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F | 190°C. Line a baking tray or baking sheet with a large piece of foil, big enough to fold over and seal to create a packet or 2 long pieces of foil over lapping each other lengthways to create your salmon packet, depending on the width of you fillet.
  2. If your fillet is uneven, slice it to even-width pieces so it will all cook evenly.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. Add the honey, garlic and lemon, and whisk until the honey has melted through the butter and the mixture is well combined.
Add the butter, honey and garlic mixture to the salmon and make sure it's well coated.

Add the butter, honey and garlic mixture to the salmon and make sure it's well coated.

4. Place the salmon onto lined baking tray and cookie sheet. Pour the butter and honey mixture over the salmon, and using a pastry brush or spoon, spread evenly over the salmon. Sprinkle with a good amount of salt, about 2 teaspoons, and cracked pepper. Fold the sides of the foil over the salmon to cover and completely seal the packet closed so the butter does not leak.

Fold the salmon and mixture tightly-sealed in the aluminum foil to seal in flavor as it bakes.

Fold the salmon and mixture tightly-sealed in the aluminum foil to seal in flavor as it bakes.

5. Bake until cooked through, about 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish and your preference of doneness.

6. Open the foil, being careful of any escaping steam, and grill or broil for 2-3 minutes on medium heat to caramelize the top.

7. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately with lemon slices. Excellent served warm or cold or for any of the four seasons in the year. Really yummy!

Another great excuse for using my fresh parsley from my pot garden.

Another great excuse for using my fresh parsley from my pot garden.

Don't forget to pick your fresh parsley for the garnish!

Charlotte

Cucumber Onion Salad

Cucumber and onion salad.

Cucumber Onion Salad Recipe

Of all of the things I have in my garden, ladybugs and cucumbers are a must. One of the summer flavors from my teenage years was a cucumber salad my mother used to make. It was so refreshing, especially on hot Illinois summer days!

I decided to try to replicate that recipe only adding my homegrown onions to the dish. This time, i measured the ingredients, trying to remember the combination of sweet and savory. Here are the marinade ingredients that should be mixed in a pan prior to boiling:

1 cup apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Mix in a pan and bring to a boil.

Cucumber and onion salad marinade.

While the marinate is cooling, slice cucumbers and onions. For this recipe, 3-4 cucumbers will work, depending on the size of the cucumbers.

One medium regular yellow onion will work, or maybe a sweeter red onion would also be a good choice to add color.

Pour the marinade over the sliced cucumbers and onions; mix. Let sit overnight.

I like to give it a toss every once in awhile. Don't know how much of that was out of curiosity or hope that this would turn out well.

Cucumber and onion salad mixed.

And the verdict?

It was delicious, said several friends who came over for a working dinner. Guess my 40-year old memory isn't so bad after all!

Charlotte

PS You can also re-use the marinade for several days. Just keep adding cucumbers and onions as you deplete the supply.