Trip to the Sunflower State

Part of our busy summer included a road trip with my daughter Christine to Manhattan, Kansas, a place near and dear to our hearts. Our family started out in Manhattan, where my husband Jim and I met and where we raised our family until 2009, when we moved back to my home state of Indiana.

Manhattan (pop. 53,000) is in northeast Kansas, about 2 hours west of Kansas City. During our years there we made many trips across Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois on I-70. I had not been back to the Sunflower State since we moved nine years ago. Christine had flown back the summer she turned 16, but this was our first road trip back to “The Little Apple.”

The city has grown substantially since we left, but we were delighted to find Manhattan retains its friendly, welcoming, down-to-earth vibe, plus some fun places for food, drink, and shopping. It’s also the home of Kansas State University, and our family maintains a special fondness for the K-State Wildcats. Manhattan is worth a stop for anyone traveling across the Sunflower State.

One friend I caught up with in Manhattan is Sharon Davis. She is my guest on the latest Indiana Home Cooks podcast. (Listen here, or click the “play” button above.) Sharon is program director for the Home Baking Association, an organization that promotes and helps build skills in home baking for all ages. She and I go back to the days when our kids were students in the Manhattan Catholic Schools, and before that when I was still a radio professional, covering Kansas agriculture and Sharon was doing educational programming with HBA and the wheat and soybean groups in the state.

I’m so happy I could get together with Sharon. I should say, I’m happy her schedule permitted it! She is one busy lady, so I’m fortunate that during my couple of days in Manhattan she was able to work me into her schedule. We’ll hear more from Sharon in the next episode of Indiana Home Cooks. She will share some recipe ideas and thoughts on favorite things to bake. Watch for that soon. In the meantime, enjoy this episode with Sharon and me.

Resources mentioned by Sharon:  The Family Dinner Project, SNAP-Ed, the HBA Blog.

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Sharon Davis doing what she loves.
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Me, doing what I love. Lunch and a beer at the Tall Grass Brewing Tap House, overlooking downtown Manhattan, KS.

Summer Vegetable Sauté

Here is a quick and easy way to dress up summer vegetables into a delicious side dish–my Summer Vegetable Sauté. The idea is to preserve the fresh-ripened flavor of the vegetables, while enhancing them with a light sauté and a hint of seasoning. It can be served warm immediately, or chilled for later and served as a salad.

Hear me cook this dish on Earth Eats, WFIU’s weekly show focused on local food and sustainable agriculture. It’s also a podcast you can find on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.

In the recipe below, I use grape or cherry tomatoes, which are a great option any time of year. In tomato season, use your favorite, whether it’s cherry, beefsteak, plum, or heirloom. Just roughly dice to about 1-inch size and toss them in. If using good local fresh tomatoes, I would pop them in the pan and then remove immediately from heat. They really don’t need to cook and “blister the skins” as the recipe advises. If they are good tomatoes, just toss them in and you are done!

The whole thing can be the basis for a salad including your favorite greens as well. After cooking, allow the veggies to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate if not serving right away. When it’s time to serve, add your favorite greens and toss together. There should be enough liquid in the veggie mixture to “dress” the greens. If not, add a very light drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.

The idea is to play around with ingredients, seasonings, and applications. Give it a try and you’ll be on your way to more creative cooking!

Summer Vegetable Sauté

Note: This dish cooks quickly, so have all ingredients prepped and ready. Don’t overcook the vegetables. They should be tender-crisp when finished. Excellent accompaniment to grilled meats and fish. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C diced red onion (1-inch dice)
  • 1 C diced sweet mini peppers (1-inch dice, red, yellow, orange)
  • 1 C grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1-2 T fresh basil, chopped

Heat a non-stick sauté pan or skillet on medium-low heat. Drizzle with olive oil and toss in onions and peppers. Increase heat to medium. Stir gently, but don’t over-stir, so as to allow veggies to brown slightly. Sprinkle with a pinch (1/4 tsp) kosher salt and a grind or two of pepper. After 3 minutes, add the tomatoes. Stir gently and allow tomatoes to begin to blister their skins. After 2-3 minutes, drizzle veggies with vinegar and add honey. Lightly toss to combine, then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Transfer mixture to a serving bowl, add chopped basil and taste for salt/pepper, adjust if needed. Give it another drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately. 

Option 1: Allow vegetable mixture to cool to room temperature, then add fresh mozzarella (1-inch diced pieces or balls). Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Option 2: Change out the seasonings for a different flavor profile. For instance, red wine vinegar, oregano, and feta cheese for a Greek taste. Or substitute other seasonings as you like.

Option 3: Substitute or add other summer vegetables, such as zucchini, peas, or sweet corn removed from cob.

Celebrating Family and Fútbol!

A new episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast is coming in September. In the meantime, please enjoy these favorites that focus on family, in good times, and in difficult times. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Or listen right here. Just click the play buttons:

We are staying close to home this summer and enjoying lots of family time. And I hope it reminds our young adult children that home is where the heart is and where you can always get something nourishing and comforting for the stomach and the soul. Part of this summer’s family time is spent celebrating, with food, naturally! Birthdays, graduations, weddings, the World Cup…

In the spirit of the FIFA World Cup Championships, and those 10:00 a.m. matches in the later rounds, breakfast with the World Cup seemed a natural pairing. In the quarterfinal round, it was crepes with ricotta cheese and berry compote filling, as France battled Uruguay. I admit, my dish was not authentically French, but it was authentically “me,” as I used ingredients I had on hand to create something delicious to help us cheer Les Bleus on to victory.

For England v. Sweden, it was scones with our morning coffee, which should tell you who I was backing in that match. And once again, whether my scones are authentically English doesn’t really matter. The difference between a “scone” and what we Americans call a “biscuit” is not vast. In my reading, scones differ from biscuits primarily in the richness of the dough. Scones include eggs and cream in the mix, and biscuits do not. The texture differs as well, with scones being crumbly and biscuits, ideally, flaky.

Scones can feature additions to the dough, such as berries, herbs, chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc. For my basic scone, it’s raisins. The recipe, with pictures, is below. I include some explanation of technique, because it is important and might take a bit of practice. For a dough like this “less is more.” The less mixing and handling of the dough, the better. You do not knead this dough. Simply gather it together into a loose ball, and then gently shape it into a rectangle. Many scone recipes instruct you to flatten the ball into a circle, and then cut out pinwheel-wedges. I personally prefer the chunky triangles shown here.

My Best Ever Scones (makes 1 dozen)

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup dark raisins
  • 1 egg
  • About 3/4 cup half & half
  • Turbinado (“raw”) sugar

Pre-heat oven to 425º.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. (You want the baking powder, salt, and sugar evenly distributed.) Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss in the raisins and lightly stir. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and set aside.

In a glass measuring cup, break the egg and beat it with a fork. Add about 3/4 cup of half & half, so your total liquid amount (egg plus cream) equals 1 cup. Mix thoroughly with a fork. 

Pour about 3/4 of the liquid into the well of the dry ingredients. Using a fork, with as few strokes as possible, gently stir until just moistened. The dough will be rough and rather stiff. If it is too dry add a tiny bit more liquid.  Do not over-mix. 

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Sprinkle dough with a bit of extra flour if it is too sticky to handle. Gently shape dough into a ball, and then gently begin to flatten and elongate into a narrow rectangle, about 2.5 inches by 15.5 inches. It should be about 1.5 inches thick. You do not need a rolling pin, only your hands.

Cut scones in triangle shapes. (A bench scrapper works well, or a straight-bladed knife, cutting straight down. Do not saw! Coat the blade or scrapper with flour if it sticks to dough.) Place scones on a parchment covered baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining liquid. (If you have no remaining liquid, just use more half & half.) Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and bake in pre-heated 425º oven for 10-12 minutes, until tops and edges have just browned. Cool on a rack and store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag. 

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Mix until just moistened. A few flecks of flour are ok.
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Turn dough onto floured surface, and sprinkle lightly on top with extra flour.
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Shape gently into a ball.
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Gently into a rectangle.
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Cutting scones. (I got a baker’s dozen.)
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Brush with egg/cream and sprinkle with sugar.
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A beautiful bake!

Homemade Salad Dressing–You can do it!

There is one item you will almost never find in my refrigerator–bottled salad dressing. Okay, some bottled dressings are fine, but most of what I’ve tasted are over the top. Too salty, too much seasoning, too heavy, too thick, too sweet…just too much. But I refuse to dwell on the negative. I will rather focus on the positive and the multitude of ways we can think beyond the bottle.

(NOTE: The Indiana Home Cooks Podcast is taking a short hiatus. I’ll be back with a new episode in September. In the meantime, catch up on your listening! There are over 20 episodes available. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. In the spirit of stretching your cooking boundaries, here are a few suggestions. Thanks for listening!)

A good salad dressing will delight your taste buds, not overpower them. It shouldn’t be too vinegary or oily, and with seasonings that complement rather than mask the ingredients of the salad. So my approach is to keep it simple. On any given night when I’m assembling a salad of ordinary garden vegetables and greens, I’ll whisk up a simple oil and vinegar dressing, a “vinaigrette,” before serving. A pinch of salt and pepper and a small dollop of dijon mustard are whisked together with the vinegar. Then the oil is drizzled slowly in while continuing to whisk until everything is blended. It takes about two minutes.

That is the basis for any vinaigrette. It is complete in and of itself, or it can be augmented with herbs and seasonings of your choice.  The vinegar can be white, red, rice, balsamic, or any other flavor you have in the cupboard. Instead of vinegar, use the juice of a lemon, lime, or orange, or the last of that bottle of wine you did not finish the night before. Any of these acids will do. The oil can be olive, canola, vegetable, sunflower, grape seed, or flavor-infused. And seasonings can include fresh or dried herbs, soy sauce, garlic, chili sauce, you name it. I also add a bit of sweetener–honey or sugar–to balance the acid a bit.

The type of salad you are making often determines the type of dressing needed. For a Greek-style salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta cheese, and lettuce (or no lettuce), the basic vinaigrette gets a boost from oregano–either fresh or dried. A simple salad of tomatoes, onion, and fresh mozzarella needs a simple treatment of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh basil. To make it even easier, just drizzle and sprinkle each ingredient over the vegetables, and gently toss together. Voilà! You just made fresh dressing. (Another option is Asian-style dressing. See recipe below.)

Most basic cookbooks include vinaigrettes to make from scratch, and a quick read of them will give you the ratio of vinegar to oil. In several cookbooks I’ve checked, the “standard” is one part vinegar to three parts oil (1:3).  But that is not set in stone. Some recipes are 1:2, others, 1:1. Depending on what’s in your salad, the flavor profile you are going for, and your own tastes, the proportion can be adjusted accordingly. Experiment and taste as you go. That’s the way to find what YOU like and what works best for you.

(Online sources for vinaigrette basics: thekitchn, allrecipes, Food Network’s Ina Garten.)

A great idea is to mix up a large batch of the basic vinaigrette, say two cups worth, and keep it in the refrigerator in a jar with a screw-top lid. To make a dressing for tonight’s meal, shake up the vinaigrette, pour off what you need, add herbs or seasonings as desired and mix. You can also pour off a portion to use as a marinade, adding whatever herbs and seasonings you want.

This is what I love about making my own salad dressings. There are so many options with ingredients and flavor combinations, using what we have on hand right now in the cupboard or fridge! It doesn’t take much time at all, and it is a basic skill that helps the home cook learn about flavors and how they work together to make a dish something special.

Still, there are times when nothing but ranch dressing will do. Hot wings, anyone? And as a parent it’s hard to dispute the value of Hidden Valley–the gateway to your kids eating their veggies.

Susan’s Asian-Style Salad Dressing

  • 1/4 C rice vinegar
  • A pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 C canola oil

In a small mixing bowl or a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients except the canola oil. When thoroughly combined, slowly pour in the canola oil while whisking. 

Alternatively, place all ingredients in a glass jar, tightly screw on the lid and shake to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Shake or whisk again just before adding to salad. Makes enough dressing for 3-4 servings, or a dinner-sized salad for two.

This dressing goes well with a salad that combines romaine lettuce, savoy cabbage (very thinly sliced), sliced scallions, peeled and sliced oranges or mandarin orange segments, toasted sliced almonds, sesame seeds, in any combination. Toss the lettuce and cabbage with the dressing, then top with the other ingredients.

You can add sliced grilled chicken to the party and make this salad a complete meal. Enjoy!

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My Asian-Styled Salad with (leftover) grilled chicken
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Some of my favorite sources for “the basics”

Desperation

If you cook, you know what it is. From “What’s for dinner?”  to “I didn’t realize I was out of eggs…”  to “I need to come up with a dessert for the party tonight!”  It takes many forms, desperation, and it sometimes calls for desperate measures. I uncovered a recipe recently that answers that call–“Crazy Chocolate Cake.”

(I prepare this recipe on the May 4 edition of Earth Eats, a program of WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. You can find Earth Eats at this link.)

When I say “uncovered,” I truly mean it.  I was looking for some quick thing to bake to go along with the fresh strawberries I had bought one day. Flipping through the “C’s” in my recipe file, my eye landed on this one, which I had written out longhand with no attribution, date, or anything to indicate I had ever baked it. No smudges, drips, stains, notations, or corrections. That day I couldn’t be bothered even to stir up batter for shortcake to go with my strawberries, so I decided this untested, but very simple, crazy cake would be just the thing.

It’s the simple formula and procedure that make this Crazy Chocolate Cake appealing. I did an online search to find other versions, and most of them mirrored my own recipe. I was drawn to the origins of Crazy Chocolate Cake and learned this type of cake, lacking milk, eggs, or butter, comes from the “desperation” category of recipes. During desperate times such as the Great Depression or the World Wars, some ingredients were in short supply or expensive to purchase. (My economist husband would remind me those two circumstances go hand in hand.) Home cooks had to improvise or use alternative ingredients for things lacking in the larder. This cake was often called War Cake, Depression Cake, or Wacky Cake, to fit the times.

Pie recipes were often altered to fit the ingredients on hand. Our own “official state pie,” the beloved Sugar Cream Pie, certainly falls into that category. You could say we’ve moved from desperation to convenience when it comes to the Sugar Cream Pie, as Wick’s Pies offers the definitive version, ready-made, in the freezer section at your local grocery! (We’ll talk more about that in a future Indiana Home Cooks Podcast episode.)

But a desperate situation can also come about because the home cook is simply out of one of the ingredients called for, or lacking time to create an elaborate dish or dessert. That’s where I was as I sought a quick and easy recipe for a baked accompaniment  to fresh strawberries. The Crazy Chocolate Cake contains no milk, eggs, or butter, requires no electric mixing, and no mixing bowl! All ingredients are stirred together in the baking pan. When the cake is cooled, it may be frosted, but I prefer a simpler approach–a light dusting of powdered sugar. That’s all this rich, moist cake needs.

Occasionally in the coming months, you can hear recipes from Indiana Home Cooks on Earth Eats, a program on WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. It airs on WFIU-2 (101.9 FM) Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and on WFIU-1 (103.7 FM), Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. Earth Eats is also a podcast, where you can listen on demand, whenever you want.

Susan’s Crazy Chocolate Cake

Pre-heat oven to 375º

Measure directly into a 13” x 9” cake pan, un-greased and un-floured:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly in the pan, using a fork or wire whisk. Make three wells in the dry ingredients (two small and one large well). Assemble the following ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • Scant 2/3 cup canola or other light oil
  • 2 cups cold water

Into one of the small wells put vanilla, and into the other small well put vinegar. Finally, pour the oil into the larger well. Carefully pour the 2 cups water over all. With a fork or whisk, stir thoroughly, making sure to incorporate all dry ingredients and the oil. Take it slowly at first, so as not to slosh anything out of the pan. The batter will have small lumps. That’s unavoidable mixing by hand, and it’s fine.

Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean when done. Cool completely on a rack. 

To serve, dust individual cake pieces with powdered sugar. Delicious with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, or crème fraiche. 

A Look Back–Part One

The Indiana Home Cooks Podcast keeps moving forward with plans for more shows to listen to and posts to read here on the IHC blog. Sharing the stories of people who cook, eat, and drink in the Hoosier State is my mission, and coming soon are shows featuring Indiana food artisans. First, a sound montage from the recent Artisans Marketplace in Indianapolis, and later, a more in-depth conversation with an artisan candy maker in Lafayette. Watch for those episodes coming soon to Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. Simply click the links on the right side of this page, or go to those apps on your phone and search for “Indiana Home Cooks.”

So far nineteen podcast episodes have been produced. I’m highlighting a few of my favorites in this and subsequent posts to give readers and listeners an idea of what the show is all about.  It’s about friends spending time together and sharing a few laughs, memories and recipes…

I hope you give these shows a listen if you haven’t already heard them. Please share them with your friends or family, and give them a rating if you have a moment. That will help others find the show too.

I am deeply grateful for the support of family and friends who have encouraged me to pursue this venture, and have been willing accomplices by letting me interview them on tape! It’s been a blast and I’m looking forward to finding and sharing more stories of cooking, eating, and drinking in the Hoosier State. I hope you will join me.

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The week after Easter, I interviewed Susie Butler, owner of Butler Winery in Bloomington. More on that here.  I couldn’t leave without a bottle, or two, of her wine. I also met Richelle Peterson, owner and operator of Richelle In A Handbasket candy and gift shop in Lafayette, when I walked into her shop and she handed me a piece of chocolate. That’s her English Toffee in the picture below. I’ll interview her soon for the podcast. Another day that week I met a fellow podcaster in Lafayette, Craig Martin, host of Art Tap. Craig is an artist and his podcast explores the vast arts scene in the Lafayette area. Check it out on his blog or on Apple Podcasts and iTunes.

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Goods For Cooks

It’s a comfort knowing that some things will always be there when we need them. Be it family, a friend, a house, a vacation spot, your hometown, a favorite food lovingly prepared for you. Life can take us in many directions and many miles from where we started, but when we come home we feel comfort in the familiar.

Those who cook and eat in Bloomington, Indiana, have a place like that–Goods For Cooks, the shop on the square that has supplied cooking and kitchen wares for over four decades. A handful of owners have minded the store, each giving it their own personal touch during their tenure. The newest owner, Sam Eibling, took over last fall and is busy putting her own stamp on Goods.

On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast (LISTEN at the link above, or on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, or Stitcher), I visited Goods For Cooks and talked with Sam about this new venture that she and her brother as co-owner have embarked upon. While Sam is excited to update and add new products to the assortment at Goods For Cooks, she is also committed to maintaining the familiar selection and the reliable service Goods has always been known for. She considers her ownership of the store as stewardship–maintaining and strengthening a Bloomington institution to thrive for decades to come.

Learn more about Goods For Cooks at goodsforcooks.com. They’re also on Facebook and Instagram. The store is located on the square in downtown Bloomington, 115 North College Avenue.