Richelle In A Handbasket

There is a place on the alley in Lafayette’s Market Square where an attitude of gratitude is pervasive. When you walk in the door you are greeted with warm hospitality, smiles, and even hugs. Oh, and then there’s the chocolate…and the “Addiction”…and so many other candies and snacks and gift merchandise. And it’s all from Indiana. Well, at least ninety-nine percent of it is, and 100 percent from small businesses. It’s a shop called Richelle In A Handbasket, and the idea is to help people up their game in showing gratitude. On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, I visit Richelle In A Handbasket. You can hear it right here:

Richelle Peterson moved from a corporate career to entrepreneur, because of a call to help people do a better job of showing gratitude. A gift card or a box of summer sausage, cheese, and crackers don’t cut it for Richelle. And in the area of corporate gift giving–to clients and employees at holiday time–she saw a huge opportunity. I’ve always said, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” but I, and probably most of us, have been on the receiving end of a gift that wasn’t particularly thoughtful. Enter, Richelle Peterson, to the rescue!

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And she does give the impression of riding in to save the day. (Check the podcast–above–to hear why Wonder Woman is so important to her!) We’ve all heard the old phrase “going to hell in a hand basket,” describing a situation going badly. Richelle has faced difficult circumstances, and turned the idea of “going to hell in a hand basket” on its head. The baskets that leave her shop are filled with love and care, hugs and smiles. Her goal is that the recipient feels all those things when they receive one of her baskets. And when they taste the truffles, the toffee, the Addiction snack mix, they taste the quality and care that go into every bite.

The story of Richelle and her shop is the story of Indiana Home Cooks. It’s about understanding the importance of putting your heart and soul into what you do. For me it’s about cooking a meal as an act of love. For Richelle it’s about the thought, care, concern, and love that go into the foods and into the baskets that leave her store to bring smiles and blessings to the recipients. It’s not about what we are eating, it’s about the shared experience, the tradition, the goodness, the love and care that come with the eating.

Richelle is not a fan of the Heath Bar candy bar, as you can hear in the podcast. Her English toffee puts a Heath Bar to shame. Still, I have a recipe for Heath Bar Cake that I’ve made all my life. Maybe I’ll bake one and bring her a slice. And I’ll share the recipe here, another day!

Learn more at richelleinahandbasket.com, and on Facebook.

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. 

Indiana Artisans

Indiana Artisan is a non-profit organization whose mission is to identify and showcase the state’s highest quality art and food. The Indiana Artisan Marketplace was held recently at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, and I spoke with several of the artisans for the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast. Listen here:

The Indiana Artisan program was established through a resolution the state General Assembly passed in 2010. Since then the organization has approved, through a juried process, about 200 artists and food makers across the state to carry the “Indiana Artisan” brand. Two retail shops in the state are now devoted to selling Indiana Artisan products–one at the French Lick Resort, and a new location in downtown Carmel. The full story of the Indiana Artisan program is at it’s website.

While the bulk of the participants in the Indiana Artisan program are artists, there are many food makers among the group. These are folks who have taken a family recipe and turned it into a commercial success, or others who are highly skilled and have a passion for candy making, bread baking, wine making, etc. As one of the entrepreneurs told me, Indiana Artisan is not an organization you can pay ten dollars to join. Artisans submit an application and samples of their work, and are adjudicated by expert panels as to their worthiness in meeting the standards of the program. This rigorous application and jury process takes place only once each year, and only about twenty percent of applicants make the grade.

Of those who have succeeded, I spoke with five at the Indiana Artisan Marketplace, held in early April at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. That’s the subject of the latest Indiana Home Cooks podcast (press the orange play button above to hear it). Here is a rundown of who you will hear on the podcast, and links to their own websites:

David VanWye, Amazing Hazel’s Gourmet Chili Sauce.

Jay Noel, owner of Abbott’s Candies, based in Hagerstown.

Nick Murdick, creator and owner of Presto Kombucha fermented teas.

Connie Molenaar, of Connie’s Creations Long Leaf Pine Needle Baskets.

Dan Adams, owner and winemaker, Winzerwald Winery in Perry County.

All the above vendors are on Facebook and/or other social media. Look them up and let them know you heard about them on the Indiana Home Cooks podcast!

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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Memories of Home

The first Indiana Home Cooks podcast of 2018 features reminiscences of my mom, Barbara Mercer. She sat down with me some months ago to record the first interview for a podcast venture that was still in the “concept” phase. In the intervening months I couldn’t find a good spot for it on the podcast. But with the winter winds blowing, snow falling, and the thermometer making its home in the single digits above and below zero, I thought it was the perfect time for the warm comforts of home.

In the episode, Memories of Home, Mom reminisces about “butchering day” on the farm when she was a young girl in Clay County. As I listened to her descriptions, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  These were some of my very favorite books when I was a girl, and the charming illustrations by Garth Williams brought them even more to life than the vivid prose. I pulled out my copy of Little House in the Big Woods, and sure enough, in chapter one, there it was–Wilder’s account of butchering day when she was a little girl. And not much had changed from 1870’s frontier Wisconsin to mid-20th century Indiana when it came to butchering a hog.

In a wrap up of the holidays, this episode also includes the step-by-step preparation of our Fluffy Yeast Rolls. These rolls have been a staple of family dinners all my life. Special occasions, mind you, not everyday meals. It’s not that the rolls are difficult or time consuming, but they do require a little advance planning, and they are pretty rich for everyday consumption. We make them at least once a year, at Thanksgiving, and sometimes at Christmas or Easter. The recipe (with photos) is included below.

Katy Eberle and I discussed bread baking also, since I was on a little bread baking jag. I brought her a baguette I had made the day before. One of my favorite homemade bread recipes is Crusty Italian Bread from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Here is the recipe from my King Arthur book…

If you prefer a copy without spilled coffee stains, notes, and other jottings, check it out online here.

Fluffy Yeast Rolls
From the kitchen of Barbara Mercer, from Margaret Balder
Makes 18 rolls

Dissolve 1 pkg. active dry yeast in 3 T. lukewarm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. While that is dissolving, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

1/2 C. (one stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 C. lukewarm water
1/4 C. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Add yeast mixture and whisk again. To this mixture, add 3 C. all-purpose flour. Mix with electric mixer until fairly smooth. Stir in 1 C. flour by hand. (Total of 4 cups of flour) Dough will be sticky. DO NOT KNEAD. Leave dough in bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Three hours before baking:
Remove dough from refrigerator. It should’ve doubled overnight. Grease muffin pans for 18 rolls. Melt 1/4 C. butter.

Punch down dough and pull off pieces of dough roughly the size of large walnuts and shape into balls (2 dough balls for each roll). Dip each ball into melted butter before placing in pan. Cover rolls with tea towels and let rise until double. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.* After baking, while still hot and in the pans, brush tops with more melted butter. Serve warm.

*If using dark baking pans, reduce oven temp to 425 degrees.

 

 

 

Soup’s On! With Katy

We are talking soup on this edition of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast. Please check it out and hear how much fun Katy and I had in the kitchen! She showed me her family’s favorite Italian Sausage Minestrone. It’s from the Taste of Home website. Remember, substitute your favorite beans if you don’t like the white beans called for. Katy uses dark red kidney beans. They look much prettier, in our opinion!

Katy’s Italian Sausage Minestrone

Many years ago, I subscribed to the Taste of Home magazine. My recipe file has several recipes clipped from that publication. I no longer subscribe to any food magazines, although I have considered signing up for Bon Appetit or Food & Wine. For now, my food magazine browsing is confined to the waiting room at the doctor or dentist office. If I see something that looks good, I whip out my phone and take a picture of it.

It really steams me when someone rips out the recipe!

Here is the process for my chicken stock, using bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. First I browned the thighs for a few minutes in a little oil in a heated stockpot. Here they are after browning:

Here is the bottom of the pot after browning the thighs, before and after de-glazing. That is, deglaze the pan by adding a little water, allow to cook a few minutes while scrapping up the bits from the bottom of the pot. :

 

That is the beginning of your chicken stock. Add everything else back to the pot–onion, celery, and half a lemon (if you have one), an extra chicken breast, salt & pepper, oh, and there’s a bay leaf in there! Cover this with more water and bring to a simmer:

After about an hour of simmering, turn off the heat, remove the meat to a cutting board and let it cool until you can handle it. Remove all the meat, throw away the bones & skin, drain the broth and use for soup, gravy, sauce, or freeze it for later. By browning the thighs first, you give your broth extra flavor and a little extra richness. Enjoy!