Tag Archives: Food

Potluck dessert

Looking for a delicious dessert to bring to the Easter potluck this weekend?

How about S’mores Cream Dessert with No-Bake Graham Cracker Crust?

I created this dish from three different recipes for an event this past summer, and it delivered on a promise to look like a show-stopper and taste as good as it looks.

Enjoy!

pan of S'mores

S’mores Cream Dessert with No-Bake Graham Crust

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Cream Cheese Layer

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups Cool Whip

Pudding Layer

  • 2 boxes (3.9-ounce size) chocolate fudge instant pudding & pie filling
  • 4 cups cold whole milk

Topping

  • 8 ounces Cool Whip
  • 1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream
  • 3 Special Dark Hershey’s chocolate candy bars, chopped up
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup graham cracker chunks

Directions:

  1. Crush the graham crackers with a rolling pin. Melt stick of butter in a bowl in the microwave (on high about 15 seconds at a time). Add crushed crackers and granulated sugar to the bowl and mix. Press into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan.
  2. With a hand mixer or strong arm, combine cream cheese and powdered sugar. When smooth, use a rubber spatula to fold in Cool Whip. Spread mixture onto graham cracker crust.
  3. In large bowl, whisk pudding with milk for two minutes. Let it sit for three minutes to thicken, then spread evenly over cream cheese layer.
  4. Gently stir together Cool Whip and marshmallow cream. Spread evenly over pudding layer. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Just before serving (so graham crackers don’t get soggy), top with chopped candy bars, marshmallows and graham cracker chunks. Serves 15.

dessert close up

 

 

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For when you need four gallons of soup

Four gallons of soup.

Four gallons.

Gallons.

How many cups are in a gallon again? Sixteen?

That’s 64 cups of soup.

Uff-da.

I agreed to make four gallons of soup for one of the Lenten Lunches hosted by the church in town I now attend (no, not the church I live in, the one with actual congregants and services).

Last year, when we were working on the church, my Beloved and I frequented the springtime Wednesday noon meals because the food was good (homemade, and the meal always offered cookies for dessert), the location was convenient (one block from our worksite) and the clean-up was easy (none).

And we discovered how nice it was to interact in the community and meet people who knew of our project and expressed interest in our endeavors. We had liked our new tradition.

This year, I figured I needed to contribute more than a freewill offering, so I volunteered to make the soup last week.

I immediately fretted about how to transport four gallons of liquid from my kitchen to the church. Even a distance of one block set up the potential for splashy disaster.

I inquired as to how others passed this hurdle, and the pastor suggested I make the soup at the church–their church. Great idea! I packed up my groceries, and I found the enormous kitchen there outfitted with just about every kitchen gadget known to woman to be the perfect place to make four gallons of soup.

Four gallons is a lot of Carrot Ginger Soup to make from scratch.

As I was unpacking 10 pounds of carrots, another woman in the basement making sandwiches for the luncheon asked, “Are you going to peel all those carrots?”

It wasn’t until that very moment I thought to myself, “That’s a lot of carrots to peel.”

I volunteered my flavor of soup to make so having to peel 10 pounds of carrots was all on me.

Fortunately, my stepdaughter gifted me with a new peeler for Christmas, and I had brought it with me.

Peeling the carrots wasn’t the hardest part of making four gallons of soup. Heating four gallons of carrots and broth was the hardest part. After waiting a good half an hour to bring my delicious ingredients to a boil, I wised up and separated the contents of my cauldron into two pots, and then things went quickly. I used my immersion blender (one of the gadgets missing from the church’s cupboards), and the finished result was smooth and tasty (even folks skeptical of a soup with “ginger” in the name said nice things about it).

If ever you need a recipe for four gallons of Carrot Ginger Soup, here’s mine.

Carrot Ginger Soup

P.S. I only used two sticks of butter. And I used turmeric instead of “curry powder.” By ginger, I mean fresh, minced ginger, not a cup of ginger spice, oh, no!

Enjoy!

My dream job would be product development in the Reese’s Peanut Butter department

Did! You! See this?!

Peanut Butter Lovers

The Hershey Company, as it is known formally, has come out with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for Peanut Butter LOVERS. All caps! “Extra layer of smoother, sweet peanut butter creme.”

OMG.

I paid a springtime-inspired visit to the nearby ice cream store yesterday, salivating for a Zanzibar chocolate ice cream sundae smothered in peanut butter sauce. Zanzibar chocolate, for the uninitiated is made by Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream with three, count ’em, three kinds of cocoa “for a rich, fudge brownie taste.” See what I was craving there? A Reese’s Peanut Butter-inspired ice cream sundae.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the ice cream scooper apologized, “we don’t carry peanut butter sauce anymore.”

My ears could not believe their eyes. My eyes fell out of my head. My chin dropped to my chest. My chest began heaving in deep shuddering sobs.

Oh, it wasn’t that bad.

But I was a little disappointed.

A lot disappointed.

The scooper kid offered me extra whipped cream and a cherry.

I accepted.

I love peanut butter. Deeply adore peanut butter. Currently own three kinds of nut butters and have been known to eat creamy Jif a quarter cup at a time.

Don’t judge.

When the dessert cart comes around at the end of a decadent dinner and the waiter describes the house-made carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I’m like “meh.” Warm and oozy molten chocolate cake? You have my attention, but … . Peanut butter pie topped with peanut butter whip? Sold!

So when Hershey’s announces Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for Peanut Butter LOVERS, I’m trying to figure out how to be the first in line.

Online I scrolled through 85 different kinds of chocolate and peanut butter combinations–milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, miniature cups, snack size cups, regular cups, big cups, king-sized cups, chips, pieces, crunchers, crunchy cookies, sticks and in this pastel time of year, eggs in every size until I finally come to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for Peanut Butter LOVERS.

There’s no “Buy Now” button.

Where can I get my hands on those things?

Sometimes the experiment fails

My Beloved asked me today if I’d still cook if we win the lottery tonight (yes, we have our ticket for a chance to win three-quarters of a billion dollars in tonight’s Powerball lottery, do you?).

I said yes.

He scoffed.

We’d already discussed hiring a chef. And a butler. And a full-time masseuse. This is what one dreams of when one holds a $2 lottery ticket that has not yet proven worthless.

“I like to cook,” I said. “At least somebody else would clean up the kitchen.”

I am an experimental cook. Just like Mom. We like to tinker with recipes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Comme ci comme ça.

A few weeks ago, I worked up what I thought was a great idea: Ham & Cheese Manicotti.

Back story: My mother-in-law likes ham and cheese. A lot. I’ve actually seen her eat ham and cheese something-or-other (omelet, sandwich, casserole) three times in one day. For some people, it’s chocolate. For her, it’s ham and cheese. Then not long ago, when I was crawling around in her pantry looking for a box of Zip-locks, I noticed she had not one, not two but three boxes of manicotti hidden in there. So, she likes manicotti a lot, too! What if I created a recipe that married her favorites: Ham & Cheese Manicotti? I’d win her undying affection! I’d be her golden daughter-in-law! (True confession: She’s already quite fond of me. And I, of her. I thought she’d appreciate Ham & Cheese Manicotti; it would be a way to show my love.)

ham and cheese manicotti

Ham & Cheese Manicotti. Experiment with your own recipe.

So I worked up a recipe that included canned ham (no, not deviled ham–canned ham, like canned tuna), swiss and ricotta cheeses, and bottled alfredo sauce. I whipped it up and tested it out on my Beloved, hoping for a good report so I could make it sometime when I entertained my mother-in-law.

My Beloved hated it. Especially the canned ham. He vowed never to eat it again, even if I changed up the recipe to use regular ham, chopped.

Ever hear of the maxim that eternity is defined by a ham and two people? Well, it’s also defined by seven leftover ham & cheese manicotti and one person. I don’t even like pasta all that much. I ate that stuff for a week, and I still threw away two manicotti. (It wasn’t that bad, for the record. Just too much of a good thing. Or, at least, too much of a so-so thing.)

So here’s to experimental cooking. Sometimes it works, and you have dinner. And sometimes it doesn’t, and you have a story.

Here’s hoping I do better with tonight’s lottery numbers. Cheers!

 

 

Travel Tuesday: Beach chronicle

When you can’t enjoy baseball, go to the beach.

My Beloved and I escaped the dark and cold days of pre-Christmas in the northern hinterlands by making a getaway to Fort Myers Beach.

While lolling around with an unobstructed view of endless sand and sea, we counted how many times we had been to Florida over the years. There was the year of the teepee condo. The time we drove the ol’ 1983 Pace Arrow around the Gulf. Three times in the past decade, he won a trip to Florida for selling lots of insurance. The time we mingled with, shall we say, an interesting crowd in South Miami Beach before a cruise. Spent a winter in the Keys and the 10,000 Islands areas in another RV. Other visits, too. We’ve visited so often they tend to run together now.

Florida is a go-to destination for Disney World and Minnesota Twins spring training baseball, mostly, but also we conduct a little business there. If it’s March, we end up in Fort Myers to root for home runs and consume hot dogs, but last week, it was December and there was no baseball to be found. So for the first time in all the years we’ve visited Florida, we stayed in Fort Myers Beach.

In March, Fort Myers Beach is clogged with sun worshipers and spring break revelers. With one primary road running through the island, there is little escape from the traffic and lack of parking. It’s a hot destination—hot as in hoppin’ and hot as in, well, hot—but it’s not relaxing.

In December, Fort Myers Beach is a different place. Sunny but not hot. Not crowded either. Laid back. Kind of a nice break from house reconstruction and, um, snow.

endless sand

Endless sand.

shell booty

Some of my shell booty.

My Beloved found us a VRBO (vacation rental by owner) on the south end of Fort Myers Beach. The beach is extra wide there, and every morning the tide washes in a new crop of sea shells. Across big Carlos Pass, we could see Lovers Key from our deck.

I’ve lamented in the past about the lack of interesting dining options in Fort Myers (Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, where I enjoyed what was quite possibly the best tropical salad with shrimp in my life, is an exception and it turns out it is technically on Fort Myers Beach, not in Fort Myers), but being on the south end of Fort Meyers Beach, we were actually closer to Bonita Springs, where we found crab Eggs Benedict at The Garden Cafe where, soft-shell Pad Thai at Komoon Thai Sushi Ceviche, and loaded Bloody Marys and grouper bites at Coconut Jacks Waterfront Grille. A Midwesterner can appreciate some of the country’s finest sea food, as it should be on the coast.

sunset

Among the most memorable events in Florida are the beginnings and ends of days. On the east coast, it is the sunrises. On the west coast, it’s the sunsets. (In the Keys, you can get both.) On Fort Myers Beach last week, we watched the sun disappear over the horizon with a cocktail in hand most days. One can’t hurry a sunset. Or make it wait. It’s a daily reminder of time passing and you best savor it when you can.

Travel Tuesday: This is some hot stuff!

The chill in the air makes me long for some heat, so I thought I’d pull this out of the archives, a memorable trip from October 2014 to the home of the “finest condiment in the world.” Enjoy.

Dishing spicy details on ‘the finest condiment in the world’

Family legend posits that my brother once marveled about the business model of Tabasco pepper sauce: “I don’t know how they stay in business! One bottle lasts a lifetime!”

My family of origin doesn’t have a taste for hot capsicum peppers. I remember the Tabasco bottle in the fridge, the label faded and the top ringed with a dried spicy sludge.

We are outliers it appears.

IMG_3941

A tour of the Tabasco pepper sauce factory puts the fallacy of the rare need for the sauce to rest: Up to 700,000 bottles of Tabasco a day are manufactured here at Avery Island in southern Louisiana and shipped to 110 countries around the world. The stuff is even sold in gallon jugs! Among facts I learned on the tour was that residents of Guam are the highest per capita consumers of Tabasco in the world: “Islanders use it on everything: Corn flakes, popcorn, beer and local dishes.”

Hmm. Corn flakes. That’s Crazy Town. But then I have the taste buds of a Minnesotan, not a Guamish breakfast eater.

IMG_3942

I began to understand hot sauce had flavor not just heat when I moved in with my Beloved and Adored stepson a few years ago and learned we had to stock at least three brands of the stuff, some of it good for wings, some for Chinese food and some (lots) for scrambled eggs. My Beloved found six different flavors of Tabasco he couldn’t live without in the factory store today. We also tried Tabasco ice cream, and I discovered a cold food that left a hot sensation in the back of my throat.

IMG_3945

The factory tour was fascinating, if not complimentary to all things Tabasco. “It excites the appetite, promotes digestion and is pronounced, by connoisseurs, to be the finest condiment in the world.” But make no mistake, you of bland palates, Tabasco “is not a luxury” though it has a place on every dinner table: “A bottle lasts a long time. It is not intended to be poured on like ketchup–neither is salt to be used like sugar.”

From garden to soup pot: Autumn lessons

Nothing transforms vegetables like roasting them in a hot oven. And a run through the blender. Gotta have the blender.

I’m obsessed with roasting vegetables. Thirty minutes in a hot oven brings out the natural sweetness of savory stuff in a way that makes you forget what you’re eating is good for you. And it’s so dagnabb’ed easy, too.

If you’re keeping track, you’re just now realizing you haven’t heard much lately from Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, whatever she’s calling herself). Yup, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in insurance paperwork. Not for myself, Lord no, for various clients who require insuring (which is pretty much all of us, if you’re being legal or you’re just plain risk-averse). In any case, I haven’t been blogging.

Oh, and there’s this other big project I have on the horizon. By big, I mean ginormous. Like, the only thing bigger in terms of financial commitment and time frame would be having a child. But I’m not quite ready to share that project. When I am ready, you’ll hear about it, I assure you.

In the meantime, I took a breath from paperwork on Saturday, and I made a pot of soup. And it was some kind of soup. So I feel compelled to share. Just in case you, too, have a garden of junk peppers you’re considering letting go to Jack Frost.

Animal VegetableI’m reading this book, you see. In between paperwork and project planning and meal prep, I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The fiction author wrote this memoir with her husband Steven L. Hopp and her daughter Camille Kingsolver to share their family’s experience with eating local for a year, that is, consuming only food that was produced locally. That meant a lot of gardening, farmer’s markets and organic chicken. And no bananas or avocados.

Her premise is that locally produced food is better for the environment, society and the human body, and she makes her point in a pretty compelling way. I mean, I’m not going to become a gardener or make my own cheese, but I’m inspired to pay better attention to where the food I’m putting in my mouth comes from.

banana-peppers.jpg

So I paid a visit to a friend’s garden on Saturday afternoon and picked all of his overripe banana peppers (with his permission). Did you know those lime green peppers turn red after a while? Me neither, but they do. The sun was shining in a way that it might not do again for six months or more, and we haven’t had a hard frost yet this autumn. I also picked one — one! — red hot jalapeno pepper. While I was picking my way through the overgrown weeds, I spied a few red-and-green tomatoes, too. Upon inspection, I discovered they weren’t perfect but they were pretty much free of bugs.

Thus inspired, I dug through the crisper drawer and found a stalk of celery, a carrot, a half of a yellow sweet pepper, a half an onion and two cloves of garlic. I can’t vouch for their local provenance, but I’d already purchased them so I was wasting-not-wanting not.

roasted veggies

A little bit of chopping (a very little bit) left me with this pan of vegetables to roast. I doused them in olive oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 425 degrees, and I headed for the shower.

spicy red pepper soupThirty minutes later, I dumped the whole mess into the blender, added a cup of water, a teaspoon or so of Better Than Boullion and a dash of tomato paste I saved from the previous day’s chili (that’s the cheap Minnesotan in me, I can’t throw away perfectly good food, even a tablespoon of tomato paste). Whirr, whirr, and I had the world’s tastiest, couldn’t-be-better-for-you Spicy Red Pepper Soup (all I needed was the one — one! — jalapeno pepper for the spice; I suspect jalapenos left on the vine this long might be hotter than the season’s early fare). I simmered it a bit on top the stove (just so I could enjoy the aroma, but it didn’t hurt to let it spend some time melding flavors). I added a bit more olive oil (because … olive oil! It’s good for you and tastes delicious, too). Then I ladeled it into a bowl, sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper, and dug in. Wow, was it good.

So the lessons here are many:

  • Don’t believe you’re ever too busy to make dinner. It’s good for the soul and the body to chop and roast and be creative.
  • Don’t let an abundance of garden harvest go to waste. Think of a new way to consume it. Or invite a friend to scour for vegetable jewels.
  • Roasting and blending makes anything better. Sure, fresh is good, and who doesn’t like a good salad? Well, a lot of people don’t like salad, let’s be honest. But it’s harder to find soup haters. Smells good, warms the tummy, takes all the hard edges off produce. Roasted vegetable soup can inspire a lot of admirers. Get cookin’.

full on spicy red pepper soup