Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Finish the Weekend with a Flavorful Finnish Meal--Why not?!!

I haven't always liked to cook. In fact, I've had my share of disasters in the kitchen--from exploding hot dogs in the microwave to catching stovetop funnel cakes on fire. I used to think: "I'll just leave that to the experts." or " Let's go out!" Which I still say. However, raising and nurturing a family has made me more interested in improving my cooking skills. Plus, my teens are always up for a culinary challenge. And, I encourage their enthusiasm--most of the time.

Our family's repertoire of recipes has really expanded over the past few months. Before Christmas, we made galaxy cookies for Caroline's SpaceX project, homemade crusts for Elizabeth's pumpkin pies, "made from scratch" gingerbread mini cupcakes for a cookie exchange and 12 lbs of icing for a holiday party--to name just a few! By mid-December, I was thankful to revisit conventional fare like chicken noodle soup and my husband's homemade chili.

However, the return to traditional comfort food didn't last long. At the end of a very busy weekend, Caroline reminded me that she was required to make a Finnish meal for a school project. Of course, Elizabeth (our resident baker) was excited to be her sister's sous chef. To John's credit, he insisted that I relax with a glass of wine while he guided the girls through their next culinary experience. I was happy and grateful to oblige. And to my surprise, the dinner was healthy, exotic (in a good way) and delicious. In fact, it was so wonderful that I'd like to share it here:

 Salmon with Mustard & Dill Sauce
1 tsp grounded peppercorn
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp of lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped dill (or substitute a sprinkle of dry dill weed)
1/8 cup Stevia for baking
1 lb of Scottish Salmon*

Baste the Scottish salmon with the first six ingredients. Wrap in aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Then, uncover and bake for another 10 min. 

*The original dish requires "gravlax" (raw salmon that has been cured in citrus juice and prepared with chili peppers--"ceviche-style"). We took the liberty to bake instead.

3/4 cup spicy dijon mustard
1 1/2 oz of fresh chopped dill (or substitute 1-2 Tbs of dry dill weed)
1/8 cup vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 sugar
3/4 cup oil

Combine the first five ingredients. Whisk in the oil. Serve with salmon.

Finnish Rutabaga
2 lbs rutabaga. peeled and sliced with mandolin
4 Tbsp butter
1/8 cup maple syrup
salt & pepper

Melt butter in a large pan. Brown the rutabaga. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add maple syrup. Toss and cover. Simmer until tender.

Making our first acquaintance with rutabaga

Elizabeth photobombing the ingredients
Yummy rutabaga!
Our first Finnish meal
Great job, Caroline & Elizabeth!

The happy parents enjoying their daughters' tasty meal

Note: These recipes were adapted from Global Table Adventure.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lunchbox Sushi--It's Simple!

When Scott asked me for a "springy" recipe for the March issue of the magazine, one of my daughters suggested "Spring Rolls." Her idea reminded me of the homemade sushi rolls that she and her twin sister taught me to make. They learned how to make sushi in their Japanese class at Ferrum Enrichment Camp this past summer. I always thought sushi would be hard to make--but it really isn't that difficult.

Easy Veggie California Roll Recipe

1 cup of uncooked Nishiki sushi rice
8 sheets of nori (dried seaweed)
1/4 cup rice vinegar 
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 cucumber, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
2 avocados, peeled pitted and sliced in thin slices

Rinse uncooked rice. Drain well and cook according to package directions. Mix vinegar and sugar in heated pan until sugar has dissolved. Add to cooked rice and mix well. Allow to cool.

Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on wax paper. Press a thin layer of rice over nori, leaving 1/4-inch of nori uncovered at the bottom edge of the sheet.

Slice the vegetables lengthwise.

Add a line of cucumbers, avocado slices, and carrots in the middle of the rice-covered sheet of nori.

 Fold the bottom edge of the wax paper up, enclosing the filling. Carefully roll the rice mixture and vegetables into a tight cylinder. Gently squeeze to seal the sushi.

Cut each roll into 1-inch pieces with a sharp knife. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Football Deviled Eggs and More Tailgate Favorites

For me, tailgate parties and deviled eggs go hand in hand. Here's my family recipe for deviled eggs. Caroline, my daughter came up with the idea to add rosemary and paprika to make them look like mini footballs. We also substitute Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise to make them healthier.

Mini-Football Deviled Eggs
6 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon vinegar
fresh rosemary

Halve hard-cooked eggs lengthwise and remove yolks. Place yolks in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add yogurt, mustard, and vinegar. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff egg white halves with yolk mixture. Sprinkle with paprika; garnish with rosemary

Another fun idea for a football party is "Football Field" Guacamole Dip. 

Guacamole Dip
2 medium very ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and cut up
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
A dash of Texas Pete

In a bowl, combine avocados, lime juice, garlic, salt and Texas Pete. Mash with a fork until no longer lumpy.

Spread guacamole dip on a pan. Pour salsa on one side of the pan. Place shredded cheese or jar of cheese sauce on the other. Spoon plain greek yogurt in a ziploc and trim the corner of bag. Outline the field. Add tomatoes and black olives. Serve with Tortillas.

If you're not a fan of guacamole, this Pulled BBQ Chicken Nachos is a delicious alternative. Elizabeth, my other daughter, came up with this original recipe for a Superbowl Party.  Place chicken, skin side down, on a broiler pan. Broil about 20 min. Brush with margarine. Turn chicken and broil for 5 to 10 mins or until no longer pink. Remove from oven and allow chicken to cool. Remove skin. Brush with BBQ sauce and broil for another 5 min. Allow to cool again. Shred with fork (or clean little fingers). Spread over nachos with shredded cheddar cheese and lettuce.

January 2013

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hotel Roanoke Peanut Soup with a Side Dish of "Hello Trolley"

I just finished writing and illustrating my first children's book, Hello Trolley! The book follows the approximate route of Roanoke's Starline trolley system. The writing is geared for preschool and elementary school students. But many adults might enjoy it, too. It uses rhyme/rhythm/repetition, visual cues, and high predictability. It also introduces ordinal numbers. My goal is to make emergent readers feel successful in developing their reading skills. I had so much FUN creating Hello Trolley. It's now available on Amazon.

Other than a plug for my book, you might be wondering: What does this have to do with recipes?

In my book, the last stop is the Hotel Roanoke. The main character, Conductor Charlie (who just happens to be an elephant) has good reason for stopping here. 

In honor of "Conductor Charlie" and all the people who enjoy Hotel Roanoke's signature dish, I would like to share this recipe. For many years, Chef Fred Brown and the "Grand Old Lady" wouldn't publish the recipe. But eventually, the hotel released the "Peanut Soup" recipe to the public. Some guests believe that it still tastes better when eaten at the elegant historic hotel. What do you think?


2 quarts chicken broth

1 pint peanut butter

1 small onion diced

1/2 cup ground peanuts

1/4 pound butter

1/3 teaspoon celery salt

2 branches celery diced

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Melt butter in cooking vessel and add onion and celery. Stir for 5 minutes but not brown.
Add flour and mix well. Add hot chicken broth and cook for a half hour. Remove from stove, strain and add peanut butter, celery salt, salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle ground peanuts on soup just before serving. Serves 10.

Enjoying a signature dish and bountiful buffet at the Hotel Roanoke

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What's my Family's Favorite Recipe?

What's my family's favorite recipe? I'd have to say "Homemade Pesto Pizza Bites." Everyone can customize their own pizza (meat-lover vs. veggie). And, dough + kids=FUN!

You only need 5 ingredients to make dough (flour, water, yeast, oil, and salt). One of our favorite kitchen appliances is the bread machine. I gave it to my husband as a Christmas present almost 20 years ago. Amazingly, it still works and makes great pizza dough. Adding fresh pesto gives the pizzas a "gourmet" touch. But, you can also make the pizzas with cheese, sauce, and traditional toppings.

To make the pesto, I usually enlist my girls to pick the basil from our garden. Basil is an easy plant to grow. It doesn't require much watering and tolerates full sun.  In mid-spring, we go downtown to Walter's and select the biggest basil plants. Usually, we buy 4 or 5 different types. The faster they grow, the sooner we can make our pesto. In early summer, we add 3/4 spinach with 1/4 basil to allow the plants to grow more.

We've not only experimented with different types of basil but also a variety of nuts: pine nuts, macademia nuts, pecans, walnuts, slivered almonds. All work well and give the pesto a distinct  "nutty" flavor. I'm proud to announce that every member of my family is an "expert" pesto maker!

My husband and I were "proficient" pizza makers before the girls were involved in the cooking. But their ideas raised our pizza skills to the next level. About three years ago, they decided to make pizza "bites." They artfully arranged the toppings and made 2-in circles of dough. Not only did the pizzas look better but they also baked better. Plus, they're easier to get off the pan.

1/8 cup Olive Oil
2 cup basil (and/or spinach mix)
1/4 cup nuts
1 TBS garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Grind in a mini-food processor

3 1/2 cup flour
1 cup water
2 1/4 tsp yeast
2 TBS oil
1/2 tsp salt
Set bread machine on dough mode for an hour
Some people use their Kitchen Aid mixer with the white blade to make dough, too.  

Place small circles of pizza dough on non-stick cookie sheet. I sometimes use parchment paper or aluminum foil to minimize clean up. Spread tomato sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese, pesto, and whatever toppings you desire. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10-15 min.

A batch of the first ever "Homemade Pizza Bites"

Freezing tips: This year I was organized enough to harvest my "bumper crop" of basil and make several batches of pesto. I used small ziplock bags, pressed out all the air, and tossed in the freezer. I've also heard that ice cube trays work well. Now, we can have the "taste of summer" all winter long.

"Christmas Tree" Bites: Instead of small circles, cut dough into small triangles. Decorate with red sauce, pesto, and a variety of toppings. And "Voila"...a festive appetizer for your holiday party!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Elizabeth Setzler's Dunbar Macaroni

I often reflect on my grandmother, Claudia "Elizabeth" Setzler and her superb Southern cooking. She knew so many recipes by heart. Sometimes she didn't use measuring cups and would calculate dry ingredients by how much she was holding in her hand. And her baked goods always turned out deliciously perfect. But, just because I share her first name doesn't mean that I inherited her natural culinary talent. I'm more of a "foodie" and love to eat.

Cooking is sometimes a challenge for me. I've exploded hotdogs in the microwave, burned many pre-made cinnamon rolls, and often get so lost in the deluge of interesting recipes that I end up ordering a pizza. But I'm learning! I'm enthusiastic! I'm experimental! I'm proud that in college I tried to make homemade French Onion soup in my dorm room. I also baked a great spinach lasagna in the "bare bones" kitchen of the Language House (which I spent an hour cleaning up before I even started). When my young family was going through an "egg" phase, I was ecstatic to discover how to scramble an egg in the microwave with just a paper bowl and towel. Many years ago, when I was living with my older sister, who is a gifted chef and did the majority of the cooking, she was impressed by my homemade marinara sauce--which I relied completely on the memory of how my mom made her sauce. To this day, I love making sauces. Though I do often enjoy trying out sauces from jars. For me, mindful cooking has become practical way to express your creativity and nourish your family. Since these are high-priorities for me, I continue to pursue developing my cooking skills. Though I enjoy taking many breaks and eating out, too. And, on some busy school nights, I've resorted to high-quality frozen microwavable meals.

What really helps motivate my cooking at home is when family members share their enthusiasm in meal-planning, prep work, appreciation AND clean-up. It's a major BONUS when I find a food that my whole family likes. Which, at last, brings me back to my wonderful late grandmother. She could prepare dishes that pleased the palate of a huge family. Which, I'm sure, was not always an easy task.

She made some sophisticated dishes but one that has lingered most in my "palate memory" was a simple, spaghetti casserole. It appealed to her 12 grandchildren (and adults, too). Last winter, I longed for this "comfort food" and searched for it online. I came across a reference to Dunbar Macaroni by the author, Pat Conroy. He attended his friend's funeral in Newberry, SC and tried it there. When I read the ingredients, I knew it was very similar to my grandmother's. However, there was no mention of adding any liquid to keep the casserole moist. My grandfather raised turkeys in Newberry County and I'm guessing that she probably added turkey broth. I made a few other modifications and here's what I believe to be a fairly good representation of her version of Dunbar Macaroni.

Setzler Farm (Elizabeth and Carl with their children and turkeys) in 1956

Elizabeth Setzler's Dunbar Macaroni

1 box of spaghetti
2 large onions (diced)
1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes
1/2 cup to turkey broth
3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 TBS of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
20-30 saltine crackers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil the spaghetti, drain, and set aside.

Saute the diced onions in 2 TBS of water
Cook for about 10 min.

 Add the can of tomatoes to the onions. Cook for another 10 min (until most of the liquid is cooked off). 

Put the drained spaghetti back in a large pot. Add the tomato and onion mixture, sharp cheddar cheese, turkey broth, and butter. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour mixture in a casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 min.

Remove foil and place saltines on top. Bake for another 10 min.

Serve with a smile (and sweet memories of my grandmother)!

Healthy substitutions:
Panko crumbs for saltines
quinoa pasta for spaghetti
zuchinni slivers for spaghetti
fresh stewed tomatoes (or "canned" tomatoes in a box)
veggie shreds for sharp cheddar cheese

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy National "Peanut Butter & Jelly" Day--Celebrate with a Smoothie!

When we moved into our new home, my mom gave us a smoothie maker as a house-warming gift. I was intrigued by this new appliance. I've tried out a bunch of recipes. This Peanut Butter Berry Smoothie is one of my family's favorites. It makes a delicious nutritious breakfast or an afternoon snack. I've even shared it with Scott Jurek, ultra-marathoner/smoothie fan. This must have been his secret to setting the new record. 😉

Peanut Butter Berry Smoothie

1 cup unsweetened Vanilla Almond milk
1 cup Vanilla Lowfat Yogurt
1 cup of frozen mixed berries
1 banana
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup of crushed ice

Add peanut butter, banana, mixed berries, almond milk, vanilla yogurt, and crushed ice in a processor.

Pour the smoothie mixture in a fancy glass and, if desired, add a banana for garnish.

Happy National "Peanut Butter & Jelly" Day!