The rest of the menu

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, I haven’t lost my mind, and I didn’t forget to change my calendar for five months. I do know that it’s Easter week.

But I’m just preparing you for a recipe that tastes like Thanksgiving. It’s the side dish that was served alongside the Chicken and Peppers entree (check out my blog of March 18) during our visit with former Worthingtonians Grace and Fred Ehlers at their winter home in Bonita Springs, Fla. Even though it was 80 degrees on that warm Florida evening in early March, this sweet potato casserole hit the spot, adding a holiday air to our gathering. Grace shared that it has become a family favorite.

For dessert, Grace dished up a bread pudding made in the slow cooker, ending the meal on another homey and delicious note.

Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Pecan Crunch

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in cubes, placed in 9×13 pan

Mix following ingredients together, then spread over sweet potatoes:

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

½  teaspoon cinnamon

½  teaspoon ginger

½  teaspoon salt

1 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons butter

For crunch topping:

½ cup flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

¼ cup butter

1 cup chopped pecans

Place sweet potatoes in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Mix together brown sugar, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt, then spread over sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the dried cranberries over top and dot with butter. Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Stir sweet potato mixture. Combine topping ingredients, except for pecans. Sprinkle topping over the top of the potatoes, then add pecans. Return to oven and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes uncovered.

Serves 10-12.

Slow Cooker Bread Pudding

1 cup brown sugar (divided)

16-ounce loaf raisin and cinnamon swirl bread, torn in pieces

4 eggs

1 quart milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramel sauce


Spray interior of slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread ¾  cup  brown sugar in bottom of slow cooker.  Add torn bread– do not stir together with bread.

Beat eggs until smooth in large mixing bowl, beat in butter, and vanilla and remaining ¼ cup brown sugar. Pour mixture over bread.

Cover and cook on HIGH 3 hours or until pudding is set and not soupy –do not stir.

Let pudding stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with caramel sauce.  Serves 10-12.



Florida withdrawal

I think my body is rebelling.

It got used to the 85-plus degree weather and sunshine of Florida, and when I returned it to the northern clime (even though the weather here has been unseasonably warm), it went into panic mode. Within hours of arriving at our Worthington home, I was plagued by fever and uncontrollable chills — the result of a sinus infection.

Eighteen days ago, Hubby Bryan and I set out on our longest road-trip yet. Our destination was Fort Myers, Fla., where my sister Margaret and brother-in-law Don are currently living while Don does a short-term ministry stint at a church there. Instead of flying, we decided to take two weeks and drive there.

During that time, we put just short of 4,000 miles on our vehicle. It wasn’t an easy drive, and there were a few perils along the way, but it was a good way to see some new parts of the country and spend some quality time together. No regrets — I think we would do it all over again, after a few weeks recovery time.

Our gracious hosts had scouted out “must-see” locations and kept us hopping for the duration of our Florida stay. I will share more about those experiences in an upcoming Saturday Faces & Places page.

One of the highlights — and prime reasons for the trip — was attending a Minnesota Twins spring training game. Having been told that Worthingtonians Jerry and Beve Vajgrt work at the Fort Myers games, I was keeping an eye out for familiar faces as we pulled into the parking lot at Hammond stadium. Sure enough, there was Beve, collecting parking fees. I spotted her when our vehicle was about 10 cars back and started waving. We never did see Jerry, although Beve assured us he was around somewhere.

Frankly, we were surprised not to see more people we knew during our Florida stay, as the Fort Myers area is a popular venue for southwest Minnesota snowbirds.

In addition to a steady stream of sightseeing, we were invited to dinner at the winter home of former Worthington residents and longtime family friends Grace and Fred Ehlers. Grace and Fred moved to the Twin Cities a number of years ago in order to be closer to family, but maintain many Worthington connections. They spend the winter months in a Bonita Springs, Fla., complex that is populated by quite a few Worthingtonians.

While we caught up on the latest family news, Grace served a delicious meal, that, of course, had me asking for the recipes. Grace complied via email, which was waiting for me when I came back to work Monday. Here is the first of those recipes — the main course, a chicken dish that highlighted the fresh peppers that are available in the Florida produce markets. Watch for Grace’s other dishes in my next blog.

Chicken with Peppers

Four 6-ounce chicken breasts

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)

2 cups thinly sliced red pepper

1 cup thinly sliced yellow pepper

½ cup thinly sliced green onions

1½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat skillet to medium high.

Combine salt, fennel, pepper and oregano. Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and rub spice mixture into the meat.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet.Add chicken and brown for 3 minutes; turn chicken and brown for 2 more minutes. When browned, arrange on a baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through.

Heat another 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet and add the peppers, green onions and rosemary. Add the broth and balsamic vinegar, stirring to get up the browned chicken bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes. Increase heat to medium, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook 3 minutes while stirring. Spoon pepper mixture over chicken and serve.

Garbanzo — a fun word to say

People who know me well — and those of you who have been paying attention in this blog — know that one of my food foibles is beans.

I love green beans and yellow wax beans, but other than that — blech! While I’ve learned to love many foods that I detested as a child, my bean phobia has lingered into adulthood.

It’s a texture thing. As much as possible, I avoid baked beans, chili beans, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans … you get the picture.

Garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) fall somewhere in the middle on my bean like-dislike scale. They have a bit more firmness to them than the others, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to consume them. I do, however, like to say garbanzo.

When I saw a TV chef demonstrate how she turns garbanzos into a crunchy snack, I knew I had to give it a try, particularly since I’ve heard a lot recently about the health benefits of garbanzos/chickpeas. They are rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber; a good source of protein; an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese — important in energy production; have high iron content; can stabilize blood sugar levels; and are heart healthy.

Daphne Brogdon is a relative newcomer to the Food Network, hosting “Daphne Dishes,” which I’ve only watched a couple of times. For an episode called “Girls’ Night In,” she made Crispy Garbanzo Beans.

I have to admit that one of the things that piqued my interest in her recipe was a not-so-healthy addition. She coated the garbanzos in bacon fat before baking them. But a healthier oil, like olive oil, can also be used in its place.

But I was all for the bacon fat, so one weekend morning when we were having bacon for breakfast, I saved some of the bacon fat in the refrigerator, saving me the burden of having to cook and consume additional bacon just for this recipe.

Brogdon’s recipe also called for flavoring the beans with a sprig of fresh rosemary. Alas — no rosemary in my refrigerator, and my herb garden is buried under a snowbank. Instead, I went to the spice cupboard and pulled out a mixture of savory and hot spices. Next time, I think I will turn up the heat a bit more with some cayenne.

I will also pull them out of the oven a bit sooner. My batch was a bit more on the crunchy side rather than crispy — the texture of a corn nut.

Crispy-Crunchy Garbanzos

Two 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

4 strips bacon (or use your favorite healthy oi)

Salt to taste

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Spread out the garbanzos on a baking sheet and let them dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. (If you forget to let them dry overnight, it’s OK; you’ll just need to cook them longer.)

Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook until browned and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve the fat in the pan. Eat the bacon as snack while you cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Add the dried garbanzos to the pan with the rendered bacon fat. Season with a generous pinch of salt and add the rosemary. Cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, then remove the rosemary sprig. Transfer the garbanzos to a baking sheet and bake until crispy, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. (If you did not dry the garbanzos overnight, bake them for 45 to 50 minutes.)

Let cool to room temp before serving.

Fishing for recipes

‘Tis the season — the Lenten season, that is — for eating fish.

Not being Catholic, I’ve never gone out of my way to follow the no-meat-on-Friday dietary restriction, but I do appreciate the deliciousness that is the Lenten fish fry — particularly when flaky white fish is encased in a light, crispy batter.

(Here I go making myself hungry for fish — and it’s 9 in the morning as I write this. The stomach is beginning to growl.)

I can’t say that I’m a pro at cooking fish or any type of seafood. When we are lucky enough to be gifted with a package of walleye from some of our lakefaring friends, Hubby Bryan and I are eager to gobble it up, but we don’t often frequent the seafood counter at the grocery store.

However, in recent years fish tacos have become a favorite meal on our suppertime rotation. Our fish tacos, for convenience sake, start off with battered fillets from the grocery freezer case. While most fish tacos are served up in soft shell tortillas, we prefer hard shells — the crispiness nicely contrasting with the soft fish. Like our regular tacos, these are topped off with cheese, tomato and avocado, but in place of lettuce, we prefer shredded cabbage, aka cole slaw mix, minus the dressing. To add some spice, I mix up a batch of my special sauce: 2 parts Greek yogurt, one part ranch dressing, and hot sauce to taste.

The frozen battered fish fillets may be convenient, but I realize they are not the healthiest option, so I”ve been searching around for some other fish-cooking options. Lucky for me, the cooks at McCormick seasonings have come to my rescue with some fish-cooking tips and recipes for the Lenten season, including this easy fish taco recipe that I will have to try.

Easy Baja Fish Tacos

2 cups prepared cole slaw

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup cornmeal

4 teaspoons chili powder

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 pound tilapia fillets

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 corn tortillas, warmed

Mix cole slaw and cilantro in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve

Mix cornmeal,, chili powder, salt and garlic powder in shallow dish. Coat fish evenly with cornmeal mixture.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add fish; cook 3 to 5 minutes per side until golden brown and fish flakes easily with a fork. Cut fish into 8 portions. Serve in warmed tortillas topped with slaw.

Makes 8 servings.


Here are a couple of other Lenten Friday-friendly recipes from McCormick.

Greek Lemon Baked Fish with Tomatoes, Zucchini and Chickpeas


2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon oregano leaves

½ teaspoon rosemary leaves

For fish:

Four 3.5-ounce cod or halibut fillets, thawed if frozen

2 pints cherry tomatoes

1 small zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks

One 15-ounce can chickpeas/garbanzo beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

2 lemons, cut into slices

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, whisk marinade ingredients. Add fish fillets and toss to coat. Marinade at least 30 minutes in a sealed plastic bag, up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss cherry tomatoes, zucchini and chickpeas onto a large baking sheet. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic powder, tossing to coat. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and place fish fillets on pan, surrounded by vegetable mixture. Place 2 lemon slices on top of each fillet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes, until fish is opaque and fully cooked. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Parmesan Herb-Encrusted Tilapia Recipe

⅓ cup sliced almonds, finely chopped

¼ cup plain dry bread crumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon parsley flakes

¼ teaspoon black pepper, ground

1 pound tilapia fillets

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. Mix almonds, bread crumbs, Parmesan and seasonings in shallow dish.

Brush fish lightly with oil. Coat evenly with almond mixture. Place fish on greased foil-lined shallow baking pan.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork.

Makes 4 servings.

The Queen of Hearts

A few months ago, I received an email from a volunteer at the Nobles County Historical Society who had stumbled across a photo of me in the museum’s archives.
It was a photo from my second grade birthday party invitation for which I was dressed up as the Queen of Hearts. It was one of many elaborate birthday parties planned by DotMom, and for this one all the guests were asked to come dressed as their favorite storybook or nursery rhyme character. As my birthday was the day before Valentine’s Day, I was, of course, baking up some tarts and dressed in a heart-covered dress with a crown on my head.
So why was this photo in the NCHS archives? I was a bit astounded and baffled myself.
It seems that my second-grade teacher, Miss Filippi (who died just a few years later after a short battle with cancer, I believe), kept extensive scrapbooks of all her students. She had also archived a note from my mom excusing me for a dental appointment, and another photo in which I look like a lost waif.
I would share that birthday party invitation with you, except that I seem to have accidentally deleted it from my computer. I may have to go down and check out Miss Filippi’s scrapbooks in person.
That particular birthday party is actually a wonderful childhood memory, as were most of my childhood birthday celebrations. I’ve never minded being an almost-Valentine — in fact, Valentine’s Day is probably my favorite holiday of the year because of its proximity to my birthday.
Despite that second grade picture, I’ve never been much of a tart baker, but I do like to whip up some kind of a sweet treat for Valentine’s Day sharing. Here are a couple recipes I’m considering for this year’s baking session, provided by Taste of Home magazine.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crisp Bars

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup butter, cubed
1/3 cup 2-percent milk
2 sleeves butter-flavor crackers (about 80 crackers)
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
In a saucepan, combine the cracker crumbs, sugars, butter and milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 5 minutes longer.
Place a single layer of butter crackers in a greased 13- by 9-inch pan. Top with half of crumb mixture. Repeat layers. Top with remaining crackers.
In a small saucepan, combine the butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and peanut butter. Cook and stir until smooth. Pour over crackers. Let stand until set. Cut into 15 bars.

Mini Brownie Treats

1 package fudge brownie mix (13- by 9-inch pan size)
48 striped or milk chocolate kiss candies
Prepare brownie mix according to package directions for fudge-like brownies. Fill paper-lined miniature muffin cups two-thirds full.
Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Immediately top each with a chocolate kiss. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 4 dozen.

Fired up for the football food

I can’t say I’m enthused for the upcoming Super Bowl game. In fact, it just occurred to me that it was likely taking place this coming weekend.
I am aware, however, of the competitors — Patriots vs. Seahawks, right? Not even sure how I do know that, except, of course, that I work for a news organization and do check out the sports pages periodically.
Hubby Bryan and I quit watching pro football 10 years ago. Before that, we were avid Vikings fans, but then some of the antics of the players at that time turned us off of the game. Now we brew beer on Sunday afternoons and pretty much ignore the TV channels where football is broadcast. It’s made for much calmer afternoons and evenings at our abode.
But even with our ambivalence toward the sport, we are usually enticed into partaking in some sort of football-focused gathering on Super Bowl Sunday. And that requires the preparation of at least one appetizer-type specialty, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for some new things to try.
Here are a couple recipes that have come across my desk that I’ve put on my possibilities list.

Bacon Cream Cheese Crescents

1 (8-ounce) package fat free cream cheese, softened
1 (12-ounce) jar bacon bits (or fry up and crumble your own)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup diced onion
2 (8-ounce) packages reduced fat refrigerated crescent roll dough
In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, bacon bits, pepper and onion.
On a lightly floured surface, unroll the crescent rolls lengthwise and form into a long rectangle, pressing seams together. Thinly spread the cream cheese mixture on the dough. Starting with the long edge of the rectangle, roll the dough into a long, thin roll. Slice the roll into ¼-inch pieces. Place rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until brown.

Philly Cheesesteak Dip

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1½ pounds thinly sliced deli beef, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) jar Cheez Whiz
1 pound Velveeta, cut into 1-inch cubes
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook until tender.
Add the meat and Worcestershire sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is heated through.
Add the cheeses and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.
Serve on baguette slices or with tortilla chips.

Buffalo Chicken Bread

2 boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 loaf frozen bread dough, thawed, according to package directions
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
3 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup bottled wing sauce (divided use)
1/3 cup ranch or blue cheese dressing
Cut chicken into cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in skillet, add chicken and sauté until cooked through. Add ¼ cup of wing sauce. Stir to coat chicken and let simmer for a minute or two. Take chicken off heat and let cool.
On a well floured surface, roll out dough into a long rectangle shape.
Combine ranch or blue cheese dressing with remaining ¼ cup wing sauce. Spread across the dough. Add chicken and then top with mozzarella and cheddar cheese. (Add a bit more of the wing sauce on top of the cheese if you want it to be a little bit spicier.)
Starting at one end, roll the dough like a pinwheel, pinching the seam at the end and tucking in the ends so the ingredients don’t ooze out.
Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Place bread on the pan, seam side down, and bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Let sit for five minutes before cutting into slices.

Snowed under by your memories

For most of last week, I was in the midst of a blizzard — a storm of memories.

When I asked for remembrances of the “Arctic Hurricane” of 1975, I expected a positive response — after all, I had experienced it myself and knew it was a memorable weather event —  but could not have anticipated all that would be forthcoming.

Obviously, the severity of that storm has not been forgotten, and I’d like to thank all those who submitted memories and photos. I got in as many as I possibly could, filling up four pages of Saturday’s edition of the newspaper. As many of you noted, we haven’t experienced a storm of that severity since 1975 — and we all hope it’s at least another 40 years until we do.

As I read through the entries and queried my own family and friends about their memories, many of my own rose to the surface of my brain. I was just a few weeks short of turning 12 that January. I vaguely recall getting out of school early that day and can envision the buses lined up in front of West Elementary and the ferocity of the wind as we exited the building.

But my most vivid memories of that blizzard are of its aftermath. I was a Daily Globe carrier, and the paper was undeliverable during the storm, so at its end I faced the daunting task of delivering three issues of the newspaper to my 80+ customers in Okabena Heights. The Globe was an afternoon paper at the time, and my family generally didn’t help me with this job — and I don’t specifically remember them doing so even in this instance — but I have to think they gave me a helping hand, as skinny little ol’ me couldn’t possibly have carried three-days of papers at once. I do remember donning my bright blue snowmobile suit and heading out over the drifts and occasionally sinking down into them up to my waist. The hardest part, in many cases, was just finding a door to which the paper could be delivered.

My brother, Marty, reminded me of the struggle we had getting out of the door at our house at the blizzard’s end:

“I will never forget the Arctic Hurricane of January 1975. It is embedded in my memory just like the shooting in Dallas of JFK and the birth of our first child. 1975 was my sophomore year at Worthington Junior College, and I was still living at home.  We listened to the howling winds and saw the snow falling that night and knew we would be pretty socked-in that next morning, but we couldn’t believe what we saw the next morning.  As Dad and I together pulled up the double garage door at 406 Galena St., we were aghast to discover that the snow was right to the top of the heavy wood door – solid most of the way to the street!  Since we did not have a snow blower and nowhere to actually throw the snow, we had to walk the massive snowfall through the house, out the back door and into the backyard at my childhood home. This was the one and only time we ever had to complete this kind of snow-removal task. I also recall that was the winter before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and have speculated the tumors that were discovered the following May were probably already present in my body. 1975 was an interesting and life-changing year for me and my family, and it all started with the Arctic Hurricane event – something we thankfully haven’t been witnesses to ever since.”

Looking back through the Daily Globe issues of the time, my mom’s column in that 1975 week reminded me that we spent some of the storm’s three-day duration in the kitchen — I was her apprentice as she tried out some new recipes. While the guys were doing the digging out and tramping all that snow through the house, DotMom and I were probably cooking up a hearty breakfast for them, as she printed these recipes for Baked Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream Syrup, credited to family friend Betty Gundermann

Baked Pancakes

Beat 2 eggs until frothy. Add ½ cup milk; beat well. Stir in ½ cup flour, a dash of salt and dash of nutmeg or 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat lightly.

Melt ¼ cup margarine in a large skillet with a heatproof handle. Pour batter in skillet and bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Cut into pie-shaped pieces for serving.

“I serve from the pan to keep pancakes warm,” noted Betty. “I always put two pans in the oven at the same time and have a third batch of batter ready to pour in pan if needed.”

Cinnamon Cream Syrup: In small saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, ½ cup light corn syrup, ¼ cup water and ½ to ¾ teaspoon cinnamon. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup evaporated milk. Serve warm over pancakes, French toast or waffles.

No resolutions — just a few goals

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions. Some introspection would likely reveal that’s because I know I don’t have the willpower to follow through on such goals.

Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds, particularly right around my midsection — a struggle that I know is shared by many of my fellow fiftysomethings. I have given some thought to making a more concerted effort to exercise a bit more and eat a bit less — or at least eat more of the foods that are good for me — once 2015 rolls in. But I’m not calling that a resolution. It’s more wishful thinking.

Right now, the cold weather is just compelling me to eat more comfort foods and pack on a few more pounds for insulation. The plethora of goodies left over from Christmas isn’t helping either.

But I do have a few goals for 2015 that don’t require much willpower. In fact, they require a bit more cooking and eating. No. 1 on the list would be creating more local food content for the Daily Globe.

This is not a new goal. It’s something I strive for every year as part of my job as the newspaper’s feature editor. But like most things, it all comes down to time. Just when I think it’s possible to take an afternoon to go and try a new recipe or put together a food feature, something always comes up. A phone call demands my attention. A special section peeks up over the horizon. A tragedy occurs that requires all hands on deck. In the newspaper business, it seems like there’s always something that gets in the way of good intentions.

But I intend to try a bit harder this year to carve out time for food features. But I’m hoping that some of you readers out there will resolve to submit some recipes in order to help me with that task. I am always on the lookout for new recipes, so if you’ve discovered something good, please share it.

A much smaller, albeit connected goal, involves a recent Christmas gift. Good friends of Scandinavian heritage presented Hubby Bryan and me with a handmade lefse stick, a devise used for turning the traditional delicacy or its cousin, the Swedish pancake. I have made lefse once in my life — a marathon fundraising event in high school — and have never attempted Swedish pancakes. So sometime in the coming months —hopefully sooner rather than waiting for next holiday season to roll around — I will give one or the other a try. If successful, I will share my efforts on the food page.

Another goal is to keep my desk a bit tidier — no small feat, considering the amount of paper that passes through it on a daily basis. But I admit that things have a tendency of getting buried on my desk, only to be found weeks past their relevancy.

With that in mind, I will share a recipe that came to my attention a bit late for holiday baking time. Just a couple days before Christmas, Carol Jeffers called me up to rave about the recipe she’d tried for a candy made in the slow cooker. She attributes it to country singer Trisha Yearwood, who made it on her Food Network show, “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen.” Before it gets swallowed up by my desk, here’s the recipe.

Slow Cooker Candy

1 package (2 pounds) raw peanuts (the original recipe calls for salted dry-roasted nuts; another recipe uses half of each)

2 packages (4 ounces total) bittersweet baking chocolate (Germans sweet)

One 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

2 packages white almond bark.

Place ingredients, in order given, in slow cooker. Set the temperature on low, put the lid on, and forget about it for 3 hours.

“No peeking and no stirring,” said Carol, who put the appliance on high for a while before turning it down to low, for a total of 1½ hours.

After the allotted time, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth. Drop the mixture into little muffin tins or cupcake liners. Since she only had one mini muffin tin, Carol dropped the mixture by teaspoonful onto wax paper. Allow to cool completely.

Quick holiday fixes

Nine days. Yes, NINE DAYS! That’s all the time left between now and Christmas.
For youngsters, that countdown is cause for joy and excitement. For adults who are a bit behind on their holiday preparations, it can be cause for panic.
Planning. Scheduling. Decorating. Shopping. Baking. Packaging. Cooking.
So much to do. So little time.
In the spirit of how-to-get-a-lot-done-in-a-short-period-of-time, I have come across a few quick fixes to share with you readers.
The first two items came from one of the holiday treat days at the Daily Globe. Each week in December leading up to Christmas, a different department is responsible for providing a selection of goodies for interdepartmental devouring. Cara Petersen, the Globe’s circulation manager, came toting a kid-pleasing (and we adults liked it, too) dip for animal crackers, while her assistant, Erica Fouch, provided a savory counterpoint, 3-2-1 Dip. Both are easy-to-throw-together options for holiday entertaining.
Confetti Dip
2 cups plain yogurt
One 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
One 18-.9-ounce box confetti cake mix
In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, plain yogurt and whipped topping until completely combined and no lumps are visible. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill for about 4 hours.  Garnish with additional sprinkles if desired and serve with animal crackers or Teddy Grahams.

3-2-1 Dip
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese
Two 10-ounce cans Rotel tomatoes & chilies
1 pound sausage, cooked.
Combine all ingredients. Microwave until heated through, or combine in slow cooker to keep warm for serving.
Serve with tortilla chips.

From my own file of ideas, I share a quick fix for holiday decor — one that I employed this year.
The wreath that decorates the front door of our house (shown at left) resulted from something I saw in a magazine. Over the last couple of years, I’ve placed a tinsel-bedecked wreath on the door, but the sun took its toll, discoloring and melting the plastic covering. But I kept the wreath form, hoping I could do something new with it this year.
The magazine suggested wrapping a knit scarf around a wreath form, and I just happened to have some hand-knit ones in bright colors. Since my form was dimensional, not flat, it took three of the scarves to completely cover it. I used duct tape to secure the ends to the back and started wrapping. Within about a minute, I had a lovely wreath, and another minute took care of the addition of a glittery bow. The best part for me — the sun’s rays won’t melt it.

The Great Grape Debate

Who would have thought a salad could cause so much controversy — at least among we mild-mannered Minnesotans?

For those of you haven’t heard about Grapesaladgate, here’s what happened: In advance of Thanksgiving, the New York Times came out with a large food feature that was intended to pull one defining recipe from each state. Coming up with 50 recipes is a large undertaking anyway, but to select one recipe that exemplifies each state — well, I think they should have been prepared for some controversy.

I have no idea if residents of the other states were in full agreement with their selections, but we Minnesotans were, for the most part, baffled to have been identified with something called Grape Salad.

Grape Salad?

Yes, Grape Salad.

The feature was titled “United States of Thanksgiving,” and the Minnesota selection was given this explanation:

This grape salad, which falls into the same category of old-fashioned party dishes as molded Jell-O salad, comes from a Minnesota-born heiress, who tells me it was always part of the holiday buffet in her family. It couldn’t be simpler to prepare and has only three ingredients: grapes, sour cream and brown sugar.

Rather like a creamy fruit salad with a crisp sugar topping, it really is delicious, though the concept sounded strange to me before I first tasted it. Other versions, I hear, call for softened cream cheese and nondairy “whipped topping”; I can’t say I’ll be trying that. Some cooks caramelize the brown sugar under the broiler and some don’t, but I definitely recommend this step, which gives the dish a crème brûlée aura.

I don’t recall ever having eaten a concoction that fits the above description. The only salad that I can remember consuming that contains grapes — outside a basic fruit salad — is the popular broccoli salad — and frankly, I prefer the version without the grapes.

A closer look at the recipe in question further confirmed my assertion that I have never consumed such a dish.

Grape Salad

Heat broiler. Put 2 pounds seedless grapes, removed from stems and rinsed (about 6 cups) in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 cups sour cream and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, making sure all grapes are well coated.

Transfer mixture to a 2-quart ceramic souffle dish or other baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup brown sugar evenly over top. Place dish under broiler as far from heat source as possible and broil until sugar is caramelized and crispy, about 5 minutes (be vigilant or you’ll risk a burnt black topping). Rotate dish as necessary for even browning. Chill for at least one hour.

May be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Just before serving, sprinkle with ¾ cup toasted pecans (optional).

Like many others who questioned the New York Times’ culinary judgment, I have to think there would be many other choices that would better represent the North Star State. While our state has certainly expanded its share of vineyards over the years, it’s not like we are known as a grape-growing state. I’m pretty sure most of that production goes toward wine-making and not table grapes, anyway

How about something made with wild rice instead? Hmmm — guess that went to Wisconsin, which might be better represented by something cheesy or made with cranberries?
Being a realistic bunch, I think most Minnesotans would have been much more accepting of the selection if it had been the aforementioned molded Jell-O salad — a staple of Lutheran church basement functions —  or perhaps something made with SPAM? But instead, we are stuck with a dish that came from the recesses of some unnamed heiress’ memory.

By the way, last week the New York Times issued a correction  — actually a number of corrections — for its United States of Thanksgiving feature. An illustration for one recipe depicted a papaya, not a pawpaw, recipe directions were omitted in one instance, and the Hatch chiles were identified as being from Arizona, not New Mexico. There were also some historical inaccuracies, which the NYT readily admitted to, but no mention of the misrepresentation of Minnesota’s proud culinary tradition.

So I put it to you readers: What ONE DISH would you pick to exemplify the cooking of our beloved state? I’d love to hear your ideas — and perhaps some recipes to back them up. Email your ideas to