Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas sno-ball cookies

12/12/07 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens! ‘Tis the season to baking! Now is the time to be sorting through your Christmas recipes and choosing the ones you will be preparing. December 25 is just around the corner.
I am always motivated to get organized early because we will soon host our annual neighborhood cookie party. Show time is coming up and I’d better be ready.
In many ways, the finding and sorting is as hard as the baking. During the holidays, my kitchen ghost seriously messes with my filing system (at least that’s my story). Otherwise, how can I explain that the cookie recipes I want are often found filed under ‘casseroles’ or even ‘fish’? It takes time to find these rascals, so do it now!
Once the recipes are found, I must narrow my choices. Realistically, too much sugar is not in our best interests. So I reluctantly limit myself to no more than a half-dozen variety of goodies to be served to company over the next few weeks.
Here’s this year’s plan:
a. Sugar cookies: cut out, iced and decorated
b. Bar cookies: Cranberry Macadamia Nut and Lemon
c. A fruitcake for Chuck
d. Something chocolate for me
e. Pecan pie on Christmas Day
f. Snowball cookies
I love this last category because they’re delicious, easy, showy and everyone’s favorite. The recipes come from different cultures but the base ingredients are all the same: butter, sugar, flour and nuts. Other ingredients are optional.
The following snowball recipes are simple enough for the kids to help you assemble but elegant enough to serve company with a dish of sherbet. Just remember to be creative with garnishes and hide them from men and teenagers until company arrives. Enjoy!

Cherry Hazelnut Snowballs

1-cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups sifted flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup red maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla
Additional sifted powder sugar

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and salt; blend thoroughly. Stir in cherries, nuts, and vanilla extract. Chill overnight.

Shape chilled dough into small balls and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in a 300° oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from sheets and cool. When cool, dust with extra powdered sugar.

Note: substituting green maraschino cherries or other candied fruit for the red cherries can change the appearance of these cookies. Don’t mix the colors or they will look muddy!

Lemon Snow Balls

¾ cup butter, room temperature
3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups flour, sifted
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
Additional sifted powdered sugar

Cream together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add one-cup sugar and beat well. Stir in vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add flour and mix well. Stir in nuts. Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 300° for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan and roll in extra powdered sugar while still hot. Roll again when cool.

Note: substituting orange juice and zest for the lemon can easily change the flavor of these cookies.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1-cup soft butter
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Sifted powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, flour and nuts. Blend well. Refrigerate until easy to handle.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls or 2-inch crescents. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350°, 12-15 minutes or until very lightly browned. While still warm, roll cookies in powdered sugar. Roll again when cool.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thanksgiving is the best eating day of the year!

City Tavern, 1772, Philadelphia, PA

The day before Thanksgiving means that your kitchen is a busy place. The turkey is in the frig, stuffing ingredients are ready to assemble and most of the side dishes have been delegated to others. Your cousin Lenora is bringing her signature green bean casserole. Another cousin her sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. Aunt Emma is bringing the rolls and grandmother has got the pies under control.

So, I’m not going to disturb your carefully crafted menus. Instead, I’m going to offer some classic ‘anytime’ recipes from the 1800s that my husband and I enjoyed on our recent trip to Colonial America.  Unless you want to make the rolls or whip out a chocolate pecan pie tomorrow, you can try the recipes another day.

On our trip we occasionally ate at local taverns that served lunch and dinner. Two of our favorites were the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg and the City Tavern in Philadelphia where the servers were not only in costume and conversation of the period but so was the food.

We were introduced to peanut butter soup at the King’s Arms.
It was probably concocted by a clever cook to make use of the peanuts grown in the region, I found it a bit too rich but you may just love it. Some of our fellow diners did, so I’m including the recipe.

Three kinds of bread — Anadama, Sally Lunn and Jefferson’s sweet potato biscuits — were served at the City Tavern in Philly. Jefferson grew sweet potatoes on his farm. No doubt a thrifty cook figured out a novel way to use them. And finally, chocolate pecan pie, an age-old favorite of mine was also on the menu. Delicious!

Have a great day tomorrow. Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the shared spirit of Thanks-giving brighten your life and that of your loved ones. Enjoy!

Cream of Peanut Butter Soup
King’s Arms Tavern (1772) Williamsburg, VA

1 med. onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons flour
8 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 3/4 cup light cream
Peanuts, chopped

In a large saucepan or soup pot, melt butter and sauté onion and celery until soft but not brown.

Stir in flour until well blended. Add the chicken stock, stirring constantly and bring to a boil. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the saucepan.

Whisk the peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly.
Return to low heat and heat until just hot but do not boil. Serve, garnished with chopped peanuts.

Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits
City Tavern, Philadelphia, PA — Since 1772

 2-1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup margarine, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk (maybe more)
1 large or 3/4 cup sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Combine dry ingredients. Add margarine. Combine milk and sweet potatoes; add to flour mixture. Add pecans. Knead dough with your hands until it is a smooth mass. Roll out on a floured surface to 1/2" thickness and cut with a 2" biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet 2" apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes 10 to 12 (2-1/4") biscuits.

Sally Lunn Bread

1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 -115F)
1 3/4 cups scalded Milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 well beaten eggs
5 cups sifted flour (Divided)

1. Dissolve the yeast into warm water.
2. Combine milk, sugar, butter, and salt in a mixing bowl. Allow to cool.
3. Stir in yeast, eggs, and 3 cups of flour.
4. Add enough additional flour to make nice soft dough.
5. Place in a greased bowl and turn once to coat all surfaces.
6. Cover and allow to rise in a warm, dark spot. Punch down and turn onto a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic.
7. Divide dough in half and form into 2 loaves.
8. Turn into 2 greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
9. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
10.  Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature
   to 350 and bake 17 minutes more.

11. Remove from the pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Note: This dough is versatile and forgiving. After the first rise, it can be shaped into buns, rolls, loaves of bread or poured into an angel food cake pan and baked. It is best served warm with butter.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 cup dark corn syrup
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups pecan halves
1 unbaked 9” pie shell, in pan
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Line the pie shell with pecans, adding more if needed.

Combine eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, chocolate and vanilla in large bowl and mix well. Pour over pecans in pie shell. Rearrange pecans as they rise to the top. Place pie in oven, reduce heat to 350° F. and bake 40-50 min. The filling should be firm in center. Cool and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email

Touring Historic Colonial America

Betty and Chuck Kaiser at the White House

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
to the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Thanks to a recent historical tour of America, I’m singing a patriotic song this Thanksgiving. Many of you have visited the battlefields and monuments of the founding fathers, heroes and presidents that shaped our country. I had not. So come along with me for a few highlights of my historical refresher course.

In late September, my husband and I flew into Dulles airport, hired a limo (same price as a taxi!) and drove to Washington D.C. Our driver was from Bangladesh and upon hearing that we had never been to the area, he slowed down and gave us a little geography lesson that enlightened and gave us great respect for this young immigrant. 

The next morning, we met the 48 other passengers who would be joining us on a 14-night historical America tour. Our fellow tourists came from every corner of No. America — including Canada. Most had already been to D.C. We were the rookies.

Our first couple of days was spent touring D.C. It was everything that we thought it would be. The Washington Monument was overwhelming. The obelisk, built in 1849 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership during the American Revolution, dominates the D.C. landscape. Even at night, you can see all 555 ft. 5.5 inches of it shining like a bright beacon. It is breathtaking.

Every monument and national park was significant and touching. This Veteran’s Day was especially meaningful because of our visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Its elegant simplicity compels reverence for those who sacrificed their lives to build our country. There are 300,000 people buried there but only two presidents: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. The headstones that eloquently line the acreage are mostly ordinary servicemen and women.

The day we were there a busload of veterans from WWII arrived to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Despite their age and infirmities, the men and women (proudly wearing hats from their respective branch of service) clutched canes, pushed walkers and rode in wheelchairs to pay their respects. Their presence was a sobering reminder of the faithful who serve this country today.

It was crowded and hot at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Three million people visit the simple structure yearly. I stopped, picked up a picture of a young man in uniform and read a letter resting at the base of the wall. Written in pencil, on lined notebook paper, it said, “Dear great-grandpa, I’m sorry we have to meet this way. I’m sure I would have loved you and you me.”

We visited the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments at night. One in marble, the other bronze, each was larger than life but also very lifelike. Nearby, the WWII memorial with its arches, 56 pillars, and a grand fountain was very grand and ornate. It had almost an art deco feel to it. The Freedom Wall on the west side of the memorial has 4,048 stars; each one represents100 Americans who died in that war. It is the horrendous cost of freedom.

I was not prepared for the emotional impact of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Seen at night, it eerily reproduces a squad of 19 lantern-carrying soldiers on patrol. Dimly lit in the shadows, the stainless steel statues, wearing windblown ponchos appear to be slogging through the rugged terrain. The fear and fatigue in their eyes is palpable and sent chills down my spine. How could we not honor the combat bravery of these men?

It was almost a relief to put memorials and monuments behind us as we headed out on a bright sunny day for the White House and the U.S. Capitol building. We were disappointed that President Obama’s schedule was too busy to give us a guided tour but enjoyed getting an up close view of the official residence and principal workplace of the president and legislators of the United States. It was another one of those goose-bump experiences to realize how close we were to the seat of democracy.

Leaving D.C., I enjoyed the beautiful the countryside. The days that followed went by too quickly. We visited both Mt. Vernon and Monticello. I expected to love Monticello because it was the home of Jefferson but Mt. Vernon won hands down. Sited on the Potomac, its story of renovation and family life was told by docents and punctuated by historical outbuildings. Loved it!

I found the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown fascinating. The grit and determination of the residents of Jamestown, first capital of the Virginia colony, is unimaginable. Its location on a swampy, isolated site with limited hunting and farming space was made even worse by the lack of potable drinking water. Poor leadership compounded problems with hostile Indians, starvation, typhoid and salt poisoning from the swamp water. It was a hard life.

Later, Williamsburg was named the colonial Capital. Today, both places have been designated National Historic Sites. There are teepees, a blacksmith pounding nails, a musket loading demonstration, chickens hiding in the kitchen and a young woman tanning a deerskin for a dress. We toured Williamsburg in a horse drawn carriage; listened to debate re-enactments; and enjoyed a guided tour at the Abby Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Other notable stops were beautiful Harper’s Ferry (John Brown’s raid on Armory); an unforgettable guided tour of Gettysburg (Civil War’s bloodiest battle), Philadelphia (Declaration of Independence; Liberty Bell), Boston (Paul Revere) and more. Time just flew by. Too soon it was time to say goodbye to our new friends in New York City at the Statue of Liberty. It seemed a fitting ending to a wonderful journey.

God bless America!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Grandmother's (updated) Sunday Supper

11/10/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Grandmother’s (updated) Sunday Supper

Back in the day, a fried chicken supper was a special occasion usually reserved for Sundays. Most weekends, grandmother went to the neighborhood market and picked out two plump hens at the butcher counter. She had them cut it into pieces that always included three portions of breast meat — one being the coveted wishbone.

At home, the chicken was placed in the refrigerator along with some fresh string beans (from the green grocer) and bacon. After church, grandma would tie on her apron and begin to cook. First she cleaned and snipped the beans and put them in a pan of water. Then she diced some salt pork and added it to the beans; this combination cooked all afternoon. Today’s cooks say this was cooking the beans to death but we didn’t know any better. We ate ‘em anyway.

After a short nap, she and mother began preparing the birds. First they set the cleaned giblets to boiling in a pan on the stove and then they used tweezers to pull pinfeathers from the skin. Then the pieces were washed, patted dry and set aside to begin frying about an hour before supper. In the meantime, they peeled and cubed potatoes for mashing and checked the Jell-O salad to make sure it was jelled.

A large cast iron skillet was used to fry the chicken (always in Crisco) and another skillet was used to bake either corn bread or biscuits. After each piece of chicken cooked, it was set aside on a pan in the warming oven while the gravy was prepared. The gravy was made using the chicken drippings — flour and whole milk with an added dash of salt and pepper. Delicious!

I still make fried chicken suppers but in deference to healthier eating habits, I have tweaked grandma’s recipes just a little. First, I skin the chicken pieces, wash and pat them dry before cooking. I’ve done this for so long that skinless chicken is the new normal. Second, I no longer use solid shortening. I use vegetable or canola oil instead. And instead of salt pork, I dice and brown a little bacon and onion to flavor my green beans. Three or four slices are plenty.

All potatoes are not created equal. Yukon Golds are my favorites for fluffy mashed potatoes served with gravy but they are hard to find. Russets are the next best choice but they easily turn to mush so be sure to not overcook. A good rule of thumb for deciding how many to cook is to use one medium potato per person and “one for the pot.”

Now, I often hear people say, “I can’t make gravy.” I say, “Oh, yes, you can.” Just use low-fat milk in place of cream. Try these recipes and see what you think. Enjoy!

Oven Fried Chicken

2 chickens, cut in 6-8 pieces each, skin removed
2 cups buttermilk (more if needed)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
Vegetable oil (enough for 1/2” deep in frypan)

Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the buttermilk over them. Allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator (if short of time, an hour or so or until ready to cook will be okay).

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine the flour and seasonings in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, allow excess to drip into bowl and coat each piece with the flour mixture. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large, deep frypan. Working in batches, place several pieces of chicken in hot oil and fry about 3 min. on each side until the coating is light golden brown. Remove the chicken from oil and place each piece on a sheet pan covered with foil. Before frying the next batch be sure the oil is hot, adding oil if needed. When all the chicken is fried, bake 30-45 min. or until no longer pink inside.

Green Beans with Bacon

1-2 pounds fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
2-4 slices bacon strips, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Place beans in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon and onion over medium heat until bacon is lightly browned and onion translucent. Add to beans and simmer to desired crispness. Or cook them to death like we used to do! Drain well, season and serve hot. Serves 4-8

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered.
1/2 cup low fat milk, warmed
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt

Place potatoes in saucepan, adding enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until soft, about 20 min. Drain well and return to saucepan. Add butter and coarsely mash the potatoes, a few lumps are okay. Gradually add the warm milk to desired consistency. Stir in salt and serve hot with gravy. Serves 4-6.

Cream Gravy

See note below before proceeding
1/4 cup pan drippings
1/4 cup flour (use leftover from chicken flouring)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk

Add flour to hot pan drippings; blend and cook until light brown, scrapping browned bits from bottom of skillet. Using a whisk, gradually stir in milk. Stir until smooth and thickened; add seasonings. Serve immediately.

Note: This is not an exact recipe. If you don’t have enough pan drippings, add some butter. You may have to adjust the oil to flour and milk ratio. For each cup of MEDIUM gravy use 2 tablespoons fat, 2 tablespoons flour and 1 cup liquid. Good luck!

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And they said it wouldn't last ...

11/3/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

And they said it wouldn’t last …

This week my husband and I are celebrating 52 years of marriage. An amazing feat considering that all odds were against us making it through the first year. However, we took our vows of love and commitment seriously and together with God’s help, we persevered through the good, the bad and the mundane — and somehow we made it.

We had none of the qualifications for a successful marriage. By most standards, we were just innocent babes. Chuck had joined the US Army Reserve right out of high school and I went to college. He was 20 years old and I was 19 when we tied the knot in a church wedding before 300 friends and relatives in 1958.

We knew what most of the guests were thinking, “They’re just kids. They need more education and money. What are they thinking? This won’t last!” Certainly our parents voiced their concerns. My mother was sure that we were going to starve and end up on the streets while dad just smiled and asked how he could help.

Well, in our youthful brilliance, we thought they were wrong. After all, we had each other. And when you’re young and in love, that is everything. Our church and each of my five bridesmaids gave me a bridal shower and wedding gifts were generous. Chuck had a job and owned a car. We didn’t need anything else. Or so we thought.

Our first year we played house on $65 a week and enjoyed being newlyweds. We were poor but happy. Although we had a short honeymoon to Big Sur, the real honeymoon was our carefree lifestyle together those first 12 months. Just the two of us living la dolce vida.

Life was so different than it is today. We paid cash for everything. Milk was delivered to the door. The Helms Bakery truck came by with bread and donuts. We had a tiny savings account but envelopes were our checking account. Every week a $20 bill from Chuck’s paycheck went into the rent envelope; $8 for insurance; $10 for gasoline; $15 for groceries; $4 milk and bread; $3 dry cleaning; and $5 spending money. Our budget was tight but doable.

I count the first 25 years of marriage among the best times of my life. To our great joy, daughter Kathryn arrived shortly after our one-year anniversary. Her brothers Jeff and John quickly joined her. Our family of five was complete by 1963 and forever bound together with love.

Of course, growing kids are expensive and with three of them under the age of four, someone was always sick. Fortunately, our doctors just kept a running tab and we paid monthly what we could afford. Sometimes I could only pay $10 but that was okay. No doctor ever complained or sent us to collections.

Chuck worked long hours in retail to pay the bills and I worked seasonal jobs as a school photographer to pay for things like a freezer and dishwasher that otherwise we could not have afforded.

Money was short but fun was always abundant. Our entertainment was cheap. When the kids were little we played cards on weekends with friends and neighbors. Dinner was potluck during which time the kids ran around like the proverbial wild Indians in cartoons. Later, the kids were put to bed and we moms tried to beat the dads at Canasta or Pinochle. We seldom won (because they cheated!).

A big date night for Chuck and me was dinner and the movies. For months we would save up for the event. First we treated the babysitter and the kids to burgers from the new McDonald’s. Then we went to a nearby dinner house and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Afterwards, I remember sitting in loge seats at the Imperial Theatre (50¢ ea.), holding hands as the lights went down and the screen light up. Life was good.

I always say that we grew up with the kids. We were pretty innocent and sheltered when we married but it didn’t take long for us to discover that keeping an even emotional keel in life is difficult. Chuck’s mother died prematurely at the age of 55. After a couple of surgeries and years of misdiagnoses, our daughter had a major 8-hour surgery at UCLA Medical Center for a rare condition that put her in medical journals and on alert for a decade.

Afterwards, a near bankruptcy on a business venture almost put us over the edge financially. And long before we knew anything about breast cancer, I lost two of my friends to the disease; another to brain cancer. The suffering and death of loved ones was the hardest to face but we hung on to our faith and each other.

The years of Campfire Girls, Boy Scouts, church activities, track teams, cheer leading, choirs and marching bands were a blur of activity. Then, just as we wondered how we were going to pay for cars and college educations, we opened a restaurant. If we thought life was busy before, our new 60-hour work weeks were a whirlwind!

Suddenly, it was over. We looked around and said, “Wow. The kids are grown and on their own, it’s time for ‘us’ again.” We sold the restaurant, traveled a bit and moved to Oregon where we began a whole new lifestyle and fulfilled many other dreams we had put on the shelf. Our family of five now numbers 12. We praise God every day.

Fifty-two years ago, as the world judged us, our marriage didn’t stand a chance. By the grace of God, the world was wrong. We have lived full and rewarding lives — together. Today, our hair is silver; our faces are creased and our steps a little slower. As senior citizens we still hold hands and share kisses in the moonlight, wondering how we got to be so old when just yesterday we were too young!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel