Holiday Traditions

Favorite Family Sides for Easter

Holiday Meal Side Dishes

I don’t know about you but in my family there are certain sides that must accompany each holiday meal.  At Easter, Andy equals broccoli rice, Amy equals deviled eggs, Krista equals rolls and mashed potatoes.  No one would say anything but it would be akin to disowning them.  So, I have whipped up some of these to be ready for Sunday.  We are adding fruits and vegetables because that is what Cameron (my oldest grandaughter) likes.  Maddie must lick the bowl when I am baking…see all of my cupcake recipes.  Oh yeah…there is ham.  That is a given, but really my group gathers round for their favorite side dishes.

Broccoli Rice Casserole

Deviled Eggs


KiStrawNana Salsa

I am taking all these family favorites to Saturday dishes which starts tomorrow morning.  I hope you will join us there.  It promises to be a grand collection of side dishes if you are still making your shopping list.

Saturday Dishes

Happy Easter



Easter Egg (or spring forward) Casserole with Fresh Salsa and Cheese Sauce

I liked to have a casserole to serve for Easter breakfast.  It was easy to serve and could be made the night before and popped in the oven while 3 kids were looking for eggs and going through their Easter baskets.  We almost always had to hide the eggs inside the house.  It was either very cold or very windy on Easter Sunday.

It was always such a scramble (no pun intended) to get the eggs gathered, kids dressed for church (when did I ever have time to get dressed?) and have something for breakfast.  The church service was always longer than usual so we had to have something for breakfast.  Especially after all those jelly beans and chocolate bunnies had been nibbled on.

This is easy and can be enlarged or even doubled for a large crowd.  I served it with fresh fruit and made a side salsa of diced tomatoes, green onions and halved grape tomatoes with just a little red wine vinegar.  I usually served the cheese sauce on the side.

Easter Egg Casserole

Hugs and Kisses Eggs

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite days.  For me it means sweets to eat and sweeter still notes declaring my fondness, affection and love.  It is just a sweet time.

I met my husband near Valentine’s Day.  I had never received roses from anyone before.  He sent me a yellow rose.  (Those were his favorites.)  In high school I had an English teacher who said if a guy gave you one rose, you should ask where are the other 11?  If he came back with 11 roses he was a “keeper.”  So I did.  They came the next day!  A girl never knows if she doesn’t ask, right?  It must have been ok.  It seemed to work out.  It was so sweet to get roses.  I love flowers too.

Anyway, Hank loved breakfast.  I think it was his favorite meal, especially on the weekends or on vacation.  He had a pretty strict menu.  Eggs, pork of some type, grits or potatoes (maybe gravy) and toast, coffee and orange juice were the order.  How it was prepared and in what combination didn’t matter.  So I was trying to think of a Valentine’s Day breakfast meal when I spied two slices of white cheese and a large bell pepper.  Why not try to cut the bell pepper into a slice that looked like a heart.  It didn’t work.  Next was to use the cookie cutter to cut the cheese into a heart.  That was much better.  Thus, eggs in pepper rings with cheese hearts came to be. Just thinkin’ about Hank and breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Valentines Breakfast

Popcorn, Pretzels and Pecans

Snacks are essential for a Super Bowl party – especially ones that people can eat without plates or forks.  I usually have a brisket or a pot of chili or burgers to serve too.  Let’s face it, munching while you’re watching 4-6 hours of football IS GOING to happen.  So a few portable snacks are just the thing.

You know I like salty/sweet things and popcorn is one of my favorite snacks.  I decided to add some other favorite munchies to the popcorn for this big game.

These little popcorn boxes are convenient to have sitting around the room in easy-to-reach spots so we don’t have to get up and leave the game at a crucial moment when the snack attack hits!

Sweet and Salty Popcorn Snack Mix


Come share your Super Bowl Snack at my party!

2013 Superbowl and Chili

Small bowls of the pecan halves and pretzel twists alone are a big hit too.  Actually, I haven’t had too much snack food leftover after a Super Bowl Party.  Don’t overdo the snacks though, so the brisket, burgers or chili you serve at half-time will be eaten too.

Happy Fall Ya’ll! Decorations to FALL for


I really enjoy the weather and the changes of the light this time of year. It is the nesting instinct I think. It’s time to think about getting cozy, snuggle up under the blanket with a cup of hot tea, make casseroles and soups and going home. I have more decorations for Fall than any other season, well, except Christmas, of course. I so enjoy those bright oranges, yellows and reds in the bright sunshine the best. Krista lived in PA for a while and the Fall colors there amazed me. They actually made me cry the first morning she took me out for a view. It doesn’t take much to stir up my emotions, but those colors were beautiful and that Fall was very special to me. Here in West Texas we have to create our own color spots because we certainly don’t have the climate or the trees to recreate that blaze of color. We can travel to nearby New Mexico and see some aspens that are brilliant yellow. But once you’ve seen the leaves turning it sort of gets in your blood. You want more!

I bought this little set years ago from some catalog that was going around at work. The pieces (head with hat and sign with gloves for hands) are wooden and have dowels to insert into a real pumpkin and made this little “squatty-body” guy. I had a brilliant idea this year. Why not buy one of those beautiful artificial pumpkins and have this to use forever! I’m a little slow, but when the creative juices get flowing I feel very clever! And it will last forever!  I added a few fall leaves with a glue gun and put him in a large flower pot.   Now isn’t that clever and cute?

I’ve added a short strand of colorful artificial leaves to my ristra I made last year and it has a bright little splash of color.  Click here to learn the basics of the ristra.

I had it hanging on a hanger with a plastic bag covering it since last Fall. The colorful leaves added a real bright spot and the bag keeps it dust-free. My garage has a wall of wreaths. They are all hanging with plastic bags over them and I just switch them out for the seasons. Maddie gets concerned when Lita’s house isn’t decorated with a wreath. Not to worry, I have plenty!

These two wreaths have been in use for about 15 years. The one on the red door hasn’t had anything added to it in several years. Next year it will get a new bow, I think. It is actually a small wreath (center) that I added it to a larger grape vine wreath and added the swag of leaves around the larger wreath and the bow on top.

I totally refreshed the straw wreath on the outside door this year. I made new bows and fresh swags of leaves and flowers to brighten it up. It’s hard to see, but on the right hand side is one of my favorite finds. She is a corn husk angel with a basket of bright colored fruit. She has faded over the years, but she is always there each Fall when I put out this wreath.

I made this pumpkin floral arrangement last year. It was so quick and easy to pull off the shelf of the closet and put it out on the table. Instant Fall in my kitchen!  Click here for directions.

Of course with the Fall comes Pumpkin Bread. It really says “Fall is here” to me. This is the one recipe of my Grandmother’s I can make that tastes just like hers. I’ve made it for years and shared this recipe with my church for our cookbook. I make it for friends and neighbors and my family. It is a welcoming smell in any kitchen. Plain, unadorned Pumpkin Bread.

I made this ceramic bread basket years ago at a shop near my home. I sort of became the neighborhood ceramic lady for a while. I still enjoy this piece.

In case you can’t tell, I like to keep things and reuse them. Memories, you know….. that’s what it’s all about.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs, well beaten – room temperature
  • 1 small can pumpkin puree (not pie mix)
  • 1-¼ cups vegetable oil

Mix dry ingredients and make a well in the center. Add pumpkin, eggs, and oil and blend until well moistened.

Bake in well-greased loaf pans for 1 hour at 350° or until skewer inserted in middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven onto wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Then put on sheets of foil and wrap tightly while still warm. Leave out to cool completely. This helps the bread become very moist. Resist eating for at least 24 hours.

If using small loaf pans, adjust the baking time slightly. You can also make muffins with this recipe. I make the mini muffins. Baking time is 20-25 minutes.

Store in airtight containers for storage. These freeze well.

My favorite Fall decoration is this little angel. She’s made out of fabric with a grapevine halo and she holds a cornucopia. Her wings are leaf-shaped and her dress is a Fall plaid. (My mother would love her dress.) She sits on anything I can find to make her the centerpiece of my Fall porch decorations.

Leaves are falling
Frost is near
Autumn’s angels gather here.


What is on the Easter Menu?

The Tumbleweed Contessa Gang had quite the discussion on our weekly conference call about the traditional Easter dinner menu.  I have put together 2 family recipe collections over the years, and according to my middle daughter the traditional menus have changed. The first collection would have included their father’s favorite menus.  He didn’t just have an entree in mind when he asked, “What’s for dinner?”  He had an entire menu.  I had to buy fresh meat for every meal, frozen was not allowed and I would cook from about 5:00-6:30PM.  It was a ritual. According to him certain foods had to go together.  In place of potatoes he would have chosen rice.  His mother was from Louisiana and that is what they cooked.  And actually, I’m the happiest when I can come with an idea that keeps me busy in the kitchen all evening or on a Sunday afternoon, except when I need to be in the garden, of course.

The menu for Easter Sunday seems to have taken some twists with each person’s favorites too.  But we all agreed it includes ham, hot baked bread, and a fresh crudité platter that must include deviled eggs and black olives.  Now we seem to have different recollections.  Andy’s Broccoli Rice Casserole is my recollection.  My oldest daughter insists we had mashed potatoes too.  I don’t remember that, but my mother may have made both carb-laden sides to satisfy everybody.  She claims I did this too before my healthy food kick!

Desserts are my favorite but my family wasn’t crazy about them.  If it is a holiday, it is a good excuse to make something pretty and sweet.  So, either something lemony or fresh strawberries and cream would be my favorites for Easter.  I love a good pound cake (with strawberries).  I have a great recipe you should try.  It gets more moist if you give it an extra day to brew in an air-tight cake container.

Sunny Lemon Pound Cake with Zesty Lemon Sorbet Sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 heaping cup sour cream
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 quart Haagen Dazs Lemon Sorbet

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the sour cream, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

For the syrup:

  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

While the cake bakes, simmer the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, let it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the sauce: (this is too easy)

  • 1 quart Haagen Dazs Zesty Lemon Sorbet

Before serving time, allow the sorbet to melt at room temperature.  Stir with a spoon and pour a little lemon sauce on a plate and place a nice slice of cake on the sauce.  It will have people licking the plate (or wishing they could!!!)


Easter Traditions or Hunt for Angry Birds?

Children foraging for hidden eggs is a playful part of this Christian holiday, but the hunt itself stems from the pagan festival of Eastre. Named after the Saxon goddess of spring, this celebration included eggs decorated in bright colors to commemorate the season. Early Christians considered the egg a sign of rebirth and presented them as gifts. Eventually adults made a game out of hiding the colored eggs for a children’s search. — Kelly Staikopoulos


I had to bake for Easter, of course.  So, I created Chocolate Chip Bird’s Nests filled with green icing and Jelly Bird Eggs.  I’ll hide some eggs for the girls to hunt too.

I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies in mini muffin pans.  (I cheated and used a packaged mix from Betty Crocker.)  It was made with butter so I didn’t worry too much about sticking.  I sprayed the mini muffin pans with a little non-stick spray.  As soon they came out of the oven I used a small press to indent the center.  I got this press with something I bought from Pampered Chef.  I don’t know what it was for, but I use it to fit crusts in mini muffin pans.  I think you could use your fingers.  Remove the cookies from the pan while still warm.  I froze these at this point until I was ready to fill them.

I used a can of white frosting that I tinted green, put it in a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip.  I filled the indention of the nest with green icing and added three small jelly bird eggs.  They were cute and disappeared the minute I put them in the kitchen at work.

The Angry Birds were another story. Though they were all eaten, they didn’t turn out nearly as cute as the picture I saw of them.  Nelda said they were very tasty.  .

I remember chicks, ducks and bunnies for sale in the stores at Easter.  I don’t think they do that anymore.  It probably isn’t a good idea anyway.   There was a cute little duck that swam in a pond of our next door neighbor when I was little.  One day it was gone.  Hmmmmmmmm?  But I digress….

I baked the cake pop balls and put them in the freezer to use when I was ready to embark on this little adventure.  I made the beaks and feet with the orange candy melts the same evening and put them on a tray lined with waxed paper to stay cold and hard until ready to use.  The day of my creation I dyed the coconut in a plastic zip lock bag, dotted the eyes, melted the vanilla candy coating in the microwave and began to dip and roll.

I put black dots on a strip of dots for sugar eyes. (every place I searched was sold out of the real sugar eyes.)  Then I dipped the little balls in melted white chocolate and rolled them in the yellow died coconut, added the beaks and eyes.  I got what looked like Angry Birds – not Easter chicks.  I’m not sure my granddaughters would relate to Easter chicks anyway.  Angry Birds on the other hand, they would identify with immediately.  The result was these little yellow fuzzy balls with wild eyes.  So much for a cute little experiment.  At least the birds’ nests came out identifiable and quite tasty.

These projects were fun and creative.  That’s what I like about holiday specialty baking.  You should give it a try and let me know what you come up with.


Hoppin Down the Bunny Trail

I had a friend, Linda, who was third grade teacher.   A long time ago she asked me if I could come to her class to help her students with a project for Easter.  We made sugar eggs.  I only helped her up to the point of drying and hollowing them out.  What a mess those kids made.  She must have done the cleaning up herself.  I don’t think the janitor would have appreciated sugar on the floor.  The kids had a great time.  It was like making sand castles on the beach with wet sand and the cups and sand buckets you could find.

I came home inspired.  I must have made dozens of those eggs.  We used the L’eggs panty hose eggs to make them.  You can’t buy those anymore and I, of course, didn’t save one for future use.  When I’m finished with a project, I’m done.  I never imagined I would have little girls again to make them for.  Michael’s came to the rescue again with plastic eggs that come apart.  They aren’t the official candy molds, but mine will work just fine.

These instructions seem like there are lots of steps.  I found the written instructions on  This is exactly what Linda and I did years ago.  It is simple and they turn out great.  I have also made them without a cutout for a panorama and decorated them with flowers and icing decorations.  Displayed in an Easter basket these are a very pretty centerpiece.  I took some to a friend who was an expert decorator. She made them very beautiful.  I gave them to my mom for Easter. She kept them for years and gave them back to me to use.  I did for a long time.  They last forever if taken care of.

To make a sugar egg, you will need:

  • A large “panoramic egg” candy mold, or plastic egg for filling the size(s) you desire
  • Egg base candy mold (optional but recommended for standing displays to stand)
  • Pastry bags and tips for decorating the egg
  • 1 egg white, room temperature
  • optional liquid food coloring(pale pink, yellow, blue and green)
  • 3.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • Royal icing
  • Royal icing flowers or other candy decorations
  • Optional toys or pictures to display inside the egg
  • Coconut tinted green or Easter grass to put inside in the egg


  1. Whisk the egg white until it starts to be frothy. If you would like to color your egg, add food coloring to the egg white and mix well. Note that you will be adding a lot of sugar to the egg white, so it’s a good idea to dye the white a darker color than your desired final product.
  2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the granulated and powdered sugars so they’re evenly mixed. Pour the egg white into the sugars and begin stirring. At first it will seem like there’s not enough liquid, but keep stirring! Gradually the sugar will become more moist. Eventually the sugar will have the consistency of damp sand. You want the sugar to clump together if you squeeze it in your hand, but avoid adding additional liquid and making it too wet—that will just increase the drying time.
  3. Once your sugar mixture is ready, start filling your egg mold. Scoop the sugar into the hollows of the mold and pat firmly down, packing it in. You want the egg to be smooth, so press down on the sugar to prevent any small gaps or cracks from forming. If you have excess sugar and want to make more eggs, keep it in a bowl and place a damp paper towel directly over the sugar to prevent it from drying out. If you are using an egg base mold, fill it at this time.
  4.  Use a bench scraper, metal spatula, or the top of a large knife to carefully scrape across the top of the mold, removing any excess sugar. Your eggs should have a smooth, even top that is the same level as the mold when you are finished. Do the same for your egg base.
  5.  Place a stiff piece of cardboard directly on the top of the mold. Bracing one hand on the cardboard and the other underneath the mold, quickly flip it upside-down so that the egg halves are now resting on the cardboard. Quickly remove the mold—you now have two beautiful sugar egg halves. Do the same with another piece of cardboard and your egg base, if you are using one.
  6.  At this point, the egg halves need to dry out a little before you can use them. You can let them sit at room temperature for about an hour, or you can put them in a very low oven. I recommend setting your oven to 200° F and leaving them in for about 25 minutes.  I have also used a fan in the kitchen to move air over the shell.
  7. Once the eggs have started to set, they need to be hollowed out. It is important to do this when the outside is set enough to hold up, but the insides are still soft. Once the egg has fully set, it cannot be reshaped! Pick up the egg half without the flat panoramic panel. Hold it in the palm of one hand and use a spoon to scrape out the moist sugar. If you are saving your sugar to make another egg, you can add this sugar to the bowl and re-use it later. Continue to scrape the interior of the egg until you have a sugar shell that is about 1/2-inch thick. You want it to be as thin as possible, while still being sturdy enough to hold together.
  8. Scrape out the interior of the other egg half. Assuming you have a panoramic egg mold, you will have a flat panel on the front that should be removed entirely. Use a small, sharp knife and carefully poke a hole through the front. Be careful not to apply too much pressure and cause the egg to collapse or crack. Continue to gently whittle away to front of the egg until you have removed all of the sugar from the flat portion. You will be left with one egg half that is completely round, and one egg half that has a “window” cut into the side. Note that if you do not have a panoramic egg mold you can still create this effect by freehandedly carving a window into one of your halves—I recommend drawing a circle onto the egg to guide your knife.
  9. At this point the eggs need to dry out further before they can be completed. You can leave them for another 2-3 hours at room temperature, or place them back in the 200 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Place them on their backs this time to let the inside portion dry.  I let mine sit out overnight.  But I am in a very dry climate.
  10. Once the egg halves are dry and very hard, you can decorate the inside with a beautiful Easter scene. Pipe a small amount of royal icing into the bottom portion of the intact egg half. This is to anchor everything else you add. Add a layer of green-tinted coconut or Easter grass, if desired, and press gently to adhere it to the frosting. Add toys, pictures, small candies, or sugar decorations. It is easiest to add a dab of royal icing to the back or bottom of your decorations to help them stick.
  11. Now it is time to glue the two halves of the egg together. Pipe a thin line of royal icing around the lip of the bottom half of the egg. Press the top half down onto the bottom, making sure that they line up evenly. Run your finger around the seam where the eggs meet to remove any excess frosting. You want to do this right away so that it will not begin to harden into unsightly shapes. Allow the egg to sit for about 30 minutes, until the frosting has hardened enough to move the egg without damaging it.
  12. Time to put the finishing touches on your egg! Pipe a decorative border around the seams where the two egg halves were joined together. I also like to pipe a border around the opening of the window, to better frame the scene inside and to hide any uneven edges. I usually do not pipe a border on the very bottom of the egg, as this is where it will rest in the egg holder. If you are not using an egg holder or have alternate display plans for your egg, decorate the entire thing.
  13.  If you have frosting flowers or other decorations for the outside of the egg, now is the time to put them on. Use a small dab of royal frosting to secure them to the egg. Add leaves, stems, or any other decorative touches you desire.
  14. If you are using an egg base, pipe some royal icing into the base to secure the egg. Place the egg in the base and prop it against a wall or other straight object to balance it until the icing is firm enough to hold it.
  15. Once it has set, your egg is complete! Display your sugar egg during the Easter season. To save it, wrap it carefully in paper or plastic and store it in a box in a safe place. Do not refrigerate the egg and do not attempt to eat it!  Stored properly, your egg can be saved for many years.

This simple royal icing recipe produces a white, hard icing that can be used to decorate candies, cookies, cakes, and gingerbread houses. Royal icing dries into a very stiff consistency and does not have an appealing texture, so it should be reserved for small decorative touches or products that are not meant to be eaten. Be sure to check out the photo tutorial showing how to make royal icing.

Royal Icing

  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • food coloring (optional)


  1.  Make sure the egg whites are at room temperature before beginning.
  2. In the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer, place the egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat all together on low speed until combined. You can use a hand mixer if you desire, but it will likely take longer for the icing to reach the right consistency.
  3. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Restart the mixer and beat the mixture on medium speed until very thick, shiny, stiff and white. This should take about 7-10 minutes.
  4. Check the texture to ensure that it is suitable for your needs. If you require a stiffer icing, add a little more powdered sugar at this point.
  5. If you want to dye your icing just one color, you can add a few drops of food coloring into the bowl and mix it for a few seconds until the coloring is evenly distributed. If you want to make several different colors, divide the icing into several different bowls and stir in the food coloring by hand.
  6. Royal icing dries to a very hard consistency, and it will begin setting as soon as it is made. To prevent the icing from getting hard before you use it, thoroughly wet a paper towel and place it over the top of the icing in the bowl. It is very important to keep the icing covered!  *  I put mine in separate pastry bags immediately after tinting.  This keeps the icing from drying out.  Don’t squeeze into a tip or it will dry closed!  Likewise, if you are using a pastry bag and piping tips with the icing, twist the back end of the bag tightly, and wrap a wet paper towel around the tip when not in use so the icing will not dry in the tip.
  7. Depending on the temperature, humidity, and amount of icing used, royal icing should harden within 15-60 minutes of application. Do not refrigerate products with hardened royal icing, as the icing can become soft and sticky.


Irish Feast

Top o’ the mornin to you!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.

From BigSister

The Contessa gave me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for Christmas.   I am not a baker.  So, mostly she got it for when she comes to visit me.  It seems I always have a project or two that require her really good baking skills.  I have no patience for measuring and letting things rest.  That being said, I can’t just let it sit there.  So, for a good cause I put it to use.  I made this Irish Soda Bread for the ladies of the Austin Junior Forum March meeting.  The other members of my team made the Shepherd’s Pie and cupcakes.  We made too much and had too many leftovers.  We took them to a local fire company.  They already liked us.  Now they love us!  The Austin Junior Forum works with local first responders to bring a little love to children in traumatic situations.  Every year we have a benefit to raise money for the Teddy Bear program.  The Teddy Bear program gives Teddy Bears to fire and policemen to carry with them and give to children when they arrive on the scene.  These bears bring some comfort and hopefully help those first responders a little bit and we are happy to do it.  Click here to read more about it.

The ladies loved this stuff!  So, here is a way to celebrate besides wearing your green and using the green food coloring.

Irish Soda Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a jelly roll or cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt and stir well to mix.

Add the butter and rub in until the butter disappears into the dry ingredients.

Stir in the caraway seeds and the raisins.

In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk and egg together and mix into the dough mixture with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out on a floured work surface and fold it over on itself several times, shaping it into a round loaf. Transfer the loaf to one cookie sheet or jelly roll pan covered with parchment or foil and cut a cross in the top. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350 and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes more, until well colored and a toothpick plunged into the center emerges clean.

Cool on a rack and wrap in plastic wrap.


Chocolate Stout and Irish Cream Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups Irish stout (recommended: Guinness)
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Irish Liqueur Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line a cupcake or muffin pan with 24 regular-size cupcake liners.

Place the stout and butter in a medium-size saucepan and whisk together on medium heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat. Sift the cocoa powder into a medium-size bowl and add the sugar. Slowly whisk into the stout mixture. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and lightly whisk until smooth. Add this mixture to the saucepan and whisk thoroughly (it may appear lumpy). Sift the flour and baking soda together in another small bowl and then add it to the saucepan, mixing a final time until the color is even.

Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters full with batter and bake until the cakes spring back after touching, about 27 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in their pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

To assemble: Pipe the frosting onto cooled cupcakes using a large plain tip or spread with a frosting knife. Dust with cocoa powder.

Irish Liqueur Frosting:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur (recommended: Baileys)
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar


Shepherd’s Pie

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 rib celery, sliced
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 cup canned low sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, optional

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, half the salt, and oregano. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until mushrooms are soft and tomato paste has turned brick red, about 8 minutes more. Stir in the beef, the broth, the remaining salt, the Worcestershire, and some pepper, breaking up any large clumps of meat, cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the meat and vegetables to a 2-quart oval casserole dish and spread the mashed potatoes over the top, leaving a 1/4-inch boarder around the edge. Make a decorative pattern on the top of the potatoes, if desired. Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Bake until potatoes brown and the juices bubble around the edge, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

PS-Meat free friends a package and 1/2 of veggie meat crumbles works too.  I made mine at home that way.

Cheeseball, Sausage Balls and Black Eyed Peas-Happy New Year!

The best New Year’s Eve party I have ever been to was not planned.  Some neighbors (4 or 5 other couples) in Austin decided one afternoon to get together. I had a cheese ball I had made and I put together some sausage balls.  Everybody brought an appetizer and we bought pizza.  We took our children along in their pj’s.  I had a 4 year old and a baby.  We put the babies to sleep in playpens or their car seats and the other children piled up on a quilt on the floor in a large play room with their pillows to watch a movie.  One at a time they all drifted off to sleep.  We had to walk across the street to go home.  It was so easy and so much fun.  No planning or much prep work went into it.

The cheese ball recipe is from my neighbor, Ann, again.  It has become a traditional Christmas snack.  Krista doesn’t have Christmas or New Year’s without it.  I wouldn’t think about a Christmas season without one.  It is served best with Wheat Thins.  The sausage balls were my husband Hank’s favorites.  He liked anything with pork.  Those are best dipped in spicy mustard or bar-b-que sauce.

Think about an impromptu New Year’s Eve party for your friends. Don’t think about it too long.  Just do it!

On New Year’s Day you have to have black eyed peas for good luck in the new year.  If you are planning to celebrate the New Year in the South, it is most likely that you will be offered black-eyed peas in some form, either just after midnight or on New Year’s Day. From grand gala gourmet dinners to small casual gatherings with friends and family, these flavorful legumes are traditionally, according to Southern folklore, the first food to be eaten on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity throughout the year ahead.

Black-eyed peas are also a key component of “Hoppin’-John”.  Comprised of black-eyed peas, rice, and pork (ham-hocks, bacon, or neckbone), “Hoppin’ John” dates back to at least the 1840’s in Charleston where a freed but partially crippled black man named John was said to hop through the streets selling bowls of this dish made by his wife.  As he passed through the streets it’s said that people would remark “here comes hoppin’ John!”.

This salad is great with anything from a sandwich to grilled pork tenderloin or seafood.  It’s great for a cookout, tailgate party, or picnic and is even better if made a day in advance so the flavors can marry.  Even if it’s snowy outside the vegetables are available year-round and usually have good flavor…hence my alternate name for it:  “Summer in a Bowl”!

Happy New Year!  We wish you a bright and tasty 2012!