Sunday, November 11, 2012

Starting our Year of Firsts

(Recipe for Lemon Bars will follow)

We are starting our Year of Firsts-firsts that happen now that Howie is gone.  After losing him, the first 'first' was what would have been his and Joan's 61st anniversary.  It fell the weekend we had his memorial picnic. It was a beautiful day-sunny, warm-not hot. So many stories. So many people we hadn't seen in years. The whole family wore red shirts so people would know who his family was, an idea used earlier in the year by our sister-in-law whose sister had passed. Red was the color of his beloved pickup truck.

Over the summer and fall we didn't have many firsts. Birthdays of the family, but those are more about each individual than about him.  Until now.  Joan's birthday is next week. Thanksgiving is the following week. His birthday is in the middle of December. Then Christmas.

What is weird to me (well, probably not really if you know me) was a small first we had a couple of weeks ago.  Dude and I had gone up to see his Mom. We chatted and had dinner and then our nephew came over. He stops over either on Saturday or Sunday, depending on his work schedule (and what parties may be happening). He and Joan will usually play a game of some kind-games are big in Dude's family.  We decided to play Rummy 500. This was the game that the four of us had played hundreds of times since I first met Dude. And Howie was my partner every single time. And we lost most every game.

Josh and I partnered up. I haven't played 4 handed Rummy 500 since Howie died. Sitting across the table, it was so weird to not see Howie, laying down his 8's and saying "8, skate and donate".  I got up once to go to the bathroom just because I thought I was going to cry.  But he was there-laughing at the jokes we told and at all the bad hands Josh and I had.

Yeah, we lost.

What does this have to do with lemon bars? Nothing really, other than Howie loved treats. He loved when all his kids came up to the lake house because he knew there would be lots of good things to choose from!

Lemon Bars

2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
2 sticks of butter, room temp

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
6 TBSP flour
6 TBSP fresh lemon juice
grated lemon peel from lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a  9x13 baking dish. For crust, mix together flour, powdered sugar and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

For filling, beat the eggs and stir in the sugar. Grate the lemon into mixture, then juice the lemon. Stir well. Remove the crust from the oven and pour filling mixture on top. Bake for another 22-25 minutes.

Cool the bars, then shake more powdered sugar on top.

These got 2 thumbs up from everyone at work and I was asked to make these again soon.

Howie-I know you would have loved these.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Perfect Pumpkin Muffins

 Ahh, so the cobbler I made (twice) for Bryan's birthday wasn't a hit with him. He isn't a big fruit-in-desserts fan. But he did say he likes pumpkin, so I went about finding a recipe for some muffins to bake for work. I like muffins/cupcakes as they are easy to transport, they are the perfect serving size and they look cute.

Pumpkin just screams Fall. Well, maybe it just speaks it loudly.  It is a beautiful color, the smell is amazing and you can make a savory or a sweet dish with them. You carve them for Halloween, use small and big ones for decorations and throw them in the compost pile when you are done.

I searched the Internet and found a recipe on the Libby Pumpkin website. The original recipe was a diabetic friendly recipe as it had sugar substitute, but since we don't have to deal with that issue here, I made some changes to the recipe.  They were a big hit at work. The only 'complaint' I had was that there wasn't cream cheese frosting. Duly noted; however, I didn't have any in the fridge or I would have made some frosting.

Pumpkin Muffins (adapted from the Libby's website)

1-1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBSP brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 can pumpkin (not pie filling)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP buttermilk
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP sour cream
2 TBSP oil
Turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 18 muffin tin cups with non stick spray.  In large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients in the large bowl, stirring just to combine. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tins; sprinkle each one with a pinch of Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 32 to 35 minutes, checking after minimum time. Cool in pans for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Everyone commented that they liked them as they were not overly sweet.  Sometimes you want a 'sweet' but don't want to be overcome by sweetness.

These fit the bill perfectly.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I love a good party

To celebrate Fall, Dude and I had a small gathering of friends last night. And a boat load of food. Tami has the mindset of "Go Big or Go Home" when it comes to entertaining. No one is leaving my home with the slightest amount of room left in their tummies.

I had a Sous Chef helping yesterday. E is the son of one of our friends. He learned to cook with his Dad when he was but a wee lad.  He came over to help me get ready for the Fall Frolic; he chopped, diced, mixed, sliced and baked.  It was a very fun day.

We made several recipes that are already posted on my blog-the Ham and cheese glazed sammies, the Spring ring salad, garlic cheese stuffed bread-but we made a couple of new things and some improved things.

Here are a few photos of our fun night.  Recipes will follow in the next couple of days, including one from E. He made an awesome breakfast-one I can't wait to try!

The wine and cocktail bar is ready

I love baby pumpkins

I even made him help me prep the decorations

E and I with some of our dishes

Glazed ham and cheese sammies

2 Corn casserole-is it awesome

Slightly spicy salsa

empty wine glasses

Thank you to my wonderful friends who came and made this night so special.  You all rock!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Kinky Wolfman

I love a good cocktail.  I'm pretty picky about what I will try though.  Usually if it is sweet, I'm game to try, but usually ones that are made with harder liquors-I tend to shy away. Not a fan of the burning sensation when it goes down.  I remember sneaking little nips of Jack Daniels when we went camping when no one was looking. I couldn't figure out how my Dad loved it so much when it burned like liquid fire going down.

Last Spring I was able to attend a fund raising function for Second Harvest Hope in the Heartland.  As I work for a food company, many people were invited to this fundraiser.  My boss knows that I love to cook and asked if I would like to take one of the tickets given to her boss.  It was such a wonderful event. There is a silent auction, a live auction, many local restaurants came and served tastes from their establishments. It was the first time I had pork belly. Oh. My. God.

They also pick a signature drink for the night. On that night it was the Kinkytini. It was fabulous. I went right out that weekend and bought the ingredients. I will share that one later.

The one tonight is called the Kinky Wolfman.  I believe the recipe said the name of the Irish whiskey had the name "Wolf" in it, but I couldn't find it.  I found this recipe in our grocery store circular of all places.  Here in Minnesota, you cannot buy liquor in grocery stores, but some grocery stores have liquor stores next door.

Our local liquor store didn't have any Irish Whiskey in small bottles and I had no idea if I would like it, so I didn't want to buy a large bottle. Dude doesn't like the darker liquors, so I substituted Canadian Whiskey I could get in a small bottle. Oh yeah, this was a keeper.

The Kinky Wolfman

1 ounce Irish Whiskey
2 ounces Kinky Liqueur
3 ounces Ginger ale

In small shaker, mix the Whiskey, the Liqueur and a couple of ice cubes. Shake until cold. Pour into cocktail glass and top with the 3 ounces of Ginger ale.  Give a stir and enjoy.

I taste tested 3 tonight.  I'm suppose to be getting food prepared for our Fall Frolic at our house tomorrow.  I'm thinking sleep is a better idea!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

That Cheating Cobbler

Let's face it-we all need to take shortcuts. Those of us without Domestic Help.

Dude loves blueberry desserts. Just ask him-his Grandma made the best blueberry pie. Mine is good; hers was divine.

This dessert however was made for another man in my life-my dispatcher Bryan.  I work in a small office-like it is about the size of my living room and there are 4 people in there everyday, sometimes we expand to 6 or 7 depending on the day and what is going on.  We don't have many secrets and we probably share way too much. I wouldn't have it any other way.  I lucked out when I got this job 2 years ago. It was like God was looking down saying "Well, since you can't work with your friends at the bank anymore, let's put you with some more funny people".  This isn't to say that I didn't like the people I worked with at the plant; I did, but not all of us could work on the same phase. If we did, we would have never made cereal because we would be too busy laughing. I can now laugh all day long and still get my work done.

Now, it was Bryan's birthday last week. We are going through this HUGE conversion to a new computer system. It sucks. We can't find the information we need, we don't know what items we are short on, we have drivers waiting for DAYS for their load because of how the carriers can see the loads. It sucks.  To help with the stress-mine and everyone elses-I have been baking treats at least 3 times a week.  On Bryan's birthday I looked in the pantry and there wasn't much I could make quickly.  I had a can of cherry pie filling, some white cake mix, butter, etc.  So I remembered a recipe I had done that was a short cut cobbler.  I brought it in, still warm for the oven........and he hates cherries. Sigh.  It went-everyone else liked it-but not the Birthday Boy.

I woke up early this morning and decided to try it again, but I would use blueberry pie filling instead. The house smelled so good, with blueberries and lemon.  I slid a still steaming serving into a dish for Dude to take to work.  I wrapped it up and brought it into the office.  It was still steaming when I unwrapped it.  I giddily walked over to his desk and told him I was making up for his birthday fiasco of cherry-and had made blueberry. Yep, he hates blueberry too.

Cheating Cobbler

1 can pie filling, any flavor you like, but cherry or blueberry were big hits
1 box white cake mix (I used French Vanilla)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
freshly zested nutmeg
Turbinado sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease baking dish. I used a 7 x 10 stone baker, but 9 x 9 works too. Pour pie filling into bottom of dish, spreading so it is an even layer.  Zest/grate nutmeg-just a little over the pie filling. Zest the lemon over this and then add the juice of half of the lemon.  Sprinkle the fruit with the dry cake mix, leveling out. Sprinkle a little more zested/grated nutmeg over top-just a little. Pour melted butter over the top of the cake mix. Sprinkle the nuts over the top of butter/cake mix. Squeeze some more lemon juice over this and then sprinkle the Turbinado sugar over the top. I used about 2 TBSP.

Set in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-43 minutes at 350.

This is great with ice cream or whipped cream.

As for Bryan, guess I need to go back to chocolate desserts-he always eats those!

On a personal note-I'm so happy to be back. I may have lost every reader I ever had after being gone so long, but I realized it isn't about the comments (which I do love) but it is about the process and recording successes and failures, talking about what makes us happy and sad. It is about cooking for those that we love. And that is the most important thing in the world-for me anyway. Even if Bryan doesn't adore everything I bring in.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A wonderful man

Howard and Joan
Howard's truck

A small snapshot of Howie's life

On February 4th, we lost Randy's Dad. What a strange phrase- "We lost Howie".  We didn't lose him-he died.   He had been diagnosed with Melanoma in October of 2009 and the doctors gave him 9 to 12 months.  He lived for another 27 months.  Until the very end, you would not know he was sick. He was always smiling, always joking. He looked healthy, he had an appetite. He didn't look sick. He amazed his doctors with how well he doing.

I never thought that his death would hit me this hard. As I write now, tears are streaming down my face and I'm doing that little hiccuping cry.

Howie treated me with such kindness. He never treated me like just some girl who married his son; he treated me like family.  The day I married Randy, he gave me a hug and told how much he loved me.  I don't know that I have even told Randy that.

Randy's family loves to play games.  They taught me how to play Rummy 500.  Howie was my partner for almost 24 years. I can count on maybe 2 hands how many times we beat Randy and his Mom Joan. But damn, we laughed until we cried almost every time we played.  On the few occasions we won, we would whoop and holler-you would think we had just won the Super Bowl.  "Eight, skate and donate" was something he always said when he would lay down a set of 8's. I realize now I never asked him what it meant-but I said it out loud to a driver at my window last week when he said the word eight. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I just laughed and said "It was something my father-in-law said".

Every day I touch the that flag folded in that case on my way out the door and thank God that he gave me this wonderful family I married into. Thank you Howie for your love, your laughter and your son that has been the love of my life for almost 25 years.  You were an amazing man that I miss every day, and not a day passes that I don't think of you-either with laughter or with tears.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's been a long time friends

My last post-it was over a year ago.

What a difference a year makes.  We have had so many changes occur in our lives over the last 12 months, it seems a little surreal.

Our Drama Queen started college...and dropped out. She met a man that may some day be her husband. She moved out.

Our Hermit Crab is in her senior year of college. She is deciding on her Master's program. She got engaged. We will have a son.

We lost my husband's wonderful father, though we are thankful we had him much longer than the doctors ever said we would.  We had the most beautiful day of the summer to have a party to celebrate his life.

We became empty nesters....and we are digging it.  We just pick up and go on the boat, take the street rod for a cruise, or drive up to the UP to celebrate a birthday without having reservations or a plan.

It is awesome.

I also lost my love of creating food. Be it the weird hours that I work or the repetition of 24 years of doing it-my inspiration was gone.

I think it may be back.