Monday, December 31, 2012

Wintertime Bean Soup

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” 
― Edith Sitwell

It is the end of the year. The days are short, the evenings dark and long.

In our part of the world, the sun rises in the southeast, skims the rooftops of the houses to our south, and sets behind the Hills in the southwest. 

The mid-afternoon light throws long shadows as we explore the shore of Sylvan Lake - the summer playground deserted this time of year.

By 5:00, Orion starts his journey across the southern sky and the shades are drawn against the cold night outside.

This is the time for soup and homemade bread - food that warms the belly and the spirit.

Today's soup is bean soup. Not a fancy dish, but nothing tastes better on a cold winter night.

I have no recipe for this soup - it would be like asking for a recipe for scrambled eggs! It's been a wintertime staple in my family since long before I was born.

The main ingredient is beans. 

I always use Navy Beans, or small white beans, but you can use your favorite.

Now don't turn up your nose at the lowly bean! Just check out this nutritional powerhouse:

Beans are a good source of
1) Protein
2) Complex carbohydrates
3) Fiber - both soluble and insoluble
4) Calcium
5) Potassium
6) Folate (a B vitamin)

...and they come in all colors and shapes...

It's easy to prepare the beans for cooking. Start the night before by soaking two cups of beans in about a gallon of water mixed with two tablespoons vinegar. If you have hard water (water with a lot of minerals in it), use filtered or distilled water for soaking and cooking your beans.

Why the vinegar? It helps reduce that gassy side effect beans can have.

The next morning, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly. Now they're ready to use.

Beans take a long time to cook and they absorb a lot of water, so give yourself plenty of time. I always use my slow cooker, but you can also cook them on top of the stove over low heat (be sure to stir them occasionally). Either way, check the beans every couple hours to make sure they haven't cooked dry.

I use broth instead of water to cook my bean soup - it adds flavor as well as nutrition. Today I'm using ham broth and chicken broth (about six cups for two cups of beans), but you can also use vegetable broth, leftover water from boiling potatoes, or whatever you might have on hand.

Always add onions to your soup, again for flavor and nutrition, but from there on the soup is very versatile.

We have leftover ham from Christmas in the refrigerator, so I diced up about a cup of that and added it in. You can also add carrots or potatoes (or both). Some people add in mashed potatoes.

Let the soup cook for a good 10 to 12 hours in the slow cooker - maybe four to six hours on the stove.

Taste your soup before adding salt and pepper - if you've used ham or ham broth, you'll probably have enough salt already.

If you add salt, wait until the very end of cooking to put it in. (Salt keeps the fiber in the beans from breaking down while cooking.) 

Serve your soup with fruit or veggies, and lots of crackers.

My husband likes these little gems - he calls them "fabulous crackers" - but I like regular saltines.

I also make cornbread to have with the soup...

...and of course, cornbread needs honey.

Remember I said this soup has been a family staple for years? While doing some research for my next book, I found out that for the 18th century Amish in Pennsylvania (my grandparents six and seven generations ago...), bean soup was a Sunday tradition.

The Amish in those days didn't drive buggies, or wagons, or carriages to church. They walked.

It could be a six mile walk to the house where the Sabbath Meeting was being held, and before the families would start the long walk home in the afternoon, they were given a meal - something simple, warm, filling and cheap. Bean soup.

I can just imagine a log home filled to the brim with Amish families, some of them still grieving loved ones they had lost on the long journey across the Atlantic in ships called the "Charming Nancy" and "Love and Unity". Old men with gray beards, women in their bonnets and capes, children with cheeks rosy from the cold outside and the heat inside the house...and all day long smelling the fragrance from the big kettle of bean soup simmering on the hearth.

And you thought you had a hard time concentrating on the sermon!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rye Boat Non-Poisonous to Dogs!

Okay, my head's not on holiday calendar-friendly status, hence the lateness of this post, but I knew youse would be glad to know that a full grown poodle (who shall go nameless) and a full grown Golden Retriever (ditto) did not DIE after consuming an amazingly delicious left-over HUGE plate of rye bread and the accompanying dip.

Suspect # 1: Maddie, aka Hearthside's Madison O'Malley
Suspect is never considered dangerous but she'll eat herself to death if allowed.
Note trusting brown eyes...
Red coat.
Do not let those beguiling eyes fool you!

Suspect #2:  "Libby" aka "Hearthside's Lady Liberty"
Libby rarely instigates trouble, but she's proficient at riding shotgun.
Unarmed, undangerous and very friendly.
But she barks loudly when people approach the gates of the stronghold.
Good dog! (then)

They did seem to prefer the light rye to the dark pumpernickel.

I have no idea what that means.

I like both. Breads, that is.

The lovely Christmas platter (Mikasa, not pricey but really sweet, you know, deer in the woods, just lovely to behold) suffered no damage and was literally licked clean so washing it now is really a 50/50 shot around here.

After all, a dog's mouth is supposed to be VERY, VERY clean.

I do not know if this is true, I'm not even sure I like dogs right now, but I do know that I need coffee.


And I'm realizing that shutting doors with a firm "click" is in my best interests.

And that they saved me a gazillion carbs and calories.

I'm not telling them that.

The end.

(No, this isn't my picture, but mine was just as pretty... before I erased my camera on Christmas day. Oops. Actually, I liked mine better. It also had the dark rye in the middle, but the surrounding bread was alternating dark and light rye. Quite festive! And my parsley wasn't the size of a tree. I'm calling that OVERKILL.... :)

Rye Dip Recipe:

(there are multiple variations on this recipe, but this is the one we eat voraciously!)

1 1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
1 pkg cut or diced into small pieces dried beef
1 1/2 tsp. beau monde (found in spice section, very Southern!)
1 1/2  tsp. dill (also found in spice section or your garden)
2 Tablespoons parsley (I just remembered this, doh!!!)

Mix in bowl. Spoon into hollowed out round rye loaf... serve with additional rye bread. This is a single recipe, we usually double it for a party.

Also, this dip (without the beef) makes a great "spread" for cucumber sandwiches for parties. Slice chilled fresh cucumbers thinly. Cut crust from bread (or use cute cutter thingamajiggie) Spread bread with thin layer of dip...

Add cucumbers.

Cut sandwiches into serving sized pieces, refrigerate (covered) and serve ice cold. Great for showers, church functions, parties, card groups, etc. Very well received up here!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chocolate and Coffee...the Perfect Marriage

Missy, here. My daughter and I recently had a craving for chocolate cake. And then we decided to get creative with the icing. While she started on the cake, I started digging around the kitchen to figure out what flavor we wanted to use.

We decided on coffee. The perfect marriage! Oh, but first! I wanted to share something we love (that has absolutely nothing to do with the recipe). I wasn't too crazy about the vanilla or mocha. But this new flavor... delicious!

Now back to the recipe...

We baked a dark chocolate fudge cake mix according to package directions. (Ruthy, turn away. You don't have to lay your eyes on a mix if you can't bear it!) :)

My daughter wanted a cream cheese icing, so we mixed one package light cream cheese with a little less than 1 box powdered sugar.

Then for the flavoring. I was afraid cream cheese icing might be weird with coffee, so we made a small test batch. It was surprisingly yummy!

I mixed 1/2 packet of Starbucks Via with a little bit of water (if I had to guess, I'd say it was about 2-3 tablespoons of water) to make a very strong coffee. Then I stirred it into the icing.

Then we iced our cake.

And went a little crazy with the decorations for Christmas. :)

It was very tasty! And fun to play around and make up a recipe. A nice mother-daughter activity!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cajun Jewish Country Christmas Latkes!

 I didn't set out to make Latkes, I was just coming up with an inventive fried potato cake that would stick together and that's pretty much the same thing and then Lawyer Boy from Manhattan said, "Oh, you made latkes! Great! I love them."

So here's our new Jewish Christmas County Breakfast Tradition:

I started with these ingredients:

1/3 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
3 Tablespoons or so chopped onion (can use fresh or dried, or use chives or shallots)
1 teaspoon garlic
About 3/4 bag of shredded hash browns, thawed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Beat eggs with whisk. Add flour and seasonings. Beat together. I thinned it with about 1/3 cup water.... better mixing consistency that way.

Add potatoes, mix well. (I use my hands because them thar spuds are slippery little suckers!)

Heat olive oil in large frying pan until hot, but don't catch the house on fire. Oil burns quickly so ignore the naughty children and the cute guy on TV and if you're dancing around the kitchen, dance with one eye on the frying pan.

This gratuitous pic is of freshly cooked bacon....

Mmm... BACON......  We made breakfast sandwiches for the crew, also. Hence the bacon... Oh, yum.

More bacon cooking. There were a lot of us.

Form the seasoned shredded potatoes into patties. Place carefully in hot oil. Allow to brown on bottom before turning...

I actually turned these a little too soon. I like them browner (crispier) so I re-did this side... but then I hit some button on my camera that ERASED ALL MY PICTURES.... Which I meant to do one of these days, although I'd have been more selective.


Drain these delicious, slightly spicy Cajun Jewish Christmas cakes on clean paper towels and enjoy! You can pick these up and eat them out of hand once they cool a little... or serve with gravy for a heart-attack-in-the-making feast!

And look who's on the side porch, wishing us Merry Christmas?

Why it's the CHRISTMAS CHICKEN, of course!!!  :)

Hello, Chicken!

I do believe chicken is hoping for some latke... or a breakfast sandwich. Or something.

Clearly the bird is hungry... so yes, I went to feed her. And her friends.

But they didn't get Cajun Jewish Christmas Latkes!

Ruth Logan Herne loves to write, she loves to cook and bake, and she's not all that big on cleaning...

This gets problematic after a while, but she doesn't care, she simply continues writing, cooking and baking and eventually someone comes along, digs their way to the sink and makes things shine for an hour.

Or two.

You can find her books at Christian Book or AMAZON and she loves it when you visit her and her buds in Seekerville... or here at the cafe!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nothing says Christmas like TAMALES

Hello everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back with a delicious dish that I've adopted.

I had tamales when I was younger, maybe once or twice, but since hubby is from waaaayyyyy down South, I've learned to enjoy them a lot more often. Like, at least once a month from the 'tamale lady' who goes door to door in our neighborhood. And at Christmastime.

Making tamales is a labor-intensive process and I'd tried it once before. Once. That tells you something. It was a tamale fail.

But I was ready to try it again.

Because hubby really loves tamales. And misses his family. And feels very far from home this time of year. So, I went to our local big box store and bought this...
You can't make tamales without a special pot. Well, you can try. but I'd been down that road before and I was ready to put my money in with my desire to make some edible ethnic food.
There's the insert on the inside. It comes out, and you fill it with water up to that line. The lid is glass and has a special little hole for steam. So it doesn't explode.
Corn husks. Because otherwise it's just not right.
And a bag of masa instante FOR TAMALES. Now, while I was in the store, I grabbed a bag labeled 'masa' and was going to put it in my cart.

 A Hispanic woman in the aisle next to me, shook her head and said in Spanish, 'No, that's for tortillas.' She took it back out of my cart and put it on the shelf. Then she grabbed THIS bag and put it in my cart. Then she patted me on the shoulder and said, 'Buena suerte'. ('Good luck')

  My daughters were cackling at this exchange. True, I did have a big tamale pot, pork, seasonings, and corn husks. But still. I was a little startled at her powers of deduction.

  And I almost followed her home. I just love bossy old ladies. LOVE THEM. She saved our tamales. Bless her. I wonder if she'd adopt me if I asked nicely.
Here's the pork coming out of the oven. It's very spicy, or seasoned, because it's going to be wrapped in bland mush.  Doesn't that look delish??? Mmmm. So, 2 tsp black pepper, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp oregeno, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder mixed in a bowl for every 4 pounds of meat, sprinkled over the top in one layer. Bake at 350F for sveral hours or until cooked to death.

I used pork because hubby asked for that or 'cabeza' which is cow head.

I was not cooking a cow head. Nuh-uh.

(Kav, dear, I also made sundried tomato and cheese tamales and they were delicious! I thought I got pictures, but noooo. Just hunks of meat photos. So use your imagination. For those I mixed 2 c grated cheese and 1 c. sundried tomatoes and 2 tsp salt, then added it to the masa mix. Perfectly not spicy for the little guys.)

I like a bit of chile flavor but not too hot, so I added 1/2 cup of this to the pork. Hubby can add his own burn-your-lips-off salsa.

Make the masa according to the package instructions (which includes butter, salt, baking powder, 5 cups of chicken stock.). It says mix by hand. Ick. Edna was laughing the whole time. So barbaric of me.
After we've washed, soaked and dried the corn husks, we're ready to assemble. Spread the masa mix in the center and add the meat. Roll completely and fold. If it's the veggie version you can just spread a layer of the mix and roll.

Oooh, helpers. This should go really quickly. I think.

Some people layer the tamales flat, like so. Some put them end down, with the open end at the top. But my mother in law lays them flat, so therefore THEY MUST LAY FLAT. You know we don't mess with the family recipes. It would cause marital strife.
Let them steam (simmer) for one hour or a little less. Until I took them out of the pot, I wasn't sure if they'd even turn out. But the angel of the big box food aisle had rubbed some of her tamale magic on me and TA-DAH! Edible tamales!!
Mmmm, time to eat. The good thing about tamales is that they freeze well. So I've heard. Ours were gone the next day, but I think they save well in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for several months.
And for dessert, fresh pineapple! Num.

 I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas full of peaceful time with family and many blessings.

 See you again next week when Edna returns from her vacation and insists on making an impossible dessert. Because she's that type of girl. Demanding the impossible. And getting results.

Until next time!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

The Yankee-Belle is closed today in honor of Jesus' birthday.
There's still coffee round back, though. Y'all help yourselves. Stay warm and we'll be back faster than you can say Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen...and Rudolf!

From the Belle, that sassy Yank, the Mid-Westerner, the Fresh Pioneer, and me, the Texan--

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve with the Drexler's

Crowded malls fall silent...

Streets empty...

Church bells ring...

Candles are lit.....

Have you noticed how the whole world holds its breath in anticipation on this one holy night of the year?

Christmas Eve at our house has changed over the years.

Children grow, 

Grandma and Grandpa with the Drexler children

 Leaving behind memories,


watercolor ponies

and butterfly kisses.

We move from house, to house, to house...and from church to church to church...leaving behind friends, but taking more memories.

The one thing that remains,

The one thing that stays constant,

Is God's incredible love. His gift. His indescribable mercy and grace.

The baby born in the shadow of the cross.

So how do we celebrate this wonderful night at our house?

First of all is church.
My daughter, after working at our local mall all day long, will be playing this beautiful song for the service: O Come O Come Emanuel.

After the service we'll come home...everyone...all six of us. Adults, every one.

I'll have our Christmas "Tea" prepared....  

....and we'll spend the rest of the evening enjoying family.

No television, no video games, no computers.

Just snacking, talking, laughing....

....whopping the pants off some poor soul in a game of dominoes....

Adding to the Christmas memories.

May your days be merry and bright,

And may all your Christmases be white.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas from Yankee-Belle!

It's crunch-time.

Or kick-back time.

I aim for the last week before Christmas to be quiet and prayerful, joyous and good.

I fail, utterly because I always think I can do one thing more.

 Me and 'Lijah showing off twin aprons Mom found at a garage sale this summer! Chic-on-a-dime, LOL!
 Dave and 'Lijah cracking eggs for the chocolate chip/peanut butter chip cookies they made... Dave's apron was made by my friend Becky Prophet, daughter-in-law Lacey's amazing mother. She made 8 aprons for us, in different styles. What a blessing she is!

 Yes, I keep my sugar in a garbage can!  It holds a twenty-five pound bag of sugar and keeps ants at bay... but not small children. :)

The Safety Board would fine us for letting kids bake on chairs.... silly safety board! What's a broken arm among friends?

 And here's the flour container, laugh out loud for real! Dave is modeling how strong it is... yes, it's an Igloo liquid container but holds a twenty pound sack of bread flour from Sam's Club and keeps out bugs... beetles, gray moths, etc. That's important in our hot (if short) summers. And durable, too, as modeled by Dave! (This is little Dave, not to be confused with my husband who is big Dave although neither one of us is very big... we are the runts of both litters!)

Not as cool as Edna, this is the Kitchen Aid that my beloved mothers at daycare gave me last year...

This baby (and its trusty still-working predecessor) are at work daily with my little crew.

The Chocolate Chip cookie dough. Dave wanted to make sure everyone saw it.

Sneak peak at Dave's dad, my son Matt... Note that he's searching for food.... He'd just run 10 miles and got back in time to shower and head to the Christmas train show at a great garden center near here.

But food was clutch to a successful afternoon!

So we're busy like everyone else, but that's okay. It all gets done, no one dies and we have a great time.

Most of the recipes I'm using this weekend are already on the blog.  We're making Ree Drummond's mother's apple dumplings that are now a family and crowd-pleasing favorite:  RECIPE HERE

We're having the stuffed mushrooms that were such a hit at Thanksgiving, and so simple. With a food processor, this stuffing takes minutes to make and my family devoured these babies...

For Christmas Eve, Dave's family comes to celebrate with us. Everybody brings something. I love that!

For our family celebration on Sunday, I do the cooking.... and then we're sending one family on the Polar Express train ride as part of our Make-a-Memory Day.

So we have Make-a-Memory Days and Bake-a-Memory Days because who needs more toys, right?

Then on Christmas, we have a small group this year because some are heading to other places. So that day will be easy: Mass in the morning,  Steak on the grill in the snow, baked potatoes, veggies, more mushrooms, pie and we might even do something we've never done before: Go to a movie. Les Mis opens that day... Or The Hobbit, maybe?

Don't know, we'll see how the day progresses! From my heart and house to yours, I wish you the peace, blessings and tidings of this holy season...

A baby, born in a manger.



Keep a Simple Christmas.


God bless you!

Ruthy (The Yank)