Monday, February 29, 2016

Braised Beef with Carmelized Onions

This recipe is so awesome! But I'm going to make you wait for it while we look at some scenery.

Winter is leaving the Black Hills, and my husband and I just can't stay home on the weekends. I mean, really, could you?

A few weeks ago we went on a drive through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon. And yes, there was still snow on the ground, but the creek was flowing. :) And the canyon was as lovely as ever.

And then last week, we went for one of our bi-weekly hikes. The idea is to add a mile to our distance each month. Last Saturday's hike was four miles along the Creekside Trail in Custer State Park.

This trail is paved (no spring mud!) and connects two campgrounds, passing stores, picnic areas and a lake in its two mile length.

Grace Coolidge Creek

It's a beautiful trail, but we know from experience that it is super crowded during the tourist season. February is the perfect month to hike this one.

And we were even greeted by a small herd of young big horn sheep at our turn-around point half-way through.

The trail also passes the State Game Lodge.

This beautiful place was built in 1920, and was the "Summer White House" for President Calvin Coolidge. Later on it became a hotel and is a much-sought-after lodging for park visitors. If you want to stay in the older part of the building, make your reservations well in advance!

And of course we stopped to say "hey" to the Boys on the Hill on our way home!

This past weekend we went back to Custer State Park for a drive through the wildlife loop. This is an eighteen-mile scenic drive through prairies and forested hills. We almost always see plenty of bison on this drive, along with antelope, deer, prairie name it!

Last year's calves are growing up - a sure sign of spring - but look what's happening to their mothers!

This lady was waddling along the road. Yes, waddling. The new calves start dropping in April!

And then this is also happening to the bison - 

Yes, this older cow has that protruding tummy, too. But look at her coat! The bison are beginning to shed. Can spring be far behind?

On the way home we drove through Wind Cave National Park. We don't go there as often as we like because it makes the drive a bit farther. But it was beautiful in the early spring sunshine.

We were hoping to see some elk, so we ventured along this trail.

No elk, but we could tell they had been there. Their tracks look like a deer's foot print, but a lot bigger!

After three weekends in a row, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. :)

Now to the recipe!

Another sign that spring is coming is that this year's beef is ordered and will be coming in the next few weeks. What does that mean?

We need to clear out last year's beef!

If you're a beef lover, this looks like heaven, doesn't it? That's about two pounds of meat - a combination of round steak and ribeye. You can make this dish with any cut of steak because you're going to be cooking it to melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness!

I do have to warn you, though - this is not a fast meal to cook. The prep time took longer than I thought it would, mostly because of browning the beef in batches. Leave yourself plenty of time.

Braised Beef with Carmelized Onions
serves four
prep time: about 1 hour
cooking time: about 1 1/2 hours


2 pounds beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon oil - I use coconut oil
1 large sweet onion, cut in half and sliced
1 Tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup flour
4 cups beef broth
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 slices french bread, 1 inch thick
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 - 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Sprinkle the beef cubes with the pepper. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan (I used my deep cast iron skillet), and brown the beef in small batches. Drain and keep in reserve.

In the same skillet, cook the onions in the butter over medium-low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.

Preheat your oven to 325°.

Stir the flour into the onion mixture until it's blended. Then add the beef broth, a little at a time, stirring after each addition until the gravy is smooth. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for about a minute, or until it's thickened.

Add the browned beef to the gravy and stir in.

If you're not using cast iron, pour the mixture into a 9"x9" baking dish and cover with foil. If you are using your deep cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, you're all set. Just put the lid on!

Bake, covered, for 1 hour.

After an hour, carefully remove the bay leaf and stir in the cream.

Bake, uncovered, for an additional 20 minutes.

Butter the slices of bread on one side and place butter side up on top of the beef mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese and garlic powder.

Put the pan back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly browned.

Serve with a large spoon, and make sure that the beef and onions are topped with a slice of bread for each person.


Have you seen any signs of spring where you live yet? Let us know!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lenten Broccoli Tuna Casserole

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I have a tasty dish for your Friday in Lent. For those of you who don't practice Lent, a season leading up to Easter, it's tradition to abstain from meat and snacking on Fridays. Some people give up meat and snacks all through Lent, some have bread and water on Fridays, and I know quite a few who only have bread and water the whole forty days. I don't know if I could do that, but I love this ancient practice of following in Jesus' footsteps as he fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days.

So, this follows the traditional recipe except for a few additions. I don't think I've ever cooked tuna casserole before, actually. My kids said they remember having it at a church potluck, but I've never cooked it because it calls for condensed soup, and I have an MSG allergy. So, I made a small side dish that left out the condensed soup.

 You'll need :
two packages noodles, any kind
fresh broccoli
1 cup cheddar
2 can condensed mushroom soup
2 large cans white chunk tuna in water
1 large can mushrooms
potato chips, if desired
Preheat the oven to 350F
Add chopped, fresh broccoli to a steamer and steam until cooked to the desired amount.
I mixed one batch and added the cheese and potato chips.
At this point my kids are thinking this is pretty weird.
The potato chip loving child is looking teary-eyed at such a waste of good chips. LOL
The second batch I added Slap Ya Mama spices, broccoli, and left off the potato chips.
 The non spicy, no veggie version is out of the oven and several kids are willing to try it. And... they say it's edible!
 The spicy, broccoli mix is out and everyone says it's delicious!
It's been a long time since I've had canned mushrooms and they seemed a little chewy-squeaky to me so I might make this again with some sauteed fresh mushrooms, but otherwise... DELICIOUS. For my non MSG dish, I added a few splashes of whole milk, a little more salt, and lots of broccoli. Definitely a filling dish for this cold, rainy day!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Spontaneous Mid-Winter Thanksgiving

with Missy Tippens

I bought this wonderful marinated turkey breast tenderloin at Aldi back at Christmas. Then I found out my son and fiancee would be home on Christmas Day and realized it wouldn't be enough to feed my family. So I decided to buy a whole turkey breast and popped the tenderloin into the freezer.

Flash forward to last week when I needed a quick meal. Thankfully, I had put the meat in the fridge to thaw.

I just needed to decide what to serve with it. I decided since I would be baking the turkey, I would throw a couple of sweet potatoes in with it.

Scrub and dry the potatoes. Then spray a cookie sheet with baking spray and put the potatoes in the oven for 15 minutes before the turkey (I think I had it set to 325 degrees).

Then once the potatoes have their extra 15 minutes, put the turkey tenderloins in the oven in a shallow baking pan. Bake 50-60 minutes. I did the full 60 minutes because I'm weird about poultry.

Meanwhile, I decided to make a green bean casserole. A mini one for just my husband and me. :)

Since we now have an empty nest, I like to buy steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies. They're the perfect size for two.

I cooked a small bag of green beans according to package directions, but shortened the cook time by about 2 minutes.

I emptied the cooked beans into a small casserole dish. I had a large can of cream of mushroom soup, so I spooned about 1/4 to 1/3 of the can of soup into the cooked beans. Then I stirred in a splash of milk.

I covered the dish and microwaved it for about 3 minutes. Then I topped with a fried onions.

Once the turkey and potatoes were finished, I pulled them out of the oven and broiled the green bean casserole (uncovered) until golden and bubbly (about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn while broiling!).

The turkey was very tender. The casserole turned out yummy! And I topped the baked sweet potato with butter and brown sugar. Lots of brown sugar. :) My excuse it that it's Splenda Brown. Ha!

It turned out to be a wonderful, easy, quick meal! And next week, I'll share what I made out of the leftovers. :)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Angelina's Cherry Cake and Book Giveaway

First, congratulations to our two winners of "Back in the Saddle" from last week, and thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah for offering extra copies!!!!

Carol Garvin and Joy Avery Melville! Happy dancing for you!

We've got a couple more Thursdays of giveaways and let me just say, having a straight-shootin' heroine who's as good with a gun as she is with a spatula ROCKS....

Because Angelina Morales (aka Mary Angela Castiglione) isn't afraid to get the job done in either venue, and I love that about her!

Here's a pic of how I envisioned Angelina...

She's a mix of Latina and Incan, a true blend of culture clash, and she was the only child born alive to her parents Martin and Isabo Castiglione who came here before she was born. Her father became a Seattle police captain, and Angelina followed in his footsteps. She was a decorated undercover detective specializing in vice and gangs when her retired father was killed as a retaliation for a drug ring she helped dismantle.

With a widowed mother and a baby son, she couldn't bear to stay in the job she loved and allow more loved ones to become possible targets... And now time has gone by. Things are changing at the Double S Ranch... good change? Or just change?

Angelina isn't sure, but her faith and drive push for the former, and when it comes to Colt Stafford, the prodigal-like oldest son... change is inevitable.

I developed this recipe last year, when I finished writing "Back in the Saddle"... you remember Back in the Saddle, right?  My first cowboy western from Waterbrook Multnomah, releasing March 15, 2016 in THREE SHORT WEEKS!!!!

Yee Haw!

I love this story, I love this series, and I hope you will, too! And this cake is fun, super easy and a bright pink salute to George Washington and his totally inaccurate cutting of the cherry tree... or a nod to spring!

Here's the easy-peasy recipe that won a lot of cowboy hearts at the Double S:

Angelina's Cherry Cake:

1 White Cake Mix
1 1/4 cups maraschino cherry juice
6 eggs, separated (a temporary separation! We'll get them back together for the happy ending soon!)
1 tablespoon almond flavoring
24 maraschino cherries, chopped (more or less is fine)

Whip egg whites. Set aside.

Line 2 9" cake pans with parchment paper OR line a 13 x 9" pan with parchment paper (this keeps the crust sponge-cake soft, so good!)

Mix cake mix, cherry juice and the six egg yolks together. Blend until smooth. Add in about two-dozen chopped maraschino cherries.

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Fold in egg whites until incorporated. (mixed in, but don't overbeat, we want those air holes the egg whites will make!)

Pour into pan or pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-35 minutes, depending on your oven and the pan choice.

This is a soft, sponge-like cake (think cherry Twinkies).... Any frosting is fine, and a dark chocolate one like this Hershey's recipe would go great with the cherry cake....

But for this pic I used simple Whipped Cream Frosting:

1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar

Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Frost layers and sides if desired. Shave chocolate over top or garnish with more maraschino cherries.  Keep chilled, serve cold.

And there you have it, a delightful nod to spring, future presidents, or just a great summertime cold cake!

We've got Colt's cowboy hat out again... and just so you know, I got a sneak peek at Nick's cover.... I don't know if it could be better, but IT IS..... How can that be???? How did Kelly Howard and her crew at Waterbrook catch so much of the book in the cover???? I don't know, but let me just say:

Nick's sportin' a darker hat, but he's every bit the cowboy his big brother is, and he'd be glad to let you know that this fall!

Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Welcome Meghan Carver to the Yankee Belle Cafe

This is turning out to be a wonderful week to focus on Love Inspired books and authors, so what better time to welcome Meghan Carver to the Cafe than the week of another Love Inspired pitch?

Meghan sold to Love Inspired Suspense as a result of the Killer Voices contest.

A Treat for a Heroine ~ Fudgy Brownies
Greetings! Meghan Carver here. What a treat {Smile } to be in the café today! Many thanks to Cate Nolan, my writing friend and sister Killer Voices author, for allowing me to visit!
My Love Inspired Suspense out this month, Under Duress, features a heroine who loves brownies. {Who doesn’t, right?} There is a scene in which she and the hero and her ten-year-old ward are hurrying through a super center, on the run from the bad guys. They hide in a terrific place, and I had such fun writing that scene…but that’s beside the point.
So, as they rush down the main aisle, she spots a display of brownie mixes and wonders if the hero’s idea of a fun evening might be brownies and a movie.
Brownie mixes from the box are good, and quite frankly, that’s what my teen daughters make most. And if teenagers want to get in the kitchen and bake, I’m not going to complain. But if you want a from-scratch version, this one is wonderful!
2/3 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup cocoa
2 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour


In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat. Stir in cocoa, sugar, and eggs, one at a time. Add all the other ingredients, folding in the flour last. Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes


Chocolate and a good book? Sounds heavenly to me!
Bon Appetit!

About Under Duress ~
Criminals are trying to kidnap attorney Samantha Callahan’s adopted
daughter, Lily—and she has no idea why. So when bullets start flying,
Samantha and Lily speed off in her car…and crash right into help.
Ex-cop Reid Palmer is shocked when former law school classmate
Samantha rear-ends his car and then climbs in with her daughter and
begs him to drive. Now they are on the run, and Reid will do anything
to protect them and figure out why kidnappers are after Lily.
As they struggle to evade capture, Reid begins to realize that
Samantha is more to him than just a woman in trouble. But
with the enemies closing in and their motives finally revealed,
will Reid be able to make sure justice is served?

By sixth grade, Meghan Carver knew she wanted to write. After earning a degree in English from Millikin University, she detoured to law school, earning a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University. She then worked in immigration law and taught Comp 101 at the local college. Now, she homeschools her six children with her college professor husband. When she isn’t writing, homeschooling, or planning the family’s next travel adventure, she is active in her church, sews for her kidlets, and reads.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Smoked Chicken and My New Favorite Gadget

Okay, before I go any further, I need to show you what is happening all over North Texas.
See, I told you we've had no winter. Now our poor trees are so confused they're budding all over the place. And March isn't even here yet.

Crazy, I tell ya.

Back before Christmas, I came home one day to find this HUGE present beside the Christmas tree. I mean it stood over four foot high and it was heavy. Since I wasn't the one who'd wrapped it, I had a pretty good idea it was for me. I looked at my husband and said, "You got me a gun safe?"

Two curiosity-filled weeks later, I opened said gift to discover this.
An electric smoker.

Oh, be still my heart. This was so much more exciting than a gun safe. No more worrying about stoking the fire (though I still like that method, too). I simply set the temperature, how long I want it to cook, add the wood chips and call it good. 

And since it's so easy, I can throw my meat on in the morning or afternoon and eat it for dinner.
Like this.

On this day, I decided to smoke some bone-in chicken breasts. I love them smoked because they come out so juicy and tender with oodles and oodles of flavor.

I just season them with whatever tickles my fancy. In this case, it was my usual meat seasoning that consists of salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika.

Put them into my preheated smoker.
BTW, I used mesquite wood chips. So good.
(I forgot to take the pic right away, so this after about an hour, hence the drips)

And six hours later, this is what you've got.

I served it with a salad and some deviled eggs. 
Easy, peasy.

The best part about this smoked chicken, is that you can make extra to eat later or use in soups, casseroles, whatever. That smokey flavor gives those dishes just a little extra punch.

Yep, I'd call my smoker the gift that keeps on giving. Not to mention one others can benefit from.

Now it's your turn. Are you a smoker? 
I mean the meat variety. What are some of your favorites?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Old Fashioned Popcorn

Years ago, back when our children were little, gas was cheap, and the internet was in its infancy, we started a Sunday night tradition called "popcorn for supper."

Our daughter's friend was aghast. Her seven-year-old mind couldn't fathom a supper made entirely of popcorn!

But it was one tradition I loved. Here's why:

1. A simple, pre-planned supper allowed me to rest on Sunday afternoon. If you've ever been a mom with multiple littles, you know how necessary that is to your health (mental and otherwise!)

2. Traditions are important. It doesn't matter what you do for your family's traditions, but it is important that you have them. They lend a framework of order to an otherwise chaotic world!

3. I love popcorn. :)

Back then, we had a "Whirley Pop" popcorn maker. If you've never heard of one of these sweet inventions, here's a demo I found on YouTube:

I would make a huge bowl of popcorn and everyone would season their own. We used garlic powder, seasoning salt, cinnamon and sugar, Parmesan cheese - you name it!

Fast forward a few years...

As the children got older, this tradition fell to the wayside for several reasons. We went to a church that had a Sunday evening service and Youth Group, so our Sunday evenings became busier. Our financial situation changed, and we could afford to buy microwave popcorn (yum! and even easier than the Whirley-Pop!). The Whirley-Pop didn't make one of the moves with us, and eventually, popcorn became a once-in-a-while treat for movie night.

Fast forward a few more years...

As my dear husband and I get older, our popcorn has to change. The doctor says DH needs to keep tabs on his sodium intake.

Have you read the labels on microwave popcorn?????

So when the popcorn craving hit on Sunday evening, I brought out the trusty saucepan, oil and popcorn, and made a batch of popcorn the way Dad used to make it when I was little.

We had this popcorn that I hadn't tried yet - after all, we've been using the microwave to make our popcorn for years now!

I put some oil in the saucepan (I used about a tablespoon of coconut oil and a teaspoon of butter). Once it melted (on medium-high heat), I added 1/3 cup popcorn kernels.

And you wait. Shake the pan occasionally as the popcorn is heating. You don't want the kernels to burn.

Soon you'll hear a pop...then another one...then it's all popping at once! That's when people start wandering into the kitchen to see what you're doing. :)

Once the popping slows down (yes, just like with microwave popcorn), remove the pan from the heat. Wait for the popping to stop, and carefully lift the lid. You may still find that one more kernel still wants to explode!

Pour the popcorn in a bowl, and enjoy! I seasoned mine with a bit of salt, but DH left his plain. The bit of butter I used gave the popcorn enough flavor to make it scrumptious.

How do you make your popcorn? And how do you like it seasoned?

Are you a "movie theater popcorn with six pumps of melted butter" type, or do you like the air popper?

By the way, have you noticed that air poppers are making a comeback? Everything old is new again!

You can buy this little guy on Amazon. Click here to go there.