Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stewed Tomatoes and Dumplings Recipe

This recipe I'm about to share with you is a very old one. It uses basic ingredients, and the end result is so tasty. Another plus is that Stewed Tomatoes and Dumplings is very filling, easy to prepare, and incredibly cheap--especially if you use produce from your own garden. But even if you need to make a trip to the grocery store, it's still an inexpensive dish and worth trying. I hope you like it!

Stewed Tomatoes and Dumplings

Stewed Tomatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with juice (or you can use 2 soup-can-sized cans of stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes, or a 2 pint jars or 1 quart jar of home-canned tomatoes)
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. butter
1 egg, beaten
6 T. milk
1 T. fresh parsley, minced (or a big pinch of dried parsley)

For the stewed tomatoes: In a medium  saucepan (preferably one that is wide and low so you have more surface area for the dumplings), melt the butter and sauté the onion and celery about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice, and the brown sugar and seasonings, and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for several minutes.

For the dumplings: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two knives or forks until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the egg, milk, and parsley and blend lightly. Do not overmix. Drop dumplings by tablespoonfuls on top of the simmering tomato mixture. Cover tightly and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Do not lift the cover during the cooking period.

You've probably noticed that my dumplings are way bigger than "tablespoonfuls" as the directions state. I always make large dumplings (I like them better that way!) but I take care to cook them for about 25 minutes instead of the 20 minutes called for so the dumplings are cooked through. You can do it either way--cook's choice!

Serve in bowls, topped with butter if desired.

This is a great winter side dish. It's warming and filling and hits the spot when the winter winds blow!

May you and your loved ones be well fed, kept warm and safe, and mindful of your blessings!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Candied Apples--A Great Winter Treat!

When I was a kid, every year when the apple harvest came in, my mama would make candied apples. We loved them! And I can remember in years past seeing boxes of candied apple mix displayed next to the bins of apples for sale for shoppers who wanted a bit of a head start. But for some time now, I don't see those packages available. Instead, grocery stores offer little tubs of caramel to dip your apple slices in. But the fact is, I would miss my yearly dose of candied apples, so I choose to make them myself--just like Mama did.

Candied apples are incredibly easy to make and about the only kitchen tool you need that you might not already have is a candy thermometer. (No instant-read or meat thermometers for this recipe.) So run down to the local store and pick one up and then come home and make this fun, kid-friendly recipe:


Candied Apples

anywhere from 5-12 apples, depending on size
an equal number of popsicle sticks or short bamboo skewers
2 cups white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
8 drops red food coloring

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Or do like I did and use a silicone baking mat. Nothing sticks to them. (Love those things!)

Wash the apples and dry thoroughly. Remove stems. Insert the popsicle sticks into the apples at the stem end. Set aside for now.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir while the sugar is dissolving, but once it gets boiling you only need to give it a stir every now and again. Heat the sugar syrup to 300-310 degrees F, or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads. This is my saucepan of syrup boiling away:

Once the temperature has been reached, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the food coloring.

Working quickly and holding the apple by its stick, dip the apple into the syrup, remove, and turn and swirl the apple so the syrup coats it evenly. Place on the prepared sheet to harden. But keep in mind that the syrup will start to thicken and begin hardening as soon as it's off the heat so working quickly is a must. As I get to the bottom of the batch, I will tip the saucepot a bit so I can more easily coat the apples. You'll get the hang of it in a hurry; it's not hard to do. And they don't have to be works of art because candied apples are fun food at its finest. Just enjoy what happens!
Some people love to add those cinnamon candies that are tiny little oblongs. I never do because that's not how we ate them when I was a kid. But your family might like cinnamon, so if you want to try that, throw in a handful of candies while the syrup is boiling so they dissolve when the sugar does.

Candied apples are a messy, wonderful treat and believe it or not, they are good companions to popcorn. So gather the family together, put a movie into the DVD player, cuddle up, and enjoy a family evening. It's homemade fun and great memories in the making!

I pray that this holiday season is filled with joy for you and your loved ones. Please, remember in prayer those who are less fortunate or may be going through a tough time. Gift them with your time and give them a hug while you're at it. Be God's hands and feet and heart.

Blessings to you and yours!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Best Dinner Rolls! Mashed Potato Rolls

We had a Christmas celebration today at work and I made a batch of rolls to go with the delectable corn chowder that is a Christmas lunch tradition around here. I'm often given to making cracked wheat or even whole wheat dinner rolls because I figure they are healthier for my crew (even though said crew far prefers white bread), but someone here at work asked--begged, really--that I make good old fashioned white dinner rolls. How could I refuse? I couldn't, and I'm so glad because it reminded me of just how good these delicious rolls are.

Mashed Potato Rolls are more or less your typical yeast roll except for the fact that they include--surprise!--mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes make the finished product moist but not dense, and supposedly, mashed potatoes in a recipe means your batch of goodies will last longer before getting stale...although I've never personally experienced that because food doesn't last long enough in my little world to ever get stale. But there you have it.

Here's a close-up of the finished product. Had I known I was going to want to blog this recipe, I would have taken more and better photos. But one will have to suffice:

And here is the recipe, which comes from my book titled The Amish Baking Cookbook:

Mashed Potato Rolls

2 1/4 tsp. (1 package) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 cups warm milk
1/4 cup butter, softened (room temperature)
1/4 cup oil
6 T. sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup mashed potatoes (see note at end of recipe)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 cups all-purpose flour
melted butter (optional)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, butter, oil, sugar, egg, and mashed potatoes and mix well. Stir in salt, baking powder, baking soda, and half the flour. Mix either by hand or using a stand mixer, adding flour until a soft dough is formed.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 6 to 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl and turn so the entire surface of the dough is greased. Cover with a clean towel and let dough rise until double, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough. Break off bits of dough into approximately 32 round balls. (I usually make mine a bit large...more like a total of 28.) Place balls 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise until double, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 15 to 18 minutes or until done and lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and if desired immediately brush or dip tops of rolls in melted butter. Set on racks to cool.

Note If you don't have any leftover mashed potatoes and you're in a hurry, you can use dehydrated mashed potatoes. Just mix according to the package directions and use in place of fresh mashed potatoes.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pistachio Cream Dessert

I've been messing around in the kitchen a lot lately because I'm writing yet another cookbook. The dessert I'm going to share with you today is a result of those kitchen endeavors.

For some reason I can't possibly fathom I've been fond of the idea of making Jell-O and/or pudding desserts. They just seem so old-fashioned, easy, and kid-friendly. And with an ever-growing passel of little ones in the Varozza clan, it seemed somehow fitting that I explore this tangent.

So today, I'm going to share with you Pistachio Cream Delight:

Pistachio Cream Delight

First Layer:
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
2 cups flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

Mix together all ingredients and press into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes; cool completely.
Here's what the baked crust layer looked like when I pulled it from the oven:
I wasn't too impressed, but I kept on going. I soothed myself by thinking that the other layers would soon hide this lumpy, bumpy crust. (Which, by the way, turned out tasting delicious!)
Second Layer:
4 oz. cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipping (heavy) cream, sweetened and whipped until soft peaks form (I used about 1 tablespoon sugar and a small amount of vanilla)

Cream together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in whipped cream, blending well. Spread evenly over cooled crust.

Third Layer:
2 3½ -oz. boxes instant pistachio pudding
2¾ cups cold milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together all ingredients and beat for 1-2 minutes. Spread over the top of the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate.
When ready to serve, you can top with more sweetened whipped cream and sprinkle on some chopped walnuts or pistachios if desired.
I know I began this post with a picture of my piece, but it doesn't hurt to end things with the delicious results. Because it was delicious, and so easy that it's the perfect church/family potluck item to whip up in your spare time.
May you and your loved ones, whatever shape that takes in your life and circumstances, be blessed this Christmas season. And may you learn to spot joy in even the most unlikely of places during this time. Were I to ask one thing of you, it would be this: Please, open the eyes of your heart and show love and grace to someone it might be easy to pass by--to not "see." Christmas is the date we have set aside to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Let us show our love and reverence for His great work on our behalf by being his hands and feet to those less fortunate. Together we can accomplish so much!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chocolate Candy Cane Cake Recipe--Perfect for the Holidays!

Cooks seem to do their best work during the holidays, making mouthwatering dinners and baking delectable treats--many of them tried and true family traditions. That is certainly true at my house, and the Christmas season just wouldn't seem complete without my Chocolate Candy Cane Cake. I wait all year to make this treat because even though you can use any hard peppermint candy, I think that candy canes are the only thing to use. And because of that, I must wait patiently until candy canes are available in stores. And that comes only once each year. But because I'm required to wait, the resulting cake seems extra special.
Even though this cake is made from scratch, it's not difficult and goes together well. And the result? Well! The cake itself is moist and very chocolaty, but with a subtle peppermint undertone. And the frosting? Oh my word but it's tasty! In fact, the frosting could be made for any cake you want; just leave out the peppermint candy (or not!).
Here goes:

Chocolate Candy Cane Cake. Yum!

Chocolate Candy Cane Cake

cup butter, room temperature

1 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 cups flour

cup cocoa powder

1¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 cups milk

½ cup crushed peppermint candy canes (or other hard peppermint candy)

Chocolate Peppermint Frosting (recipe below)


Grease and flour two cake pans; set aside for now.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and eggs until well mixed and smooth; then beat on high speed for 3 minutes more.

Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with the milk, blending well after each addition. Blend in the crushed candy canes.

Spread batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before slipping cakes from pan and allow them to cool completely before frosting them with chocolate Peppermint Frosting.

Chocolate Peppermint Frosting

½ cup butter

½ cup cocoa powder

3 cups powdered sugar

7 T. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 T. crushed candy canes

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter; stirring constantly. Add the cocoa powder and cook for about 1 minute until smooth; remove from heat. Beat in the powdered sugar and milk and continue beating (I do this by hand with a large wooden spoon or rotary egg beater) until mixture is smooth and of spreading consistency; add the vanilla and crushed candy canes and beat again until smooth. Spread between the layers and all around the top and sides of Chocolate Candy Cane Cake.

 I hope you give it a try. Your friends and family will be well pleased!

I pray that during this holiday season, you and your loved ones will experience deep and abiding joy and peace. Resist the urge to do too much, and turn away from the crass commercialism and resulting stress that come from overspending. It may not always be easy to go against the tide, but trust your heart and concentrate instead on the holiness of the birth of our Lord and Savior. Spend time with those you love. Remind others of all the ways they are special. Meditate on what you have to be thankful for. Be extravagant with your hugs and kind words. Those are gifts that will be cherished!

Have a merry and blessed Christmas!