Several weeks ago I headed over to Boiling Springs (PA) for a late autumn walk. As the name hints, there is a spring in the vicinity that feeds a small lake; the town is as quaint as can be. The weather was awesome, and after wandering around the lake, I stopped at the Cafe 101 looking for a glass of water and maybe a bite to eat. On the munchie display were bags of pretzel buckeyes. Oh My Goodness! Having a sister who lives in Indiana, I know all about buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut balls) but the pretzel addition was inspired.

Since they were a little pricey, I decided I would buy them (not for myself but) for my son-in-law, whose birthday was a few days away. When I sent a picture to the Indiana sister for inspiration, she asked how they tasted and of course I just HAD to break the bag open to see. Yup, they were as good as they looked. But then -you guessed it - I had to make a new batch for my son-in-law, as his bag was fast disappearing. Here's a recipe that I found on Pajama Chef, which worked quite nicely with a slight modification on the dipping chocolate. I sent some with my daughter to her office and they were a hit. So if you're looking for a fun holiday snack, here goes:

Pretzel Buckeyes

I cup creamy peanut butter
2 T butter, softened
1/2 - 3/4 c powdered sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
small pretzels
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
2 T shortening

Mix peanut butter, butter and sugars. They'll need to be stiff enough to roll into small balls about 1" diameter. Place between two pretzels and gently squeeze. (I'm not sure exactly why, but this was really fun to do!) Put the pretzels in freezer for thirty minutes. Melt chocolate chips with the shortening. You can do this over hot water, but I just stick mine in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for a minute or two, stirring after the first minute, and putting back in if the chips aren't fully melted. (Make sure there's no water in the bowl). Dip half of the pretzels into the chocolate mixture. Makes 4-5 dozen.

For the original recipe click here.
For more detailed dipping chocolate help click here.
A bite or two in, before I added the fresh ground pepper!
Somehow during the shopping for Thanksgiving we ended up with several bags of carrots. What to do? Thankfully I'd picked up a tasty carrot soup recipe from a friend during the time we lived in Costa Rica. Elizabeth lived down the road and her home was always full of delicious smells. I think of her whenever I pull out this recipe. I decided to add some garlic and ginger (ingredients from another soup I'd tried) and the results were so good, I sat down and ate a bowl an hour before lunchtime.

The result is part savory, part sweet with the thyme and ginger contributing some interesting touches. It's a fairly easy recipe, the only finicky part is the blending at the end typical of those creamy soups. Enjoy!

Orange Ginger Carrot Soup

4 cups grated carrots
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup orange juice
1/2 onion chopped
1 t garlic
1 t thyme
2 pieces candied ginger
salt and peper to taste

In large Dutch oven saute the onion and garlic. Add the carrots, broth, orange juice, thyme, and ginger. Simmer for 40 minutes or until carrots are well done. In batches, put in blender and process until smooth. Serves 3-4.
The soup-making bug has hit the Schmidt house. Last week I grabbed some leeks from the farmer's market and took a few minutes to make a pot of potato-leek soup. A good source of vitamins A, K, C and the mineral manganese, leeks also offer an impressive array of antioxidants. But aside from the fact it's good for you, this soup just tastes great. Flavored with bacon and topped with cheddar cheese, it's as yummy as a stuffed potato - just slides down easier. 

Fun fact - leeks are one of the national symbols of Wales. 

Potato and Leek Soup

3 leeks
2 T olive oil
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 c dry white wine (I use sherry if I'm out)
5 c chicken stock
4 med potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 t lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 t thyme
1 c evaporated milk
Cheddar cheese (for garnish)
Chives (for garnish)

Trim off the green portions of the leek. Trim off the roots. Cut the rest of the leek in half. Slice thinly crosswise and place in large bowl, swish in cold water until well cleaned. In large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive oil and add the bacon. Cook for 5 - 6 minutes until bacon is soft. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the spices, chicken stock, potatoes, pepper and bring to a boil. reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Take out the bay leaves if possible. Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Stir in the evaporated milk. Garnish with cheddar cheese and chives.
For the past few years I've been on a hunt for a savory butternut squash/pumpkin soup recipe. After making a few and feeling, like Goldilocks, that they were not quite right, I decided to try my hand at inventing one myself. Here's the recipe that I've been fooling around with this past week. Roasting some of the vegetables in a toaster oven gives a dusky flavor, while boiling the squash and potato makes the soup creamy.

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash
1 potato
olive oil
1/2 medium onion
1/3 red pepper
1/2 stalk celery
1 t garlic
1 c chicken stock
1 c milk
1/2 t salt
pinch cayenne pepper

caramelized onions (optional)

Peel and chop butternut squash and potato and boil until soft. Drain. In the meantime, roast or saute onion, pepper, celery and garlic with/in olive oil until browned. In small amounts, blend vegetables along with liquids. Season with salt and pepper. The cayenne pepper really makes a difference, just don't overdo it. If you're looking for a garnish, try carmelized onion instead of the more familiar sour cream. Served with fresh bread and cheese with a salad, it makes a great fall meal!
Now that fall is officially here, I'm back in the cooking mode, especially when it comes to soups and stews. My daughter Kara and I have a goal to make a soup a week for go-to lunches and dinner on the run. Here are two standbys that feature lentils, a good source of inexpensive protein. One is from a college roommate  (don't have to tell you how long that's been in my recipe file!) and one from a professor friend. Is there a theme here? The first is tomato based and more like a stew, while the second is lighter and uses marjoram, giving it a fresh taste. In both recipes, you may want to play with the consistency by adding a bit more water or broth.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

2 c lentils
5 c water
1/2 c onion
1/2 c celery
1/2 c carrots
3 T parsley
1 clove garlic (1/2 t prepared garlic)
2 1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/2 t oregano

Put all ingredients in large pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, diced
2 T vinegar

Simmer another 1/2 hour. Serve hot.

Crystal's Lentil Soup

2 c lentils
5 c water
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t basil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped

Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

1 lb kielbasa, cut in small rounds
2 t marjoram
1 box frozen spinach (optional)

Simmer additional 30 minutes.

Note: We are trying to go with organic meat, so I used chicken/feta/spinach sausage that I had cooked up earlier and put it in at the last minute.

Apple Sculpture by Leo Sewell
A few weeks ago we spent the weekend at Eagle's Mere, a historic resort community located in the Endless Mountains of Pa. As we were driving with our host to a waterfall, he pointed out this great apple sculpture along the road. I'd forgotten I'd taken the picture, but found it just in time to grace my apple post.

Here are two recipes you might enjoy. The first is easy and gluten-free (perfect for the drop of a hat dessert). The second took a little time, but was a great smash for a friend's gathering, where we spent the evening enjoying good conversation, amazing food, sparkling sangrias - seated around a firepit waiting for the rise of the full moon. Need I say more?

True - it's not the greatest picture, but we ate half of this before I remembered to take a shot. I think it's still warm! The recipe comes out of a More With Less Cookbook (a Mennonite publication) but I've altered it a bit, so there's less sugar, more of the crunchy stuff and no gluten.

Apple Crisp

Preheat oven to 475
Combine and put in greased casserole:
4 c sliced apples
1 T rice flour or potato starch
1 t cinnamon
1/8 t salt
1 T water

Cut together with pastry blender (I always just smoosh it up with my fingers in a bowl)
1 c rolled oats (I like old fashioned)
1/2 t salt
1/4 c butter
1/3 c brown sugar

Sprinkle on top of casserole mixture. Bake 35 minutes.
Optional: you can also add pecans to the crumb topping, or raisins in with the apples.

Serve warm with ice cream.

For the second recipe, Alsatian Apple Tarts, I'll send you to the website where I found these. The only thing I would change is that there is enough filling to make 6 tarts, so go ahead and make up two extra from the four she recommends. Otherwise, I followed the recipe just as she had it, and they were indeed, amazing!
Summer's officially over, but the produce is pouring in. Perhaps the watermelon, peaches and grapes are making you forget to eat those bananas you bought last week. Here's a great way to use them up. 

Despite the fact that slightly spotted bananas are supposed to taste better - more sugar and all that - no one in my house likes bananas that are soft. So I usually throw mine in the freezer and then pull them out in pairs to make this family recipe. When my eldest daughter went gluten-free, I modified it as follows, and it's just as good - maybe even better!

Gluten Free Banana Muffins

1/3 c oil
1 egg
2 bananas (mashed)
1/3 c brown sugar
1/4 c rice flour
1 c oats
1 c oat flour
1/4 c oat bran
1/4 c potato starch
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 c milk

Beat together the oil, egg, mashed bananas and sugar. In separate bowl mix the dry ingredients. Add to the wet and mix briefly. Add the 3/4 c milk last. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.

Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, regularly includes homespun stories of Lake Wobegone on his weekly radio program. As summer wanes, so the yarn goes, gardens burst out of neatly contained plots to overtake back yards, giving rise to a curious phenomenon. Bags of zucchinis show up on porches, left surreptitiously in the middle of the night by desperate housewives, unwilling to let any produce go to ruin.

In case you come upon a surplus of zucchinis (I actually go looking for friends and neighbors who are in this quandary), here are two of my favorite recipes, both shared by good friends.

Vegetarian Chili

4 medium zucchini, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c olive or canola oil
2 cans (28 oz each) Italian stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 c each minced cilantro and parsley (These are what make this exceptionally good)
2 T chili powder
1 t salt
1 t ground cumin

In Dutch oven, saute zucchini, onions, peppers and garlic in oil until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 16 servings.

This may also be made in the crockpot. If so, I throw in everything raw and put on low for 8 hours.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

Cream well:
1/2 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c oil
2 eggs

Mix separately:
3 1/2 c flour
4 T cocoa
1/2 t b powder
1 t b soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves (I usually don't add these as I'm not a big cloves fan)

Add dry ingredients alternately with
1 t vanilla in
1/2 c buttermilk.

When mixed, add:
2 c zucchini
1/2 c walnuts

Pour in greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (I use 1/2 cup)

Bake at 325 for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Picnic by Thomas Hart Benton

For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
and the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our lang;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
  - Song of Songs, 2:11-13

With Memorial Day just around the corner, picnic season is upon us. Picnicking is one of the joys of warmer weather, and having recently figured out how to entertain outdoors in our townhome, I'm anticipating a summer full of delightful gatherings - enhanced by twinkly lights and a fire pit. 

One of my favorite wedding presents (and it's been a while) was a cookbook given to us by Dan's college roommate. "The Portable Feast" (unfortunately now out of print) took picnic fare to all new heights, and the whimsical illustrations made you think that if you traveled far enough, or deep enough, you might find an unusual guest around your blanket.

The recipe below was a long-time standard. Pare it with a grilled vegetable and bulgar wheat salad and perhaps some watermelon, and voila! Just add your favorite beverage and you're set to dine in style. To make the salad, simply roast a variety of vegetables (recently I used carrots, zucchini, mushroom, onions and red peppers) with some olive oil and sea salt. After tossing with oil, put on a cookie tray in the oven at 400 until browned. (about 45 minutes). Cook bulgar wheat according to the directions and drain. Mix with veggies and toss with balsamic vinagrette if desired. The taste of just the veggies and the bulgar wheat was so good, though, that many of us didn't bother with the dressing. If you're gluten-free, you can use a rice mix (perhaps with a little boullion) instead of the bulgar wheat.

Here's the recipe for the Chicken.

Tahitian Chicken

3 whole chicken breasts, split
1/3 c terragon vinegar
1/2 c pineapple juice
1/3 c sesame oil
1 t powdered ginger
1 T soy sauce
1/2 c honey
pineapple sliced

Mix vinegar through honey  and pour over chicken. Marinade for several hours. Grill chicken either at home (and then chill to take along) or at the picnic venue. Garnish with pineapple slices. 

Art Note: I've discovered which is an awesome place to lose yourself for hours at a time. You can search their vast database by artist, theme, or title of artist work. Finding artwork for blog posts has never been so easy!!!
Disclaimor: This recipe is NOT gluten free, NOT low in sugar, NOT low in fat. However, there is some possibility that pistachios are good for you...and all things in moderation, right?

For several years I worked in the registrar's office at a nearby college. Every year, on or about St Patrick's Day, we would throw an open house for the rest of the college faculty and staff. One year, I discovered this recipe and whipped up a batch for my contribution. Although I no longer work at the college, this Saturday I am going to a friend's birthday party which, as it coincides with St Patrick's Day, gives me a chance to dust off my shamrock cookie cutters. I'm posting the recipe below, which I originally got from the California Pistachio Commission. Also, for those of you who enjoy themed baking and/or have kids that do, check out the Best Bites website, which is always full of clever and yummy ideas.

Pistachio Shamrock Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
1 cup finely chopped pistachios

Lime Icing, (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon  milk
1/4 teaspoon grated lime peel 

Preheat oven to 357. Cream butter and sugar; beat in egg. Stir in flour and lime peel; mix in pistachios. Refrigerate dough 1 hour. Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick; cut shapes with shamrock-shaped cookie cutter. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Pipe lime icing to outline cookies. Makes 5 - 6 dozen.

For Lime Icing: Combine butter, powdered sugar, milk and lime peel in  a medium
bowl. Mix until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Photo Credit: California Pistachio Commission