Thursday, March 24, 2016

Madison County, Arkansas

Friday we started off on a little jaunt over to Madison County. I had the bright idea that it would be fun to take my Mother and Father-in-law to a great little cafe at Hindsville called the Valley Inn. It's been there a long time, alongside old highway 412 about halfway between Fayetteville and Huntsville, Arkansas. I had taken my Mom there on several occasions, it's one of those places with local flavor... waitresses that knew the 75 residents of Hindsville by their first names. In fact, they probably knew what they were going to order before they even opened their mouths! Hindsville is an old town, built in the 1890's. Still standing are a row of stone buildings that house an Arvest Bank, an antique store and the Valley Inn. We told them we were going to a NEW place to eat, but not exactly where! I knew they would love the food, homemade plates of chicken and dressing, meatloaf or ham and sweet potatoes with sides of greens, fried okra or butter beans.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and it was fun as we drove along enjoying the rolling hills and pastures with happy cows up to their bellies in green grass. It's a good time to be a cow in Arkansas right now with all of the rain we've had this spring!

We know highway 45 like the back of our hand, but when we got to where it joined the new 412 we turned right. After just a few miles, we knew we had went the wrong way. Just a spot in the road, it would be easy to miss. We turned around and went back, then realized that the familiar road had been bypassed by progress. In 2007 Highway 412 took a more direct route and left the quaint town of Hindsville. In the window of the Valley Inn was a For Sale sign. Sad for us and especially for the residents of this small community. For years they served delicious plate lunches or hamburger baskets, homemade rolls and pies to the hard working farmers or the lucky tourists passing by.

On that  fateful day when Mom and I needed a cup of coffee, but stayed when we realized they had homemade pie...Coconut Cream, Butterscotch with meringue piled so high it was sinful and Peanut Butter Pie. Not my choice, but Mom's favorite. We shared a piece that first visit to the Valley Inn.

Peanut Butter Pie
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 12-ounce carton refrigerated whipped topping (Cool Whip)
2 graham cracker pie shells

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and peanut butter together. Fold in the Cool Whip, reserving enough to decorate the tops of two pies. Pour the mixture into the pie shells and chill several hours. Top each slice with a dab of Cool Whip.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Do you ever look at the grower on that sack of potatoes you buy? I read everything on a label these days, from calorie count to country of origin. Maybe it's because my husband worked many years for a major food company, I do like to support America's farmers. What that makes me is possibly the worst kind of shopper to get behind in the grocery store aisle!

Potatoes make their way into millions of shopping carts every day. It's the old standby for most of us, it goes with practically any meal and there's hardly a person who dislikes them. I'm never without potatoes, I only vary the kind I buy. Right now we have baby reds and russets in the potato bin. How you store your potatoes makes a big difference in their shelf life. When you bring home a bag of potatoes, you need to go through them to make sure there aren't any green, bruised or soft ones. In fact, give that bag a good once over before you leave the store. You can easily spot a bad one. The best tip of all is to find a cool, dark place with good ventilation to store your potatoes. The ideal temperature to store them is between 50 and 60 degrees, the temperature of many garages in the winter is perfect. Transfer them to a brown grocery bag or a cardboard box to keep the light out. A single ripe apple will prevent the potatoes from sprouting since the apple produces ethylene gas and will lengthen the time you can keep your potatoes. Armed with all these suggestions, go ahead and buy that 20 pound bag of russets and reap the rewards of buying in bulk!

When we think of potatoes, Idaho comes to mind... but actually potatoes are grown commercially in 36 states. It's almost the perfect food; fat, sodium and cholesterol free, low in calories and loaded with nutrients. One medium potato has nearly half the day's requirement for Vitamin C and more potassium than a banana. A great antioxidant, potatoes contain glutathione that may help protect against some cancers. That's well worth the 110 calories! You thought there were more calories in there, didn't you? Well, it's what we do with the potato that gives them a bad reputation! By the time we load them up with butter, sour cream, shredded Cheddar and bacon bits... that healthy baked potato is now a full meal of calories! The russett also is the chosen potato for french fries and potato chips, all I can say is... "Thank you Lord" for the potato!

I want to share a great recipe that I found on Pinterest (duh!) It's a Pioneer Woman recipe so you can be assured it is slap dab delicious! She posted this one around Easter, perfect for our ham leftovers. I had never thought of adding meat to scalloped potatoes and serving as a main dish instead of a side dish. It was a BIG hit, what's not to love if you start with potatoes and cheese ;)

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham 

(adapted slightly from The Pioneer Woman's recipe, I halved the recipe since it's just the two of us)

3 pounds Russet Or Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed Thoroughly
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 whole Yellow Onion, Diced
3 cups Diced Ham
1-1/2 cup Half-and-half
1-1/2 cup Heavy Cream (I used all half and half, I can't imagine how good it would have been w/whipping cream!)
1/4 cup Flour
 Black Pepper To Taste
1 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese
1 cup Grated Monterey Jack Cheese (I used all cheddar, cause that's what I had!)
 Chopped Parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large casserole dish. 

Heat butter in a large skillet. Add onions and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they start to turn translucent. Add ham and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine half-and-half and cream in a microwave-safe container and nuke for a minute or so, until no longer cold. Whisk in flour and black pepper until totally combined. Set aside. (You may add salt, but cheese and ham are salty, so add sparingly.)
Combine the two grated cheeses. Set aside.
Using a mandoline or slicer, slice potatoes into 1/8-inch slices (very thin.) Layer 1/3 of the potato slices in the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the ham/onion mixture, then 1/3 of the cheese, then pour on 1/3 of the cream mixture.
Repeat this twice more, ending with a sprinkling of cheese and a pouring on of the rest of the cream mixture. Cover dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes at least, or until bubbly and hot.
Cut into squares and serve. Sprinkle on chopped parsley if you'd like!
(Note: To speed along the process a bit, you may boil sliced potatoes for 3 to 5 minutes before assembling the casserole. Just drain and slightly cool before assembling.)
I used Ree's tip on boiling the sliced potatoes for 5 minutes and it really does make them cook faster and have great melt-in-your-mouth texture. That CAN be a dangerous thing though!!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Power of Pie

It's National Pi Day, what better reason than to celebrate with an extra special pie, made to measure for the person receiving it! Meant to say I Love You and you mean the world to me... and then it came to me, The Power of Pie. From the time we are little, at our Mother's knees, we can remember the occasion of pie coming out of the oven. Made just for us, with love, in all it's flaky goodness and chocolate creaminess with whipped cream clouds or jewel tones of cherry or berry... pie is good. In fact, pie is great. Make that special person in your life a pie, let it be warm when they walk in the door!

David Letterman's Mom's Strawberry Pie
1 9 inch pie shell -- baked
1/2 pt Strawberries, fresh -- Washed and hulled
1/2 c Granulated sugar
2 tb Cornstarch
3/4 c Orange juice
1/2 ts Red food coloring
Whipped cream
Mix sugar and cornstartch, then add orange juice and food coloring. Cook until clear. Add strawberries to glaze and pour mixture into pie shell. Serve with whipped cream.

Fall Apple Pie
Pie Crust:(Classic Crisco recipe)
This will make a double crust 9" pie
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup well chilled Crisco Butter Flavor Shortening
(I use the Crisco Sticks - and use 3/4 stick)
4-8 Tablespoons ice cold water
Blend flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut chilled shortening into cubes into flour mixture using pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with pea sized pieces remaining.
Sprinkle 4 Tablespoons of water over mixture and stir with a fork. Add more water by the Tablespoon until dough holds together. It takes about 6-8 Tablespoons for me.
Divide dough in two with one ball slightly larger than the other. At this point, I place back in my mixing bowl (both balls of dough) covered with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Remove dough from refrigerator and place larger ball of dough onto floured surface. Using floured rolling pin roll dough into a circle until about 2" wider than the pie plate. Ease bottom crust into pie plate and trim evenly around plate. Fill with pie filling (recipe will follow). Roll top pie crust, lift onto filled pie. Trim dough with 3/4" overhand; fold top edge under bottom crust. Press edges together and flute. Cut slits in top crust.
Apple Pie Filling:
8 cups sliced apples (This was 6 large apples for me)
1 cup splenda or regular granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Pre-heat oven to375 degrees. Place apples in large bowl. Stir sugar, spices, cornstarch, and lemon juice into apples. Pour apple filling into bottom pie crust. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter (break butter into small pieces all over top of pie filling) and cover with top pie crust. Crimp edges. I normally cover the crust with tinfoil the first 40 minutes of baking, remove foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes more.

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