Friday, October 9, 2009

Fall is in the Air: Pumpkin Choc Chip Muffins

Oh, friends, how I miss having time to blog whenever I want to. Looking for a job while managing a household and keeping up with social and volunteer commitments has consumed much more time than I expected this season. And, of course, I'm always in the kitchen--just not always near the computer, too!

So, this week I've been lamenting like crazy where I live. I heard about snow in Colorado (with ski slopes already open), and on Facebook everyone is talking about the changing of the leaves and gorgeous fall colors and cooler temps! Meanwhile I'm residing in a hot and sticky bayou with 95 degrees to enjoy! Yuch! However, God shone His love on me today with the blowing in of a cold front and rain. It has felt like fall ever since, and what did I immediately start doing? Why, baking pumpkin treats and putting on a pot of chili, of course!

I have tried to tweak a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe for many seasons now, and today I finally think I got pretty close to perfect (it's swapping the applesauce for the oil that made all the difference!). I made them as mini-muffins and lost count of how many I downed, and this was AFTER the coffee was already gone! Oh well, I see another 5 miles on the treadmill in my near future, but these are SO worth it (and honestly, made with applesauce, they aren't that fattening--or so I keep telling myself). Enjoy! (Especially to my newly married friend, Kathryn Mitchell Prescott who asked me on Facebook to share the recipe!)
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1 cup pureed canned pumpkin
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2) Grease muffin tins or spray well with cooking spray (PAM). Paper liners can also be used.
3) Mix together sugar, applesauce, and eggs. Add the pumpkin and water and mix well.
4) In separate bowl stir together flour, baking powder and soda, spices and salt with a whisk (this helps to remove any flour lumps).
5) Add pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.
6) Stir in chocolate chips.
7) Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.
8) Bake 15 minutes for mini muffin pans and 20 minutes for regular size.

Easily makes 12 regular size muffins and 24 or more minis.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Catching Up! Supper Club!

Well, the end of summer and back to school got the best of me! I haven't blogged in over a month and I'm so, so sorry. My sister-in-law had to get after me on facebook about this! I guess that is sort of like a fan, isn't it? Our husbands (my younger brother and her brother-in-law aka my husband) are currently in Alaska together with my dad and my older brother and his son, all hunting Caribou! I'm not exactly sure how to cook anything Caribou, so that will be an interesting blog in the future, I'm sure!

During the time I've been off the computer, I must admit I saw the new film,
Julie & Julia twice! It is hands-down now my most favorite movie of all time. It's just that good. I went by myself for the first viewing and laughed and cried through the whole thing. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?? I took my mom when she was in town last week, and she loved it just as much as I expected her to. I was so excited to get to be the person she saw it with. We are simply kindred spirits when it comes to the kitchen, and I thank her so very much for instilling this love of cooking in me!

So, not blogging hasn't been for lack of cooking--just lack of time to sit down and share with everyone. Our youngest started back to high school mid-August, and then we enjoyed our eldest home from her summer job in Dallas for just a few days here in Houston. We sorted through mounds of accumulated clothes and bedroom decor that simply could not all return with her to her new home in College Station. Moving out her bed made it seem so much more permanent this time around. But, Hello new scrapbooking room!

Well, we enjoyed a most fabulous "supper club" dinner with new friends earlier in August, and I've been dying to share my tried and true dinner party menu with you. This really is an easy to do dinner: do NOT be afraid of making risotto. It just needs love and attention, not unlike any husband or child or pet in your life. I love making it while my guests arrive and gather in the kitchen (as you know they tend to do). I always have the wine out ready to go and some munchies to enjoy while we visit and I simmer and stir. It is great fun and always becomes the focus of the party. To me, risotto is one of the most amazing comfort foods of all time. You can put your favorite ingredients into it and then also enjoy the leftovers the next day with a new drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan. What could possibly be more pleasant? Try this same recipe but use chicken stock instead of beef and roasted corn instead of the mushrooms. It's absolutely amazing!

So, here's the menu and a couple of the recipes for grins (noted with *). Gather up some friends and enjoy the sparks of conversation good food always provides. You'll be glad you did. Do I hear my phone ringing? Are you calling me to join you?
Favorite Dinner Party Menu:
Spinach & Artichoke Dip (with Table Water Crackers or Hearty Tortilla Chips for dipping)
Beaujolais-Villages Wine or Light Pinot Noir
Wild Field Greens with sliced Pears, Candied Pecans, Grated Parmesan & Balsamic Vinaigrette
Portabello Mushroom Risotto*
Steamed Asparagus
Rosemary, Balsamic & Garlic Pork Tenderloin*
Dill Dinner Rolls*
Cheesecake (my dessert specialty, always! this night's flavor was chocolate malt!)
4 cups beef broth
1/2 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
4-6 small portabello mushroom caps, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice (risotto pasta)
1/2 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris)
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

1) Pour beef broth in large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat & keep at a low simmer.
2) Melt 1/4 cup butter in large skillet.
3) Add the chopped mushrooms and onions and cook on medium until onions turn translucent. 4) Add the rice and stir constantly and rapidly until the grains are coated with butter and a tad bit browned.
5) Add a ladle of broth (approximately 1/2 cup) and stir constantly until almost all liquid has evaporated.
6) Add another ladle of broth in same manner and continue this process, one ladle at a time, until all broth has been added. The rice should never get completely dry, but it should not be fully awash with liquid, either.
7) Add white wine and continue stirring and simmering until fully evaporated.
8) Stir in the cream and Parmesan cheese and finally the remaining 1/4 cup butter.
9) Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Rachael Ray's Balsamic Roast Pork Tenderloins (from food
4 1/2 pounds pork tenderloins, 2 packages with 2 tenderloins in each package
4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, cracked
Steak seasoning blend or coarse salt and black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves stripped and finely chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped

1) Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. (yes, that is very, very HOT--this is intentional)
2) Trim silver skin or connective tissue off tenderloins with a very sharp thin knife.
3) Place tenderloins on a nonstick cookie sheet with a rim. Coat tenderloins in a few Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, rubbing vinegar into meat. Crizzle tenderloins with extra-virgin olive oil, just enough to coat. Cut small slits into meat and disperse chunks of cracked garlic cloves into meat. Combine steak seasoning blend or coarse salt and pepper with rosemary and thyme and rub into meat. Roast in hot oven 20 minutes. (I know it seems like too short a time, but trust me, it is perfect at that high heat. Adorably pink and juicy pork is a beautiful thing. But feel free to test it with your meat thermometer if you don't believe me!)
4) Cover with foil and let meat rest for 15-20 minutes, transfer to a carving board, slice & serve. Serves 10.
(Note in the photograph above, taken just before these went into the oven, I don't always grind up the spices together--the rosemary springs scattered also work just fine. And, I used 2 larger tenderloins instead of the 4 smaller ones. These did take a bit longer to cook, but if you use the smaller ones, please trust the recipe and go with the 20 minutes!)
Dill Dinner Rolls (these are really too easy for words and oh, so wonderful!)
1 pkg of Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix and package directed ingredients
1 Tablespoon chopped, dried dill weed

Prepare & bake according to package directions EXCEPT add the tablespoon of dried dill to the flour and yeast mixture before adding any other ingredients. Everyone thinks you slaved all day making homemade rolls--they are that good! I usually bake mine in either a 9 inch square or 9 inch round pan and serve all together in a like-sized basket so they can be pulled apart warm and fresh by my guest! Yum!!

So as Julie & Julia would say, Bon Appetit!! Oh, and let me know what crazy, yummy ingredient you added to your risotto! I'm craving pumpkin and squash these days.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Fare!

Well, the "dog days of summer" are definitely still upon us here in Houston. It is strange depending on who you talk to in what part of the country this year: NYC has had record-setting rains, it has been unseasonably cool in my cousin's neck of the woods in Minnesota, and we are experiencing a severe drought in the Hill Country and Coastal Plains of Texas. I am more and more intrigued with the global warming trends as they unfold before us. It definitely makes me want to be a better caretaker of this beautiful Earth God has so graciously bestowed upon us!

I certainly enjoyed a beautiful perspective of this planet a week ago when my superstar husband whisked me away for a fabulous weekend at a luxury resort on the Yucatan Peninsula. We are pictured here in North America's first official water cellar (housing top class brands from 15 countries) in their AAA 4- Diamond award winning gourmet restaurant, La Canoa. The Yucatan is simply one of our favorites, having spent a glorious 10 days there with our daughters in 2007. We went back for a long weekend to soak up the sun and snorkel the reef and enjoy great food (breakfast of orange pecan french toast with fruit coulis pictured here) and wine, of course! As with most vacations, I was in no mood to come home!

My apologies for allowing my travels to give the blog a short hiatus, but you know how it goes!!

Anyway, what I had planned next to share is some favorite summer fare that we all enjoyed at our first official BBQ of the summer over Memorial Day, in the hopes some of you might have time to pull it together in time for Labor Day. My able-bodied kitchen assistant, Miss Lexi (aka youngest daughter), gave her strong stamp of approval on these 2 recipes, that we have already repeated throughout the summer.

Several years ago in my dream job with the giant GE company, I was responsible for managing client events and all the pre-planning details involved for 6 different sales regions with the real estate financing division. Some of the places I got to see and events I attended will remain on the "once in a lifetime" list for many. Hosting our customers and sales team members at the Master's Golf Tournament in Augusta is one such event (that amazingly I was able to repeat several years later with the Royal Bank of Canada). It was during this hectic week of rotating people throughout 3 rented homes in the area that I also enjoyed hanging out with our in-home caterer. We alternated between eating in and going out to a restaurant with our house guests every other night. And clients and sales employees rotated in and out every 3 days, so this allowed us to serve the same stellar BBQ meal in our main host home without duplication for most. However, it also meant those of us working the event had to eat that same BBQ menu every other night. Believe you me--there were no complaints on my end. Chicken and shrimp beautifully blackened on the grill with gourmet trimmings cannot cause contempt in my mind. One of my favorite accoutrements was the baked beans dish. This yummy concoction of 3 different beans, bacon and an absolutely perfect sauce was a meal in and of itself! I searched high and low to replicate it for many years, and finally this summer found a recipe that I could tweak to be worthy of a near-copy. My mouth is watering just thinking about pulling the pan bubbling from the oven!
Gourmet Baked Beans

1/2 lb. bacon; cut into small pieces, browned to very crisp, and drained
1 large onion, diced and cooked with
1 lb. pork sausage; browned and drained (you can also substitute ground beef if you prefer)
1 16 oz. can kidney beans
1 16 oz. can butter beans (harder to find these days, but worth it!)
1 large can Bush's Baked Beans (in my mind these are the brand worth using but pick your fav)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce (again, the main brand for me)
2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
2 Tbsp. maple pancake syrup
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Drain both the kidney and the butter beans.
Combine all ingredients together and mix well.
Pour into 13 x 9 baking pan or large casserole dish and bake 1 hour at 325 degrees F.

For another great summer favorite, here's Lexi's summer salsa, too. Note: she doesn't like onions, so we don't include them in this recipe and with the crunch of the red pepper, you don't need them. However, if you like them in your salsa, I would add about 1/2 cup or so of a finely chopped red onion for the best flavor.
Blackened Corn Salsa

4 large ears corn, husked
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 whole finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 peanut oil (or whatever traditional cooking oil you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) Roast corn on grill or on cooktop using a grill pan/griddle. You are going for the blackness here. I do not pre-poach, but simply grill on my kitchen gas cooktop using the "grill" surface side of a griddle I own that fits over 2 burners. By using tongs and rotating the ears consistently, the corn cooks and begins to blacken up a bit for that fabulous grilled/roasted taste.
2) Allow ears to cook slightly and using sharp knife, cut kernels away from cob.
3) Combine with black beans, red pepper and cilantro in mixing bowl and set aside.
4) In nonmetal bowl, combine citrus juices, oil, hot pepper sauce, and salt and stir to combine.
5) Add to corn mixture and stir well.
6) Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes before serving. (We rarely make it through this step, but it does help the flavors meld even more!)
7) Get out the Multi-Grain Tostitos and enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer memories

I must say it is very hot, humid and sticky here in my little corner of the world. I have to whine just a bit that I gave up a beautiful swimming pool in our home in the Dallas area last year to move so that we could all be together as a family. Hubby had been commuting for over a year and we just missed him too much. Thus, I traded away that pool for a gorgeous new house in Houston with a fabulous kitchen (remember, I have a gas cooktop now--hooray!). So now we have a pretty empty back yard but I can cook to my heart's desire. It's only during these awful summer months that the trade-off truly makes me sad, and it has invoked much reminiscing of late about summer days as a child.

That Panhandle town where I grew up is small. Some people say it's not the end of the world but you can see it from there! Basically it was just a simple community of primarily agricultural folks, with a grand total population of just under 7,000 when we moved there in January of 1977. I was 10 years old and ready to take on the world. After spending about the first 2 years living in the country, we moved into town where my younger siblings and I were excited to be able to make regular visits to the municipal swimming pool. That place was huge! (OK, so it really wasn't, but isn't it amazing how we remember things as so much bigger in our memories of childhood and we see them as adults and cannot figure out how they shrunk?) As soon as lunch was over and mom had the little ones down for naps, we would hop on our bikes and ride over for long summer af
ternoons of fun in the sun with our friends. Sometimes, it was up to us older girls to babysit the young ones, so on those days we would walk and drag them along. Next to nothing could stand in our way of cooling off and perfecting our dives and high board jumps in the process! We had it made!

So if you've done the math, I was around age 12 when we moved to town, which means boys were starting to look pretty darn interesting to this young girl. It was highly convenient that the pool was managed each summer by one of the local school teachers and his son served as one of the primary life guards. It was also convenient that said son was also o
ne of my big brother's best friends, making him a much "older man" and thus very appealing for having 2 years age on me. This caused a full-out summer crush for several years, and served as the impetus for learning how to create one of my most favorite summer treats. One particularly flirtatious Sunday afternoon, said lifeguard happened to mention to me that his favorite flavor of ice cream was strawberry. The "way to a man's heart" notion took fierce hold of my psyche, as I profoundly confessed that I could make the best homemade strawberry ice cream in the world! Now, I had actually never made it before, but my secret weapon was my best friend's mom and having successfully recently wrangled her spectacular recipe, which I had enjoyed devouring with my friend not much prior!
Of course I had to deliver on my boasting! This gave me exactly a day and half to get it right and place my crowning glory at the feet of the object of my affection, as the pool was routinely closed on Monday for cleaning. I remember rushing home and pulling my mom into the fray where we mixed up a test batch for the family on Monday. Pronouncing it spectacular, my dad's seal of approval was all I needed, and the second batch was lovingly delivered to that sweet boy during evening pool hours on Tuesday night. I'm sorry to say that he didn't immediately come to his senses and ditch the older girl he was "going with" for me. (Although he confessed several years later that little sisters of friends have an unspoken "hands-off code" assigned to them, yet he was highly tempted to break that code that summer! And then, of course, it all made sense.) No matter, as many of us will admit, flirtation is the game and the chase is the excitement. Once the catch is secured, we often experience a lingering let-down of exhilaration, meaning those summers hold lots of great memories for me!

Sensational Strawberry Ice Cream

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups whole milk
3 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I usually double this measurement!)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 quart frozen strawberries (chopped with syrup, commercial packaged work fine)

Mix together first 6 ingredients with electric mixer in large glass mixing bowl. Add strawberries and stir until well combined. Freeze mixture following directions for your ice cream freezer.
(Note, if you are sensitive about eating raw eggs, this recipe is not for you as you have now determined those eggs are not cooked. My suggestion is to choose your eggs carefully, and enjoy with caution which I have been doing for many years!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Way to a Man's Heart...

Hello fellow foodies! I'm excited for our next installment which I've been thinking about all week. There are so many ideas and recipes I'm wanting to share with all of you. But first, I must take a moment to thank all my friends and family for the kind emails and Facebook postings complimenting my blog. It's exciting to see how far around the world the written word travels these days in such a rapid fashion!

So this week I really wanted to be sure I clarified for those still in question what a "supertaster" truly is. There's tons of information on the internet these days about this phenomenon that was evidently originally studied/discovered by Dr. Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University. "The 'neon taste world' of people who Dr. Bartoshuk calls 'supertasters' is roughly three times as intense as the 'pastel world' of the nontasters. This is because the tongues of supertasters have a higher concentration of taste bud-containing structures than the tongues of less taste-sensitive groups"(, Feb. 19, 2003).

Since first hearing about this, I had no doubt I am a supertaster. I regularly taste hints of flavors in foods, often fascinating friends and family when the ingredient is determined a reality. I have become quite the wine lover in the past few years, able to taste certain nuances of flavors there as well. And, several of the foods I absolutely abhor seem to be similar to those of other supertasters (olives, raw tomatoes, cabbage, grapefruit and bitter coffee like espresso--none for me--I'll take my raspberry or cherry chocolate flavored cup of Joe over drinking tar any day, thank you very much!).

So, according to Dr. Bartoshuk, a supertaster has a higher concentration of taste buds, or officially, "fungiform papillae," that house the taste buds, on the tip of the tongue. A fun little test can be taken to confirm this by swabbing blue food coloring on the tip of your tongue, placing a piece of paper on your tongue, with a 7mm hole punched into it, and counting the papillae within the circle. They will remain pink, while the tongue is blue. (See a great depiction of how to do the test at this link: I lost count at 50. Anywhere over 35-40 confirms the theory, coming as no surprise to me! Thus, the designation found it's way into my blog title, and hopefully it will be a positive experience to your taste buds, too (unless you absolutely LOVE raw tomatoes, as I'm afraid you'll not find those recipes here).
Speaking of tomatoes, though, it's time for this week's recipe (using
cooked tomatoes, which ironically I do like) and the story behind it. As I stated in my last post, I've been married to my college sweetheart for over 22 years. We married young by today's standards (he was 21, I was 20), and my food is partially to blame. You see, I've been cooking for him since our days in the piney woods of East Texas at our small, private college campus.

Thanks to all that time spent in the kitchen working side-by-side with my mom, when it was time to choose extracurricular classes in high school, the Home Economics options were the only ones truly of interest to me. I took every single one offered in our small Texas Panhandle town, and ended up serving as President of the Future Homemakers Association Chapter to boot! In a special unit on microwave cooking, I learned the wonderful talent of constructing a gorgeous lasagna without pre-cooking the noodles. This method involved a hearty and wet meat sauce, and microwaving at medium power for maximum effect. It was absolutely delicious, and something I eventually easily re-created at college with a limited kitchen and only a microwave at my disposal. Being the creative type, I even figured out the "semi-homemade" style of doing this (before Sandra Lee had even thought about becoming a household name) and ramped up bottled store sauce with herbs and spices to make it worthy of my particular palate.

So, back to that man's stomach. One weekend I carried all my groceries and supplies over to the kitchen above the racquetball courts and constructed my lasagna for that adorable boy and his buddies, along with some warm chocolate chip cookies. He might not admit it was love at first site that particular evening, but we've been together ever since, and it was this lasagna that went out the door with him this week for his guy's golf and lake trip at his special request!

I'm grateful to all those Home Economists that work for the big food companies who must also have been students of my favorite teacher at some point. They have now developed the pre-packaged noodles available to us today, created purposefully for no cooking: a dream to those of us struggling to get dinner on the table in a timely fashion.

To make the lasagna, you'll need the following ingredients and about a full hour and a half for preparation, cooking, and setting. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, as comfort food like this doesn't last long around our house!
"Almost Cheating" Microwave Lasagna
1 med. onion, chopped
1 lb. ground Italian sausage (or ground beef or turkey if you so prefer)
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine sausage, onion and garlic in 2 qt. casserole dish and microwave on high for 4.5 to 7 minutes, or until meat loses pink color. Drain fat.
(Note: If you prefer the stovetop and have it at your disposal, by all means brown the meat that way. I actually did this last night as I have a gas cooktop for the first time in 17 years, and I cannot quit using it! Another little hint is on draining fat. When I microwave ground meats, I use my Tupperware brand stacker cooking colander set (these were popular back in the early 90's and you can still find them on eBay and other sites). The meat browns nicely and the fat runs into the lower section for quick clean up. If I brown on the stove top, a trick I've found habit-forming is sitting a metal colander with feet into a small square pan and straining the grease out that way. The corners of the pan work famously for pouring off the fat into a jar or can for quick and easy disposal and clean-up!)

Now for the rest of the sauce:
1 24 oz. jar prepared pasta sauce (I prefer Bertolli Olive Oil & Garlic)
1 13.5 oz. pkg. Bertolli Premium Summer Crushed Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
(Note: This is a more liquid sauce and I chose it due to inclusion of herbs. If you cannot find it, then just add the approximate equivalent of canned crushed tomatoes, which can also be purchased "Italian-style" with spices added if you prefer.)
2 T parsley flakes
1/2 t salt
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 t brown sugar
Add the above items to the browned meat and microwave
covered on high until thoroughly heated through (about 5 minutes).

Ricotta Cheese Layer:
1 16 oz. carton ricotta cheese (I prefer the lower fat)
1/4 cup shredded or ground parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 T parsley flakes
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t salt
Mix together above ingredients in medium glass mixing bowl and set aside.

1 8 oz. package Oven-Ready lasagna noodles (Skinner is a nice brand with built-in ridges)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Final Assembly:
In 12 x 8 (or 13 x 9) baking dish, spoon in a very thin layer of sauce mixture then layer 1/3 each of noodles, ricotta cheese mixture (spreading with a skinny spatula works best), sauce and mozzarella. Repeat the steps of noodles, sauces, ricotta mixture and mozzarella 2-3 times (depending upon depth of your pan). Sprinkle top of final layer of mozzarella with 1/4 cup parmesan chese. Microwave at 50% power for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly, rotating dish 1/2 turn after half the cooking time (or you can bake in a 350 oven for about 45-50 minutes). Be sure to let the lasagna stand for at least 15 minutes to set before cutting into it! This is by far the most difficult part of the whole process as your olfactory nerves will be in overdrive! Sorry!

If you make this lasagna, or have any ideas for great variations, please be sure to comment below! I would love to hear from you, particularly if this dish (or any of my others to come) helps you snag the man of your dreams--but unfortunately this writer can make no promises or offer guarantees--just hope!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Hello friends, family and fellow foodies! And welcome to the inaugural posting of my new blog, sharing my memories and musings through my passion and love for food. I'm Andrea Siebert Peterson, a 43 year old suburban mom with a business degree and hours toward a masters. My 22+ years experience in the working world revolve around business operations and meetings & events management in the real estate industry and non-profit sectors. I have been married to my college sweetheart for 22+ years and we enjoy raising 2 beautiful daughters who are rapidly forcing us into "empty nesthood."

Family is a huge part of our lives as I'm the eldest daughter in a group of 7 children. Being raised in mid-western and then Texas Panhandle farm communities, it's no small wonder I've probably spent more working hours in the kitchen than any other room in the house!

After a fairly recent corporate layoff, I have been trying to find my new niche in the working world. No matter what book I read or where I turn, doing what I love always brings me back to food. So, it's time to find out where that passion can take me. It seems a blog is a great way to start, since it is a commitment to a regular diet, in a manner of speaking, manifested in both word and deed! I hope to share with you the most about the memories of food that have made up the quilted tapestry of my life. It's a long list, often fraught with some tears, but also celebrating great triumphs.

To begin at the beginning I must share with you my first ever kitchen triumph. It started on a hot, sticky day in our Nebraska kitchen. I was only 8 years old yet had already spent numerous hours (years!) on a stool working side by side with my mother who seemed to always be in the kitchen. Keeping up with the hunger needs of my dad, older brother, cousins, and hired hands, who were helping with corn planting, irrigating, wheat harvest and the like, was no small feat. In those days at our house there were 4 main mealtimes instead of the standard American 3. Around 4-5 pm my dad and the boys would all come in for fortitude to sustain them through the evening working hours that often didn't end until dark or later. Usually we served sandwiches on slices of thick, soft homemade white bread my mother baked by hand once a week. In my visual memory bank I see huge pitchers of sweating iced sweet tea and cold watermelon on the table and whatever homemade goodies my mom happened to decide to bake that afternoon. Chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, marshmallow brownies, my aunt's amazing chocolate cake, and scotcheroos (a peanut butter crisped cereal treat covered in milk chocolate) all come to mind (and will be shared with you soon).

This particular day as I recall, one of the little ones was fussy. Mom asked me to step up and bake a cake. "You can do it without me," she directed, "you know how now." OK, so it wasn't from scratch (thank you Duncan Hines), but it was the remembering to preheat the oven (something my mother did for me by default for many years, causing problems later in married life, but that's an entirely separate story), correctly greasing the pans, following the directions on the box to add proper ingredients, waiting the requisite time to remove from pans once baked, and assembling with beautiful icing to create a two-layer, orange wonder that were my 8-year old accomplishments. None of this compared, however, to what happened next.

My father is child number 9 in a family of 10 children. I don't think the birth order books can truly address his personality due to the sheer size of this tribe. But, I can tell you he is one of the most honest, hard-working, individuals I've ever known. He is one of those rare individuals who simply cannot pass up stopping to help a wayward soul along the road experiencing car trouble. In this case a stranger had a flat tire, and despite the busy-ness of Dad's summer day, it was no exception. This was the 70's folks--the times of no cell phones and rural roads for us specifically. I will never forget the timing of dad bringing home this man who needed to "phone a friend to help him to the next level" and ended up around our late afternoon table. I will always remember the pride on my father's face, showing off his little darling's cake and sharing it with this stranger! It was that day that fireworks burst in my brain and one of the biggest "AHA" moments of my life occurred: You can make people happy--deliriously happy--by simply serving them your food! This thought clearly took root that day and has been manifest throughout my life. Food that is fostered in love becomes a jubilant experience, both for the creator and the partaker! The stranger, who I never laid eyes on again in my life, oohed and awed about my cake, how wonderful it was that I was so young and yet did such an excellent job, how special it was to be given such a rare treat!
And, for me it was not pride so much as the reality that food has power. The creating, the timing, the giving, each provides it's own certain reward. (And, in a strange way, the old adage that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" was clearly in the mix that day as well.) As the years have flown by, I've watched the family gather and the food fill stomachs and the stories begin. And the other common denominator for me has been the indescribable feeling I get from seeing the pleasure on the faces of those who taste my food, fork suspended (sometimes with eyes closed) experiencing a moment of euphoria and often creating a special memory that will last through the ages. I literally live for those moments since I've experienced so many of them behind the fork at others' tables and restaurants myself!

Thus, we begin this journey together to experience the sanctuary of this supertaster: my kitchen, the heart of my home. And even though I didn't include a recipe today, hopefully there will always be 1 or 2 to tempt your tastebuds. I look forward to sharing with you and hearing from you and dreaming about you with your fork poised in the air!