Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wedding Breakfast Cream-filled Strawberries

Have you planned your menu for the Royal Wedding yet?  I've planned mine, though it is nothing as lavish as one would expect to suit such an occasion.  No, I took into consideration local time so decided to incorporate breakfast-type things into the menu.  Here's the plan:

Fresh Strawberries Filled with Cream (recipe below)
Egg Salad in Phyllo Tarts
Bacon-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Olive Cream Cheese Spirals
Buttered Radish Finger Sandwiches
Royal Wedding Scones
Multiple cups of strong tea

(Sounds like breakfast, right?  Eggs, bacon, fruit, toast...)  If you've let time slip away and have nothing to serve, these strawberries are delicious, easy, and can turn any occasion into something special.

Wedding Breakfast Cream-filled Strawberries

10 whole large strawberries, hulled
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 t. almond extract
1 t. orange zest
1/3 cup chopped pecans, finely chopped

Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each strawberry so when filled they'll stand upright. Using a small spoon or scoop, hollow out the inside of the strawberry as well as you can.  Removing the hull is going to leave you some room, you just want to create a bit more.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, extract and zest until combined.  The mixture should be fairly stiff for piping.  Using a pastry bag with the tip of your choice, fill the strawberries with the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top of the stuffed strawberries.  Top with additional powdered sugar, if desired. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Famous Barr's John White Burger

When I was a little girl, my mother would take me out to lunch once a month.  One of my favorite places to eat was the Jade Room Restaurant contained within one of St. Louis' two big department stores, Famous-Barr (now Macy's).  This was back in the day when people would dress to go out to dine.  No slacks allowed!  A hostess would seat us, and while we waited for our meals, beautifully dressed models would walk among the tables wearing the latest fashions available in the store, well-accessorized, and bearing the fragrance du jour.  Sometimes they would stop at our table and describe what they were wearing, its price and size availability. For a ten-year-old girl like me, it was magical!  Sometimes my dad would meet us for lunch, but mostly it was just mother and me.  My lunch order never varied:  hamburger, chocolate milk, and Jell-O.

As I got older the lunches continued, but the dress code relaxed and the menu changed.  No longer did I order the hamburger, but the John White Burger, a decadent hamburger sandwich with crispy onions and melted cheese.  I crave that burger to this day.  It was named for one of the cooks from the Clayton location of Famous-Barr, and was eventually offered at all of May Company's department-store restaurants. It stayed on the menus until White died and his heirs sued over use of the name.

In 2000, Eric Dahl, longtime chef for Famous-Barr, told Judith Evans of the Post-Dispatch the secret to the burger is the onions. Slice them thinly, and then cook in 1/2 inch of hot oil or shortening. Remove onions when they are light brown; if you cook them too long, they will become bitter. Drain well on paper towels.  To assemble the burgers, use toasted buns, grilled or broiled hamburger patties made from ground beef that is 85 percent lean, the onions, and a rarebit sauce thick enough to stay on the burgers.

Dahl said the sauce included American cheese, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Here is a recipe that seems to fit the bill, at least it certainly pleased me this evening!


1/2 pound American cheese, cut into thin slices
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Place cheese in the top of a double boiler. Add half-and-half, Worcestershire and mustard. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts.

Yield: 4 servings. 
Recipe adapted from The Fairy Tale Cookbook by Carol MacGregor.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tornadoes of Beef? No, tornadoes of the EF4 Variety

Christmas.  That was the first thing I thought of after the sirens had ceased and we began the crawl up the narrow concrete steps from the cellar beneath our 119-year old house after the storm had passed.  Christmas.  The neighbor's 40' fir had come down onto our driveway blocking any hope of an exit, and crashed into our 20' redbud that, in turn, landed on what was once our patio furniture, taking our planters and my much beloved Buddha Birdhouse, currently providing sanctuary to a houseful of sparrows, with it.  Where were they?

Our near 50' blue spruce had come down as well, as had all of our trees, revealing a root ball exceeding my 5'7" height by about 8 inches.  Closer examination revealed four uprooted trees, all leaving gaping holes beneath them.  The rest had been stripped, ripped, debarked, and twisted into unusual angles, some sporting siding, shingles, and one waving an American flag.

It smelled so fresh and pine-y and as if I'd just entered a Christmas tree lot.  The rain had stopped, the power was out, and all we could hear were the gasps of neighbors as they surveyed the damage that was once their houses and yards.

We were lucky, our house was still standing.  The shutters (original to the house) were long gone, bits and pieces of them scattered everywhere.  The fence panels had been blown out, latticework at various bent angles around the yard.  The garden bench was peaking out from beneath the 50' walnut tree on top of it.  Where was the sundial? 

It was dark and with our flashlights we weren't quite able to get the full impact until morning.  The deck is crushed, the pool is gone, and I can see the houses of neighbors I never knew I had, and in some cases, can see inside their houses, one had been cut in half.

These pictures don't tell the story.  I'd shown them to my parents who uttered solemn phrases of concern and sympathy, and then came by to view the scene; their mouths dropped open. It can't be captured on film.  It looks like a war zone without the bodies.  We now have power, but no phone, cable, or Internet.  (I'll never bundle again).  We're having lunch at St. Louis Bread Company (Panera to those of you not in the St. Louis metro area) and trying madly to catch up with email and get in touch with friends and relatives who may not have heard.

We're also trying madly to get back to normal hence this blog post with the promise of more.  I am cooking.  It's my therapy, and soon, very soon, hope to have more fun posts with colorful (almost edible) photos and delicious recipes.  For now I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still here, just a little worse for wear, but looking on the bright side and thinking with all of the trees gone, I'll have sun.  With sun I can grow vegetables! It's too soon to shop for seeds, but I'm thinking about it...and you.  Stay with me!

I'm linking this to:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Napkin Fold Easter Baskets

The Lotus Napkin fold is fairly common, but I'm not sure I've seen it used in the way that I like to use it on Easter morning, namely as an Easter basket to house a chocolate bunny, chocolate eggs, and jelly beans for each one of my guests.  They fold up quickly and there is an excellent tutorial on how to achieve this look here (scroll down to #5 Lotus Napkin Fold).  Once you've turned all of your napkins into potential Easter baskets you only need to put them in place on your table and fill with Easter grass and goodies.  It makes for a stunning table and your guests will be enormously pleased (and very impressed) with your efforts.  One little tip, however, is to provide an additional napkin so these can just be lifted off of the plate and set to the side to be admired, undisturbed, during the meal.  At the conclusion of your brunch, lunch, or dinner, provide each guest with a colorful cellophane bag and twisty so they can package up their treats to take home.  I guarantee this is one meal they will never forget.

Placemat - World Market/Cost Plus
Blue Plate - Fiestaware
Green Ruffled Plate - Lotus Metlox
Flatware - Fiestaware
Glass - La Rochere
Candy - Lindt, Dove, Hershey

This post is linked to:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Steak 'n Shake Chili

Founded in 1934 when Gus Belt of Normal, IL converted a gas station/chicken restaurant into a hamburger stand, Steak 'n Shake has become a Midwest institution.  Most widely known for their Steakburgers, a trademarked name for a hamburger that was a combination of round, sirloin, and T-bone steaks ground into burgers in full view of customers, and their "hand-dipped, real-milk" milkshakes. My first experience with a fast food hamburger came at the hand of Steak 'n Shake.  McDonald's?  Never heard of them.  Not, at least when I was 6 years old.  Steak 'n Shake was the place to be.  It continued to be "the place" when I was in high school and throngs of teenagers descended upon it on Friday nights.  This was back in the days of car hops, trays attached to partially rolled down car windows, and people visiting from car to car while chomping on a steakburger.  It was so crowded on Friday nights that getting a parking space was pure serendipity, but that didn't stop kids from "driving through Steak" to see who was there and what was going on.  Those were good, innocent times.

My boys know Steak 'n Shake like I do, but not in the same way.  By the time they were old enough for fast food the car hops were long gone and it was a dine-in restaurant.  We all continue to dine there to this day, and all look upon it favorably.  The place and food are unique, the shoestring fries, the thin, crispy-edged burgers, and chili mac keep us coming back.

So when I found this recipe for a copy cat version of the chili I couldn't wait to try it.  What an uproar it caused!  I like it just the way the recipe is written, though I will defer to my youngest son's observation that it isn't as "juicy" as the restaurant version.  I did think the taste was there, however, but he and his older brother disagreed on the taste, both of whom tackled the recipe themselves adding what they thought it needed to suit their remembrances of what it did/does/should taste like.

So give this a try and add what you like to suit your tastes.  As for me, it's perfect the way it is, and made even more so with my recent eBay score of a set of authentic chili bowls.  Does life get any better?!
Steak 'n Shake Chili

2 tablespoons oil 
1-1/2 pounds ground chuck 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can onion soup 
1 tablespoon chili powder 
2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
2 teaspoons cocoa 
2 cans kidney beans 
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste 
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce 
1 cup cola 

Brown ground beef and salt in oil. Put soup in blender, blend for 1 minute. Add all to Crockpot. Drain beef and beans before adding to Crockpot. Let simmer on LOW for 6 hours or on HIGH for 2 hours.

This post is linked to:

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It's not often that I make these cookies and I really can't say why because they are delicious.  They're easy to make, have a wonderful nutty, crunchy/crumbly texture, and a great sugar cookie taste.  The recipe is easy to follow and unlike a lot of recipes where you are overloaded with dough and spend half the day baking them, this makes little more than a couple of dozen.  
The recipe, as you can see, is from the Gooseberry Patch Old-Fashioned Country Cookies Cookbook.  I'm reproducing the page here, so you get a bonus recipe as well (though I've not tried this one and so can't vouch for them.)
During the warm days of spring and summer when you don't want to spend a lot of time dealing with a hot oven, these bake up quickly and will be most welcome at any outdoor event.
Give them a try.  You'll be the hit of the neighborhood!

This is linked to:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Royal Wedding Scones

"Gosh, these are good," I gushed to no one in particular, but thank God my husband was home or anyone happening by our cozy porch breakfast would have thought I was talking to myself...AGAIN.  If not for my husband, I'd certainly have to get a dog as I do often lapse into soliloquy when something turns out rapturously good, or power rant when something turns out dreadfully bad.  But I digress...

I'm working on my morning menu for viewing the Royal Wedding.  Yes, I will be getting up that early, don't  judge me.  As someone who normally goes to bed closer to that time rather than arising then, you know this is huge.  I figured I watched Diana get married, I'm going to watch her son as well.  I suspect it will be a combination of joy and tears.  I still miss Diana to this day.  We were pregnant with our sons around the same time, so I've always felt a bit of kinship with her in that regard.

At any rate I've been going through cookbooks trying to come up with scones, finger sandwiches, and little snacks with which to both fortify and amuse myself during the big event.  During the process, I devised this recipe on my own.  It is very light, so you won't feel guilty having one (or two) and it will leave you with plenty of room for finger sandwiches and multiple cups of tea.  I do plan on dressing up (read: my best nightie and a clean pair of slippers), and stretch out on the couch with a tea table of goodies beside me.  

1 cup flour, plus more for dusting board
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of 1 lemon
4-1/2 T. unsalted butter, diced and very cold
3/4 cups fresh blueberries
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 T. removed for brushing tops


Freshly squeezed lemon juice from one lemon
1 cups confectioners' sugar
Zest from one lemon
1 pat (1 t.) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or silpat and set aside.

In the working bowl of a food processor together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest 2-3 times. Add the butter and pulse 6-8 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the butter is about the size of peas. Pour dry mixture into a mixing bowl, add blueberries and gently toss the blueberries with the flour mixture. 

Whisk together egg and cream in a small mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs and cream. Using the tines of the fork gently incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet just until the dry mixture is coated.  Be careful not the smash the berries. Not overworking the dough is the secret to a light, delicate scone.

Lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out. Gently knead the dough about 6 times and pat it into a circle.  Cut in half with a sharp knife and then in half again to make four wedges.  Transfer to prepared baking sheet and brush tops with remaining cream. 

Bake until lightly golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

While the scones are baking, mix together the glaze ingredients.  Cool scones on a wire rack and drizzle with glaze.

Makes 4.
This is linked to Sweet Tooth Friday and Sweets For A Saturday-Sweet As Sugar Cookies

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bits and Pieces Strata

This is a great dish any time of the year, but particularly good for spring and summer because it is light, yet satisfying.  It is versatile in that it can be made with or without meat, so pleases both the meat eater and vegetarian alike.  It can make a great brunch dish, or serves equally well for a light lunch (cutting it into 6 servings) or a hearty dinner (cutting it into 4).  I refer to this as "Clean Out the Fridge" Strata as I generally make use of what's left in the crisper and meat tray when putting it together.  No matter what combination I put together it has never failed to be delicious.  This is a dish that is tasty and impressive despite its being thrown together with whatever you happen to have on hand, so I love it!
Follow the step-by-step tutorial below and you'll see how easy this dish is to make.  I hope you'll try it, and when you do, let me know what you think.

Bits and Pieces Strata Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 cups chopped vegetables of your choice (mushrooms, onions, scallions, green pepper, red pepper, poblano pepper, jalapeno pepper, leeks, shallots, celery, zucchini, steamed asparagus, blanched broccoli, etc.)
5 slices white bread
2 cups cheese in any combination of your choice
2/3 cup deli ham, sliced into strips (or similarly cut salami, pepperoni, or "coins" of andouille or chorizo) (optional)
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons butter thinly on bread. 
 Cut bread into 1/2-inch pieces.
 Layer half of bread in 8 x 8 x 2-inch glass baking dish.
 Cover with half of cheese. I had a variety of cheeses left over, so used cheddar, emmental, fontina, and gouda.
 Clean and slice vegetables of your choice.
 Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables to skillet and saute until just tender, about 4 minutes. Mix in meat, if used; saute 1 minute longer. Remove from heat.
 Cover cheese with half of vegetable/meat mixture.
  Repeat layering with bread, cheese and vegetable mixture.
 For my next layer of cheese, I used up what was left in a package of shredded cheddar and Monterrey Jack.
 Top with remaining vegetable/meat mixture.
 Beat milk, eggs, Dijon mustard, dry mustard, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend.
 Pour over strata.
 I had three slices of bacon left in the fridge, so fried it until crisp and crumbled it over the top.
 Press down on top of strata to ensure all of the bread absorbs the milk/egg mixture.  Let set for 15 minutes.
Bake strata until lightly browned on top and set in center, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes; cut into squares.