Appetizers · Family · Family Favorites · Holidays

January 19 – National Popcorn Day

Who knew there was a National Holiday for Popcorn? I am a popcorn fan from way back. I generally take mine with real butter and salt along with a great movie. Although, I would never turn down a bag of kettle corn at the farmer’s market!  I’ve been known to make myself a popcorn birthday cake, too!

Whenever I travel back to Iowa, you can always find a bag or two of local popcorn in my luggage for the trip home.

Researching the history of popcorn, I found popcorn.org to be a great resource of the history and recipes:

Popcorn Dates Back Thousands of Years

Biblical accounts of “corn” stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood. The “corn” from the bible was probably barley. The mistake comes from a changed use of the word “corn,” which used to signify the most-used grain of a specific place. In England, “corn” was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American “corn,” it took that name – and keeps it today.

It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears are about 4,000 years old.

Popcorn in the New World

Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: “And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls’) heads.” In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.

An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec gods who watched over fishermen reads: “They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.”

Writing of Peruvian Indians in 1650, the Spaniard Cobo says, “They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection.”

In South America, kernels of popcorn found in burial grounds in the coastal deserts of North Chile were so well preserved they would still pop even though they were 1,000 years old.

Recent History

The use of the moldboard plow became commonplace in the mid-1800s and led to the widespread planting of maize in the United States.

Breakfast Food

Although popcorn is typically thought of as a snack food today, popcorn was once a popular breakfast food. Ahead of its time and very likely a role model for breakfast cereals to come, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, popcorn was eaten just as we eat cereal today.

Long before the advent of the corn flake, Ella Kellogg enjoyed her popcorn ground with milk or cream. Although she discouraged in-between meal snacking, she urged others to eat popcorn at meals as popcorn was “an excellent food.” Ella understood, as her husband did, that popcorn was a whole grain. John Harvey Kellogg praised popcorn as being “easily digestible and to the highest degree wholesome, presenting the grain in its entirety, and hence superior to many denatured breakfast foods which are found in the market.”

The Great Depression

Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Street vendors used to follow crowds around, pushing steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks and expositions.

During the Depression, popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was one of the few luxuries down-and-out families could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. An Oklahoma banker who went broke when his bank failed bought a popcorn machine and started a business in a small store near a theater. After a couple years, his popcorn business made enough money to buy back three of the farms he’d lost.

Popcorn and the Movies

Unlike other confections, popcorn sales increased throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theaters and its low cost for both patron and owner. One theater owner actually lowered the price of his theater tickets and added a popcorn machine. He soon saw huge profits.

The “talking picture” solidified the presence of movie theaters in the U.S. in the late 1920’s. Many theater owners refused to sell popcorn in their theaters because they felt it was too messy. Industrious vendors set up popcorn poppers or rented storefront space next to theaters and sold popcorn to patrons on their way into the theater. Eventually, theater owners began installing popcorn poppers inside their theaters; those who refused to sell popcorn quickly went out of business.

Popcorn sales increase throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theatres.

World War II

During World War II, sugar was sent overseas for U.S. troops, which meant there wasn’t much sugar left in the United States to make candy. Thanks to this unusual situation, Americans ate three times as much popcorn as usual.

Slump and Bump

Popcorn went into a slump during the early 1950s, when television became popular. Attendance at movie theaters dropped and with it, popcorn consumption. When the public began eating popcorn at home, the new relationship between television and popcorn led to a resurgence in popularity.

Today

Whether stovetop popped, fresh from the microwave or ready to eat, Americans love popcorn. In fact, Americans today consume 15 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year. That averages to about 47 quarts per person.

Americans today consume 15 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.

 

 

Health · New Favorite · Poultry

Change Your Life Chicken

I’ve listened to the podcast ‘The Lazy Genius’ for a while and especially enjoyed the episode talking about her recipe ‘Change Your Life Chicken’.  It sounded so easy and I love roasted vegetables.  Never in my life have I set my oven for 500 degrees F, but I was up for the experiment.  I chopped carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes and onions.

My oven must run extra hot so I only needed to roast the chicken and vegetables for 35 minutes.  The chicken skin was crispy, the vegetables were cooked through and some were crispy.  It was a delicious dish and a quick meal.  I would have especially loved this recipe when I was working full-time, needing to get dinner on the table quickly.

The instructions below are taken word for word from Thelazygeniuscollective.com website.  She does a great job of explaining the process.

CHANGE YOUR LIFE CHICKEN

What You Need

  • chicken thighs with the bone and the skin
    Yes. I said thighs. That have the bone and the skin. Trust me on this. You can do breasts if you want, but we’re a thigh family to the bone. (I love chicken humor.) Adults eat one, hungry adults eat two, and weird picky tiny kids eat a half.

  • two handfuls of vegetables per person
    You can use whatever you have. Options: onion, carrot, potato, green bean, asparagus, leek, sweet potato, and cauliflower. (Avoid mushrooms, zucchini, squash, and broccoli with this method.) I’ll share some favorite combinations at the end.

  • olive oil, salt, and pepper

How You Make It

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Not a typo. Five hundred.

2. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil. Your pan needs to hold your vegetables comfortably – not too close together, not too far apart. Heavy duty is less likely to tear, i.e. to get dirty from chicken grease. Do not use glass. It will shatter. I’d recommend not using any kind of baking dish with high sides because you won’t get the same kind of crisp. Baking sheet… like you use for cookies.

3. Cut your vegetables, and toss with olive oil, more salt than you think you need, and black pepper. These are the sizes to go for: large bite-sized. Carrots take the longest, so make those thinner than the rest. Consider cooking speeds with the vegetables you choose.

Green beans don’t need cutting, so those get tossed with the rest. Notice how cozy the vegetables are with each other but that there isn’t more than one layer.

4. Peel the skin back from the chicken. Don’t wig out. It’s cool. You want to generously season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper, but you want to season under the skin. So pull back the skin, season, and fold the skin back over.

5. Pat the chicken skin dry with a wad of paper towels. This is how you get magic crusty chicken skin, i.e. the state fair craze somebody needs to start. The best order is to place the chicken skin side down on the vegetables, season, flip, pull back the skin, season, put the skin back, and pat dry. The worst is drying the skin and then realizing you forgot to season the bottom.

6. Place the chicken skin side up directly on top of the vegetables. Here’s what happens: the fat from the chicken skin will seep into the vegetables underneath, imparting flavor and moisture while the exposed vegetables get a tiny bit charred. It’s a perfect marriage of texture and flavor. I’m not showing you a photo of raw chicken because raw chicken.

Ew.

7. Bake at 500 degrees for 50 minutes. Don’t worry if the chicken will be done; it will be. And we don’t have to be concerned about the vegetables burning at such a high temperature because they’re nestled closely together. The most you’ll get will be a few crusty edges, and those are delightful.

And since blog posts don’t have sound effects yet, trust me on the crispiness of the crust. In the Instagram story, I tapped it, and it sounded like a little magic chicken woodpecker. You’re allowed to invent bird species when dinner is this easy.

And that’s it! Then you eat. Bonus: any leftover vegetables are a great snack/lunch straight from the fridge for busy days. (Except for potatoes. Leftover potatoes have a weird texture and are a little depressing. See: old French fries.)

Variations

Start with what’s above, but once you feel comfortable with how it works, feel free to change it up.

  1. Add fresh rosemary or thyme to the vegetables.

  2. Rub the chicken (not the skin) with lemon or orange zest. (Rosemary and orange are a heavenly match.)

  3. Reinvent the meal with different vegetable combinations: onion, potato, carrot; leek and asparagus; onion and sweet potato, green bean and cauliflower. If you love it, try it. The worst that can happen is it’s not great and you won’t make it again.

  4. Same goes for exotic spices. Go nuts with curry powder, a taco seasoning blend, or whatever you want to try. You won’t know if it works until you try.

  5. Use chicken breasts with the bone and skin if you must; be sure to bump the time to an hour. I can’t vouch that it’ll be as good, but I’m not your chicken boss.

Meh, yes I am. Make this chicken, y’all, and change your life.

If you run into any Change Your Life Chicken issues, I dedicated an entire episode of The Lazy Genius Podcast to it. Listen to it here.

My Roots · New Favorite · Soups and Stews

Cabbage Roll Soup

Cabbage Rolls were not a part of my childhood but I enjoyed them as an adult at Hungarian restaurants. I’ve never made cabbage rolls but I loved the idea of soup, my go-to meal in winter.

This is a simple and wonderful soup.  The rice absorbs much of the broth, but you could easily add more broth or vegetable juice.  Yummy!

CABBAGE ROLL SOUP

1 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 pound lean ground beef
½ pound lean ground pork
¾ cup uncooked long grain rice
1 medium head cabbage chopped (core removed)
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
1 ½ cups V8 or other vegetable juice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

  • In a large pot, brown onion, garlic, pork and beef. Drain any fat.
  • Stir in chopped cabbage and let cook until slightly softened (about 3 minutes).
  • Add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and reduced heat to medium low. Cover and simmer on low until rice is fully cooked (about 25-30 minutes)
  • Remove bay leaf and serve.
If you prefer a thinner soup, add more beef broth to reach desired consistency once rice is cooked.
Italian Dishes · New Favorite · Soups and Stews

Italian Wedding Soup

Welcome to 2022! Italian Wedding Soup was on the menu after seeing this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, IowaGirlEats. I had the ingredients on hand and needed to take a meal to my daughter after giving birth to my 5th grandbaby. Be careful that you don’t eat all for the tiny meatballs when they come out of the oven. They are delicious! Next time I would make a double or triple batch of the meatballs, so I would have them in the freezer when I want to make the soup. Serve with a hearty Italian bread.

Italian Wedding Soup

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced (~1 cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced (~1 cup)
  • 1 large shallot or small onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 cups chicken stock
  • 1 parmesan cheese wedge rind (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dry gluten free orzo
  • 3oz fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • For the Pork Meatballs (makes ~75 meatballs):
    • 1/2 cup small-torn pieces of soft gluten free white bread (crusts removed first)
    • 1/4 cup finely grated onion + juices
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
    • 1 egg, whisked
    • 2 cloves garlic, microplaned, pressed, or finely minced
    • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • Pepper, to taste
    • 1lb ground pork (I used Italian Sausage)
DIRECTIONS:
  1. For the Meatballs: Preheat oven to 400 degrees then line a half sheet pan with parchment paper or non stick sprayed foil. To a large bowl add torn bread and grated onion then mix to combine and let sit for 1 minute. Add parmesan cheese, egg, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper then stir to combine. Crumble ground pork over the top then use your hands to mix until just combined.
  2. Use a teaspoon to portion meatballs out then gently roll in your hands and place on prepared baking sheet – meatballs can be very close together but not touching. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Set meatballs aside – can be done a few days ahead of time.
  3. Meanwhile, heat extra virgin olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, and shallot/onion, season with salt and pepper, then saute until the vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes. If the vegetables are taking too long to soften, I like to add a glug of extra chicken broth to the pot then place a lid on top and let them steam for a few minutes.
  4. Add chicken stock and parmesan cheese rind (if using) then turn heat up to high to bring liquid to a boil. Add pasta then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer until pasta is al dente, 20 minutes or so. Add cooked meatballs then stir to combine. Bring soup back up to a bubble (may need to turn heat up a touch) then add spinach and cook until wilted and tender, 2-3 minutes.
  5. Whisk egg and parmesan cheese together very well in a small dish. Give the soup a couple of big stirs to get the liquid swirling in one direction then slowly stream in egg mixture. Continue to stir to create small threads of egg (NOTE: the eggs are NOT curdled, they are COOKED – like egg drop soup!) Taste then add more salt and/or pepper if desired. Let soup sit and thicken for 10-15 minutes before removing parmesan cheese rind, scooping into bowls, and serving.

Recipe from Iowagirleats

Beverages · Czech Heritage and Dishes · Holidays

Czech Hot Mulled Wine (Svařák)

Hot Mulled Wine reminds me of Christmas, Madrigal dinners, and travel. The aroma of the simmering wine is wonderful and sipping it is even better. While my paternal line is Czech, mulled wine was not a tradition in our home.

Wishing you a Veselé Vánoce (Merry Christmas) and Šťastný Nový Rok! (Happy New Year)

Ingredients:
  • 2 bottles of red wine (we use Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 5-6 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-8 whole cloves
  • 4 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4-6 star anise
  • zest of one tangerine (use fruit)
  • zest of one lemon (discard fruit)
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • tangerine slices from zested tangerine
  • 2 apples, sliced (we used green apples)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 cup apple cider (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. Czech Rum (I used Cointreau)

Combine all ingredients in a simmering pot. Simmer until hot. Serve.

There are folks who ladle it into a cup, fruits and all, but we prefer to strain it and just serve the hot wine with a cinnamon stick in the cup as a garnish.

It is at it’s best when served immediately after mulling but this delicious drink will keep fairly hot even when taken off the heat for about 30 minutes. The leftover mulled wine (if you have any) can be reheated in a saucepan on the stovetop. If you wish to keep some for the next day, allow it to cool completely and then pour into glass bottle or mason jar, closing tightly and refrigerating.

Recipe from TresBohemes.com

Casseroles · Family · Family Favorites · Gluten Free · Vegetables · Vegetarian

Irish Potato Casserole

Irish Potato Casserole is a favorite recipe shared with me by my sister-in-law, Betty, many years ago. I have served it often as a side with Prime Rib or with Baked Ham with many compliments. This is a wonderful potato dish that you can prepare the day before and have ready for the oven before your guests arrive. Over the years, I’ve substituted low-fat cream cheese and sour cream with equally good results. It’s a winner, winner chicken dinner kind of recipe!

I’ve shared a photo of the casserole before baking.  Every time I make this, I am in such a hurry to serve the meal, that I forget to take a picture after.  The after picture would be very similar but with a browned top….never said I was a professional blogger!

This Christmas we will again, have the Irish Potato Casserole with Prime Rib and other family favorites!

IRISH POTATO CASSEROLE

8 to 10 medium potatoes, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sour cream
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt paprika

  • Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain and mash.
  • Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add potatoes and all other ingredients (except paprika) and beat until well combined.
  • Spoon into lightly buttered casserole and sprinkle with paprika.
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before baking. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
Desserts · Family Favorites · Holidays · Italian Dishes · New Favorite · New Traditions

Pears in Red Wine Sauce

During the Pandemic lockdown, the girls and I joined our local winery, InVINtions, for their Zoom Italian Cooking classes with Chef Lucas.  We made many wonderful dishes with Chef Lucas, and Pears in Red Wine Sauce was a delicious surprise.  We didn’t have great expectations for this recipe, but trust me, it was one of many fantastic dishes!

When the holidays are upon us and we are tired of dishes that are too sweet or too rich, this is the perfect answer.  It is a beautiful dish to serve your guests or to enjoy all by yourself!

PEARS IN RED WINE SAUCE

6-8 Pears
1 Bottle Red Wine
8 Ounces (1 cup) of Sugar
3 Cinnamon Sticks
6 Cloves

  • In a pan, combine all the ingredients.
  • Cook over low heat for about 1 hour.
  • If you desire a thicker sauce, remove the pears after
    cooked and mix one teaspoon of corn starch with a 1/4
    cup water and mix with the wine.
  • Serve hot or cold. They are delicious warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! You can store in the fridge for about a month.

Recipe from Lucas Migliorelli

Cookies and Bars · Czech Heritage and Dishes · Holidays · New Favorite

Slovak Honey Cookies

Czech and Slovak heritage is of great interest to me, given my Father’s family roots.  Late 2020, I participated in ‘Czech & Slovak Christmas’ offered through Global Slovakia Academy.  It was a wonderful class, offering education of the Slovak advent and holidays, celebrations and food.

The Slovak Honey Cookies are traditional Christmas treats and I had to try them.  They are very similar to our traditional Gingerbread cookies, using honey instead of Molasses.  They are absolutely delicious and a new favorite for the holidays.

SLOVAK HONEY COOKIES

3 cups (400 g) plain flour
1 cup (140 g) icing sugar
4 tbsp (60 g) butter softened
3 eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 tsp of gingerbread spice mix
3 tbsp clear honey
  • Preheat your oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Line a baking tray with paper.
  • Sift together the flour, icing sugar, soda bicarbonate and spices.
  • Add butter and honey to the dry ingredients along with the eggs, and mix well to form a soft dough.
  • Wrap in a cling film and leave overnight in the refrigerator to chill.
  • Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of half a centimeter.
  • Cut out with your desired cookie cutter and place well apart on the baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Decorate with icing if you wish.

ICING

1 egg white
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice.

  • Whisk the ingredients together until stiff peaks form.
  • Add more sugar if needed and have patience.
  • Spoon your icing into a sandwich bag, twist the bag tightly until the icing wedges into one corner, and then poke or cut a tiny hole into the corner. Make sure your cookies are completely cool before beginning to decorate.
GINGERBREAD SPICE MIX

10g ground cinnamon
4g whole cloves
3g fresh ground nutmeg
3g cardamom pods
3g star anise

  • Crush the cardamom pods, star anise and cloves using a pestle and mortar. Ground in a coffee grinder and add to the ground cinnamon.
New Favorite · Soups and Stews

Roasted Butternut Squash & Bacon Soup

Butternut Squash is a fall favorite. Roasting the squash for this delicious soup sounded amazing, and it was. I did not roast the Squash with bacon but chose to keep it a bit healthier, only adding bacon bits to the final product. It is delicious with goat cheese but I also tried it with shredded Monterey Jack (shown below) and it was equally as good. Think of this soup as a spoonful of autumn in your mouth. Yum!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Bacon Soup

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, diced (I did not add bacon to the roasted squash)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock, or more, to taste
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.
  2. Place butternut squash, onion, bell pepper and bacon in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Add olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to combine.
  3. Place into oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until butternut squash is tender, stirring at halftime.*
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  5. Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add butternut squash mixture and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in chicken stock and puree with an immersion blender.
  6. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add more chicken stock as needed until desired consistency is reached.
  7. Serve immediately, garnished with bacon, goat cheese and chives, if desired.

Recipe from Damndelicious.net

Family Favorites · New Favorite · Salads · Vegetarian

Lemon Garlic Kale Salad

Lemon Garlic Kale Salad is a favorite salad, especially when I had fresh kale from my garden but it is wonderful with kale from the grocery store, as well. My good friend, Maribeth, introduced this recipe to me a few years ago and it continues to be a favorite.

Lemon Garlic Kale Salad

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 cups almond slices, toasted
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon Juice (2-4 lemons)
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat side of a knife, peeled and left whole
  • 10 to 12 ounces washed and dried kale leaves, thick stems removed
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
DIRECTIONS:
  1. In a toaster oven or oven, toast almonds until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a bowl, combine lemon juice and 1 heaping teaspoon salt.
  3. Slowly whisk in olive oil.
  4. Add garlic cloves and set aside to steep.
  5. Working in batches, cut the kale into thin ribbons: gather a large handful of leaves, bunch together tightly, and use the other hand to slice into 1/4 inch thick pieces. This need not be done very precisely or neatly; the idea is to end up with a kind of slaw. (Recipe can be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Keep kale and dressing refrigerated separately.)
  6. Place chopped kale in a very large bowl. Sprinkle with almonds and then cheese.
  7. Remove and discard garlic cloves from dressing. Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste for dressin and salt and add more as needed, tossing to coat thoroughly. Serve within 1 hour.

NOTE: I typically make a much smaller salad. The dressing keeps well in the refrigerator. I have also minced the garlic and added to the dressing.

New York Times Lemon Garlic Kale Salad