Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pecan sandies will make your family go nuts

Like many people, I get into food ruts where I make the same things over and over again. Chex mix and sweet potatoes at Christmas; ham and asparagus for Easter; turkey and pea salad for Thanksgiving.  I have so many wonderful recipes, but too often I fall back on a small group of favorites and neglect many other great ideas.

This year, my youngest son was interested in baking cookies and making candy, so I pulled out some books and pondered various options. Sugar cookies -- of course. Peanut butter balls -- my husband's favorite. Bourbon balls -- why not? And then I came across a recipe for Pecan Sandies.

This is one of the easiest cookies to make, and you use common ingredients you probably already have on hand. My grandmother and mother made these often when I was a child. I have no idea why I got away from making them, but I pulled out the recipe, set to work and within an hour had a batch of sandies behind me. And my family went nuts (ha, I mean, pecans!). Even my daughter, who is not a pecan fan, gobbled these up. I've made two batches (of about 45 cookies each) and I think there are four of them in a container in the kitchen. Try this recipe; it is easy and basically foolproof!

2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
Powdered sugar, for dredging (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add half the flour and mix well, then the remaining flour and mix completely. Add the pecans. This batter will be very stiff. Form the cookies into small balls or fingers (2 inches long) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (the butter in this dish will keep them from sticking). Bake for 15-20 minutes until the bottom of the cookies brown slightly.

Be careful with this cookie -- there is no leavening so they do not rise. The tops do not brown. Just follow the directions and check the bottoms after 15 minutes. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Put the powdered sugar in a small bowl and turn the cookies around in the sugar. Or put the sugar in a small bag and shake the cookies, a couple at a time, inside the bag. Store in a covered container. This recipe makes 40-45 cookies.

This recipe is simply fantastic!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Two more winners!

I'm a huge fan of regional cookbooks, and I am thrilled to give away two copies of a book that also helps raise money for Speedway Children's Charities.  I drew names for a cookbook giveaway today, with the help of my youngest son, Miles.

Congratulations to Angel Cox and Lana Kennedy who were drawn as the winners for the Junior League of Bristol's cookbook, Start Your Engines: Cooking the way it oughta be.  If you want to see all the recipes from that book that I have featured, click here.

And the Junior League of Bristol TN/VA has copies of this book available for anyone who is interested. They are $15 each; for details on how to order, click here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Many thanks to readers

I am humbled and amazed to notice today that my blog has more than 49,000 views (49,923 to be exact, as of 9:02 a.m.)   I started this blog nearly two years ago as an outlet to share the recipes I enjoy making.  I am deeply appreciative of all of  you who keep coming back to browse, share, and learn.

I am a huge fan of the Junior League of Bristol's cookbook, Start Your Ovens. Tomorrow (Aug. 31, 2012) I will draw names to give away a free copy of the book. Want to win?  Just post below asking to be entered.  And learn more about this great book by reading the recipes labeled "Start Your Ovens" in the listing at right.

Many thanks to all of you, and good luck in the drawing on Friday!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Something beautiful from the beach

This cheery platter is one of my favorites, and it came from a favorite spot.  I bought it six or seven years ago at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center on General Booth Boulevard in Virginia Beach, Va.

The aquarium is famous for its diverse sea life, and it was a regular fun spot for my children to visit.  Typically I avoid museum gift shops -- the offerings are often overpriced or cheesy, but in this case I wanted to support the aquarium and I couldn't take my eyes off the platter.  The circular fish pattern in green, blue and red is still one of my favorites -- a go-to addition for any special gathering.  Happy Wednesday, friends!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Parmesan chicken tenders

I turned leftover potato chip crumbs into dinner last week, using my mom’s parmesan chicken as inspiration.  I crushed the crumbs up, added some panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, then used that as a coating to make homemade chicken tenders.  The results were delicious and I was glad to use items I already had on hand.

Parmesan chicken tenders

2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cut in 2 inch cubes

½ cup potato chip crumbs (mine were sour cream and onion)

½ cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Combine the chips, breadcrumbs and cheese in a bowl, stirring to blend.  I did not add additional salt and pepper to the coating, but I did salt and pepper the chicken pieces before dredging them in the coating.  Shake off excess coating and place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick coating.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning after about 10 minutes. They will brown nicely and look like this when they are done:

My husband and youngest son loved them!  This is a super simple dinner that could be made with ingredients on hand. I added broccoli and rice and called dinner done! (Using the fine China!)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Start Your Ovens 2012 giveaway

I am a huge fan of regional cookbooks, especially when the recipes give insight into the place and people who cook and eat these dishes. Last year I held a contest to give away a copy of  “Start Your Ovens, Cooking the Way it Ought'a Be," a collection by the Junior League of Bristol VA/TN. Bristol Motor Speedway owner and philanthropist Bruton Smith underwrote the second printing of this book.

I sought an obtained permission from the Junior League of Bristol to reprint some of the recipes and to give away a copy of the book. And again this year, this promotion is strictly for fun and aimed at highlighting delicious local recipes. I’ll give away a copy of Start Your Ovens, in celebration of the Junior League’s efforts and to coincide with the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This book appeals to race fans, food enthusiasts and anyone who loves to collect cookbooks that tell the story of a region. It is chock full of recipes from famous NASCAR drivers and their spouses, local restaurants and historical observations about Bristol Motor Speedway: The World’s Fastest Half Mile.
To enter for the prize giveaway, you can do the following:

** Leave a comment on this post asking to be registered;

** Go to Google Friend Connect and add me, then leave a comment on this post saying you have added me;

** Follow me on Twitter (@FineKettleFood), then leave a comment on this post saying you are following me;

** Follow me on Twitter (@FineKettleFood) and retweet this post with the hashtag #startyourovens; or

** Like my food page on Facebook (Fine Kettle Food) and post on the page to be entered.

You will be entered once for each action -- just be sure to post and let me know.
The contest will end Aug. 31 and I will draw for a winner who will receive a copy of the book by mail. And check out some of the great recipes from the book, tagged on this blog under "Start Your Ovens."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Terrific discovery in Bulls Gap

What a happy accident that I stumbled across Yoder's Country Market in Bulls Gap, TN, this week. I was way off my travel route, when I pulled into this parking lot and went in to ask directions. I was greeted by friendly staff, and a delight for the eyes (and stomach!)

The market is Cracker Barrel meets Trader Joe's -- country charm and quirkiness, with exceptional products you can't easily find at your "regular" grocer. The shelves were full of various jams, jellies, nuts and candy. And there was a line five deep at the deli, where customers considered various meats, cheeses, chicken salad, and more. I was amazed at the variety and selection of baked goodies/sweets, and the rows of fresh-baked breads.

The staff was gracious with directions, and a fellow shopper helped lead me back in the right direction. Truth is, the right direction is to beat a path back to this market's front door. I am already planning a return visit with my family, for some lunch and a fun shopping spree.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Grilled steaks for the weekend

With Memorial Day three days away, I thought I would post a favorite grilling recipe to share. Second in popularity only to the Don Farris marinade (a terrific two day marinade for London broil), this is the way my dad usually grilled rib-eyes when I was a child.

You’ll need:
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

I used New York strips for this recipe, but my favorite steak is a rib-eye. This marinade will make anything taste good. Mix all the ingredients in a glass dish, then add the steaks and turn to coat.

Let the steaks marinate for a couple of hours or overnight, refrigerated.

Grill them to desired doneness – we love ours about medium, which takes about 5-6 minutes per side. Practice makes perfect, so get cracking!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

They had the skills to pay the bills

Simply put, the Beastie Boys are one of my all-time favorite groups, and I have been torn up over the death last week  of Adam Yauch (MCA, at right above). I remember the rush of excitement my friends and I felt over the "Ill Communication" album (1986) and dancing to Brass Monkey at one of the first big, high school parties my parents let me attend. I can’t begin to name a favorite song – I love them all and can probably sing or rap the lines to any of them. Sabotage; Hey Ladies; Paul Revere, Hold it now, hit it; Shake your rump; No Sleep Til Brooklyn; Girls; Sure Shot, Body Movin’…. The list goes on and on. The Beasties were funny and smart, a fact that always set them apart to me. (Remember Boomin' Granny?)

If you are a fan, you will love this:

Yes, along with T-shirts, albums, mugs and stickers, you can buy a set of poseable dolls of the group. Sure, the price is steep ($750) but the money goes to charity. Looking at photos and listening to various songs has made me smile – this post about the dolls literally made me laugh out loud. This group’s music has always made me feel happy -- when I was 16 and today, as a mother of two teens!

Here is a great take on Yauch's life from Rolling Stone: It explains how the band evolved, their lifetime friendship, efforts to raise awareness about social problems, and all the fun they had along the way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

2012: Hannah's junior prom

My beautiful daughter enjoyed prom on Saturday; her family had a terrific time seeing her and her handsome date all dolled up. I sure do love this beautiful girl!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Barbecue chicken soup

For all the recipes I post on this blog, the truth is this: It's rare that I cook from a specific recipe. Almost always I improvise something on the fly, based on my preferences and what I have on hand. Like many of my recipes, I came up with this dish after pulling things together from the cabinet and freezer.

But this soup, with tender chicken, plenty of veggies, and smokiness from some added barbecue sauce, is a keeper! If you love Brunswick stew, you will want to try this one, too. Most cooks probably have these ingredients on hand at any time, so consider this dish when you need a new recipe and you don't want to go to the store.

Barbecue chicken soup

3 chicken breasts, diced
16 ounce bag frozen, mixed vegetables
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 quart water
¼ cup barbecue sauce
½ teaspoon crushed basil
Salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, brown the chicken pieces in oil. Place the chicken in a 6-quart slow cooker.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Cook on low for 8 hours.
This dish had a great flavor, thanks to the barbecue sauce and the crushed basil. I grew fresh basil last summer, and then dried the leaves for use all winter. Be sure to plant some basil this year, so you can enjoy it fresh all summer (and so you can dry the leaves when the weather turns cold.) Here’s how to harvest and dry basil, step by step.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spinach: The incredible shrinking vegetable

I grew up watching Popeye fight with Bluto, romance Olive Oyl, and (YUCK) eat spinach from a can. Don’t get me wrong – I love spinach, but canned spinach is a crime against vegetables. How canned spinach gave Popeye such pep is beyond me. The best spinach is always fresh; in a pinch (or a cooked recipe) frozen spinach will do. I would have to be starving to death to eat the canned stuff.

On Easter, I brought home an enormous bag of fresh spinach from my parents’ garden. My dad picked the leaves on Sunday morning in Norfolk and I was putting the bag in our fridge in Bristol by dinnertime. We have had spinach salad and sautéed spinach all week. Spinach is high in fiber, a terrific source of iron, and contains antioxidants that protect eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach commonly contains pesticides -- bugs, moths and other critters love it, too. Eat spinach you have grown yourself or that you know was not treated with pesticides.

Wash spinach is a large basin with plenty of water. The leaves tend to be sandy, so wash in at least two changes of water. If you have a salad spinner, this is a great contraption for drying the leaves. Spinach shrinks dramatically when cooked, so be sure to prep plenty. An interesting fact: Spinach is native to central and southwestern Asia.

Here is a simple and delicious method I love that make great use of fresh spinach.

Sautéed spinach
1 teaspoon oil or butter
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
2 quarts fresh spinach, washed and torn in pieces

Heat the oil or butter over medium heat, in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped garlic. Once the pan is hot, add the spinach. If there is more spinach than pan, wait a minute or two until the spinach wilts and add more. You don’t have to cook spinach to death. Just warm it until it wilts, add salt and pepper and serve. Serves 3-4 (or one hungry husband who loves spinach!)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday fun: Back to the 1980s

I've been swamped with work lately, and I've neglected new posts for this blog. Since it's Friday, and the weather is gorgeous, I thought it would be fun to post some of my favorite songs from the late 1980s-early 1990s.

One of my all-time favorites is Let the Music Play by Shannon. I remember dancing to this at a homecoming dance in high school!

No one can resist the bass in this one by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock: It Takes Two.

And here's one from Bobby Brown's early solo career: Every Little Step. I sang every word while working on this post. This song is from 1991, just a smidge out of the 80s!

Happy Friday, friends! Get outside and enjoy this beautiful weather!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quick trip to Charlottesville, Va.

My husband, youngest son, and I enjoyed a quick trip to Charlottesville, Va., last month. The trip was centered around a doctor's appointment, but we squeezed in some sightseeing and a couple of meals, too! Of course, Charlottesville is home to Thomas Jefferson's masterpiece, the University of Virginia. This also is the town where we had our mini-honeymoon in 2006, and has been a favorite travel spot for us for many years.

We dearly love Maharaja Indian Restaurant and made a stop there long enough to pick up some takeout for dinner. We love the entire menu, but we opted to split an order of vegetable korma, some pappadum (fried lentil wafers) and a couple of samosas (meat and vegetable filled pastries). The food was terrific, as always. Here’s a link to their menu, if you are inclined to visit. Vegetable korma is an easy, delicious recipe to make at home. Here is a version from

We also made a quick stop to one of our favorite stores, Foods of All Nations. I picked up some Indian spice mixes, a box of super crispy rice crackers, and a jar of olive tapenade. Of course we wandered through the extensive coffee and tea offerings, fresh produce, overwhelming hot sauces, and the extensive seafood selections. I could spend a grand in that store every time I walk through the doors! Of course, on our budget, I usually drop about 20 bucks.

After the doctor's appointment, we enjoyed a casual lunch at Guadalajara’s, before heading back to Bristol. This restaurant has terrific Mexican offerings, full of fresh ingredients. Their refried beans are something special – a bit spicy and silky smooth. I enjoyed chicken tacos that were fresh and tasty. Robert enjoyed a lunch combo plate and Miles had his go-to favorite, beef enchiladas. All were terrific!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sweets for the Sweet

Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol, TN, is accepting orders for giant cupcakes as part of its second annual Sweets for the Sweet fundraiser. Each cupcake underwrites the cost of patient care expenses, including medications and medical supplies. A donation of $50 will include a hand-delivered cupcake on Valentine’s Day to the person you choose. Also included is a personal message and a note saying a gift has been made to Healing Hands Health Center in their honor. The cupcakes are designed and donated by Blackbird Bakery in Bristol, Va.

This is a wonderful way to deliver a delicious gift to someone, while helping a local medical outreach project by giving uninsured workers access charitable health care. Healing Hands serves residents in Bristol TN/VA, and Blountville, Bluff City and Piney Flats, TN. For details about Healing Hands, click here. For more information on how to donate to the cause, click here.

The deadline to order a Valentine cupcake is Feb. 9, 2012, and quantities are limited. For more information, contact Helen Scott at (423) 652-2516 or

Friday, January 27, 2012

Some more fun for a Friday

To be clear, I am not using Jackson Hewitt for my tax preparation, but I do think their ads are some of the funniest I have ever seen. We all feel joy, plain and simple, when are taxes are behind us (and especially if some cash is coming back).

So enjoy these spots: This is Steve and This is Sarah

Hope these make you smile -- it's Friday, y'all!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seriously hot wings in Blacksburg

I had the greatest time last month visiting Blacksburg, Va., and the campus of Virginia Tech, my alma mater. Blacksburg is such a fun, vibrant town and it was a joy to give my husband and youngest son a quick tour of academic buildings, the Drillfield, my old dorm (shout to Slusher Wing), the Duck Pond, Lane Stadium and more.

It had been about six months since I was last there, but the town keeps changing and growing. The Lyric Theatre looks like new. There’s a Moe's (Welcome to Moe's!) downtown. And new dorms and academic buildings keep springing up everywhere.

Some places you can count on when you visit town – Top of the Stairs, Mike’s Grill, Souvlaki, and The Cellar, which is where we ate lunch on our trip.

The Cellar is located along Main Street in Blacksburg, Va., just a couple blocks off the Virginia Tech campus. Locals know it without explanation, but anyone can find it with ease. From the student center, walk about three blocks toward downtown – you will smell baking cheese and often see a line out the door. This was a favorite late night spot when I was an undergraduate at Tech. It is a tradition in downtown Blacksburg, one that has been updated with a new interior and street level entrance for the main dining area. I missed the cellar entrance, but I was transported in time once I got inside. The Cellar is known for its extensive beer offerings, and for being a casual fun place to eat. I spent many nights there, socializing with friends over Killian’s Red and munching on pizza.

During our December trip, we enjoyed several menu items, but we sre still talking about how hot the wings were (and laughing at me over how many I ate!) The wings are the first thing on the menu, but be forewarned – I LOVE hot foods, but these will burn you up. They were so hot, they hurt, but I can’t stop thinking about them.

If you are familiar with Blacksburg, there is no need for me to explain my fondness for this charming town. If you have never been, consider visiting this friendly, energetic place. It’s full of activity from the university, and anchored by a committed group of locals.

There's a huge number of terrific restaurants and watering holes in Blacksburg -- too many to mention here. Go visit and find your own favorites.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spectacular shrimp

Last week, in celebration of my youngest son’s outstanding report card, I fixed this version of Sautéd Shrimp – courtesy of Tidewater on the Halfshell, Fine Virginia Recipes. This cookbook is a compilation of recipes from the Junior League of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va., my hometown. It is a simple, delicious preparation for shrimp, one of my favorite seafoods. The recipe makes a lot – we enjoyed leftovers for lunch the following day.

Most "fresh" shrimp are actually thawed from frozen (as the ones I bought were). I purchased them deveined, but I did the peeling myself. Serve this dish with small or medium egg noodles for a special treat.

Sautéd Shrimp
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, diced
¼ cup diced parsley
½ cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large wok or skillet. Add mushrooms and onions and sauté until tender. Add parsley and wine, stir. Gradually add shrimp, season with salt, garlic and pepper. Stir and cook for several minutes, just until shrimp are pink. Serve immediately over rice or noodles. Serves 6-8.

I used a large milkglass bowl to serve the shrimp. Outstanding report cards necessitate special serving pieces!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A new twist on an old tradition

For countless years I've eaten black-eyed peas, cornbread and ham on New Year's Day. Sometimes we add collards, sometimes we eat rice, sometimes we add biscuits. But the peas, ham and cornbread are holiday staples.

Until this year.

My youngest son balks at eating black-eyed peas and my teenagers weren't here to eat. It had become pretty clear that I was the one who aimed to eat a pot of peas by myself. What kind of luck will that bring?

So I decided to change gears. I saw this black-eye pea dip recipe posted a few days ago by Ree Drummond, who writes the wildly popular The Pioneer Woman blog. It was spicy and creamy downright delicious and is destined to become a new tradition for my family. Even my youngest loved it!

I used fat-free sour cream and fat-free cheese. I normally detest the fat-free cheese, but when it is cooked, it does a pretty fine job. Try this dip with tortilla chips or wheat crackers. And if you use fat-free ingredients, the dish is guilt free. Happy New Year, friends!