Get Everyone Cooking!

The kitchen is the heart of the home.

Lemon Tea Cookies cover picure

January 30, 2016


Lemon Tea Cookies

I made this recipe* for the first time this week and I really loved it.  The cookies were simple to make, inexpensive and pantry-friendly (meaning I didn’t have to buy a laundry list of specialty items for one single recipe).  Most of all, they taste great for any season of the year; light and refreshing to beat the summer heat and the brightness of the lemon give’s one hope for warmer weather in the dead of winter.

They’re delicious plain or you can mix up a glaze of confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and wee bit of vanilla extract to dip them for extra flavor and eye appeal.

Link for printable recipe: Lemon Tea Cookies Recipe Card


I made the batter with a handheld electric mixer and a medium-size mixing bowl.  As always, I take a few extra minutes to prep my ingredients.  Make sure the butter has had time to naturally soften at room temperature.  It will make mixing a lot easier.

As I always do, I created a “Mise en place” (French for “putting in place”).  This is one of the best ways to “error proof” yourself and save lots of frustration.  There’s nothing worse than watching something bake and realizing you forgot to add baking powder or some other key ingredient.

Lemon Tea Cookies Mise en place

Prepped ingredients, in order of addition from left to right.  The baking powder, baking soda and salt are combined.  In the background is my Better Homes and Garden cookbook that I adapted the recipe from (see footnote below).

Recipe Yields about 48 cookies


2 tsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup whole milk

½ cup butter (room temperature)
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
¼ tsp. salt

Optional glaze:

2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and milk. Set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl beat the butter 30 seconds until smooth, beat 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.
  3. Add the milk mixture, remaining flour and beat until thoroughly blended.

    Lemon Tea Cookie dough

    The finished dough

  4. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an non-greased baking sheet, spacing 2” apart.

    Lemon Tea Cookies dough going on baking sheet

    A small scoop would work great, too.

  5. Bake @ 350F, 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.
  6. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.
    Lemon Tea Cookies cooling after 1st bake
  7. Eat plain or make the optional glaze. To make the glaze, mix the lemon juice, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Dip the cooled cookies, one at a time, just enough to coat the cookie tops. Set on wire rack until glaze hardens.
    Lemon Tea Cookies on cooling rack after glazing

 8. Enjoy!


*Recipe is adapted from “New Cook Book” by Better Homes and Gardens® copyright 1989 by Meredith Corporation p.111



January 27, 2016

no comments

Planning the Garden: Part 1

The snow is flying and the winds are blowing cold, but the days on the calendar are steadily marching towards February.  It’s time to think about this year’s vegetable garden.  I firmly believe that the more we understand how our food is grown the better we become at cooking great dishes. So, if nothing else but to get us motivated, I’ve taken a couple of hours this afternoon to jot some thoughts down regarding Planning the Garden for this upcoming season.

This year marks my 25th home garden season, and for that I count my blessings.  As a pure amateur backyard gardener I probably break lots of rules, but I’ve found that what works best for me is to keep things simple, spend a little time to do some pre-planning each year, to not obsess over mistakes along the way, for the many successes far outweigh them.

I used to try to grow anything and everything, but I’ve found that keeping things simple makes most sense.  I also factor in varieties of vegetables that can be purchased locally at the various farmers’ markets.  Each year my objective is to enjoy as much freshness during the season and to preserve as much food for the off-season months.

I pretty much follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle for the yearly garden:

Plan it out before the season, including time to read up and study the things you are considering.  The tools for this phase are books, online website, our brain, pen and paper;

Do what is in the plan.  Soil preparation, planting, watering, harvesting;

Check means to evaluate along the way. What is working well?  What is not going well?  Make notes of what to do more of and what to not do or change;

Act on the changes you see and incorporate back into next year’s Plan.

I’m in Zone 5, meaning that even the early cold loving plants won’t go into the ground for a couple of more months yet, but given that I plan to start a lot of my plants indoors, it’s already time to get to work!

To get things started, I’ve now made a list of what I plan to put in the ground.  I then look to find out the recommended planting dates for each type of plant.  Some of them I know by heart, but I still get online and check for planting dates for my area .  If you are a beginner, here is an internet search engine phrase that might be helpful for you. “garden planning calendar {your state name or geography}”.

When I first started out, and for many years to follow, I bought all my plants at local garden centers, simply planting on the recommended planting dates.  These days I have started to plan more from seeds, meaning I have to give myself plenty of time to procure any seeds that I need and get them started.  It is very easy to procrastinate during the winter months!  For me, I know it’s time to get planning when I start thinking about getting our taxes done.  With this first step complete, I feel more motivated for this Spring and feel good that I’m getting organized.

Garden Plan pic

Yes, I’m a spreadsheet geek, but this is how I keep everything straight. 

My next steps are to make sure I get my seeds ordered.  (I have been learning to save seeds from plants, but still getting mixed results.  More to follow on that in upcoming entries).

Tips For Planning: If I could be bold to give advice to anyone new to vegetable gardening, I would say to do your homework.  Read up on the crops you want to plant.  Can they grow in my climate? How much space do they need?  Do they vine or grow on the ground?

Even if you only decide to plant a couple of tomato plants in containers, have fun with this!  The satisfaction of eating something you grew is one of life’s pure pleasures.

I’ll be updating the garden throughout the season, from planting to canning.  Enjoy!






photo 4

January 8, 2016

no comments

Simple Tomato Soup

Happy New Year, everyone!  I want to kick it off with a simple classic: Tomato Soup.  Like so many others, I grew up on this staple and to this day it’s usually on our dinner table a couple of times a month, especially in the fall and winter months.  In the cold Midwest winters, finding fresh produce is not much of an option, so I’ve developed this recipe to try to make a high quality soup with as many pantry items as possible.

This is a very easy and straightforward recipe.  One pot, a few utensils, and your ingredients are all you need.  You can get this to the table in minutes; great for families with busy schedules.  No chopping, no straining, or thickening with flours, I hope you enjoy this simplified version of an American Classic.


Yield: just under 2 quarts or 60 oz.


28oz. canned tomato puree (crushed work OK in a pinch)

28oz. low-sodium chicken stock

¾ tsp. dried Italian seasoning mix*

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. onion powder

¼ tsp. garlic powder

A pinch of ground black pepper

¼ cup heavy cream

*Any seasoning mix of your choosing will work.  I use a mix called “Bread Dippin’ Blend” by Changing Seasonings that you can find online HERE.


  1. Measure out the heavy cream into a small pitcher or container. This will give it a few minutes to lose some of its chill.
  2. Add the puree, chicken stock, and all the dry seasonings to a stock pot.
    photo 1

    Enter a caption

    “Everybody in the pool”, except the heavy cream.


  3. Bring to a steady, slow simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes once it comes to a 2
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Remove the pot from the hot burner.  Let it set for a few minutes.
  6. Add the heavy cream and stir well to incorporate.

    photo 3

    Instant creaminess.

  7. Garnish (optional) , portion and



Seasoned croutons, crackers, sour cream, a few basil or parsley leaves, or a drizzle of olive oil all make great garnish choices.

Try adding some cooked, cheese or meat-filled tortellini for an even heartier soup. Of course, grilled-cheese sandwiches make the best accompaniment!

Other Tidbits:
For more information on tomato puree brands, I found this taste test by Cook’s Illustrated.


“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” -Julia Child

December 30, 2015


I’m Back

I’ve been away from this site for many months.  Life’s priorities, job changes, and other activities have taken a large chunk of my energy and time.  But, I do plan to return to begin posting here very soon.

I do plan to continue to work to develop this site to be friendly to home cooks (and hopefully, aspiring home cooks!) for not only recipes, but simple “how-to’s” of menu planning, pantry stocking, home gardening and other fun stuff.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing well!  Looking forward to spending some more time here.



March 14, 2015

1 comment

Shrimp Étouffée


It’s a challenge to be a shellfish lover living in the Midwest, where finding good-quality and reasonably-priced seafood at the local markets is not common.  When I can find a deal on wild caught shrimp or lobster, I will occasionally purchase.  So, when I have some on hand, I want to make it somewhat special and appreciate it.  This week, I spotted some frozen Gulf shrimp, and I remembered a cookbook on my bookshelf that contained a recipe for Louisiana Étouffée, the classic dish of smothered shellfish served over rice.

I flipped open the pages to Emeril Lagasse’s 1996 book titled “Louisiana Real and Rustic”. I found the recipe and began a short list of ingredients to get ready for a meatless Friday dinner.  With a little further reading and thought, I decided to make a couple of modifications to it.  First, I made a quick shrimp stock from the shrimp shells, rather than using plain water as the original recipe called for.  I wanted to address the fact that I am often confined to using frozen shrimp from a chain store and wanted to try to get as much flavor out of those shrimp as I could.  Second, I added a teaspoon of paprika to enhance the sauce a bit and removed ½ teaspoon of salt.   Other than that, I have left this recipe alone.    It yields a lot of flavor with very simple ingredients.  To me, that is exactly what home cooking is all about.  Bon Temps!


2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
2-3 tsp chopped garlic

6 ounces unsalted butter

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika

2 cups shrimp stock* or plain water

6 Tbsp. chopped parsley
½ cup chopped green onions

Ingredient prep:

Etouffee Mise En Place for dry and butter

Mise en place, “everything in its place”. (Shrimp and stock not shown here).

Chop the “trinity” of celery, onions, and green bell pepper.

Chop the garlic.

Combine the flour, salt, cayenne, and paprika in a bowl.

Chop the parsley and green onions.

Measure out the butter.

(I lay everything on a sheet pan next to the stove in order of addition):

Etouffee Order of Addition


Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat.

Add the “trinity” of celery, onions, and bell pepper.  Saute on medium heat for 10-12 minutes or until tender.

Add the garlic, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes.

Add the shrimp.  Cook until pink, about 4-5 minutes.

Etouffee shrimp added

Combine and whisk the stock/water with the flour/salt and cayenne mixture, then add to the skillet.  The sauce will start to thicken.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 6-8 minutes.

Etouffee Thickening sauce

Taste the sauce.   Adjust seasonings to your liking.

Add the parsley and green onions.  Cook another 1-2 minutes.

Etouffee green onions are added

Serve over rice.

Etouffee served over rice

Ladle over some cooked white rice. Add a little extra green onions and parsley. Enjoy!

Notes and References

*About the stock: I purchased Shell-On Shrimp.  I made a simple stock ahead of time by peeling and deveining them and returning them to the refrigerator.   The shells were combined with 1.5 quarts of water, ¾ tsp of salt, a pinch of black pepper, 1 bay leaf, ¼ cup rough chopped onion, and ¼ cup rough chopped celery.  The pot was simmered for about 45 minutes and the stock strained.  Extra stock can be frozen for later use.

Recipe adapted from Louisiana Real and Rustic, by Emeril Lagasse, William Morrow Publishers, New York, 1996



The photo taken when Emeril signed our copy of “Louisiana Real and Rustic”, sometime in late 1990’s.

March 8, 2015

no comments

Making a Traditional Irish Soda Bread


Whether made once per year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or enjoyed as an “everyday” bread, Irish Soda Bread is great to have in our arsenal of recipes in the home kitchen.  I’ve been making it for several years now, enjoying its wonderful simplicity and the pleasure of keeping an old tradition alive.

I’ve purposely titled this post “Making a Traditional Irish Soda Bread” because although there are variations in both the type of flour used and exact cooking methods, Traditional Irish Soda Bread is made with only 4 ingredients (flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda).  Other versions may include ingredients like sugar, raisins, butter, or currants. To traditionalists, such as the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, the addition of those items would constitute making a “Tea Cake”, not a “Bread”.

Irish Soda Bread is a Quick Bread by definition, leavened by baking soda, not yeast or eggs, with no “rise time” required. The chemistry for the leavening takes place between the buttermilk and the baking soda, which work together to form a gas. Knead very lightly, just enough to get a dough ball to form.  As soon as the dough is mixed, it is ready to go into the oven.  Do not overwork, as doing will make the bread too dense.   This wonderful video clip from the old Julia Child program is an excellent reference!

With the use of bread flour (which I use in all of my baked breads), I find it important to measure to 16 oz. by weight, not volume.   If using All Purpose Flour, measuring out 4 cups by volume works fine.  As with any bread, if the mixture is too dry, a little extra buttermilk may be added.

I do hope you enjoy this and find yourself making this all-year round.


16 oz. (by weight) Bread Flour
14 oz. Buttermilk (Sour Milk* may be substituted)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt


  • Preheat an oven to 450F.
  • Combine 16 oz. bread flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, & 1 tsp. kosher salt in a large, wide bowl.  Stir to disperse well.
  • Add 14 oz. of buttermilk.
  • Hand mix until a sticky ball forms, transfer to a floured surface and form into a round loaf shape, about 8″.
  • Transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet or cast iron skillet
  • Make a cross-cut with a knife (it’s tradition!)
  • Bake 15 minutes at 450F
  • Lower temperature to 400F. Bake for another 20 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on its bottom.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on wire rack.
  • Slice and Enjoy!

An abbreviated recipe with reference pictures.

*Sour milk may be made by pouring 2 tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice in the bottom of a 2 cup measure and pouring 16 oz. of milk over it.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes.  (Truth be told, I’m pretty frugal, and often make my own sour milk for my Irish Soda Bread).


The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread:

Julia Child makes Irish Soda Bread:

Mummy’s Brown Irish Soda Bread from Darina Allen:

March 2, 2015

1 comment

Homemade Tomato Parmesan and Herb Crackers


This is more than a recipe post.  It’s a small epiphany about why making homemade crackers is a great way for home cooks to learn (or improve) key techniques in the kitchen.

I’ve become hooked on making these.  I’ve been making small batches, a couple of times a week. I’ve been playing with different flavors.  I’ve been wondering if this is something I should even post here.  I’ve been thinking that perhaps people would find the thought of making crackers at home to be a waste of time, given that there is such a wide variety at any grocery store.  Who would take the time to make crackers?  So, I originally decided not to share this.  Then, something started to change my mind.

I found myself making a better quality cracker each time.  Each batch got easier to make than the previous one.  I was getting better at other baking and dessert making techniques.  This was becoming fun.  I realized that the basic techniques here are transferable to many other foods in the home kitchen: preparing a basic dough, rolling pin techniques, and making consistent cut-outs.  These are all needed for making breads, cookies, pie dough, pastries, and pasta.

This recipe is a bit unique. It uses tomato sauce as the primary liquid. Use a puree-style sauce (no chunks).  A quality tomato puree would work great.  I also stuck with traditional butter for the fat.  I tried olive oil to be healthier, but found the crackers got too crisp and dull tasting.  I have used both All-Purpose and Whole Wheat flour.  For me, the Whole Wheat is easier to work with and the taste is more rustic.  If your dough is too tacky, cut a little more flour in.  Likewise, if it is too dry, you can add a bit of water.  When it rolls out it should not stick too the surface or the rolling pin.

Please remember, as with any fresh bread, cake, or other baked item, there are no preservatives here.  These will only last for a couple of days.  I actually cut this batch in half most of the time (as I am the only one eating them).  But, for a family, I would think these will disappear really quickly!

PS, I think your kids would have a ball making these with you!