It’s almost the eleventh hour of National S’mores Day, but not too late to reminisce about the awesome s’mores we made with Mother Rucker’s Cinnamon Cookie Brittle!
Check out Mother Rucker’s delicious treats!
It’s almost the eleventh hour of National S’mores Day, but not too late to reminisce about the awesome s’mores we made with Mother Rucker’s Cinnamon Cookie Brittle!
Check out Mother Rucker’s delicious treats!
My mom visited last week and we went on a whirlwind tour of favorite markets — Whole Foods, Market Street, Trader Joe’s and finally, Central Market. (Karen, you should have been here!) The highlight of the outing was meeting the Texas Toffee Queen, Nancy Lalumia, offering samples of her handmade toffee at Central Market. We had already tried Nancy’s Dark Chocolate Espresso Toffee, and I was anxious to try some other flavors. The milk chocolate toffee was a traditional classic with smooth chocolate atop buttery toffee with a perfect consistency. Dark Chocolate Salted Jalapeño was a winner in Zest Fest’s “Zesty Sweets, Candy & Chocolate” Category and we definitely agreed with the judges’ decision! If you have followed our blog for long, you know I have a weakness for chocolate combined with salt or peppery heat. Having all three combined knocked me out! I knew I would probably be the only one in the house who would truly love the spicy treat, so I selected the decadent dark chocolate toffee to share.
It was such a pleasure to meet Nancy and hear first-hand her passion for making toffee. We shared a laugh at the thought of toffee being “healthy”, but Nancy has developed her recipes to be “healthier”. Choosing all-natural ingredients, like real butter, is the first healthy step. Rather than simply having a light dusting of finely chopped nuts sprinkled across the top of her toffee, Nancy balances a generous measure of freshly roasted almonds with sugar in the toffee base. Corn syrup is the normal binding agent used in toffee, but Nancy uses the absolute minimum amount necessary. The result is a delicious, nutty toffee base that avoids the “sugar bomb” effect of some toffees. Finally, Nancy finishes her toffee with the finest quality chocolate, and additional chopped almonds. Since dark chocolate has antioxidants that may prevent heart disease, and may help lower blood pressure, it’s another healthy choice (in moderation, as I keep reminding myself). Texas Toffee Queen’s candy is easy to love and hard to resist!
Where to buy Texas Toffee Queen Dark Chocolate Toffee
(Note: “Find a Store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products. Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock. If not, ask them to carry it!)
Karen and I are ranch dip fans going way back to Friday night sleepovers during junior and senior high, when ranch dressing on tortilla chips was our snack of choice. I’ve haven’t eaten a lot of ranch dressing or dip in the past several years because I just got a little tired of the taste. That all changed when I brought Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing home from Central Market. This ranch dip has a tastebud popping blend of spices and jalapeños that blew me away. The “slow burn” was evident, with the initial creamy ranch flavor slowly igniting into a tasty jalapeño burn with lots of interesting flavor notes in between. It was love at first bite, but it didn’t stop there. I literally could not stay away from the jar. I started feeling a little guilty about my tortilla chip intake, so I switched to eating my new addiction as a salad dressing. Talk about waking up a plate of greens! I added sliced grilled chicken breast with maybe just a few more tortilla chips, crushed, on top of the greens, and it was a restaurant-worthy salad. The bottom of the jar came way before I was ready.
Kevin and Jill Lewis are the masters behind the magic of this delicious dip and dressing. As former restaurateurs, they were experts on chile peppers, and started their journey to the gourmet food business by gifting friends and family with Salsa con Habanero made from their home garden bounty. As demand grew, the couple decided their products were commercially appealing and in 1994, they launched Austin Slow Burn. The company now offers a variety of salsas, jams, jellies, marinades and a very interesting product named “Fire Dust’d P-nut But’r”. All of the products are award-winners.
I’m not going too far out on a limb by declaring right now that Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing is going to be one of my favorite foods of the year, probably forever. It is amazing stuff!
Where to buy Austin Slow Burn Creamy Jalapeno Dip and Dressing
(Note: “Find a store” links to a list of retailers on the Company’s website, but stores may not carry all of the Company’s products. Please check with your local store to be sure they have this specific product in stock. If not, ask them to carry it!)
It’s safe to say Karen and I put Tex-Mex at the top of our favorite foods list. Barbecue could be second. We both bootleg brisket from our hometown barbecue restaurant when we visit family. For me, its not a big deal — just throw brisket, sauce, beans, and potato salad in an ice chest in the back of the Tahoe, arrive home about 3 hours later and enjoy. Karen has more challenges getting her treasure back to Indiana. Her mom sometimes has a frozen brisket ready for her to pack and take home. The advance planning broke down once and she actually threw a hot, foil-wrapped brisket in her luggage on the way to the airport. Can you even imagine the reaction from the TSA canine security force? Drugs? Explosives? No, woof, woof! There’s beef in this suitcase!!
I have to admit to cheating on our first barbecue love in recent years because we just don’t get home often enough for our barbecue fix, and frankly, it is pretty easy to cheat in Texas. There is a barbecue place on practically every corner. Seriously. I’ve also started dabbling in some home cooking barbecue recipes as well. Not the slow, pit-cooked barbecue famous in Texas. I’m more about integrating interesting barbecue sauces into my every day recipes, and an opportunity recently presented itself when a pot roast I cooked did not produce the melt-in-your-mouth result I expected. In fact, it was so tough I considered throwing it out. Fortunately, I had just picked up a bottle of Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse Original Barbecue Sauce, so crockpot barbecue seemed like a good rescue option. What did I have to lose?
I shredded the roast beef and threw it into the crockpot, covered it generously with Meyer’s Original Barbecue Sauce, and cooked it on low temperature for about 3 hours. As the beef simmered slowly in the sauce, the aroma whetted our appetites and Meyer’s definitely saved the day. The sauce had the expected spicy kick, but it wasn’t uncomfortably hot. The sweet balance was just about right, too. Best of all, the tough as cowhide roast beef was now deliciously tender barbecue on a bun, served along with German Potato Salad made by my grandmother’s family recipe. Happiness all around!
Since the roast beef rescue, we brushed Meyer’s Original Barbecue Sauce on burgers while they grilled, and had some awesome spicy barbecue cheeseburgers. We will be repeating that often during this grilling season.
The Meyer family began their barbecue dynasty in the late 1800’s with Harry Meyer making sausage from his German family’s recipe for friends and family. His son, R.G. Meyer carried on the tradition and founded Meyer’s Sausage Company in 1949. Another two generations later, great-grandsons Gregg and Gary Meyer preside over “Cue-topia”, a meaty empire of ribs, brisket, sausage, smoked turkey, and more available for online ordering. They also offer tempting sauces, rubs and marinades for barbecue DIYers. Check out their great barbecue combos, including a Texas BBQ Cookout package for $135 that feeds 20 people. Do the math on that deal, then add bonus points because you aren’t the one standing over the hot smoker for hours!
Meyer’s savory products are promoted on the website with a heaping side dish of sassy; these Texas guys definitely have a sense of humor as evidenced by their toll-free number: 1.800.MRS.OINK. I laughed my way through the entire website. Stop by Cue-topia online and prepare for your mouth to water! We are planning a trip to Austin in a couple of months, and we will definitely be traveling about a half-hour east to Elgin to experience Cue-topia in person.
We seriously are not on the payroll of the marketing department at Cherith Valley Gardens; we just love their products! Their Mango-Lime Salsa is one of our favorites with generous bits of sweet mango, spicy jalapenos, and cilantro. We really enjoy it over grilled fish and chicken, and it is a tasty change of pace from tomato salsa for a chip and dip plate.
Our friend and CVG owner, Terri Werner, recently posted a crockpot recipe on Facebook I knew I had to try, although we normally don’t do much crockpot cooking at our house. I’m usually not organized enough on weekday mornings to complete dinner prep before I get my workday started, and on weekends, I like to be a lot more hands-on in the kitchen. However, when I looked at my busy schedule for the week, Terri’s recipe sounded pretty perfect, first, because we love CVG’s Mango-Lime Salsa; second, the prep work couldn’t take more than about three minutes; and finally, I already had all the ingredients on hand. Done deal, or so I thought. My schedule got even crazier than I expected and the super-easy early morning recipe prep I had planned just didn’t happen, so we were in restaurants for dinner way more than we like. By the weekend, I was running on empty and the crockpot was beginning to look like a life saver.
On Sunday morning, I lined the crockpot with the genius disposable liners that make clean-up a snap, added 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts straight from the freezer, poured CVG Mango-Lime Salsa over the chicken and pressed “Go” on the crockpot. The chicken cooked over low heat for about 7 hours, during which I took a very long nap! When the chicken was done, I took it out of the crockpot and stirred in one cup of heavy cream to make a decadent sauce. Could this be any easier?
We enjoyed the chicken over rice, with a green salad and some fresh bread. The chicken was fall-apart tender and the creamy sauce was subtly sweet and spicy. It was definitely the best meal of the week, and as an added bonus, the leftovers were even better the following day. I’ve said it before: having artisan and specialty food products in my pantry makes it easy to create delicious meals for family and friends. CVG condiments, sauces, relishes and salsas offer great taste and convenience, so they are often on the menu at our house.
Cherith Valley Gardens marks its 20th anniversary this month, and since the beginning, the Werner Family has focused on providing the finest in gourmet foods from their family to yours. Well done, dear friends! Read more about the company’s history and get some of their tasty products for your pantry. Be sure to try their Hot n’ Spicy Corn Relish, too. It makes some amazing cornbread.
I had a hair appointment a couple of weeks ago, and Allen drove across town with me since we had dinner plans close to the salon later that evening. He killed some time in a bookstore while he waited for me, and I was surprised to see he had bought a cookbook. Although he is great help in the kitchen, usually in the clean-up department, he doesn’t cook that much. He makes the coffee every morning without fail, he’s in charge of bacon and eggs for Saturday morning breakfast, he always mans the grill, but he never consults a cookbook. His purchase was a good choice, though. We’ve been trying to eat healthier, so he picked up a Weight Watchers® book of chicken recipes. I was practically drooling over the recipes and gorgeous pictures of chicken appetizers, soups, salads, and entreés. I kept gravitating to a recipe for Cream Cheese and Pepper Jelly Chicken and made a mental note to pick up the ingredients on the next grocery shopping run.
I chose Luscombe Farm Jalapeño Pepper Jelly for the dish. The Anna, Texas Luscombe Family farm was established in 1913 and is operated today by fourth generation family members, who produce an award-winning line of fiery jellies and peppers. Their pale green jalapeño pepper jelly has a spicy kick that is tempered by organic pure cane sugar. The Luscombes remove the peppers’ seeds and membranes, so even those who aren’t fond of jalapeño heat can enjoy it. It was so great in the chicken recipe! Full disclosure–my mental grocery shopping notes weren’t complete, and I forgot to pick up the low-fat cream cheese called for in the recipe, so I adjusted it to use some regular cream cheese I had on hand. The recipe wasn’t quite as healthy as intended, but it was definitely delicious served with cilantro lime rice.
Cream Cheese and Pepper Jelly Chicken
- 1/2 cup Luscombe Farm Jalapeño Pepper Jelly
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4 ounces tub-style 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (about 1/2 cup), softened (I used about 1/3 cup regular cream cheese)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
- 4 (6 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 400°. Place jelly and garlic in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high temperature 45 seconds, or until jelly melts, stirring after 30 seconds.
Combine cream cheese and cilantro in another small bowl. Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each chicken breast half to form a pocket. Stuff 1/4 of the cheese mixture into each pocket, and close openings with wooden picks. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron (or other oven-proof) skillet over medium high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan, skinned side down, and cook for about 4 minutes. Turn chicken over and brush with jelly mixture.
Place pan in oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until done, basting with jelly mixture in skillet after 7 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and transfer chicken to a serving plate. Add water to pan, stirring with a wire whisk to deglaze the pan and make sauce. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Remove and discard wooden picks. Spoon pan sauce over chicken and enjoy!
The Luscombe Farm website has other recipes that use their awesome jellies. Try some in your kitchen!
We have had some really strange weather in the past few weeks, and have set several low temperature records. In many ways, it hasn’t seemed much like spring, but cooler temperatures haven’t kept me from craving ice cream. King Arthur’s website whetted my appetite with a recipe for Mocha Madness Ice Cream. I pretty much became an instant lover of all things mocha when I finally decided to become a coffee drinker several years ago. I eased myself into it by mixing a tablespoon of hot chocolate mix into my coffee, so now, any recipe with coffee and chocolate gets a second look. There was one ingredient in the mocha ice cream recipe that didn’t wow me – a mix-in of Oreo cookies. I set the recipe aside while I considered other mix-in options, and inspiration struck very soon when I saw Texas Toffee Queen Dark Chocolate Espresso toffee at Central Market. Yeah, that would be about a 200% upgrade from Oreos! The package label indicated the toffee needed to be refrigerated and could be frozen, so that sealed the deal.
Of course, taste-testing the toffee was the first order of business. The rich, buttery toffee topped with creamy dark chocolate, and dusted with espresso powder was wonderful. The toffee layer avoided the often fatal flaws of being extremely sticky or hard as granite. It was full-speed ahead to ice cream!
Whisk together the milk, sugar, espresso power and cocoa until well blended. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions for your ice cream freezer. Add toffee pieces during the last 5 minutes of processing. Transfer the ice cream to an airtight freezer container and freeze for another 2-4 hours, or until it is the desired consistency.
Nancy Lalumia, the Texas Toffee Queen, comes from a family well-experienced in the food service business, and she was involved in family restaurants for a number of years. Nancy has always loved English toffee, and she made it for friends and family at Christmas. Her sister-in-law suggested Nancy bring some of the toffee to the gourmet food shop she and her brother owned. It quickly sold out and Nancy had a special order from Dallas Independent School District, so she made a very quick leap into the toffee business. Her core flavors are dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate cranberry, but she also has prize-winning spicy varieties: white chocolate mango chili, dark chocolate salted jalapeño, and white chocolate peach ginger habanero. Wow, those all sound amazing! Now is certainly the time to order some of Nancy’s delicious toffee, because the Texas heat makes shipping a no-go from June through October. Read more of Nancy’s story and check out all the delicious flavors on her website.
Sending kids off to school with something great in their lunchbox or bag challenges many parents. I was surprised to learn these ultra-cute ready-to-bake pies in tiny canning jars started with a mom and grandmother’s solution to a school lunch dilemma. When Amanda’s sons wanted pie in their lunchboxes, she and her mom, Kit, put their pie-making skills to work in a small way. Using old family recipes and local market ingredients whenever possible, the Austin Texas duo turned a lunchtime dessert upgrade into a thriving business.
We selected a Texas Sweet Pecan Tiny Pie to taste. The preparation was ridiculously easy. Unscrew the cap from the jar, place the jar on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for 40 minutes, cool slightly, then indulge. Indulgent it was, too. The crust was flaky and delicious. The filling would rival that of any traditional southern pecan pie, with a generous measure of nuts. We ooh’d and aah’d through every amazing bite. Amanda’s kiddos just had to be the envy of the entire lunchroom at school!
Tiny Pies come in several sizes and many flavors. Teeny tiny two-bite pies would be beautiful on a dessert buffet. Tiny hand-held pies would be great for individual desserts (or lunchboxes). I could fill my freezer with 3″ Mason Jar Tiny Pies! Kit and Amanda also make darling pie pops on a stick, and just reading about the Fredericksburg Peach flavored pop is making my mouth water. Tiny Pies flavors change with the seasons, but the website today shows apple, blueberry, cherry, strawberry rhubarb, and chocolate brownie sweet pies that can be ordered directly from the company. Two savory tiny pies sound super-yummy: spinach ricotta and potato leek. Customized tiny pies are available with your choice of crust and filling flavors. Pie-lovers lucky enough to live within driving distance of Austin can buy tiny cream pies in chocolate, lemon, key lime, and coconut, but these are too delicate to ship. And for those too hungry for tiny pies, Amanda and Kit make Not So Tiny Pies with a choice of plain, chocolate or cheddar crusts and many sweet or savory filling flavors.
The canning jar presentation is a really creative twist for a convenient individual serving of delicious pie. We agreed that eating pie from a jar was fun, even for grown-ups!
Processed foods with high fructose corn syrup have been on my hit list for the past few years. The debate continues on whether there are health risks associated with HFCS, but I just don’t enjoy the super-sweet overtones they add to sauces and condiments (or anything else for that matter). Ketchup is one food I had just about eliminated from my diet because it began tasting like tomato-flavored sugar to me. Ugh. Until recently, I didn’t realize our friends and food entrepreneurs, Terri and Alan Werner, had ketchup in their line-up of great Cherith Valley Gardens condiments and salsas. I wasn’t sure what to expect from “homestyle” ketchup since I had only eaten the national brands, but I knew the best way to taste it was with a plate of crisp, lightly salted homestyle fries The verdict? No more HFCS-laden ketchup for me! CVG’s ketchup has a very rich tomato taste with just enough sugar to balance the heat from jalapeños and spices. It is so good!
The ketchup is great for making easy sloppy joes, eliminating the need for much additional seasoning. I did add a bit of chili powder because we like our joes spicy. You can easily adapt this recipe by adding spices to suit your taste. You can also double, triple, or otherwise multiply it to feed a small army or freeze for future meals. That would be very easy to do in the crockpot, too.
- 1 pound lean ground beef (or turkey)
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 cups Cherith Valley Gardens Homestyle Ketchup
Brown ground meat with onion and green pepper in a large skillet over medium heat, then pour off any excess grease. Add chili powder and ketchup and mix well. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. (Note: This will be tasty and ready to eat at the end of 20 minutes, but if time permits, I reduce to a very low heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to really blend the flavors.)
Check out our review on Cherith Valley Gardens Hot ‘n Spicy Corn Relish for the Werner Family story behind their salsas and condiments. You can now order directly from their website and find recipes for entertaining or for simple, everyday gourmet dishes you will love. If you move quickly, you can take advantage of their March special on Homestyle Ketchup!