Friday, May 28, 2010

Signs of Summer Foods

It has been too hot to get on the road, so I have been staying at home for a couple of days.  I have been doing the obligatory laundry, dusting and vacuuming and lots of cooking.  Today I prepared a couple of old favorites:  Stuffed Green Bell Peppers with Cheese Sauce and Vidalia Onion Pie.

When I was pregnant with my second child (1980), I entered a recipe contest sponsored by a local newspaper.  To my surprise I won the summer vegetable category for my Bell Pepper recipe.  The dish had its beginning in a huge paper sack of the largest bell peppers I had ever seen.  My husband, an Exxon employee at the time, bought the peppers from a colleague who had a garden.  He purchased them for $1.50.  Thinking back on this makes me sad that I had to pay $1.00 for two peppers at the grocery yesterday.  My chore was to "do something" with all those peppers!  Thus the recipe.  I even had a picture of myself in the newspaper for winning the contest!  I am sure there was some sort of prize, but I can't remember what it was.  What I do remember is a feeling of accomplishment.   I usually double this because it is just as easy to make 10 stuffed peppers and freeze some for consumption during the cold winter ahead.

Dot’s Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 or 5 large bell peppers (cut in half and parboiled for 5 minutes
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground beef (or use all ground beef)
chopped onions (use as much or as little as you like)
minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 cups cooked rice (I use leftover rice)
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
chopped parsley
one handful of chopped raw spinach leaves
one handful of grated raw carrots
about a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
about 2 tablespoons catsup
salt and pepper to taste
Italian seasoning to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
1 egg

1.Brown the meat and add vegetables.  Cook until vegetables are wilted.  Stir in  all other ingredients and mix well.  (Use enough bread crumbs to bind the ingredients together.  The egg will help with this, too.)

2. Spoon mixture into peppers.  Freeze at this point or bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Add a little liquid to the bottom of the pan to keep peppers from drying out as they bake.  Cover for the first 30 minutes with foil and then remove foil and finish baking.

Cheese sauce: (Simple Bechamel with a little cheese stirred in)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and stir in 2 tablespoons flour.  Gradually add 1 cup milk and stir constantly until thickened.  Add cheese (whatever type you like) Prepare this at serving time.  Don't freeze.

Serve sauce over baked bell peppers.  This recipe seems like a lot of trouble, but it is worth the effort!  

Another sign of summer in Louisiana is the appearance of Vidalia onions in the grocery store.  These onions are a large, sweet, white variety grown in Georgia. They first made an appearance on the market in the 1930's.  In 1986, the Georgia State Legislature passed a law that only onions grown in certain counties of Georgia can be called "Vidalia Onions." The brand I selected was Bland Farms, the producer responsible for about one third of all Vidalia Onions marketed in the states.  ( I normally buy a large package and use them for several weeks in my summer suppers.  My friend, Jo, gave me a recipe many years ago for an onion pie that was very simple and easy to whip up as soon as the Vidalia onions made an appearance.  Over time I have doctored that recipe until I had the seasonings adjusted just right for me and my husband.  Here is the latest incarnation of the Vidalia Onion Pie that I prepared for tonight's supper .  It can be served as a main dish or as an accompaniment.  It would even be good for breakfast!

Vidalia Onion Pie

1 baked pie crust, in a deep dish pan
2 Vidalia Onions, sliced very thin into circles
2 Tablespoons butter
2 beaten eggs
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
¾ cup milk
1 cup sour cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon McCormick Salad Supreme seasoning
dash Tabasco
2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

1.    1.  Sauté the onions in the butter until they are clear and golden in color.
2.    2.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 
3.    3. Place onions in the prebaked pie crust.
4.    4. Combine remaining ingredients except for bacon and Paprika.  Whip with a wire whisk until bubbly.  Pour mixture over onions.
5.    5.  Top with bacon and sprinkle with paprika.
6.    6.  Bake for 23 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.  Cool slightly before slicing into 6 servings. 

      No summer meal is complete without sliced fresh tomatoes.  We are growing some in pots on our patio, but those are not ripe, yet.  We were able to purchase some Creole Tomatoes at a local produce market. They were from Liuzza Farms in Tickfaw, LA. ( The Creoles are an heirloom type that are medium in size and large on taste.  These are only grown in Louisiana and in 2003 the State Legislature declared them the Louisiana State Vegetable.  I have fresh basil growing, too, and I love to serve the sliced tomatoes with julienned fresh basil leaves.  It's also tasty to serve them Caprese style where they are sandwiched with fresh water mozzarella and a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I have a cherished bottle of Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar and it is my favorite.  I also have a bottle that we bought in Florence, Italy last summer.  We use it sparingly.  It's evokes such good memories.  When purchasing balsamic vinegar, look for the Modena type.  Aged Balsamics are the best tasting and they can be pricey. Such a small amount is needed for taste that it is a good idea to get a good one that you like.  Think beyond the supermarket on this purchase.   Fresina's Italian Specialties ( in Baton Rouge has some excellent choices in Balsamic vinegars. I recommend the varieties that they stock.   

 T   If it's too hot to get out on these summery days, stay home and try the recipes above and think:            SUMMER!  


Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Remarkable Woman

I am honored to be counted as a friend of Mildred, a remarkable woman.   Recently, I received an invitation to her birthday party.  This was not an ordinary party.  It was a commemoration  of 85 years and 40 years cancer free living!  I arrived early and had the privilege of congratulating the honoree and meeting her family members who came in for the celebration.  It was a lovely party.  I am including some pictures of the refreshments and the flowers that graced the serving tables. 

Initially I was surprised to learn that "Millie", as she is affectionately known to many, has her 85th birthday this year.  If you met her, you would also be surprised.  She is the youngest looking and youngest acting 85 year old I have ever seen.  I have played many bridge games with her and she is smart and funny.  Her positive outlook and busy schedule belie her chronological age.  

I wanted to know more about her than I could find out at a bridge table where concentration on the game is mandatory, so I conducted a "cyber" interview with her.  Here, in part, is what I discovered:

Mildred was born in Alsfeldt in Ontario, Canada and lived in Canada until she married.  As a young person, she was selected to represent her church at a youth conference in Oslo, Norway.  En route, her passport and money were stolen, so she never got there.  However, her luggage was not held and it went by boat to Norway without her.  She joked for years about her clothes that had a wonderful trip!  She was a teacher for five years.  Her marriage to husband, George, was 62 years ago and is going strong!  He is a retired LSU professor.  Mildred earned a degree in psychology and sociology in 1976 at the same time as one of her daughters!  

She is the mother of four living children.  There was another child, a son, who died in infancy.  She has eight grandchildren  and she is very proud of all their accomplishments.  Among the children there are two attorneys, a journalist and a CPA.  One of the attorneys decided to become a teacher.  Her adult grandchildren are also very accomplished.  I met a few of them at the birthday party and found that they have also have a zeal for education.  All are devoted to her.  

She is a member of University United Methodist Church and is proud to be a member of this close church family.  The church "adopted" a school and Mildred volunteered as a mentor, a prayer partner and a teacher encourager at the school.  She has also had several positions of leadership in the church during the years. 

In 1968 she was involved in a train accident.  The signals were not working and she hit the engine.  Her car was totaled and she was trapped in the vehicle. The policeman and firemen who came to her assistance remarked that she must be a "church lady" to have survived.  It was not her time.  She had lots of living to do!

Since I met Mildred through a bridge club, I asked her about this hobby.  She admits to playing in seven groups that play regularly.  No wonder her mind is so sharp!  It's so fun to be around her that I suppose she is invited to play for her good company and her excellent card skills!  When Mildred hosts the bridge party, she always has wonderful desserts and snacks to serve.  A couple of her recipes are shared below. 

She also loves to garden and feels close to God in her flower bed.  She is also a bird and butterfly enthusiast.  Added to her talents is singing.  She has, in the past, been a soloist for her church.  

Mildred was honored by Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center as the Outstanding Volunteer for 2005-2006.  She volunteered there for 25 years.  As a cancer survivor she could relate to patients receiving treatment for the dreaded disease.  

I wanted to know the secret of her full life and this is what she said: "It  probably is no secret that my faith has brought me through the wilderness--the loss of a baby, colon cancer, a Down Syndrome grandchild--each one of these experiences help me to get things into perspective and to get my priorities in order.  Each moment is a gift from God--given to me to spread His love.  I thank my wonderful parents, salt of the earth people, for bringing me up in the Christian tradition."  She added that her friends are an important part of her life.  She is very happy to be living in St. James Place where "every one here falls over backwards" to take care of the residents and sees to it that each is living life well.  

Mildred is a beautiful person...inside and out! As I left the party, there was a huge crowd of people gathered to celebrate this special life. What a tribute to a wonderful lady! Happy Birthday, to a truly remarkable woman!  

Mildred's Olive Surprise Appetizers (Mary Lou's recipe)

1 large jar of pimento stuffed olives
1 small jar Old English Cheese Spread
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 stick butter

1. Using a knife, cut cheese spread into the flour and add melted butter to form a dough.
2. Shape balls of dough around individual olives.
3. Freeze for best results. 
4. To Bake: place balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  These are convenient to pull out and bake for Happy Hour.

Nancy's Black Forest Cherry Trifle 

1.  Bake a brownie mix.  Let cool and cut into cubes for layering in a trifle bowl.
2.  Spread  one half of a can of cherry pie filling over half of the brownie cubes.
3.  Mix one small package instant chocolate pudding according to package directions.  Chill for a few minutes.
4.  Spread half of the pudding over the cherry layer.  Top this with half of an 8 oz. container of whipped topping.
5.  Repeat the layers.  Grate some chocolate to sprinkle on top!  Pretty and delicious make ahead dessert and perfect for a bridge party.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Relaxed Afternoon at Avery Lane Salon and Spa

Today I went to Avery Lane Salon and Spa to have my hair cut and colored.  I love my new stylist, Lauren, and she and I decided to make some changes to my hair.  I had been collecting pictures of styles that I liked and had even snapped a picture (with permission) of a lady in the grocery checkout line who had a haircut I admired.  Lauren worked on the color to add some "dimension."  Dimension is the term used to describe visible highlighted streaks of color.  That had to be explained to me and now I know the lingo.   Anyone who has ever had his or her hair colored in a salon knows that there is a waiting period for the color to "process." My eyeglasses have to be removed so they will not be stained by the chemicals that are applied to my locks.  I normally spend the waiting time in a fog since I can't see well enough to read anything or even browse a magazine without my glasses.
 I was enticed to spend the time wisely and treat myself to a Dreamsicle pedicure.  The waiting period would be a pleasure.  Avery Lane is a hair salon but they also have a lovely spa.  Their spa menu includes facials, nail and makeup application services.  It's an Aveda Salon and most of the products are of that brand.  I climbed the two granite steps to immerse my feet in a warm whirlpool bath scented with an orange fizz ball.  I knew I was in for a real treat.  The setting is beautiful and zen-like.  The monogram on the pillow of the chair is "serenity" and that is the way to describe the spa. It is very private and closed off from the main salon area.  There is soft music playing and after I chose the OPI color for my toes I began to experience relaxation enhanced by the smell of oranges.  The pedicurist clipped, buffed, shaped and polished my toes to perfection.  She also massaged my old achy legs as she and I kept up a pleasant banter.  To my utter surprise and delight I was also served a Dreamsicle cocktail in a martini glass.  A combination of ice cream and some liqueurs were blended together.  It was possible to sip it slowly all during the pedicure.  How decadent can you get without breaking the law??

I must admit that this was not my first pedicure at Avery Lane.  In February they offered a Godiva Chocolate pedicure.  I was not served a chocolate martini for that service, but the aroma of the chocolate masque that was applied to my dry skin was heavenly.  Each month, it seems, there is a special pedicure and I got on the email list so I could find out what surprise is planned for the spa.  This may sound like a commercial or testimonial,  but I love this salon.  It is Zachary's one-stop place for hair, nails and complexion.  The rates are reasonable and I feel that there is real value for their offerings.  The staff is friendly without being pretentious.  They seem genuinely happy that you are there.

If you don't live in Zachary, I recommend that you get yourself here before the end of the month of May and the end of the Dreamsicle pedicure. the cut and highlights are just what I needed for a summer do.  Thanks, Lauren!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Destination: St. Francisville, LA

Louisiana in the spring brings the blooming azaleas, beautiful mild days and an urge to get out of the city and into the country.  Last week Karen and I met Kaye in St. Francisville for some lunch and retail therapy.  Kaye is from there and was the perfect tour guide for some unique spots.

St. Francisville is a plantation town, but we were not interested in touring any on this day.  We were more interested in food and spending our green.  Kaye and her daughter, Shannon, met us at Magnolia Cafe near the center of town on Commerce Street.

The Mag, as it is called by the locals, specializes in original Louisiana cooking.  The original Mag was in a building that formerly housed a service station.  That building burned to the ground a few years ago and the owners relocated behind the burned-out spot.  The facade (and the interiors) are very rustic.  I was intrigued by the large golden pig statuary that greeted us as we approached the steps to the main dining room.  It was such a pretty day that we decided to eat on the screened porch. There were ceiling fans whirring and it appeared that the heaters are lit in colder weather.  The porch is used year round.    There was one empty table and we snatched it up.  The Mag is a very popular lunch spot. It is also a very popular night spot.   I have been to the Mag before on a Friday night.  That's the time when there is live music on the porch.  What fun that is!  My favorite band that I have heard there is Feliciana.  A friend of mine, Bob, is the lead singer and always dedicates a song to me.  How neat!

I love to sample poboy sandwiches when I eat lunch out.  The Mag has a soup and sandwich combination that was perfect for a lunchtime appetite.  I chose the shrimp and squash soup and a half Santa Fe Sandwich.  Even though the Mag specializes in Louisiana recipes, they have a sprinkling of Texmex items from which to select.  I have had their Taco Salad before and it is super!  The Santa Fe sandwich is toasted with turkey, Monterrey Jack cheese and bacon.  It was very satisfying.  The soup was a take on the ever popular shrimp and corn variety, but instead of corn there were slices of yellow squash blended with the creamy tomato base.

The other people at the table tried the Quesadillas with chicken and the Magnolia BLT on wheat toast.  The food was not complicated, but the taste was superb.  Our waitress was excellent and kept the iced tea glasses filled.  She was not perturbed by our request for separate checks, either.  Good food, good company and good service made for a pleasant experience.

We left the Mag with full stomachs and decided to walk it off at Grandmother's Buttons shop.  It is located in the heart of the Historic District.  They specialize in handcrafted jewelry featuring vintage and antique buttons.  They have been in business for a couple of decades and have developed quite a following.  They are located in an old bank building and have converted the old bank vault into a museum of buttons.  Very interesting!  In addition to jewelry, they have a selection of gifts, clothing and great shoes for sale.  I had to restrain myself from buying more shoes.  The prices were so good!  I did purchase a colorful shawl for myself and a necklace for my Mom for Mother's Day.  I saw some things I am thinking about purchasing, so I plan to shop online at

Shanty Too was our next stop.  It is also located in the Historic District on Ferdinand Street.  Shanty Too's owner told me they had been in business for twenty years.  They carry a huge selection of gifts for babies, children and women.  They also have some clothing, shoes and accessories.  My daughter collects egg plates and I was able to get a really unique one there.  Kaye knew the owners and we had a great chat while there.  I found out they are open on Sunday afternoons, so am planning to go back one weekend to browse again.

The highlight of the day was our final stop:  Kaye's house!  Kaye lives in an area deep in Audubon country called The Bluffs.  We drove through a heavily forested area to reach it.  The area has a golf course and is very secluded and is a lovely setting for homes.  Coffee and English Trifle awaited us.  As we enjoyed our refreshments, we were also served a taste of Irish Cream liqueur.  Kaye's grandmother had a tradition of having a small sip of liqueur with her afternoon coffee, so the tradition was passed down to us on our visit.  Good tradition, if you ask me!  Kaye shared her trifle recipe with me and I am sharing it with you.

I hope to be able to visit St. Francisville again and again.  There is so much history there dating to pre-Civil War times.  Look for more posts on the topic.  Maybe next time I will visit a historical site and leave the shopping off.....or then again, maybe not!

Kaye's Trifle

1 (12 oz.) carton Cool Whip
1 cup sour cream
1 prebaked angel food cake
1 (4 serving size) package instant vanilla pudding
3 kiwi fruits, peeled and sliced
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
3 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained

  1. In a medium bowl, blend the sour cream and pudding mix into the whipped topping.
  2. Cut the cake into thirds, horizontally.
  3. Line a large trifle or other glass serving bowl with kiwi and strawberry slices, reserving two whole strawberries and two kiwi slices. Place one layer of cake in bottom of bowl, top with 1/3 of bananas and pineapple, and 1/3 of whipped topping mixture. Repeat layering until all ingredients are used. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with reserved fruit.