Coconut Chews

When my husband and I were seniors in high school, I thought it would be fun to play an April Fool’s joke on him, so I called his mom to get her recipe for his favorite cookies. She said his all-time favorite treat was probably “coconut chews,” which are like coconut blondie brownie bars. She gave me the recipe, and I made a big pan of them, which I took to school and passed out to all our friends over our lunch break. However, I placed a thin layer of cardboard (from the packaging from one of my dad’s dress shirts) in the bottom of the pan, so every “coconut chew” had an inedible bottom layer that made eating the bars extremely awkward! To actually eat them, we all had to scrape off the chewy brownie from the top of the cardboard with our teeth and then throw out the cardboard.

Alan was quite shy and duly impressed by the treat . . . but not sure how to react to the cardboard. As I was very much into practical jokes and having fun, I thought it was a great gag. He must have forgiven me, because we did get married about five years later. I had planned to make him some cardboard coconut chews for a gag again 50+ years hence, but somehow with the COVID crisis, I didn’t have the heart. Nevertheless, I did make some recently, and he still loves them, so here’s his mom’s recipe:

Coconut Chews
(Makes 12 large or 24 small bars)

Preheat your oven to 350° F.
In a blender add:
3/4 c. softened butter
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Whip for three minutes or until well blended and a little fluffy, then add:
1 and 1/4 cups flour
2 cups shredded or flake coconut, firmly packed (or, one 7-8 oz package)

Beat until completely mixed, then spread evenly into the bottom of a well greased 9X13″ baking pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. or until the edges and top are just starting to turn a golden brown and the center is relatively firm to the touch. Don’t over cook, though, because you want them to be chewy even after they cool.

Serve warm if you can, although they’re good warm, room temperature, or reheated. Now that I don’t have a big family to eat them all the first day, I keep mine in the refrigerator with saran wrap so they don’t dry out. I can keep them all week that way, but when I’m ready to serve them, I reheat each one for 12-15 seconds in my microwave to make them just a little warm. They also freeze well if you want to make them ahead for a party.

Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Classic Chicken Salad

As a mother and grandmother, one of my goals in publishing recipes is to pass along the best of what I have to offer from what I’ve learned over the years, not only to you but also to my kids! My daughter’s family was visiting recently, and one of her favorites is chicken salad, which can be made and served over a bed of greens (as above) or used as a filling for sandwiches. Either way, the recipe is the same, and it’s always a treat, but especially on a hot summer day like today (the Fourth of July)! Here is the recipe:

Classic Chicken Salad
(Serves 4)

In a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 large can chunked chicken breast (12.5 oz or two 5-oz cans;
press out most of the liquid before adding to bowl)
1/2 cup red grapes (chopped either in half or quartered;
can use fresh or dried cherries instead)
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or salad dressing if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt (or whatever you like)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste (if needed; it may be salty enough as is)

Mix together thoroughly by hand with a spoon and divide into 4 equal portions (about 1/2+ cup each) to spread over bread or fill a croissant to make sandwiches (lettuce added is a bonus). The filling can be made ahead, but just before you make your sandwiches, add:
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or other nuts) to the filling. It makes a great, quick lunch!

For a lighter meal (lunch or dinner), spoon out the chicken salad filling over four plates prepared with lettuce greens, and then top each plate with 2 tablespoons of pecans (halved or chopped) just before serving.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Classic Scottish Shortbread

This is about the world’s easiest cookie recipe, but it’s also one of the finest and happens to be my Scottish husband’s go-to favorite!

Preheat the oven to 350° F. and then, in a mixer, dump together:
1 cup softened butter
2 cups white flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
pinch of salt

Blend until completely mixed.

It will look a bit crumbly and on the dry side, but don’t worry; that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

Place it in a shortbread pan (or a cake pan).

Spread the mixture evenly into the pan, pressing gently into place. (Don’t overwork the dough, though).

Bake it in the oven at 350°F. for 20 minutes or until it’s starting to look a bit golden-brown and crispy around the edges. Let it cool for 15 minutes and then carefully overturn it onto a large, flat platter. Cut into pieces and serve warm or cooled.

I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore” Psalm 86:12).

Chicken and Artichoke Pasta

Chicken and Artichoke Pasta
(Serves 4)

In a large skillet, fry together:
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green ball pepper chopped
4 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic (fresh is stronger, but great if you like it)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (Lawry’s or whatever you like)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed basil (if you have fresh, 2 tablespoons is even better)
1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley leaves (dried; or 2 tablespoons fresh)

When the chicken is well cooked, add:
1 fifteen-ounce can of quartered artichoke hearts with fluid
1/4 cup capers (optional, but excellent if you like capers!)
1 cup light cream
2 tablespoons flour
4 oz. hard, grated Parmesan cheese
Simmer until the cheese is melted and everything is steamy hot

Serve over:
1/2 pound spaghetti boiled until al dente in salty water, drained, and tossed with
2 tablespoons olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese on top (can also add more fresh basil as a garnish if you have it)

Serving suggestion: Goes great with either garlic bread or fresh bread and butter. We also like tossed salad and some white grape juice. 🙂

Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners:The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous:The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord” (Psalm 146:1-10).

Honey-soaked Baklava for Your Honeys

Here’s a dessert that is beloved by the oldest to the youngest members of our family. In fact, I’ve never met anybody who didn’t like baklava, have you? And, it’s much easier to make than you’d think . . . something you can do even while your little ones are all around you!

Honey-soaked Baklava

Preheat the oven to 350°F. and make sure your phyllo dough is defrosted properly (but still chilled in the refrigerator). Set a 10.5″X14″X2″ baking dish on the counter (or whatever you have that’s approximately that large).

In a blender, grind together:
1 pound (2 cups) nuts ( I used pecans, although walnuts or pistachios are also excellent)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Place in a bowl on your counter with a serving spoon

Next, melt 1 cup (=8 ounces or two sticks) butter in a bowl and insert a pastry brush. Set on counter.

1 16-oz package phyllo dough, placing it on top of the plastic wrap in which it comes, and covering it with another plastic wrap of some kind to keep it from drying out too fast. (I use a gallon-sized freezer bag, which doesn’t stick at all.)

The next part is tricky only in that you have to work fast and the sheets of phyllo dough are extremely delicate, so you have to be careful not to tear them. Therefore, this is one dessert that your grand kids can watch you make, but it’s better to set them up with something fun to do as well, rather than let them help. 🙂

Working quickly, lay down about 2-3 sheets of phyllo dough in the bottom of the pan, brush with the melted butter, and top with a big serving spoon full of the cinnamon-nut mixture. Repeat this over and over until all your phyllo dough is used up (about 6-9 layers). Brush the top with the rest of the butter and the rest of the nuts.

Bake the baklava in the oven at 350°F. for 45 minutes or until a crispy, golden brown. Theoretically, you’re supposed to slice it into diamond-shaped diagonal pieces BEFORE baking it, although I totally forgot! 😦

Thankfully, I was able to cut it pretty well afterward, although it wasn’t quite as perfect as it might have been.

Honey syrup for the Baklava

While the baklava is baking, make the syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine:
1 cup water
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup honey. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add:
1 teaspoon vanilla. Place a cover on the top and keep warm on the back of your stove.

As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven (and you’ve cut your pieces one way or the other), pour the HOT syrup over the top. (You can reheat the syrup for a few seconds if need to be make sure it’s still very liquid and piping hot.)

At this point, you can serve it anytime after about 15 minutes (for cooling), but it’s easy to make before dinner and will still be warm and crispy an hour later.

Baklava can be left covered on the counter overnight (if you have any leftover), but I think it stays crisper covered and refrigerated. It’s one of those desserts that tastes just as good the next day, but it will get soggy after a couple of days—although it probably won’t last long enough for you to worry about it getting soggy! 🙂

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). What a special blessing it is for families to be together! I have always known this, but it’s become all the more precious to me since experiencing the isolation caused by COVID!

Prayer Cooking

Last weekend, our deep freezer died, leaving me a small inheritance of quickly thawing, once-frozen berries which couldn’t be crammed into my refrigerator’s freezer because I’d already stuffed every inch of available space with frozen meats and veggies. Besides that, I had most of a flat of fresh blackberries that were dead ripe and needed to be eaten or frozen. The only obvious solution was to process my motley assortment of orphaned berries into a large batch of cooked, mixed berry jam.

Sadly, I had no pectin for cooked jam. Our family favorite is freezer jam, so I only keep a stash of freezer jam pectin available for that once-in-a-year special when strawberries are less than a dollar per quart. However, without fresh berries and freezer space, freezer jam would be out of the question this spring.

The other problem was that I wanted to use all the berries, not just X cups according to some recipe . . . even if I could I find one (which I doubted). For instance, how do you suppose Google would respond to “recipe for approximately 5 quarts of mixed berries, some mushy and defrosted but others firm and fresh”? It is possible to make jam simply by boiling down your fruit with or without sugar until it’s approximately thick enough to make jam, and that was my first thought, so after dinner I processed the fresh berries, added the defrosted berries, and set the kettle on to boil while I washed up the dinner dishes. What’s that about the watched pot never boiling? I left the kettle a little too long and it boiled over. 😦

 “Drat!” I thought. “Okay, Lord, I have no option here of simply using my head. It’s too late to go to the store (and I’ve been avoiding stores anyway because of COVID concerns). I need your Spirit to guide this process.” Frankly, I pray every morning for the Holy Spirit to lead me into the ways of truth and righteousness. I pray for wisdom and grace and sensitivity to the Lord’s leading. I try to walk by faith and practice the presence of God. I talk to him while I work. At that moment, I recalled the passage I’d been memorizing from Psalm 119:57 -58, “Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.” 

“Lord, will you be merciful unto me according to THIS very word? Will you help me make jam that isn’t too runny and isn’t too firm? I can’t wing this one. This is something new. I have no experience in this type of jam making and know I don’t have the right supplies for any recipe. I need to clean up this sticky mess and get the jam finished so I don’t waste the good food you’ve blessed us with. Will you guide me?”

After cleaning up the jam that had overflowed onto the stove, I returned to my project, brought the fruit to a boil again, dumped in about half of a 4-pound bag of sugar, and entire bottle of freezer jam pectin, a large packet of strawberry jello powder, and 3 individual packets of gelatin into my goopy kettle, stirred until it was all smooth and abubble, then turned off the heat and ladled it out into all the glass jam jars I had on hand. It made just a little over a gallon of jam. I wiped off the bottles and screwed the lids on tightly. (No, I didn’t have proper canning supplies either, having given away most all my canning jars after our kids grew up.) Some of the jars eventually self-sealed as they cooled, but I stored them all in the refrigerator that night just before I went to bed.

Some of the jars of Mixed Berry Jam

There’s an old saying about throwing bad money after good, and so I wondered if I was wasting my pectin, gelatin, and sugar in an effort to save all the berries, but I was comforted by the next two verses of Psalm 119:59,60: “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”  I went to bed, thankful to have felt God’s guiding hand and feeling like I’d done the best I knew how to do . . . and willing to accept whatever verdict the Lord would pronounce over my prayer-cooked jam. “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:62).

The next morning for breakfast, I served bowls of fresh blackberries with cream and English muffins with our new jam. Both my husband and youngest son (who still lives with us) said the flavor and texture of the jam were excellent, so I breathed a great sigh of relief, thanked the Lord for his mercy, and sent one jar off to work with my son to give his girlfriend. Thank you, Lord! “The earth, O LORD, if full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 119:64).

Maman’s Ratatouille

My friends R and J work with North African Muslim immigrants in France, and one summer I had the privilege of helping out a little too. One afternoon, J set me to work helping her make a huge dinner of ratatouille for a wonderfully large group of guests (oh, for the good old days!!), which was so memorable that I asked if I could share her recipe with you. She’s actually made a small recipe book full of her favorite french and North African dishes, and this is one of the recipes in her book. I made it for (family) company recently (less than 10 of us), and they all approved. If you like fresh veggies, or vegetarian dishes, I think you’ll love this:

Maman’s Ratatouille
(Serves 6-8+)

What I did was slightly different, so I’ll tell you what I did, but J’s crock-pot approach would doubtless be excellent too. I just wanted the veggies a little less cooked.

In a large skillet (or the bottom of a large cooking pot), chop and saute together in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions
1 large green pepper
1 large red pepper.
3-5 cloves of minced garlic
(about 3 tablespoons if previously prepared fresh or 2 T. dried)

When these have started to brown nicely, transfer to a large cooking pot and add the following chopped:
1 large eggplant
3 medium zucchini
3 medium onions
3 tablespoons fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste (I added:
1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pepper

Just before serving, or if you’re making it to serve immediately after cooking, add:
1 six-ounce can of tomato paste
1 can black olives, chopped
(I used a 12-oz. can and added the juice)
3 tablespoons fresh basil, then heat until it’s simmering and steaming again.

I think fresh bread is a must, but we also served it with a tossed salad and a bowl of watermelon. It’s definitely good enough to be a stand alone meal if served with bread and butter!

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” (Proverbs 15:17). In these days of COVID concerns, a dinner of fresh herbs is a real treat! I had just been to the store before our family (who are also sheltering-in-place) arrived!

Irresistible Crème Brûlée (Burnt Cream!)

Crème Brûlée is one of those dishes you never forget once you’ve tasted it! What’s not to love about creamy custard with a caramelized sugar coating?

We got four desserts for the four of us . . . this isn’t JUST my tray!

Everywhere we traveled through France, there were amazing desserts, but even though Crème Brûlée is simple, always the same, and almost a “staple,” it’s such a classic taste that it’s pretty irresistible.

So, if you’d like to create your own irresistible dessert that’s so mild everyone from your toothless great granny down to your toothless six-month old will love it, try this!

Irresistible Crème Brûlée
(Serves 6)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place 6 ramekins in a baking dish on the counter. Prepare a tea kettle full of boiling water.

Next, in a saucepan, heat:
2 cups heavy whipping cream until starting to bubble at edges (just below simmering)

While the cream is heating, in a stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk together:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

When the cream is hot, add it slowly to the egg mixture, blending until uniformly mixed.

Next, pour the custard evenly into the 6 ramekins.

Carefully pour the boiling water from your teapot (or whatever) into the bottom of the baking dish so that it is just about as deep as the dishes full of the cream mixture. (This will make the pan super hot, so have it on a cutting board or some other heat resistant surface, and use hot pads when you transfer it into the oven.) Place the baking dish in the hot oven on the top rack and bake for 35 minutes at 325°F or until the mixture is starting to set but is still jiggly in the middle.

Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Remove the ramekins from the water and allow them to cool completely, then place them in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly (which takes about 2 hours hours; overnight also works fine, but then cover them after they’re cold).

(This is a bit of an aside, but when I have a little extra and bake it in the oven without the benefit of its being in a bath of boiling water, it tastes almost as creamy, although there’s a bit of a drier edge—as pictured above. So, to be a true gourmet, I think you do need the baby as well as the bath water!)

Shortly before serving them (or before you serve dinner if they are to be your dessert), turn on your broiler oven to heat up, preparing a top rack that’s about 6 inches beneath the broiler unit.

Then, sprinkle the tops of the chilled creme evenly with a mixture made from:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoon white sugar

Place the ramekins under the broiler and let them broil for 2-4 minutes, or until all the sugar melts and starts to turn a golden brown. (This is the hardest part, so watch the sugar like a hawk. It can go from crystalized to burnt in a minute!)

Remove immediately and return them to the refrigerator so the crème brûlée cools and the sugar resolidifies and becomes brittle (which usually takes 15+ minutes if you can stand to wait that long. For this reason, I recommend completing the crème brûlées before dinner. They’ll survive an hour in the fridge and still taste perfect). If you’re really into making crème brûlée, you can buy a kitchen torch to melt the sugar, but I bought one that never worked very well, and so I’ve reverted to the broiler method, which is less precise but certainly simple! 🙂 They don’t call it “burnt” cream for nothing!!

It’s pretty much perfect ungarnished, although you can always add a few fresh berries and a touch of whipping cream to make it look especially gourmet!

To eat it, you have to crack the top with your spoon and then scoop out a little of the creme with a little of the sugar brittle topping. Also, if your ramekins are shallow with a greater surface area than the ones I use, then you might want to use 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 of white.

To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever” (Psalm 30:12).

Steamed Garlic Mussels

I was never much of a fan of mussels until Alan and I visited the Normandy Coast in France a few years ago with two of our sons.

Along the boardwalk in Étretat, mussels were obviously the top seller and most popular local dish, so we all thought we really ought to try them. Feeling a bit like Dr. Seuss’s Sam I Am testing green eggs and ham, we tried them . . . and unilaterally LOVED them!

(Mussels is one dish definitely not meant just for the birds! 🙂 )

Since then, we’ve tried them many places, although the memory of first experience with those amazing pots of steaming mussels lived on in our imaginations as something almost inimitable.

Because we live in the center of America—far from ocean beaches—it’s taken me a long time to get around to tracking down a reputable source for mussels, but they do exist, and if you’re interested, you, too, can make pots of fresh, steamy mussels that (possibly?) come close to rivaling the flavor of Normandy.

(Or else I just can’t remember how much more wonderful they really were). If you’ve tried mussels and like them, then try this sometime:

Steamed Garlic Mussels
(Serves 2)

In the bottom of a large cooking pot saute:
3 tablespoons of butter
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh, crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
When the onions and garlic are nicely browned, add:
2 cups white grape juice, apple juice (or traditional if you’re french, which I’m not, white wine)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but whatever you have is good)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 zested lemon (or you can use a lime in a pinch)
1 teaspoon crushed, dried parsley (or 1/2 cup fresh added just before serving, if you have fresh, which is truly delectable 🙂 )
Bring to a simmer

Add 2 pounds of prepared mussels. (Yes, each person gets their own entire pound. In France, they often served them in even larger proportions!) If the mussels are really fresh, you’ll have to clean and de-beard them, and then cook them in salt water. However, if you buy mussels that have already been cooked, cleaned, and flash frozen, then prepare them according to the directions on the package. Once they are cooked, add them to the broth above and let them simmer for 2-3 minutes. If most of the shells are already open, you can add the broth and turn the heat off, allowing the flavorings to meld with the mussels. Test to make sure they’re salty enough, although they probably will be if they were cooked originally in salted water. Add more salt only if needed.

Steamed Garlic Mussels garnished with fresh parsley and served with fresh lemon
Along the Normandy coast, we could discard our shells into the top half of the pot.
However, if you don’t live along some wildly romantic coastal area and just happen to have pots for steaming mussels or clams, then you can do what I did:
Serve mussels with an extra bowl for the shells! Also . . . a loaf of fresh bread with lots of butter and hopefully a tossed salad.

Steamed mussels are also great in pasta, served over rice, or with french fries.

However, we like them just on their own merit, with lots of bread to sop up the broth (which is delicious; consider it a “soup”).

And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them” (Genesis 6:21). “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Genesis 9:3).

Golden Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Looking for a special treat for Mother’s Day? Here’s a super simple recipe you (or your kids) can make out of basic ingredients IF you have a can of pineapple in your pantry. Crushed or chunked pineapple works just as well, although pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the middle look especially festive.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

(I’m listing the ingredients first today, just to make it easy to figure out if you have them. I haven’t tried other types of canned fruit, but probably any you like would work. Whatever you do, please don’t go shopping to get anything special during this COVID crisis!)

Golden Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Ingredient List:
1 20-oz. can of pineapple rings in juice (or light syrup)
10-12 maraschino cherries (if you have them; totally optional)
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 stick (4 oz; 1/2 cup) softened butter
2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pineapple juice
(or whatever is in the can)

Arrange the pineapple rings in the bottom of a 9″X11″ pan (or something close to that, whatever you have). Place a cherry in the center of each ring (optional, but it’s sure pretty)

Spread the 3/4 cup brown sugar loosely over the pineapples and cherries

In a mixing bowl, add all these ingredients together, then blend them until they’re smooth and a little fluffy looking (about 2-3 minutes):
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 stick (4 oz; 1/2 cup) softened butter
2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pineapple juice (or whatever is in the can)

I used to follow the “cream this” and “then add that” for cakes, but as a mother with lots of kids, I started cutting corners to save time and noticed that it really doesn’t make any difference if you dump everything in and then blend it! This isn’t a light, fluffy cake.

The batter will be a touch heavier than regular cake batter, so you can’t just “pour” it out on top; you’ll need to ladle it out and spread it carefully over the top of everything, making sure it covers the fruit and sugar completely and touches all the sides.

Bake in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes or until starting to turn a golden brown and the center springs back slightly when touched.

Cool only a little. You can serve it almost immediately, and it’s best warm. Serve each piece by flipping it over on the plate so that the circle of pineapple and cherry are on top. It’s fine by itself, but it’s also really good with a little whipped cream or ice cream on top (if you happen to have any).

Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof” (Isaiah 24:1). If you’re anything like me, you probably feel like the Lord has been doing this on our earth in 2020! At any rate, Happy Mothers’ Day to you tomorrow!