Fancy Doughnuts in a Plain World: “Amish Crack”

When Allison came home after spending a day in Northern Indiana doing research for an article she is writing about the Amish community and the RV industry, she told me she had sampled the best doughnut of her life. She said the locals call them “Amish Crack” because they are so delicious and addictive. I’m not a baker; most of my cooking involves dishes that are tasty – but fast! (Visit the Yates Yummies blog) Roy always laughs and says everything I make takes 15 minutes tops, so I’m not geared to the patient process of waiting for dough to rise. Plus I lack a basic understanding of the chemistry aspect of baking. However, after Allison found a post on Finding Harmony Blog that documented the author’s attempts at duplicating Rise’n Roll Bakery’s Cinnamon Caramel Doughnut, I had a desire to join in on the search for a recipe. What a wild ride! After several attempts I managed to cover every surface of my kitchen with a thin layer of flour and/or confectioners sugar and had some spectacular failures (think rock hard or envision a tire deflating).   I’ve documented what I learned below, along with the recipe I finally settled on. If anyone out there tries it, I would love to hear feedback! Likewise, if there is a better recipe for these delicious morsels, please share! To print out the recipe, scroll down to the bottom of this post and click on the “button”.

Just a quick aside – above and below are photos I took in 2015 while visiting Amish Acres in Nappanee , an attraction/museum dedicated to preserving historic buildings of the early Amish settlers in Indiana.

We spent three days in Nappanee while our motor home was being serviced at the Newmar Corporation. We were able to take a factory tour and experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance watching hustling Amish workers string yards and yards of electrical wires onto the RVs being built.

We also traveled to Shipshewana (above left, and right) and LaGrange (above lower photo right). Except for the slow moving vehicle sign in the back, seeing the horse and buggies is like going back in time.

The Amish try to keep their old ways while living in the modern world…

But let’s talk about the legendary doughnuts.

The Dough:

In the comments on the Finding Harmony Blog post, several people stated that they felt like potato was the secret ingredient needed to make the fluffy doughnuts. First I tried yeast-less potato dough, then potato dough with yeast. I also gleaned ideas from this recipe for Amish Doughnuts.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Resist the temptation to use a food processor to mix potato dough. The less handling the better or else the doughnuts will be dense, not fluffy. I realized that if I let the potato “melt” into the yeast water and then added it to the flour mixture, I could combine all the dough ingredients together with a fork.
  2. Grease the parchment paper that cut-out doughnuts are laid to rise on, or else they stick like crazy.
  3. Too long a second rise time made the doughnuts puff up so much the hole closed and when I tried to move them off the paper, they deflated. I fried a couple anyway and now I know why doughnuts need a hole; the middle stays raw when the outside is done.

The Caramel Glaze:

The Finding Harmony Blog post included two possible caramel glaze recipes; one used brown sugar and the other white sugar from the cook book Homemade Doughnuts: Techniques and Recipes for Making Sublime Doughnuts in Your Home Kitchen by Kamal Grant (Quarry Books, 2014). The white sugar recipe was tricky since it involved heating the sugar to caramelize it, but the flavor was truly superior.

Here is what I learned:

  1. The white sugar turns to burnt sugar very quickly once it starts to change color. Err on the side of caution and pull it off the heat sooner than later. It is tricky.
  2. When caramelizing the sugar it will turn into a hard ball when other ingredients are added to it. After searching for information on how to correct it, I found a What’s Cooking America post that advised adding a drop of lemon juice to prevent the problem.
  3. However, while the drop of lemon juice improved the situation, it didn’t entirely prevent all of the water/sugar mixture from hardening up on my stirring spoon and in the bottom of the pan. I found that heating the cream up in the microwave for 20 seconds so that it was warm, but not curdled, helped a lot.

So here’s the recipe that resulted from all my experimentation:

Amish Crack Doughnuts – Yields About 2 Dozen Doughnuts

Ingredients

For Dough:

1 (around 10 oz.) potato

4 cups water

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup shortening (such as 1/2 of a Crisco Baking Stick)

2 packages yeast

Large bottle of vegetable oil (about 24 oz.)

Extra self-rising flour for rolling out dough

Ingredients for Caramel Glaze:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 drop lemon juice

3/4 cup of butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Ingredients for Cinnamon Powdered Sugar

2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions for Doughnuts:

Add the Peel and cube potato. Place in sauce pan with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain the potatoes and reserve the cooking water.

While the potato is cooking combine the all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.

When it has cooled down to a warm but not hot temperature, place two cups of the potato cooking water in a medium sized bowl and pour the yeast over the top of it. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes until it looks smooth but foamy. Give it a stir.

Use a ricer or push the cooked potato through the holes of a colander. Don’t worry if the potato just ends up being mashed. Add the riced or mashed potato to the yeast water and give it a stir. The potato will sort of dissolve and disintegrate into the water.

Melt the shortening and allow to cool slightly. Whisk the eggs together.  Add the melted shortening, whisked eggs, and yeast/potato water to the flour mixture and store with a fork until it is combined. Don’t knead.

Grease the inside of a very large bowl with shortening or butter. Place the dough in the middle and cover with a tea towel. Allow to rise until double. This can take a couple hours, depending on how warm the room temperature is.

After the rising period, punch the dough down and place on a self-rising flour covered surface or pastry cloth. Knead just a couple times, then roll out to a 1/2 inch thickness. Using either a doughnut cutter or a glass turned upside down that is about 3 1/2 inches in diameter, cut out doughnuts. (If using a glass, cut holes out of the middle with an empty spice bottle or something similar.) Place the doughnuts on a baking sheet that has been covered with well greased foil or parchment paper. Cover with tea towels and let rest/rise for 1/2 hour.

Pour the vegetable oil in a large sauce pan. Heat to between 360 and 375 degrees. If working without a candy/cooking thermometer, the oil will be ready when it shimmers and a doughnut hole is surrounded by simmering bubbles when dropped in.

Fry 3 to 4 doughnuts at a time, about 2 minutes on each side. They will be lightly browned. Place cooked doughnuts on cooling racks which are on top of paper towels.

While the doughnuts are still warm, dip them into the Caramel Glaze (recipe below). Finish them off by placing the Cinnamon Confectioner’s Sugar (recipe below) in a fine mesh strainer and giving each doughnut a dusting.

Directions for Caramel Glaze

Cut the butter up into small cubes and set aside. Place the sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Stir to combine then place over medium heat and allow to simmer/boil without stirring for around 7 to 10 minutes until the mixture browns but doesn’t pass to the burning point. Do not walk away from the stove! It takes a while to get it going, but once it gets to a golden brown color, it quickly goes to burning. Once it is golden brown, remove the pan from the heat. Heat the cream in the microwave for 20 seconds so that it is warm, but doesn’t boil or curdle. Whisk the warm cream, a little at a time, into the sugar syrup. Add the butter, a little at a time, while continuing to whisk. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar, salt, and vanilla until the mixture is smooth.

Direction for Cinnamon Confectioner’s Sugar

Place the confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and stir until blended together.

                         

 

An American’s Observations of Some Charming Cafes in Australia and New Zealand

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As an American “mum” visiting two of my daughters in Australia and then traveling on to New Zealand, I was prepared to see lots of beauty. However, I couldn’t help but be awed by the cafe culture. What I expected was an abundance of places that served tea to middle aged ladies wearing hats. Those existed too, but what actually seemed to be more plentiful were establishments that not only served coffee (and tea) but also innovative food. I shouldn’t have been so surprised since my daughter Allison had written an article about Navigating Australian Coffee Culture as well as posted some fabulous photos featuring Melbourne cafe culture on her  entertaining blog Naptime with Yasmine. There is no substitute for real experience though, and I came away with a few observations as well as a craving for a bliss (protein) balls. Those little morsels were seen nestled among the sweet offerings in several cafes. A recipe for Almond Butter Bliss Balls is given below; they are not too sweet but still delicious, and ingredient proportions can be played around with to suit individual tastes.

First of all, I was blown away but the sheer number of cafes.

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Each of the smaller bergs we passed through in our rented car had a least one really cute cafe. In bigger cities, there seemed to be multiple coffee shops literally side by side. In contrast to the U.S., each tiny shop had its own unique individuality and style. Some major themes seemed to emerge – “shabby chic”. “retro ’50’s” or “Euro new age”. Turquoise seemed to be a favored color, but another prominent decor scheme was white paired with gleaming stainless steel adorned with potted succulents.

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I LOVED the coffee cups. Probably the correct term for them is cappuccino cups. What ever they are called, I ordered a set of colorful ones from Amazon when I got home. Of course, I had to have one in turquoise.

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They serve lattes in a glass.  Does anyone know why?

At one point I just ordered a regular coffee. The waitress looked confused.

“Mom, you can’t do that here”, my daughter Jennifer explained.

What? It turns out that each coffee is built from espresso. An “American” cup of coffee would have to be made by adding a lot of hot water to an espresso shot. In addition to that, since each order is individually made, be prepared for a long wait in line if the cafe has only one barista working one machine.

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So, what goes with a cup of coffee? If it was ten in the morning or mid afternoon, I’d go for a sweet. Bar cookies or sheet cakes are called “slices”.  Often seen with fruit filling and crumble topping, they were absolutely over the top tasty! But so was everything else, even the “biscuits” (cookies to Americans).

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If it was breakfast or lunchtime, the savory food served in the cafes was scrumptious. Even a small town cafe could be counted on to offer fresh, high quality dishes. No bagels or fried food were in sight. Always on hand were carafes of water and a supply of small glasses that patrons could help themselves to.

The following photos show just a few of the cafes we encountered.

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Sonido! South American Cafe  69 Gertrude St, Fitzro, Melbourne

Very close to the Melbourne Museum.  Make sure to get there before the kitchen closes at 3 pm.

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Porcelain 149 Elgin St, Carlton, Melbourne

Alright, this is really a tea parlor – but it has a special place in Allison’s heart, so I wanted to include it!

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Coco Cubano 191 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney

Wide glass doors open up to the street and patio seating. Inside, leather and wood provide a cozy atmosphere.

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26 on Ross 26 Ross Place, Lawrence, New Zealand

Delicious, high quality food in a tiny small town.

 

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Uncommon 60 Chapel St, Windsor, Melbourne

Very close to some interesting back alley street art. The bliss balls were out of this world and the inspiration for the recipe below.

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Chop House Arrow Ln, Arrowtown 9302, New Zealand

Just a wee bit hard to find, but the locals will tell you where it is! The food was first rate.

Recipe for Almond Butter Bliss Balls

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Ingredients for six bliss balls:

1/4 cup store bought almond butter

1/4 cup whole almonds

6 dates

2 heaping tablespoons cacao powder

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Use a food processor to pulse the almonds until they are like coarse sand. Don’t allow the ground almonds to become a paste. Place in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the seeds from the dates and roughly chop them. Place the chopped dates, almond butter, cacao powder, coconut oil, salt, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the ground almonds in the food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are combined. Form resulting mass into six walnut sized balls. Roll each ball in the remaining ground almonds. They can be eaten immediately but they are even better after being refrigerated for a couple of hours.

Enjoy with a good cup of coffee!

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Guest Post: Naptime With Yasmine Makes Time For Melbourne’s Doughnut Time

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Editor’s note:  In 2016, my adventurous, world traveling daughter spent most of the year in Australia courtesy of a Working Holiday visa. Her never boring and often hilarious blog, Naptime With Yasmine , documents much of her experiences there.  Last month, Roy and I met up with her and one of our other daughters in Sydney, and then traveled on to Melbourne. While walking around the city, I was enchanted by the window display of Doughnut Time. Besides looking absolutely delicious, the pastries displayed sported catchy little names such as “Yass Girl, You Sleigh” (red velvet with candy canes) and “O Holey Night” (Christmas cream glaze with festive sprinkles). But do they taste as good as they look? Here’s the scoop from Yasmine – but you can call her Allison.

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Make Time For Melbourne’s Doughnut Time

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Look through Doughnut Time’s Instagram . Do yourself a favor and open it now. It’s enough to make me want to jump out of my balcony, into the street, and sprint right down to Degraves Street in the CBD and spend another $6 to satisfy this demanding craving that’s plagued me since the first moment one of their doughnuts grazed my lips.

Doughnut time has become a massive craze. Its hashtag is everywhere, dominating Twitter and Instagram. The line is always out enormously long. Walking past the store, there are, without fail, hordes of young girls instagramming pictures of chocolate filling spewing out of the crispy pastries.

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So, if the concept of doughnuts isn’t new, what makes Doughnut Time so special? In an age of nutrition-obsessed, health-conscious consumers, how can a doughnut shop not only survive, but thrive? How can a chain go from one store in Brisbane to selling in over 15 locations just a few months later? The publication Time Out Melbourne even listed it as some of the best doughnuts in all of the city. After resisting for months buying what I claimed was an overpriced item to only make me fat, I finally caved. I set off to find out.

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They refer to their donuts as “works of art.” And aren’t they, though? Their website  features an array of unique creations with cheeky names and equally impressive ingredients. They have doughnuts called “The Gluten that Got Away,” “The Ed Sheeran,” and “Glazed and Confused.” Unfortunately their current menu doesn’t include those, but I opted for one that satisfied both my need for a trendy name and my chocolate craving. I didn’t leave disappointed.

I arrived at the Melbourne CBD location on Degraves Street, just a few meters from Flinders Street Station around 1:00pm, ready to take the plunge. I waited in line behind five people, but not for long. Within seconds I was at the front of the line, chatting with the two teenage girls behind the counter. “I’ll have the Zero Chills,” I said. The name of the doughnut I chose (butterscotch glaze topped with Hershey’s kisses and crushed Oreo), a popular slang term to mean that I “do what I have to do,” seemed fitting for the occasion.

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They packaged my doughnut in a light blue, retro-inspired takeaway box that had, “Honey, I think it’s time. Call now” and “It’s always a good time” written on the side.  It’s as if they were mocking me for holding out for so long. They knew I couldn’t be kept away forever.

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On my way to devour my doughnut in Federation Square, I stopped by 7/11 for some cheap coffee (it’s not even as bad as they say it is). After all, who can afford a $6 doughnut and coffee as expensive as it is in Melbourne ?

I took one bite. The outer edge of the doughnut had a slight crunch, but the inside was moist, fluffy, and utterly irresistible. I smeared chocolate all over my face. I licked my lips and dropped pieces of the butterscotch glaze all over my shirt. I felt full and slightly sick after my third bite, but I didn’t let that get in the way of me finishing the entire thing. I had zero chills about what other people thought. I was enjoying a special moment with this insanely sugary, insanely expensive, but insanely breathtaking dessert.

So, I asked myself again, what makes Doughnut Time so special? It’s the taste for sure. It’s absolutely about the quality. But most of all, it’s about having a fast-food, chic, hole-in-the-wall (literally) doughnut shop that gets us. They know their consumers. We want to have aesthetically pleasing desserts to Instagram and hilarious names that make references we understand. We want to frequent a place that thinks of combinations and creations that are close to home and familiar but widely unheard of and somehow still tantalizingly rare. We wanted it, and we found it. At least I did, anyway. Me and 11,000 other followers.

On that note, please excuse me. It’s Doughnut Time.

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All photos taken by Allison Yates

Please visit the insanely entertaining Naptime With Yasmine , a blog that focuses on people, travel, and living and working abroad with a sense of humor and a social conscience. She is a traveler, but also a feminist and advocate, questioning the impact of her presence and the implications of her actions abroad.

My personal favorite posts have to be the great stories she tells about the year she lived in Ibiza, Spain.

As Allison says, “Have a meaningful, and most importantly, entertaining life.”

Delicious Dukkah Roasted Cauliflower Salad

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Is this a salad? Or is it a side? It doesn’t matter because it is delicious! In fact, it could be a main dish and I would be happy. What makes it so good is that the cauliflower is roasted with an addictive seasoning from Egypt called Dukkah. I had been seeing it mentioned in foodie magazines and then I stumbled on it in a spice blend shop in Melbourne, Australia.

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Of course I had to try it. We all loved it with crusty bread dipped in olive oil, and then the Dukkah. It was even good sprinkled on our breakfast of hard boiled eggs in our Airbnb. Earlier in the trip we had eaten roasted cauliflower atop a salad with yogurt sauce; I wondered how cauliflower would taste if it was sprinkled with Dukkah before it was roasted… It turned out to be a winner! Below is a recipe for basic Dukkah. As you can see, there are options listed to make variations. Following that is the cauliflower salad recipe. The lemon & oil salad dressing and yogurt sauce take the whole thing over the top – enjoy!

Basic Dukkah Recipe

1 cup chopped nuts (Australian tend to use hazelnuts, others use pistachios and/or almonds)

1/2 cup sesame seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons pepper

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Other possible additions:

1 teaspoons turmeric powder

1 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon  ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

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Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the nuts out on it. Bake the nuts for five minutes, watching them carefully so they get brown around the edges but don’t burn. Set them aside and let them cool.

Place the seeds in a skillet and over medium heat, stir them until they start to brown. They may pop! Set them aside and let them cool.

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until crumbly. Do not let it become a paste. Place in a mixing bowl. Process the coriander and cumin seeds until ground. Add them to the mixing bowl, along with the sesame seeds, salt, pepper and any additional spices and stir to combine.

Serve with olive oil and crusty bread. Use as a breading for chicken or fish. Or make the tasty cauliflower dish below:

Dukkah Roasted Cauliflower Salad – Serves Four

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Ingredients:

For the roasted cauliflower:

1 head cauliflower

3 tablespoons Dukkah – recipe above

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and cut the cauliflower into florets. Place them in a single layer on the parchment paper. Sprinkle the florets with the olive oil and Dukkah. Bake for 30 minutes. Cauliflower should be tender, easily pierced with a fork, and browned on the edges.

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For the yogurt sauce:

1/2 Greek yogurt

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together.

For the salad:

6 cups arugula

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place the arugula in a large bowl. Whisk the rest of the ingredients together. Pour enough dressing over the arugula to coat it, but not drench it. Reserve the rest of the dressing. (It’s great drizzled over vegetables or as a dressing on any kind of salad.)

For Garnish:

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

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To assemble the dish, place the dressed arugula salad on a serving platter. Place the roasted cauliflower on top. Drizzle some of the yogurt sauce on top. Scatter the chopped cilantro and cherry tomatoes over the top. Serve immediately and pass the remaining yogurt sauce at the table.

 

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Tradition Hanukkah Recipes

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For the past five Decembers, I have had an absolutely wonderful time writing some kind of holiday recipe article for a local area magazine I contribute to. The articles usually involve multiple dishes and a whole lot of photography. Since The deadline is in November, a few times my daughter Jennifer was home for Thanksgiving and assisted me with the cooking and snapping of pictures. We always start out calmly and neatly, but by the end of the day it all somehow gets away from us and the kitchen starts to look like something exploded in it! The ultimate time was when I was featuring each writers favorite seasonal recipe. Jenny and I began the task of making around 15 different items such as cookies in the shape of bows, stuffing spiked with sherry and the best pull apart caramel nut rolls we ever experienced. We worked all day and into the early evening and by the time we were done, every pan let alone ounce of flour had been used!

This year I was asked to highlight traditional Hanukkah recipes. My Jewish friends happily gave me some of their family favorites. I have to say, everything was delicious! The fried potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts celebrate the miracle of The Festival of light; a single cruse of oil lasted for eight nights in a temple reclaimed by faithful Jews. The cookies are made from a fabulous cream cheese dough and the vegetable dish is now a new favorite in our family. But the best has got to be the beef brisket! The left overs make wonderful filling for street tacos or, with BBQ sauce, a great sandwich!

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s Bridal Shower

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Last weekend my daughter Caroline was the guest of honor at a fabulous bridal shower. The invitations and decor reflected the theme “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. My dear friends Marilyn and Mary hosted the shower along with some help from another wonderful friend, Jan. Marilyn’s home was the perfect place for the event; not only is it one of the most beautifully decorated houses ever to be seen, but even some of the walls sport Tiffany blue!

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Those iconic Tiffany shopping bags were scattered all over.

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I loved the little favor bags filled with candies in that turquoise blue color – they looked like miniature Tiffany bags.

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Some of the tables had a pop of orange-red color coming from the center piece flower arrangements.

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Aren’t those polka dot napkins fun? I think they prevented the look from being too “stuffy”.

Of course, I got the recipes!

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Menu:

Egg Casserole with Sausage

Blueberry Buckle Coffee Cake

Apple and Cherry Turnovers

Banana Nut Bread

Fruit

 

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Egg Casserole – makes a 9 x 13 pan full

Ingredients:

6 eggs

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt*

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 pound sausage**

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

2 slices bread, cubed

Directions:

Brown sausage and drain off grease. Mix eggs, milk, salt, mustard. Add sausage, cheese, and bread. Combine and pour into greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake 45-60 minutes in 350 degree oven, uncovered.

* When I make this, I reduce salt to 1/2 teaspoon.

**As you can see by photo, Mary used sausage links instead of ground sausage.

 

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Blueberry Buckle Coffee Cake – makes a 9″ x 13″ pan

Ingredients:

4 cups flour

1/4 cup baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup milk

4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Topping:

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan.

Make the topping: Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Cut or rub in the butter with the side of a fork, two knives or your finger tips until it reaches a crumbly state. Set aside

Blend the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla. Alternately add the milk and the flour mixture to the sugar/butter mixture, ending with flour. Add blueberries. Stir only enough to blend. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the topping over the batter. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack to cool for 10 minutes.

 

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Cherry Turnovers – yields two dozen

Ingredients:

3 (8 count) cans crescent rolls

2 (21 oz.) cans – one cherry and one apple, pie filling

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two (12 count) muffin pans. Place each crescent roll dough triangle in the middle of a muffin well so edges are hanging out. Spoon a little less than 2 tablespoons of pie filling on each. Fold the hanging edges over the top of the pie filling. Bake 10 minutes or until the dough is raised and golden brown. While the turnovers are baking, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, butter, and enough of the milk to make the glaze smooth. Drizzle over the baked turnovers. Best served warm.

 

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What We Ate When We Went West

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Being from the Midwest, I had no idea how beautiful the western part of the United States is. I had visited California and Colorado before, but they were short trips with a busy schedule. This summer Roy and I had the opportunity to explore this area of the country in a motor home and of course, one of our goals was to investigate the food! This post highlights what we found; I’m sure I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg, so please let me know what I’ve missed in the comments below.

 Bison and Elk

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I had my first taste of bison (photo above, left) at the Cowboy Cafe in Medora, North Dakota. Medora is a cute little touristy town right at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I was a lot more excited about the park than I was about that bison burger! Bison meat has less fat than chicken and fewer calories. I figured that was why it tasted so dry. But I didn’t give up! Each time I found it on a the menu, I’d give it a try. Some bison burgers were tastier than others. The best one I found was at Wall Drug in South Dakota. We also sampled elk burgers made for us by our friends Jim and Carol in Missoula, Montana. They were delicious (Carol is a great cook) and really not that much different than hamburger. However, our best bison experience was when we grilled a bison tri tip steak which we bought at Specialty Cuts Meat Market in Columbia Falls, Montana. In the West, beef tri tip is a common cut rubbed with dry spices and cooked up Santa Maria style which I tried to mimic. I used what spices I had on hand, and bragging aside, it was delicious!

Bison Tri Tip Steak

Ingredients for Four Large Servings:

Tri tip steak close to two pounds (about one inch thick)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and put through press

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons thyme

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

Directions:

Combine the salt, garlic, olive oil, thyme, pepper, and marjoram together to make a paste. Rub it into the steak, covering all sides. Allow the steak to sit (with the rub on) until it comes to room temperature. Heat the grill up to high temperature. Sear the outside of the steak by cooking each side on high for 2 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and cook 9 minutes a side for medium well. Tri tip has sort of a rectangle shape, so the ends of the steak will be well done and the middle inside will be pink. After taking the steak off the grill, let it rest on a covered platter for 5 to 10 minutes. Then slice the steak against the grain and enjoy!

Huckleberries

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Smaller than a blueberry and a bit more tart, huckleberries are a big deal, especially in Montana and nearby Idaho.  They are good in everything that blueberries are, but perhaps because there is a short window when they are in season, they are found in a lot of packaged food as well.  We enjoyed them in ice cream, chocolate sauce, and even taffy.

Jerky

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Not just beef jerky, but a multitude of different meats and flavors such as teriyaki turkey and jalapeño bison are available. In the Midwest, I’ve seen this stuff in sporting goods stores or Walmarts, but I have never seen anyone buy it.  Out west, everyone seems to have it in their grocery cart. It’s a great snack that doesn’t have to be refrigerated, so for car trips it’s handy – especially since every destination is so spread out from the next one. On the plus side, jerky consists of protein, but the down fall is the high sodium. However, since these strips of dried meat take an eternity to chew, not many can be eaten at one sitting!

Traditional Dishes Passed Down From Immigrants

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Thousands of immigrants came to settle the West due to the Homestead Act of 1862 and the railroads. Their lasting influence is felt in various Irish pubs, German restaurants, and Italian produce companies in the region. Our friend Carol is of Norwegian descent. Her ancestors came to Montana via Minnesota. She belongs to The Son’s of Norway and I was thrilled to see her and other members make a traditional Crown Cake (Kransekake). It was evident that Carol and her dear friends Tolly, Susan, and Betty had a wonderful time doing this labor of love together. This time consuming celebration cake is served at milestone events such as weddings and graduations.

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Rings of batter consisting of ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites are  baked in special form pans. Then they are stacked 18 high,  held together with royal icing, and decorated with Norwegian flags and candy. As you can see from the photo collage above, there are many different recipe versions; some use almond paste while others include more than just the three basic ingredients. I got to taste a baked piece of a ring that broke while it was being removed from the pan. It reminded me of a macaroon cookie and was delicious.

Huge Candy Stores Where the Star of the Show is Licorice

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We encountered huge candy stores such as the one in Arlee, Montana above. I never knew there could be so many different kinds of licorice – including huckleberry!

Trout

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While in Denver, we met up with our old friends Jerry and Helen.  Roy and Jerry have a hilarious fishing history which they managed to continue during our visit. I won’t go into it here, but I will say tears of laughter streamed down my face when they came back after hours of fishing with a grocery store bag full of trout. At least they were cleaned and gutted! Helen cooked them up using the foil packet method and the results were scrumptious!

Helen’s Colorado Trout

Ingredients for Four Servings:

4 trout- about 2 pounds, gutted and cleaned

4 pieces of heavy duty foil, each about 12 by 24 inches

1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half if large

1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

 

Directions:

Mist each piece of foil with cooking spray and place a trout in the middle. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt, lemon pepper, and garlic powder over each fish. Evenly sprinkle the cherry tomatoes and diced onion among each fish. Top each one with a tablespoon of butter and seal the packets tightly. Either bake in the oven or place on a gas grill at 400 degrees heat for fifteen minutes, turning once in the middle of the cooking time.  The fish should flake easily with a fork when done.

Green Chiles of Colorado and New Mexico

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We hit Pueblo, Colorado just in time for the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival. Contrary to what Midwesterners think, this event doesn’t celebrate a ground beef and tomato sauce concoction, but rather dried beans and green chilies. Huge bags of mirasol chilies are carried over by fork lifts to roasters that resemble those devices that turn raffle tickets. Only these are huge baskets that flame up and smoke the chiles. People line up to get huge plastic bags full of the roasted chiles which they take home and divide into freezer bags to last them until the Chile Festival next year.image

The signature dish in Pueblo is the slopper, shown above left. An open face cheeseburger is covered with a sauce made from green chiles and sprinkled with chopped onion. It also comes with red chile sauce which is a less spicy version. We sampled one at Grays Coors Tavern, an iconic place that was started by the Coors company to promote their beer. It’s only changed hands a couple of times and it’s full of character. Lots of families were sitting in booths along the wall watching the Broncos play and there is outdoor seating as well.

New Mexico is know for bring a bowl of both green and red chile (sauce not the stew) to the table. A few years ago when we were driving across the country to California,  Jenny and I found their brand of Tex Mex food as enchanting as the terrain. We are headed there next, and I’m looking forward to Sopapillas drenched with honey! Anyone have any recommendations?

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