CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Thursday is National Toothpick Day. Who hasn't had to pick up a pile of these sharp little sticks after having them fall out of the box?
In years past I remember seeing men chew on the same toothpick all day as they went about their work. But now, not so much. Toothpicks seem to have become more important as a utensil for eating appetizers or for holding food together while it cooks. Add a colorful frill or flag, and it's a dandy decoration for finger foods. Patented in 1872, the toothpick is worthy of a little nod on Thursday.
Thursday is also National Cherry Pie Day. It makes perfect sense that this celebration is in February. The pie is often associated with George Washington, so celebrating Presidents Day and National Cherry Pie Day in the same month is a no-brainer. According to wikipedia.com, tart cherries are preferred to sweet cherries; it's easier to control the sweetness of a pie when baking with tart cherries. I'm a fan of canned cherry-pie filling, probably because of its sweetness. But my daughter, Sarah, makes the filling from scratch, using fresh cherries, sugar, cornstarch and a little almond extract. Her cherry pie is as close to perfection as they come. Maybe Thursday would be a good time to make a pie request.
My husband, Chris, found a new cookbook for me, and it really is perfect for new cooks as well as not-so-new cooks. "The Pioneer Woman Cooks a Year of Holidays," by Ree Drummond, contains 140 recipes and step-by-step pictures so you know what the food looks like as you go along. While I appreciate a picture of the finished product, getting there is sometimes confusing. But it's nice to know I'm heading in the right direction.
Drummond shares many helpful hints in the book. My favorite is an ingenious idea for removing corn from the cob: Rest one end of the corn in the center hole of a bundt pan and slice downwards. The kernels go right into the pan.
Here are a couple more tips from the Pioneer Woman:
For an easier way to make s'mores, use a chocolate spread such as Nutella to fully cover the graham cracker instead of melting a chocolate bar. And if you like decorating cakes and cookies, put frosting in a squirt bottle and draw on flowers and letters -- you're limited only by your imagination.
Today's recipes are from my new cookbook. They are easy to make, even without seeing the pictures. The scones can be flavored with nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips, or dipped in a powdered-sugar glaze. I had to include the scalloped potatoes and ham recipe because this combination has always been high on my list of favorites. And if you aren't in the mood to fix crust for National Cherry Pie Day on Thursday, I think cherry cake will suffice. Serve it warm with ice cream or whipped topping, and you'll want seconds, for sure. Have a wonderful week and happy eating!
Perfect cream scones
3 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
Soft flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into large bowl. Add butter pieces and cut into dry ingredients. Whisk together the cream and egg. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring gently with a fork until the dough barely comes together. Use your hands to press into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, press the dough into a rectangle shape; roll to about 1/2-inch thick, forming as you go to keep the rectangle shape. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut 12 smaller rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half crosswise to get 24 small triangles. Bake on baking sheet with baking mat or parchment paper at 350 degrees for 18 minutes or until just barely golden brown. Yields 24 scones.
Scalloped potatoes with ham
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2 cups diced cooked ham
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
Chopped parsley (optional)
Saute onion in butter over medium heat until it starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and whisk together. Continue cooking for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in the milk and half-and-half and whisk, allowing to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pepper; stir and reduce heat to keep warm. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish. Add half the sliced potatoes and half the ham. Sprinkle with half the ham and pour on half the cream sauce. Repeat layers and sprinkle pepper on top. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown and sauce is bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley before serving, if desired. Yields 12 servings.
1 (15-ounce) can cherries in syrup, drained; save the syrup
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened plus more for pan
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
For the sticky syrup:
1 cup reserved cherry juice
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add sugar and butter to bowl and cream together; beat in egg. In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt, then alternate adding dry ingredients with the milk in three batches to butter mixture until batter just comes together. Add drained cherries and pecans; mix until barely combined. Spread into generously buttered 8-inch square baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until done. While cake is baking, make sticky syrup. Whisk 1 cup cherry syrup with sugar and flour. Bring to a gentle boil and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until syrup is thick. Remove pan from heat and add butter and vanilla. Remove cake from oven and immediately drizzle syrup evenly over the top. Let cake stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm. Yields 8 servings.
Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.