February 2017
Homeplace & Community

The Co-op Pantry

February already! 2017 is off to a fast start so far. Foodwise, we have two things going on this month: Valentine’s Day, which just about everyone celebrates, and Mardi Gras.

No one is positive just how Valentine’s Day started. Common legend has it that a Roman physician or priest ran afoul of a pagan emperor, Claudius II, and was executed for performing Christian marriages. Another story involves Valentine healing a young lady of blindness and being told to renounce Christianity, and, when he would not, he was executed. Everyone does agree that he met an untimely end.

If you live in the southern United States, we are also in the midst of Mardi Gras. In fact, Mobile claims to have been the first U.S. city to celebrate it. New Orleans has been known to argue about this! Mardi Gras began on King’s Day or Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2017, and will end on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28. Lots of eating and general over-indulgence before Lent begins! Once Lent begins, sacrifices are supposed to be made and lives lived piously.

You can join the fun by getting your colored beads out and/or going to lots of parades and eating traditional Mardi Gras foods.

In 1872, the colors purple, green and gold were designated the Festival’s official colors and the first daytime Mardi Gras parade took place. In 1875, the governor signed a law making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, and it remains one today. While we are used to seeing the Bourbon Street version of Mardi Gras, much of it is very family-friendly and a lot of fun.

What foods do we associate with these events? Well, for Valentine’s Day, we tend to think of chocolate, wine, honey and strawberries. The heart-shaped chocolate boxes we are familiar with began to appear in Victorian England.

For Mardi Gras, some traditional foods are King Cake, gumbo and red beans and rice or, in our case, red beans, sausage and rice.

Mary Delph is an associate editor with AFC Cooperative Farming News.
You may email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

VALENTINI

2 ounces cranberry juice cocktail
1½ ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
3 ounces Brut Champagne, chilled (or one of the nonalcoholic Champagnes)

In case you have never tried this, chill Champagne15 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator. The other juices should be cold as well. Pour juices into a Champagne glass and then top with Champagne. Very easy and delicious.

 

Want to do something with the kids? What could be easier than tomato soup and heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches?

TOMATO SOUP

4 garlic cloves, finely dice
1 cup Vidalia onion, finely dice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes 
3 cups chicken stock (vegan version use no chicken broth)
½ teaspoon basil
2½ Tablespoons sugar
4 Tablespoons half & half
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Pepper and salt, to taste

In a pan over medium heat, sauté first four ingredients for approximately 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and heat over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Pour into blender and blend to desired texture.

Note: If you have time to make homemade soup, I applaud you for doing so. If you are like most Moms, rushed off your feet, canned soup will work nicely.

 

GRILLED CHEESE HEARTS

Oatmeal bread slices
Mozzarella slices
Butter 

Grab your heart-shaped cookie cutter (one that will cut inside the crusts) and cut a back and front for each sandwich. Butter bread slices on one side. In frying pan over medium heat, place one slice of bread (butter side down), set cheese slice on top and top with second slice of bread (butter side up). Flip sandwich once first side is lightly browned. Lightly brown second side. 

 

VALENTINE'S DAY SUGAR COOKIES

1 pouch Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix plus ingredients from pouch
1 pouch Betty Crocker White Cookie icing plus ingredients from pouch
1 bottle red and pink heart sprinkles
1 heart-shaped cookie cutter 

Prepare sugar cookies as directed on pouch. Following directions on cookie pouch, cut dough with the heart-shaped cookie cutter and bake as directed.
In a bowl, empty cookie icing and prepare as directed on pouch.

Once cookies are cooled, dip half the heart into icing. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle with hearts. Continue until all cookies are decorated, allowing them to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Note: I love all things Betty Crocker. I actually learned to cook using my Mom’s 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook.

 

SUPER EASY MARDI GRAS
KING CAKE

3 (14-ounce) cans refrigerated sweet roll dough 
Small plastic baby
2 (12-fluid ounce) cans creamy vanilla ready-to-spread frosting, divided 
¼ cup milk, divided
2 drops green food coloring 
2 drops yellow food coloring 
1 drop red food coloring 
1 drop blue food coloring 
½ cup multi-colored sprinkles
Beads, plastic babies, curly ribbon and desired festive trinket

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a baking sheet. Open 1 can of sweet roll dough and unroll into 3 strands. Working on a clean surface, place strands side by side and gather them together to make one large strand. Fold in half; roll slightly to make a fat log. Repeat steps with each can. Place each log onto the prepared baking sheet and shape to make a ring, overlapping the ends and pinching them together to make a complete circle. Pat the dough in shape as necessary to make the ring even in size all the way around. Cover loosely with foil.

Bake until firm to the touch and golden brown, 50-60 minutes. Check often for doneness so it doesn’t overbake. Place on a wire rack and cool completely. Place cake ring on a serving plate. Cut a slit along the inside of the ring and insert plastic baby, pushing it far enough into cake to be hidden from view.

Divide frosting evenly into 4 bowls. Stir 1 tablespoon of milk into each bowl to thin the frosting. Use the frosting in one bowl to drizzle over cooled cake. In frosting bowls, stir yellow food coloring into one and green into another. In third bowl, stir the red and blue food colorings together to make purple frosting. Drizzle cake with yellow, green and purple frostings in any desired pattern. Dust cake with multicolored sprinkles and decorate as desired.

 

STRAWBERRY AND CHAMPAGNE CHEESECAKE

Yield: 12 servings
1 cup Champagne or other sparkling wine 
2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (about 14 whole crackers) 
2 cups sugar, divided 
½ cup butter, melted 
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened 
½ cup sweetened condensed milk 
2 Tablespoons cornstarch 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
2 large egg yolks 
Topping 
20 fresh strawberries, hulled 
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips 
1 teaspoon shortening, divided 
1/3 cup white baking chips 
1 cup heavy whipping cream 
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 

In a small saucepan, place Champagne. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced to about ¼ cup, about 8 minutes. Set aside to completely cool.

In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, ½ cup sugar and butter. In a greased 9-inch spring-form pan, press crumb mixture onto bottom and 1½ inches up sides. Arrange sliced strawberries over the bottom.
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth. Beat in milk, cornstarch and reduced Champagne. Add eggs and egg yolks. In blender on low speed, beat just until combined.
Pour over strawberries. Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 325° for 55-60 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove sides of pan. For topping, wash strawberries and gently pat with paper towels until completely dry. Slice and arrange over cheesecake. In a microwave, melt chocolate chips and ½ teaspoon shortening; stir until smooth. Drizzle over strawberries. Repeat melting and drizzling with white baking chips and remaining shortening. In a small bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners’ sugar. Beat until soft peaks form. Serve cheesecake with whipped cream.

Note: Boiling the Champagne will remove the alcohol if you or your guests don’t wish to consume alcohol.

 

SLOW COOKER
RED BEANS & SAUSAGE

Yield: 8 servings (2¾ quarts)
1 pound dried red beans 
1 Tablespoon olive oil 
1 pound fully cooked andouille sausage links, cut into ¼-inch slices 
1 large onion, chopped 
1 medium green pepper, chopped 
2 celery ribs, finely chopped 
3 teaspoons garlic powder 
3 teaspoons Creole seasoning 
2 teaspoons smoked paprika 
2 teaspoons dried thyme 
1½ teaspoons pepper 
6 cups chicken broth 
Hot cooked rice 

Rinse and sort beans; soak according to package directions. 

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Brown sausage. Remove with a slotted spoon. To skillet, add onion, green pepper and celery; cook and stir 5-6 minutes or until crisp-tender. 
In a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker, combine beans, sausage, vegetables and seasonings. Stir in broth. Cook, covered, on low 8-10 hours or until beans are tender. 

In a bowl, place 2 cups of bean mixture. Mash gently with a potato masher. Return to slow cooker and stir. Heat through. Serve with rice. 

Note: If you don’t have Creole seasoning, you can make your own: ¾ teaspoon each salt, garlic powder and paprika; add 1/8 teaspoon each dried thyme, ground cumin and cayenne pepper.

Slow Cooker Red Beans & Sausage,
“Taste of Home,” April/May 2014

 

 JAMBALAYA 

1 Tablespoon oil 
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes 
½ pound smoked sausage, sliced ¼-inch thick 
1 medium onion, chopped 
1 Tablespoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Cajun Seasoning 
2½ cups chicken broth 
1 (14½-ounce) can stewed tomatoes 
1 cup long grain rice 

In large heavy skillet on medium-high, heat oil. Add chicken and sausage; cook and stir 5 minutes. Remove from skillet. In same skillet, stir onion; cook and stir 2 minutes or until onion is softened. Stir in seasoning. Add chicken and sausage. Stir in broth and tomatoes; bring to boil. Stir in rice. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 20-25 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally.


 

I am looking for cooks of all ages, cooking traditions and skill levels to feature in this column. I want to hear from those in Alabama as well as our out-of-state readers. The simple requirements for being a featured cook are to love to cook (and eat) and to share your story with us. Get those recipes coming! Any featured cooks during 2017 will receive a free copy of our new cookbook.                                -- Mary