Archive for the ‘Putting it into Practice’ Category

As some of you know, I decided to conquer bread making during my sabbatical.

Where I started.

I’m still working on it, BUT, things have improved.

Due to some good advice from Luke, a professional baker and friend of my sister, I have successfully baked a wheat bread loaf with a rounded top and I hope (fingers-crossed) to bake our weekly bread from now on. Once again food connects us all! Thank you Luke.

I also took several classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City. These classes helped me connect the baking dots and took away some of the mystery when it comes to yeast and all-things-bready.

Next up: baguette and croissants, (if the baking gods are willing!)

Here are some images of my breads in various stages.

Bread rising in my homemade proofing box.

An old world wheel loaf.

In class: How did my brain get in that bowl?


Fancy-pants Rustic Fougasse bread Baking Class with Eileen Usovics

Learning at the Culinary Center of K.C. with Chef Cody Hogan

Ta-da! Homemade Happy Bread!


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Once upon a time I was an assistant children’s librarian and before that, in a land far, far away, called Barnes and Noble, I read story times for years and years. So as you can guess, I love to tell kids stories.

During my sabbatical I wanted to give back because I’ve been given so much. One of the ways I decided to do that was to read food inspired picture books to preschoolers at Operation Break Through.

Operation Break Through is a non-for-profit organization that give kids 3 weeks old to 18 years old, who are often homeless or low-income, a safe place to eat, learn and be a kid.

Mr. Adam’s class in the Green Zone became my little listeners. We sang songs, shared hugs and read tale after yummy tale. I wanted to bring them food treats, but that never worked out. To make up for it, I donated books to their classroom and collected food at our Ravioli in The New Year Party for their food pantry. Thank you to all our wonderful friends who contributed! Operation Break Through was very grateful!

Here are just a few of the food stories we read!

The Pigeon finds a hot dog

Big Fat Hen

Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear

Today is Monday

Market Day

Warthogs in the Kitchen

The Teddy Bear’s Picnic

The little mouse, the red ripe strawberry, and the big hungry bear

Ten Apples on Top

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I Stink

Orange, Pear, Bear

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I wanted to pay back all this good karma I’ve received by doing something for others.

Meals on Wheels seemed like the perfect vehicle (pun completely intended) to give back in a food-connects-us kind of way.

I started off with 4 stops, but my route grew to 6. The hard fact about Meals on Wheels is that as the food delivery person you may be the only human contact these home-bound elders have all day. You are a lifeline in a lot of ways.

At Christmas the cold paper sacks were decorated by children from local churches. I was so surprised to open up the cooler and find all the boring white paper sacks decorated with holiday cheer. I have to admit I was shocked by how many of the seniors were alone for Christmas and so grateful for the warmth of those marker stick figures and stickers.

I’m not allowed to mention my stops by name, but they were all kind older ladies, some with walkers or sweet smiles, some with barking dogs they called “door bells” and sneaky cats who wanted out every time I delivered meals. I always made sure to greet them by their name. Most days we just talked about the weather and the food. I brought them meals of sausage and sauerkraut, chili, mashed potatoes and turkey, fried pork and apple sauce, and lots of bread. The smells would fill my car and remind me  that I needed to eat lunch too.

My last stop, we will call her Fran, was my favorite. She was smart at a whip, feisty and loved to chat. I was in no rush, so I made a point to tell her all my food adventures. Week after week she remembered all the details and asked how things went. Then she would tell me food stories about “come as you are breakfasts” she hosted as a young mother and the first time she had Mexican food in California. We discussed the disappearance of cafeteria’s, the lack of really good chicken and dumplings, and apple pie with cheddar cheese on top. She liked to keep me on task about my blog, making sure I was working hard.

I picked up my food at a community center. Hazel prepared the meals. There were also seniors eating as a lunch group in a meeting a room connected to the kitchen. Hazel always smiled when she saw me and I made sure to bake them some treats during our months together.

When I said good-bye to all the ladies on my stop, it was so touching. For the first time, they invited me in to talk, to sit, to truly be their friend. Fran was the hardest to say good-by to. She squeezed my hand and told me I was the light of days.

On my first day my trainer Trudy, who has been a driver for 10 years, told me that I would be surprised how well I would get to know the people on your route. It feels like they are only a moment in my busy day, but that moment means so much more to them. When they pass away, Trudy told me, she often attends their funerals. The family of the deceased is usually surprised to see her there, but she explains to them, “I brought her food every week, so she became my friend too.”

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My friend Megan and I decided to watch Julie and Julia together, so why not make dinner too. We put on pearls and cooked up The Ghost of Julia Child Menu from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Veganomicon. How would Julia feel about vegan food? I know you may find this hard to believe, but I think she would love it. Why? Because it is fearless, challenging, and Julia loved a good adventure especially when it came to her taste buds.

The Ghost of Julia Child’s Dinner Menu:

Sautéed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach

Herb-Scalloped Potatoes


Homemade old world bread

Heart Shaped Apple Galettes

Herb-Scalloped Potatoes

Serves 4

2 lbs. white potatoes (3 average sized) scrubbed & sliced into 1/8″ thick disks
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. nutritional yeast or flour (I highly recommend nutritional yeast for this)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400*. Lightly grease a 9 X 13-inch glass baking dish or ceramic casserole pan

2. Layer the potatoes in the pan, allowing them to slightly overlap. Lay them across the short way first, overlapping a little less than a half of each potato slice. In each subsequent row, overlap the potatoes by about one-quarter of each potato slice. It should look something like this:

3. Pour most of the vegetable broth over the potatoes, reserving about 3 tbsp. (no need to be exact). Pour the soymilk and drizzle the olive oil over potatoes, making sure to coat each one. If you need to use a little more than 1 tbsp., that’s ok.

4. Scatter the minced garlic over everything, then sprinkle 2 tbsp. of the nutritional yeast over all the potatoes. Drizzle the remaining vegetable broth- try not to wash all the nutritional yeast off the potatoes; you just want to get it moist, so drizzle slowly. Then sprinkle with the last tbsp. of nutritional yeast, the herbs, and the salt.

5. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

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Here are my comfort foods: noodles, fried chicken, wonton soup, hot coco with saltines  and mint chip ice cream.

Two of these foods are because of my grandma (can you guess which?)

Because I am an old school cook I wanted to learn how to cut up a whole chicken and the best reference for this is the only woman I know who’s actually killed chickens, my grandma.

No, I did not end this chicken’s life, the farmers at Campo Lindo did that for me, but I did spend a whole morning learning the country art of carving a chicken and my grandma’s special recipe for frying it up! Not only was this good food for the soul, grandma time is just good for my heart (the fried parts included).

Cutting up the chicken…

Soaking it in buttermilk. Not for too long, 15-20 minutes maybe.


Frying the chicken

I had totally forgotten about sorghum butter. It’s a thick molasses combined with butter that my grandma loves on her biscuits and perfect with fried chicken. I hadn’t tasted it since I was a kid.

Grandma gave our chicken a thumbs up…

…and so did my tummy!

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After interviewing Julie about her family’s Christmas ravioli extravaganza I was inspired. I love dough and pasta, then heck, I should make some ravioli’s too!

So it began.

For 2 weeks I made ravioli’s by myself. I made pumpkin which turned out a little too pumpkin-y and chicken sausage, which was good, but I was wearing out. Yes, as I should have learned from the interview, making lots of ravioli might require more hands. I called SOS and my trusty help came running. Thank you family.


Cheese filling.


Dad picked his own apron fyi.

Ravioli Exhaustion. I owe her yet again.



This was a BYOB party (Bring your own bowl). I did this partly to save on late night dishwashing and mostly because it was kind of fun to tell people. The party started at 5pm and lasted until 9pm. I wanted people to feel like they could drop by and weren’t committed to midnight.


Cheese Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli

Chicken Sausage Ravioli

Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce (with a little help from Paul Newman)

Dad’s meatballs

Garlic Butter Sauce


Garlic Butter

Plain Butter




Sparkling Cider

Diet Coke



Desserts: (another bowl friendly item)

Ice cream: Chocolate Fudge, Vanilla, Cookie Dough, and Peppermint

Toasts and celebrating every hour on the hour!

The party was a smash, at least I think so. The best thing about this experience was that I got to talk to almost everyone! This is usually not the case when I’m hosting. Since I decided to serve each person to order from the stove, I had the chance to chat with my guests. Yes, it was busy night boiling for me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We had so much fun. The pumpkin ravioli’s turned out to be the big hit! Who knew? Certainly not this hearty eater.

And then there were the toasts. Every hour until all the guests left. I thought people might tire of the toasting, but no one did. In fact I think people liked it even more as the night went on.

Each guest took home one or two individually wrapped cinnamon rolls. I made 60 in total! I love the idea of celebrating the sweetness of a new year with something yummy. (I stole this idea from a children’s book author that I like). For the recipe see my blog about my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls.

With one guest left we invited her to participate in our New Year’s ritual.

That night we received a message that one of younger guests was still requesting dad’s meatballs when he was tucked into bed. People did scrape the bowl looking for more.

Here’s the recipe so you can enjoy them too!

Dad’s Meatballs:

1/2 pound of Italian sausage

1/2 pound hamburger

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

garlic salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

(dad also tossed in some black olives and chopped tomatoes in some of the meatballs)

Butter for frying (2 to 3 tablespoons)

How to:

Mix all ingredients together (except butter) in a large bowl.

Form golf ball sized meatballs and set aside on a plate.

Melt butter in a deep frying pan. Add meatballs.

Fry in pan until cooked through and brown on the outside.

Serves 10

What an excellent way to start the new year. All that work was so worth it!


Thank you Kendra for the use her pictures, Jennifer for helping out at the stove and Roger for answering the front door!

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Me and my 10 lb baby.

Christmas and cookies just go together. In fact, I think a jolly cookie fever  sweeps through this time of year leaving everyone feeling sugared and stuffed. People love to make and eat cookies they don’t want regularly  because of tradition and family. Cookies just taste different during the holiday season. Personally, I’ve never been a big cookie baker. Chocolate chip cookies tend to be my standard along with a favorite holiday cookie/candy, the chocolate peanut butter ball.

Since I had the time, I spent the days  before Christmas making different kinds of cookies each week (most were new recipes for me) and then gave them away to friends, neighbors, and the seniors at the community center. I liked playing Santa. It was fun to catch neighbors backing out of their driveways and scout out friend’s homes I haven’t visited in years all for the sake of  a little sweet cheer.


Did I sample all of these treats more than once, yes. Did I buy three jars of marshmallow Fluff, yes. Did I even get close to the number of cookies my Aunt Bec made, NO. I heard she made twenty different kinds. She is a baking saint.

Week One: Vanilla Caramels and Fudge.

*There’s no visual record of the my first attempts at candy making. Although the first few bites of caramel tasted good, they quickly turned rock hard in under 30 minutes. The old-time fudge solidified in the pan and I could lift the whole thing up with the cemented candy thermometer. It was not a good day in the kitchen, I was lucky to salvage the pot and the thermometer. I laughed and learned, what else can you do.

Round Two of fudge went much easier. I turned to the time-tested and trustworthy Fluff.

Mamie Eisenhower’s recipe was so good, I ended up making it twice. I did add smashed candy canes to the top (mostly to make it more Christmas-y, but  it actually tasted really good).

Eisenhower Fudge


4 1/2 cups of sugar

pinch of salt

2 Tablespoons butter

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

12 ounces (2 cups)  semisweet chocolate chips

12 ounces of German Chocolate (in baking section of store)

2 cups marshmallow creme

5 candy canes (crushed into bits) – optional


In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, butter and milk. Boil for 6 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, German chocolate, and marshmallow creme.

Pour hot milk mixture over the chocolate mixture and stir with wooden spoon for at least 5 minutes, until the chocolate has melted and the fudge has begun to thicken.

Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with lightly buttered wax paper. Pour the fudge into the pan and let sit.

If you’re adding crushed candy canes, feel free to add them after the fudge has cooled a little (maybe 15-20 minutes).

Cover fudge and let it sit on the counter overnight until it’s firm enough to cut into squares.

Week Two: Rocky Road Cookies

*These were so yummy, we pretty much ate them all in one night. Luckily the recipient of them joined us for dinner, so she got her share too.

Rocky Road Shortbread

1 1/4c flour
1/3c pecans, chopped finely
1/2c butter
1/3c sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4c mini-marshmallows
1/2c walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2c chocolate chips, either milk or semi-sweet

Pre-heat oven to 350′, grease baking sheets. Beat together butter, sugar & vanilla until creamy. In another bowl mix dry ingredients together – flour & finely chopped pecans. Slowly stir into creamy mixture.

Use a 1″ cookie scoop, scoop dough and place on baking sheet. Gently flatten until about 1/2″ thick, with smooth-ish edges. Bake 16 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.

Just before cookies come out of oven, melt chocolate chips. I use the microwave – high for about 1 minute, then stir until completely melted. Watch out, microwaves vary and it is easy to scorch your chocolate.

Remove cookies from oven, spread with approximately 1 tsp. chocolate/cookie, then top with coarsely chopped pecans and marshmallows. Return to oven for 2 more minutes for the marshmallows to soften.

Remove from oven and place on racks to cool.

Week Three: Peppermint Whoopie Cookies and Lep Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting (separate blog to come on this Farris classics).

*I was a little nervous about the Whoopie Cookie, which is basically like a moon pie. I didn’t think it would travel well, but it just looked so cute, I gave it a go. I’m glad I did. It was fun to make and ended up holding together great after being in the fridge for about an hour!  Yes, I added candy canes to this recipe too, (I heart peppermint).

Peppermint Whoopie Cookies


2 cups  all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp.  unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp.  baking soda

1/4 tsp.  salt

1/2 cup  butter, softened

1 cup  packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp.  vanilla

1/2 cup  buttermilk

1 1-oz. bottle  red food coloring (2 Tbsp.)

1 recipe  Whoopie Pie Filling, recipe below

1/4 cup of crushed candy cane


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment; set aside. In medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Beat in brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating after each addition just until combined. Stir in food coloring.

3. Spoon batter in 1 or 2-inch diameter rounds, about 1/2-inch high on prepared baking sheets, allowing 1 inch between each round.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes for 1-inch cookies or 9 to 11 minutes for 2-inch cookies, or until tops are set. Cool completely on baking sheets on rack. Remove cooled cookies from baking sheets.

5. To fill, dollop Whoopie Pie Filling on flat sides of half the cookies. Sprinkle candy cane on top of the filling. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down. Makes 60 one-inch or 42 two-inch cookies.

6. Whoopie Pie Filling: In medium mixing bowl beat 1/4 cup softened butter and half an 8-ounce package softened cream cheese until smooth. Fold in one 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme. I did add candy cane to the filling, maybe 1  1/2 table spoons.

7. To store: Refrigerate in airtight container up to 4 days. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Week Three/ Part One: Butter Pecan Cookies, Swedish Tea Cookies and more Fudge.

* There are three treats that mean Christmas to me and Butter Cookies and Swedish Tea Cookies (some people call them wedding cookies or mexican wedding cookies) are two of them. In my mind, they taste like our family holidays. Mom came over to teach me the recipes and bake all day.

Butter Cookies


1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups flour

whole pecans


Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour. Mix well.

Chill for 2 hours.

Roll into small balls.

Flatten each with your thumb.

Decorate with a single pecan placed in thumbprint.

Bake 12 minutes at 375.

Makes 3 dozen.

Swedish Tea Cookies


1/2 cup of powdered sugar

1 cup margarine or butter softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 cup finely chopped pecans and almonds

1/4 tsp salt

Extra powdered sugar


Beat 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.

Add flour, nuts, and salt. Mix until dough holds together.

Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 325 for 15 to 20 minutes (until set, but not brown).

Remove from pans, cool slightly, roll in powdered sugar. Cool and roll again.

Makes 5 dozen.

The Fudge, revisited.

Week Three/ Part Two: Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Cookies with Hershey Kisses and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

*Christmas Eve morning I got up and baked to Perry Como and falling snow. Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls (or Buckeye’s) are my other favorite Christmas treat. I can’t get the recipe out of my Grandma, she has to ask her sister and well, that’s family for you. I found a recipe online that pretty much tastes the same. Mine are messy, not smooth like Gladys’. I’m considering calling them Lumps of Coal from now on.

My Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls or Lumps of Coal:


1 Cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup Rice Krispies Cereal

1 cup powdered sugar

I package of Almond chocolate bark

wax paper


Mix peanut butter, powdered sugar and Rice Krispies together in a large bowl.

Spread wax paper on a tray or multiple plates.

Roll mixture into walnut sized balls and place on covered trays. Chill for 1 hour.

Melt the package of chocolate bark in a medium to small-sized saucepan.

Dip balls into the chocolate with tongs and put them on wax paper covered trays/plates (could be ones from earlier or new trays).

Cool  until firm by leaving them on the table or in the fridge!

*Our favorite restaurant in town is Cascones in Overland Park. We had our wedding reception there and love being regulars. Christmas Eve is one of their busiest nights of the year. The staff stays late filling take out orders and making families full and happy. It’s become a tradition for John and I to take them treats  and hopefully make working Christmas Eve a little easier. This year the staff got Peanut Butter cookies with Hershey Kisses. Classic and easy to eat on the go!

* When John and I got married I made a point of asking him what cookies meant Christmas to him. He remembered always having Chocolate Chip, not a traditional holiday cookie for the Farris family.  Each year I make a batch on Christmas Eve just for my honey. This year I insisted he eat the batter on the beater for breakfast. There wasn’t any pushback, but  I wasn’t allowed to take a picture.

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