A Handful of Mixed Nuts

dsc_5639

Pfeffernüsse … pebernødder … pebernoten … peppernuts …

Whether they have German, Danish, Dutch, or English/American influences, these cookies are an addictive, tasty bite of holiday goodness best accompanied by coffee, tea or wine. (Yes, I know everything is better with wine but bear with me here.)

I grew up with, but failed to fully appreciate, these tiny treasures. Looking back in older versions of my childhood church’s cookbooks (1952 and 1980), there are primarily German influenced recipes with some Danish and Dutch versions as well. My grandmothers and mom recruited my help at an early age when making two different versions of peppernuts. Little hands are very useful when you are cutting 1/2-1 inch ropes of dough into 1/4 inch slices, rolling hundreds of them in cinnamon and sugar, and carefully placing them on the cookie sheet. At this young age, I was more interested in the frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles and the peanut butter kiss cookies than these spicy-sweet “nuts”.

Foolish child.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the word “peppernut” might imply a combination of “pepper” and “nuts”. What is interesting is the list of ingredients for these cookies typically excludes both. The “pepper” in the name refers to aromatic spices. Some recipes will include finely diced nuts but the reference here refers to the size of the cookies. They are meant to resemble nuts and be eaten by the handful. Can you think of a single reason I shouldn’t be completely infatuated with this concept??

dsc_5741b

When I see peppernuts for sale in stores, they are frequently rolled in powdered sugar. This is not traditional (at least from any recipes I have found and Wikipedia agrees so it must be true). There are, however, many variations on the spice combinations, sweeteners, and additions of fruits and/or nuts. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, anise, ginger, allspice and cardamom all make appearances in my cookbooks. Molasses, honey, dark corn syrup, brown sugar, and granulated sugar are found in varying combinations. Until this year, I had only made or tried peppernuts without nuts or fruits. That changed when I found a recipe right next to my two go-to recipes that looked so interesting I had to try it. It had citrus peel, coffee and walnuts! (Shhh … don’t tell my grandmothers, but this might be my favorite.)

Even the choice of fat … butter, margarine, lard … makes a big difference in the flavor and texture of each recipe. If you have been following me for a while, you probably know that I have a mild obsession with lard. It probably has something to do with my Grandma Glienke’s peppernut recipe that reads “1/2 pound butter or goose or duck lard”. Yep … because everyone has goose or duck lard hanging out in their refrigerator. I wish!

Now that you’ve allowed me to ramble on the history and variations of these simple-looking tidbits, we should get started on the recipe. Time consuming? Yes. Difficult? No. Worth it? Definitely!

dsc_5642a

Christmas Peppernuts

dsc_5736a

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2  cup butter
2 medium eggs (or smaller “large” eggs)
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup finely chopped lemon peel
1/8 cup finely chopped orange peel
1/2 cup granulated sugar

dsc_5622a

Cream brown sugar and butter together until smooth; add eggs and coffee and blend until creamy. Fold together or sift 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, flour and baking powder together and slowly add to batter. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in citrus peel and walnuts by hand until evenly distributed.

Roll dough into ropes 1/2-3/4″ in diameter. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or place on a cookie sheet covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine granulated sugar and remaining teaspoon of cinnamon in a flat-bottomed bowl. Remove 2-3 ropes at a time from refrigerator and place on a slightly floured cutting board. Cut into 1/4″ slices, roll in sugar/cinnamon mixture, and reshape into circles if necessary. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets that have been lightly coated with cooking spray (first batch may take longer as cookie sheets are cool). Reapply a small amount of spray after each use. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cookies are done when the bottom of the cookies are golden brown. Allow cookies to cool 1-2 minutes on cookie sheet then transfer to parchment or waxed paper. Make sure pans are completely cool before refilling.

dsc_5630a

The cookies at the bottom are all from the same batch. The one on the left was baked a minute too long. The one on the right needed another minute or two. The one in the middle is perfect. Good news? None of them are anywhere close to ruined. It just makes them look more like mixed nuts!

This is the recipe for half of a batch. You can easily double it (only use 3 large eggs not 4). A full batch will over-fill a gallon-sized ziploc bag.

Danish Peppernuts

dsc_5739a

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons cream or evaporated milk
3 cups flour, divided
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Cream brown sugar, butter, and margarine; add egg yolk and cream/milk and continue mixing until smooth. Mix in 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and the ginger. Sprinkle the cupboard with the additional cup of flour and place dough on flour. Gently work flour into dough in a kneading motion (lifting and turning) until all flour has been absorbed into the dough.

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine granulated sugar and remaining teaspoon of cinnamon in a flat-bottomed bowl. Roll the dough into 1/2 inch diameter ropes and cut into 1/4″ thick slices. Toss the slices in the sugar/cinnamon mixture and place, 2 inches apart, on a cookie sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray (first batch may take longer as cookie sheets are cool). Reapply spray between uses. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottom of cookies are golden brown. Allow cookies to cool 1-2 minutes on cookie sheet then transfer to parchment or waxed paper. Make sure pans are completely cool before refilling.

This recipe will fill a gallon ziploc baggie about half full.

German Peppernuts

dsc_5732a

1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup lard
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 (rounded) tablespoon baking soda
2 tsp boiling water
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, divided
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Place corn syrup, molasses, lard and 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan and bring to a slow boil, stirring frequently, until well mixed.  Remove from heat and stir for 2-3 minutes to cool.  Combine baking soda and boiling water and stir slowly into molasses mixture.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.  Sift flour and spices into mixing bowl.  Slowly add warm cooled molasses mixture with the mixer on low until combined.  Dough will be sticky.  With floured hands, divide dough into four parts; wrap in plastic wrap and let dough stand for at least one day in a cool, dry place; do not refrigerate. (This is the original instruction from the days when everyone had a cold room … refrigerating for one day is permitted.)

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a shallow pan, combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon; set aside.  On a lightly floured surface and working with one portion of dough at a time, divide into two or three parts and roll into a 1/2-3/4″ rope and cut rope into 1/2″ slices.  Place cookies in sugar/cinnamon mixture and toss to coat.   Place on cookie sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until set in the middle and the bottom of each cookie is golden brown (first batch may take longer as cookie sheets are cool).  Remove from oven and allow to cool 2-3 minutes on the cookie sheet.  Remove from pan and cool completely on parchment or waxed paper.  Make sure pans are completely cool before refilling.

This last recipe is credited to my grandmother in one of those church cookbooks I mentioned earlier. I love her final instructions:

Do not freeze; store in an air-tight container in a cool place. 

“These will keep until all gone.” 

They will indeed!

But once you start giving some of these little delicacies away to friends, you will not have to worry about how long they will “keep”. I like to combine all three kinds into small cellophane bags and tie them shut with cording or ribbon. As the recipient starts sampling, they can taste the subtle differences and struggle to decide which is their favorite.

Joy in tiny morsels …

… by the handful!


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Thanksgiving Humble Pie

dsc_5530a

It doesn’t happen very often.

In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to pull an original prank on my boys like I did that one glorious Thanksgiving. It was shear genious and completely unplanned. The opportunity presented itself and, for once, I recognized it and owned it.

It lasted for two days.

You see … I am guilty of the following phrase when I make substitutions in recipes:

You won’t be able to tell the difference.

Yes, they can. And they always do. They have their father’s discerning taste buds.

Before I tell you the story, you must know that pumpkin pie is not just a traditional dessert at our house. It is sacred. The whipped cream is just as sacred. My husband must have homemade and our youngest has a life-long obsession with the kind he can spray directly into his mouth. Anyway …

Two years ago (the “boys” were 24 and 19), I was doing my Thanksgiving meal prep work the day before the feast. I was cooking sweet potatoes. One of the boys walked in the kitchen, took one look at the sweet potatoes, wrinkled up his nose, and said:

What are you making? 

Opportunity knocks.

Sweet Potato Pie!

WHY?

Because I am going to prove to you guys, that you cannot taste the difference
between pumpkin and sweet potatoes! I am making one pumpkin pie and
one sweet potato pie and you have to try them both.

Our house is never quiet but panic was setting in. Not panic that they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Panic because there was only going to be ONE pumpkin pie!

By the time the boys were up and ready for church the next morning, both pies were baked. They were gorgeous! They looked exactly alike. The boys started to get nervous.

They sniffed them. They questioned me over and over if I was sure I knew which one was which. My father-in-law arrived for the meal, which we devoured. The boys had filled him in on the pie situation. I very carefully cut the pies into thin slices and laid a slice of each on everyone’s plate, being very careful to put one on the right side and the other on the left. The boys have never taken so long to eat dessert. They were examing the texture and concentrating on the flavors. My father-in-law glanced at me and gave me a little smile.

He figured it out.

When the boys had finally made their guesses, they were not as certain as they thought they’d be. There was fear of having to admit that mom was right. Or, maybe, it was fear that mom would start substituting sweet potatoes in all of their favorite pumpkin recipes. Doesn’t matter … there was fear.

Drumroll please!

They are both pumpkin.

My father-in-law started laughing. The boys didn’t.

But what about the sweet potatoes you were cooking?!?!

I pointed to the sweet potato casserole that had been passed around the table during the meal.

The looks on their faces? Priceless!

They started laughing, dug into the pie with typical gusto, and gave thanks that there was going to be a lot of leftover pumpkin pie after all.

img_2169b

 

Fried Apples

This week, I am writing about my pre-Thanksgiving meal that controls my cravings for the ultimate feast that is weeks away. That first blog covered the main dish: turkey meatballs! Turkey is the premier entre for Thanksgiving but it’s the side dishes that crowd the plate. It is hard to leave any of our favorites out of the feast, but our tables are only so big! That is the best part of a pre-Thanksgiving meal … make some of those sides that didn’t make the cut for the final menu.

Or, maybe you are ready for a new line-up and just need some good recommendations.

The second post this week featured a simple and healthy side-dish: Parsley-Mustard Glazed Carrots.


Having covered the protein and the veggie, it’s time to add a little fruit.

By reading the title, you might be thinking we’re breaking out the deep-fat fryer or at least some serious amounts of oil. But we’re not.

In fact, these apples really aren’t fried at all. They are steamed and simmered but there is no oil involved. A little butter? Yes. We are talking Thanksgiving, after all!

My mom would make these apples for dinner (well, we called it supper). They always seemed so FANCY to us and were so pretty piled up on top of pork chops. There were never any leftovers. I made a full batch for my husband and myself so there are a few left. They are calling me to warm them up and put them on top of pancakes or oatmeal this morning.

It would be rude to ignore them …

tgvapples2

Fried Apples

5-6 medium size apples (these are Jonathan apples and my favorite for this recipe)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)

tgvapples3

Cut apples into quarters, remove core, and slice thin. Melt the butter in a shallow pan over medium-low heat and add apples (and pinch of salt, if needed). Fold apples into butter, cover with lid, and allow to gently steam for 15 minutes.

tgvapples4

Remove lid, sprinkle with sugar, gently stir apples to coat, return lid to partially cover pan (allowing steam out) and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Stir only once or twice. Remove from heat and serve.

tgvapples

Looking at my pictures, these apples really deserved a much prettier presentation. I have a couple of my grandmother’s depression-glass bowls that would have been worthy. Of course, growing up we didn’t spend any time staging our table or our plates. We certainly didn’t take time to take pictures of our food (oh how I wish we had). We said our prayer and we dug in! I’m sure it was the appreciative sound of “mmmmm…” as we all took our first bites that pleased Mom the most.

After all … when cooking for others, that sound is all the applause that is ever needed.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Cold Room

If you could add an unconventional room to your house, what type of room would you want? A wine cellar? Theater room? Indoor batting cage?

This is the time of year, as I finish canning produce harvested from my garden or purchased from farmers’ markets, I would give anything for a cold room. This is what my designated canning cupboard looks like …

dsc_5229a

THIS is what my sister-in-law’s cold room looks like …

dsc_5199

… and that’s only a partial view of one side of the room!


A cold room, or “root cellar”, is an underground room (often found under a front porch) that is built to maintain a constant, cool temperature without allowing what’s inside to freeze. Jars of tomatoes, beans, salsa, sauerkraut, beets, pickles, jams and jellies, and fruit sauces, all ready and waiting. A cold room is also perfect for extending the life and freshness of things like squash, potatoes, onions, apples, and bananas. And did I mention baseballs? It is important to know that you can extend the life of baseballs by reducing their exposure to humidity.

This is my kind of pantry!

Concrete block walls, rock floor and deep wooden shelves on each side provide a home for garden bounty (and a stash of soda and beer). This room is located under the front “porch” and just off the large furnace room, fully equipped with a stove, refrigerator, deep sink, and large table for the canning process.

dsc_5209

These rooms now belong to my brother and sister-in-law. My mom and dad designed these rooms back in the 70’s when they built the house for our family. I spent many summer days in this room snapping green beans, cutting corn, pitting cherries, slicing apples and cucumbers, peeling tomatoes, podding peas and lima beans, measuring salt and vinegar and washing dishes.

I know I did more than my fair share of complaining in this room too. I hated pitting cherries. Why? Because I hated cherries. In the self-centered mind of a kid, I didn’t understand why I should have to be subject to cherry juice running down my arms and stains on my fingers just so my brothers could have cherry pie and cobbler. It made no sense! Until now. Now, that I am married to a man who LOVES cherries and seldom gets a cherry pie. Poor thing.

My favorite job of the canning season? Snapping green beans. This is where personality traits become obvious. I liked working with green beans because they were clean and neat. It was a methodical process. You took off just the very ends of the bean and then snapped it into evenly sized pieces and filled the jars. My mom always said she could pick out the jars I filled because all of the beans were exactly the same length.

What can I say, I’m a nerd.

My little photo session brought back lots of memories. Good ones, funny ones, and ones that make me want to apologize to my mom and grandmothers for my attitude (not my brothers though … they ate well). I think of the lessons they taught me in those rooms, the quality of the food that we enjoyed all year-long, and the strength, patience and knowledge those women displayed while telling stories and creating their own form of art. I am grateful.

And that is why I will keep a cold room at the top of my house-hunting wish list.

A theater room would be nice. I know my husband would love that.

The appeal of an indoor batting cage has diminished now that our boys have hung up their gloves.

A wine cellar?

Gee … why do you suppose I want a cold room so badly? 😉🍷

 


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

 

 

The Relatives Came

This past weekend, two of my favorite summer events took place: the 4th of July and our Glienke Family Reunion. What’s a Glienke (pronounced glink-ee)? If you don’t live in NW Iowa, that is a reasonable question. My mom’s maiden name is Glienke, so my brothers and I are Glienke’s, along with 9 aunts and uncles, 39 of our first-cousins, their children, their children’s children, and, yep … it’s a big family! Of course, we consider all the spouses to be Glienke’s (they might not …).

Every year, we gather from near and far (mostly near but some travel from all over the country) for a potluck meal, laughter, games, hugs, stories, hymns and prayer. This event takes place in the basement of a country church which has been a home for our family since my grandfather immigrated from Germany.

Did I mention we eat?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You know those 8-foot tables? We have two for main dishes and sides and two for dessert.

I LOVE these people!

This year, my mom, sisters-in-law and I decided to supply the German food of our heritage: bratwurst and sauerkraut, sauerbraten, German potato salad, cucumbers and onions, beer bread, braunschweiger, beet pickles and apple cake with warm butter sauce. We marked them with little German flags.

A lot of memories are shared in a few short hours. We probably tell the same ones every year. Tables of old photographs and documents are on display. This year we played Glienke Jeopardy … a little competition is good for the soul. The food also pays tribute to our memories. My cousin makes the “potato puff” recipe our grandmother use to make, and my mom makes currant cream pies every year in my grandmother’s memory.

There were 81 of us gathered together in that church basement. Each year, we likely have new little babies and new spouses to meet. We are often missing some who passed away since our last gathering. But we know that is okay, too. They will have gone to join the eternal Glienke Reunion in heaven. I can only imagine how awesome that is.

I just hope there will be currant cream pie.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Entertaining Angels

MScrewdinner

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

Runners. I don’t really get them. I admire them greatly. I sometimes wish I were one. They are fit, have cool t-shirts from all the 5K’s and 10K’s they’ve done, they can eat whatever they want. The only way I get one of those cool t-shirts is if my son decides to “donate” one and it mysteriously ends up in my drawer. Somehow I doubt that anyone believes that I managed to run a marathon though.

TWENTY-SIX-POINT-TWO MILES. That is not “running” … that is suffering.

Now imagine running 5 of those in one week … in the summer … in familiar and unfamiliar parts of the U.S. Ummmm … no thank you.

But that is just what this group of people sitting around my table are doing: running and managing a relay from Los Angeles (the city of angels you know) to New York to raise awareness and funds for Multiple Sclerosis research. One runner for each of 17 160-mile segments is accompanied by crew members who handle the driving of the RV and the crew car, buy groceries, make meals, administer first aid, monitor the route, take pictures, post to social media, and maybe most importantly run and walk segments with the runner to provide unlimited encouragement and support.

May I introduce you to this week’s MS Run the US runner and crew!

  • Rachel – previous multiple-time runner and crew member
  • Amy – Community Engagement Manager, previous multiple-time runner, and emergency crew member
  • Dave – Amy’s friend and devoted supporter
  • Cornelia – crew member, driver, dedicated photographer
  • Marty – my husband and host
  • Curt – first-time runner (Des Moines to Davenport) and record-setting fundraiser
  • Me – hostess
  • Nick – my son, not pictured/taking picture

How did they end up in my home? You can call it coincidence. I call it a blessing.

As with many blessings, it starts with some unexpected news. Last year, one of my best friends, Heidi, sent me a link to a fundraising page asking for financial support for a run she was doing. I went to the page and there found out that this friend was not only going to be running 150 miles across Utah in one week (in 2015) for MS but that she had been diagnosed with MS herself almost 10 years earlier. It was something she had chosen not to share with those outside her immediate circle. This race prompted her to share her story in hopes of creating hope. (You can read her inspiring story here.) Yep … she’s incredible.

So as I was reading about this relay on the website, I discovered the runners and crew would be coming right through Des Moines and they were always looking for donations of food/meals. As “coincidence” would have it, they stay at a campground one mile south of our house. I couldn’t be on the route to cheer for Heidi in Utah but I could feed her fellow runners and her crew. I cannot imagine what they put their bodies through or what they have sacrificed to be a part of this mission. I can, however, cook. I can give them my Iowa best. So, for the second year in a row, these incredible people took a seat at our table.

We ate family-style with plates of Balsamic-Garlic Crusted Pork Loin, a tray of fresh vegetables and hummus, and bowls of roasted potatoes and cantaloupe with blueberries. When feeding runners, give them protein and good carbs and follow it with a light dessert … strawberry cream puffs.

We ate and listened to their stories …some funny and some frightening. We learned of their connections to MS and why they do what they do. We made new friends. And we prayed for their success and safety. It’s a great cause, led by greater people. I highly recommend that you follow the links above to visit their site and learn more about the group. Who knows…maybe their route runs near you!


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!