Sunday, March 15, 2020

Easy Pecan Pie Bars



These bars are so yummy they fall into the gone-in-one-day class.

I usually make these for Thanksgiving instead of traditional Pecan Pie. The ratio of shortbread crust to filling and pecans is irresistible.


Tomorrow is the first day of no school due to the coronavirus pandemic. This afternoon, Monika asked me to make these bars. I think she's craving a little comfort food. We probably all are.

Easy Pecan Pie Bars

Ingredients

For crust
½ cup butter [1 stick], softened*
1½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

For filling
2 cups pecans, chopped

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar (white or brown)**
1 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter [½ stick], melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Coat a 9 x 13 baking sheet or glass pan with butter or cooking spray.

For crust: Beat butter with mixer. Add flour, sugar, and salt. Mix until crumbly. Press into pan. Bake crust for 7 minutes. Set aside.

For filling: Toast chopped pecans on baking sheet in oven for 8 minutes.

In small bowl, thoroughly whisk together eggs, sugar, syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in melted butter. Stir in pecans with rubber spatula. Pour pecan mixture over pre-baked crust. Nudge pecans around as needed to ensure even spacing.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are firm and center of filling is set, but still jiggly.

Cool for at least one hour. Cut into small squares. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Notes

*I only use Land O'Lakes Butter – because it's the best butter for baking and because we're farmer-members of the cooperative, which means the milk from our farm is used to make Land O'Lakes butter and cheese.

If you have a food processor, you can make this recipe with cold butter, as well. Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of your food processor, fitted with a chopping blade. Pulse briefly to blend. Cut butter into pieces. With food processor running, drop butter into flour mixture. Process on high until mixture looks like beach sand. Press into pan and bake as directed.

**White sugar gives these bars a mild, buttery flavor. Brown sugar gives these bars a more caramel-like taste. I always use Crystal Sugar Dark Brown Sugar.

Recipe adapted from Pecan Pie from The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The attack

Last July, I was mauled by a fresh cow while checking for newborn calves out in our pasture. I wrote this piece a couple days after the attack. I'm sharing it here now as part of my psychological recovery.

Strong bones and cell phones

Every so often – thankfully, not very often – something happens that makes you question your faith and give thanks, both at the same time.

One of those somethings happened to me last Friday.

I had just returned home from picking Dan up from summer camp in Palisade. I had shortened a visit with my sisters so that we could get home in time for chores. Glen’s back had seized up earlier in the week and he was moving pretty slow.

I said I would fetch the dry cows from pasture so that we could get a fresh heifer sorted out and into the barn.

I had a quick snack, changed into my barn shorts and a cut-off t-shirt, and headed out to the dry cow paddock.

As soon as I crested the first hill, I could see the dry cows grazing atop the second hill. I headed in their direction until I spotted a black cow lying alone by the second pond. “That would be Goldfish,” I thought to myself.

I changed direction to go see what Goldfish was doing.

As I approached, Goldfish stood up and – sure enough – there was a newborn calf lying in what had been her shadow.

I called Glen to tell him there was another new calf to pick up. There had already been one heifer calf right away that morning and a set of twin heifer calves born while I was gone picking Dan up. Four calves in one day might be a record for us; four heifer calves would certainly set a record.

I walked up to the calf and picked up its hind leg to see if it was a heifer calf or bull calf.

The next thing I remember is being on my back, underneath Goldfish, hearing her snorting and seeing her head and front hooves coming at me. I remember screaming at her to stop. I remember feeling pain and disbelief, as in “I can’t believe this is really happening.”

And then there was a pause in her attack – long enough for me to scramble to my feet and run.

I made it about 20 feet before the pain in my right leg wouldn’t let me go any farther. Thankfully, Goldfish stayed by her calf. As soon as I stopped, I could hear the engine of our 4-wheeler and knew Glen was on his way.

By the time Glen reached me, the pains in my right hip and right shin were leagues beyond anything I’ve experienced before. Glen noticed the instant bruises on my shoulder and collarbone and we decided I needed to go to the emergency room.

I knew I couldn’t get on the 4-wheeler, so Glen called our neighbors and asked them to come with their truck. Then he called his mom and asked her to meet us in the yard. While we waited, he took the stick we keep on the 4-wheeler and got my phone and sunglasses from where they fell next to Goldfish’s calf. He also checked the calf – it’s a heifer.

Glen, his mom, and our neighbors ended up making a stretcher out of a sheet of plywood and a bed sheet. They rolled me onto the plywood and slid the whole works into the back of his mom’s van.

A couple hours, a few scans, and a few x-rays later, I hobbled out of the emergency room with nothing more than a dozen nasty bruises and a few scrapes.

During those hours, I couldn’t stop the attack from replaying, over and over, in my head, but it helped fill in some of the gaps in my memory.

I know that Goldfish had been to my right when I walked up to the calf. Judging from the pain in my hip and the deep bruise there, I suspect she rammed me just as I bent over and first touched her calf, with her poll driving into my hip.

Based on the pattern of bruises I’m sporting, I believe I crashed onto my left shoulder and elbow. Goldfish then stepped on my lower legs as she continued forward, leaving hoof-shaped bruises on both calves. The only bruises I can’t figure out are the ones on my right collarbone, chin, and the back of my head. At some point while I was tumbling around, I must have caught a flying hoof or poll.

Those hours on the stretcher were also filled with lots of questions, anxiety, and lingering disbelief. Why this cow? Why now?

I have walked up to a cow and her newborn calf probably 1,000 times in 30 years of working with dairy cows. I know that it’s not unheard of for fresh cows to be protective, but I’ve never witnessed anything like this personally.

Furthermore, Goldfish had shown no signs of concern or aggression as I approached. Did she flip out because I was wearing a hot pink shirt? Do bovines respond to hot pink the same way they respond to red? Was she irritable because of the hot weather? Did she flip out because I was talking as I walked up?

But if I hadn’t been on the phone with Glen, nobody would have heard me scream…

Why in the pasture? Our pasture is my favorite place to be. Walking out to bring the cows in is my favorite job. I feel so much peace when I’m out there. To be attacked in my happy place is the ultimate addition of insult to injury.

Another recurrent thought I couldn’t stop was: “Maybe I shouldn’t be milking cows anymore. This is getting to be too dangerous.” Goldfish’s attack was my fourth cow-inflicted injury in two weeks. I didn’t exactly need something like this to make me question my dedication to dairy farming.

Then the “what if” questions started and those were the worst.

What if I hadn’t been able to scramble away?

What if I had stayed up north to visit longer and Glen had found the calf? He had been home alone.

What if it had been one of the kids who went out to bring the dry cows in? We send Dan and Monika to check dry cows and/or bring them in from pasture all the time.

These questions and thoughts – and the flashbacks – are proving hard to shake.

But, for now, I’m trying to focus on the words of one of the emergency room nurses: “You sure are lucky. Somebody up above must have been watching out for you.”

And I’m choosing to be thankful. For caring family and good neighbors. For skilled doctors and nurses. And for strong bones and cell phones.


Originally published in the Dairy Star.

Monday, November 18, 2019

All Things Tea

I started drinking tea when I was in college. Isn't that where all good habits start? *wink* My tea habit is now (gulp!) over twenty years old.

In the beginning, I sipped only herbal infusions, also known as tisanes or herbal teas. At some point, somebody recommended green tea for its health benefits, so I gave that a try and ended up adding it to my tea habit. A few years ago, I started expanding my tea palate to include black, oolong, and pu-erh teas.

As I explore new teas and learn more about the mental and physical health benefits of drinking tea, my love for tea continues to grow.

Below is a collection of my thoughts on all things tea and a guide for maximal tea enjoyment.

1. Steeping
2. Re-steeping
3. Upcycling Tea
4. Cold Steeping
5. Favorite Tea Brands
6. Favorite Tea Gear


1. Steeping

I love the ritual of making tea as much as I love the beverage itself. For many years, I boiled water for in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. A couple years ago, I switched to heating water in a small stainless steel kettle on the stove. Some claim the different heating methods produce different tasting teas, but, if there are any, they are minute.

  • Measure desired amount of water:
    • Tea bags – 8 ounces per bag
    • Tea sachets – 16 ounces per sachet
    • Loose leaf tea – 8 ounces for each teaspoon of tea leaves
* I heat ¾ of the water I need for the tea, then add cold water and/or ice after the tea is steeped to make the correct amount of tea. This way, my tea is ready to drink right away – without scalding my tongue.
  • Heat water to ideal temperature:
    • White tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Green tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Oolong tea – depends on the variety; some use less than boiling, some use boiling
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea, herbal infusions – boiling (212°F)
* This guide from The Spruce Eats gives a great (and more detailed) explanation of ideal water temperatures for tea.
  • Pour hot water over tea. (Don't add tea to hot water.)
  • Cover mug or teapot and steep:
    • White tea – 1 minute
    • Green tea – 3 minutes
    • Oolong tea – 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the variety
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea – 5 minutes
    • Herbal infusions – 5 to 7 minutes
  • Remove tea bag, sachet, or strainer from mug.
*Save your sachet or steeped tea leaves. See section below about re-steeping.
  • Add cold water and/or ice to cool tea to preferred drinking temperature. Enjoy!
  • Adjusting the flavor: If your tea tastes too bitter, try reducing the water temperature or steeping time. With loose leaf tea, you can try using fewer leaves. 
2. Re-steeping

I am 100% a child of the 'Reduce. Reuse. Recyle.' era. So I love that many teas can be steeped a second time for even more enjoyment. Some teas even taste more delightful on the second steep.
  • The best teas for re-steeping are loose leaf teas or those packaged in sachets. Tea in bags doesn't re-steep very well.
  • The number of times you can re-steep depends on the variety. In general, green, oolong, and black teas and herbal tisanes are good for two or three steeps; pu-erh tea can be steeped five times or more.
  • All varieties of tea can be re-steeped with boiling water. There's no need for cooler water for green or white teas.
  • Add 1 - 2 minutes to the original steep time, to extract more flavor from the tea.
*I steep all of my teas and herbal infusions, except pu-erhs, twice. Then I upcycle the twice-steeped tea (see the section below). Read more about re-steeping in this post from DiviniTea.



3. Upcycling Tea

My sister, Sara, gets credit for this idea. While visiting, she made a cup of tea for the drive home. After she left, I found the tea bag sitting in a cup full of water on the counter. I asked her about it and she said she always soaks her used tea bags. Now I do, too, but with a few tweaks to the method.

After I've steeped (and re-steeped) my tea, I put the tea bag, sachet, or loose leaves in a glass jar. I fill the jar with 16 ounces of cold water, cap it, and stick it in the fridge. A day or two or three later – whenever I get to it, really – the tea has transformed the water into a delicious, lightly flavored water.

I'm not sure if this beverage should be called upcycled tea or tea water – neither sounds very cool. Regardless of moniker, this flavored water is delightful. It's also a clear indicator of my frugality; every last drop of flavor (and beneficial phytonutrients) is squeezed out of the tea I purchase.


4. Cold Steeping Tea

Upcycling tea prompted me to try cold steeping tea. Mostly, this came about because hot tea isn't as enjoyable during the hot summer months as cold tea.

  • Combine cool water and tea in glass jar with lid.
    • 8 ounces water per tea bag
    • 16 ounces water per tea sachet
    • 8 ounces water for each teaspoon loose leaf tea
  • Place jar in refrigerator to steep.
    • Steep green, oolong, and black teas for 8 to 24 hours.
    • Steep herbal teas for 8 to 48 hours.
  • Strain tea or remove bag/sachet.
  • Cold steeped tea leaves/bags/sachets can be re-steeped several times.
*Read more about cold steeping tea in this article from Serious Eats.


5. Favorite Teas

I dedicated one of my newspaper columns to the topic of tea. While writing that column, I counted how many varieties of tea I actually had on hand. The number topped 40. Instead of listing my entire collection, here are some of my favorite tea brands:


Online (sold as loose leaf, in sachets, and in bags)
Grocery Store Brands (sold mostly in bags)
  • Tazo
  • Stash
  • Bigelow
  • Celestial Seasonings

6. Favorite Tea Gear

  • Tea Kettle

  • Tea Mug with Infuser

  • Tea Pot with Infuser

  • Tea Sachet Squeezer
Squeezing your tea sachet or tea bag is frowned upon by some, but I am a diehard squeezer. I love strong tea, enjoy bitter flavors (to a certain degree), and don't like dripping tea bags dribbling all over my counter.

Happy tea sipping!


I have no affiliation with the brands listed in this post, nor was I compensated for mentioning them.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

Lightly sweetened and made with 100% whole grain, these Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins are scrumptious.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients

¼ cup butter, melted [half a stick]*
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups diced apples**
    OR 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
    OR 1¼ cups apples + ½ cup applesauce
½ cup whole milk

1 cup quick cook oatmeal
1½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray muffin tins*** with nonstick cooking spray or grease as desired.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Stir in apples (and/or applesauce) and milk.

Mix together oatmeal, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

Add dry ingredients to apple mixture. Fold together just until dry ingredients are mixed in. Don't over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling tins ¾ full.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.****

Notes

*As always, I recommend Land O' Lakes butter. And not just because the milk from our farm goes to Land O'Lakes. Land O'Lakes truly makes the best-tasting butter, which makes baked goods taste better.

**I leave the peels on the apples when I dice them. Less work, plus more fiber.

***I use my Grandma Jeanie's vintage Comet muffin tins. I suspect these tins make smaller muffins than modern muffin tins. This recipe makes 18 vintage-size muffins.

****Muffins made with fresh, diced apples will bake faster than muffins made with applesauce.


When the bees out-pollinate themselves. And it rains all summer long. So you have more apples than you know what to do with. And the apples are as big as your hand. You pull out all the apple recipes you have. This apple muffin recipe has been a favorite for many years now.


If you like these muffins, you might also like these Apple Cinnamon Toaster Pancakes.

Enjoy, friends!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies


Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approximately 48 cookies

Ingredients

1½ cups Land O Lakes® Butter [3 sticks]
1¼ white sugar
1¼ firmly packed brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar.)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon juice

4¼ cups all purpose flour [510 grams]
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups chocolate chips [18 ounces] (I use semi-sweet or milk chocolate or a combination.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream butter and sugars together. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice.

Stir flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together. With mixer running, add flour mixture to butter mixture, about a half cup at a time. Mix just until flour is fully incorporated. Add chocolate chips and mix briefly.

Drop by heaping tablespoons (#40 scoop), 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are puffed up and just starting to brown around the edges. They will flatten into chewy cookies as they cool.

Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet. Remove to cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve with a big glass of milk.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars: Mix ingredients as if making cookies. Spray half sheet baking pan (11 x 16) with cooking spray. Press dough into prepared pan using butter wrapper. Bake at 375°F for 25 - 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and cut into bars. Serve with a big glass of milk.


The Story Behind the Recipe

One day, after I finished making a batch of my most-loved Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Dan asked me, “Can you make plain chocolate chip cookies? Like, with no nuts or anything like that?”

I didn’t have a tried-and-true recipe for plain chocolate chip cookies.

I thought for half a second about doing an internet search. But the idea of sifting through thousands of versions of chocolate chip cookies didn't appeal to me. (Out of curiosity, I just did a Google search for “chocolate chip cookies.” It yielded over 20 million results.)

But I know a baking guru who's far better than the internet. And she happens to be a dear friend.

I sent a quick message to Becky.


Until recently, Becky was the director of the Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen. I know the folks in the Test Kitchen test and tolerance test and test again each recipe before it becomes part of the Land O’Lakes recipe collection. I knew that if anyone could recommend the best "plain" chocolate chip cookie recipe, it was Becky.

Becky and I together in the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen a couple years ago.

Becky recommended two recipes from the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen: Chewy Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies and Five Star Chocolate Chip Cookies.

The recipes are essentially the same. The only difference is the size of the final cookie. I gave the recipe a try and baked the smaller-sized cookies. Dan – and the rest of my family – loved them instantly.



I agreed with my family. But I thought, "I can make these better."

Better. This a common theme for both my life and our farm.  Our farm motto is: "Better for our cows, better for our land, better for our family, and better for our community." I'm always asking, "How can I make this better?"

So I did. Borrowing the concept from my own favorite chocolate chip cookies, I added extra chocolate chips, a pinch of cinnamon, and a dash of lemon juice. You can’t taste the cinnamon and lemon, they just add dimension to the flavor profile – much the same way good tea and fine chocolate have nuances of flavor above and below the main flavor notes.

I shared the "better" cookies with my friend, Summer, and she said, “There's something special in these, isn’t there.”

"Yeah, there is," I grinned. "Butter!"

Then I let her in on my secret. There’s no point in keeping a good recipe a secret.

Here's the best part about these cookies, though. I've made this recipe with too much flour, too much sugar,  milk chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, without the cinnamon and lemon juice, with dark brown sugar and light brown sugar... No matter the mistakes or variations, these cookies are delicious.

I was telling Becky one day about how forgiving this cookie recipe is. She said, "That's the sign of a good recipe. And that's why we do tolerance testing – to find the best recipes that turn out every time."

Dan's Chocolate Chip Cookies – as we now refer to them – really are some of the best cookies ever.


I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.