Friday, November 27, 2009

Kansas Travel - Neewollah 90th Anniversary

Who would have guessed, 90 years ago, that Independence, Kansas, a town of less than 10,000 residents, would eventually host the state's largest annual festival? Held every October to coincide with Halloween, the Neewollah celebration in Independence has become a 10-day extravaganza of food, games, and hours of dynamite nightly entertainment. In fact, this year's signature Saturday evening concert event was by Smash Mouth, with tickets starting at only $25!

People from all over the state - and the world - attend this event. And locals, including public school students, often eat lunch as they walk along the main drag or sit at one of the many picnic tables placed on the sidewalk. Dozens of food vendors offer everything from luscious Strawberry Newberg to freshly squeezed limeade or chicken on a stick.

During each evening of Neewollah, and on the weekends, downtown Independence assumes the atmosphere of an old-fashioned carnival, with no cars allowed and dozens of visitors strolling from ride to game to performance stage, where they sit in the folding chairs they've brought along for the event.

If you're looking for a new way to enjoy Kansas' fall season, Neewollah is well worth making a special trip to Southeastern Kansas, and a perfect way to celebrate Halloween. But watch out - you're likely to return again and again. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Date Pudding - A Holiday Family Tradition

My husband, Mark, says that the first time he suggested making Date Pudding as a Thanksgiving dessert, I turned up my nose at the thought and proclaimed that I didn't like dates. But there was no way he'd celebrate the holiday without this beloved family dessert on the table, so we pulled out my mother-in-law's recipe and the food processor.

Mark's family started making this unusual pudding long before food processors became a staple in every food lover's kitchen, which meant crumbling the crackers, chopping the dates, and breaking up the nuts by hand. But the food processor creates a smooth batter within only a few minutes.

And the results? Fabulous. Date pudding has become one of my favorites and I even eat an occasional fresh date on its own, because of this recipe.

Light and airy when it first leaves the oven, date pudding has a natural tendency to fall - sometimes several inches in the center - within half an hour. So don't worry when you start to see the upper 'crust' begin to break; that means its been baked just right.

One other requirement when we eat date pudding? There must be a big dollop of lightly sweetened real whipped cream on top. It's all about tradition.

Date Pudding
Makes 6-8 servings

1 big cup seedless dates, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup pecan pieces (VOE - we use walnuts because we always have some on hand)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
8 heaping tablespoons saltine cracker crumbs, about 16 crackers
4 level teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan with butter. Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and with plenty of 'head room' above the oven rack; the pudding may expand two or three times its original size while in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes and do not bake too hard. Cool slightly before serving. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Breakfast With Fredericksburg Culinary Arts

When we attended a complementary class sponsored by Fredericksburg Culinary Arts, little did we know that we would simultaneously receive a 'taste' of breakfast from Cottages At Limestone On Main Bed & Breakfast - named among the "Great Stays of Texas." Co-owners of both venues, Carol Seminara and her husband, Joe Houde, enthusiastically presented a demonstration meal that featured Texas Hill Country's best seasonal ingredients and their love of great food.

Carol got things underway as she made peach and pecan scones, which she topped with decorative pearl sugar because it holds its shape when exposed to heat. These gorgeous scones were light and airy, with a nice balance of fruit and nut flavors.

Carol's Cottage Granola arrived next - a healthy and tasty combination of rolled oats, almonds, walnuts, coconut, sesame seeds, wheat germ, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla, dried cranberries and golden raisins paired with fresh blackberries and a dollop of creamy vanilla yogurt.

Joe worked his magic with delicate crepes, which enfolded fresh asparagus and cubed ham. A savory, surprisingly light Swiss cheese sauce smothered the completed crepes.

But for sheer inventiveness, this orange juice truly captivated me; it's one 'recipe' that I raved about several times after I returned home. Carol used a star-shaped mold and pomegranate juice to created delightful ice cubes, which decorate and chill the juice as they add flavor. 

Throughout the class, Carol and Joe provided quick tips for anybody's kitchen including:
        -Cold dough in a hot oven is key to baking
        -Every time you open the oven door you reduce the temperature by 25 degrees
        -Coffee filters polish mirrors and chrome

By the time the juice arrived, our tasting menu had filled us so full that we saw no need for lunch. Then Carol and Joe put everything together on a signature silver tray, just as they might for their B & B guests, and I wished I had time to spend the night at Cottages At Limestone on Main.