The kitchen is the heart of the home. And food seems to be at the heart of so many of our social gatherings, whether we're talking about the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day or a church potluck. Just a few months ago, our daughter, Jill, and her new husband, Eric, said their wedding vows in front of God, family and friends. Later that evening, they cut their wedding cake and they shared their first meal as husband and wife.
Of course, Jill is excited about moving into their first home and out of a one-bedroom apartment. But she is particularly thrilled to move into her new kitchen. No, it's not the biggest kitchen in the world, and it might not fit all the criteria found on some HGTV or Food Network show. But she is already thinking about getting her wedding gifts out of their apartment bedroom closet and into the pantry, the kitchen cabinets and a nearby closet. During our stay, the newlyweds purchased their first refrigerator, which I know my dietitian daughter will fill with lots of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and yes, some "treats," too.
This February, they begin a new adventure when they move into a new home in Omaha. During a visit in January, we got our first look at their home. (By the way, we will be part of the moving crew during Valentine's weekend, along with Eric's parents.)
During our trip to the furniture store, Jill & Eric and Randy & I walked around this massive, stadium-sized showroom and sat at dining room tables. Was the table just the right wood finish? Were the chairs comfortable? Did the table have leaves to add for guests? Was the set built to last? Though they didn't buy a table yet, they were already thinking about the meals they would eat in their new home. The next day, Jill had her tape measure in hand as she measured the dining area and dreamed of the day she could make a meal and share it - first with Eric, then by inviting family and friends for a dinner party or holiday meal.
Our son, Brent, on the other hand, was never particularly interested in spending time in the kitchen. But this year, the first living outside his fraternity house at K-State, he is suddenly calling home for favorite recipes. For Christmas, I gave him several cookbooks. His favorite one showed step-by-step photographs and a picture of the finished project. Even Brent and his roommates have put together chips and homemade dips for a ballgame watching day at their duplex (though they may be just as likely to walk across the street to the grocery store for provisions!)
Jill has been cooking and baking for years. Her interest in food and nutrition began as a 4-Her and translated into a career. As she contemplates life in her new kitchen, I'm thankful that we share this love of cooking and baking. I'm thankful that I took the time to let her help in the kitchen. Yes, there were days when it would have been SO much quicker to just do it myself. But there are so many lessons in the kitchen. It may be as simple as counting out the 40 marshmallows that go into Rice Krispie treats. It may be the impromptu math lesson when you help them figure out that two 1/2 cups equal 1 cup. It may be that science lesson when you talk about how the baking powder reacts to make your quick bread lighter in texture.
Valentine's Day is coming. If you'd like to make a treat for family or friends, here's a cookie recipe our family has enjoyed for many years. It was an award winner for an elementary-school-aged Jill in the 4-H division of the Stafford County Fair. (And I originally got the recipe from an article in The Hutchinson News in which the Governor's Cookie Jar winner from the Kansas State Fair shared several recipes).
No, it won't be part of your quest for healthy living this 2010. But it is a special treat for special people on Valentine's Day.
Surprise Middle Cookies
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp, baking soda
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. shortening
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 T. sugar
48 Rolo candies, unwrapped
4 oz. almond bark
Makes about: 4 dozen cookies
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda and set aside. In large bowl, beat both sugars and shortening until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs: beat well. Add flour mixture; blend well.
In small bowl, place 1 T of sugar and add 1/2 c. chopped pecans and mix (We often didn't add the nuts because Jill doesn't like them.) Press one side of each ball into sugar mixture. Place sugared-side up 2 inches apart on slightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes until set and slightly cracked. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely on wire racks. Melt almond bark in microwave until smooth (use a reduced power setting to prevent the almond bark from burning). Fill a decorating bag with almond bark and drizzle over cookies. (If you don't have a decorator bag or tube, use a plastic baggie and cut the tip of the bag). Enjoy! And Happy Valentine's Day!