Jo Russell, the cooking enthusiast, award-winning author, humorist, brings her favorite down-home recipes that make a statement: “Wow!”

You Eat With Your Eyes First—Make the Setting a “Wow!”

Even everyday food tastes better when you dress up the table, too! It doesn’t even matter if its just for you—you’re worth it! Though this photo was for a special occasion, clearing the table of clutter, setting up dishes and utensils and sharing a meal together creates lasting memories.

For those with dietary restrictions, such as diabetes, weight loss, heart healthy, gluten free eating, dressing up the table to “Wow!” makes a difference in how appealing a meal can be.

Apple Butter—From apple to spread with bread. A blessing!

Count your blessings! God’s bounty is everywhere! It’s a promise! “You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.” [Psalm 65:11 NIV]

Want to know how to turn apples from the tree to a delicious apple butter? This one-hundred-fifty-year-old recipe is perfect every time!

What you need:

Apple cider (cook the apples in it), pulp, sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Use half the amount of sugar as pulp.

  • 4 cups of pulp
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of allspice.

Cook four hours covered on high. Cook four hours uncovered.

To preserve the apple butter, can or freeze it.

Jo’s Easy Breezy Biscotti

Prep time at high elevation: about 50 minutes

What you need:

  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 l/4 cup of white sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 l/2 cups of sliced almonds.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir in the flour, baking powder and almonds. Mix in the flour with the sugar mixture. it will be a thick dough. Divide it into two pieces and roll it into loaves. Place it on a cookie sheet with foil sprayed with non-stick coating. Bake at about 30 minutes until golden brown. Take it out and let it cool on a wire rack. As soon as you can cut the cooled loaf without it crumbling, slice it into about 1/2 inch pieces at an angle. Lay the cookies on their side on the baking sheets and cook them for another 10 or so minutes, turning once. They will be a toasted and delicious dipping cookie!

Biscotti Gift Baskets

Baskets two and three shown below were prepared for a fund-raising auction. These biscotti slices were frosted with a simple almond frosting made with powdered sugar (about 3 cups), a teeny bit of butter, but also vanilla (1 tsp.) and almond extract (1/2 tsp.), and a little water. That makes a stiffer frosting that will set up and stay in place.

Look for detailed instructions, many photos and creative gift giving in Jo’s fall e-book release, Bring on the Baskets of Blessings! Fast, Easy, Personalized and Outreach Ministry Gifts.

Easy Lava Cake

From the Carnival Cruise Ships offerings comes this recipe with modifications.

What you need:

  • 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup or 2 sticks of butter
  • 7 eggs (divided, not separated)
  • 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

Top with your choice: powdered sugar, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, raspberry sauce, chocolate curls.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Also spray baking cups or ramekins with non-stick spray. Brush with melted butter as well.

Melt chocolate and butter together; cool ten minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together four of the eggs with sugar and vanilla. Add flour and whisk again. Add the other three eggs. Whisk. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. At a high elevation [like this one], bake 25 minutes. Serve warm with your choice of topping. The center will be like pudding. The outside will be firm.

Delicious and fast!

Taylor Sweet Corn

With Labor Day comes the last huzzah of the season: a parade, a festival and a celebration when hundreds in the community gather to enjoy

  • ripened sweet corn
  • the exodus of the summer visitors
  • the peaceful blessing overhead of clear starry skies—much thanks to God!

Just as the Israelites were blessed with God’s promises, so are we. All these thousands of years later, He still provides for us. Count on this promise: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Psalm 81:10. [NIV]

Grilling enthusiastis, you will have to move over to make way for this easy recipe.

Strip the husk and silk off the corn. Put the cobs into a large pot full of water at room temperature with a little salt and about 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Bring the corn to a boil. Let it boil hard for five minutes. Take the pan off the stove and leave the corn in it for five minutes. Then serve it.


A Topping That’s Tops: Carmelized Onions

What you need:

  • raw onions – yellow or white
  • vegetable oil
  • a shallow fry pan

Onions slide them thin like rings. Then separate them as youy drop them into the pan. If you begin with two whole onions, this makes about one cup of cooked onions.

Put a little oil in a fry pan. Spread out the onions. Cook them over medium heat, stirring them often so they don’t burn.

When they are done, the onions are golden brown. They have a different taste because the long-time cooking changes them to sweet instead of savory.

As a zippy extra for hot dogs, burgers, sausage, tacos, etc. Also tastes great in soups

Refried Beans (Jo’s Own Recipe)

What you need:

  • 1 pound of black beans (dry)
  • 1 pound of pintos (dry)
  • Baking soda
  • 1 l/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano
  • Small can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium diced fresh onion, yellow or white
  • 3 or 4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • Chicken soup stock—enough to cover most of the beans. Use water to finish this if you don’t have enough stock.
  • Salt to taste
  • Mexican cheese blend

Begin with dry beans: ½ black beans and ½ pintos. Sort them and toss the bad ones. Rinse them. Put both types into a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, pour baking soda over them. This will cause the beans to bubble enthusiastically. This takes out most of the gas side effects of beans. Rinse them and cover with fresh water. Soak them at least two hours (if you’re going to cook them in a pressure cooker) or four hours for any other type of cooking.

Sauté the chopped onion and garlic. Add with the stock to the beans along with the diced tomatoes. Season with cumin (about one and a half teaspoons – careful with this spice as it gets hotter over time, Mexican oregano (about one teaspoon, salt to taste,)

Cook the beans until done. Put ¾ of them into a blender and puree them.  Add olive oil to a clean pan. Return the whole and the pureed beans to the pan. Cook it down and add the cheese to taste – maybe one hour or more to reduce the beans.

This healthy dish provides protein and fiber. Makes great burritos and side dishes.

Indian Fry Bread

[from the original 1974 edition of The Arizona Cookbook]

What you need:

  • 4 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 tablespoon of dry yeast
  • 3 cups of unbleached white flour
  • 2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 to 4 cups of additional flour
  • Fat to heat (such as vegetable, canola oil, shortening, etc.) for frying.

Mix up the dough about two to two and a half hours ahead of time.

Mix together honey, oil, and salt. Stir in the hot water. Mix well. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the mixture.

Cover it with a cloth and allow it to stand about 10 minutes or until the yeast bubbles. Add flour and baking powder. Stir well.

Add more flour until the mixture is firm and cleans the hands. [This is when you add the two to four cups of extra flour]

Place in a greased bowl. Let this rise until double – about an hour. Divide this into eight parts. Form each piece into a ball and let it rise until it is ready to book.

Heat the oil to frying temperature. Take a ball of dough, flatten it with your hands, stretching it. When dough is very thin and six to eight inches in diameter, drop it into the hot fat and cook it until it is golden. This will take about 1 l/2 minutes on each side.

Drain on paper toweling and serve hot –

This is a main dish meal with beans, salsa, cheese, onions, chopped lettuce. Served like this, the fry bread is called “Navajo tacos.”

Fold over to make a sheepherder’s sandwich with meat, cheese, chilis, greens and onions.

As a dessert, serve with honey or powdered sugar.

Creative Kabobs

Make these kabobs ahead, cover them, and store the dish in the refrigerator. Children who are old enough to be safe with the skewers will have fun making these with you.

What you need:

  • Barbeque skewers
  • Barbeque sauce
  • Any kind of pre-cooked meat cut into bite-sized pieces, such as hot dogs, smoky links, bratwurst, smoked sausage
  • 1 can cubed pineapple
  • 1 whole onion—peeled and cut into wedges
  • Fruit or veggies of your choice: [Examples]
  • seedless grapes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • Chunks of potato [pre-cook this]
  • Carrots—peeled, sliced and pre-cooked
  • Zuchinni, yellow squash

Line a cookie sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Spray the pan with non-stick spray. Push the food chunks onto a skewer in an order you choose. Brush them with barbeque sauce on all sides.

Cook them at 400 degrees until they are completely hot all the way through.

You can heat a small quantity of barbeque sauce for brushing over the finished kabobs. You need about three skewers for each person.

Sour Cream Enchiladas

(from Jo’s mother, Jeane Gottsponer, 1998)

What you need:

  • 1 l/2 to 2 dozen fresh corn tortillas
  • 2 cans of cream soup (cream of mushroom or cream of chicken)
  • 1 four-ounce can of green chilis
  • 2 bunches of chopped green onions
  • 2 pounds of Mexican blend grated cheese
  • 1 pint of sour cream
  • Dash of hot sauce, such as Cholula.  Nothing too hot.

Mix the soup, chilis, onions, sour cream and a couple of hands full of cheese. Spray a casserole pan with non-stick spray. Begin spreading a shallow layer of the mixture in the bottom of the pan. Flash fry the tortillas and drain on a paper towel. Stuff each one of them with some of the mixture. When the pan is full, spread what is left on top. Sprinkle cheese over it. Bake at 325 about 35 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the dish is hot throughout.

This dish can be made ahead and frozen.

Stir Fry: An Everything Meal

What you need:

  • Make ahead sauce. You need soy sauce, chicken soup stock, cornstarch and water.

Begin with about two cups of water. Add 1 cup of chicken soup stock. Add about ¼ cup of soy sauce to that. Taste it. Make sure it isn’t too salty. Stir in two tablespoons of cornstarch to thicken it. Whip it up well so it doesn’t have any lumps.

  • Cut ahead-of- time vegetables (any kind):

You can use any kind, including frozen ones or mixtures of dinner vegetables. Use either fresh or frozen vegetables for stir fry. No canned ones. Have these ready in containers so you can add them.

  • Onion—peeled and cut into wedges.
  • Carrotpeeled, cut into slices and pre-cooked so you can put a fork into it and it’s firm, but not hard.
  • Green beans—cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Mushrooms—You can use canned.
  • Meat: You can cut up chicken, beef, pork into bite-sized pieces. Or you can also use pre-cooked, canned meat, such as chicken and ham.

Put some cooking oil in a shallow pan. Think of what needs to cook the longest. Begin with them, such as the onions. Add the meat. Keep turning and stirring it until it is cooked on each side. If the meat is pre-cooked, you only need to heat it.

Add the vegetables. Cook them until they are crunchy, but not mushy. If they are frozen, you need to make sure they are thawed and cooked enough. When everything is hot and nearly done, add the sauce and stir. This becomes thick like syrup because of the cornstarch. As with any thickening, the sauce must boil to get thicker.

You can serve this over chow mien noodles, Oriental noodles, spaghetti, or rice.

It is also good without noodles or rice, just the stir fry on a plate. This meal works well for diabetics when not served over noodles or rice.

About Jo Russell

Jo’s humor, inspirational stories, articles and devotionals have spanned more than 40 years, with several national writing contest awards for humor. She's a contributing author in Chicken Soup for the Soul—Shaping the New You and Heavenly Humor for the Dieter’s Soul.

Contact Jo

Find Jo on Twitter and Facebook. To schedule Jo as a speaker or to discuss your writing project and receive a free quote, call her at 928-536-2479. Or contact her using the website Contact Form.

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The Choice We Have Between a Dead Egg and a Live Savior

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