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Christmas Balls

cookbook_junkie[1]By Gini Rainey

Christmas time equals baking and cooking in most of the kitchens across this country, and our kitchen is no exception.  We used to host an open house every Christmas, but a few years ago decided to cut back to every other year or so.  I think the prep frenzy just got too much to handle, and we’re not getting any younger.  That never seemed to stop my mom, though.  She loved a good party, and she loved baking and cooking up the stuff great parties are made of!  I guess that is one of the things that she passed on to me.  There’s nothing better than have a great group of friends over and spending some quality time talking, laughing, and eating

It was a few years ago that it occurred to me that my party prep cooking/baking could be broken down into two sections: #1 – balls; and #2 – griddle/grease.  Yesterday was ball day.  I rolled about 6 dozen Swedish meatballs while my husband sauteed them.  Then it was time to roll the Mexican Wedding Cakes, the rum balls, and the peanut butter truffles.  That’s a lot of balls!  Tonight we fire up the griddle and the fry daddy to make krumkake and rosettes – which will take care of most of the handmade goodies for our open house next weekend.

So, while I was making a pot of chili this afternoon, I had a thousand and one thoughts running amok in my brain (which is my usual state) and of course, balls were there, just rolling around.  One thought led to another and another (as is my usual state – I have earned the title of Queen of Digression around our house) and I remembered how my uncle normally didn’t curse, but his favorite expression was “Balls!”  I’m sure he was referring to all of the hand rolled goodies that our family is famous for!

Less I digress further, I would love to tell you a quick story about my mom.  When we moved to east Texas from Minnesota many, many years ago, one of the things my mom loved to do when we had company from the north was to plan a field trip to Dallas and Neiman-Marcus.  This would always include lunch in the Zodiac Room of N-M.  I can’t be sure, but as gregarious as my mom was, there is not a doubt in my mind that she introduced her self to Helen Corbitt, the director of the Neiman-Marcus Restaurants.  In fact, there is some distant, nearly tangible memory of my being introduced to the lovely lady herself by mom.

One of my oldest and treasured cookbooks is “Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook” that was a gift to my mom from one of her dear friends, Margaret Harding.  Margaret and my mom grew up together in Fargo and when we moved to Tyler, my great aunt informed mom that Margaret lived here, too.   Mom had lost track of her friend over the years, so you can imagine her surprise to find out we had not only moved to the same town, but also into a house that was only three blocks from Margaret’s.  Their friendship re-kindled, and the two of them would join forces at corbittChristmas making and exchanging cookies, candy, and good times with their mutual friends over cups of coffee.

One of the easiest recipes that I made yesterday is Corbett’s recipe for rum balls.  Mix together 3 cups of finely crushed vanilla wafers (12 ounce box), 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1-1/2 cups finely chopped nuts, 1-1/2 tablespoons of cocoa, 2 tablespoons of white Karo and 1/2 cup rum (if you prefer bourbon, easy substitution!)  Mix thoroughly and form into small balls.  Roll in powdered sugar and store in a tightly covered container.  These freeze well.

At one of mom’s Christmas open houses, she had a candy dish full of these in the living room.  It would seem that one couple brought their 3 small children to the affair, and while all of the adults gathered in the den, the children pretty much had free run of the house. Poor little Stafford had located the candy dish and consumed a large portion of the balls.  He was later found snoozing quite soundly on the sofa.  Moral of the story?  You might want to keep these where the kids can’t get into them.  Just sayin’!


Foodie Events: Decorating Your Way Through Summer…Cookies That Is


July 10th (6:30-8pm) – Summer Fun Cookie Decorating Workshop will be held at The Potpourri House, 3320 Troup Hwy., Tyler. You will receive 1/2 dozen cookies to decorate as well as instructions on how to decorate themed cookies using a special blend of Royal-Glaze icing. These will be a mix of Vanilla-Brown Sugar and White-Almond cookies that you can take home to enjoy. Each person will receive cookies and access to multiple colors of icing bags and tools to work with. All tools and supplies will be provided. Also, a 10″ sturdy plate will be provided for carry home (you may bring your own container).

Other classes will be July 24th (6:30pm), Tropical Fish Cookie Decorating Class will be held at Kiepersol Salt Kitchen, 4120 FM 344E in Bullard. RSVP at

July 20th and September 21st (5:30-6:30pm) – XTC Barbells, Bites & Beer – Start your weekend with a Friday evening XTC Workout, followed by some appetizers, bites, and beers on the patio! Members are $20 a session and non-members are $25 a session. For more info or to register please contact Tony Cruz at (903)561-3014 or email This will be held at Tyler Athletic and Swim Club, 11208 Oak Creek Blvd., Tyler.

July 25th (7-9pm),  Vitner’s Dinner: Taste of Alaska – This dinner is full of classic Alaska flavors and paired with our exclusive and adventurous wines. This will be held at Kiepersol, 21508 Merlot Ln., Bullard. RSVP by calling (903)894-3300, or visit

Other Vintner’s Dinners will be September 26th, South of the Border; and November 28th, Fall Harvest.


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The Cookbook Junkie

This Is To Die For!

By Gini Rainey

When my mother passed away on July 4th, 1977, I hadn’t been exposed to very many funerals here in the South, and I really don’t remember that I had attended that many before we moved to Texas, so I wasn’t sure what type of etiquette was called for.  I do know that we were inundated with food the day that she died, the bulk of which was bowl after bowl after bowl of butter beans.  If I’m not mistaken, we were presented with at least five bowls worth – big bowls – maybe you could even say very large bowls.  I know it was partly the lack of sleep and the grief process, but my sister and I started taking bets on what type of food was being delivered when the doorbell rang.  Of course, as the day progressed we knew for sure the next dish of funeral food would be butter beans and most of the time we were correct. To make matters worse, we all left the next day to fly to Minnesota for mom’s burial, leaving a refrigerator literally packed full of butter beans.  When we returned 5 days later, you can rest assured that our disposal got quite a workout.

So today I would like to share with you THE definitive book about funerals.  I wish I had read this book prior to 1977!  Apparently butter beans, along with tomato aspic, are two of the primary foods necessary for a Delta funeral.  After reading this book, I’m pretty sure some of us have been doing it all wrong, and “Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral,” written by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, can help us overcome that hurdle so we can all become the perfect food-providers when the time comes.  Printed by Miramax Books in 2005, this book is just one of the many guides that Metcalfe and Hays have written to help everyone (or at least those who really care) put on their best Delta (Mississippi) Etiquette to safely (and correctly) be part of just about any social situation imaginable from weddings and baby showers, all the way to funerals.

Although most of their wisdom is gleaned from their tri-state region of LA-ARK-Miss, I would imagine you could manage anywhere if you use their book for your own funeral food etiquette.  They also, so very charmingly, have included lots of recipes that are interspersed throughout their tongue-in-check chapters that are cleverly named Dying Tastefully in the Mississippi Delta; The Methodist Ladies vs. the Episcopal Ladies; Who Died? Stuffed Eggs, Etiquette, and Delta Pâté; I Was So Embarrassed I Liketa Died; Suitably Boxed: Meringue Shells, Pecan Tassies…and You, just to name a few.

I love how Metcalfe and Hays have taken a serious subject like death/funerals and put a nice, fresh twist on facing the final curtain.  They even managed to sneak in several references to death like “to die for” and “dying to get in,” so you might find yourself dying of laughter reading this book.  Just in case you might want to use some of the recipes, don’t worry, you won’t need to wait for someone to pass on to glory for you to try them out.

When it comes to pimiento cheese, I’m pretty sure that you will find a divided audience.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  I get a craving for it about once a year, so I’m surprised to find that these ladies, who refer to it as Southern Pâté, included six variations of it in their book.  The recipe that stands out for me is called Beer-Cheese Pimiento.  To make it, using a food processor, blend together 8 ounces grated extra sharp cheese, 8 ounces grated red rind cheese or mild American cheese, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, 1 ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, ½ tablespoon salt, ½ tablespoon dry mustard, ½ cup beer – not “lite,” several splashes of Tabasco, 1 small jar (2 ounces) diced pimientos, and mayonnaise to taste.  After blending, add ¼ cup pistachio nuts – or more to taste – and finish blending.  This will make about one quart of PC – more than enough for lots of sandwiches or to eat with chips.  Wondering what to do with the rest of that beer?  Well, drink it of course and enjoy!

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Eat It – It’s Good for You!


By Gini Rainey

Now that we are a week down the road from Mother’s Day, I would imagine things around your  house – and kitchen – have pretty much returned to normal.  We’re past breakfast in bed for mom or a meal at her favorite restaurant, and if your kids are anything like my kids were, you’re starting to hear “I don’t like that” or “why don’t we ever have what I like to eat” at meal time.  As a young mom on a limited budget, keeping a family of four food-happy seemed to be a daily struggle – trying to please everyone – that I nearly threw my hands up in the air and said, “Let them eat cake!”

However, being the ever-resourceful person that I was, I came up with a plan.  I sat the four of us down, gave everyone five pieces of paper and asked them to write down their favorite meals.  When they were done, I put all the papers into a bowl and with my calendar in front of me, we drew them out one at a time and entered them in the Monday thru Friday boxes for a month.  Then, I patiently explained to the girls that this was how it was going to be – Mom’s Cafeteria Calendar would rule our daily menus, and if one of us didn’t like what was going to be served, just be patient, because ‘something you will like’ would come along soon.

I will admit that one of my favorite meals to prepare is spaghetti, and I will also admit that I generally would make it on Wednesdays, which were a nightmare for the Taxi Mom.  This was a meal I could prepare ahead of time and have dinner on the table in the least amount time.  In later years, the girls told me they always knew what we were having for dinner after dance lessons, because we ALWAYS had spaghetti on Wednesdays.

Well, all of this is to say that Dom DeLuise put together a great cookbook filled with his Mama’s recipes, as well as some from his friends and celebrities. DeLuise, the quintessential Italian wrote, “Eat This…It’ll Make You Feel Better!” It was published in 1988 by Pocket Books and is filled with some really terrific recipes and photographs of, not only Dom and his family, but also the likes of Ronald Reagan, Ricardo Montalbon, Anne Bancroft, and Burt Reynolds. There are also lots of tales about Dom and his friends that are written in such a great way it’s like you can almost hear him talking off the page.

While we often think of Italian cooking as being hearty and loaded with calories, nothing could be farther from the truth with this cookbook.  The majority of this book leans towards a healthier cooking/eating style and reflects Dom’s attitude about natural flavors, i.e. “Salt may be good for melting ice in your driveway, but let’s face it, it is not very good for you.”

Well, here’s a dish that sounds really yummy and is good for you, too.  Broccoli with Rigatoni by itself sounds great, but can also be augmented with chicken and mushrooms for a heartier version.  In a large skillet, heat 8 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter and gently brown 4 minced garlic cloves.  Add a bunch of broccoli that has been separated into florets (reserve the stems for another use) and stir gently until the pan gets very hot.  Add 1 cup of chicken broth, cover, and simmer just until the broccoli is al dente.  Meanwhile, cook one pound of rigatoni until al dente and then add to the skillet, along with ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil.  Mix thoroughly and put on a hot serving dish and sprinkle with another ½ cup fresh basil, pepper, fresh, chopped parsley, and grated romano or parmeson cheese. Serve with crusty bread and a tossed green salad.


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