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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

Well, another Pillsbury Bake-Off contest has come and gone. This year's was the fourth one I've attended, and it was just as enjoyable as the first. And the location, at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla., was perfect this year. It was hard to believe I was basking in sunshine and 80-degree weather while my family at home in Kansas was dealing with an early spring blizzard.

It was nice to see all the familiar faces of my fellow food journalists. Being with them feels like being part of a group of friends from all over the country who get together every two years. We share a special camaraderie, and I especially enjoy seeing Alison from New York City, Janice from St. Louis, and Valerie from Salt Lake City.

But my favorite part of the Bake-Off has always been meeting the 100 finalists. They also come from all over the country, and each one has a fascinating story to tell. I met finalist Rebecca Nurse, of Waterford, Pa., in the hotel check-in line. She was there with her husband and two young daughters. She was enthusiastic and friendly, and I looked forward to visiting with her on the contest floor and trying her Cinnamon-Fruit Snack Mix.

I also enjoyed meeting Mary Iovinelli Buescher, of Bloomington, Minn., whose Pineapple-Black Bean Enchiladas won two prizes - one for America's Favorite Recipe and one of the Three-A-Day of Dairy awards. She had created her recipe to serve at a bridal shower, and she entered it on a whim.

Although I've never been one of the finalists competing to win the $1 million grand prize, I'm just as excited to be there. Tasting all the delicious food and sharing the excitement of the finalists are thrills for me. I'm already looking forward to the next Bake-Off!

Kate Marchbanks

Together with God

Cookies baking in the oven, games piled on the coffee table, and the anticipation of big hugs were all part of the excitement of preparing for my grandchildren to arrive. My granddaughter, Lexi, was a big fan of Cool Whip for the first six years of her life. I always made sure I was well-stocked for her visits. My reward for the effort was little arms squeezing my neck in what she referred to as a baby bear hug.

Grandchildren are wonderful gifts from God. They run into our arms with glee, as though we were the most important person in the world. And to them, we are.

I treasure every handmade gift or card I receive from my grandchildren, and I haven't seen the color of my refrigerator for years, because of the layers of drawings on it. Grandchildren give unconditional love, and all they expect from us is a warm cookie and the happiness of spending time with us.

Father, thank You for the happiness we feel from the love of our grandchildren. Help us pass along our knowledge and love of You to them, so they might be blessed by the promise of a happy life. And, Father, keep those little arms squeezing our necks for as long as possible. Amen.

D. Susan Rutz

Grandparents set great examples for living

The greatest example my grandparents displayed was in their respect and tenderness toward each other. While not perfect, their marriage set the bar for me. Grandma and Grandpa showed me that marriage could be fulfilling.

Grandpa and Grandma were also living examples of their faith, reading their Bibles, praying at all meals and reminding all of us to 'stay close to the Lord.' Because they were so faithful, their descendents are as well.

My grandparents were poor farmers, but they were far more successful in life than many millionaires.

White Cloud, Mich.

Being a grandparent has enriched her life

I feel truly blessed to be a grandparent. It is an awesome experience.

It's wonderful to rediscover our marvelous world through our granddaughter's innocent, inquiring eyes. It helps me remember how exciting even the littlest things can be.

Nothing can compare to the sweetness of her hugs and kisses. When she says, 'I love you, Grandma,' my heart feels as if it will melt. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside when she snuggles close while I read her a story.

Being a grandparent has enriched my life.  I hope I will touch my granddaughter's life half as much as her love has touched mine.

I thank the Lord every day for giving me the honor of being a grandparent.

Clark, Mo.

Blond girl became family

Being a grandparent has brought much more joy than I ever dreamed of.

Many years ago, I earned a teaching degree in midlife. I was impatient to enter a profession that I had always wanted. School was fascinating; knowledge was intriguing. On my very first day as a teacher, I was more excited than any of my 23 kindergartners.

One little girl caught and held my attention right away. This little blond, blue-eyed girl was bright, bubbly and had the most pleasant personality. We had a wonderful time together, the class and I. The memories are precious to me, even today.

Of course, each student is special in his or her own way; however, every now and then one comes along that is truly unforgettable. If anyone had told me then that the little blond girl would someday become a part of my family and call me Grandma, I would never have believed it. But that's exactly what happened; she married my grandson.

I could not be more pleased with my new granddaughter. It just goes to show that some things are meant to be.

Marble Hill, Mo.

Neighbor boy made her an unofficial grandmother

My neighbor Nick was only about 4 or 5 years old, but he had a very compassionate heart. When he learned that I was living alone and didn't have any grandchildren, he said, 'You can be my grandmother, since you don't have any grandchildren.'

He had loving parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. He didn't need me as a grandparent, but he saw that I needed a grandchild.

Through the years, he has been a real joy to me. He lives just across the street, so he pops in and out of my house. I'm always glad to put down my book, stop my work or whatever I'm doing to have a visit with him. He knows he's always welcome.

He does small tasks for me, such as emptying trash, putting salt in the water softener and bringing in the newspaper. He entertains me with stories of what he's doing, we play games and just talk about our days. We play rummy a lot, and he usually beats me, although I really do try my best to win.

One time when I was very sick in bed, he stopped by every day after school to give me my pills and water, and to talk to me. He would say he hoped I would feel better, and just his caring for me always lifted my spirits and made me feel better.

He would bring over his VCR and play movies for me. Once we watched 'Forrest Gump,' and tears came to my eyes at the sad ending. He came over, handed me a box of tissues, patted me on the shoulder and said, 'It's OK to cry.' A close relative of his had recently died, and I'm sure he had been told that it was OK to cry.

One day, we were singing songs, and we sang 'You Are My Sunshine.' I said, 'Nick, you are my sunshine because you brighten my days.'

I'm so glad that he decided many years ago to make me his grandmother.

Lawndale, Ill.

Lost and Found

Most of us have lost or misplaced something important or sentimentally valuable and regretted it, only to rejoice when the item miraculously reappeared.

What did you lose and find again? Did someone help you find it? Did it seem as though there was some divine intervention? Tell us your stories of treasures lost and found.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Creative chicken recipe wins $1 million at Pillsbury Bake-Off

Anna Ginsberg, of Austin, Texas, recently captured the grand prize at the 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest in Orlando, Fla. She was awarded $1 million for her Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing recipe.

Inspired by the creative use of items typically found in the family freezer, Ginsberg's recipe calls for frozen cut leaf spinach and frozen waffle sticks, which serve as the foundation for the stuffing, with the accompanying syrup as a glaze. Ginsberg's innovative and resourceful use of a family favorite appealed to the judges, who named it the best of the Cooking for Two category.

Five additional category winners each earned $10,000 in cash for their recipes. The winner in the Dinner Made Easy category was Angela Buchanan, of Boulder, Colo., for her Cuban-Style Sandwiches with Green Chile Au Jus. Ronna Farley, of Rockville, Md., captured the Simple Snacks category with her Choco-Peanut Butter Cups. The winner in the Wake Up to Breakfast category was Maria Baldwin, of Mesa, Ariz., for her Rise 'n Shine Lattice Pizza. The winner in the Weekends Made Special category was Laura Stensberg, of Marshfield, Wis., with her Peanut Butter Truffle Tart. And Karen Mack, of Webster, N.Y., won in the Brand New You category for her Blackberry-Almond Bruschetta.

This old-fashioned chicken and stuffing dinner is updated for two, with a surprising ingredient.

- Pillsbury® Bake-Off Contest
GRAND-PRIZE DISH: Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing, made by Anna Ginsberg, of Austin, Texas, took home $1 million at the recent Pillsbury Bake-Off. The innovative dish includes waffles as the main stuffing ingredient.
- Pillsbury® Bake-Off Contest
BIG WINNER: Anna Ginsberg, of Austin, Texas, was the $1 million grand-prize winner at the Pillsbury Bake-Off, with her Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing

Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing

9 frozen homestyle waffle sticks with 3 syrup cups (from 1 lb. 1.3 oz box)
2 tablespoons peach preserves
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts (1 lb.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon butter OR margarine
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 cups frozen cut leaf spinach (from 1 lb. bag), thawed, squeezed to drain well
1 tablespoon beaten egg white
1 tablespoon chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate or 8-inch square pan with cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix contents of syrup cups from waffles, the preserves and Worcestershire sauce. Place chicken, skin side up, in pie plate; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon syrup mixture over chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast waffle sticks as directed on box. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes. Cut waffles into 3/4-inch cubes; set aside. Spray a 1-quart casserole dish with cooking spray (or use 9-by-5-inch nonstick loaf pan; do not spray). In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir for 2 minutes, or until tender. Stir in waffle pieces and broth, breaking up and moistening waffle pieces. Sprinkle with poultry seasoning and sage. Remove from heat; stir in spinach. Cool about 5 minutes. Stir in egg white and pecans.

Spoon stuffing into prepared dish; place in oven with chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes, or until juice of chicken is clear when thickest part is cut to bone (170°F) and stuffing is thoroughly heated. Serve chicken with stuffing, spooning remaining sauce in pan over chicken. Yields 2 servings.

Bruschetta takes a sweet turn in an easy version that starts with refrigerated bread dough.

Blackberry-Almond Bruschetta

1 can (11 oz.) refrigerated crusty French loaf dough
Butter-flavor cooking spray
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 package (8 oz.) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
1 bag (10 oz.) frozen blackberries, thawed, well-drained
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped*

Heat oven to 350°F. Bake French loaf as directed on can. Cool for 5 minutes.

Cut ends off loaf; cut loaf crosswise into 24 slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Arrange slices on an ungreased cookie sheet. Spray each slice with cooking spray until lightly coated; sprinkle with granulated sugar. Return to oven; bake for 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until lightly toasted.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, almond extract and 1/4 cup powdered sugar with an electric mixer on low speed until well-combined.

Spread cream cheese mixture evenly onto bread slices. Top each with 3 or 4 blackberries; sprinkle with almonds. With a small strainer, sprinkle remaining powdered sugar over bruschetta. Yields 24 appetizers.

*To toast almonds, spread on a cookie sheet; bake at 350°F for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Coarsely chop.

These yummy cookie cups feature layers of chocolate and peanut butter.

Choco-Peanut Butter Cups

1 roll (18 oz.) refrigerated peanut butter cookies
1 cup white chocolate chips (6 oz.)
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter, divided
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 oz.)
4 oats 'n honey crunchy granola bars (2 pouches from 8.9 oz. box), crushed (3/4 cup)

Heat oven to 350°F.

Grease 24 mini muffin cups with cooking spray or shortening.

Cut cookie dough into 24 slices. Press 1 slice in the bottom and up the side of each mini muffin cup, forming a 1/4-inch rim above top of cup (dust fingers with flour if necessary). Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges are deep golden brown. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. With the tip of the handle of a wooden spoon, press dough down in the center of each cup to make room for 2 tablespoons filling.

Meanwhile, in a 2-quart saucepan, melt white chips and 3/4 cup peanut butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Divide mixture evenly into cookie cups (about 1 tablespoon each). Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

In the same saucepan, melt chocolate chips and remaining peanut butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Divide chocolate mixture evenly on top of peanut butter layer in each cup (about 1 tablespoon each). Sprinkle crushed granola bars over tops. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Remove from muffin cups before serving.

This breadstick-topped pizza is great for breakfast or brunch, or cut into small pieces for appetizers.

- Pillsbury® Bake-Off Contest
EYE-OPENER: Rise 'n Shine Lattice Pizza was the winner of the Wake Up to Breakfast category.

Rise 'n Shine Lattice Pizza

1 box (9 oz.) frozen roasted potatoes with garlic and herbs
1/2 cup chives-and-onion cream cheese spread (from 8 oz. container)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 eggs
3/4 to 1 cup basil pesto (6 to 8 oz.)
1 can (13.8 oz.) refrigerated pizza crust
2 cups grated Asiago OR Parmesan cheese (8 oz.)
1 package or jar (3 oz.) cooked real bacon bits
1 box (10.6 oz.) refrigerated garlic with herbs breadsticks

Heat oven to 350°F. Cut a small slit in center of pouch of potatoes. Microwave on High for 2 to 3 minutes, or just until warm; set aside.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, Italian seasoning and eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended; set aside.

Line a large cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper. Place pesto in a small strainer over bowl to drain off excess oil. Lightly brush oil from pesto onto parchment paper. Unroll pizza crust dough on paper-lined cookie sheet; starting at center, press out dough into a 14-inch square.

Spread pesto over dough to within 1 inch of edges; sprinkle cheese over pesto. Roll up edges to make an 11-inch square. Spoon potatoes evenly over cheese. Pour egg mixture around potatoes. Sprinkle with bacon bits.

Separate breadstick dough into 10 strips; set garlic butter aside. Twist and stretch each strip of dough over potatoes in lattice pattern, tucking ends of strips under pizza dough. Remove cover from reserved garlic butter; microwave on High for 10 seconds to soften. Brush garlic butter over edges and strips of dough.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until edges are browned and center is set, covering with foil during the last 10 minutes of baking, if necessary, to prevent excessive browning. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Cut into rectangles to serve. Yields 8 servings.

This flavor-packed sandwich is made even better by dipping it into a delicious green chile au jus.

Cuban-Style Sandwiches with Green Chile Au Jus

1 package (17 oz.) refrigerated fully cooked pork roast au jus
1 can (13.2 oz.) refrigerated country Italian loaf dough
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons prepared minced garlic in water
1/4 pound thinly sliced cooked honey ham
4 slices (1 oz. each) pepper Jack cheese
1 cup beef broth
1 can (4.5 oz.) chopped green chiles

Heat oven to 350°F.

Spray a cookie sheet or 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan with cooking spray. Drain juice from pork roast into a blender; set aside. Shred or chop pork into bite-size pieces; set aside.

Unroll dough into 1 large (about 14-by-9-inch) rectangle. With kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut dough crosswise, making 2 (9-by-7-inch) rectangles. Sprinkle each dough rectangle with 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon garlic. Place half of the ham and half of the cheese in a 3-inch-wide strip lengthwise down center of each dough rectangle. Divide pork evenly over cheese.

Bring long sides of dough up over filling to meet in center; pinch seam to seal. Pinch ends to seal. With a pancake turner, place seam side down on prepared pan. Cut 3 diagonal slashes in the top of each sandwich.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet; place on a wire rack. Cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour broth and undrained green chiles into blender with juice from pork; blend on medium-high speed for 15 to 30 seconds, or until smooth. Pour juice mixture into a 2-cup microwavable measuring cup.

To serve, microwave juice mixture on High for 2 to 3 minutes, or until hot; divide mixture into 4 (6- or 8-oz.) ramekins or cups. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half. Serve sandwiches with juice mixture for dipping. Yields 4 servings (1/2 sandwich and 1/2 cup juice each).

This decadent dessert is sure to become a new favorite.

- Pillsbury® Bake-Off Contest
SPECIAL: Rich, fudgy Peanut Butter Truffle Tart won the Weekends Made Special category.

Peanut Butter Truffle Tart

1 roll (18 oz.) refrigerated peanut butter cookies
6 peanut butter crunchy granola bars (3 pouches from 8.9 oz. box), crushed (1 heaping cup)
2 bags (12 oz. each) semisweet chocolate chips (4 cups)
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped peanuts OR 1 package (2 oz.) nut topping

Heat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in crushed granola bars until well-mixed. Press dough onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom or a 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes, or until light golden brown.

With the back of a spoon, press down crust on bottom and side; bake for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until deep golden brown. Press down crust again with spoon. Cool for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and whipping cream on High for 1 minute. Stir; microwave for 1 to 2 minutes longer, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent chocolate from burning, until completely melted and smooth.

In a small microwavable bowl, microwave peanut butter on High for 1 minute, or until melted; stir.

Spread warm peanut butter onto bottom of crust. Pour chocolate mixture over peanut butter mixture. Sprinkle peanuts evenly over top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until serving time. For easier cutting, let tart stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Store in refrigerator. Yields 16 servings.

Online voters chose this sassy dish, created by Mary Iovinelli Bueshcer, of Bloomington, Mich., as 'America's Favorite Recipe.'

Pineapple Black Bean Enchiladas

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 can (20 oz.) pineapple tidbits in juice, drained, 1/3 cup juice reserved
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (4.5 oz.) chopped green chiles
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 8 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
3 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese (12 oz.), divided
1 can (10 oz.) mild enchilada sauce
8 whole wheat flour tortillas (8- OR 9-inch)
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream, divided

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13-by-9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in pineapple, beans, green chiles and salt. Cook and stir until thoroughly heated. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro and 2 cups cheese.

Spoon and spread 1 tablespoon enchilada sauce onto each tortilla. Spoon about 3/4 cup vegetable mixture over sauce on each. Roll up tortillas; place seam side down in baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix reserved pineapple juice and remaining enchilada sauce; pour over enchiladas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Spray a sheet of foil large enough to cover baking dish with cooking spray; place sprayed side down over baking dish and seal tightly.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, removing foil during last 5 to 10 minutes of baking, until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. Top each baked enchilada with 1 tablespoon sour cream and 1 teaspoon cilantro. Yields 8 servings.