I was settling in for a long winter's nap when I realized that there is a good reason to throw a party this month: Jan. 23 is National Pie Day.
Having sufficiently recovered from my sugar overload in December, it is now time to think of golden brown crust and luscious filling. Not a hard thing to do.
Ellie Miller at the Pie Pantry in downtown Belleville reminded me last week that it was time to get the word out to all pie bakers that the annual pie contest held there is a mere 12 days away. The restaurant will celebrate National Pie Day a few days late, on Jan. 26 this year. ( It's much more fun to eat pie on a Saturday than a Wednesday, anyway.) The pie contest and an all-you-can-eat pie buffet are part of the celebration. Here are the details:
Pie Pantry Pie Contest & Celebration
What: Celebrate National Pie Day by baking a homemade pie and entering it in this local contest.
When: Jan. 26. Judging at 1 p.m. Pies must be delivered by 12:30 p.m.
Where: The Pie Pantry, 310 E. Main St., downtown Belleville.
Details: Open to amateurs. Recipe must be homemade (with the exception of the crust) and included with the entry. Publication is possible. Judged by a panel of food experts.
Prizes: First place, $50 gift certificate to the Pie Pantry. Second- and third-place prizes, $25 gift certificates.
Also features: From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., enjoy the Unlimited Pie Buffet, $10 for adults and $5 for children. Sample mini slices of a variety of pies.
And if you need any inspiration, check this food section next Tuesday when I will run a variety of pie recipes.
Eckert's Orchards in Belleville is now growing and selling hydroponic lettuce in its Country Store.
Currently, there is just one variety available at $1.49 a head, but if you take a head home, judiciously pick only the largest leaves and let the smaller ones grow, the lettuce may continue to produce. Put the pot in a sunny spot and make sure it always has some water on the bottom.
While you're at the Country Store, go through the gift shop to the greenhouse and see how it's done. You'll find rows of hydroponic lettuce growing in tiny pots, which sit in tiers of PVC pipe. The pipes are the irrigation/food system for the plants.
The Eckerts also have rows of three or four other kinds of lettuce growing in frames in soil in the greenhouse. Nice to think that sometime soon we'll be taking home more locally grown lettuce, or eating it in the restaurant.
Searching for a fast dinner
It's never-ending, isn't it? Trying to find something to pull together for a weeknight dinner. This pair of recipes is from Pillsbury/Kraft.
Chili-Cheese Burger Bake
1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
2 cups frozen bell pepper and onion stir-fry
1 (11-ounce) can sweet corn
1 (1-ounce) packages taco seasoning mix
1/4 cup water
1 (16-ounce) can refried beans
1/2 cup taco sauce
2 cups chili-cheese corn chips
4 ounce (1 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 8-inch square (2-quart) glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Brown ground beef in large skillet over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently. Drain.
2. Add bell pepper and onion stir-fry, corn, taco seasoning mix and water; mix well. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine refried beans and taco sauce; mix well.
4. Spoon half of beef mixture into sprayed baking dish. Top with half of bean mixture and half of the corn chips. Top with remaining beef mixture and bean mixture. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes.
5. Remove from oven. Uncover baking dish; top with remaining half of chips. Sprinkle with cheese.
6. Return to oven; bake, uncovered, an additional 10 to 12 minutes, or until thoroughly heated and cheese is melted. If desired, garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.
Serves 6, each with 415 calories, 22 grams fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 870 mg sodium, 7 grams fiber, 35 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 26 grams protein. Exchanges: 2 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 high-fat meat, 2 fat.
One-Pan Baked Chicken & Sweet Potatoes
1/2 cup Italian Dressing
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3), cut into 3/4-inch-wide wedges
1 broiler-fryer chicken (3 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dressing, sugar and thyme in large bowl. Add potatoes; toss to coat. Transfer potatoes to 15-by-10-by--inch pan, reserving dressing mixture in bowl.
Add chicken to reserved dressing mixture; toss to coat. Place in pan with potatoes.
Bake 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and chicken is done (165 degrees). Transfer chicken and potatoes to platter. Strain drippings from pan; pour strained sauce over chicken. Serves 4.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.