Oct 25

THE RETURN: French Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix

So, this blog hasn’t been getting a lot of love lately, though not for lack of interest.  I’ve been compiling recipes and have a big project that I had planned to start this year that will hopefully debut shortly.

Right after I posted the last recipe – for peach cobbler – I received a text from my husband Robert: a picture of a little amigurumi cow.  (Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures.)  The year before, he had completed his first children’s book, “Moo Thousand and Pun”, the story of Shakes the Cow and her adventures in space.  I had been insisting that we needed toys to go along with it because I’ve always felt that a companion toy makes a book come alive for a child – it was certainly that way for me and has been for my daughter – and the character of Shakes *begged* to be a toy.

We’d been researching the toy business, and were quite disheartened by what we discovered: there are very few toy manufacturers in the US, and even they generally send the product to China for creation and at least partial assembly.  There are companies in Canada, as well, but they also ship to China.  And, seemingly, you pay through the nose no matter what the order: a friend of ours had toys manufactured in China, and had to pay $24,000 up front for a minimum of 6000 toys.  You can place orders for much smaller amounts, but the price per item rises sharply.  We also heard stories of excessive taxes and shipment tampering.  With all of that knowledge, we tabled the idea.

And then, in April 2016, Robert found the amigurumi cow.  In the text, he asked if I could make a Shakes like it, but bigger.  Previously, when we thought of toys, we were both thinking of fleece plush.  Neither one of us had considered a crocheted toy.  I’ve crocheted for DECADES, but had never even considered venturing into toys, but as everyone knows I can’t back down from a challenge.  I researched a few patterns, worked through design issues with my husband, and a week later, Shakes the Cow was born.  “Big Shakes,” as she was quickly dubbed was soon followed by “Medium Shakes:”

ShakesSince then, Shakes has been joined by Stanley the Bear from my husband’s other children’s book series, The Bear From AUNT; Shakes’ and Stanley’s pal Percie the Penguin; my flying pig logo now named Chrys (short for Chryosaur); my new character Spicey the Radical Moose Lamb and her cousins; and my daughter’s character, the Mighty Hippofartamus.   (All of those characters are available on our website, https://squareup.com/store/deansfamilyproductions.)

DFPtoys-Group-768x432Our characters have also been joined by cosplay versions of themselves: A-Moo-zonian Warrior (WonderShakes), Wonder Pig, Pollock Shakes, and FrankenShakes and his Bride.  (All specialty characters are available through Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/shop/dfphandmade):

Wonder ShakesWonder PigPollockShakes

FrankenShakes&BrideEven more surprising to me was the fact that as people discovered that I was making our toys, the requests to make THEIR toys as well started rolling in and a small toy business was born!  As of right now, I’m fulfilling several contracts for manufactured toys, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  That’s okay, though: I like the idea of becoming a provider of small-batch toy orders for reasonable prices to help creators bring their characters to life.

SO, that’s a long explanation for where I’ve been for over 18 months.  However, food has never been far from my mind, particularly since I eat it every day.  😀 The challenge was in finding time to get back to it, and finding the right first recipe to post.  And then it came to me: French Vanilla Chocolate Mix.  It’s been nippy in the mornings lately, and my daughter and I decimated our previous stock.  I also need a place to keep this recipe because I cannot keep track of it otherwise!

A couple of years ago, I gave my daughter an assorted gift pack of hot chocolate mix for Christmas.  Of all of the flavors, the French vanilla was her favorite.  She made it last as long as she could and when it came time to replenish it, we couldn’t find it anywhere.  Apparently, it’s only available for Christmas.  Well, we’re not waiting until Christmas to restock, so I made my own.

Just a couple of quick notes: you can make this regular hot chocolate mix by leaving out the vanilla-flavored creamer.  You can also reduce the amount of powdered sugar – I like it a little sweeter – but that is entirely up to your taste.  The texture won’t be affected at all.

You really do need to stir this mix to make sure it is well-combined.  I’ve tried just shaking it, but that doesn’t get rid of clumps of ingredients.

This stuff also lasts FOR-EV-ER.  I won’t presume to estimate how long, but all of the ingredients are shelf-stable.  I’ve had big batches of this last nearly a year with no problem as long as it’s kept in an air-tight container.  It also makes a great easy, inexpensive gift.

 French Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix

French Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix Pic Edited


1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa
2 cups non-fat powdered milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vanilla-flavored non-dairy powdered creamer


Combine ingredients in large bowl or container.  Store in an air-tight container.

To serve, measure milk into as many mugs as you need, then pour into the pan.  (You can use water, but I prefer milk.)  Add 3 tablespoons of the mix for each mug of milk and whisk until combined.  Heat mixture until warm.  Pour back into mugs and top with marshmallows.


Apr 13

Peach Cobbler

Last night, when I was lamenting on Facebook that I needed something light-hearted to add to today’s agenda of dental visit, a funeral and finishing up our taxes, my friend Robin pointed out that today is #NationalPeachCobblerDay.  Making peach cobbler today was far more appropriate than she knew.

Peach cobbler was one of my dad’s favorite desserts.  In college, I worked part-time at B. Dalton Booksellers, and one day my dad asked me to special order a book for him: ‘New Southern Cooking’ by Nathalie Dupree.  That my dad was requesting a cookbook was unique: he didn’t keep many cookbooks around.  Some, yes, but not a lot.  He had little notebooks of favored recipes, but for the most part, he could make a banquet out of whatever disparate ingredients he found in the fridge and pantry.  He wanted this specific cookbook because he had watched an episode of Dupree’s cooking show on which she had made peach cobbler, and he wanted the recipe.

That recipe became a standard in the family.  We’d make it when my grandmother brought peaches down from New Jersey.  I have actually eaten this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is literally the only food that I have so over-consumed that I made myself ill.  I’m not going farther with that – you get the idea.

But why was it appropriate for today?  Because it was the dessert that I took when my then-fiance and I had dinner with my dad and stepmother and their best friends, Chuck and Mary Jean.  It was the perfect recipe to honor my dad’s best friend, who passed in May 2015 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery today.

Chuck and my dad knew each other from my dad’s days as sergeant major/Enlisted Bandleader of the US Army Band, and Chuck was the installation command sergeant major of Fort Myer, VA.  Their personalities blended seamlessly, and enjoyed many of the same activities.  They spent as much of their spare time as possible together, often doing remodeling projects or building furniture.  I remember that they made a beautiful sewing table for my stepmother, and I believe they made a gun cabinet for Chuck.  (Until his dying day, Chuck claimed that I owed him $20 because I called my dad just as Chuck began to cut a board.  The phone so distracted him that he cut it wrong and ruined the wood, so I owed him for the replacement.)  Chuck also helped my dad install new lighting in the kitchen and install a new orchid room in the basement.  When they weren’t building together, they were generally golfing.

On the day my dad died, we waited until Chuck and Mary Jean could get there to say goodbye before allowing my dad to be moved.  Chuck and I accompanied his body out to the hearse, and stood there holding on to each other as he was carried away.

At the reception, Mary Jean put together an absolutely beautiful display of pictures of Chuck.  Included were pictures from Chuck’s career: Viet Nam, various ceremonial events, performing in the Spirit of America, etc.:


In each photo, Chuck is the primary focus, save for one: the picture of Chuck and my dad from my wedding:


There was one image that was not included, though, because only I have the picture.  It represents my favorite story about Chuck and my dad.  My dad found a kit for an adorable teddy bear rocking chair.  Chuck helped him make one for two kids of a former TUSAB member, as well as a second one.  Though he didn’t know it at the time, my dad had planned all along to give Chuck and Mary Jean the second chair to give to a child of their choosing.  There was a third kit, which was intended for my children, but my dad passed before he was able to make it.  When my daughter was about 3, I asked Mary Jean if Chuck would make the 3rd chair for her.  Having my dad’s best friend make it for her made it just as special for her.  The answer was, “Of course!”  Mary Jean came over to collect the kit, and sat with Sam, read a story and just visited.  When it was time for her to go, I carried the kit downstairs, and when Mary Jean raised the hatch of her SUV, I was floored: there was the chair that my dad had made.  Sam – my dad’s namesake – was the child they chose to give it to.


And so in honor of two of the best guys of all time, I offer this recipe.  The basis is the same Nathalie Dupree recipe that my dad loved.  I have taken a little liberty with it, doubling the ingredients for the batter.  You can use any fruit, really.  I’ve even made crust alone and put stewed fruit over that.  But, a piece of warm peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream…you just can’t beat that.

To Daddy and Chuck, the world is a much better place for having you in it.  We love and miss you both more than you could ever know.


Peach Cobbler

PeachCobbler1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

1 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

2 cups milk

½ cup unsalted butter

2 cups peaches, peeled and sliced, juices reserved

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Put the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ovenproof dish place in the oven to melt.

While the butter is melting, combine the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add in milk and mix to combine.

Once the butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven and pour the batter into the pan.  Distribute the peaches and any juices evenly over the top of the batter.  Put the dish back in the oven and bake until the batter is browned and has risen up and around the fruit, about 1 hour.



Mar 20

FPP’s Egg in the Hole

I’m baaaaack! I hadn’t intended to take that much time off from the blog, but life has been busier than usual since last Thanksgiving. The winter is always my busiest time of the year at work, and we got a new executive director last November which always brings lots of changes. Of course, we had holidays and birthdays to celebrate, as well as a good amount of wintery weather. Right in the midst of all that, my mother passed away after a long, difficult battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Finally, my 10-year-old daughter has started *really* learning how to cook, and I debated shifting the focus of this blog to focus more on family recipes and histories for her and her cousins.

In fact, I had hoped that the first blog post back would be an homage to my mother’s favorite childhood meal: her grandmother’s roasted chicken. In the style of my great-grandmother – the farm wife who apparently never let anything go to waste – the roasted chicken recipe spawns two additional recipes. I have been working on those recipes for *months* – my writing muse clearly resides at the office, not at home – when all of a sudden yesterday morning, this blog post about an egg recipe sprang forth from my brain like Athena from Zeus’ skull. According to my husband, I’ve now solved the eternal question: the egg came before the chicken. Sigh…

ANYWAY, on to the actual post…

When my husband and daughter were shopping for my Christmas gifts, they were trying to choose between several cookbooks – it can’t be a surprise that I *love* cookbooks – on my wish list. The Blue Bloods Cookbook was a requirement: I asked for it for our anniversary, but my husband wanted to stick to his “Sweet Sixteen” theme, and a cookbook didn’t fit. The other two choices were new cookbooks from the Pioneer Woman and Giada De Laurentiis. When he asked Sam, she apparently said, “Duh, Dad! She watches ‘The Pioneer Woman’ ALL. THE. TIME.” (Thanks to a gift card from my godmother, I did get Giada’s book, too.  :-) )

It is true, though: I do watch The Pioneer Woman quite often. Okay, a lot. Fine: I do watch it ALL. THE. TIME. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve binge-watched through the entire series – I’m doing it as I write this. It’s comfort viewing for me. There are several reasons why that might be the case: Ree Drummond and I are about the same age (actually, she’s two years younger than me), and every time she says, “Go for it!” or “…to the max!” I’m instantly transported back to high school. In our earlier years, we were both ballerinas. These days, we’re both busy moms with kids – she has four to my one – about the same age, and obviously we both love food.

Our families also come from the same area of the country. My dad’s family has long-standing ties to that region. My great-great-great-grandfather, Samuel O. Harris – the original Sam in our family – was born in Sulphur Springs, Texas, in 1858, and after completing medical training, he served as a Deputy US Marshal in Indian Territory under Judge Isaac Parker, better known as the, “Hanging Judge of the American Old West.” Nominated by President Grant in 1874 to the US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, at the age of 36, Parker was the youngest Federal judge in the West. In his 21 years in Arkansas, he presided over thousands of criminal cases involving disputes between Indians and non-Indians, and cases involving outlaws hiding out in Indian Territory.

The job of the Deputy US Marshals was to flush those to be tried out of Indian Territory and transport them to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for trial. It was a dangerous and thankless job: far more Deputy US Marshals died in pursuit of outlaws than outlaws who died on the orders of Judge Parker, and the marshals couldn’t collect on the bounties attached to the outlaws’ heads: it was determined that their meager compensation was sufficient. Originally much larger, but eventually pared down to almost nothing, “Indian Territory” was the land set aside for the forced relocation of the Indian tribes. Indian Territory and the Oklahoma Territory were eventually combined and recognized as a state in 1907.

Below is a picture of S. O. Harris and his family. If you look at the genealogical records for his children, the birthplace listed for all of them is Indian Territory. (By the time my grandfather was born in 1913, Oklahoma was a state, and his birthplace is listed as Sallisaw, Sequoyah, Oklahoma.) My great-great-grandfather, Franklin, was the oldest, and is in the center in the back, #3:

Below on the left is S. O. Harris with his badge.  The note on the picture was likely written by John Roy Harris.  On the right is a picture from the 1908 reunion of Deputy US Marshals at Ft. Smith:

SOHarrisMarshals 1908 panel 4









Okay, history lesson over, back to shared regional connections. I don’t know if there is really a different cultural sensibility between the Southwest and Midwest/Mid-Atlantic where my mother’s family originated, but there are vast differences between the two sides of my family. Watching the gentle, teasing banter from Drummond’s family sounds just like us when any of my dad’s side of the family is together. My grandparents and my dad have all passed on, but watching The Pioneer Woman brings all of those happy memories back, and I feel like I’m wrapped in their embrace again. I think it’s a show that my dad and I would have watched together had he lived long enough.

And, of course, there is the food: the type of food that Drummond makes is exactly the kind of food I – and most of my family – would happily eat at every meal. My favorite episodes are the ones where she makes chicken-fried steak, pulled pork, calzones, Eggs Benedict, meat sandwiches, thick steaks, fried potatoes, cookies, apple pie, etc. Really, just…everything. One of my all-time favorite PW recipes is, “Egg in the Hole.” It was in one of the very early episodes, and was drool-inducing. Her method is to cut a round out of a piece of bread, then place the bread and bread round in a pan with “a lot of butter” – probably a couple of tablespoons – allowing the bread to brown in the butter. Then, a couple more tablespoons of butter are added, the bread is flipped over, then an egg is cracked into the hole in the bread slice. It cooks until the white is firm on the bottom, then is flipped over, and cooked the other side is firm. The printed recipe says 1 tablespoon of butter, but in the episode, there are 4-5 tablespoons going into that pan.

Let me say at this point that in no way am I being judgmental about the way Drummond cooks. I know that there are detractors out there who say that her way of cooking is completely unhealthy. Well, if you are eating like that and leading a mostly sedentary life, then yes, it would be. But, when she cooks like that, she’s cooking for a lot of physically active people whom are clearly working it off. My issue with the amount of fat is completely personal: I *can’t* process that much fat. One of the myriad of surgeries that I endured in the year after my daughter was born was removal of my gallbladder. What’s the primary purpose of your gallbladder? To store the extra bile produced by your liver to break down fat. (It was also a contributing factor when my doctor advised me not to have any more children, hence my only child.) I only have whatever my liver can produce at the time – I have no extra for extra-fatty meals. I have made the recipe according to the episode directions and it was sooooo gooooood, but ultimately it didn’t agree with me. So, in order to have my Egg in the Hole and eat it, too, I just had to find a way to use less butter.

The method that worked best for me was to start by lightly toasting the bread in the toaster, and then cutting out the center with a biscuit cutter. Then, put the bread in the pan with a much smaller amount of melted butter – with the right non-stick pan, you don’t even need the butter, but I added a little just for flavor – cooking it over slightly higher heat to get the white solidified quickly so I can flip it, get the whites solidified on the other side, and pull it while the yolk is still soft.

So, now I can go for it and eat Egg in the Hole, comfort food to the max!

FPP’s Egg in the Hole







1 slice of bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly toast the bread in a toaster. Using a biscuit cutter – you need a sharp-ish edge – cut a round out of the center of the bread.

Place the butter in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and allow to melt. (I like to leave the butter in for a few moments to allow it to brown, but that isn’t absolutely necessary.) Place the slice of bread and bread round in the melted butter.

Crack an egg into the hole in the bread slice, and cook for 1-2 minutes until the whites on the bottom are set. Gently flip the bread slice over – flip the bread round, too – and allow another 1 – 2 minutes until the whites are set. Remove from the pan and serve with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Medium-high heat may seem a bit extreme, but you really need the higher heat to help the whites set quickly before the yolks have a chance to cook all the way through. If you like the yolks cooked all the way through, leave it on longer!

Nov 23

Turkey Day Necessity

When my daughter was 4, her preschool class was asked for their recipes for cooking a turkey, and those recipes were turned into refrigerator magnets for the parents. Below is my daughter’s recipe:

SamsTurkeyWe are pretty sure that by “chips” she meant potato chips. One of these days, I will turn the components from her recipe into an actual recipe – probably a dessert hash – but I haven’t wrapped my brain around that one yet.

These days, if you asked for her favorite Thanksgiving recipe, the answer would be, “Green Fluff.” Green Fluff is one of my favorites, too, and it isn’t Thanksgiving without it. I believe that my grandmother (my father’s mother) got the recipe from a friend at church. I don’t remember exactly when it debuted – I think I was a teenager – but it was an instant hit, and became a requirement for every Thanksgiving meal.

A couple of years ago, I posted the original recipe here: http://fpp.deansfamilyproductions.com/?p=174. This year, however, I decided to try to lighten it up a bit. (I also really couldn’t stomach using the whipped topping in the tub. Once I got used to the real-er stuff in the can, I couldn’t go back.)  Where the original recipe has full-fat cream cheese, crushed pineapple in heavy syrup and “1/2 a tub” of whipped topping, this new one has reduced fat cream cheese, crushed pineapple in pineapple juice and real whipping cream. Not only does the new version *feel* lighter, the flavors are also better, and it only requires a little extra work to whip the whipping cream. THIS will be the version on our Thanksgiving table from now on!

Green Fluff

GreenFluff1 cup water
1 package lime gelatin
1 (20oz) can crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice
1 (8oz) package reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup miniature marshmallows
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup heavy whipping cream, chilled

Pour water into a large saucepan and heat to boiling over medium-high. Add gelatin and stir until gelatin granules have dissolved. Add pineapple with its juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low/simmer. Add cream cheese, marshmallows and nuts, and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat and cool.

When the mixture has cooled and thickened slightly, beat chilled whipping cream on high for 5 to 6 minutes until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in to cooled mixture. Chill for several hours or overnight.