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Bless Your Spoon: Fall foods excite and delight, and help usher in new season

Cool days with soft, breezy winds have blown into town.

With them, carnivals, fairs, and festivals have arrived, signaling fall’s here to stay.

Ever since I was a child, the fair ushered in the new season. Not until then did my inner clock reset. The arrival of the fair stirs anticipation. There’s just something about a carnival that brings out the kid in all of us.

Cotton candy, caramel apples, funnel cakes, corn dogs, and Philly cheesesteaks are the hallmarks of good eatin’ at the fair – or, I should say, were, up until now. Good eats and treats are now at a whole new level. There’s not much left to the imagination. Culinary creations tantalize your taste buds – everything from standard fare favorites, to over-the-top, decadent offerings, and far-out, exotic concoctions. I dare you to try some of them.

It’s the kind of good stuff from which dreams are made.

And the special foods contests – there were many nights of pure calorie-counting abandonment. Not the time or place – but I wasn’t complaining a single bite.  Sinfully sweet cake tastings, shameless salad dressing savories, corrupt, craft chocolate creations, and wanton pimento cheeses concoctions – I had the entertaining job of judging – or was it?

Here’s a tip folks – your cake’s not going to earn the premium, blue, first place ribbon unless it’s pretty. Cakes aren’t only judged on overall taste and texture but appearance, as well – and that’s no cakewalk. That being said, you won’t earn the lowest score just because you entered a cake.  But, to win, you gotta be baking on all elements.

You can still enjoy a few fair favorites by trying today’s recipes at home. Sit back and reminisce about those fun days of attending fairs as a child. If you missed the fair this year – plan to take the kids or grandkids the next.

Special moments with good food and fun always bring a family together.   

SAUSAGE AND ONIONS

2-3 Tbsp. Wesson oil

5 lbs. whole smoked sausages

1 ½ lb. sliced onions

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 tsp. hot sauce

½ Tbsp. pepper

In a Dutch oven, add oil. Add onions. Simmer for 20 minutes while stirring until translucent. Add sausages in a single layer, and simmer for 15 more minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 15 minutes.

OLD FASHIONED CORN DOGS

1 beaten egg

1 Tbsp. honey

¾ cup whole milk

2/3 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp. sugar

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. Crisco shortening

10 all-beef hot dogs

Wooden skewers

Wesson oil

In a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add honey and milk. Mix well. In another bowl, add cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in Crisco until it forms a crumbly mix. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix well until smooth and no lumps. Add skewers to the hot dogs. Dip them into the batter and coat thoroughly. Place in a 375-degree deep-fryer until golden. Drain on paper towel.

DEEP-FRIED OREOS

3/4 cup warm water

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 beaten eggs

1/4 cup sugar

½ tsp. salt

½ cup evaporated milk

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/8 cup of Crisco shortening

Wesson oil

Oreos, other cookie, or small candy bar

Confectioner’s sugar

In a bowl, pour warm water and add yeast, stirring to dissolve. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs, add sugar, salt, and milk. Mix well. Blend in half the flour and beat until smooth. Add Crisco and remaining flour. Cover and chill overnight. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured board. Cut into 2 ½ squares or big enough to wrap cookie. Wrap and seal ends. Fry in a 350-degree deep fryer for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned on both sides. Drain on paper, and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

PORK CHOP SANDWICHES

Premium, boneless, center-cut pork chops

2 beaten eggs

2 Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Whole milk

Wesson oil

Steamed white buns

In a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add sugar and salt. Mix well. Add flour with just enough milk to make a thick, smooth batter. The batter should not be too runny and thick enough to adhere to the meat. Trim fat from chops, and make sure meat is dry. Dip the chop in the batter thoroughly coating, and place in a skillet heated to 350-degrees with oil hot enough for frying.  When chop is golden on one side, turn over and cook other side until golden. Drain on paper towel. Steam buns and place pork chop on bun. Add chili, slaw, onions, sliced tomato, and mustard, as desired.

FRIED DILL PICKLES

1 beaten egg

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ Tbsp. hot sauce

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

Wesson oil

1 quart sliced dill pickles

In a mixer bowl, beat egg. Add flour, milk, Worcestershire, sauce, and hot sauce. Set aside. In a separate bowl, add flour, salt, and pepper. Mix well. For the pickles, slice, and drain on a paper towel. Take each slice of pickle and dip it into milk mixture. Then dredge in flour mixture. Deep fry in Crisco until pickles are golden. Drain on a paper towel.

FUNNEL CAKES

2 beaten eggs

2 ½ cups self-rising flour

¼ cup sugar

1 ½ cup whole milk

Wesson vegetable oil

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar and mix well. Add flour while alternating with milk. Mix well. Heat electric skillet to 350-degrees and test with water drop. Fry in Wesson oil for 1 minute on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with 10x powdered sugar. Makes 1 doz.

RED BEANS AND RICE

1 lb. dried red kidney beans

4 cups water

1 ham hock

2 chopped onions

1 chopped bell pepper

2 chopped ribs celery

2 chopped cloves garlic

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 lbs. spiced linked sausage

Cooked white rice

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse beans and add to a pot. Cover beans completely with water, and allow to soak overnight. Empty water, and rinse beans. Add fresh water, ham hock, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 ½ hours over medium heat. In a skillet, fry sausage until crisp. Drain. When beans are finished cooking, add sausage. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes on low heat. Pour over cooked rice and top with parsley.

RIBS WITH BBQ CHEERWINE SAUCE

2 racks trimmed ribs

Salt and pepper

Grill seasonings

1/8 cup white vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp. hot sauce

5 oz. Cheerwine

Rub ribs completely with salt, pepper, and seasonings. Arrange in a roasting pan in a single layer. Cover and seal completely with foil. Roast in a 275-degree oven for 2 ½ hours or until meat falls off bone. In a saucepan, heat vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup hot sauce, and Cheerwine. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Slather ribs with sauce. Brown both sides on a hot grill while basting with more sauce. Serve with sauce.

FULL-BLOWN NACHOS

1 bag tortilla chips

2 pkg. taco seasoning mix

2 lb. premium ground round

1 lb. grated mild cheddar cheese

12 oz. drained, diced tomatoes

1 chopped onion

1 can chopped, drained jalapeno peppers

1 can chopped drained green chilies

Jar of salsa

8 oz. sour cream

In a skillet, prepare beef with taco seasoning according to pkg. Cook beef until done and crumble. Drain well. On individual plates, cover with tortilla chips. Sprinkle on layer of cheese and then layer of meat. Layer remaining ingredients in order except sour cream. Microwave for 1 ½ minutes. Add dollop of sour cream in center of each plate. Makes 4 plates.

HOT PEPPER POPPERS

24 fresh, medium, jalapeno peppers

1 ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 beaten eggs

2 cups bread crumbs

Wesson oil

Buttermilk/ranch dressing

Cut stems off peppers. Remove seeds and pith. Stuff peppers with cheese. Dip each pepper and completely coat in egg. Roll and completely cover in bread crumbs. Place on a baking sheet. Refrigerate to dry. Fry in a 375-degree deep fryer for 3 minutes or golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve with dressing for a dip.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED PRETZELS

2 cups milk chocolate morsels

¼ cup Crisco shortening

50 3-inch pretzel twists

In a saucepan, combine chocolate morsels and vegetable shortening. Heat over very hot water in double boiler until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat but keep chocolate over hot water to stay melted. Dip pretzels into chocolate and coat. Shake off any excess chocolate. Place on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets. Chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes or until coating hardens. Gently release from waxed paper. Store in covered container in refrigerator.

PREMIUM CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKE

4 scoops premium vanilla ice cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 Tbsp. premium hot fudge sauce

1 ½ cups whole milk

In a blender, combine ice cream, vanilla, hot fudge sauce, and milk. Blend until smooth.

TOFFY CRUNCH POPCORN

1 ½ cups un-popped popcorn. 6 quarts popped popcorn

8 oz. Spanish peanuts

2 sticks salted butter

1 lb. brown sugar

¼ cup dark Karo syrup

¼ cup molasses

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pop popcorn according to directions to make 6 quarts popped popcorn. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add peanuts. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add sugar, syrup, molasses, and salt. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Slowly pour over popped popcorn and peanuts. Mix well. Pour into two large baking pans. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour while stirring every 15 minutes. Remove and completely cool. Break apart and store in closed containers.

FRESH SQUEEZED LEMONADE

4 cups water

4 cups granulated sugar

4 large, juiced lemons

3 ½-4 cups cold water

Red cherries

In a saucepan, make a simple syrup with equal portions of water and sugar. Dissolve sugar in the water.  Bring to a boil while stirring. Cool and refrigerate for 3 hours or until chilled.  In a pitcher, add lemon juice, 1 cup of the simple syrup, and amount of cold water to taste.  Refrigerate for 2 hours. Strain juice and then pour over ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

TOFFEE DIP WITH APPLE SLICES

8 oz. softened cream cheese

¼ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup toffee chips

Granny Smith Apples

In a mixer bowl, blend cream cheese, sugars, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in toffee chips. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Serve with slices of Granny Smith apples.