Hoppin' John and Hush Puppy Mini Muffins

Do you have Hoppin' John for New Year's? It's good luck, you know. It's a southern tradition to have a big helping of black eyed peas and rice, also known as Hoppin' John, on New Year's Day.

There are as many different ways to fix this dish as there are explanations for how it got its name. And there's not much agreement on either one. But it doesn't matter which story or recipe you choose; they're all good!

Most food historians generally agree that Hoppin' John is an American dish with African, Creole, and Caribbean rootsThe dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to a legend, it was sold in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a man who was known as Hoppin' John.

Other explanations of the odd name include an obscure southern 
custom of inviting guests to eat by saying, "Hop in, John." A spin on this explanation stated that after the Civil War, starving Southern soldiers would stop at houses and ask for food. Southern women would bring a bowl of rice and peas to the door and say, "OK, hop in, John" (Johnny Reb, a name for Southern soldiers).

Or did the name come from an old ritual on New Year's Day in which the children of the house hopped around the table before eating their peas?

We may never know the true origin of the name, but it is generally accepted that Hoppin' John symbolizes good luck and wealth. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins. Many people serve greens (mustard greens or collard greens) along with this dish; greens are the color of money, thus adding to the wealth.  Another traditional food, cornbread, is often served since its gold color is also associated with riches.

There are other stories and symbols, but let's get to the recipes! This is a quick and tasty way to prepare Hoppin' John:

1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup diced onion
3/4 cup sliced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced 

1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced (or bacon or cooked ham)
2 cans of black eyed peas, undrained (I used Bush's)
salt and pepper to taste (I did not add salt- the peas and sausage added enough salt for me)
hot, cooked rice

Over medium heat, melt butter in a large pan or skillet. Saute the onion, celery, and garlic until soft. Stir in the sausage and cook until hot and sizzling. Add in the 2 cans of undrained black eyed peas, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the flavors are well-combined.

Serve over hot, cooked rice, with sides of cornbread and greens.

I thought hush puppies (another southern staple) would go well with the Hoppin' John, but I didn't want to mess with all the oil and frying. I decided to try hush puppy batter in mini muffin tins, and it worked out very well! 

Hush Puppy Mini Muffins
Adapted from Southern Living
Makes about 2 and 1/2 dozen hush puppies


1 and 1/2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal mix
3/4 cup self-rising flour

3/4 cup finely diced sweet yellow onion
 1 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease mini muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix cornmeal mix, flour, and sugar. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk egg and buttermilk until well combined. Pour milk mixture into cornmeal mixture, and stir just until mixed. Fold in chopped onion. Let the batter sit for 2 minutes. Using a spoon or a small cookie scoop, fill muffin tins about 7/8 full. Bake for 10 minutes (mine took about 14 minutes) or until golden brown. Rotate the pans half way through for even browning. Remove from oven and brush tops of muffins with melted butter. Serve warm.

Happy New Year!

Old Fashioned Christmas Fudge

My grandmother didn't actually write down very many of her recipes. Periodically, I try to recreate some of the wonderful dishes she used to make. A couple of years ago, I started trying to capture the taste of the fudge she always made for Christmas. The Carnation Famous Fudge recipe came very close, but wasn't exactly "it". This year, I made a few changes to Carnation's recipe, and I think I finally found what I was looking for!

This fudge isn't particularly fast, or two-ingredient, or microwave, or shortcut. But it is a sweet, creamy, melt-in-your mouth treat that is now my official Christmas fudge recipe. :) Using the three different kinds of chocolate are what makes all the difference in this recipe; it's worth the extra effort.

Old Fashioned Christmas Fudge

Makes at least 48 pieces, depending on what size you cut them

1  and 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup (5 oz. can) evaporated milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (regular stick butter)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 heaping cups miniature marshmallows
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8 inch square baking pan with foil (use heavy duty or a double thickness of regular), overhanging on 2 sides. Spray lightly with cooking spray.

Combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt in a medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down a little, and cook at a low boil for 5 minutes, continuing to stir constantly. Remove pan from heat.

Stir in the vanilla, then stir in the marshmallows, the three kinds of chocolate, and pecans. Stir vigorously for one minute, or until marshmallows and chocolate are completely melted. Pour into prepared pan. 

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm (it cuts much more easily when completely cold). Using foil overhangs, lift fudge from pan. Remove foil. Cut into 1" squares. Store in a wax paper lined, covered container, preferably in the refrigerator.


This fudge may have been taken to some of these fun parties!

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes

Mississippi Mud Cake is a Christmas tradition in our family. This year I tried something a little different. I made Mississippi Mud Cupcakes. I think they may become the new Christmas tradition around here- they are luscious.

This recipe is from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson. These cupcakes are versions of Mississippi Mud Pie and Mississippi Mud Cake, two dense chocolate creations from the 1960s. If you've had Mississippi Mud Cake, you know that it involves pouring a warm chocolate frosting over a chocolate cake that has been liberally sprinkled with pecans and marshmallows. How do achieve this in a cupcake? Ms. Richardson explains, "I've revised the recipe to make rich chocolate cupcakes embedded with pecans and frosted with decadent marshmallow frosting."

She captures the flavors and decadence of the original in these little gems. Deliciously.

I made a couple of minor changes to the recipe. It calls for 3/4 cup regular cocoa; I used 1/2 cup regular cocoa and 1/4 cup dark cocoa. I'm glad I did- it makes the chocolate taste even richer, and balances the sweetness of the marshmallow frosting.

Speaking of the marshmallow frosting, the recipe calls for a cooked one, and I could not locate my candy thermometer. I did a quick search on Just a Pinch and found a marshmallow frosting that did not require cooking. We loved it!

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

1 cup hot coffee 

3/4 cup cocoa
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cupcake pans or place liners in wells of pans.
In a small bowl, whisk the hot coffee into the cocoa and set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk by hand to ensure they are well mixed. Stir pecan and chips into flour mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and cooled cocoa mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir batter together with a rubber spatula until just combined (too much mixing = tough, unevenly domed cupcakes).
Fill each well about 3/4 full. Place filled pans on middle rack of oven. Bake until cupcakes have domed nicely and bounce back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes.
Cool the cupcakes in their pan on a wire rack. Once they have cooled, remove them from the pan and pipe a mound of marshmallow frosting on each.
These cupcakes will keep for three days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Easy Marshmallow Frosting 
from Just a Pinch

1 cup butter at room temperature

1, 7 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

With electric hand mixer, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 2 or 3 minutes, scraping sides frequently. Stir in fluff and vanilla, then beat until smooth and well mixed. Add to piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes. Decorate as desired. 

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes may have been taken to some of these fun parties!

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Sunshine Trail Mix

There are so many reasons to make this trail mix:

1. Who couldn't use a little "Sunshine" in their lives? ;)

2. It's fun and simple to make. It's something the kids can help with, even the little ones.
3. It's yummy: crunchy and chewy, sweet and salty.
4. It's relatively healthy.
5. It keeps well, travels well, doesn't require refrigeration. One of my taste-testers stashes this trail mix in her desk at work.
6. It's pretty! :)
7. It's versatile- you can adjust the ingredients to meet your needs. Use unsalted nuts, for instance.
8. It's fairly eco-friendly. The packaging is reusable and recyclable.
9. It would make a great little gift: tie a ribbon around the neck of the jar, and you're done!

I used Ball brand wide-mouth pint size canning jars. They hold about a cup and a half of trail mix.

Sunshine Trail Mix  Print Recipe

Makes about 9 cups

7 oz. whole almonds (I used dry roasted)

7 oz. shelled pistachios
1 package golden raisins (9 oz.)
1 jar sunflower kernels (6 oz.)
1 package (5 oz.) dried cranberries (I used Craisins)
1, 12 oz. package dark chocolate chips (or chips of your choice)

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Or pour into jars and give as gifts!

Another fun gift-in-a-jar idea:
Homemade Taco Seasoning

Both recipes may have been taken to these great parties!

Homemade Chili

It's chili weather! If you don't already have a go-to chili recipe, this is a great one. It's fast and easy to put together. You can simmer it on the stove or toss in the crock pot: your choice.

When you come in out of the cold and smell this chili cooking, your day automatically gets a little better. :)

Homemade Chili
Yield: 4 to 5 generous servings


1 pound of ground beef (I used 90% lean)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced fine
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 (28 ounce) can of whole tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped
1 (16 ounce) red kidney beans, rinsed and well drained
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced (you can add or substitute up to 1/4 cup chopped green chiles, jalapeno peppers, etc., depending on heat level desired)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
Pinch of dried oregano
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste


Brown the ground beef and the onion in a 4 quart sauce pan or dutch oven until no longer pink; drain if needed. Add the garlic and saute for just a few more minutes. Stir in the chili powder and cumin. Add the chopped tomatoes and juice, beans, pepper, tomato paste and oregano; stir to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, OR pour into a 4 to 5 quart slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours.

Serve with your choice of sides, such as cornbread or chips, and toppings, such as cheese, onions, sour cream, avocado, etc.

Adapted from Deep South Dish's Crockpot Beef Chili with Beans

May have been taken to some of these fun parties!