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A bit of daring and a dash of creativity

By Staff | Jul 12, 2017

-Farm News photo by Dawn Bliss April Stewart, of rural Harcourt, mixes up a dish in a slow cooker in her kitchen. She learned to cook though trial and error, adjusting and combining recipes to make them all her own.



HARCOURT – April Stewart uses a bit of daring, a dash of creative culinary thinking and whole lot of hands-on experience to feed her loved ones.

“I tend to take five or six recipes, take what I like out of them, and make my own,” she said. “One thing about my family, if they don’t like something, they let me know, especially when I try something new.”

When she and her husband, Will Stewart, first married 33 years ago, the only meals she knew how to make were simple spaghetti and pizza with a Bisquick crust. In fact, she said, her husband had to show her how to make a roast.

-Farm News photo by Dawn Bliss April Stewart, of rural Harcourt, sits at her dining table with a book of recipes and cooking tips she has compiled through the years that she said she plans to pass on to her children.

“He likes to say he taught me everything I know,” Stewart said with a laugh.

Over the years though, she has improved and perfected her skills, developing a body of knowledge based on trial and error. She often doesn’t follow a specific recipe or measure ingredients, she said.

Stewart has just come to know what to combine and how much of it through her experience of mixing up countless family meals, as well as creating casseroles taken out to feed those working the farm fields and baking batches of cookies and bars to be shared with friends and neighbors.

Stewart estimates 99 percent of the dishes she makes are made from scratch. Mixing the ingredients herself rather than using box mixes or ready-made filings or crusts not only provides her more freedom in creating desired flavors and textures, it also provides her with a sense of satisfaction.

“I see something like ostkaka or rye bread and I just wonder if I can do it, if I can make it all from scratch,” she said. “It’s the challenge of it.”

When her four children were grown and starting out on their own, Stewart said she realized they would need some sort of instructions if they wanted to recreate their favorite meals and snacks for their own children, so she compiled a book of her recipes, including a list of helpful hints she said it took her forever to learn. Featured in the book is a recipe for lasagna that Stewart spent 17 years perfecting, along with a recipe for chocolate caramel bars others have dubbed “a little bit of heaven bars.”

“It’s all about how it makes other people feel,” she said. “If I can make someone happy with a cookie, that’s a great feeling.”

April’s lasagna

(A recipe 17 years in the making)

29 ounce tomato sauce

2 pounds ground beef cooked and drained

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon mustard

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/3 cup medium salsa

1/2 cup Heinz ketchup

Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

Mix all ingredients and simmer and stir for about 10 minutes. Boil lasagna noodles and drain. Layer half the noodles in a 9 by 13 pan and top with half the meat mixture. Then top with a generous amount of mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown on the edges.

Mexican casserole

2 pounds of ground beef, browned

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon mustard

1/2 cup salsa

1 can cream corn

1 can chipped chilies

1 teaspoon barbeque sauce

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

10 ounce Velveeta cheese

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

8 ounce cooked wavy noodles

Crushed Tostitos or Doritos chips

Mix all ingredients except the chips and cook until the cheese is melted. Top with chips and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until heated through.

Chocolate caramel bars

(also called “A little bit of Heaven Bars”)

2 1/4 cup flour

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups cold butter or margarine

2 cups (12 ounce) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 12 ounce jar caramel ice cream topping

In a in a bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set half aside for topping. Press the remaining mixture into a greased 9 by 13 inch pan and back at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and pecans. Whisk caramel topping and remaining flour until smooth; drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture and back for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before serving.

Chocolate chip cookies

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons hot coffee

1 1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 cups chocolate chips

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup finely ground oatmeal

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in coffee and add to batter along with salt. Stir in flour, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Back on ungreased sheet for 10 minutes.

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