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It’s Here!

And was it ever worth waiting for! I finally have a working oven. Two to be exact. After the untimely demise of my old stove, (the week before Christmas), I have a new dual fuel range with a five burner gas cook top and a double electric infrared convection oven. It even has a griddle, wok ring, temperature probe and is wifi enabled. Wow!!! Okay, I might be bragging a bit, but can you blame me? I’m still pinching myself to make sure its not a dream.

I initiated this baby by cooking a Sunday Pork Roast in the oven and sauteing a few mushrooms stove top to go with it. The pork cooked perfectly thanks to the temperature probe, but I’m going to have to learn to cut back on the gas cook top. It’s a lot faster than my old one and the mushrooms nearly got away from me. The potatoes boiled in half the time, and the pink eyed peas almost fell apart. I should be happy to have such problems, and I am!  Not many home cooks are so blessed.

Alright, enough bragging.  Here are a couple of new recipes for you.

The first is a Eggplant Meatball Casserole with Air Fryer Option. These delicate vegetarian meatballs are lighter in texture than standard meatballs, but full of flavor. While they can be pan fried, I used an air fryer basket in a regular convection oven. No grease! The “meatballs” were bathed in some of my homemade Eggplant Marinara and topped with cheese before finishing in the oven for a few minutes. I served them over spaghetti. So good! You’d never know it was Meatless Monday.

I must have been on a meatball binge last week with out even knowing it. We also enjoyed them in a tasty pot of Italian Wedding Soup, made in the pressure cooker.  If you try this recipe, make the meatballs very small, pretty much bite sized.  I’ve never used store bought meatballs, but I wonder if you could cut those in half and re-roll them?  I used orzo pasta, which didn’t get mushy.  This soup is one of those that is even better the next day.  Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top, if you like.

Now that I again have a working oven I need to try out some new dessert ideas for Michael.  I’ve accumulated a stash of ripe bananas in the freezer, so I may start there.  We’ll see… And as always,

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Still No Oven

It’s been slim pickin’s around here with no working oven, but a new one is on the way. It’s dumbfounding how often I’ve thought I might like to prepare a certain dish, only to remember “Oh, yea, I have no oven!” I’ve had to either get creative or do with out. I figured out how to bake a ham in our Big Green Egg without smoking it or drying it out, and scaled back other recipes to fit in the toaster oven. You do what you have to do.

There were a couple of stand out recipes that you might enjoy… Creamy Chicken Enchiladas and Tortellini, White Bean, and Spinach Soup.

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas are decidedly decadent. The chicken is bathed in cream cheese, and sour cream, and cream of chicken soup, and whole milk, and shredded cheese! Not diet food. Substitute low-fat dairy products if you must! I think the next time, (and there will be a next time), I may double up on the green chiles. I served these enchiladas with a side of Mexican Rice and Beans.

Tortellini, White Bean, and Spinach Soup is considerably lighter, and healthier, without sacrificing satisfaction. With the beans and tortellini this soup is very filling.  The fresh baby spinach adds color and a bit more fiber.  As a bonus, this may be the easiest soup ever… all you do is open a few cans and packages and dump it all together.  It doesn’t get any easier than that!  I sprinkled mine with a bit of shredded Parmesan cheese right before serving.

Waiting for my new range to come is kind of like waiting for Santa or the Tooth Fairy! Maybe next week?
As always,

Be thankful for what life gives you.

It’s Been a Challenge!

Since the week before Christmas, I have not had a working oven. Yes, I have a very nice toaster oven, but it’s just not the same. Try cooking Christmas dinner for 9 folks in a toaster oven!

Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way! The solution was to load up the car with all three kinds of lasagna (yes, three!,, but that’s another story) and drive them 30 miles across town to our daughter Emily’s house. Poor Emily was tasked with baking off the casseroles, loading them up in a cooler, and returning them for dinner. Luckily, I was able to handle the rest of dinner with the help of the toaster oven, and both Emily and Aaron’s families contributed to the meal.  Unfortunately, some of the “goodies”, Christmas cookies and such, never happened.  Most of them weren’t really missed.

Now I have to figure out how to deal with an 8 pound ham that’s sitting in the fridge waiting to be baked. I should have done that a week ago, but it’s still within date. Then there is our traditional New Year’s Day dinner.

Once again, where there’s a will, there’s a way (I hope!).

The ham is already smoked, so what would it hurt to wrap it in foil and “bake” it in the big green egg? As for New Year’s dinner, the Marinated Pork Tenderloin could go on the grill, as well. The sides will have to compete for their space in the toaster oven. Luckily, I’m only cooking for two that time, so I should be able to handle it. I’ll let you know how it goes.😉

Below you can find links to a few of the things on the menus.

White Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna
Traditional Lasagna
Simple Lasagna for 12
Ham and Mushroom Gnocchi
Herb Marinated Pork Tenderloins

And, as usual,
Be thankful for what life gives you.

You’re Gonna Need a Game Plan

It’s time to start working backwards toward Turkey Day. I’ve already started. Here’s how it goes…

First, ask yourself a few questions. That will determine your plan of action. Are you hosting or visiting? I’m hosting this year. How many guests will you have, and are any of them staying over? I’ll have 9 for Thanksgiving dinner and 3 are staying over, so that means the house will have to be ready for guests and I’ll have to plan breakfast for Friday. Do any of your guests have dietary restrictions? I think we will have enough menu items that it won’t be a problem, and that brings up the first strategy,  You have to Delegate.

I have asked each guest to bring a dish of their choice, children included.  I did make a few suggestions, based on what some of them have prepared in the past.  For example, Jen makes an excellent pecan pie, and the tradition of Granny’s Green Stuff is easy enough even for Xander to handle.  We must have that green bean casserole with the crunchy fried onions on top and our Broccoli Casserole .  It’s another family tradition.  Kaij thinks mac and cheese is a must.  Emily’s Thanksgiving specialty is a Pumpkin Roll. She chooses to bring that.

Michael and I will provide the basics, including the (Brined) Turkey and Gravy, Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes, Bread Stuffing, and Cornbread Dressing.  Oh, I almost forgot the Cranberry Sauce.  I plan to try making it in the pressure cooker this year.

Now that the menu is set, it’s time to put together a shopping list. If you have a recipe management program on your computer, that’s a piece of cake. If not, you’ll have to do it by hand. Ouch! Be sure to compile your list so if two recipes call for milk, you’ll need to have that total quantity. On shopping day, check your fridge and pantry and mark off the items you have on hand. (be sure to reserve them for that purpose)

Speaking of shopping, just like Elizabeth Warren, “I have a plan for that!”  I pick up all the non-perishable items a little at a time.  I learned my lesson many years ago when I hosted my first big family Christmas dinner.  That year I waited to do all my shopping in one big trip.  Not only were the stores a nightmare, but my bill came to over $300.00!  When I wrote my check they had to call the manager for approval.  He looked at the check, then he looked at me.  I guess he recognized me and approved it.  When I got the check back at the end of the month I realized I had made the check out to myself and signed it “Brunos”, the name of the store.  I must have been in shock over that total.

Anyway, not only do I pick up what I can a little at a time, I make Monday before Thanksgiving my absolute last shopping day, and that’s for as few items as possible.  I try to purchase few enough items to qualify for the express lane.  And, yes, I count.

Not only do I shop ahead, I prep and cook ahead.  The breads for the stuffing and dressing were baked and allowed to go stale.  Now they are parked in the freezer, waiting to be combined with the veggie components, which are also already cooked and frozen.  I’m kind of a fanatic when it comes to the broth I use in my recipes and gravy.  I just never substitute chicken broth in turkey dishes, so where does all that turkey broth come from?  I roast a turkey breast, (the smallest I can find), as soon as they go on sale, usually the first week of November.  My recipe for Rich Chicken Stock is easily converted to turkey stock, which I now stew in the pressure cooker for 45 minutes, rather that simmering all day. The stock is fortified in part with the trimmings from all the veggies I prepped for other dishes. I always chill my stocks overnight to allow the fat to separate before the broth is frozen in smaller containers. Turkey fat plus flour plus broth equals GRAVY, now in the freezer. The potatoes have a shorter make-ahead window, since they don’t freeze all that well, but even fixing them a day or two in advance helps.  Have you considered condiments and beverages? Oh, and make sure you have all the serving dishes you need.  I even write the name of each menu item on a scrap of paper and save it in the dish I plan to use.

Now, get out your calendar.  If you’ve taken advantage of a sale on frozen turkeys that turkey needs to be moved to the fridge in time to thaw.  Pencil that in.  Find time to clear out the fridge as best you can.  You’ll need the room.   The bathrooms?  If you can, give the one your guests will use a good cleaning, then ban its use by the family until the big day. Ample supplies of paper products, including toilet paper?  Guest room sheets?  Dusting and Vacuming?  Do a thorough cleaning job, then all you’ll need to do is a quick spiff up the morning of.  Delegate that, too.  The old saying is, “Many hands make light work.”  Believe it!

I write everything down, especially the time line for Thanksgiving day.  If I know what time I’d like to serve dinner I can work backwards to know when to start things cooking.  I use my formula for baked ham, but allow about 25 minutes per pound and let the turkey rest covered  a bit longer before carving. That way you’ll have time to pop other dishes in the oven.

I have a plan!
Happy Turkey Day and, as always,
Be Thankful for what life gives you.

Soup’s On!

Finally!
After hitting the 100° mark the first 3 days of October, we finally fell into the 60’s.  Not exactly soup weather, but I’ll take it. I’ve gotten a bit tired of our usual summer fare and ready to move on, so here we go…

Sunday was a new addition to the repertory, Pork and Pinto Bean Chili, made in that kitchen wonder, the electric pressure cooker. It’s very similar to my Pork and Poblano Chili and to be honest, I don’t know which one I prefer. Both are very filling and delicious with a side of cornbread.

Meatless Monday hit the mark with a bowl of Free Asparagus Soup. (It’s the same as my Free Broccoli Soup, just using a different veggie.) This time I added a little twist, Grilled Cheese Croutons. These delectable croutons are like a mini grilled cheese sandwiches, but they aren’t grilled at all, they’re broiled, and very easy to make. Try them with a bowl of good old tomato soup sometime.

Tuesday’s dinner came straight from the freezer, as did Thursday’s.  When you are cooking for two, that freezer fills up quickly and it’s really hard to empty.  It’s a good thing that most soups and stews freeze well.

Tuesday evening we enjoyed a piping hot bowl of Chicken and Gnocchi Soup, along with some of Sunday’s cornbread. By then the weather was warming up again, but that soup was my plan, and I was sticking to it! Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Thursday’s Company Beef Stew was served in Mashed Potato Bowls.  This freezer friendly meal solves two potato related problems.  Cubed potatoes in soups and stews don’t generally freeze well.  They tend to turn out grainy and mushy.  Company Beef Stew contains no potatoes, but could be served over rice or noodles.  The satisfying potato portion is provided when the stew is served in potato bowls, which do freeze well.  I think the modifying factor is that the potatoes are mashed with plenty of cream cheese, butter, and an egg, changing their structure.  I’m no scientist, but trust me, it works.

Finishing out “soup week” was one of Michael’s favorites, Clam Chowder. My version was modeled after the chowder my grandparents used to make for an annual church fundraiser. Living in upstate New York, fresh clams were available. Not here in Alabama. This recipe relies on canned clams and clam juice, so you don’t get quite the same briney flavor as one gets from fresh clams, but we like it just fine! Try not to freeze the leftovers, though. Remember the potato problem?

Of course we didn’t eat soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Blackberry Coffee Cake served well both as breakfast and dessert.  Think coffee cake meets cheese cake with a blackberry topping.  This recipe was modified from a raspberry version that I tried.  The original had less than half the amount of cream cheese, leaving that layer to just disappear into the cake.  It also had half the amount of berries, and those only decorated the top.  If you’re gonna use berries, use berries!  This version has two layers.  You can find both the cheese cake and the berries here.

As a fall-ish nod to the end of summer, we churned up a batch of Butter Pecan Ice Cream and topped it off with My Apple Ice Cream Topping. Now I guess it’s on to apple season. I wonder what kind of trouble I’ll get myself into next?

Happy Fall, Y’all!
Be happy for what life gives you.

Fast forward to Fall?

Not so fast! There’s still plenty of Summer around here in North Alabama, and we intend to enjoy it.  Today is the 22nd day in September that the temperatures have been in the 90’s.  We even hit 100 twice this month!  We might as well make the most of it, since there’s nothing we can do about it.  It will be soup season soon enough.

I finished off the peach crop with a new, fun way to form a pie crust.  I started off with my standard Peach Pie recipe, but branched out a bit by making the Buttermilk Pie Crust. Then came the fun part! Rather than dividing the dough into two crusts, I rolled it out into one huge round, about 16-18″ in diameter. After carefully centering it in the pie pan and adding the filling,  I pinched on an edge and then pleated the whole thing toward the center, brushed it with egg wash, and sprinkled on coarse sugar. Success!  This may have been one of the prettiest and tastiest pies I have made.  Try this trick on any fruit pie.

Those of you who follow this blog may remember that I’m rather fond of one-dish dinners. We enjoyed a couple of simple, yet satisfying entrees this past week. Creamy Zucchini and Spinach Rigatoni fills the bill for Meatless Monday. This time I took it up a notch by stirring in a can of diced fire roasted tomatoes. Yumm! Those tomatoes added just a little something. I think I’ll continue to use them.

You folks may also know that I dehydrate small strips of pork loin for animal treats. Not all of the pork gets used making these little morsels, so Michael and I eat a lot of pork! (Our pets aren’t spoiled, are they?) Anyway, the last pork leftovers were just what a skillet of Pork Fried Rice with Snow Peas called for. The prep work for this meal took longer than the actual cooking, but I had leftover brown rice, so that helped time wise.  Any time you cook up a batch of rice, I suggest you double the recipe.  It doesn’t take any longer, and having precooked rice stashed in the freezer is a huge time saver.

I often focus on main dishes, but don’t let me forget the sides.  Here are a couple you might like to try…

Cauliflower Alfredo is a lighter alternative to traditional Alfredos that are loaded with heavy cream and cheeses. Don’t take me wrong. There’s still plenty of the cheesy flavor that we all love and you won’t miss the fat grams at all.  Cauliflower Alfredo pairs well as a side with simple grilled meats or seafood, but it can also stand on its’ own as a meatless main.

Not in a cheesy pasta mood? Try these Instant Pot Melting Potatoes instead. These may be my new favorite way to serve potatoes. They are just a little crispy on the outside and meltingly (is that a word?) creamy on the inside. Fresh thyme adds just a bit of interest without detracting from that rich potato taste.  For best results, be sure to use baby potatoes.  I like Yukon Golds for their texture, but just about any small potato will work.

On a silly note…Yesterday was Bella, our Weimaraner’s  13th birthday. Thirteen is old for a big dog, but the vet says she’s in “decent shape” for a dog of her age. She and Lizzie, our little spaniel, celebrated with a birthday dinner of canned food instead of their usual dry.  Happy Birthday, Bella!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

I’m still playing with those peaches

It seems that I’ve developed a couple of summer staples. Every year we celebrate summer with a batch of Fresh Peach Ice Cream, often over a warm bowl of Peach Melba Crumble.  Peaches not in season?  Puree any other fruit for this custard-style ice cream, instead.  The crumble recipe is pretty versatile, as well.  Substitute any fresh fruit you choose, and serve with store-bought ice cream, or skip the ice cream all together if you prefer.

And here’s a new Instant Pot recipe for you…Fresh Peach Jam in the Instant Pot. I just love this recipe. Rather than relying on tons of white sugar, the recipe calls for just a half cup or so of honey, letting the peaches shine as the star of the show. (Never mind the fact that without all that excess sugar these preserves are just a bit better for you.) I do need to mention that you control the thickness of your jam by watching your cooking time. The longer you leave the pot open on the saute setting at the end of the cooking process, the thicker the preserves will become.  I use my immersion blender to adjust the consistency, but very frequent stirring will break down the chunks of peaches, too.  Make it as smooth or chunky as you choose.  This Instant Pot recipe is a keeper!

While we’re playing with our Instant Pots, try this recipe for Swedish Meatballs in the Instant Pot. It tastes rich and creamy with only 1/4 cup of sour cream. Most of the time, Swedish meatballs are served over egg noodles, but for the Instant Pot I think the shape of butterfly pasta works better.  Working on this recipe, I discovered an interesting tip. To cook pasta to perfection, submerge the dry pasta in your liquid of choice, then use the LOW pressure setting for half the cooking time suggested on the box. At the end of the cooking time, immediately release the pressure. I throw a kitchen towel over the release valve so pasta water doesn’t spray all over the kitchen.

Tired of the same old breakfast? Trade that bowl of cereal in for Overnight Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.  Most people would call this bowl of chocolaty goodness “dessert”,  but at only  204 calories with 6 grams of protein per half cup, I call it good.  Why not?  It’s a quick and filling start to my morning.  In fact, I think I’ll go enjoy some right now!

Do any of you have a tip for keeping those pesky squirrels from stealing my tomatoes?  They think I’ve planted them just for their enjoyment!  The irritating thing is, after a bite or two our little friends throw that tomato down and pick another.  Squirrels are not afraid of plastic snakes or fake owls.  Even a hefty sprinkle of cayenne pepper doesn’t deter them.  Those furry robbers just sample one, decide it’s not to their taste, and move on to take a good bite out of the next.  I’ve had to resort to buying my tomatoes at the farmers’ market!   There has to be an answer.

Oh well,
Be thankful for what life gives you.